* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Deuteronomy 14-30 :Finding Truth in All the Laws

We have already seen the many laws that Israel's leaders established, so the actual information in Deuteronomy 14-30 probably seem fairly familiar.  Israelite culture was in many ways all about a particular attitude or perspective, and the laws in these chapters outline how that attitude translates into practical reality.  There are laws about being set apart from other cultures in personal habits, laws about how Israelites should treat one another, and laws about how people should view their possessions.  Most of the Israelite laws are inappropriate for modern society, but looking beneath the surface can reveal some truths that surpass time and culture.

Some laws cover what food people should eat, what types of animals were suitable for sacrifice, what practices from other cultures one should avoid, what kind of clothes one may wear, and various other restrictions that may even seem heavy-handed and oppressive.  The point behind many of these laws, whether the Israelite leaders thought of it this way or not, was for the Israelites to be intentional in their behavior.  If you are restricted from wearing certain things or eating certain things, or if you must choose an animal without blemish for a sacrifice, you are likely to become very conscious of your choices.  It would be difficult for someone to go on autopilot and stay within the lines of Israelite law.  Without imposing heavy-handed restrictions on ourselves, we are still capable of living intentionally.  By being thoughtful and purposeful in our decisions, we can create more meaningful lives, even if our intentional actions are different from what other people decide.

Other laws address how people treat one another.  More than one witness is necessary to convict someone of a crime.  You can't take away someone's source of livelihood to cover a debt.  Every seven years, all debts (between Israelites) are cancelled.  If an Israelite man sleeps with an unmarried Israelite woman, he must marry her rather than dishonoring her family.  Treat people fairly rather than taking advantage of others.  Take care of the less fortunate.  Essentially, recognize that people are worthy of respect.  People are worth more than whatever could be gained by taking advantage of them.  No one is a more valuable human being than anyone else, so respect people in all your dealings.

Finally, there are laws that demand sacrifice.  Give your best as an offering.  If you miss a few grapes when harvesting, don't go back over the vineyard and claim every last one.  If you are going to war, don't take men into battle that have a good reason to be at home instead.  Essentially, recognize that you have enough.  Live from a space of abundance rather than a fear of scarcity.

Of course, there are laws about having the community stone your son to death if he's a drunkard who won't listen to you.  And there are laws about marrying your brother's widow in order to father a child that will carry on your brother's name.  Their culture was obviously different from ours.  They had no problem with  invoking the death penalty for what we would consider a minor offense, or not an offense at all.  We don't have to get caught up in the literal obedience of laws intended for a culture in its infancy thousands of years ago.  Certainly, there is a certain amount of societal control and fear of the outside world that informed the laws, but we can look past that if we choose to.  The important bit is to recognize the truth that underlies all of it, the undeniable pieces that remain despite human fears.  People are worthy of our respect.  We live in abundance.  Life is better when we are intentional about our actions.

There are also lists of blessings and curses tied in with obedience to the laws.  Do what God wants, and you will live well.  Disobey and suffer.  It's presented as compensation to be sought and punishment to be feared, but there is also a sense that following the principles will lead inevitably to a rewarding life, while not following the principles will lead inevitably to unhappiness.  Chapter 30:11-18 reads:
Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”  No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess

Without veering too far from the actual scripture, it's safe to say that you have the ability to make wise choices in your life.  You can choose to live with an attitude of abundance, to respect other people, to be intentional in your decisions.  You already know what is right, even though sometimes it is tempting to choose what is convenient.  And what you don't know can be learned or discovered.  You are never lost or abandoned, even when the journey is difficult.  You are always able to put one foot in front of the other and move forward, even if you are only able to remember a few basic principles.

Guidelines and laws are useful for a society, but they don't mean as much as the principles on which they're built.  You know that human beings have value, and thus you have value.  Start from there.  You know that there is some part of every person that is beautiful and creative, even if it is sometimes difficult to see.  Honor that truth.  Recognize that you have enough, and that you have something to offer.  Be intentional about how you respect other people and yourself.  It isn't too difficult, and it isn't beyond your reach.      

1 comment:

  1. "Guidelines and laws are useful for a society, but they don't mean as much as the principles on which they're built." YES. THIS. AMEN.

    I have a particular fondness for Dt 30:11-14, which is the first section of the passage you quoted. To the Israelites who claimed that the law is too hard to understand or too lofty to observe, Moses is says "Nope, sorry -- you don't get to use that as a cop out." Because of human weakness, it is a challenge to follow, but the law is simple to understand. It all arises from common everyday life: worship one God, do not steal, do not lie, etc. etc. It's not a secret, and it's not beyond our human capacity to understand.

    The trick isn't in knowing God's will -- the trick is in living it. We can't do that perfectly, but there is tremendous benefit in trying!