6 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.
IntroductionContext: The children of Israel are on the brink of entering the Promised Land, after escaping from slavery in Egypt and wandering around the desert for 40 years. Finally they are ready to take the next step in becoming the people God wants them to be. The whole book is set in that moment before they enter, giving final instructions for who God wants them to be.
The passage reminds them that God has given them “commands, decrees, and laws” that govern their lives in the Land. Prosperity and peace lie ahead of them; but that prosperity also contains a fundamental challenge: They may forget God. So the passage reminds them of the centre of their faith, what we call the “Shema Yisrael”: “Hear, O Israel”. We want to explore briefly how God tells the people to respond to the prosperity he has promised them, the prosperity which in fact they did enjoy in the years that followed.
Shema YisraelYou hear the great call that Moses taught the people: “4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The people engraved these words on their doors and wore them on their sleeves, because these words expressed the centre of their life with God. Today we might have them tattooed on our arms—or on our foreheads.
But this central affirmation of life—that God is all our love and loyalty—was threatened by the temptation to follow the gods already in the Promised Land, and by the peace and prosperity that God promised them lay ahead.
The Great ThreatThis promise of prosperity and danger is the point at which the text connects with us. The specific laws of Deuteronomy were not given to us. We don’t have to avoid certain foods that are not kosher, and we don’t have to make sure that our clothes are made of one kind of material only. The specific laws of Deuteronomy were meant for the Israelites in their context, not for us today. Jesus tells us that all of these laws in the Torah are fulfilled in him and in his new command to love each other with his love.
But the call to love God with our heart and soul and strength is reaffirmed in the words and life of Jesus. And Jesus reminds us that the threat of prosperity is as real for us as for the children of Israel: “No one can serve two masters…you cannot serve God and money.”
Consider Steinbach. Some 10 or 12 years ago the final question on Jeopardy brought Steinbach onto national television. “This city has the highest per capita rate of millionaires in Canada.” I think that the options on the screen were Oakville, Steinbach, and Shaughnessy (Vancouver). The answer: “Steinbach!”
Now the question is misleading—per capita means the most millionaires for every thousand people or so. A smaller city has an advantage counting this way. And of course the continuing immigration that has enriched our community in so many ways probably has probably brought down the per capita millionaire count today. But the fact that we could be in the question at all reflects the truth that we have a lot of money. We have done well!
So we face the threat of prosperity as much as any of the Israelites ever did. What is that threat? Hear the Deuteronomist: “10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” There’s the threat: We can begin to forget God and to think that we built our wealth ourselves. And if we did this all ourselves, then we can use our possessions exactly how we want.
There’s another smaller threat inside the big one: Sometimes we respond by feeling guilty that God has given us material possessions. Notice that the passage assumes the people are enjoying the peace and prosperity God has given them. That’s good! When you enjoy these good things, remember God. So remembering God does not mean that ignore God’s gifts. God wants us to enjoy our homes and food and other good pleasures we have received. But the bigger threat is that we will start to take all of the credit for what we have.
The Truth in the ThreatNow there’s real truth in this temptation to think that we did it ourselves. A basic reason that there is so much money in our community is that we have been a hardworking people and we have been a thrifty people. If you work hard and don’t overspend, you tend to save a lot of money! But look again at the Israelites. When they achieved prosperity and heard these words, they may have been surprised. “What do you mean cities we didn’t build? We built every house around our neighbourhood with our own hands? What do you mean houses filled with good things we didn’t provide? We worked hard for what we have? We tended the gardens and fields that brought forth their crops. We deserve the fruit of our work!”
But the truth in the threat of prosperity conceals a greater falsehood. None of us can take full credit for what we do. Even if you work with great skill and incredible endurance, you did not create that skill or endurance in yourself. We have only what we have received. And when we do work, we are constantly part of a larger system that benefits us. As a side note, one can see the truth that hard work alone is not enough. Poor people often are extremely hard workers, but are trapped by personal habits or by public structures that make it impossible for them to receive the fruit of their hard work. Those of us who have learned from our parents and from others how to work and how to budget and how to get ahead financially know that we are reaping the rewards of what many other people in our lives have done.
So we reject the lie that our prosperity means that we are somehow better than others. God gives us all good gifts, and the good things that we have in our lives come from God.
What Do We Do?The passage tells us how to respond when God grants us material blessings.
1) Enjoy the material possessions God gives us, but don’t try to take all the credit.
2) Don’t forget God, or what God has done in your life.
3) Keep God’s laws and commands and rules—this one we could reword as: Follow Jesus in all that you do.
Giving thanks for the land—giving thanks for the possessions and material blessings that we have—means that we turn to God in gratitude and praise, and that we show our gratitude by loving and serving God with all that we are and have.
Jesus quotes this great command from Deuteronomy, “Love the Lord your God.” He adds to it, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” That is how we thank God for the good things he has given us. Love God, and show that love by the way that we treat each other. I have seen that kind of thanksgiving often in this community. There are those business folk who show their love for God by the way that they open their hands to help others who have less materially. Because I sit on the committee that supports our Community Outreach program, I hear of such things often, and I rejoice.
I see this thanksgiving every Christmas in the way that some volunteers put on a Christmas Dinner for those who do not have family, or the resources to celebrate themselves. Sharing what we have is the best way to say to God, “Thank you!” May we always show our gratitude to God for the blessings we have received by worship and with our love returned to God and to all people around us.