Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Deuteronomy raises the question "What does it mean to love God?" Love in Deuteronomy is always a verb, an action that finds focus in the values of Yahweh. God's love toward Israel consisted of his deliverance of her out of Egypt, of his guidance through the wilderness, and of his gift of the promised land (cf. 26.5-9). So, too, Israel's love for Yahweh was to be active obedience in response to his unconditional love. But Deuteronomy makes us go further and ask "What is the content of that obedience of love?" Concretely, what does the Lord command? All of the laws in Deuteronomy are intended to answer that question. They are explications of what it means to love God. In teaching these there is a plethora of material for contemporary churches.
Once again let me emphasize that these commandments are guides in the life of the already redeemed. These commands do not establish Israel's relationship with God but guide her to a full life within the Covenant of Love.
Some fo the commandments are no longer relevant to our lives. For example, we no longer have Levites (18.1-8), or wear robes with tassels (22.12), or lack modern plumbing (23.12-13). Some of the laws have been transformed in the coming of the Lord Jesus. Yet it is amazing how often the intention of these commands remain fully valid for Christians.
So if we ask what it means to love God? Deuteronomy answers that by giving us a picture of God's People living as the Great Society. That is we love God by being proactive in our love to those around us. Thus to love God means:
1) To Love God means to show liberality and kindness supremely toward the poor and oppressed (15.1-18; 23.19-20; 24.14-15; 24. 19-22)
2) To Love God means to respect your neighbor's property (19.14; 23.24-25) and to respect her dignity as a human being (24.10-11), even if she is a criminal to be punished (25.1-3)
3) To Love God means to actively protect your neighbor against accidents (22.8) and to help him out when he has suffered loss (22.1-4).
4) To Love God means to practice justice in court (16.18-20; 19.15-21; 24.17-18) and to be ethical in all business ventures (25.13-16)
5) To Love God means to recognize that there is a sphere of justice belonging to God alone, beyond human justice (19.1-10)
6) To Love God means to respect and protect the realm of nature as stewards of God's good creation (5.14; 20.19-20; 22.6-7; 25.4)
7) To love God means to foster the well-being of the family (24.5; 22.13-21) and to protect the honor of the unmarried (22.23-29).
8) To Love God means, in short, to construct a society (i.e. what I call the Great Society) which reflects the justice, the love and the mercy of God himself (5.15; 15.15; 16.12; 24.18, 22) -- surely a new phenomenon in the history of humanity. "We love because he first loved us" wrote John (1 Jn 4.19). John then asks how we can claim to love God whom we have not seen and hate our fellow human whom we have seen. He says it is impossible! But John is not being original in this insight rather he is echoing what Moses said in Deuteronomy millennia before.
But this is not the complete story of love in Deuteronomy. To love God in Deuteronomy also means to worship him in sincerity and truth. It means to offer Yahweh worthy sacrifices (17.1; 23.18), and to intend sincerly with the heart what we say and vow to him (23.21-23). To love God means to acknowledge with our gifts his blessing and ownership of all creation (15.19-20; 26.1-11) and it means to thank him with grateful hearts for his generous bounty.
Indeed, worship in Deuteronomy is above all a joyous occasion. Whether the occasion is one of the three great festivals (16.1-17), the fulfillment of a vow, a tithe, or a freewill offering (12.1-19; 14:22-29), a special day (27.1-18) or the offering of the first fruits (26.1-11). The thought is always that Israel shall "rejoice before the Lord" (12.7, 12, 18; 14:26; 16.11, 14; 26.11; 27.7) because she is worshipping a God who has first loved her.
Deuteronomy, the Gospel of Love, has much to teach us about what it means to love God by showing us what it means to love our neighor. I hope we will spend some time reflecting deeply and theologically on what Deuteronomy teaches.