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Deuteronomy 4:1 – Law and Grace

January 19, 2009 Leave a comment

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you.” Deuteronomy 4:1

Israel stands at the edge of the Promised Land. Soon Moses will leave them and Joshua will take charge as they cross the Jordan and take possession of the land. On the eve of this historic conquest, Moses delivers a sermon on God’s faithfulness in the midst of Israel’s unfaithfulness.

He has been calling to mind their journey after receiving the Law at Mt. Horeb and journeying toward the Promised Land. While their parents didn’t trust YHWH’s command (and died in the wilderness), the children have been brought back to the place of promise with the same command to go in and possess the land.

As Moses recounts God’s victories on behalf of His people, He reminds them of the foundation of their commission: observance of the Law.

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you.” Deuteronomy 4:1

Each word in this verse opens in summary a vision of how Moses and Israel understood their calling under the Law. As I reflect on these words, I hear insight into how Christian may understand our calling in light of the fulfillment of the Law in Jesus Christ.

Now – In light of God’s unwavering faithfulness to His promises, let us trust and obey His words. As I meditate on that transition word, “Now,” I can’t help but hearing Paul’s word, “Now.”

“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
2 Corinthians 6:2b

Paul has been talking about the great reconciling power of God’s grace in the midst of our human weakness. Now he exhorts the Corinthians to live as God has called them and empowered them to live in holiness and separation from the idolatries in the world around us.

Through Scripture we see images of people living and walking outside the fullness of God’s power and grace. I think of Zacheus, living of the exorbitant overcharges he places upon the people. Jesus comes to dine with Him, and the “Now” happens.

In the “now,” Jesus calls. “Come out and lived in the freedom and fullness I have prepared for you.” This now, is the now of Spirit calling me forth into a new way, a new path, a new life. This now is the now that proceeds out from the “fullness of time.”

O Israel – Moses calls out to the elect named by God. While Jacob is named by his mother, God calls him Israel. He is a given a new name and raised into the status of royalty and promise by God’s grace and goodnness.

The sons of Israel or the children of Israel grow up as a blessed people who will fulfill the call upon Abraham to bring God’s blessing to the whole earth.

To hear the name Israel is to hear the blessing of God. In Jesus, this blessing is fulfilled. And now all who are in Christ Jesus, hear the blessed name of Israel, called out to be God’s blessing for the whole earth. Paul writes:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
Ephesians 1:3-5

Listen – In the middle of His sermon, Moses says, “Listen.” Makes me think of the preacher who pauses and says, “Listen up people.” Or more directly, it makes me think of Jesus speaking to His disciples, “Truly, Truly I say to you.”

It is as though Jesus is saying, “Now you better make a note of this. I am getting ready to say something that is deep truth and I want to make sure you remember and heed it.

As Moses calls us to “listen,” we lean in for a word from the throne of God. We hear a word that defines out mission and action in this world.

Statutes and Judgments – The two corresponding Hebrew words are khuqqim and mishpatim. These two words appears again and again when Moses is preaching about the Law.

The first word, khuqqim, is related to the idea of inscribing or carving. While Moses dictated the whole Law for the people, he received the “10 Words” inscribed by God’s hand. The fact that these words are inscribed in stone seems to give them a significance that no other words in Scripture have—except one.

There is a glory surrounding the giving of the 10 Word. Such glory that Moses has to cover his face. When I hear verses about God setting our feet on the rock, I think there is a connection with this stone. To stand on the 10 Words is to stand on the unchanging words and commands of God.

In the New Testament, the glory of the stone inscribed with words is surpassed by an even greater glory: the heart that is inscribed with the Word. Jesus comes as a fulfillment of the stone for now the 10 Words are united in a single Word made flesh.

This word completes, fulfills and reveals the Law. Jesus leaves us with a promise that we will be united with Him by the Holy Spirit. Paul continues Jesus’ theme in Romans by writing about how we are united with Christ in death and resurrection. Then in 2 Corinthians, we read about the glory of the Law in stone is now surpassed by a glory of the Law in flesh: not simply Jesus’ flesh, but our flesh.

The Spirit is writing the Law in our hearts, and we are moving from “glory to glory.” Eventually, we will see the image face to face:

7 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:7-18

The other Hebrew word used for the Law here is mishpatim. This word has to do with the ability to judge. James Jordan understands wisdom as the ability to judge between good and evil. We see Solomon practicing wisdom in judging between two prostitutes with similar stories. He speaks and by the power of his word, reveals the liar (thus judging between good and evil).

This power to judge is directly tied to ruling. If we cannot judge, we will be like the simpleton who cannot distinguish between the house of lady wisdom whose house leads to life (Proverbs 4, 8 and 9) and the foolish woman whose house leads to death (Proverbs 4, 5, and 7).

There is a path that leads to the house of lady wisdom and a path that leads to the house of the foolish woman (Proverbs 4:18-19). One leads into the full light of day and the other stumbles further and further into darkness.

We see Israel walking into the light of day from David to Solomon’s rule and stumbling into darkness from Solomon to Zedekiah’s rule (although some kings in between do walk in light, the overall movement of the nation is a descent into darkness).

As I begin to wrap around this idea of rule and wisdom and the path of wisdom vs. the path of foolishness, I can see references to the law throughout the Psalms and prophets and more. There are multiple a references to walking in the path, I will show you the way,” do not turn to the left or right, the road to righteousness, the path of holiness, standing on the rock, and so on. I would suggest all these references are rooted in observance to the Law (meditation upon and obedience to the commandments).

Just a reminder, we do not simply go back to Deuteronomy 5 to meditate upon the Law. We have hear the same rhythms in Matthew 5 and other sermons by Jesus as well as the letters from Paul and others. These are not a bunch of regulations we post. Rather, we ruminate and reflect on them. We walk according to them. The Spirit teaches us them.

We enter into the heart of them: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. In some ways, the New Testament is an extended reflection upon the fulfillment of the Law in Jesus Christ and through His cross, and how it now is revealed in the midst of His people and in the midst of the world.

Live, and go in and possess the land – Moses ties the Law directly to the action of entering, possessing and living in the land. The Law is the wisdom that gives Israel boldness to enter the Land (because the covenant-making YHWH stands behind it with promises of a His faithfulness).

Observance of the Law is connected with Israel’s fear of God. As they walk in the fear of God, other nations fear them. For they bear the name and the power of YHWH (who makes mountains melt and by a single word causes the earth to melt).

Observance of the Law is essential for Israel to dwell in the fullness of God’s provision as they live in the land. In other places, Moses will predict that in prosperity, Israel will forget the source of blessing and quit observing the Law. This forgetfulness will cause God to forget them, thus allowing their enemies to overtake them.

Paul quite possibly gives us a poetic reinterpretation of this phrase by quoting a poet of his day. In his sermon to the idolatrous philosophers, Paul says “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law, is the source of our courage and power and prosperity. We are blessed in Him and live in Him and live to glorify Him in all things.

LORD God of your fathers – Moses reminds the people that the source of the Law is not some oppressing dictator, but the covenant-making God who remembers His promises. LORD or YHWH is a covenant name for God, which connects with His faithfulness to the promise. The Creator God made a promise and cut a covenant with father Abraham. This covenant promise was renewed with Isaac and then again with Jacob. Now as the children of Israel look at how the Creator God did in fact remember his promises to the ancestors, they can call Him YHWH for he has demonstrated His covenant faithfulness again and again.

We are brought into this family of Abraham through the covenant faithfulness of Jesus. Jesus answer’s YHWH’s faithfulness to man by becoming the man who is completely faithful to YHWH. In Jesus, we enter into this circle of covenant faithful love. In Jesus, we enjoy the fruist and healing blessings associated with the covenant, and in Jesus we are transformed by the Spirit in the covenant faithful people, revealing the fruit of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). This fruit reveals the fulfillment of the Law in us by the power of the Spirit.

Giving You – The land that Israel will soon possess does not come through their own efforts, their own righteousness or their own prowess. It comes as pure gift.

While they must possess and follow the prescribed ways of possessing each area, they are simply obeying the Father who is giving them the gift.

For those who think grace suddenly appears in the New Testament as opposed to the Law in the Old Testament, they should go back and reread the Old (especially Deuteronomy). As we read and reflect on the rhythm of the Law, we realize it is gift. It is grace.

It is grace stretching and reaching forward. To what? To the fulfillment. When Jesus comes, he fulfills the striving and longing of law. This law is incomplete until it is fully enfleshed by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

Meditation on the Law

March 28, 2008 Leave a comment

I preparing for a retreat on the Law (and the Ten Commandments in particular). I am looking at law through a variety of lenses. While many of these overlap, there are nuances worth exploring that makes it helpful to create distinctions. Here are the lenses I am thinking of right now. If anyone has other lenses that might helpful to consider, I’d love to hear them:

  • Law Expression of Love
  • Law as Creative Power (Creation of Adam/creation song)
  • Law as Restorative Power (redemption song)
  • Law as Covenantal Gift
  • Law as Glory of the Lord (intimate)
  • Law as Charge to Enter into Promised Land (Deuteronomy parallel with Hebrews)
  • Law as the Root of the Fear of God
  • Law as the Seed (Growing up into Psalms, Wisdom, Kingdom Rule)
  • Law written in Stone/Law written in Flesh
  • Law fulfilled in Jesus (entirety of Word enfleshed in Jesus)

Gifts with strings attached

March 26, 2008 Leave a comment

Just because a gift comes with “no strings attached” does not mean that it is a better gift than one “with strings attached.” A gift can come as an expression of invitation to a deeper relationship. By deeper relationship, I am indicating some greater level of exchange in shared intimacy. The gift of an engagement ring is an invitation to a deeper relationship with greater levels of intimacy.

If the invitation is a welcome one, the person receiving the gift delights in the “strings attached.”  This is a way for me to being thinking through the idea of covenantal gifts.

The ten commandments come not as a weight but as gifts of life (invitations to relation) with expectations of responsibility. This covenantal picture in the commandments is sometimes pictured as a marriage between Israel and YHWH. Thus the imagery in Isaiah and other places of the marraige with God’s people (and in the New Testament as the bride of Christ).

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