One of my favorite church cartoons is of a man talking to the pastor at the door of the church on Easter Sunday, telling him that he is stuck in a rut – preaching on the same subject every time the man comes! And then there is the story of the new pastor in a church who preached his first sermon, but the next week preached the exact same message all over. The people thought he just made a mistake and decided to give him a third week … and sure enough, same sermon. So the people confronted him and he responded, “Well, when you apply this first sermon, I’ll move on to something else!”
In our readings in Deuteronomy, we cannot help but hear the same ideas over and over … “obey these commands … so that your days may be long … carefully observe … into the land the Lord your God is leading you … love him with all your heart … teach this to your children …” The reason it feels like it is being repeated so much is because … well … it IS being repeated over and over! There was no reason for the people to not clearly understand!
It is not like the Lord was sending the Israelites into a horrible place where they would have to gut it out and struggle desperately to survive in a brutal environment. The place was truly fabulous, as it is largely to this day. Yes, there are arid regions, but the land is rich and prosperous … especially compared to where they had been living – in Egypt.
As it says in the reading today, Egypt was a land where crops would grow if you worked hard, foot by foot, to bring water from the Nile to irrigate the ground. Otherwise, the place was pretty much a desert. In the Promised Land, Moses describes it beautifully as a place with mountains and valleys that drink rain from heaven. God gives his promise as well to faithfully send the rains to make it prosper in accord with the people’s obedience.
What a sweet deal! The Israelites were truly at a fork in the road. The choices could not be more different, more right and left, more black and white, more life and death … it was all about blessing and cursings. (The final portion of the reading about the two mountains will be repeated and explained in a reading next week.)
We face the same fork in the road – the same choice of obedience/rebellion, trust/independence, sufficiency/greed, contentment/discontent. The natural man within tells us to take charge of our own fate by seeing expedient opportunities and easy paths of creature comforts and pleasures. It is totally stupid! But we do it … and is the reason we need to step back and REVIVE.
8 Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 9 and so that you may live long in the land the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. 11 But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. 12 It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.
13 So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul— 14 then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. 15 I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.
16 Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. 17 Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you. 18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.
22 If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow—to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him and to hold fast to him— 23 then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. 24 Every place where you set your foot will be yours: Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the Mediterranean Sea. 25 No one will be able to stand against you. The Lord your God, as he promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go.
26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— 27 the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; 28 the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. 29 When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses. 30 As you know, these mountains are across the Jordan, westward, toward the setting sun, near the great trees of Moreh, in the territory of those Canaanites living in the Arabah in the vicinity of Gilgal. 31 You are about to cross the Jordan to enter and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you. When you have taken it over and are living there, 32 be sure that you obey all the decrees and laws I am setting before you today.