Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

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I feel like it’s time for a break from Deuteronomy, even though we are in the middle of a section. (There won’t be a natural break until the end of Chapter 26.) So, continuing our practice of choosing books alphabetically – which we will surely change soon – we find ourselves today in Ecclesiastes.

The book is thus named from the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew word for the author, ‘Qohelet’. The qohelet is a gatherer, one who gathers either people into an assembly, or words into a collection. As ekklesia (from which we get ‘ecclesiastes’) is the Greek word for the assembly of God’s people in the church, so qehilah (from the same root as qohelet) is the Hebrew word for an assembly of people. It is for this reason that most translations use ‘Preacher’ or ‘Teacher’, thinking of the one who calls the congregation together. I will stick with calling the author ‘Qohelet’, and we will further discuss his identity tomorrow when we come to more seemingly autobiographical information.

The second verse contains the tricky Hebrew word which is a motif throughout the book. How should it be translated? Vanity, meaningless, futility? All these have been used, and are correct, but don’t necessarily capture all the word is about. Hebel is vapor, breath, something intangible or fleeting, which cannot be caught or tied down; it is worthless, fruitless, and has no substance. The rest of the poem is an illustration of the basic premise that nothing lasts and there is no permanence in life.

Humans don’t gain anything from all their hard work, but simply die, and are replaced by the next generation. Everything is cyclical, like the sun’s circuit, the wind, the rivers running into the sea. There is never a solid conclusion, never a satisfying ending, never even a new beginning because everything that comes has been here before, even if we don’t remember it. The philosophy of this book appears to be very Asian, like the samsara of Hinduism and Buddhism. We might perhaps disagree with Qohelet’s facts, but we can’t argue with his feeling.

Doesn’t life feel like that sometimes? The ‘Novel’ Coronavirus is new, but it is not. It’s just a repeat of SARS, the Spanish flu, the plague. And it makes life feel so boring. Nothing ever happens. Another Zoom meeting, another Bible study, another president. New but not new. We keep trying to fill the void. When I read 1:8, I can’t help seeing myself on Facebook, scrolling for another dopamine hit, something new, something interesting, a giggle or a revelation. But I am never satisfied. Facebook wants me to remember, gives me images from last year and x number of years ago, and I remember and am momentarily thrilled, and next year I will see images from this year. So perhaps I might again disagree with Qohelet and say, ‘Yes! I remember! There is remembrance!’ But is it substantial? Do I really change, or is there a satisfaction in remembering? Or do I need to look again tomorrow? There is nothing new.

Ecclesiastes is not a book of facts, it is a book of feelings. Perhaps you don’t have the same feelings as Qohelet, and you can’t relate. But for many of us, it is a relief to know that I am not the only one who has this sense of dissatisfaction with life. I am not unique, this is not new. This is part of the human condition. Qohelet offers us no solution here, but simply allows us to sit with him, as Job’s friends sat with him, and listen to feelings put into words. It is a comfort to know that I am not alone.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, that you have allowed your Word to contain these words. Sometimes I feel so empty and that life goes nowhere. It is a comfort to know that I am not alone. Help me to lean on you in these moments.

Deuteronomy 15:19-23

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In the midst of the teachings in these chapters on centralized worship, tithes, and kosher food comes this short paragraph which unites the three topics, along with the theme of the sanctified firstborn male.

Moses commands the Israelites to set apart the firstborn male of their cows and sheep (unless it has a physical defect). Again, this is not to give to the priests or to the temple, but is to be eaten by the worshipper and his family as a ceremonial meal. The sacrifice demonstrates trust in the Lord and joy in his bountiful provision.

If the animal has a defect, it can still be eaten, but just as an ordinary meal, not a special one. It must still be killed in the appropriate way, by draining its blood (cf Gen 9:4; Lev 17:10-14). The eating of blood was anathema to the Israelites because they understood the soul of the creature to reside in the blood. (As we mentioned a few days ago, that doesn’t mean that we can’t eat blood now, as people in SE Asia do. But I personally can’t bring myself to do it!)

This is a small and simple paragraph; deeper significance lies in its development of the theme of the sanctified first-born. The story of the first-born begins with Abraham (not) sacrificing Isaac (Gen 22); is underlined when Yahweh calls Israel ‘my firstborn’ (Ex 4:22); continues in the salvation and consecration of the Israelite first-born when the angel of the Lord passed over Egypt, killing every first-born that was not marked by blood (Ex 12-13); and is enshrined in law (Ex 34:19-20; Num 3:12-13). Of course, Paul picks up on this theme to refer to the eternal Son of God, firstborn of creation and, in the person of Jesus, firstborn from the dead (Col 1:15,18 cf Rev 1:5). The firstborn is sanctified, set apart, holy before God. The Israelites, if they followed the commandment, would register this in the depths of their being, as every year they set apart the firstborn for a special feast before the Lord. We have no such practice, but perhaps if we did then we would pick up more readily on this motif throughout the scripture.

Prayer: Thank you, Father, for sacrificing your firstborn son, Jesus, so that I can be in relationship with you. Help me to rejoice in all that you have given me, and to trust in your provision.

Next week we will leave Deuteronomy for a while, just to have a change. Studies will be on Ecclesiastes.

Deuteronomy 15:1-18

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The core message in these verses is generosity. There are two cultural artifacts which we, in our modern age, might find peculiar: the seventh year release from debts (15:1-3, 7-8, 12); and slavery as an acceptable practice (15:12-18). The other interesting issue to contend with in this chapter is the apparent contradiction regarding the existence of the poor (15:4, 7, 11).

Moses proposed a remarkable social construct: that every seven years, every debt among the Israelites should be cancelled. The idea behind it was that no Israelite should ever become a pauper through prolonged debt. It is unlikely that this radical scheme was ever carried out in Israelite society; certainly there is no explicit reference to it taking place in the historical books of the Bible. In fact, Jeremiah warned the Israelites that they would be punished because they did not follow this specific law (34:12-17).

Moses envisioned a society without poverty, if they actually were obedient to the command. But he was not naive, and assumed that there would indeed be poor Israelites, because their brothers failed to live as generously as they should. The one who failed to give to his brother because he worried he would not be repaid in fact became a sinner through withholding what he should have given. We call this a sin of omission: not doing what ought to have been done. Rather than being caught in this web of evil, Moses calls on his listeners to be generous, and not to be grieved in the act of generosity, and because of this action to be blessed by God in every work. Imagine if we really lived like this, open-handed, so that everyone was blessed and no one was poor. It would solve so many of the world’s problems. But, as Jesus also reflected, we do not live according to the command, and so we always have the poor among us (cf Matt 26:11).

The slavery that is on view in this passage is a very different kind of slavery to that which we denounce. For starters, they were released after six years. And not merely released, but sent off with the blessings of wealth, just as the Israelites experienced when they departed from Egypt, laden with treasure (cf Ex 12:35-36). Secondly, Moses’ vision of slavery was such that a slave, male or female, could conceivably love her or his master and the household so much that they did not want to leave their service. If a worker is treated well and has all s/he wants, is secure, loves and is loved, why would s/he necessarily want to leave that situation to go into an unpredictable world? I am not condoning slavery, of course, but merely suggesting that there is a possibility, like a world without poverty, that being a slave could generate joy in service rather than grief.

The apostle Paul confidently grasped this possibility in identifying himself as a slave of Christ, and even noted that Jesus himself took the form of a slave (Phil 2:7).

Clearly, the main application of this passage is not that we should make ourselves slaves. It is, rather, that we should be generous. A world without poverty starts with you and me, giving from our blessed bounty to those who are in need. And we should give without pain in our hearts, without anxiety about being repaid, without hardness or closed fists. May those who know us, those who work for us, love us so much that they want to stay with us to receive from the blessing that we ourselves have received.

Prayer: God, forgive me for my hard heartedness that doesn’t want to give, for whatever reason. Show me how generous you have been with me, so that I may be generous with others.

Deuteronomy 14:22-29

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Today’s passage is about tithing, but it is far from what we might expect, based on how we normally understand that word. A tithe is the ten percent (or otherwise) that we bring and give to the church for its ministry, right? Not according to Deut 14:22-26.

The tithe which Moses describes here is indeed a tenth, but the giver enjoys it herself, along with the family. It is to be brought into the Lord’s house and eaten by the worshipper with rejoicing. There is also a provision made for those who live too far away from the temple in Jerusalem. They are instructed to sell their produce and bring the money instead. But when they get to the city where Yahweh chose to put his name, they are to use the money to buy food for their own feast: beef, lamb, wine, even liquor, and enjoy it in the presence of God. What a surprise that may be for us, who normally think of the tithe as money offered for the temple’s service.

However, the next three verses (14:27-29) paint a slightly different picture which seems to fit a little better with what we read in Numbers 18 and other parts of the scripture. Here we see that every third year the tithes are kept aside for the Levites. The writer of Deuteronomy, in keeping with his attention on foreigners, the fatherless, and widows (eg 10:18), adds that this produce should be accessible to them too. It is not quite clear whether the other Israelites only had to take their tithes to Jerusalem two out of every three years, or whether this was a kind of double-offering, celebrated by the family every year during the Feast of Tabernacles (month of Tishrei), and then a tenth of whatever was left at the end of the calendar year (month of Adar) given to those who didn’t have family land and produce.

Regardless of the peculiarities of logistics, what we learn in this section is that God was concerned for the welfare of those on the fringes of society, who didn’t own land or have access to their own produce. I am continually amazed at the heart of God for the disadvantaged. He wants everyone to come, eat, and be satisfied. The result of obedience to the command turns it into a beautiful cycle of blessing: bless others and you will be blessed in all the work of your hands.

I must mention again before we close how blown away I am by the simple revelation here that tithing is not about giving money to the religious institution. God blesses his people to share their blessing and enjoy it. Tithing is not a sour aspect of our faith, as we might sometimes feel, but one of great taste and joy! Let us rejoice in fellowship with what God has blessed us.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you that you provide for me in abundance so that I may rejoice in it and share it with others. Thank you for your heart for the disadvantaged, and may you put that heart in me so that I share what you have blessed me with.

Deuteronomy 14:1-21

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Finally, after thirteen chapters, now we start getting into those individual laws that seem so confusing to us a few millennia later. Today we look at two: cutting oneself as a sign of mourning; and food purity. First of all, we will try to understand the concepts their original setting, and then we’ll think about how to apply them, given that we live on this side of the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament.

The prohibition in 14:1 was probably a reflection of traditional mourning practices from the ancient near east. They would cut themselves to make the blood flow to demonstrate their suffering at the loss of a loved one. But the more interesting part of this small section is not the prohibition itself, but the reason given for it: “you are sons … you are holy … you are chosen … you are a prized possession”. God wanted his people to be different from the surrounding nations. In Lev 19:28 there is a similar commandment that includes tattoos. Does it mean that today we should not get tattoos or piercings? Probably not, as these bodily markings have a different meaning than what is being conveyed here, which is specifically referencing other nations’ cultural and religious practices. We will explore application further in the last paragraph.

The next section (14:3-21) is about acceptable foods: meat (14:4-8), seafood (14:9-10), things with wings (14:11-20), and a final verse that mentions two other prohibitions. Some argue that there is a health and hygiene reason behind the prohibitions; for example, pork and shellfish spoil more quickly than beef and venison, and certainly roadkill can’t be trusted – although it’s odd that if that’s the case it is alright to give or sell it to a foreigner. Others argue that there are religious connotations associated with the prohibited foods, and not eating them might protect the Israelites from engaging the religious practices of other cultures. Although there is some evidence for both these views, there isn’t enough to strongly support either of them. Some of the prohibited foods just seem meaningless. One popular application of these verses is that God demands obedience whether you understand his laws or not – that is, the law of Nike: just do it. If Adam and Eve had simply taken God at his word, obeyed without questioning, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this mess we are in now.

The Jews took these laws and amplified them, particularly the last one about cooking the kid in its mother’s milk. Although likely to refer to some long-lost Canaanite fertility cult, it is from this verse that was derived the rabbinic law, still observed today, that meat and milk-products should not be consumed together in one meal. No beef lasagne, butter chicken, or pepperoni pizza. This has extended even to keeping the dishes and cutlery associated with dairy and meat separately; some religious Jews have two kitchens to do this more easily. While it may seem a crazy application, the net result is exactly what God was aiming for: that his people were different from other nations, and therefore holy.

This may have all seemed irrelevant to some of us before moving to Asia and we never thought much about it. My husband and I both grew up in non pork-eating cultures. But here in Thailand, pork is the main meat and difficult to avoid, as are prawns. Even more confronting is the congealed blood found in many dishes, and the (albeit more easily avoidable) fried insects. Never having thought about clean and unclean foods before, we are daily presented with a choice to obey Deuteronomy 14. But is it a choice we need to make? Jesus implicitly declared all foods clean (Mark 7:15-19). His message was made more explicit by the apostles that expounded on his teaching (eg Acts 10:9-15; Rom 14:1-21). So what do we do with these verses now? Have they become totally irrelevant? Do we just ignore the whole passage and concept?

What is behind both sections is the idea of being a people holy to God, different from the other nations, not following their cultural and religious ways. Being God’s chosen people, precious to him, involves being different from others. But are we? It is an indictment on the modern church and individual Christians that there is little difference between us and the rest of society. Can people around us distinguish that we, as followers of Yahweh or Jesus, are any different? What do you, or I, need to do that would set us apart from our non-believing neighbors?

Prayer: Lord God, forgive me for my complacency and my failure to obey your word. Help me to live in such a way that people would ask, ‘Why are you different?’

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Deuteronomy 13

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We have here again one of those challenging passages which sometimes might cause us to question our own faith, or the God in whom we trust. The topic which occupies most of the verses is punishment for idolatry.

It begins harmlessly enough. Moses imagines a situation where a prophet demonstrates signs and wonders which would cause the observer to follow him, but then turns himself and his followers away to other gods. In that case, he says, do not follow such a prophet, but only Yahweh, the true love of our lives. I can think of parallel events in modern times, where a preacher comes along with such wonderful messages that many people are drawn to him, but then he turns his followers to the idolatry of seeking security in financial prosperity and physical health. Don’t follow false teachers, we are warned, but follow Yahweh, listen to his voice, worship and cling to him. Do not be distracted by the things of this world.

All this we can easily subscribe to. But from 13:5 we learn of the punishment, and this is where things become difficult. Moses’ command was that this prophet who leads astray should be put to death, even if it is a close friend or relative. That we do not yield or listen is okay, maybe even showing no pity, but killing the one who leads us astray? Killing everyone and everything in the city, and burning it with no hope of rebuilding? Seems harsh, even if there has been a thorough investigation first.

Did this ever happen in Israel’s history? I can’t think of any case. Sadly, the church in latter centuries took these verses literally and burned at the stake whoever they believed was a heretic, leading others away from the true God and his word. Ironically, many of these so-called heretics never tried to lead God-followers away from him into idolatry, but simply interpreted the scriptures differently from the authorities. Of course, this chapter does not give us any authority to kill those who do not follow Yahweh, or who turn away from him, whoever they are. Even Paul, quoting 13:5, did not begin to suggest that the church had the right to kill a wayward believer, but only to excommunicate him from the fellowship (1 Cor 5:13).

So, what can we learn here? I think simply the very seriousness of idolatry and leading others into idolatry. It is never to be tolerated. As Jesus said when tested in the desert (Matt 4:8-10; cf Deut 13:3), Yahweh alone deserves our worship and obedience. As a result, he will have compassion and keep his promises.

Prayer: Lord God, please keep my eyes fixed on you, and my ears attuned to your commandments. Let my heart ever cling to you. Have mercy on me Lord, if ever I start to wander and turn me back to you.

Deuteronomy 12

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There is a lot in this passage to study and think about: the destruction of other nations’ idolatrous and evil religious practices; slaughtering and eating meat in the right way; worship through sacrificial offerings; rejoicing before Yahweh; remembering the Levite; and obedience to God’s commands. For today, we will contemplate the topic of the one chosen place of worship (12:5,13-14,18,26).

Moses warns the Israelites that their religious practice will change when they enter the land, but not according to the nations they are dispossessing. Rather, it is the location which will change, to a particular place which God designates. Reading the text on this side of history, we know that the place is going to be Jerusalem. Many scholars believe that the Book of Deuteronomy was written after Solomon built the temple, to consolidate the Judean claim to primacy. But a lot has changed, theologically and politically, since this text was written (or this word was spoken), whenever it was.

Although the Jews returned to Jerusalem and the temple was rebuilt after the exile, things were never the same. When the Samaritan woman discussed the situation with Jesus, he subtly denied the ongoing significance of Jerusalem (John 4:19-24). The Apostle Paul also draws a distinction between the present, historical city of Jerusalem and what he calls ‘the Jerusalem that is above’ (Gal 4:25-26), implying that the scriptures which prophesy its importance may be fulfilled in a heavenly and spiritual sense rather than in an earthly and political sense. John the Apocalyptist also hints at a similar reading of the Bible (Rev 19:2).

So in light of all this, how should we understand Deuteronomy 12 and its focus on ‘the place that the LORD shall choose’? In that moment of salvation history, it was God’s plan that there should be a point of reference in time and space, a specific location where he should be worshipped and his people should rejoice in knowing him. This focal point was designed to bring them together as a nation, to acknowledge Yahweh as their sovereign king, protector and provider. If the people had obeyed the commandments then perhaps that would still be the place where we should worship today. But history moved on. Now, Jesus said, true worshippers worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, not in any special location or with any particular kind of sacrificial offering.

Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice in the city of Jerusalem, and thus tore down the wall that divided Jew and non Jew. Our own spiritual act of worship is not found in the blood of bulls or goats (cf Heb 9-10) but in offering our own living selves on the altar (cf Rom 12:1). And in this, like Paul, we are to rejoice (cf Phil 4:4ff) in everything we do (cf Col 3:16-17), just as the Israelites were commanded to rejoice in their opportunities to worship in the place God chose (Deut 12:7,12,18). Worship and service of the LORD should create joy for us and our families, wherever we are and whatever we are doing. If it has become a burden or a boredom instead, we need to stop and remember how and to what God has called us.

Prayer: LORD God, thank you for the privilege of worshipping you right here and right now. Please fill me with your Spirit and give me a heart of joy and truth as I serve you in faith and obedience.

Deuteronomy 11:18-32

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Again we hear repetition in these verses, and your memory might bounce back to the shema passage in 6:4-9. I hear also a bounce forward to Joshua 1:3-5. What is new here is the introduction of the concept of blessings and curses; we will hear a lot more about this in Deuteronomy 28.

The passage begins with a reminder to burnish God’s words into one’s heart and the very essence of one’s being, by keeping them in constant view and talking about them wherever we are. One application of this may be, as many people do, to literally write and color passages of scripture, then stick them up around your home. I highly recommend using Lorien’s illustrations for coloring if, like me, you are not someone who feels confident to draw your own. Let us also talk about scripture with everyone, at home and at work, while playing and in serious conversations.

The reward for obedience to Yahweh’s commands – that is, to love God, cling to him, and follow in his paths – is the driving out of enemies and length of days in the promised land. The promise here is clearly to the original generation standing at the edge of Canaan, but it is not difficult to extend the application to us, in the same way the author of the letter to the Hebrews does (eg 4:1-11). Paul also talks about rewards for service to the Lord (eg 1 Cor 3:14; Col 3:23-24) and Jesus about treasure in heaven (eg Matt 19:21). While we do not earn our entry to the promised land by obedience, continual rebellion against God will deny it to us. Similarly, an ever-ready reliance on God’s word will guard against attack from spiritual enemies (cf Eph 6:12-17).

It is expressed as blessing for obedience and curse for disobedience, or in other words, turning from following Yahweh to following other gods. There is a physical symbolic expression of the blessing and curse on top of two mountains, Gerizim and Ebal, located on the west side of the Jordan, where they are just about to enter the land. We will hear more about this in Deuteronomy 27, but for now it is just an introductory glimpse.

Of course, we see in life that things are not so simple. The scriptures also wrestle with this fact. Some people live an ungodly life and yet are apparently blessed with health and wealth (eg Psalm 73); others are faithful to the Lord yet seem to be under a curse – like Job. The book of Deuteronomy does not address these issues. It is simple here: love Yahweh and you will be rewarded with long and secure life; follow other gods and you will lose the promised land. The latter is what happened to Israel, and that is what we are to bear in mind: they followed other gods, and they lost the land. But Jesus demonstrated what it means to truly love God and be obedient to his command, his Father’s word ever on his lips. Strangely enough, he was cursed! But he was also blessed as the first fruits of those who enter into God eternal promised land. Let us follow the author and perfecter of our faith, the Lord Jesus.

Prayer: Today I choose obedience and blessing. Help me cling to you, listen to your word, and follow you.

Deuteronomy 11:1-17

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This passage opens with a repeat of the command to love Yahweh and keep his commandments. It then goes into a curious digression about what their children have NOT seen and known. Why is that important? Perhaps there is a suggestion that this is the special generation, standing here in front of Moses and the promised land, right now. They are not the rebellious generation of their fathers, nor are they the ‘spoilt’ generation which is to come. They are the ones who have seen:

  • God’s discipline
  • the greatness and power of God through the miracles in Egypt
  • the provision of God while they were in the desert
  • the punishment of those who rebel against God (eg Dathan & Abiram)

Having seen God’s power, provision, and punishment, the Israelites must be inspired to obey his commandments. They will then be empowered to enter and possess the land, with the result that they will extend their days there.

In 11:9-12 Moses goes into a description of what makes this promised land so good. Egypt was a flat and dry land which could be made to yield by hard labour. But in contrast, the promised land is full of mountains and valleys, with streams not only of water but even, again metaphorically, milk and honey. What really makes it different, however, is not its geography, but that Yahweh cares for it and watches over it, always and year round. Have you ever noticed that before? God cares for this specific physical land.

In the next few verses, we suddenly discover, as readers, that we are listening to God himself speak, not Moses – for Moses does not have power to provide rain and grass, and they are not Moses’ commandments but God’s (11:13 mentions ‘my commandments’ but this is obscured in some translations). It is somewhat jarring, and makes me wonder how long I have been listening to God when I thought I was listening to Moses. Has it been since 10:11? Is that why it feels like the track is on repeat, because God is echoing all that Moses has already said?

God is promising to bless the Israelites if they obey his commandments. But note the content of the command: to love Yahweh, and to serve him with all one’s heart and being. It is not a list of do and don’t, of shalts and shalt nots. The essence of the commandments is love and service of God. The result will be satisfaction; though it is specified that this satisfaction is particularly material – coming from grain, wine, oil, and meat – I would like to think that there might be spiritual satisfaction also.

So to return to the beginning of the passage: did these ones listening right now actually see the exodus from Egypt? Or is this Moses’ (or God’s) artistic license once more? After all, haven’t they all died out in the wilderness? My thought is that there may be some in his audience who did experience the plagues and the passing through the Red Sea, although they were children at the time, and now they are mature men and women. Their parents would then be the ones who died in the desert. These elders are being addressed here: “You have seen what God can do, both in grace and judgment, now take his commandment to love and serve him seriously!”

So my question for myself, and for you reader, is whether we have seen and experienced the grace and judgment of God in our own lives. Speaking for myself, I can say, unequivocally, yes, I have seen how God has provided for me, and I have also been disciplined by him as a Father when I have gone astray. How then, can I fail to hear his word and respond with obedience, to love and serve him? May I be satisfied in the blessings that flow from obedience!

Prayer: You have shown me, O Lord, your power and your might, your providence and your punishment. Give me a heart and mind to love and serve you faithfully, and bless me with satisfaction in your service.

Deuteronomy 10:12-22

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This is such a wonderful passage it is hard to know where to start, or how to summarize my thoughts into a succinct message for today. Let’s start with the description of who God is, then think about what he has done, and finish with an injunction for how his people should live as a result.

Verse 17 announces that Yahweh is the God of gods and the Lord of lords. That is, he is supreme above every potential rival. He is great, mighty, and awesome. He owns not only the earth and all that is in it, but even the heavens of the heavens. Yahweh shows no partiality, executing justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loving the foreigner who does not belong. Just stop there a moment. Does that fit with our picture of the jealous, consuming-fire God? Shows no partiality, and yet chooses one nation?

Note that ‘show partiality’ is an interpretation of the figure of speech which could be directly translated as ‘take/lift face’. Another way of saying it could be that God does not judge on face value, or doesn’t make decisions according to a person’s appearance. God has clearly set his affection on Israel, yet his heart is justice for all, and he is particularly concerned for those without natural standing in the society: the poor and oppressed. In fact, we might observe that that was why God chose Israel; he always roots for the underdog, those who are suffering and have no rights. What other god is like this? I know not one.

Israel themselves were foreigners in Egypt, Moses reminds them. God loved them as they were. Therefore, they too should love foreigners – it might help us to think of refugees, or anyone who might be considered ‘outside’ normal society. God’s people should walk in his ways, be like him, love and serve him with all heart and soul (cf 6:5). They should fear him and yet cling to him. To circumcise the foreskin of their hearts is clearly symbolic, a mark on their minds and wills that generates a softness towards him and swearing in his name.

The result will be good for God’s people (10:13). God’s blessing on his people is demonstrated in the signs and wonders he worked on their behalf to bring them out of Egypt and to the promised land, and in the multiplication of seventy people into a multitude like the stars.

What really moves me in this passage is knowing that our God, Yahweh, is the God of the underdog. What if I am not the underdog, though? What if I am not struggling or suffering or having my rights withheld? Then, as God’s daughter, it is my responsibility to stand up for those who are. It is my duty to love the foreigner, the outsider, the outcaste, the widow and the orphan. This is how I demonstrate my fear of God, and how I walk in his ways. This is how I am marked as a child of the covenant, a servant of the most high God. My love for God will bear fruit in love for those he created.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a heart and will that loves you and desires to serve you by loving others. Help me hold fast to you and learn from your word.