Friday, February 17, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Two: To Take and Give

We start to see some spiritual maturation in Israel in Deuteronomy Chapter two. Wherein the previous chapter we saw the sin of Israel exposed for what was when Moses tells us, "The Amorites who lived in that hill country then came out against you and chased you as bees do. They beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah. When you returned and wept before the Lord, the Lord would neither heed your voice nor pay you any attention" (1:45), this is where are left, a stark picture but an honest one if sin is the portrait.

Chapter two begins with God ending a period of literal repentance, "we journeyed back in the direction of the Red Sea, as the Lord had told me and skirted Mount Seir for many days. Then the Lord said to me: "You have been skirting this hill country long enough. Head north, and charge the people as follows [...]" (2:1). God then directs Moses to turn back towards the promised land. We might empathize at this point, for how often are we turned away from a promise in repentance, only for God to turn us back--when He see's fit.

Moses is then directed to head north through the territory of Esau where they are not to engage in battle for God "will not give you even so much as a foot's length of their land, since I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession" (2:5). Then Moses is called to lead Israel through the land of the Moabites. Again, God warns Israel through Moses not to attack the Moabites, "for [he] will not give any of its land as a possession, since I have given Ar as a possession of the descendants of Lot" (2:9). Simply put, Israel's spiritual maturity is seen in them listening to their Lord. Where the previous chapter we saw the sin of Israel, and it's fatal end, here we see obedience and its blessing, "I have handed over to you King Sihon the Amorite of Heshbon, and his land" (2:24).

In this chapter we also might take note of the difference between "given" and "taken". Here, God gives a land to Israel, but he is also specific about which land. He does not give Israel the land of the Moabites, nor does he give them the land he promised to the descendants of Lot. The point is, that land is not for them, God has already given it to a different people. If, like the previous chapter, Israel decided to take a land that was not theirs (e.g. the Moabites land) the end would be, again, fatal. To take what is not first given is sin, and self-focused, but to receive of what God has given to you can be, in a sense, can be humbling because to receive is to simultaneously say, "I did not provide for this by myself" and "I am in need of this". The gladness of the receiver's heart acknowledges the grace of the giver.

Also, there is a natural ease that comes with receiving, and a natural dis-ease that comes with taking. The ease in receiving exists because God, who is eternal, creates a conclusion to an event before it has been actualized, this is clear when God says to the Israelites, "The Lord your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes, and in the wilderness, where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as one carries a child [...]" (Deut. 1:30-31). However, the one who takes and does not receive wages war against an already resolved conclusion, thus the fatal end we witnessed at the end of Deuteronomy chapter one. The second problem that the "taker" creates is a frustration with God's desires, or to put it simply: they mess with the people humbly waiting on God. This is part of the fallen world, where "toil" happens because people in high and low positions are struggling against a God's desires.

Along with the Israelites we too are called to "receive of" not "take from". Salvation, at the core of Christian belief, depends alone on God. He not only gave himself as a ransom for many by dying on the cross, but he also reveals himself to us; are part in the relationship is to receive.

We must daily ask ourselves, what in us is making war against God's heart and his purposes. When we feel we have an answer, repentance is the solution. The first question, however, should be: "What is God's heart, for me and my community and all the nations."

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