Thursday, April 13, 2006

Deuteronomy Ten: Fear the Lord

I have written a section concentrating on Deuteronomy Ten's meditation on fearing God. In doing this I didn't intend to belittle the rest of the text, I merely felt there would be plenty of writing material while just writing about the fear of the Lord.

The fear of the Lord, is an odd phrase for us twentieth century westerners. We are used to fearing people, dogs, maybe high heights, but certainly not God! The richest theological section of Deuteronomy ten is a meditation on that very thing: the fear of the Lord. But, for the sake of understanding the movements in the narrative we will enter just before. Moses tells the Israelites, "It was not his will to destroy you," recalling the positive end to God's initial frustration with his "stiff-necked people" (Exodus ch.33 v.1-6). The message is of hope not of judgment, still Moses charges the Israelites to "fear the Lord" (v.12). This, as we see when we read on, is a call to devoted acknowledgment, "fear the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and your soul" (v.12). Here we see a description of what fearing the Lord looks like in practice, "walk in his ways, to love him, to serve [God]." If we don't "walk in his ways," we end up the hostage of lesser destructive fears: death, other people, snakes, the list goes on. Better to take hold of what Jesus says in Luke, "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him" (Luke 12:4-5).

"To the Lord God belongs the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it" (v.14), Here Moses gives us a portrait of God's sovereignty, an image like this is given to us so that we can be drawn into a deeper understanding of God's complete awesomeness; this wisdom inspires the fear of the Lord. But the very next verse is a declaration of God's specific love and grace, "Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today" (v.15). Here, in the last two verses we see a summarized picture of God; he is simultaneously sovereign, and intimately involved in every intricacy of life here on earth, he is "mighty and awesome" and "He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing" (v.17,18). It is because of this dual nature of God that he charges Israel, and us, to "circumcise [our] hearts" (v.16). Circumcision was a sign of the covenant God made with the Israelites; God's true desire is that the sign of covenant faithfulness be written on their hearts.

Throughout Deuteronomy Israel is on the verge of crossing the Jordan, they could nearly see into the promised land, but instead of focusing on the great and wild joys that they will have, Moses continually leads them to God. "Fear the Lord" he tells them--don't focus on yourself we hear, follow him. This is what fearing God is about--it is to look both joy and sorrow dead in the eye and remember that God's sovereignty is ineffable and his love is most intimate.

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