By the time we get to Matthew 5:21-37, Jesus has gotten down to brass tacks in his Sermon on the Mount. Quite frankly, I haven’t had enough time to ponder how I might go about preaching Jesus’ elevation of the law (thankfully, I’m not preaching this week), so I’m going to come back around to that later this week. Instead, today I’m drawn to on of my favorite Old Testament scenes that comes out of Deuteronomy.
The Books of Moses, the Torah, is just about to come to an end here in Deuteronomy 30. The people of Israel stand on the cusp of the Promised Land as Moses lays out for them the means by which they will reaffirm the covenant that God has made with them during their journey through the wilderness. He recapitulates the law, he gives them precise instructions about how they are to enter and rule the Promised Land. He is about to hand the mantle of his authority over to Joshua when calls upon the Hebrews to choose their desired future. They can choose to follow the commandments of the Lord and be prosperous, or they can choose to follow the devices and desires of their own hearts and be doomed. He implores them to “choose life!”
What struck me this morning is Moses’ description of what life apart from the will of the Lord would look like, “if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.”
That got me thinking about the various gods that people have bowed down to over the last 3,500 +/- years. There have been literal gods like Ba’al, but more often than not, the objects of worship have been gods of our own making: gods like power, prestige, and privilege. In more recent years we’ve bowed down to worship the gods of technology, self-help, money, and entitlement. Generation after generation, there have been gods that seek our attention and affection, gods that lead us astray and demand our fealty, and without fail, those gods lead to death and displeasure.
The LORD our God invites us to instead pledge our allegiance to him “by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances.” The promise then is not of death, but rather “you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.”