Thursday, May 16, 2013

Deuteronomy 28:1-29:29


Deuteronomy 28 is, I think, the heart of this book and the statement of a central theme in deuteronomistic thought. Verses 1-12 promise blessings upon those who obey the YHWH's laws. Verses 15-68 invoke curses on the people of Israel if they are disobedient. The blessings, wonderful as they are, are overshadowed by the curses which are more numerous, more extravagant, and, honestly, more interesting.

I came across a website some time ago that claimed, falsely, that the ELCA teaches that there is no prophecy in the Bible. I think the proprietor of that site was working with a mistaken idea of what prophecy is. Like a lot of people he thought that prophecy equals prediction. Prophecy may include prediction, and there are some predictions in the Bible. But prophecy is much more than that.

Every week I listen to the Working Preacher podcast. This week I was reminded that prophecy is not just a call for social justice either. Prophecy may include calls to social justice, and there are plenty of calls to social justice in the Bible. But prophecy is much more.

Prophecy is speaking for God.

Deuteronomy 28:47 ff. states, graphically, that among the curses to befall disobedient Israel are siege, conquest, and exile by a foreign nation. I suppose that this might be a prediction, though the evidence suggests that Deuteronomy was written after these "predictions" were supposed to have been made. So, no, I do not think that this is prediction. I do, however, believe it to be prophecy. The Deuteronomistic author, speaking for God, is trying to make sense of Israel's history. God, speaking through the author, is calling God's people to repentance and obedience.

I don't think the simple equation that keeping God's law leads to prosperity while disobeying God's law leads to destruction and curse holds up to the test of lived experience. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and vice versa.When we get to the book of Job we will find an important counterpoint to Deuteronomy, an opposing voice also canonized in Scripture.

In Deuteronomy 29 Moses again reviews some of the history of Israel's travels through the wilderness and calls the people to renew their covenant with YHWH. It ends with a wonderful statement, an editorial comment:

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever, to observe all the words of the law.
God is transcendent and sovereign. God has revealed God's covenant and laws to Israel. I believe that God has revealed God's self to the nations (i.e. Gentiles) in Jesus Christ. 

Next: Deuteronomy 30-31

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