When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. You will again obey the Lord and follow all his commands I am giving you today. Then the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, If you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
The Offer of Life or Death
Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life,and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Deuteronomy 30: 1-20
I have always loved this passage. It’s simple in a true and beautiful way, like a perfectly symmetrical and contemplated work of art. It feels rock solid, a promise that God won’t back down from, and enduring, the certainty that multiplicity of small choices over days and years will result in a generational blessing.
Imagine my surprise when realizing, just now, that I hadn’t really understood this passage at all. I had completely missed the choice God was giving to his people. All the aspects I loved about the passage remained — the simplicity, the rock solid certainly, the endurance and promise.
There was one glaring issue that had somehow escaped me entirely — what God was actually asking his people to do. Somehow I had taken the ideas of the Ten Commandments and blessings and cursings, mixed them around in my mind and had come up with what was a toxic concoction for my spiritual health. It went something like this — God wants his people to be blessings to their neighbors — being a blessing takes a lot of effort and vigilance in noticing who around us is in need of a blessing. I had bought myself into a joyless, unachievable doctrine of works that was making me a worn out wreck and most likely a source of puzzlement to the recipients of my “blessings”.
Reading the passage tonight was a complete and wonderful revelation — God isn’t asking us to be blessing machines. He’s asking His people to have no other gods before Him, that we love him out of the deepest and most sincere parts of our hearts. What an epiphany!
My absolute favorite thing that Alex often preaches goes something like, “The greatest gift we can give another is the person we are becoming.” That beautifully separates us from the idea that we have to work or perform or sacrifice who we truly are in order to please God and to love our neighbors. Obedience, rather than being a chore, leads to happiness and deep joy. As we rid ourselves of the idols that weigh us down and enslave us, we can fall deeper in love with God. We show up more sparkly and vibrant as that love washes through us and over us, and we can be a blessing to our neighbors.
I’m going to be doing a lot of reflection on this epiphany in 2024. It won’t be a resolution, because that would defeat the whole purpose of this new way of seeing. I think I’ll make it more into a prayer: Surprise me God! Surprise me with all the ways depriving idols of oxygen and encouragement can transform my life.
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