For the week of August 15, 2020 / 25 Av 5780
Torah: D’varim/Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:11 – 55:5
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See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known. (D’varim/Deuteronomy 11:26-28)
The welfare of ancient Israel was intimately tied to their adherence to the covenant established by God through Moses. Faithful adherence would result in blessing, the Torah term for possessing the potential for life, reproductive life. They would have large, healthy and thriving families over multiple generations; their animals would abundantly reproduce; and they would live in safety and security. Conversely, the consequences for disregarding Torah were curses, the removal of life, including illness, desolation, fear, and being overcome by their enemies resulting in eventual exile.
God never intended obedience and disobedience to be understood in absolute terms as if the tiniest infraction would be deemed as breaking covenant and thus inviting disaster. The God of Torah is merciful and patient, ready and willing to forgive when wrongdoers humble themselves. The grave disobedience that results in cursing is defined as “to go after other gods that you have not known” (D’varim/Deuteronomy 11:28). Breaking covenant was expressed by rejecting the one true God in favor of the false gods of idolatry.
The God of Israel’s prohibition against false gods was both personal and impersonal. It was personal in the sense that he alone was their savior. Not only did he establish them as a people through their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he became their redeemer by rescuing them from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. Therefor Israel owed their existence and their freedom to this God alone. To engage other gods would be a personal act of disloyalty.
The prohibition against false gods was also impersonal in that there are issues in engaging other gods that apply to all people and not only due to the kind of covenant relationship that Israel had with God. Whatever was true universally for all people regarding other gods would also apply to Israel in addition to that which uniquely applied to them due to the covenant.
The first universal principle would be that other gods are not gods. God-ness, so to speak, was erroneously ascribed to concepts and entities by people. To worship false gods was to create false reality. Not only does the worship of false gods misrepresent the truth of the God of Israel as being the only god, it misrepresents truth in general. People may enjoy or find some other perceived benefit in living in a false version of the world, but that has never gone well for them.
The second universal principle regarding other gods is that whether they be represented via a sculpted image, such as an idol; or a personalized force of nature, such as Thor the supposed god of thunder; or the de-religiousized gods of today, be they sex or success, they all are derived from the creation instead of from outside of it. Every other god is humanly based as the product of analyzing nature or imagination or both. The God of Israel precedes and dwells outside of creation. His word has been given to the world via the people of Israel from the outside in.
The myriad of false gods from time immemorial operate from the inside out. If only we can figure it out, we can make the world a better place. We somehow think we can find identity, meaning, success, and lasting joy within the creation. It can’t be done. Every attempt to accomplish salvation from inside creation not only fails but invites disaster. As beings made in the image of one who resides outside of creation we need outside help.
The warning to Israel is a warning to all. Life is not found in ourselves or the world around us. Life is only found in the creator God, the redeemer of Israel. Not only has he communicated his word into the created order through Moses and the Prophets, he embodies his word in the person of his Son, Yeshua the Messiah. Like the covenant of old, Yeshua came from the outside in to rescue those who put their trust in him. Once we discover the outside-in reality of the creator through Yeshua, then we are equipped to live life within the creation as we were truly meant to.
Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version