By Ken Asel
A Reading from Deuteronomy 4:1-9
1 So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you. 3 You have seen for yourselves what the Lord did with regard to the Baal of Peor — how the Lord your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, 4 while those of you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today. 5 See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. 6 You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” 7 For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? 8 And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today? 9 But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.
The fifth book of Moses and the Torah is Deuteronomy, which means the “second law.” While traditionally penned by Moses himself, its genesis is actually dated from the reign of King Josiah in the sixth century BCE, after a particularly difficult time in Jewish history. After the cleansing of Solomon’s Temple unearths an ancient book of the law, Josiah, a great reformer, uses this time as an opportunity to renew the covenant between God and the people of Judah. The hope is to restore the fidelity promised at the Sinai, the basis of the blessing that is to signify God’s favor for all time. Under the leadership of Josiah there is to be a recommitment to the promise between the people of Judah and their God. Deuteronomy purports to be Moses’ final words before he stays behind, as Joshua leads the chosen people across the Jordan River and into the land of Canaan. Under Josiah, the Jews hear once again the call to be faithful to the divine bequest to be an example to all nations.
What does “Chosen People” mean? Certainly it was a term the people of Judah used to characterize themselves. Their history was one that has not always demonstrated how Canaan was meant to be an example for all people of God’s vision of creation. The faithfulness of the Jews, based on the faithfulness of God, is a gift. But this divine gift was not ultimately meant for one people alone. It was given to show other nations what God wished to convey: that the law given at Sinai, when obeyed, blesses the whole world.
Every generation, by God’s grace, is summoned to renew the religious reform modeled by Josiah. The example of the Hebrews is to be a blessing that draws others to commit once again to the Ten Commandments. Religion is more than praying the correct prayers at the right time in the proper place. At its heart, religion is caring for the poor and forgotten and those unable to manage for themselves. The Sinai Covenant is a recommitment to show the world how God’s blessing can transform the world, thousands of years ago and thousands of years to come.
(The Reverend) J. Kenneth Asel, D.Min. is a retired priest from the Diocese of Wyoming. Devvie & he have been married 30 years and reside in the Texas Hill Country.
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