Summary: . Our stories as a community of faith -- as those who stand in the history of blessing, as part of the covenant -- are what teaches us about our God and ourselves. They inspire us to obey him out of gratitude.
A Family History: This Is Who We Are
Rachel and I have a tradition we follow every time we go back to the hills of West Virginia. We like to take a little time out of each visit to go and pray with my grandmother. When my grandfather was alive, he and grandma prayed together every night before going to bed, so she enjoys having someone to pray with her. Rach and I will go and spend a while talking to her and then as we prepare to leave, we pray with grandma.
During one Christmas break, we went to visit and began talking to her about the good ol’ days. I had never learned much about my family history because as I was growing up, my family always lived away from West Virginia. Dad was in the military so we only visited during the summer. But that evening, Grandma drug out this old folder bulging with papers. In it were handwritten pages, some with grandma’s hand-writing, some with others, full of the names and dates of my ancestors. There were birth and death notices, short little blurbs about major events in the family and the name of the original five brothers who left Lanham, Maryland in the early 1800’s to settle in Appalachia. I also heard about my maternal great, great, great grandfather, William "the Pioneer" Currence, who married Lydia Steele in Philadelphia and after having ten kids, moved to the Tygart Valley in West Virginia. He built the first mill in the area and Fort Currence. Shortly after finishing all this, he was killed in an Indian raid.
I was so fascinated by all the stories and names and dates. They gave me a connection to the past -- to all the fish that swam in my gene pool. I began to get a sense of who I was, where I came from and what sort of heritage I had.
Now, I realize, that for you this history is nonsense. It may be interesting, but it has no real connecting point with your life. It doesn’t speak about Jackson or Cascades Fellowship or even the Christian Reformed Church. But to me, this information is priceless. You know why? Because it’s my story. It tells me who I am and how I came to be. Without these stories, I don’t exist.
In the same way, Israel does not exist without her stories. Our passage this morning concentrates on the story of Israel. It tells us a little bit about who she is and how she came to be. In working through our passage this morning, we’re going to look first at the history behind the passage. The second thing we will look at is why telling the story is important. Finally, we will talk about how we should hear the story today.
To understand what is happening at this point in the story of Israel, we must remember at what point they are in their journey toward the land -- where they are in the exodus from Egypt. By this time in the story, the first generation of Israelites to come out of Egypt have died. Only Moses, Joshua, and Caleb remain from that first generation. So the people addressed here by Moses are ones who never tasted the slavery of Egypt. Sure they have heard the stories and the promises, but they were not around to see the plagues destroy Pharaoh and Egypt. They did not walk across the dry bed of the Red Sea or see the cloud settle on Mount Sinai where God met with Israel and delivered the Ten Commandments. So for them, the sting their parents felt when God turned them away at the Jordan for their disobedience and lack of faith is but the dull ache of a long journey. This generation is part of the second exodus -- the second wandering through the wilderness. And their wanderings are about to come to end. As the nation of Israel approaches the boundary of the promised-land for the second time, Moses is busy preparing them. In chapter five, he gives the Israelites the Ten Commandments again. He reminds them of the covenant God made with them at Sinai. Now in chapter six he tells them why it is important to pay attention to the things he is telling them. Look at v. 3.
Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you.
Note how Moses names God. "The God of your fathers." He’s making a statement here. He’s pointing Israel back to her history. He wants her to see that the God who led Abraham out of Ur is the same one who led their parents out of Egypt and is the same one who is leading them into the promised-land. Now why do you suppose this is so important? Take a look at vv. 20-25.