Summary: God has given us a precious treasure in our ability to choose to love Him
The dean of a university was at a faculty meeting when a professor from the antiquities department handed him an old brass lamp they had just acquired. The dean rubbed a smudge from it, and as he did, a genie appeared. “I’m the genie from the lamp,” he said, “and I’m here on a special assignment, Dean. Your unselfish service has won you a reward. You have a choice – you can have either unthinkable wealth, infinite wisdom, or unsurpassed beauty.” Without hesitating, the dean selected wisdom. "It is done!" the genie said, and then he disappeared into a cloud of smoke and back into the lamp. All of the other members of the faculty stared at the dean with amazement. Finally one of them whispered, "Now that you have infinite wisdom, Dean, say something." The dean looked them and said, "I should have taken the money."
Life’s full of interesting choices, isn’t it? You already made several today. Without thinking about it, you exercised one of the greatest God-given qualities you and I have as human beings.
I want us to look at 2 stories about choosing and how having a choice fits into our lives now and forever. Look for yourself in each of these; you’re there.
One is the instruction from God given to the nation of Israel right before they entered the Promised Land. It’s about 1406 B.C., during what archaeologists call the Late Bronze Age. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, Israel is getting ready to cross the Jordan River and take over the land God had promised their forefathers. They were at a literal crossroads in their history, and the whole book we call Deuteronomy is about getting them ready to go into this new setting. It’s a lot like what we do as a new year begins – looking backward at where we’ve been, and looking forward to what we want to accomplish as a new era is upon us. So, it makes good sense for us to take a look at it today.
Israel has been living in tents, not cities. Settling in, planting fields and vineyards, setting down roots, these were all going to be new things to this generation that grew up roaming the desert. Suddenly, they were going to have peace and stability and prosperity. God knows that tough times are tough, but to remain faithful in successful times can be even tougher. So, through Moses, He gave them a reminder. They were to set up large stones on Mt. Ebal, coat them with plaster, and write the Law on them as reminders to the people. Then, as the people crossed the Jordan, they were to form two squads…
When you have crossed the Jordan, these tribes shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin. And these tribes shall stand on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali.
Picture a football game, and the crowd on one side yells, “We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit! How ‘bout you?”
The priests were to call out the blessings, and the curses, and the people were to all shout “Amen!” after each one.
"Cursed is the man who carves an image or casts an idol--a thing detestable to the LORD, the work of the craftsman’s hands--and sets it up in secret." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!" "Cursed is the man who dishonors his father or his mother." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"
So, from that day forward, they would remember how God had them break into 2 groups and do this to illustrate the way they could choose either to be blessed or cursed by Him. Every time they looked up and saw Mt. Ebal, they’d remember the copy of the Law, written on stones up there; they’d remember the day they all called out the blessings and the curses if they obeyed or chose not to. 2 mountains. 2 different directions they could go. Their choice.
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse-- the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. When the LORD your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses. As you know, these mountains are across the Jordan, west of the road...
On top of that, God also told them they would mess up, and that they’d be carried off by their enemies, but that, once again, if they’d obey His Law, He’d bring them back and bless them. Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim became symbols of the fact that Israel had a choice to make as they entered the Promised Land. Obedience, or disobedience. Blessing, or curse.