Summary: Year C Sixth Sunday after Pentecost July 15th, 2001 Deuteronomy 30: 9-14 Title: “God’s word is not too hard to understand.”
Year C Sixth Sunday after Pentecost July 15th, 2001
Deuteronomy 30: 9-14
Title: “God’s word is not too hard to understand.”
Our text is in the midst of a sermon, the third sermon of the book, delivered by Moses, exhorting the people to fidelity to Yahweh alone by living a way of life consistent with the character of God revealed in His words and deeds. The book has a long history of formation, one not entirely clear, but its major accomplishment was to see these various laws and traditions as part of the “legal stipulations” of a formal covenant made with God. The format for this was the widely used legal instrument of “covenant formulary,” a sort of template into which was poured specific stipulations for keeping a contract, along with curses for not doing so. The genius of Deuteronomy was to transfer these otherwise dry and formal specifics into a lively speech by Moses, a transfer that endowed the “word” or “words” of his speech with the same aura of divine revelation as the “commandment” or “commandments” of God. Deuteronomy is the first book to speak not of “laws” but of the “Law,” “Torah,” thereby seeing the various detailed expressions as originating in the unified will and plan of God.
Moses, of course, was not the actual deliverer of this speech. He was long dead. The text is at pains to say that Moses’ office as law speaker is handed on to his successors Deuteronomy 3:28; 5:1-6:3; 18:15-22; 31:1-29. Whoever holds the office stands in the place of Moses for his generation and speaks in his name or person. Just as the historical situation in which the speech is cast is the imminent entrance into the Promised Land, the actual situation for which the speech was written was the re-entrance into the Promised Land after return from the Babylonian Exile in 537BC. It was a time to renew commitment to God, loyalty to him alone. The whole theme of Deuteronomy was one God, one people, one land, one sanctuary.
There was considerable doubt that a people used to pagan Babylon for fifty years would be able to meet the high standards of behavior imposed by the conditions of the old covenant at Sinai. The ideals and even the standards seemed unreachably high. The law speaker assures the people that such is not the case. The Law is not only reachable, but doable, not only doable but livable. In fact, without its observance life itself would be unlivable, for separation from God is tantamount to death itself. They must now make up their minds, make a decision to follow Yahweh and his ways, his laws, his Law.
In verse ten, written in this book of the law, The book of Deuteronomy.
In verse eleven, for this command which I enjoin on you: “Command,” Hebrew mitswah, is used in the singular here. It was plural in verse ten. The singular and plural are used interchangeably, just as Jesus uses the terms in John. The plural form stresses the number and variety of “laws” while the singular stresses that they come from the one God and are, at heart, one basic “law.”
Today, this is an important word. At first, it sounds like this is a new, totally new, commandment. However, it is really the same as that imposed long ago at Sinai. “Today” is, if you will, the liturgical and spiritual present. It means “today and every day, all day.” In the liturgical assembly time is condensed into a sort of extended present. The past and the future are somehow present by virtue of the “liturgical consciousness.” This is an instance of taking an ordinary word used in “profane” contexts to mean one thing, but when used in “sacred” contexts it means that and more than that.
Not too mysterious and remote for you, this is the main point of this text. The “word,” communication, commandments, laws, expectations of God are doable. They are not beyond realization by humans. Understood here is that one does not “do” them on one’s own power but by the power bestowed in the awareness of God’s loving-kindness or covenantal fidelity, Hebrew, hesed.
In verse twelve, it is not up in the sky, it is not so airy, speculative, or esoteric that one cannot grasp its meaning. It is not among the secret things God has yet to reveal.
In verse thirteen, nor is it across the sea, one does not need superhuman heroes to go and fetch it. If Israel’s expected response to God and his word is not inaccessible, in the sky, neither is it beyond some insuperable barrier, the sea.
In verse fourteen, no, it is something very near to you, it has been received from Moses’ own mouth and put into human words for ease of understanding by the graciousness of God who realizes human limitations. God would not command the impossible. Besides, he is very near and thus so is his word.