Connections 02.16.2020: The Choice God Offers

Deuteronomy 30:11-20

In our lesson text, God seems to offer a simple choice. Choose “life and prosperity” or “death and adversity” (v. 15). Doesn’t the best choice seem obvious? Don’t the benefits of the first choice make the second choice seem ridiculous? Who would choose death and adversity?

I believe we would all choose life if it were really that simple. But as we read further in the text, we see that this choice makes heavy demands on our lifestyles. Choosing life means obeying God. It means “loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances” (v. 16). It means sacrificing our own interests for the benefit of other people. It means going against the usual ways of the world in favor of a higher Way that is often unnoticed and underappreciated.

How does such obedience and sacrifice bring life? The text promises blessings and prosperity to those who love and obey God. Some people interpret this to mean that God gives financial success to those who are living in obedience. Thus, anyone who struggles to make ends meet must not be doing the right things in the eyes of God. The dangers and damage of this so-called “prosperity gospel” are widely documented. (Just do a Google search for the topic. You’ll find dozens of suggested articles from reputable sources.) But the only evidence I need against it are the words of Jesus:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Mt 6:19-21

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.”

Lk 6:20b-21a

Jesus constantly lifted up the humble and lowly and chastised the proud and powerful.

We all know people who faithfully serve the Lord and yet endure the most difficult trials known to humanity. So what if “life” is not the promise of riches and ease but the certainty of assurance and comfort—no matter what happens? If that is what God means by life, would we still choose it?

Discussion

• Through your actions or your attitudes, when have you chosen “death and adversity” over “life and prosperity”? What did this look like? What was the result?

• What do you think “life” means in this context?

• How can choosing life be a difficult path in our world?

• Do you know anyone who has chosen life and still suffered greatly? How have they coped with their situation in light of their faithfulness to God?

• How can Jesus’ example help you as you try to choose life each day—to love the Lord, walk in God’s ways, and obey God?

Reference Shelf

Choose Life! 30:10-20

The composition now reaches its climax in a call for decision. The previous paragraphs have repeated the underlying theme that Israel has the freedom either to accept YHWH’s gracious gift of redemption and provision—that is, to obey his covenant—or to reject it by worshiping other gods. Even though YHWH demonstrated his might and his saving intention in Egypt and the wilderness, Israel failed to understand and obey (29:3[4]). Later, assembled before YHWH and his servant Moses for the purpose of reaffirming the covenant, some entertained plans privately and secretly to worship the gods of the nations they had met on the journey to Moab (29:15-18[16-29]). Judging from their knowledge of Israel’s history and, presumably, their personal experience, the authors/editors soon abandon the hypothetical in his discussion of Israel’s apostasy. As they know, Israel’s infidelity and resulting exile are virtually inevitable (29:21-28[22-29]). But they also know that the option of covenant fidelity still remains viable. YHWH can redeem Israel, thereby giving the freedom to be his people. YHWH can offer Israel covenant relationship, thereby establishing the principles for being his people. But Israel must choose to live as YHWH’s peculiar possession, as his nation of priests.

The appeal to make the right choice continues aspects of the preceding discussion of repentance in an effort to set aside two possible major objections (vv. 11-14). First, the requirements of the covenant are not impossibilities (literally, “they are not too wondrous for you,” v. 11). They are not heavenly mysteries beyond attainment (v. 12). In the opinion of Deuteronomy, and in contrast to a long tradition of Christian theology, the covenant is immanently “doable.” As the repentance discussion acknowledges, the problem lies in the human will for good, not the human capacity for good.

Second, the requirements of the covenant are not mysteries (v. 11). They are not hidden somewhere beyond the sea. YHWH has revealed the fundamental principles of his will for humankind to Israel (compare Mic 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good: What does YHWH require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”). Moses has explicated them for a new generation facing new circumstances, thereby establishing the beginning of a tradition of authoritative interpretation. Joshua stands in the wings ready to take over leadership and continue the tradition. As a consequence, Israel cannot claim ignorance of YHWH’s basic intentions for its life as his people. The words of the covenant are nearby indeed. They are, in fact, “on your lips and in your heart” (v. 14; compare Deut 6:4-8).

YHWH has done all that he can: he has redeemed Israel from Egyptian bondage, given them the covenant through Moses, led them safely to Moab, and now reiterated the covenant once again. The promised land lies before them to be possessed. The words of the covenant are on their lips and in their hearts. Their future as YHWH’s covenant people lies open. It is up to them to realize that future. They face a choice.

The text portrays their options starkly: Moses places before the people a choice between life and death, between good and evil. They may love YHWH—that is, they may walk in his ways, keeping his commandments, statutes, and ordinances—with the result that they will live, become numerous, and enjoy YHWH’s blessings in the land he gives them. Or, their “hearts may turn away”—that is, they may fail to heed the commandments, allowing themselves to be seduced into the worship of idols—with the result that they will be destroyed (v. 18). Not coincidentally, although the terminology varies slightly, this phrase expresses the opposite of the act of repentance discussed in 30:1.

Borrowing a technique from ANE treaties, once again the text underscores the solemnity of the choice that Israel faces by calling on cosmic witnesses to attest to Israel’s choice. The choice itself is reiterated yet once more in the most forceful terms (v. 19): “I set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life!” The appeal concludes by paraphrasing the decision for life in now-familiar terms: “love YHWH your God, heed his voice, cling to him, for he is your life.”

Mark E. Biddle, Deuteronomy, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2003), 445–48.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (15) and Natalie (12), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.

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