November 5, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Tuesday after the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity


Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 25, 2 Kings 21:1-18, Titus 2
Evening - Ps. 29, Dt. 4:10-24, Mt. 24:29-41

Commentary, Deuteronomy 4:10-24

It has often been noted that Deuteronomy consists of the farewell addresses of Moses.  Knowing he will die rather than enter the Promised Land (4:21-22), Moses desires to give instruction and encouragement to the people in whom he has invested so much of himself and his life.  This book, then, is his last will and testament, describing what he wishes the people of God to have after his death.  As already noted, Moses is one of the most influential people who ever walked upon the earth.  Literally billions of people of many cultures and nations have been shaped or influenced by his work, and no one can rightly understand world history without understanding Moses.  This fact alone makes his words worth studying, but the belief of billions of  people of several religions that he was a prophet of God gives added importance to his works.

Moses actually gave four farewell addresses, and tonight's reading brings us near the close of the first, which encompasses Deuteronomy 1:1-4:43.  Reminding Israel again of the acts of God in giving the Law (4:10-15), Moses implores the people; "Take ye therefore good heed to yourselves... lest ye corrupt yourselves and make you a graven image" (15 and 16).  The Hebrews lived in Egypt for more than 400 years.  Having no Bible except the memorised stories of their ancestors, passed orally from generation to generation, and dwelling in the highly developed and polytheistic Egyptian culture, they must have faced a strong temptation to pattern their faith after the gods of Egypt.  In addition, entering a land filled with images and idolatry, they would be under constant pressure to conform to their Canaanite neighbors' religion.  The subsequent history of the Jews shows an almost constant falling into this temptation.  It is no wonder, then, that at the start of their possession of Canaan, they are warned several times about the consequences of idolatry.

The same temptations face the Church today.  Though graven images are seldom worshiped, compromise lures us into a religious syncretism very similar that faced by the early Christian Church.  We are urged to adopt the culture and values of the world, and to incorporate them into our theology and worship.  This call to accommodate our faith comes as much from inside the visible Church as from outside of it.  The Corinthians faced the same challenge during the Apostolic age.  They compromised the Gospel and adapted their faith and worship to make it more appealing to themselves and the pagan people of their city.  First and Second Corinthians were written to correct their mistakes, and the contemporary Church would do well to hear again the words of Moses, and "take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves."