Statue of Moses at the Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
Deuteronomy 8: 1-10 The LORD’s Care in the Exodus
1 This entire commandment that I command you today you must diligently observe, so that you may live and increase, and go in and occupy the land that the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. 2 Remember the long way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. 3 He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 4 The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the LORD your God disciplines you. 6 Therefore keep the commandments of the LORD your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him. 7 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9 a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. 10 You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you.
Deuteronomy 8 breaks into two sections, one looks back and one looks forward. Looking back to the journey of the people through the wilderness, a place without the resources for easy survival of a large people migrating from one land to another, they are reminded of the way the LORD provided in the midst of their scarcity. As Luther could say in his day:
God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. (Luther, 1994, p. 25)
In the reflective mode of book of Deuteronomy Moses reminds the people how God provided food and water, made their clothes and shoes endure the forty years, kept their bodies from showing the strain of the difficult journey and in general preserved the people through their ordeal.
The time of the Exodus was also a time of testing and discipline for the people as they slowly began to be prepared to enter the Promised Land. This chapter uses parent-child language in verse 5 to talk about the way that the LORD has been teaching the people how to live as the covenant people of God and to prepare them to live in this bountiful land. In the parental role God has attempted to provide a healthy set of boundaries and provide a pattern for their relationship with one another. In a culture where identity was inherited, passed down from parent to child, they have been in the process of constructing a new set of identities. Once their identities were fixed as slaves in Egypt because they were Hebrew and not Egyptian, now their identity is that of children of God, freed from their captivity in Egypt. Their parent’s generation was a generation in transition, continually looking back to their previous identity and being called into a new one but now this generation has to construct a new identity. Their existence has been one of wandering and relying upon God for their daily bread. Their parents and grandparents were captives, now they are to be conquerors. Now that they have grown into their role as the people of God they are ready to inherit a land rich in agricultural produce, mineral wealth and flowing stream. They are now being addressed as the grown children who, like Adam in the book of Genesis, will be called to work and tend this garden for the LORD. They too will be tempted in their abundance and will be enticed to construct new identities other than the one they are inheriting from their parental God.
Deuteronomy 8: 11-20 The Dangers of Complacency and Affluence
11 Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. 12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. 19 If you do forget the LORD your God and follow other gods to serve and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20 Like the nations that the LORD is destroying before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God.
Martin Luther could say of this passage, “(So) where abundance prevails, do not be puffed up or carelessly forget God. Whether everything is on hand or everything is lacking, cling to your God always with the same heart.” (Thompson, 2014, p. 92) And yet the fear portrayed, and realized through the later books of the Deuteronomic history, is that the people will not cling to their God with the same heart. When they are no longer dependent upon God for their daily bread in the same manner they will quickly begin to take their own security for granted. As David Martin, when talking about modern day Pentecostalism, can state, “Unsurprisingly, given so many of them are the ‘damned of the earth’, they respond to an Old Testament emphasis on good things God has in store for the righteous.” And the narratives of Deuteronomy portray a people who had been among the ‘damned of the earth’ and may well have been compiled to be told to a people feeling they are the ‘damned of the earth’ again as they sit in exile in Babylon. The people are needing to hear a promise of what God can do but also a cautionary tale of how when they have all that they need they run the risk of losing their identity. As immigrant cultures come to the United States the first generation typically comes with the values of the homeland and the language of the homeland, but subsequent generation become further and further removed from the language, culture and values of their ancestors homes, so too in a story of the Hebrew people they will begin, in a state of relative comfort, to adapt to the culture and the values that surround them. While the Ten Commandments may call them to care for their neighbor, and earlier in Deuteronomy is the call to care for the vulnerable among the community: the orphan, the alien, the widow, slaves, etc. Yet, the gods of materialism are seductive and call the individual to seek their own best interest, to follow the gods of their stomachs and desires, and to allow their living covenant with the God of Israel to become a set of religious practices separated from the rest of their lives. Deuteronomy continually reminds the people of their relationship to the LORD that their identity is found in the covenant they have with their God and that if they lose that identity their lives, property, and security are all at risk. That they too, even when abundance prevails, are to cling to their God with the same heart knowing that their daily bread still comes from the provision of the God of their ancestors.