The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is from the fifth and final book of the Torah, Deuteronomy. The text is Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and while “Deuteronomy” means, “second law,” and refers to the second appearance of the Ten Commandments, it really should be read in the context of words given to people already in the grace of the Covenant. As Luther says clearly in his commentary on Deuteronomy, these words belong to the believers. Following them will not make you a child of God or make Him love you, this is already the reality. These words direct the people of God how to live in their identity as God’s children. We would say, this is the reality of our baptismal identity! This is what a baptized child of God looks like. Notice that the preceding chapter (29) is about a renewal of the Covenant.
Note also how chapters 26-30 focus on choices: blessings or curses, life or death, good or evil. God, who loves His children, strongly encourages them to walk in His ways as outlined in Deuteronomy. By doing so, they will be blessed with life and good things. Once we are brought into the Kingdom there are choices laid before us. Serve God or serve man/Satan. Follow the ways and paths of the LORD or stray into the path of sin and death. No one can snatch us from the Father’s hand, but we can walk away from His presence.
Immediately following our pericope we see the change of leadership begin to unfold. Moses is going the way of all flesh and Joshua is already appointed to take his place. This will be a difficult transition. Moses’ parting speech in Deuteronomy helps to smooth the transition and remind the people of who they are and whose they are.
30:15 רְאֵה (re-Eh) Qal, imperative: “to see”
נָתַתִּי (na-Tat-ti) root: נתן (naw-than) Qal: “to give; to place; to set”
30:16 לְאַהֲבָה (le-a-ha-Vah) root: אהב Qal, (aw-hab) infinitive: “to love”
לָלֶכֶת (la-Le-chet) root: הלך Qal, (haw-lak) infinitive: “to walk”
וְלִשְׁמֹר (ve-lish-Mor) root: שׁמר Qal, (shaw-mar) infinitive: “to keep; observe”
30:17 וְנִדַּחְתָּ> (ve-nid-dach-Ta) root: נדח (naw-dakh) Niphal: “to allow oneself to be led astray: to be drawn away; to be seduced; also to impel, thrust banish”
30:18 תַאֲרִיכֻן (ta-a-ri-Chun) root: ארך (aw-rak) Hiphil: “to make long; to cause to be prolonged; to prolong”
30:19 הַעִדֹתִי; (ha-i-Do-ti) root: עוְד (ood) Hiphil: “to call as a witness; to invoke”
הַבְּרָכָה (hab-be-ra-Chah) “blessing”
וְהַקְּלָלָה (ve-hak-ke-la-Lah) “curse; and cursing”
30:20 לִשְׁמֹעַ (lish-Mo-a) root: שׁמע (shaw-mah) Qal, infinitive: “to hear; to obey”
וּלְדָבְקָה (u-le-da-ve-kah) root: דבק (daw-bak) Qal, infinitive: “to cling to; to cleave to; to
stick to; to hold fast to”
וְאֹרֶךְ (ve-O-rech) from: אֹרֶךְ (o’rek) “length”
There are several directions one could go in preaching this text. Provided below are two illustrations which may be helpful in your preparations.
Do You Love Me?
After the Los Angeles riots in 1992, Steve Futterman of CBS radio broadcasted an interview with one of the many looters. The man had been among a group who had pillaged a record store. When asked what he had stolen, the man replied, “Gospel tapes! I love Jesus.”
Sound a little strange? It should! Why would someone who really loves Jesus do something obviously against His will for them? Then again, why do we find ourselves thinking and saying the same things? “I do not go to church, but I love Jesus.” “I hate my neighbor, but I love Jesus.” “I cheat and beat people out of money all week long, but I love Jesus.” “I fudge a little on my income taxes, but I love Jesus.” “I do not want to get involved in the work of the church, but I love Jesus.” When we put it in these words it does not sound so strange does it? In fact, it sounds familiar. In fact, it seems almost okay. Why? Because we have a great confusion as to what love really is!
There must be countless definitions of love out there in our world. Some say love is an emotion, a primordial urge tied to reproduction, a lusting after. Others would tell us love is accepting and allowing, even encouraging all things and all manner of behavior. Then there is, “Love means never having to say you are sorry.” “Love is a many splendored thing.” This lack of clarity on love causes confusion. We have lost sight of what love really is.
In our text from Deuteronomy we hear God’s idea of love—true love…
If only I could move to a new town and make a new start—then I would be happy. If only I could change jobs, buy a new home, a new car, find the right mate, get into the right college, get through college, have enough money to retire—then I would be happy. If only I had this… if only I could find that. Looking for happiness? Will Rodgers described how now and then he grew tired of the same surroundings. He would wish for a new place to live and work. He would pick some attractive sounding city, but before he moved, he would subscribe to the local newspaper in the new place and read it for thirty days. Rodgers declared he always decided not to move. The news from where he planned to live was no better than the news where he was.
True isn’t it? We are always looking for a change of direction. After all, happiness, fulfillment is always somewhere else. When I was growing up on the farm in Southern Iowa we raised cattle—we had a cow/calf operation because we had so much pasture ground. Every Spring we would move cattle into the Summer pasture. All Winter they have been in one pasture and the grass and feed are gone—but the Summer pasture was full of fresh, new grass. Yet, it never failed. Five minutes after I let those cattle into this lush pasture with five inches of new grass, they would have their heads through the fence eating dead, dried up grass in the old pasture! The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…”
Of course, these are cows—people are not like that… right? Hmm… We think happiness and fulfillment are right there, on the other side of the fence. Must be better, must be more exciting, must be more entertaining, must be!
Narrowing down further: here we are, serving the LORD, walking in His ways, following His paths. Is this all there is? Dreary, boring, looks like everyone else is having all the fun, getting all the stuff, reaping the bennies, cashing in! The grass certainly looks greener. We wander off into some strange and ungodly pastures.
I have often thought while I am driving around how one of the shortest sermons is found on a traffic sign: “Keep Right.” The traffic sign and our lesson in our text from Deuteronomy—Keep Right! Stay on the paths of the LORD, follow His ways, think His thoughts, speak His words—Keep Right!
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Deuteronomy 30:15-20.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Deuteronomy 30:15-20.