15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
The preacher (or preachers) whose voice is captured in Deuteronomy puts it starkly: blessing and curse, prosperity and adversity, life and death. In our reading of the Sermon on the Mount, we haven’t yet gotten to Jesus saying, “you cannot serve God and mammon” – but the message is here in our first reading for this Sunday.
I wonder what it was like in the years after the Babylonian armies had scorched the land, stolen the temples treasures, looted the city, torn down Jerusalem’s walls, and torched the whole mess – I wonder what it was like for the scribes who assembled these words into what we know now as the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures, copying these words of warning in the aftermath of destruction, recording these threats knowing full well the outcome of the people’s choice. There are times we do not want to hear anyone say, “I told you so.” Times we wonder how we could have acted so foolishly.
Maybe there is some comfort in knowing they were warned, but it must have been filled with immeasurable regret. Israel and Judah had been warned once before when the Assyrians advanced and desolated the northern kingdom, but that did not stop Judah from plowing ahead on the same path. History doesn’t repeat itself – but we do. Again and again the same grave errors.
The day before yesterday I watched four cars run through a red light at an intersection. I understand the frustration of having to wait through another cycle of the traffic light. But I also know the tragedy that can follow. I don’t press my luck anymore. It’s not only that I do not want to risk damage to myself; I don’t want to do to anyone what was done to me. No one should be greeted at dawn by a policeman knocking on the door to inform you your child has been killed because of someone’s stupid and selfish mistake on the road. Grave mistake.
We know better, but we run lights, we cut corners, we risk our marriages for a flirtation. We risk our children’s future. We risk our lives. We risk our planet. Such strange creatures we are.
We have been warned. We just think we know better. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, the fruit looks good to us.
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.
God is not threatening us; God is simply warning us. Adultery always begets misery – whether at home or with the heart of the universe. To break faith with God cannot end well.
Our only hope is that though we may break faith, God does not break faith with us. God is faithful to his promise to redeem his world – to bring us back from exile, to bring us back from death into life.