“The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. . . I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life.” (Deuteronomy 30:14-20)
Moses delivered the commandments from Mount Sinai. The Israelites spent forty years led by the pillars of fire and cloud, learning to live as people of God. They witnessed the plagues of Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the provision of quail and Manna, and the issuing of water from a rock. “He dwelt among them” and provided a prophet to reveal and interpret his will.
When they came to the edge of Canaan, it would seem that they had sufficient time to mature and develop self-discipline. But, just like middle school students who can quickly generate classroom rules for “others” to follow–knowing what to do and doing it are two different things. Human impulses are strong, and the moment self-interest is threatened, or opportunities for advancement and power emerge, the rules are easily forgotten or “bent.” Unless the “law” is written on the heart, compliance is unpredictable.
The promise of blessing or the threat of curse is never enough. By the time Jesus was born, the Pharisees had made the law so complicated that ordinary Jews had difficulty pleasing God. Jesus revealed the futility of self-righteousness by shining a light on attitudes and corrupted thoughts. Adultery was a lustful thought, murder was anger, Sabbath laws were redefined. It was impossible to reach God by keeping the law. That was why he had to reach out to us.
“In the fullness of time, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)
“LORD, it is impossible to keep the law on our own. We fall under the curse because of our own failings. Thank you for reaching out to us when we were incapable of reaching out to you. Write your law on our hearts and help us to love.” Amen.
Mindi Oaten’s painting “Our Just Judge” is from God’s Garden of Grace collection. Feathers represent the Holy Spirit.