Today, as I peer through the Looking Glass, I turn the final page of a book that is near to my heart…
Deuteronomy has long been one of my “favorite” books of the Bible.
I know, some may feel this is nearly heretical – to have a “favorite”…
Of course, I love them all very deeply, and sincerely. After all, it is Deuteronomy 8:3 that states we are not to live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Yet, a few of the books particularly stand out and speak to me over and over again. Job, Deuteronomy, Luke, Ecclesiastes, and Philippians to name a few.
Deuteronomy appeals to me for several reasons – and, yes, one of them is that is simply a FUN word to say…
Go ahead and say it out loud. Surely you smiled at the sound? Doo – Ter – On – O – Me!
I know, I am incredibly spiritual… Deep theological meanderings.
Seriously, I enjoy it because it is easy to follow.
Moses speaking, time and again, to the very human people of Israel. Teaching them the ways of their God – over and over again. Moses does not speak in riddles. He plainly lays out God’s truths. No where is the truth of the Godhead clearer, and stated as succinctly as it is in the sixth chapter (although throughout Old and New Testament the oneness is plain).
Here is what is known as the Shema in Hebrew:
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד׃ וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶךָ׃ וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיֹּום עַל־לְבָבֶךָ׃ וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ׃ וּקְשַׁרְתָּם לְאֹות עַל־יָדֶךָ וְהָיוּ לְטֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ׃ וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל־מְזוּזֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ׃
Here it is in English:
Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD: and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thy house, and upon thy gates.
I remember about six years ago, at an annual event my wife and I like to attend, we met an elderly Jewish man who was dying of cancer. He was a central figure of the event because of his story of survival – he had endured Hitler’s concentration camps, and here he was decades later, riddled with cancer. As we approached, he shook our hands and my wife asked if he would mind if we prayed with him. He smiled, looked us both in the eyes, held up the index finger of his right hand, pointed it above his head and said: “God is One.”
To which we enthusiastically agreed and commenced to say a prayer with him.
(I know, enthusiastically emphasizing the Oneness of the Godhead is even more heretical nowadays than having favorite books… Sorry, this clown doesn’t buy into the threeness concept of the trinity)
At last year’s event, he stood and spoke to everyone – healthier than ever!
Unity, Oneness and Prayer works!
BUT – the central theme of the book, and what I heard over and over again as I read it during these past weeks is really summed up in one word: LOVE.
Plainly God is first. Love Him passionately, fervently, and with your entire being. There are many, many “laws” in Deuteronomy that taught the people of Israel how to love their God. Eat this, don’t eat that. Wear this, don’t wear that. Worship Me this way, don’t worship Me like that. Destroy the idols temple, build Mine this way. Place a high value on purity, and a high price tag on impurity. All things designed to establish His preeminence and differentiate between the true God and the surrounding idols.
Secondly chapter after chapter is dedicated to what boils down to three words: Love thy neighbor (to quote Jesus). Treat your family this way, don’t treat them that way. Treat your countrymen this way, don’t treat them that way. Treat the foreigner this way, don’t treat them that way. Every “law” given concerning inter-human relationships boiled down to loving people – be it blood relative, fellow citizen, or resident alien, and treating them the way you want to be treated.
The Jewish man I mentioned earlier. Enduring the concentration camps. He made it to the freedom of America, and he raised his children here during the 1950’s and 1960’s… In the heat of the Civil Rights movement – with hate rampant on both sides of the “white” and “colored” sides. Yet he raised his kids to love. I have no idea if he raised them in a synagogue or a church, but I do know one of his sons.
I have heard his son tell the story more than once how that when he was eight years old he saw the numbers tattooed on his father’s wrists and asked what it was. His father didn’t explain to him what the numbers stood for or the horrors he endured at the hands of men full of hate.
Instead he took him to a park in their Oklahoma town on a hot summer day. The father told the son to drink from the fountain that was there marked “Whites only”, and then from the one marked “Colored Only.” And to describe the difference on the taste if he could. There was no difference.
Then the father took the son to the train station and showed him the fan cooled, spacious waiting room for “Whites Only,” and then the stuffy, cramped waiting room labeled “Colored Only.” The father didn’t explain Hitler, and all that went with that, instead he pointed out the hatred the Americans that freed him were showing each other and said: “That is what caused my scars.”
(You can read the elder man’s full story in the book titled: Until We Meet Again)
It is the lesson of Deuteronomy – LOVE. God first, and mankind second.
I have a long, long way to go.