January 25, 2016
Moses had given the children of Israel the Ten Commandments soon after they left Egypt, but due to their unfaithfulness and unwillingness to enter the Promised Land when they first approached it, what should have been a relatively short trek through the wilderness ended up being a 40 year wandering until that original generation had died out. Now he is nearing the end of his life and realizes that this new generation was living on second-hand faith. They hadn't seen the miracle of their deliverance, hadn't stood at the foot of Mount Sinai as it shook and trembled, clouded with smoke as God gave Moses the Law. Hand-me-down faith is rarely adequate. It may do in ordinary circumstances, but when life gets tough, we need the genuine article, and it better be our own. Hearsay faith has no foundations, and bends before the slightest of storms.
So in the book of Deuteronomy (literally "the second Law) Moses reviews the Law for this new generation, instructing them in the ways of God, encouraging them with promised blessings and warning them of the consequences of disobedience. There were a few in the congregation who had been youths at the Exodus and had seen the miracles; Moses was counting on them to keep telling the stories, but they were getting old and wouldn't be around much longer. In 29:4 he says this: "To this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear." It's an interesting statement which describes what happens to most of us at one time or another. We can have all sorts of experiences of the majesty and miracles of God without having a right heart. I know people who get all worked up and excited. They talk voluminously and emotionally about their relationship with God, but if you watch their actions and attitudes, you realize there is little more than talk. The transformation of the heart is not so much the result of emotionally charged experiences, but of the supernatural work of God who refuses to manipulate or be manipulated.
Later on in that same chapter, he warns them to "Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who when he hears the word of this covenant , blesses himself in his heart, saying, 'I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.'" We don't like to admit it, but most of us are prone to self-delusion, imagining that if it looks good on the outside, all is well. Like Snow White, the fruit looks delectable, and we sample to our destruction the poisoned apple because it looks good.
In this second offering of the Law, Moses is careful to dig beneath the surface. Outward obedience - the appearance of holiness can be deceptive especially to the ourselves, and it is never enough. It matters not what other people see in me; they can see only the surface, whereas God sees my heart. If Moses had stopped with these warnings in the 29th chapter, I would be in despair, for I know with Jeremiah that "[my] heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." (17:9). But in 30:2-3, he says that if we return to the LORD, "he will restore [our] fortunes and have compassion upon [us]." Repentance is always received; forgiveness and life is always offered. And for that, I am deeply grateful. The work of God in my heart is always a work of grace. I don't need some ecstatic religious experience. I need what God alone can give - "a heart to understand, eyes to see, and ears to hear." I dare not allow myself to get to the point where I think everything is fine, no matter how I live. I need to keep sending my "roots down deep into the soil of God's marvelous love," as Linda prays with our grandchildren whenever they stay overnight, inviting God to search my heart, reveal hidden evil, and continually turning to him in repentance, knowing that his grace is always enough.