Background Scripture: Deuteronomy 10:1-22; 16:18-20. Devotional Reading: Micah 6:1-8.
When I was in seminary and writing a paper, I mentioned the Ten Commandments as the bedrock of morality. When the professor returned my paper, he had written: “Which edition of the Ten Commandments?” Then I remembered that there are two versions: Deuteronomy 5:6-21 and Exodus 20:2-17. While it is true that different religious branches may divide the commandments slightly differently – the Roman and Lutheran one way, the Reformed (Calvinistic) and Jewish a bit differently – the differences are minor and do not allow us any moral wiggleroom. They are all partial answers to the question: What does God really want of us?
Studying these commandments, we must realize that God is not telling us to inscribe these words on public and secular buildings. The second commandment tells us that no physical rendition of God can possibly encompass the person or action of the Lord of the universe. The problem with idols and even inscriptions is that we come to believe that what we have imagined, drawn, or described is an adequate representation. It never has and never can be. Doctrines, theologies, and creeds can either be suggestive of God or they can become idols.
Even more vital than idolatry is the question of where and when we experience God. There are two polarities in our relationship with God. On the one hand there is the need to experience his presence in a personal manner. We call this the closeness or imminence of God. At the same time we also need to realize the mind-boggling distance between the divine and the human. Every morning and evening in my prayers I am dumbfounded when I realize that one so insignificant as I am calling upon the Creator of the Cosmos. (That is not humility on my part for, from a purely rational and cosmic standpoint, we are all insignificant!).
We see this tension in the problem of the Ark of the Covenant. All of us try to determine a place where we can experience God. For some it may be as local church or a soaring cathedral. Still others require a view of the night sky, while others achieve the same satisfaction on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Or it may not be so much a question of where, but how? Some may find it in ritual; others in private devotions; some may require a prayer book, while others use a rosary, a crucifix, or an empty cross, altered states of consciousness, moments of rapture, theological disputation, Biblical study, and much more. All of these are attempts to localize God where we can find him (or be found by him). Every form of religion makes attempts to specifically locate the experience of the Divine. That is understandable and even permissible, so long as we do not try to limit God to the physical, ritual, or emotional place we have chosen. We must know and accept that we cannot, must not, try to control God. That is an arrogance that is destructive to the will of God. W.J Harrelson reminds us that, “The name of Israel’s God, Yahweh, is nowhere fully explained in the OT” (Old Testament). Jews did not even say the name because they knew that beyond their understanding there was so much more of God than they could perceive.
The Ark of the Covenant (10:2-5), always located within the tabernacle and later the Jerusalem Temple, was a constant symbol and reminder of God’s presence. But it also could be harmful if the people thought of God as confined to the ark – as in “confined” to my experience of the Divine, my church, my branch of Christianity, my doctrines and creeds, my spiritual experience. The operative negativity here aimed at God is the word “my”– the tendency to reverse the Creation Act as if God was created in our image.
ALL HIS WAYS
Deuteronomy 10:16 may be less understandable to us today than it was to the Israelite.
Circumcision was a symbolic act signifying the opening of the male to God’s will. It is used here as a metaphor: open your hearts and life to God’s will. Lev. 26:41 and Jeremiah 4:4 speak of an “uncircumcised heart,” Exodus 6:12,20 of “uncircumcised lips,” and Jeremiah 6:10 of “uncircumcised ears.” All of these are metaphors of opening thyself to God.
So, let us return to the original question: what does God really require of us? Lovingly giving himself to us, he wants us to lovingly respond to him. “He is your praise; he is your God. Who has done for you these great and terrible things which your eyes have seen” (10:21). And we do that, keeping at the forefront the things that the Bible tells us He so repeatedly was, and is, concerned with. “And now Israel [read disciple of Jesus Christ], what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and the statutes of the Lord, which I command you this day for your good” (10:12,13).
And do you need to ask what more specifically he has in mind for you and me? This God is “not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow. And loves the sojourner (immigrant), giving him food and clothing…for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (10:18,19). In Egypt and the 13 colonies, the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Coast, and even beyond that. If you don’t like the answer to that question, don’t ask it. But we must!