Monday, March 26, 2012

The Blessings and Curses

Though famous for the severity of the blessings and curses, this passage of Scripture deserves to be seen both for its dramatic flair and its take on fundamental moral realities.  As Moses sets the stage for the events described in this chapter, he fills two facing hillsides with the tribes of Israel, places the Arc of the Covenant and the priests in the valley below, and proclaims the terms of their covenant with God.  At each declaration of consequence, the people reply in unison, “Amen,” declaring that they agree to the terms, to include the blessings and the curses.  Imagine the volume of the scene – thousands of people crying, “Amen!” Imagine the liability of the people of God publicly proclaiming that because they belong to God they are subject to the terms of that covenant.

Before the details of the blessings and the curses are understood, the place to begin is with a fundamental understanding of what it entails to be the people of God.  Though God called Abram from Ur generations ago, and though God rescued them from Egypt one generation ago, Moses makes a point of saying, “this day you have become the people of God” (vs. 9).  This is not the literal day in which God makes them his people.  This is the day the terms of the covenant are brought to bear in a unique way.  This is the day of reckoning.  This is the day of consequence.  This is the day of blessing and curses.

Being the people of God, both then and now, comes with a set of terms regarding reality.  Though God’s laws stand as immutable no matter who believes them, this is a unique conversation God has with his people about their lives as humans who both belong to him and represent him on this earth.

God’s people cannot live in relationship with him and act however they please.  Relationship with a loving and holy God is not a moral free-for-all.  God is not loving in a way that allows us to follow our own hearts and create our own paths in life.  God is our Creator; he created us to flourish as humans who live according to his will and his ways.  And God is so loving that he reveals those ways as clearly and as often as possible.  And as people who say, “Amen,” we are responsible to those ways.

God’s people cannot break the terms of the covenant and expect God’s blessing to continue to flow.  It is utterly human to expect good things to come if we act as though we mean well, no matter what we actually do.  It is utterly divine to act in accordance with the Word of God, knowing that it means our peace, salvation, and well-being.

God’s people need to grow comfortable with a moral standard other than their own wishes to which they are responsible.  If I had my way, I would set the standards by which I will be judged.  But reality doesn’t work that way.  Even the people who love me the most don’t let me get away with that kind of narcissism.  The Lord of heaven and earth has already set the moral terms of human behavior and when I say, “Amen,” I explicitly agree to his terms.

God’s people need to understand there really are consequences for behavior, both good and bad.  The blessings and curses are both natural and divine consequences.  Our actions have inevitable, natural consequences, and God is involved in enforcing the terms of the covenant.  We do not live in moral and spiritual silly-putty.

Am I ready to say, “Amen”?  Have I already said it and yet continue to live as if I haven’t?  The final call and response of chapter 27 is the call to live what we affirm.  “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (vs. 26).  And shall all the people say, “Amen”?

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