Sunday School Lesson for December 30, 2001
Focal Teaching Passages: Deuteronomy 6:4-12, 20-25
Love the Lord (6:4-9)
In this section of Deuteronomy, Moses again calls upon the Israelites to "Hear" the Word of their covenant Lord. This summons (vv.4-5) is known as the Shema (from the Hebrew word "hear"), and functions as the foundational Old Testament affirmation of faith. This summary statement of Israelite religion was recited daily at the time of prayer. It would serve as a device intended to keep the people of Israel from following after the teachings and practices of the pagan nations surrounding them and would also provide spiritual guidance for the generations to come (6:2).
The essential confession of biblical faith is reflected in the words, "The Lord our God, the Lord is one." This simple statement, only four words in the Hebrew version, set forth the fundamental truth of the Jewish faith—Yahweh’s oneness or singularity. The Israelites were to forever remember that the God who had rescued them from Pharoah was not like the false gods of the Egyptian pantheon or the Canaanite cults. Thus, Yahweh was to be their sole object of worship, devotion, and faithful service. Only Yahweh is eternal, unchanging, consistent, and true. All other deities are to be summarily rejected as false and perverted.
Thus, the foundation of Israel’s faith was her commitment to monotheism as found in the pure worship of Yahweh. To say it another way, it is Yahweh Himself who "defines what monotheism means, not a concept of monotheism that defines how Yahweh should be understood" (Christopher Wright, 97). The "one" God was the One who had acted so powerfully on behalf of Israel to redeem and save her. Though some might still mistakenly maintain the existence of other deities, the affirmation that "Yahweh alone was Sovereign and the sole object of Israel’s obedience sounded the death-knell to all views lesser than monotheism" (J. A. Thompson, 122).
Having affirmed that Yahweh is Lord, the Israelites were summoned to "Love the Lord your God." As will be observed in future studies in Deuteronomy, the Israelites were frequently called to love God as the appropriate response to His self-disclosure as their covenant Lord (see 10:12; 11:1, 13, 22; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6, 16, 20). Accordingly, to love God was equivalent to obeying Him. Yet, this obedience was not to "spring from a barren legalism based on necessity and duty. It was to arise from a relationship based on love" (Thompson, 122).
Note, however, that Israel is summoned to "love" their "Lord" in a specific manner:
To summarize, each Israelite was to love his covenant Lord with the totality of his being. That is, with the whole self, including one’s "rationality, mental capacity, moral choices and will, inner feelings and desires, and the deepest roots of [one’s] life" (Wright, 99).
In this section of his speech, Moses impresses upon the Israelites that "the commandments" they had received were to become part of the very fabric of their lives. According to verse 7, they were to continually be "upon [their] hearts." That is, they were to become "the central and absorbing interest of a man’s whole heart" (Thompson, 123). As we determined earlier, the "heart" was the core of the mind and will of the individual. To have the Law of the Lord on one’s heart, then, meant to fully internalize it so that its teachings became manifested in both the inner posture and outward behavior of the individual. Thus, the keeping of God’s Law was never intended to be a matter of simple legalistic conformity, or a task reserved only for certain members of the Israelite nation. The Law of the Lord was for every member of the covenant community.
In order to guarantee that the Israelites would continue to love God and obey Him, Moses ordered that Yahweh’s commandments should be faithfully transmitted from one generation to the next. This would be accomplished by means of five specific tasks given to each Israelite family (see also 4:9; 6:20-25; 11:19). These responsibilities are indicated by the five major verbs that appear in verses 7-9:
Thank the Lord (6:10-12)
In these verses Moses addresses the ever-present danger of forgetting the goodness and mercy of Yahweh—a danger especially present during times of prosperity. While nothing could possibly separate the child of God from His faithful love, "there is plenty that can separate the love of God from God’s people" (Wright, 100). Thus, Moses specifically warns against forgetting "the Lord who brought you out of Egypt" (v. 12). Taking great care to remember and reflect upon Yahweh’s mighty saving acts in the past would help safeguard the Israelites from the mistakes made by the previous generation that perished in the wilderness.
Note that Moses specifically warns them regarding the spiritual dangers they will face upon their arrival in the promised land—"When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers" (v. 10). In particular, there would be the temptation to neglect the fact that it was the Lord who accomplished their deliverance and brought immeasurable blessings into their lives such as "flourishing cities," "houses," "wells," "vineyards," and "olive groves." Prosperity and material satisfaction of this magnitude could very well cause them to forget the One who had so faithfully provided for them. As Christopher Wright reminds us, "fullness can lead to forgetfulness" (101). Furthermore, it would be a "severe temptation for the people of Israel to devote themselves to these earthly treasures and to forget that they were the gift of God’s love and the fulfillment of His promise to the patriarchs" (Thompson, 124). In this light, the people are instructed by Moses to "be careful that you do not forget the Lord" (v.12). Positively, this exhortation might be understood as a summons to cultivate a spirit of fervent gratitude to Yahweh for His gracious dealings with His covenant children. The thankful recognition of the true Source of their blessings would serve as a defense against the natural tendency toward idolatry.
Teach About the Lord (6:20-25)
Moses anticipates that when the people of God have arrived safely in the Promised Land, their children will inquire as to the meaning and significance of what they had witnessed in the wilderness. In particular, there will be the natural curiosity regarding the reasons their parents "live a certain kind of life in contrast with the life of those about them" (Thompson, 126). When the children ask, "What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?" the parents are to be thoroughly prepared to give the answer.
The answer to the children’s inquiry is to be in the form of a story—a story of the powerful and gracious redemption of God’s people from slavery (cf. 26:5-9; Josh. 24:2-13). Note the elements of this simple account:
Thus, it will be the responsibility of the parents to preserve the memory of the salvation so powerfully provided by the Lord. In essence, this is the Old Testament gospel in its simplest form (Wright, 104).
Notice that the children’s question in verse 20 is fundamentally one dealing with the purpose of keeping the Law of God. Following the pattern set forth in the Decalogue, the parent’s response must be to first highlight the grace and mercy of the God of the Covenant. Thompson observes that it was "in light of these acts of deliverance that Yahweh could invite Israel to enter into His covenant and lay upon them, for their good, the covenant obligations which Israel now observed and which marked them off from their neighbors" (126). Again, we see that "the meaning of the law is to be found in the gospel" (Wright, 104). God’s laws are based upon His gracious redemptive purposes. The order is essential—grace comes before law. This order, then, is to be preserved throughout the generations so that the keeping of the Law will be the response of those who have known the mercy and salvation of Yahweh.
Major Questions for Application and Discussion
One: Using the Bible as your guide, how would you define "love"? What does love for God look like? How can you tell when a person truly loves God? How do you think most people in our culture define "love"?
Two: In verses 8-9 the Israelites were commanded to place sections of the Word of God in strategic locations. Is there any contemporary relevance to this? In other words, is there an abiding principle that we as New Testament believers are obligated to follow?
Three: What are the dangers associated with the blessings of God? What particular spiritual traps are we, who live in such an affluent culture, prone to be caught in? Is the danger of forgetting God (6:12) real for us? How might we safeguard ourselves from such dangers?