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Justice and Obedience
Winter Quarter: God Requires Justice
Sunday school lesson for the week of December 5, 2021
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Background Scripture: Deuteronomy 5; 10; 27; 28
Key Scripture (NIV): “
Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?” Deut. 10:12-13
This lesson is to help us answer the great question of Deut. 10:12, “What does the Lord your God ask of you?”
The Invitation to hear, learn, and respond
- To understand the importance of listening in contrast to just hearing the Word.
- To understand the importance of internalizing what we hear.
- To understand the importance of allowing the Word to accomplish its purpose through action and obedience.
- To understand the importance of preserving the eternal message of God in a temporal world.
The masses of people possessed no personal sacred documents. All sacred writing belonged to the priests. The people were totally dependent upon the priests to share that writing and dependent upon their own ears for listening. If you didn’t listen you couldn’t know. Thus, the great emphasis upon hearing in Scripture. We can assume that most people listened carefully in the biblical era. There was too much at stake in ignoring something said by God. Usually the term “listen” implied an action deeper than simply hearing. We hear when words or sounds simply strike our eardrum. Listening implies that we are “paying attention” to what we hear. When listening, we “take the words into ourselves,” thus allowing them full effect upon our life. Those words will then create thought, and thought will create action. Even if the word is ignored, an action of “neglecting” is taken with particular consequences to follow.
A person must place themselves in a position to listen. Hearing doesn’t require focus. We can walk a busy street and hear a myriad of sound. However, listening requires we focus on “one sound” above all others. Naturally, the quieter the world about us the easier it is to listen. However, a trained ear can listen in the midst of noise. My spouse once asked me why I listened to a musical recording over and over. I informed her I was listening for a particular instrument in the midst of the cacophony. People can learn to spiritually listen in such a manner. Most likely the Israelites had learned the practice of listening.
While visiting the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem I was led into a side corridor where fathers and grandfathers were teaching their children the Mosaic Law. One of the children turned as I walked by and immediately the grandfather stopped talking, gave the boy a penetrating stare and waited. The boy turned to face the grandfather and focused. The grandfather began anew. I was witnessing an ancient, effective tradition for teaching children to listen and learn.
Do you consider yourself a “hearer” or “listener?” What is the difference to you? How can you train yourself and others to become listeners of spiritual truth? Can you share with others in the class the techniques or methods that have helped you most to listen?
Following the call to hear and listen is the command to “learn them.” The term “command” does not sit well with us in our modern culture. Who likes to be commanded to do anything? However, we must remember who is speaking and requesting. It is our Creator who speaks and commands
us to hear and learn. Naturally, this exhortation to learn follows upon the heels of listening. However, there exists the deeper implication that we employ our memory. We are not to allow what we hear to escape our attention or memory. These words and their message are to remain! Jesus used a very pointed parable to illustrate the importance of listening and learning. When one allows the word of God to fall upon the ear with little desire to retain that word, the action is akin to throwing seed upon hard ground. The seed will lay upon the ground and be swept away by the wind or eaten by birds. God does not speak to be ignored! Retention is a choice. The word from the Lord is free, an act of grace; however, what we do with that word is up to us.
Retention of what we hear and learn is easier for some than others. Yet, all of us remember what we deem as important to us. It is helpful to recall exactly what we are being asked to remember. Of course, the ancient Israelites were dependent upon words, for their faith was in its infancy. Today we receive a faith handed to us through the holy hands and hearts of those who listened and heard. It is important for us to remember words, but above all we need to remember “the message itself.” Remembering the message implies remembering the principle beneath the words. For example, in contrast to remembering the tedious dietary laws word for word, the principle beneath is that of “coming out and being separate” from the surrounding culture. This principle is important to remember. Today we are not separated from the world through what we eat or drink. Our behavior and faith are what call us apart. I always encourage people to remember the nature of the message itself, more so than the exact wording. Both are helpful, but the message is extremely important. People can become frustrated attempting to remember exact words. However, the message of God’s love and the life that it gives is far easier to retain. Therefore, let us listen closely to the message
of our text from Deuteronomy.
Using Jesus’ parable of the Sower and the Seed, which type of soil best describes your listening and remembering? What are the cares of the world that choke truth from taking root in your heart? What do you think the parable means when it speaks of the “shallow heart?” What makes a heart shallow? What do you believe you can do to make the soil of your hear more fertile for God’s Word?
Thus far we have been called to listen and learn. Now the third leg of the stool is added. We are to “follow them.” Faith isn’t passive. The act of hearing and listening is active; it is intentional. In Scripture, words are assigned great creative power. Notice in Genesis 1 the world was created through God’s “speaking.” Words have the power to create. Any word we speak at any given time will have an effect upon the listener. A constructive word can help them engage in a healthy course of action. Sadly, the inverse is true. The New Testament book of James reminds us words have the power to create a course of destruction or wholeness. Our listening to the words and message of Scripture does create an action. They force us to deal with them. The prophet wrote, “The word of the Lord does not return void.” (Isaiah 55:11). We can choose neglect or obedience. We will choose one or the other. Words put into action are remembered. An action becomes associated with the words and message thus creating a deeper memory. The message of Scripture is a message of order, design, hope, faith and love. How tragic when such a message is neglected! Neglect doesn’t just involve giving the words little attention; it involves doing nothing with them. This introduction to chapter 5 calls us to listen and act upon the particular message that follows. The message, and every message from Scripture, should be heard, learned, and acted upon.
What do you believe is the biggest obstacle for you in allowing the Word to become action? Is it common to leave worship, SS, and other classes filled with the message of God, only to have it lie dormant in the heart? Why is it difficult for us to put truth into action? Have we considered the fact that if we do not act, someone will not see or hear what God desires to speak through us? What can we do to help create a sense of urgency in our own heart regarding acting upon Scripture? Do we have an accountability system created that asks “What have you done with what you’ve heard?” If not, why not? How do you think such an accountability system can be established?
The Great Question
The creators of our lesson now ask us to visit chapter 10 of Deuteronomy. The author now asks a question that we should ask ourselves daily. “What does the Lord your God ask of you?” Notice the phrase doesn’t read “What does the Lord ask of you?” The personal “your God” is included. “What does the Lord your God
ask of you?” We have a personal relationship with God through Christ. Yes, the Lord is God over all. However, we need to remind ourselves that God is “my God.” There is a call upon our life together, and there is a call upon each individual life. What God asks of our individual life is what is good for our life together in Christ.
The author emphasizes that the covenant God established with us was not just for the original recipients. It was for all hearing the message that day, and all people yet to come. In the Koine Greek language there is a verb tense that does not exist in English. It is the aorist. The aorist implies that an action is finished, yet it continues. For example, Jesus died for the sins of the world on a particular day and hour. However, the redemption given in that moment continues even now. Jesus saved, is saving, and will save. The covenant was ratified with those early Israelites, yet its message and effect continue. The aorist tense serves as a great metaphor for understanding the intent of this text. The covenant was established, is established, and will be established. Thus, Biblical history is not for the museum; it is for living! We are those that bring the sacred past into the present and future!
This text offers us an important expression of truth. We are intimately connected with the redemptive story of Scripture. From the story of Abraham and Sarah, to Moses, to David, and eventually to Jesus, these are “our stories!” The power of God’s action in that moment is present even now and will always continue. Thus, God didn’t just “do something” for the people in the stories, God did something for us all and is continuing to do so.
How do you understand the phrase “Jesus saved, is saving, and will save?” How does this phrase effect your understanding or your personal faith journey? What does this phrase have to say about those who preceded us in the faith, and those to come? Do you understand yourself as being part of a great spiritual continuity? How so?
The Answer to the Question
The answer to the question is given by the inspired author. We are to fear the Lord our God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, and to serve him. We can take each of these individually, however, they are intimately bound together. Fearing God calls for a genuine sense of humility in one’s life. Godly fear involves reverence. In the Old Testament era people were terrified to see God, hear God’s voice directly, or even speak the divine name. Thus, God used angels as intermediaries. Though we live in the New Testament era in which Jesus invited all into a personal relationship with God, there still must be a measure of reverential fear. We are not afraid of what God is going to do to us. Jesus has revealed God’s love and care. We are afraid because we recognize we are in the presence of the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end! This thought alone should drive us to our knees. After all, the one who has called us into relationship is God! Humanity must always be aware of just how limited and finite we are. Thus, to us, a finite fragile people, God has spoken. The act of being called into relationship is an action that should humble each of us. One year I was teaching from the book of Jonah and the opening grabbed my attention. Like all prophetic books, Jonah opened with the statement that “the word of the Lord came to Jonah.” Imagine, across this vast cosmos of the mysterious and incomprehensible, God chose to speak to an individual; a stubborn individual at that! I was awestruck when considering that reality. We all must live in awe that the Lord of all, the Creator, has spoken to us corporately and individually through Christ!
Do you feel most people today possess a reverential fear of God? If not, why do you think it is absent? How would you define and express such fear? Do you think there is a danger of “making God small?” How do people today treat God? As the Creator of all or as “God of their personal world?” Can we do both? If so, how?
Our love for God is born out of the reality that we were first loved. We were sought and called. This action on God’s part is enough in and of itself to call forth love in the heart. Love isn’t just an emotional feeling. It is an awakening to the reality of what has happened in life, and especially our life. Love is the realization we have been loved and called when we had little to offer. Loving God is as much choice as it is feeling. We choose to make ourselves aware of God’s presence and goodness. With enlightened eyes and hearts through Jesus, we look for God and God’s love in all of life. Feeling love in our faith always follows our choice to realize God has loved us first. John Wesley was told to preach faith until he had faith. Wesley wanted to feel that internal stirring of the heart, yet he struggled. However, as Wesley preached faith and chose to live by faith, his heart was eventually stirred with the reality of what he was preaching. He felt his sins forgiven and sensed a warming in his heart.
What does it mean for you to act loving until you feel loving? Can you recall a moment in your life when you chose to love another without any emotional attachment, only to later feel an emotional and spiritual bond to that person? Can you express what it means for you to love God?
We choose to love God through obedience and service. Our obedience and service from a gracious heart are the dynamics that create the feeling of “loving God.” Obedience means to “do as asked.” What is it we are asked? We are asked to serve. Our fallen nature has led humanity to believe the great goal in life is to be happy and contented. These certainly are important facets of life. However, the child of God learns that true contentment and happiness are the fruit of sacrificial service. Once on a mission to a very poor area, some of our team members began to discuss “Americanizing” them. It was thought, if we can give them the things we have, like good beds, hot water, and better houses, they would in turn be happy. However, in reality they were happier than we were. The one great memory I took from that mission was their dedication and service to Christ. That dedication filled their life with meaning and purpose, as it should for all of us. Thus, their joy was genuine and contagious, and was directly related to their service. Prior to attempting to amass things to make us happy, we should first attempt to do the things that mean something to God and the world.
What do you believe is the difference between being happy and contented? Read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Jesus began the Beatitudes with “Blessed in the man,” which is often interpreted “Happy is the man.” However, read what follows these introductory words and discover how a person becomes blessed and happy. What do the Beatitudes say about your own quest for happiness and contentment?
Following chapter 10 we visit chapter 27. In this interesting chapter we read of the attempt to preserve the written Law of God. The Law is to be preserved in a special place in the promised land. This place is to be elevated. Elevation was equated with the idea of something being “high and noble.” The high places were associated with God.
Stones and altars were used as memorials for the sacred. Stones had permanence. The Law of the Lord was not a transient message to be observed for a few years. It was eternal! In their limited understanding, there were few objects upon which to preserve the eternal as effective as stone. The coating with plaster provided an ability to inscribe without using tools. It also provided extra protection against the wind and rain. Nothing should be able to erode these words of the Lord!
These stones and altars were not to be created by using tools upon stone. The surrounding idolatrous nations fashioned their gods from wood and stone. They chiseled and hewn them into likenesses of their gods. However, Israel served the one true God! They served the Creator of all! Israel’s message was far different from the surrounding nations and should be treated differently.
In what ways is our precious faith and the message of the Gospel preserved in the world? How do we preserve the Gospel in our own life and in the life of the church? Read Jeremiah 31:33 and Jeremiah 32:36-41. Where does God say the sacred covenant and Word would be written and preserved? What does this mean for your faith and the life of your church? What can we do to ensure the sacred dwells within us?
One of the more amazing things associated with this command to preserve the Word of the Lord in the promised land was the fact that they could do so on a few stones. As time moved forward from Moses into the day of Jesus, 613 laws developed; a far cry from the original 10! It is important to remember that Israel did not live lawlessly prior to the Decalogue. There were many social customs and laws from living in the culture prior to the Mosaic Law. These were not removed! The only laws removed would have been those that violated the Decalogue. Thus, the Law grew to express how the Ten Commandments were to be lived in their already existing culture. Over the years, the need to “interpret” those laws arose. If one was to keep the Sabbath Day holy, how did one do so? If one was not to work on the Sabbath, one had to define what it meant to work. Eventually, there were laws regarding how much could be lifted on the Sabbath and what acts were deemed work.
However, in the years of our text in Deuteronomy, the Law had yet to grow into the numerous laws that followed. The important message here was the desire to preserve them for all time.
Sacrifices of joy and thanksgiving were to accompany the setting up of the stones and altars. The Law was never intended to be a “heartless” reality. The Law had far more substance than words engraved on stone. The Law had heart. In Deut. 6:4 we read the clearest expression of that heart in the Shema. Jesus noted this Law as the greatest of all Laws. “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one God! And, thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” Jesus was to add the emphatic, “And your neighbor as thyself.” This wasn’t so much an addition as it was a fuller expression of the law’s heart.
Jesus proclaimed the “heart of the Law” existed in the Shema, Deut. 6:4-9. How does the Shema help you in being able to grasp the purpose of all 613 Mosaic Laws? How does keeping this one Law help us obey all 613? Can you understand why Jesus said his “yoke was easy and his burden light?”
Almighty God, we thank you for the Law of love and the life it births in our hearts and the hearts of all who desire to follow you. Help us hear the question, “What do you ask of us?” in each day of our life. Reveal to us the doorways that allow to us discover the answer to the question and empower us to walk forward into that answer as we live for Jesus. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.