Uniform Lesson for March 27, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Deuteronomy 8:1-11
Having spent several weeks walking with Ezra through the second exodus of God’s people, following the Babylonian captivity, we now travel back to Moses’ sermon in Deuteronomy, as he asks God’s people to look back over the first exodus through the wilderness before they cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. By Moses’ own count, they have come a “long way” – geographically, sociologically and spiritually – from their slave days in Egypt. They’ve been humbled. They’ve been disciplined. Now they’re challenged to “remember,” and “not forget,” lest this act of liberation serve for naught.
At the core of the seder, the Passover meal, are prayers and foods and songs with which to remember the exodus of God’s people from Egypt. As Moses points out earlier in Deuteronomy 6:21, when Israel’s children later ask about the meaning of the statutes and ordinances and rituals passed down through the ages, God’s people are to answer (in a loose translation): “Slaves we were, but God set us free!” At the core of Israel’s identity, and central to the memorial meal that transmits that identity into the future, is the experience of living as slaves in Egypt, a bondage from which God’s people could not free themselves. Though the final version of Deuteronomy may well be dated after the second exodus from exile in Babylon, the pronoun that is used consistently in Moses’ sermon is second person plural: “Slaves we were, but God set
I remember an Old Testament professor teaching me that the fundamental human sin may well be the sin of forgetting. We forget the “long way” by which God has redeemed us and set us free. So, Moses repeatedly calls God’s people to remember — through retelling the story, by eating and passing around certain foods and certain drinks, by singing songs that replicate the songs of Miriam and her band of dancers by the shores of the Red Sea (Exodus 15). It’s one thing to forget a name, or an address, or a password. It’s another thing to forget who we are in the most basic sense. We are a people who once were bound but now are free. Hallelujah! Thanks be to God!
Humbled and disciplined
Moses pushes this point further by reminding God’s people that not only did they not free themselves but they could not have made it through the wilderness without God’s help — every step of the way. Israel’s story is not the story of a band of brave survivalists who made it through a tight passage by means of their own industry and intellect. No, God led them through the wilderness, as a shepherd guides a flock. God let them get hungry, then fed them with food they neither produced nor understood. The clothes on their backs did not wear out, nor did their feet swell, not because they were clever regarding textiles or calloused with respect to their soles. No, God disciplined and protected them “as a parent disciplines a child.” God liberates God’s people not only by overthrowing the horses and chariots of Egypt but by overcoming the horrors and challenges of the wilderness — every step of the way. When we get to the “good land” filled with springs and overflowing with olive trees and honey and copper, let us not forget. We didn’t bring ourselves up. We were brought up — by a constantly and consistently liberating God.
Therefore, God’s people are called not only to hear but to observe and practice the ordinances, the commandments, and the practices that Moses spells out in Deuteronomy. Structured on the Ten Commandments, this “entire commandment” must be remembered and put into practice. Not to earn God’s liberation, but in thanksgiving for a freedom already given. God’s people now place themselves in service to God, not to win their liberation or to replace one yoke with another. No, God’s people serve God to protect and pass on the freedom that God alone has won for them.
It goes without saying that a people like us, who likewise find ourselves living in a land of flowing streams and abundant harvests, must guard against giving ourselves the credit for our own liberation and livelihood. As Moses says in verse 17: “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’” That is the road toward forgetting; it is the “long way” back toward bondage.
How have we experienced liberation and God’s providential care? By what practices can we keep our memory and our gratitude fresh?
Richard Boyce is the dean of the Charlotte campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary, and associate professor of preaching and pastoral leadership. He is a minister member of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina.
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