“Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you.” (Deuteronomy 28:47-48)(NIV)
I have a four and two-year old. They rarely do what I ask them the first time. Usually, compliance requires a combination of pleading, cajoling and threatening, and always, a repercussion of some sort after “three strikes.” While I long for immediate obedience, I know the willful stubbornness of my young children will often get the better of them. I know that conformity requires a great deal of enforcement to achieve the desired behavioral result.
I hear the same desperate longing for obedience in Moses’ voice in Deuteronomy 28. The whole book itself is, for Moses, part state-of-the union address, part swansong and part parental admonishment. But it’s here, in chapter 28 that the disappointed parent comes through loudest.
Near the end of Deuteronomy, poised on the banks of the Jordan with the outline of a country he would never see sparkling in the distance, Moses makes clear that the Israelites were the masters of their own destiny – that they would be in a position to choose obedience or disobedience without benefit of Moses’ straight-from-Heaven directives. Through his words, it becomes clear that Moses anticipates they will fail – he knows them too well to think they’ll behave otherwise. Indeed, the Lord predicts exactly this outcome (Deut. 31: 20 – “When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey…they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant”). Even the darkly-worded exhortations in Deuteronomy 28:15-68 – the extensive list of curses for disobedience, the promises of failure, illness, confusion and defeat – weren’t enough to change a pattern of rebellion the Israelites had been exhibiting for 40 years (Deut. 9:24 – “You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you”).
How disappointed Moses must have been, watching the Israelites poised to experience fulfilled promises and blessings beyond measure, knowing they would get complacent and disobey.
How disappointed God must have been to give His children a gift He knew in His heart they would squander, tenderly meeting their every need for four decades, only to watch them break their covenant with Him when the going got good (Deut. 5:29 – “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!”). How loving God was to give them the free will to do it anyway.
Moses pleaded with them for obedience. God longed for their obedience. The Israelites even marched into Canaan singing a song of doom that recounted all their disobedient failures. By all accounts, they knew better. But it didn’t change their behavior. I wonder how many times in my own life, the Lord has watched a moral choice unfold before me, knowing I would make the fleshly, inappropriate choice over the one He directs in His Word, and encourages through His Holy Spirit. I know better. But knowing doesn’t always change my behavior. Obedience requires constant vigilance, and sometimes, I’m too lazy or self-oriented to “watch and pray so that [I] do not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
I know, as the Israelites did, that He loves me. This drives me to conform to His will – not all the time, not as often as I’d like, but with a daily-improving pattern and a desire to get it right the next time. Why? Because I can’t stand the thought of disappointing someone who loves me so much.
Heavenly Father, what a paradox it is for You to love me so much when I so often neglect to keep your commandments. How tender you are to continue opening your arms to me when I come to you after what must be a hundred disappointments. What a perfect Father you are. Help me make the connection between the will and the flesh so that my reverence for You, my gratitude for You, my Love for you expresses itself in the impulsive exercise of obedience to You in every waking moment. I love you, Lord. I don’t want to let you down.
From the archives. Originally published March 10, 2009.