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Deuteronomy 10: A Society that Reflects God’s Heart

In last week’s study, I retold a story from a family trip we took to the seaside. English seaside towns have several traditions that I’m not sure have made it across the Pond and over to Houston. One of the things that is ubiquitous in every English seaside resort is something called ‘rock.’ I don’t mean stones and pebbles. It’s a type of candy that’s long, thin and cylindrical. Traditionally a ‘stick’ of ‘rock’ is white in the middle and pink on the outside, though now it can come in an array of colors, and it’s always sickly sweet. The important thing about rock, though, is that it has a tiny word or phrase that runs through the whole length, usually the name of the town it’s from, so wherever you cut (or bite!) into it, you will see that name on the end. Its identity runs right through it.

Read Deuteronomy 10:12-16 
There is a thought among some Christians that the Old Testament is full of judgment and sacrifices made to appease an angry God, whereas the New Testament is about love and salvation. It is passages like this one in Deuteronomy that help to show that this idea does not reflect the reality of what we see in Scripture. Here we see God acting out of His love for His people, how He loved and chose the people of Israel and that what He wants in return is love not simply obedience. Deuteronomy only mentions circumcision twice: once here and once towards the end of the book. What’s fascinating is that on both occasions, the reference is to circumcision of the heart rather than any other body part. The focus is on the heart, on relationship and love, being transformed by faith in the God who loves us on the inside, rather than simply carrying out rituals and practices without it having an effect on our very being.

God loves His people, calls them in love to follow what He is telling them and to live their lives according to His direction. The laws and instructions that He gives are those that will make for a better and fairer society, rather than obscure regulations that seek to limit and restrict. We see what the focus is of these laws and instructions in the next few verses.

Read Deuteronomy 10:17-22 
These instructions are not about making you an extra holy or super religious person; it isn’t simply about quiet times and memorizing verses–though prayer and study of Scripture are undoubtedly important. This passage is clear about the ways in which God wants His people to structure their society when they get into the Promised Land. It is to be a place of justice for all, a place where those who do not have food or clothing are provided for, and a place where those who are most vulnerable in society are particularly cared for so that no one will take advantage of them.  And why? Because that is what God has done for them and they now belong to Him. They were slaves. He did not choose them because they were great in number, because they were the wisest, the strongest, the richest or the most powerful. He rescued them in love when they were the weakest, the most downtrodden and the least able to help themselves out of the oppression that they were suffering. “You were slaves and strangers in Egypt,” God says to them, “as you now enjoy your freedom, remember who you were, reflect on that in the way you treat others and the way that you order your society.”

These are the words that are to run through the center of the new community, just like the words that run through the middle of the stick of rock, so that wherever it is cut and however big or small the pieces are, the words will remain the same. 

The Coronavirus has changed the way that we have been living. Times of crisis reveal what we’re really like, what we actually value or see as important. During this time we have the gift of a pause–opportunity to reflect and maybe reassess our priorities–before we take steps to return to what life used to be like. The Israelites paused before entering the Promised Land so that Moses could teach them, could deliver God’s word to them and could plead with them to consider how they would live their lives once they were establishing their own settled society: a community with love and justice at the heart shaped by the experience of being loved and rescued by God, and living out lives as those who have been rescued, ensuring that others are not abused and victimized.

Questions for Reflection
  • What’s important to you? In the last few months, what have you missed most? What priorities run through you “like a stick of rock?”
  • The equivalent to the people of God in Israel in the New Testament is not a nation, but a people–the Church. We have been shown God’s just and compassionate heart through the Cross and we are to align our lives and churches to reflect this and do those things that pursue it in society more widely.  How might we want our lives, communities and society at large to be renewed when the Coronavirus is over? 
  • What are some of the ways that you would like to change society to make it more just and reflect God’s heart for the poor and vulnerable? What opportunities do you have to step up and do something? Which might be God asking you to do?
  • How might you need to reflect on your inward journey of faith in the light of these verses? The temptation can be to focus on attending services, volunteering to serve, leading church activities and so forth, but this can sometimes be to the neglect of deepening our own faith and relationship with Jesus. What might you be able to do this week to reflect on these things?
  • As Christians we talk about victory we have in Christ: over sin, evil and the devil. Sometimes though, we can act as though it’s our victory in our own strength, that somehow we have to be perfectly together for God to be with us. Yet Deuteronomy 10 reminds us that God chooses and rescues His people in their weakness and frailty, not in strength and might. How does that encourage you this week?

A Prayer for this Week
Heavenly Father, we know that we can pray to You with confidence because You love us and that You love us not because of what we can do or who we think we are, but because we are first chosen, called and known by You. Help us to remember who we are in Your sight and guide us in all our interactions with those around us so that we can treat each other as God’s called and beloved children, and so order our days and our work to reflect this reality. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Jenny Corcoran
Chaplain to the Bishops of Canterbury
The Rev. Dr. Jenny Corcoran
The Rev. Dr. Jenny Corcoran is the Chaplain to the Bishop of Dover in the Diocese of Canterbury and Local Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury. She grew up in Bristol, England, and then earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Music and English Literature from the University of Lancaster. She worked as a youth and children’s minister at a large evangelical church near London before getting her Master’s of Divinity from St. John’s College, Nottingham. Jenny completed her Ph.D. in Old Testament Studies and Practical Theology at the University of Nottingham. The title of her dissertation is A reading of Deuteronomy as a model of continuity, adaptation and innovation for contemporary discussions of Anglican liturgy . While working on her thesis, she served in various parish roles in the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham and as Chaplain and Professor of Practical Theology at St. John’s. Jenny is married to Dan, who is also a priest in the Church of England, and they have two young children.