I haven’t actually spent 40 years reading through 34 chapters of Deuteronomy. What did happen is I started in Genesis with a plan to read through the whole Torah long enough ago that I don’t remember when I started. And like the people of Israel wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, I have experienced a bit of “Wandering” myself.
Those who have practiced spiritual disciplines for any length of time will know of what I speak. Endless days of doing and doing and doing with not a lot of anything to show as a result. You get up early and read a passage that may or may not make sense and does not at first glance seem to have anything to do with your life. You pray because they say when you pray you encounter God, but all you’re encountering are the floor and ceiling. Other people talk about how rich their faith is and how much they love their Savior and they’re very exuberant and energetic when singing songs on Sunday morning…but you’re still in Deuteronomy reviewing the do’s and don’t’s of an ancient culture.
I’m talking about what we Christians refer to sometimes as “dry times.” These are times when we don’t feel particularly connected, excited, inspired, of focused. During these times we sometimes have big doubts, deep questions, and resentments get stronger and bitterness gets bitterer. Once I had a mentor who said, “One time God didn’t talk to me for four years!”
In deserts, you get thirsty, hot and tired and everything looks the same bleak and endless.
People in deserts often have hard times relating to people in oases and green pastures.
When my mentor used to tell me the Four Years story, I was a little stunned, but only a little because I was about a year into my own period of not being spoken too. Last I heard that story was almost five years ago.
Dry times can be had when reading anywhere in the Bible, but the reading of the Law can tend to be particularly…unengaging.
So whatever possessed me to resolve to trek through the whole Torah during a phase when I didn’t even like reading the Bible? Ay nako. I couldn’t begin to say. Perhaps I thought it best to go back to beginning and get the whole story.
So that’s what I’ve been doing. Trekking through Creation, Fall, Flood, Tower of Babel, Scatter, 12 sons, 12 tribes, 400 years in slavery, 10 plagues, Red Sea, wilderness, Manna, Tabernacle, Law, Law, Law, Law a few supernatural deaths and more law.
This time through the law was difficult, not just because of unrelatability factors, but because I found myself appalled at much of what I read in the moral code given to the people by God.
Devoting a city to destruction(Deut 13) meaning to destroy every living being in it. This would be done if the people were idolaters. And of course idolatry is bad, but how could they repent if they were dead?
(Deut 22) The rights off foreign women captured in battle, their rights being slim. Men are commanded not to disgrace or mistreat the women(which is tremendous), but the women still get little to no say in where they will go or how they will live…until after the man decides he is displeased with her. Then she is free.
Rebellious kids get stoned(with rocks) to death. That’s a definite call to CPS…
How adultery is handled by stoning to death instead of pursuing reconciliation.
All the things that can happen if a man comes upon a virgin in a field. The outcome depends on if she is betrothed or not and if she cries for help or not, but there’s a couple ways that someone ends up dead. If it turns out that she’s not betrothed and the man “Seizes her and lies with her,” then afterwards he can buy her from her father.
(Deut 23) All the people who are excluded from worshipping God including foreigners and men with physical disabilities, including damaged or missing male organs. (So what really is the measure of a man?)
Granted, I’m painting a really imbalanced picture of the law here. There’s also a great deal to be said about being fair and just with money and in business, treating slaves well and even making them part of the family, honoring parents and elders, eating health, keeping a living space clean, and maintaining faith integrity. Requirements that are stringent, but ultimately meant to prosper a society.
But as I read through the book, my mindset at the time was particularly sensitized to how people get mistreated, objectified and in many cases exterminated.
I found myself wondering, why is this in the Bible? And, why am I even reading this? And I thought to myself, more than once, man if this was my first exposure to the Gospel, I might want a different Gospel.
Speaking of the Gospel…
Somewhere in early Deuteronomy, I finally had to say enough is enough and I can’t handle anymore law…I gotta read some New Testament.
So I did. I read through the Gospels of Luke and John and experienced my perspective changing. In these stories, I saw, again, who Jesus was. Is.
Reading the law helps me see how important Jesus is and how powerful His work was.
He respected women and included them in his ministry.
He made space around him for outsiders and foreigners.
He touched the physically broken and sick.
He transcended the rigors of the law and placed upon us the even more stringent calling of having a pure heart. This is at once liberating in that we are no longer bound by the law, but a different burden because He knows the heart and we cannot hide anything from Him.
He forgave the adulteress instead of stoning her.
He made it so no one need be excluded from worship of God. At least not for anything like crushed testicles.
And later, building on the work of Jesus, Paul said of salvation, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”(Galatians 3:28)
I read these things, then went back to finish Deuteronomy. When I read through the bits of the law that, to my sensibilities are appalling, I found myself appreciating Jesus so much more and more.
I suppose, then, one purpose of the law is to present a contrast to grace. One purpose of presenting the wrath of God is to later present the grace of Jesus. Extravagant methodology, but effective. I’ve come away from this reading experience feeling quite a bit more connected to Jesus.
40 years of dry thirsty desert wandering were followed by more miracles and many battles as the people of Israel claimed their promised place in their promised land. I know because I am now almost through the book of Joshua. Yay!
For myself, I can say I feel things changing. Though I have felt lonely and neglected many times, I am able to see now how God has not abandoned me, but in many many many ways made provision for me. I feel like he’s shaken me up in just the right ways so as to expand and enrich my understanding of Him.
Could be there’s battles ahead. More fights. More struggles. Lots of work, and questions will never go away. But lately I feel alive and know I’m not alone. There is an end to deserts and a way that Christ makes all things new.