Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.
He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.
KJV/King James Version
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
4So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.
2You must neither add anything to the word that I am instructing you nor take away anything from it, but observe the instructions of the LORD your God with which I am instructing you.
6You must observe this diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the other nations, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!"
7For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him? 8And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as righteous as this entire law that I set before your face today?
9But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children's children—
Deuteronomy is one of the five books of the Pentateuch, Ha Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures. They've been called the Books of Moses, not because Moses could have written them, but because Moses is the central human character. Deutero means "second" and nomen means "law," so in a limited sense Deuteronomy refers to a second giving of the law.
We need to stay aware of how our English word "law" can lead to a caricature of Torah. God's covenantal way of Torah is fluid, dynamic, stretchy, and flexible, always on the side of grace, mercy, love, justice, and life. Especially during Luke's lectionary year when we also heard a lot from the prophet Jeremiah, we discussed neighborology—the word about our neighbor. "Give heed to the statutes and ordinances I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live…" Choose life by considering the needs of the other at least as important as our own. That's neighborology!
The compilation of Deuteronomy was a long time coming over about five centuries, from the United Monarchy of Saul, David, and Solomon, to events and written sources prior to the Babylonian exile, to events and sources afterwards during the rebuilding of Jerusalem, of community, of restoration of worship, of "rediscovery" and canonization of Torah into the post-exilic period of Persian hegemony. Wide, expansive, and inclusive, Deuteronomy demonstrates Torah neighborology lived out on turf and in time.
After they left Egypt, the history of God's people Israel became the story of their journey toward a place where they could settle, obey, live, farm, and thrive—a quest and a hope for free-flowing rivers and boundless goodness from the ground that would help recreate them as free people and provide the landed safety and sense of home Israel wanted and all humans yearn for. The refrain "into the land" rings throughout Deuteronomy; stewardship of the gift of the land is central to our keeping covenant with all creation. After they crossed the Jordan River into Canaan, the people received land that would offer life and sustenance if they cared for it well.
Today's First Reading
After liberating the people from Egyptian slavery, amidst the exodus desert at Mount Sinai God graced the people with the Ten Words or Commandments so they'd live in ways that would lead to life, and allow them to remain free. The already occupied Promised Land of Canaan would be filled with fake deities, yet humans need such guidelines all the time, because if we look closely, we'll notice false gods and death-dealing religions almost everywhere.
Scribes who assembled Deuteronomy placed today's passage that asks, "For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?" [verses 7-8] immediately before the actual Ten Words or Commandments.
We find similar versions of the Ten Commandments or Ten Words/Decalogue [deca means "ten," logo/logos is "word, words"] twice in the Pentateuch: Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Exodus and Deuteronomy refer to the ten commandments of the Sinai Covenant as "words." At least twice in Exodus, the premiere account of the formation of Israel as God's people / Moses' people (who are one and the same), the people promise, "we will do all the words the Lord has spoken." Exodus 19:8; 24:3, 7
God in Our Midst
Our introductory devotional Psalm 15 describes the commandments in action. With "tabernacle," the poet who composed this psalm may have had in mind the commandments the people carried with them in the portable tent or tabernacle; "holy hill" well may have referenced the temple on Mount Zion, where God's essence dwelt. In this passage and later on in Jesus of Nazareth and in the Church, we find God, God's Word, and God's People form an unbreakable triad.
"…a god so near to it as the LORD our God"–the commandments have the same attributes or characteristics as God; this God whose people, "do all the words" have the same qualities as the God who gifted them. When they practice Torah/observe the Ten Words, the people assume God's justice, love, righteousness, and mercy. When God's obedient, observant people are nearby, in a very real sense God is there.
In our recent five weeks of John 6, we heard about manna and quail from heaven, water from the rock, feeding a whole lot of people with very few fish and five loaves of bread. Like people in the Old and New Covenant scriptures, we constantly receive signs or evidence of God's presence. These signs or symbols include waters of baptism, bread and wine of holy communion. Signs or symbols of God's nearness include the commandments that share God's characteristics. Signs of God's presence include us, the contemporary people of God, wherever we go…