Imagine a people – living in a country they’ve called home for generations, but persecuted by their neighbors, government and friends for their beliefs. If they’re lucky enough to have jobs, they are the dirty jobs no one else will do. Even their children are bullied and anything beyond a basic education is not available. But, God hears their cries for mercy and sends someone to lead them across thousands of miles of oceans and land to a Promised Land – the land of milk and honey where food, resources, and wealth are in abundance. The Promised Land becomes their new home – food, houses, clothing, education, jobs – everything is provided above and beyond their expectations. For once, they are happy and blessed beyond any other generation, ever.
Sound familiar? It’s the story of the people of Israel escaping from Egypt into the Promised Land under Moses’ leadership. But, it’s also my story – and the story of many other refugees who have escaped persecution in their own countries and immigrated to the United States.
In my goal to read the entire Bible in one year, I am currently reading through the book of Deuteronomy and it’s quickly becoming my favorite book of the Bible. And that surprised me, mostly because I often get bored through the Old Testament – I know most of the big stories and some of it seems so pointless – the descriptions of the food they ate, all the rules God set for them at that time – it never really quite held my attention.
But, chalk it up to maturity or a stronger desire to seek God with my whole heart, I’ve been trying to actually study these books of the Old Testament to see what I can gleam from these historic tales. And God has opened His word so much to me! Here’s a tiny sliver of what I’ve learned so far from the book of Deuteronomy.
What is Deuteronomy about?
This book is Moses’ farewell speech before the tribes enter the Promised Land. It reviews God’s acts of salvation and the implications of salvation for life. The book itself was apparently found in the temple in the reign of Josiah (621 B.C.). The discovery sparked a great religious reform. One of the real concerns of Deuteronomy is how to make old traditions relevant for a new time.
So, why should I care?
So much of this book alternates between speaking of how great our God is and providing instructions on how to live in the Promised Land – it’s humbling and a warning of what’s to come. In my opinion, it’s pretty much the Christian’s manifesto.
The Christian My mission statement
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.” – Deut. 6:5-6
Isn’t this what being a Christian is all about? It’s this our mission statement? It’s one of my favorite phrases in the whole Bible – “Love the Lord your God with all your HEART, with all your SOUL, and with all your STRENGTH.” I’ve read it often in the New Testament, but I didn’t realize that this is actually the first it’s written in the Bible – way back when in the Old Testament!
The “Americinized Russian”
That’s what Russians call other Russian immigrants who have done a phenomenal job of blending with the American culture. Often, you can’t even tell they’re Russian – they’ve left behind the culture, the language and the beliefs and blended into their surroundings. It’s more common for those whose families have been in the U.S. for generations. And it happens all around the world – we adapt to our surroundings. The same happens with believers and unbelievers. Francis Chan once said, “There is something wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers…”
This is exactly what God tries to prevent by speaking through Moses in the book of Deuteronomy. He warns against adopting the ways of the land in which they will inherit – He instructs them to burn and destroy all idols, Gods and valuables of the people who previously inhabited the Promised Land.
“…take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying ‘How did these nations sever their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods..” -Deut. 12:30-31
I am a special treasure. And so are you.
“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are the face of the earth.” – Deut. 14:2
Yes, this was originally written for the people of Israel, but as we know from the New Testament, Jesus came and died on the cross so that everyone – even us, Gentiles, can have access to eternal life and all of God’s promises. By de facto, this applies to us. We are a holy people – chosen above everyone else. That is why our lives should be different from the unbelievers surrounding us. The way we talk, walk, think, act and dress should be completely different from unbelievers. When people look at us and talk to us, they should see God.
Have you ever spotted treasure? Or even a gem among rocks? A big seashell among a sea of broken shells? Your eye is automatically drawn to it – it stands out among the thousands of rocks just like it in shape and style – there is just something about it that glows. Immediately you want it – you want to discover what it is and what it’s made of.
That’s how it should be between believers and unbelievers. But, I will be the first to admit that I often blend with my classmates, neighbors and coworkers, a lot of whom are unbelievers. They’re perfect opportunities to shine and testify, but it’s so much easier to blend in.
And so it was the same for the people of Israel. God knew that when they entered the Promised Land and encountered an abundance of food, resources and wealth, all ready for their use, that it would be easy to figure out how the people of that land lived before them and adopt their ways. And so this whole book is a warning of how not to fall into this trap of blending into your surroundings and into society’s expectations. It’s also a reminder of how amazing God is and the things He had already done for the people of Israel since they left Egypt.
It’s also the same for me as an immigrant and as a Christian. I can’t slip into blending into society’s expectations or the ways of unbelievers. I was literally born to shine. As are you.
PS. I apologize for the super long post. I’m only half way through the book of Deuteronomy but it’s gotten be so excited, I had to share some of what I was learning! 🙂