How do I know? The Bible tells me so.
“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons; Specially the clay that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me, Gather me the people together, and l will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children” (Deut. 4:9 -10).
The theocentric basis of this law is the fear of God. As covenantal agents of God, fathers were required to teach their sons and grandsons the law of God. The family’s hierarchy was to extend Israel’s national covenant into the future. This was not a seed law in the sense of a tribal law. It was an affirmation of the covenant in the life of Israel. It is a universal law that is to govern covenant-keeping fathers throughout history. Only when God is no longer to be feared does this law cease in history, “that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth.”
Moses spoke these words to people who could remember the giving of the law. Through their parents’ oath of allegiance to God, they had participated in the sealing of the covenant at Sinai-Horeb (Ex. 19), immediately prior to God’s giving of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20). Moses warned them not to forget, and to tell what they had seen to their children and grandchildren.
The threat to Israel was a break in this verbal inheritance. There was a risk that their memories of this covenantal event might depart from Israel. But how? Through a failure to tell this story. The focus of this warning was not primarily individual; it was corporate. Old people remember the events of their youth even when they forget their own names. The memory spoken of here was corporate memory, i.e., the transmission of the story. If this story should ever depart out of the nation’s corporate heart, it would no longer define Israel. It would no longer motivate them to fear God and obey Him.
The transmission of Israel’s inheritance rested on the telling of this story. Here, Passover was not the focus; the giving of the law was. Passover was to remind them of the great deliverance from Egypt, which Moses called the iron furnace (Deut. 4:20). But the story of the giving of the law was equally important. It was not just that God had delivered them out of bondage; it was that He had also delivered to them His law. The events surrounding the covenantal meeting between God and Israel at Mt. Horeb had to be repeated to the next generation. They had heard God (v. 12). They were not eyewitnesses to God; they were earwitnesses to God. They were required to pass on this story just as they had received it: verbally.
Hearing Is Believing
Modern man has a phrase. “Seeing is believing.” The technology of photography launched a new era. Men could at last record faithful images of what they had seen. This elevated the eye to a position of authority that it had
When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in a not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day (Deut. 8:10-18)
The theocentric focus of this law is God as the gracious Provider. God demands thankfulness on the part of the recipients of His grace. The message here is clear: covenant-keepers can become spiritually forgetful as a direct result of the visible blessings of God. As a result of the gift, they forget the Giver. That covenant-breakers forget the God who gave them their blessings should come as no shock, but this warning was directed at covenant-keepers.
Because the sin of covenantal forgetfulness is universal, this law was not a seed law or land law. Those theologians who argue that this was exclusively a land law want to escape from its implications: God brings sanctions in history against those who forget Him. The problem is, when they argue this way, they strip the covenant of its predictability and therefore also its authority in history. Those who forget God are supposedly in no worse shape in history, and perhaps far better shape, than those who remember Him.
Forgetfulness is an aspect of point two of the biblical covenant model: hierarchy. The covenantally forgetful man forgets something quite specific: his complete dependence on the grace of God. Moses here listed the external blessings that God had given them in the wilderness, a hostile place that would not sustain a large population. They had received water out of the rock and a daily supply of food. In the wilderness, they had been kept humble and subordinate by their reliance on God’s miracles. God would soon give them blessings after they conquered the Promised Land. The transfer of inheritance from Canaan to Israel would be an aspect of God’s comprehensive deliverance of the nation out of bondage and into freedom. Their freedom would initially be accompanied by a discontinuous increase in their external wealth: military victory. Then this wealth would multiply.
Miracles as Welfare
The move from Egypt to Canaan is a model of the move from slavery lo freedom. The model of a free society is not Israel’s miraculous wilderness experience, where God gave, them manna and removed many burdens of entropy. The predictable miracles of the wilderness era were designed to humble them, not raise them up. The wilderness experience was not marked by economic growth but by economic stagnation and total dependence. They were not allowed to saver extra portions of manna, which rotted (Ex. 16:20). On the move continually, they could not dig wells, plant crops, or build houses. At best, they may have been able to increase their herds, as nomads do (Num. 3:45; 20:4; 32:1). The wilderness experience was a means of teaching them that God acts in history to sustain His people. The wilderness economy with its regular miracles was not to become an ideal toward which covenant-keepers should strive. Israel longed for escape from the wilderness. It was God’s curse on the exodus generation that they would die in the wilderness.
The wilderness economy was a welfare economy. The Israelites were supplied with basic necessities even though the people did not work. But they lacked variety. People without the ability to feed themselves were fed by God: same old diet. People without the ability to clothe themselves were clothed by God: same old fashions. Israel wandered aimlessly because the nation had refused to march into war. They were not fit to lead, and so they had to follow. They were welfare clients; they had no authority over the conditions of their existence. They took what was handed out to them. And like welfare clients generally, they constantly complained that their lifestyle just wasn’t good enough (Num. 11). They had been unwilling to pay the price of freedom: conquest (Num. 14). God therefore cursed them to endure four decades of welfare economics. The only good thing about the wilderness welfare program was that it did not use the State as the agency of positive blessings. No one was coerced into paying for anyone else’s lifestyle. God used a series of miracles to sustain them all. There was no coercive program of wealth redistribution. Israel was a welfare society, not a welfare State.
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