Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Blessing beyond what is needed

July 10, 2022

First Reading
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Commentary on Deuteronomy 30:9-14

Deuteronomy 30:9-14 offers a hopeful ray of light and promise of joy amidst the dark and foreboding words of chapters 28-30 of Deuteronomy that are replete with curses and doom. 

The primary theme of Deuteronomy is covenant, a binding promise made between God and God’s people as the Hebrews end the time of their desert wandering and enter into the land promised to Abraham, Sarah, and their descendants.

While Deuteronomy is primarily composed of legal material, such as the Ten Commandments in chapter 5, the pinnacle of the book is chapters 27-30 which present instructions for the ritual enactment of the covenant. In a gathered assembly of the people in Deuteronomy 27, Moses charges the people to ratify the covenant by building an altar of unworked field stones, offering sacrifices, inscribing large stones with the words of the commandments, and reading aloud a lengthy set of blessings, but mainly curses that would befall those who followed or violated the terms of the covenant oath.

The curses are described in great detail and serve a rhetorical purpose in the book of encouraging the people to follow the commandments so as to preserve the distinctive identity of the people of God when they enter the land of Canaan. This identity is of a people of law and justice.

In Deuteronomy 29:10-29, Moses forewarns that the people will violate the covenant, follow other gods, and suffer terrible consequences: “all the curses in this book will descend on them, and the LORD will blot out their names from under heaven.”

Yet, against this backdrop of curse doom, verses 9-14 offer a hopeful word of encouragement and look forward to a brighter future. Verse 8 encourages listeners that, even though the people will violate the covenant of God, they will again turn to their Lord to observe the commandments. 

And in verse 9, the chapter takes a dramatic turn to dazzle the listener with promises of prosperity, abundance, and joy. The Hebrew adds emphasis to the excess of the promised abundance with the very first word: the verb y-t-r. The meaning of this verb is one of excessive abundance, having so much of something that there is extra, leftover, more than enough. The implication of the verb and the verse overall is that this blessing will be excessively rewarding and the prosperity abundant. It is twice repeated that YHWH will rejoice and take delight in this prosperity as YHWH delighted in the abundance of their ancestors.

The general feeling of 30:9 is of joyful exuberance, and blessing beyond what is needed. This is tempered by verse 10, which reminds the listener or reader that this promised blessing is for those who obey the voice of YHWH and keep the commandments. Verse 10 calls the people to continually return to YHWH with their heart and mind, a deliberate reference to the Shema prayer in Deuteronomy 6 that commands the people to love the LORD with all of one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 further emphasizes the conditional nature of the blessing and emphasizes the transparency of expectations of God’s people. Verse 11 states that the law is not mysterious or inscrutable (nifla’ot), and has been revealed to them in the plain sight and hearing of all so that no excuse remains for those that do not follow the law, that it was not plainly delivered to them. This emphasis on the transparency and accessibility of the law is also embedded within the ritual enactment of the covenant: Moses’ instructions include an oral recitation of “all the words of this law (torah)” before a gathered assembly of all the people and the inscription of the law on large stones.

Thus, all of Deuteronomy 27-30 emphasize the available, transparent, and plain nature of the covenant and its laws and statutes. The law is not meant to be mysterious or unattainable, but something practical that the people can do in ordinary life. It is meant to be implemented, it is meant to be lived in each and every moment of the life of the people. As Deuteronomy 7 commands: “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.”

The commands are not presented as a burden to the people, but as a source of life and prosperity in service to a God who rejoices over them. In Deuteronomy, the law is not a source of grievance or drudgery, but a way of ordinary life that would bring flourishing to the people and the community as a whole when they love God and love their neighbor. Moses repeatedly calls the people of God with heartfelt sincerity to abide and live by the covenant: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…” (30:19).

Deuteronomy emphasizes the importance of human agency and the power of free choice that God has given us as humans made in the image of God’s own likeness. Our choices have consequences, for life and for death, and by God’s grace we will choose the abundance and flourishing that come by living according to the word of God. For, “the word is very close to you; it is in your mouth and your heart for you today, so that you might live for the good” (Deuteronomy 30:14).