This week's Torah reading: Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12 to 11:24.
The Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14 to 51:3.
Some years ago I was involved with a puppet workshop in our church's Sunday School program Our program's supervisor once gave me a play based on the story of Noah and asked if I could adapt it for that summer's Vacation Bible School. I don't remember making many changes, other than adding a gazebo joke, (because let's face it, gazebos are funny) and one other bit.
Early on in the script, when the Lord commands Noah to build the ark, He tells Noah that he was chosen because of his righteousness. And the way it was written, Noah came off as pretty smug about this, and I found it annoying. So I added a line where the Lord tells Noah, "Don't get cocky, kid. I want something done, and I want you to do it."
(I considered riffing off that a bit more: "Kid? I'm 600 years old!" "Are you old enough to remember the Creation of the Universe?" "Uh... no." "Then you're a kid." Except then I'd have to cut the gazebo joke.)
I was reminded of my warning to Noah ( "Don't get cocky" ) in this week's Torah reading. We have a lengthy section where Moses exhorts the People of Israel to follow the Law. He tells them to remember the Lord's commands and how the Lord delivered them from Egypt and of all the great wonders and miracles he wrought while he led them in their 40 years in the wilderness.
Reading this passage made me think of the flap over the President's remarks that no business was ever successful solely by its own efforts, and of the Conservative outrage: "How DARE you suggest that I didn't pull myself up by my own bootstraps! I got where I am now purely by my own hard work and never took no handouts from nobody!"
Moses here reminds Israel that their own situation, poised to enter the land which shall be their now home, is due not to their own actions, but to the power and the protection of the Lord.
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is mulitplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. ... You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." (Deut. 8:10-14,17 New International Version)Now, here, admittedly, I am making a leap. In the current argument, the Self-Made Businessman claiming "I did it all myself" is countered by Obama's argument, "No, you had help from the Government, from Society, from your friends and neighbors." Moses is saying something different. "You had help from the Lord. Period."
Or is it that different? The Lord works through the hands of ordinary people much more often than he does through flashy miracles and catastrophic plagues. He even works through secular Government, which as the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 13:1-7 is God's servant for the administration of Justice.
Of course, many Conservatives do give lip-service to the Lord and would probably take umbridge at me for suggesting that they deny Heaven any credit. Do they not have a Jesus Fish on the back of their SUV? Do they not genuflect every time they make a touchdown? Did they not name their business website "johnthreesixteen.com"? Okay, all these things are very nice. But Moses has a warning for them too.
After the LORD your God has driven [your enemies] out before you, do not say to yourself "The LORD had brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness." ... It is not beacuse of your righteousness or your integrity that your are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people. (Deut. 9:4-6 NIV)Yeah, Moses does repeat himself, doesn't he; but he wants to drive home his point. Deep down underneath the boast of the Self-Made Man is the belief, whether spoken or unspoken that, "I Deserve All This!" Like Scrooge McDuck liked to say about his own fortune: "I made it by being tougher than the toughies, and smarter than the smarties! And I made it square!" Even the successful man who piously concedes the Lord's hand in his prosperity, will carry a sense that this prosperity is a Mark of God's Favor, a reward for righteousness. Why, you might even say that the Lord owes him material success
Moses says "No, you ain't that good." The Lord blesses you not because you are deserving, but because He loves you and because He promised He would. Jumping over to the Haftarah this week, the Prophet compares the Lord to a loving mother who cares for her children, (a rare instance in Scripture describing God in feminine terms; I wasn't aware of it before)
The Self-Made Man is worshiping an idol made with his own hands. And Moses never has anything good to say about idols.
He's more reticent on the subject of gazebos.