By Paul Koch –
The children of Israel gather together on the plains of Moab. They had been on quite a journey to get to this point. It was a long and difficult journey, a journey that tested their dependence upon the blessings of God. God was the one who delivered them out of the house of slavery in Egypt. God had caused them to walk through the Red Sea on dry land. God relented from His wrath when they worshiped the golden calf. It was God who consigned them to 40 years of wandering through the wilderness because they were afraid to take possession of the land that He had promised them. Through it all, God provided relief from thirst by water flowing from a rock. He provided heavenly mana and the meat of quail. There was discipline to be sure, like the poisonous serpents which invaded their camp, but there was an abundance of forgiveness and protection throughout this journey. Their journey has finally led them to this place, for now they are read to enter the Promised Land.
So, from the plains of Moab looking out across the Jordan river to the land first promised to their father Abraham, Moses lifts up his voice and proclaims the Word of God, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” (Deut. 30:15-16) Life and good or death and evil: this is the choice set before God’s people. Either they will heed the commands of their God and so choose life, or they will worship other gods and by default chose death.
This is a haunting text because it makes one wonder, who in their right mind would ever chose death? If you had two paths to take and you knew that one led to life and the other to death, why would you ever take the one that leads to death? Think about it, when we come face to face with the news that someone we knew and loved has committed suicide, we have no idea how to process it. It is a difficult thing because to choose death seems to be incomprehensible. I had a good friend that struggled terribly with deep depression. There were times when he was right there, right in that dark and painful place where choosing death seemed to be the only way out. In fact, when his depression was that bad he seemed like a different person, twisted and torn by self-doubt and fear. But Moses isn’t talking about choosing death as a way out of pain. Rather, I believe he is cautioning the Israelites because they might choose death thinking that they have chosen life.
My children have each had that moment where they inform my wife and I that they can’t wait to grow up because then they can do whatever they want. This usually comes when some request for ice cream or staying up late to watch a movie is denied, and they long for the freedom to choose to do what they want to do. Remember those days? Remember when you thought growing up meant freedom? Remember when you believed that as soon as you moved out of mom and dad’s place you could then do whatever you wanted, and finally live autonomous and free? How’s that working out for you? How free are you when the electric bill or the mortgage needs to be paid, or the car needs to get a smog check, or your cell phone bill is higher than expected? Sure, moving out on my own was freedom in many ways but with that freedom came a whole lot more bondage to things I had never anticipated. I think Moses hints that we will often choose things that we want, things that we think will make us free, things that look like life as we picture it; but those very things can become a new source of bondage, a source of pain, and even death.
Think of Eve in the garden of Eden. The choice for Adam and Eve was as simple as it can get. All of creation is given to them, all they need to do is to live as the creatures God made them to be, being fruitful and multiplying to their hearts content. No sin, no suffering, no depression, no death. Every time they walked past that one tree, that tree of the knowledge of good and evil, why they just needed to not eat to be God’s faithful children. In so doing they sang the praises of their Creator. But into the garden comes Satan and what was condemned as death he makes it look like it is the way of life. “Choose this,” he says, “Choose the fruit of this tree and you will be like God knowing good and evil. You won’t die, why, you will truly live.” And so, Eve chose. She chose death and evil over life and good.
Since that day this has become our great temptation. For we have the Word of God. We have the proclamation of life and salvation in the gifts of Christ alone. Yet, the way of death often looks so much like life. It looks like freedom, like being able to do what we want when we want. So instead of being concerned about the wisdom and instruction of our Lord, you are often encouraged to peruse those things that make you happy. From the enticing world of pornography that flows through your screen to the hurting of marriages through selfish ambition and wounding of families by sinful pride you are emboldened over and again to see your own happiness as the greatest good. All because we don’t see the way of death and evil for what it is. It looks and feels good. You are encouraged by the great commercial engine of our age to believe that you will find your identity in your happiness.
But here, the proclamation of Moses ought to echo all the more profoundly in our ears. For right in the middle of your video games and Facebook posts, right during your sinful desires and lusts of the heart, right as you are coveting the new car the neighbor bought, right when you are judging a brother in Christ for the way he dresses, right as you find yourselves living as if God did not matter and as if you and your happiness mattered most; Moses says, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him.” (Deut. 30:19-20)
Life is found in the voice of your God. Life is found in holding fast to what he has proclaimed to you. Choose life! Cling to the gifts and Words of our Lord for you! Though the world will tell you there is freedom in your pursuit of your own happiness, it is most likely the way of death and evil. And though everyone has grown used to seeing the Word and work of Christ through his church as a weak and even foolish vestige of another time, it is none-the-less the very way of life eternal. You, my brothers and sisters, are called by Christ to walk in this way: the way of life, the way of salvation. After all, Christ took your sins upon himself. He bore them all to the cross of Calvary and there he paid the price once for all. Then he turned back the hands of the grave as he rose again to proclaim life to those who believe. Into that death and resurrection, you have been baptized. Into that promise of life and goodness and eternal happiness, you now live. You are saved, you are redeemed, you are forgiven.
The lies of Satan will haunt us until the return of our Lord, twisting life into death and death into life. So, you must hear God’s Word again and again, for the time is fast approaching when you will enter that eternal promised land. So each day as you wake up in the morning, when that first splash of water strikes your face waking you from your slumber, remember the blessed washing of your baptism. Remember who you are. Remember the gifts and promises of your Lord and choose the way of life and good. For Christ himself is your life and the length of your days.