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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

With Joyfulness and Gladness of Heart: Deuteronomy 28.47-48


{Preached at Heritage Presbyterian Church 3 August 2014. Listen here}

With Joyfulness and Gladness of Heart: Deuteronomy 28.47-48

In my morning devotional reading a few weeks back, I was reading through Deuteronomy 28. It is the portion of God’s story where he tells his people that there are rich blessings awaiting them as they will faithfully obey the voice of YHWH their God and are careful to do what he tells them (“if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth”28.1). But that there are also adverse circumstances – curses – lurking around the corner if they chose to turn their back to him and follow their own way (“if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you”28.15).

It was here, in this segment on the curses, when the following two verses popped out of the page and slapped me:

47Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.

I realize that at this point you are likely to tune out and turn off. It sounds so gloomily negative, and creepily burdensome. But before you hit the off-button, or click to another channel, take a moment to reflect with me on the positive point pumping through these verses.

We need to see that what God wants is a joyfulness and gladness of heart in our life as Christians. It’s fairly simple, but easily missed. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not seeking a soul-wearying obedience that just guts it out. “Because of the abundance of everything” he has poured out on us – things that we are not entitled to, nor deserve – he wants us to be happily grateful and joyfully thankful.
Most parents I know don’t want a slavish compliance from their kids. They set down house rules and family standards for the health, wellbeing and success of everyone involved. The conflicts often come when kids and teens either outright resist and counter those rules, or sullenly and grumpily comply. Parents are consternated because those simple directions are for everyone’s benefit and continued health. In fact, several specific “regulations” are in place because of “the abundance of all things.” The parents are perplexed and aggravated since they don’t understand why their kids can’t see the value and profit of these liberty-shaped, prosperity-enhancing, health-boosting codes. “Why, it’s as plain as the nose on your face” And the kids are bent out of shape because they often feel that these parental-procedures are nonsensical and offensively oppressive. “Why should I clean my room? Come on! That pile of clothes in the corner, rumbled bed-sheets on my bed, and overflowing trashcan with candy wrappers should be someone else’s responsibility! I’m too busy playing my video game-reading my book-watching my music video-texting my friends! Sheesh!” I’ve been on both sides of this tiff, as I suspect many of you have. When I look back on myself as a kid and as a teen, I blush dark red.

You get the picture. That is what is going on in these verses. “Obedience” is actually enjoying God’s redemptive liberation, living out his health-sustaining emancipation, swimming in the bounty of his love-rich “code of conduct” – serving “the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things.” To see this, observe that the Ten Commandments don’t begin with laws, but a rehearsal of God’s redemptive work, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20.1 and Deuteronomy 5.6). In essence God is saying something like: “I am the God who has emancipated you, set you free from a bondage you were powerless over and helpless under. So, now that I’ve set you free, here are the ten aspects of how freed people live!” And so, rightly (“It’s as plain as the nose on your face!”), YHWH points out that our attitude should be plush with joy and gladness - serving “the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things.”

But verse 48 subtly points out that the lack of gratitude in walking with God and enjoying his liberation comes from bowing down to other gods. Joylessness and ungratefulness in our Christian walk have more to do with idolatry than incidents! Joylessness has less to do with our circumstance, and more to do with our reverence. We are joyless in God’s lavish love, because – like when many of us were adolescents – we’re so absorbed in in our own pleasures and pursuits (actually, overly absorbed in ourselves) that we can’t stand any interruptions to our self-worship. We may want God’s liberty, but we don’t want his logic that goes with it. And so God promises that if we will not enjoy his liberty because of our own self-interest, self-adoration, self-seeking, then we will be given what we seek – our enslavement, with all of its impoverishment.

I know that all of this sounds, at first, rather harsh. But if you’ve ever raised children, or ever had to deal with someone chemically addicted, or living a self-destructive lifestyle, you know that the time comes when you may just have to allow them to crash and burn. And it breaks your heart! And there are plentiful times that God’s own heart is “broken” over his children, “…how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols” (Ezekiel 6.9).

The point is clear: God wants the positive side of all this, not the negative! He wants us to be filled with joy and gladness in our walk with him, “for the abundance of everything” – for the abundance of his providential care, the abundance of his lavish love, the abundance of his redemptive-liberating work in Jesus Christ, etc. And he delivers that joy, if we will but turn our backs to our self-idol and seek him as he is found in Christ.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14.17).

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15.13).

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

It would be quite fitting at this point for us to ask ourselves, am I serving “the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things.”

Mike

(Feel free to re-post or re-publish as you see fit. But as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike)

Updated 28 May 2014 – MWP.
Audio File added 4 August 2014 - MWP.


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