Today’s daily lectionary reading includes Deuteronomy 7.12-16. At first blush it is a frightening expression of God’s vengeance. The term in v. 16, unfortunately translated in the NRSV as “ordinances” and in other versions “laws,” is actually a legal term for “judgments.” The people are called to pay attention or heed God’s judgments, presumably against themselves as well as others given the context.
As with any scripture text, it must be read in relationship to the rest of the scriptural witness. The promises and covenant made by God with the people of Israel (v. 9, 12) was not because Israel was special or superior to other nations. It was so that they, as small and seemingly insignificant as they were, would be God’s beacon of light and blessing to the world. It is a common theme in scripture that the least likely are chosen: David is the youngest and scrawniest of the brothers, and the least likely to be chosen as the next king of Israel; Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a young peasant girl, but chosen by God to bless the world with her son; Jesus’ disciples are all men of low social status, even despised by others.
The power given Israel in Deuteronomy, as I see it, is the power to bless as much as to curse or destroy. I can’t help but think, albeit altruistically, that if Israel were to be the blessing God intended, there may be no need for such graphic devastation.
I have said before that one thing I truly love about scripture is that it does not gloss over human frailty. Is it possible that the people’s taste for revenge and power seeped into the people’s understanding and memory of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? I wonder if this is the same “taste” that shaped the people’s confusion about Jesus—expecting a Messiah who would be a military hero who would overthrow the Roman Empire and re-establish the Israel the people had envisioned for so long, a vision born more out of their suffering than God’s grace.
How, I am made to wonder in this reflection, are my tastes for “fairness” or “justice” tainted by the hurt I or my community has suffered? How is my vision of God’s kingdom stained by my sinful taste for excluding those I dislike or do not know?