Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 24-27.
One morning in seventh grade I went to the school library to get a book. As I walked through the door, I barely missed stepping on an open ink pad on the floor. I picked it up and put it where no one else would step on it. At the same time two older boys came out of the stacks and told me to put the ink pad back. It turns out they had put the pad on the floor to see who would track ink through the library. I refused to put the ink back on the floor and left.
I don’t believe I had decided to follow Jesus as Lord at that time. In other words, I wasn’t a Christian, though I had grown up in church. What prompted me to do the right thing then? I believe it was respect or fear of authority, including fear of God. I don’t know whether the other two boys were believers. I doubt they had any fear of God as they put out the ink pad. Later that day, and for several days as I remember, they followed me home and bullied me for not going along with their scheme. I didn’t suffer any real harm, but I was reminded of my harassment as I read about the Amalekites:
Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. Deut. 25:17-18
Moses reminds the people, as they get ready to enter the Promised Land, about one of their tougher times in the wilderness. God gave them victory over the Amalekites, but not before some of their number were captured or killed. Moses describes the enemy as a people who had no fear of God. God is setting up a contrast between the Amalekites, who had no belief in God and no fear of him, and the Israelites. God lays out many regulations in Deuteronomy, and more than that he describes a way of life. What will prompt his people to live this godly way of life? Fear of the Lord. Look at some of the actions that characterize this godly life:
- Compassionate treatment of a divorced or widowed woman
- Protections for those in debt
- Respect for the dignity of the less fortunate
- Protections for the poor
- Equal justice for all, including the foreigner
- Honest dealing in trade
All of us would hope that our neighbors lived according to such ethics, but it won’t happen without a respect for what is right. There will be no respect for right unless there is a belief in God, a fear of the LORD. Congressmen may try to legislate good behavior, but their efforts won’t fare much better than prohibition. I’m over-generalizing a bit. There are people who don’t believe in God who live ethical lives, but largely as our society abandons God it also abandons compassion for others in favor of self-interest.
Maybe you are wondering what I mean by fear of the Lord. If I could sum it up in one word, I would say “accountability.” We are accountable to God for our actions. Believing that, we have a healthy respect for God which motivates us as we make choices every day. Moses tells the people to “remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam along the way after you came out of Egypt.” Miriam complained about Moses’ privileges and status, and God struck her with leprosy. Though her leprosy was taken away, she kept a greater fear of the LORD.
Unfortunately, even believers sometimes fail to fear the LORD as they should. What do you think leads to such moral failures in God’s people?
Image by trixOr on Flickr, CC by 2.0