Lent is a time of repentance and preparation for Easter. That Jesus died for our sins and rose again to take them away means nothing if we don’t recognized ourselves as sinners. For all our individual differences, we all have one sin in common. We forget God.
Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt to the doorstep of the Promised Land. and they refused to enter.
They had forgotten God’s power, protection, and provision. When they heard the report of fortified cities, they wailed and declared it would have been better if they had died in Egypt.
So God granted them the next best thing. They would die in the wilderness. To everyone counted in a recent census 20 years and older, God said they would wander for 40 years until every one of their carcasses fell—an average of 140 deaths every day.
The younger generation
Moses addressed their children, again on the doorstep of the Promised Land and called them, begged them, to remember God as they began to prosper and thrive. Deuteronomy 8:11-14 especially provides a Lenten reminder.
Most were younger than 40. Only the oldest of them had any personal memories of conditions in Egypt. Only the oldest of them had any personal memory of the rebellion that had caused their parents to die in the wilderness.
But they had been taught the stories. Every one of them could recite the stories of their people from the time of Abraham forward. Every one of them knew that they would enter the Promised Land and possess it. But remembering stories is not good enough.
The people who heard Moses that day didn’t remember him coming down the mountain with the Ten Commandments, but he had taught the law in their hearing. They knew that God had promised wonderful blessings if they obeyed, and frightful curses if they disobeyed.
Every day they saw the tabernacle and everything in it. They were among the first people to learn the sacrifices and other ceremonial requirements of the law. But remembering holy objects and religious rituals is not enough.
So he told them to remember how God led them in the wilderness. God taught them humility in hostile land full of serpents and scorpions, but with no food. He had fed them with manna up to the day Moses spoke to them. He wanted to teach them that people are utterly dependent on God for everything. He intended the manna as a constant reminder that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Soon, these young people would occupy a good, fertile land. Room service would end, and they would work the land. They would prosper, and prosperity brings with it the invitation to pride. Moses warned them not to worship the gift and forget the giver.
But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who is giving you the power to make wealth, that he may confirm his covenant, which he swore to your fathers, as it is to this day (Deuteronomy 8:18).
Wealth meant more that just an abundance of goods as God blessed the work of their hands. The word Moses used includes strength, power, virtue. God promised wealth in all its material and spiritual senses.
Why? So he could confirm his covenant with them. So he could bless them with more than enough and mold them into a people who would represent him to the world. God is so incredibly generous. The law commands us to be generous, too, including regular cancelation of debt. God wanted no inequality of wealth to last very long, and no oppression of the weak at all. Moses so desperately wanted the people to remember him with gratitude.
But before the fathers and mothers of young children he addressed grew old enough to have grandchildren, their children had already started to forget.
They received the gift and forgot the giver. Israel soon began to experience the curse of the law as they sank into disobedience and idolatry, and began to adopt the same disgusting practices that they were supposed to wipe off the face of the earth.
We, too, must remember
We as Americans have been blessed with great wealth. We have more material wealth than any people in history.
We are stronger and more powerful than any people in history.
We often claim to he more virtuous than any other people in history.
Christian Americans like to think that our country was founded on Christian principles and that our founding fathers didn’t recognize class distinctions, but we have always had people marginalized, neglected, and oppressed by the richer and more powerful. We have always had inequality of wealth. Recently it has only gotten wider and wider.
We do not remember that it is God who gives us power to get wealth. We act as if we achieved everything ourselves, and we’re beginning to suffer the same social decay that began in Israel even before all of Moses’ audience had died.
- The Israelites adopted the Canaanite fertility rites of unrestrained sexual behavior. So do Americans today.
- The Israelites adopted the Canaanite practice of child sacrifice. We do the same with abortion.
- The Israelites adopted the Canaanites’ idols on every hill and high place. We likewise worship the work of our hands, our stores, our investments, our spending.
- The Canaanite religion compelled people to try to placate gods whose demands they didn’t understand. Too many Americans approach Christianity the same way.
The church has become so worldly that the beliefs and behavior of the average church member can’t be distinguished from the world around us. We design programs in order to make seekers feel comfortable. Reminders of sin and judgment make people uncomfortable, so we substitute cheap grace.
We forget to seek God in designing and running church programs. Our churches go all out to gain new members and too often neglect to make disciples of them.
Meanwhile, Moses still begs and pleads down through the millennia: remember God. Remember gratitude. Don’t worship the gift and forget the giver. Remember that we can’t be grateful and proud at the same time
Remember that we are each utterly dependent on a loving and extravagantly generous God. Remember God day by day — hour by hour — minute by minute.