TODAY’S READING: Deuteronomy 6 – 9
One of the comedies that I have seen and liked from time to time is a US show called “My name is Earl.” Last year the show arrived here in the Netherlands in reruns. Once in a while my wife and I catch an episode.
The premise of the show is that Earl was basically a societal loser. He burglarized homes to make money, drank too much, was irresponsible, thoughtless and ignorant. Until one day he won 250,000 dollars in a scratch off lottery ticket. In his celebration he stumbled into a street, got hit by a car and the winning lottery ticket blew away. Earl ends in up in traction in the hospital, knowing he won the lottery, but no ticket to prove it. While lying in that hospital bed Earl comes to believe that it was his bad habits, acts and attitudes that prevented him from having any luck. He mourns his existence.
Once Earl gets out of the hospital he actually finds his winning ticket. He then decides that a higher power is sending him a message, Earl must undo the mischievous acts of his earlier life and he must now make amends. This is especially important to Earl since he has a lot to amend for.
Earl makes a list of around 200 people and acts that he did against them that he must now amend for. Each episode is a humorous look at one of the original bad acts and how Earl tries to undo the act and make up for the wrong done. Some of the misdeeds have included:
Shot a girl in the butt with a BB gun.
Stole dad’s car.
Faked his own death.
Didn’t pay taxes.
Made a lady think she was God.
Made another boy earn Earl’s Boy Scout merit badges.
If this sounds a lot like the eastern philosophy of Karma, it is. Often during the show, when Earl is explaining his tale and adventure, he says that it is about Karma. Earl is trying to shift the balance of good and evil in his life to the good side. He is trying to undue years of self centeredness, greed and thoughtlessness.
In today’s reading we find out why plans like Earl’s won’t work.
If you think about the readings for the last six weeks or so, you will recall the Israelites have been making a lot of mistakes. Today’s reading reminds us of their mistakes. Remember how they complained about everything. They even went so far as to beg to return to Egypt where they were slaves. They were ungrateful for a loving God that rescued them from their situation, provided special food and defeated their enemies in front of their eyes. God had made a special effort to be their one true God. The Israelites even had a God that dwelled in their midst. He was present in a column of smoke during the day and a pillar of fire at night. If we were to make a list of misdeeds by the Israelites it might look like this:
Complained about God’s provision.
Ungrateful for what God has been doing for them.
Put other idols before God.
Doubt God’s ability to provide and protect.
Indifferently worship God.
Attempt to do things that God told them not to do.
Get involved with people who God forbid them to associate with.
Now after all their doubt, complaining and disobedience they are about to enter the promised land. God is going to fulfill his promise to them through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses.
Why is God doing this? Is it because the Israelites deserved this? Had they been working their list like Earl, slowing working to tip the balance from bad to good? Let’s see what the reading says today:
Deuteronomy 9:4 – 6 (NLT)
4 “After the Lord your God has done this for you, don’t say in your hearts, ‘The Lord has given us this land because we are such good people!’ No, it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he is pushing them out of your way. 5 It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land. The Lord your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness, and to fulfill the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 6 You must recognize that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not—you are a stubborn people.
A bit earlier in today’s reading we read about God’s special relationship with His chosen people:
Deuteronomy 7:7 – 11 (NLT)
7 “The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! 8 Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. 9 Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. 10 But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him. 11 Therefore, you must obey all these commands, decrees, and regulations I am giving you today.
Israel’s receiving of the promised land by God was not as a result of them being a good people, who had tipped the scale of good and evil in the right direction. They were getting the promised land because their God loved them and He had made promises that He was going to keep. The rescue of the Jews from Egypt and the provision of the Promised Land is all dependent upon God. There was no deed, no list of things to undo that the Israelites could do to earn them the promised land. It was because of the love of God for His people.
In the New Testament we see this truth maintained.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Can you hear God saying these words to the Israelites… “For it is by My grace that you are getting this promised land, through your faith in me, it is not from yourself, it is my gift to you, not because you have earned it, in that way you can not boast of your works and again forget about me.”
Earl’s problem is not that he has a too long list of bad deeds to undo in order to shift the scales of right and wrong / good and evil into his favor. Earl’s problem is that he is depending upon himself to find favor with God. Earl will never know if he has done enough, he will never know if he tipped the scales completely in his favor or not.
You and I can know for sure, through the believing in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that all of our sins have been paid for. All of our wrongdoings have been undone. Our list of misdeeds has been completely crossed out.