The time of wandering had come to an end. For forty years, Israel had been led by Moses as they existed on the edge of the land God had promised to Abraham. Now, it was time for a choice to be made. You may recall how the generation before them had set the path for this wandering journey by choosing to live in fear of the giants who dwelled in the Promised Land. Choosing to live in the self-fulfilling perceptions of their self-perceived weaknesses they had accepted the self-imposed limitations as interpreted by ten of the twelve spies whom Moses had charged with the responsibility of assembling a report about the Promised Land. These were the ten spies who said, “we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers and so we seemed to them.” Responding to this assessment of the report, the tribes of Israel wanted to go back to the deadly and known reality of the past when they were slaves in Egypt rather than live into the unknown realities of the future.
For forty years, the people of Israel had been wandering in a legacy of doubtful living, but the time of wandering had come to an end as Moses told them, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” It was time for the people of Israel to make a choice that would set the direction of the journey for the generation that would follow them.
Set before them was the choice of living in the blessing of God’s commandments or the choice of turning their hearts away from God. Moses did not want any doubts about the choice being set before the Israelites. Growing up in a legacy of indecision, the time had arrived for a decision.
Dr. Sara Koenig reports that when her children were small, she read parenting advice about how it was helpful to present choices to them by holding her hands out and asking them to physically touch the hand that represented the choice: “Would you like to wear your red sweater (left hand) or your green jacket (right hand)?” The idea is that it is empowering for children to be given a choice, and they can be more confident when they connect their intellectual decision with a physical embodied action. She thought of that advice when she read this story from Deuteronomy, because the choice Moses gives seems utterly obvious: “Would you like to choose life and prosperity (left hand) or death and destruction (right hand)?”
If it’s not inherently obvious that the choice for life is better than the choice for death, Moses adds motivational clauses: if you make this choice, you will live and multiply, you will enjoy many years in the land, God will bless you, and your children will live. And in addition to the positive reinforcement, Moses includes the negative consequences for choosing poorly: you will be destroyed, you will not live long in the land. Why would anyone voluntarily, willingly, or consciously choose death? … The simple choice is not as easy as it appears. It is hard to love God. It is hard to be obedient to God. It is hard to listen to God’s voice with all the distractions and competing voices around us. It is hard to hold fast to God when we are tempted to cling to other things. Therefore, it is hard to make the obvious, right choice for life. It is also the case that a choice for death may not be intentional; we may not realize that we are obviously choosing death instead of choosing life.
More practically, it can be hard to choose life in everyday situations: in a meeting, when having a conversation with someone, while parenting children or making decisions for elderly parents, in traffic, when being criticized, while doing errands, et cetera. Even if it is simple to choose life over death, the choice still requires wisdom and discernment, and even guidance from the Holy Spirit.
As with children, though, it is empowering for us to be given the choice for life. Also, as with children, when we reach out to choose life, we can embody that choice for life not only in what we believe but also through our physical actions. We can choose life by hugging a neighbor who is grieving. We can choose life by falling to our knees in prayer. We can choose life by sharing a meal with a neighbor who is homeless. We can choose life by loving God. We can choose life for ourselves, for other people, for the vulnerable and marginalized, for those we love and those who are hard to love. We can choose life by being obedient to God, by turning to God, and by holding fast to God. We can choose life by seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness.
Set before you today, and every day, are the choices of living in the blessing of God’s commandments or turning your heart away from God.
What is your choice?
Set Before You
by Pastor Marc Brown
September 4, 2022
Accompanying Scriptures: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for September 4, 2022
Scripture Lesson Deuteronomy 30:15-20
The Good News “Set Before You”
Music “Your Will Be Done” by Rich Thompson & Jonny Robinson
Closing Music “Faith” by Mark Hayes