top of page

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 comes to us not only as some of Moses’ last words to the children of Israel, but nearly at the end of the Torah. They are the culmination of God’s covenant with the people of Israel. The simplicity of these words—choose life or choose death—is striking in the midst of the details of the covenant between God and the Israelites. These are epic words, setting the drama of human action on the stage of the universe. But they come on the heels of a specific list of curses that reveal the actions that lead to death, and these actions are surprisingly mundane.

Looking back to Deuteronomy 27:15-26: Cursed is anyone who makes and worships an idol in secret, who dishonors their father or mother, who moves their neighbor’s boundary stone, who leads a blind person astray, who withholds justice from the foreigner, orphan or widow, who has inappropriate sexual relations (vv. 20-23), who secretly kills their neighbor, or who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person.

The actions leading to cursedness appear to have little in common, but an eleventh century Jewish rabbi by the name of Samuel ben Meir identified a common thread—they are all actions that happen in secret.[1] Only the perpetrator and maybe one or two others were aware of the injustice that had taken place.

This condemnation of secret wrongdoing is very much in line with this week’s Gospel reading from Matthew 5. Jesus is even more explicit in his condemnation of “secret sins.”

The season of Epiphany celebrates the revelation by the Wise Men to the world that Jesus was a king worthy of honor and worship. It is also a call for the church to reveal the kingship of Jesus to the world by her actions.[2]

It is tempting to think that the only way we can reveal Jesus as king is by actions of epic proportions—huge campaigns to end hunger or homelessness, revivals where thousands are saved, missionary journeys where the Gospel is preached around the world.

But our texts today reveal something different. The call to choose life comes right on the heels of this list of condemned actions that are relatively insignificant. What difference does it make to the life of the nation of Israel if one guy moves a boundary stone or leads a blind person astray? So what if someone kills their neighbor secretly? People die all the time of diseases and accidents.

Apparently it makes all the difference.

Apparently how the people of Israel act in secret is the difference between life and death, between prosperity and destruction.

This is a clarion call to the church. What we do in secret matters. It is who we are in secret that leads to life or death.

What impact do our secret lives have on how we reveal Jesus to the world?

Samuel Wells wrote, “Ethics is not about being clever in a crisis but about forming a character that does not realize it has been in a crisis until the ‘crisis’ is over.”[3]

It turns out that these are epic words, but not in terms of kings and armies and nations or missionary journeys or revival campaigns, but in terms of the character of the people who have the inimitable task of revealing God to the world. Who these people are in secret is who they are. Period. And who they are demonstrates to the world who God is.

It is always a temptation for us to think in big terms. What organizations are changing the world? What speakers have the biggest following? What laws will have the biggest impact? How can we join these “big” movements?

And then we can simply ride their momentum to the dawn of a new era of justice and peace…

But the call for the church is and always has been to be faithful in secret, to become people of character in and out of crisis. The call is to choose life today.

The world-changing impact of God’s covenant relationship with God’s people is not found in the actions of the kings or the armies or the missionary campaigns; the world-changing impact of God’s people is found in the secret places, in our homes and our relationships, in how we administer justice and how we treat our peers and the oppressed. It’s not found in once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to do something great, but in how we live in the ordinary circumstances of everyday life.​

It is by our daily decision to choose life that we become the people who reveal to the world that Jesus is king.​ [1] David Forman, “Ki Tavo: The Pursuit of Happiness – Part 1,” AlephBeta, [2] Dennis Bratcher, “The Season of Epiphany,”  [3] Samuel Wells, Improvisation, (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004), 12.