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Deuteronomy 30:15-20

What were some of the things your parents or guardians told you growing up to keep you safe that you thought were silly? “Don’t get into the cookie jar.” You thought they wanted to make your life miserable by keeping you from that sweet, delicious goodness when they likely just wanted to make sure you didn’t climb on the counter and potentially get hurt. I remember my parents being very adamant about telling us, “Don’t play out in the street,” and if we did, well, we would go to timeout or be denied ice cream after dinner. It seemed so unfair because the street provided so much more area to play in and we would make a stink about the rule. But, of course, any wise person would know our parents told us this to keep us safe from passing cars, especially because we lived on a busy street.

One of my mom’s catchphrases when any of us kids started driving was, “watch out for idiots and don’t be one!” We would chuckle and respond with, “Oh, mom!” But, in all fairness, it was a funny way of making us practice awareness of others and ourselves.

Perhaps that line is a fitting paraphrase for Moses’ words to the Israelite people in Deuteronomy 30:15-20: “Watch out for idiots and don’t be one!” Before you start to think I’m too crass to be offering commentary on biblical passages, let’s look more closely at the passage.

In this biblical account, Moses is offering final words to the Israelites before he bids them farewell and sends them into the promised land. Deuteronomy is a long oration by Moses, God’s chosen leader for the people of Israel, preparing the people for a new season of their lives—a season that they’ve long awaited for for 40 years! I imagine the scene like a big family waiting to go into Disneyland but the gates aren’t open yet. I can just hear it: a small child in the crowd shouting, “Can’t we go in already?!”

But these (nearly) final words from their trusted leader are, perhaps, the most vital for them as they are just inches from what they’ve waited for all these years. He is, quite literally, offering them the choice between life and death. The Common English Bible reads in verse 15, “Look here! Today I’ve set before you life and what’s good versus death and what’s wrong.” Notice that Moses isn’t confronting them in regards to their ethics (right/wrong) but, rather, with a choice between a good life and it’s opposite: death and what is wrong. Though there are many areas in our lives and, yes, even in our faith that are gray, the choice here is black and white. Life with God is good (right, even, if we want to take the ethics route) and life without God is no life at all but a path to destruction.

The forty-year journey Israel was about to finish had been done on their own. The only people they had to interact with were their own people, and that alone can lead one to walk away. Moses knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that temptation to walk away from God dwelled thick in the air where they were heading. Not only that, but anyone 40 years or younger had not experienced much life among other nations in their lifetime.