25. Values

Meditations in Meaning & Values  25. Values

Gen 26:2-6    The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “…. I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”

We have so far in these meditations focused mainly on meaning and purpose with little emphasis on values although they are inherently there embedded in so much of what the world says or the Bible says.   Look up ‘values’ and you come across such words as principles, standards, morals, ethics and ideals. Values are what underpin our thinking and then subsequently our behaviour, our words and our actions. Values today, tend to be a little like justice which we considered in an earlier meditation, they appear hidden for much of the time and some people even deny they are there until suddenly it becomes personal and we hear the cry, “It’s not fair!” and someone is appealing to a supposed set of standards or expectations.

I looked up the word ‘laws’ in a concordance and our verses above came up as the very first reference in the Bible. Now I find these words above (and they are God speaking to Isaac) surprising because whenever I have read the earlier chapters of Genesis involving Abram, later renamed Abraham, I have not been aware of loads of laws being laid down by the Lord for Abram. But the Lord doesn’t only refer to laws for we also see Him referring to “my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”  Now ‘requirements’ are easy, simply meaning things God wants of him. ‘Commands’ are stronger – specific instructions of things he is to do, for example, Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1). ‘Decrees’ tend to add a sense of official governmental requirement to a command. A command is simply an instruction to do something, whereas a decree is a declaration of governmental order. ‘Laws’ are established rules for living.

Now values are the things that underpin all these so we may say we value human life and so establish a law, “You shall not murder”.  The law follows from the values held. Similarly we might say we hold the value that any personal property that an individual has either personally made or has legitimately bought with their own money, belongs to them and may not be taken from them without their permission, and thus we find the law, “You shall not steal”.

So, we may have started from the thought that laws are the expression of our principles, standards, morals, ethics and ideals, but we have come to see that perhaps there is more value (sorry for the pun) in looking behind the laws to the values that create them. We so often focus on the law, whereas we might do better to ponder what is behind the law. This is why a consideration of values is important.

Now there are, I suggest, two important things about values to be considered now we have seen that they outwork in law, and those are first, what the value is and second, why such a value exists. Now this is going to take us into deeper philosophical thinking! But the moment I write these two things down I realise that the second thing is even more important than the first, because without some originating cause (why the value exists) the first thing (the value itself) cannot exist.

So why do we have values?  We all do in some shape or form but why do we have the values we have? In this meditation we will now only consider wrong ways of having values and then in subsequent ones consider better ways, Biblical ways, and why they are better, but until we see the wrong ways we work, we won’t see the point in turning to the Bible.

Here is a quote from a book called Blue like Jazz by Donald Miller: “We were sitting around in my friend’s living room and talking about it and she was in a huff and at one point raised her fist and said, ‘Down with Bush!’ After that I didn’t have a crush on her anymore. It wasn’t because she didn’t like George W. Bush, it was because she had no idea why she didn’t like George W. Bush. She only went to a rally and heard a good band and saw a lot of cool people with cool clothes and hippie haircuts. She decided what to believe based on whether other people who believed it were of a particular fashion that appealed to her.”

The first way people so often hold to the values they think they have, is simply because they follow someone else and their values, not questioning whether there is a good base or not for their values. In the example above the girl in question held shallow views based on those held by the ‘stars’ in her thinking.

In his book, ‘How Should We Then Live’, Francis Schaeffer wrote: “People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world-view, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. ….  “Most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society the way a child catches measles. But people with more understanding realise that their presuppositions should be chosen after careful consideration of what world view is true.”

These ‘presuppositions’, these starting values that people hold, are responsible for the laws we write and the lives we live. In the previous study we considered the apostle Peter’s failure in denying Jesus three times, and I spoke about his fear. Now it wasn’t only fear of being branded with Jesus and possibly suffering what Jesus might suffer, but it was also surely the same as that which each of us so often suffers – the fear of being seen to be different. We don’t like being branded oddities, we want to be loved, liked, accepted and so we try to avoid controversy. That is why many people hold to the values they hold, to go along with the crowd. That is not a good reason to hold on to values that may be shallow or even bad. This is an area that needs some thinking about. if we can be clear in our own minds, we might be better at convincing other people. Are we ready to look at that we think, what our values are and why we hold them?

33. Established Religion

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 33 :  Established Religion

(Focus: Deut 12:1-7)

Deut 12:1,4 These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess–as long as you live in the land. ….. You must not worship the LORD your God in their way.

There is something very specific about the instructions that Moses now gives, something that we have seen again and again but not made much note of. It is that the laws that he is sharing are for this nation in THIS specific land. The rest of the world may be doing something quite different but in THIS land this is how Israel are to live. It is this thing about them being a unique nation in the world, and they are unique because of their relationship with the Lord and because of the guide rules (the Law) that He has given them to follow as they establish their life as a nation in this particular piece of land.

Note also the use of the words, “decrees and laws”. A decree is simply a royal declaration of intent. For instance we have said that a “blessing” is God’s decree of good and a “curse” is God’s decree of bad. When God ‘decrees’ something it is a statement of His sovereign will, which WILL then happen. A law is simply a rule that is to be followed. So God decrees His will and expresses it in the form of individual rules or laws that Israel are to follow. All of the blessings and curses of chapter 28 are examples of decrees.

Note also that the call is for them to “be careful to follow” all these decrees and laws “as long as you live in the land”. These are for the whole of their existence. They are not just for the first couple of years; they are for all time that they are this nation in this land. Then comes the specific things that Moses has in mind and in this part of his speaking: it is all about their worship or their religion (I am using ‘religion’ here to denote the way they express their faith and their obedience to God) when they go into the land. First of all it is about establishing it: Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.” (v.2,3)

We saw this exact same command in chapter 7 which was followed by the reason for it: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (7:6) Part of that is similar to what we have above when Moses speaks of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess.” It is a reminder that they are what they are and where they are because of the Lord. They belong to Him and owe their existence there to Him, and they are to stick to him and not succumb to the worship practice of the occultic, pagan, idol worshippers in the land. To ensure they do that they are to remove every sign of their religious practices from the land the moment they enter it.

Moses sums it up: “You must not worship the LORD your God in their way.” This is both a summary of God’s intent and a preamble to what is about to come. They are not to follow the practices of the people of this land in any way. Now comes a specific way that their worship is going to be very different: “But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go.” (v.5). This is going to be where the Tabernacle is going to be set up. The big difference is that they are only going to have ONE place of worship whereas the occupiers of the land worshipped all over the place, making their own religion.

No, with God, it is going to be clearly established that they will go to the Tabernacle and “there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you.” (v.6,7) In the book of Leviticus Moses has enumerated all the laws regarding how to bring sacrifices and offerings and hold feasts to the Lord.

These are the very basic ‘ground rules’ for their worship of the Lord. Worship was expressed formally first, not as singing (although David later established that) but as bringing offerings as a tangible expression of their love for God, or sacrifices as a tangible expression of their penitence when they had done wrong. A number of times a year they would gather to worship the Lord in the form of celebrations of the Lord’s goodness. These were the ‘feasts’. These ways would be at the heart of their worship. It is clearly prescribed activity to be the expression of their hearts. No longer do we have such offerings and sacrifices for Jesus has become THE sacrifice and no longer are they needed, but today our hearts are still to be the arbiter of our worship. If it is not heart worship, it is not worship. That bears thinking about!

 

16. Conditional Future

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 16 :  Conditional Future

(Focus: Deut 6:1-3)

Deut 6:1,2 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.

There is a repetition in Deuteronomy which, for anyone less than a genuine seeker of God’s truth, will appear tedious, but it only goes to show Moses strong desire to convey to Israel the importance and significance of what he is saying.  Let’s see this in a number of instances.

1. The laws. For instance the opening sentence in chapter six has already had a number of echoes of the same thing:Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you.” (4:1), keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you..” (4:2), “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it.” (4;5), “And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (4:14), “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today.” (4:40), “This is the law Moses set before the Israelites. These are the stipulations, decrees and laws Moses gave them when they came out of Egypt.” (4:44,45), “Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today.” (5:1), “stay here with me so that I may give you all the commands, decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving them to possess.” (5:31) i.e. at least eight times in two chapters he speaks about these commands or decrees or laws that the Lord had given them to follow in their new land.

2. Pass it on. It’s not only for them but also for future generations. Again the reference here to children and future generations has come before: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (4:9) , “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” (4:10) These laws aren’t just for now; they are for the whole future of Israel.

3. The Conditional Outworking. The fruit or outworking of keeping these laws is also another subject that keeps appearing, seen in 6:2 as so that you may enjoy long life.” and in the following verse it continues, “Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.” (6:3)  We saw this previously: “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time.” (4:40). It also appeared in the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (5:16) Yet further, “Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess,” (5:33) which then brings us to chapter six: Their future blessing will be conditional on obeying these laws; that is how important they are and Israel need to realise that.

There is an additional motivating factor in our verses today: so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live.” (6:2) Yes, we’ve seen that in the previous chapter as well: “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” (5:29)  This awesome respect grew out of their experience of the Lord, seeing the things He did to deliver them out of Egypt, seeing the fire and hearing His voice at Sinai, and experiencing His discipline when they refused to enter the land originally. All of these things appear in the earlier chapters and this awesome respect which had grown through these things is now to be one of the motivating factors that helps Israel obey all the laws.

No less today, our blessing is determined by how we love and follow Jesus, obeying the instructions we find in the New Testament and responding to the prompting of his Holy Spirit. May we understand these things and follow them!