Thursday, March 10, 2011

Deuteronomic Paradigms

Thursday, March 10, 2011 -- Week of Last Epiphany, Year One

To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 950)
Psalms 37:1-18  (morning)        37:19-42 (evening)
Deuteronomy 7:6-11
Titus 1:1-16
John 1:29-34

Belief shapes vision.  We tend to see what accords with our our paradigms.  Most of us tend to stretch and squeeze reality into a Procrustean bed that fits with our map of reality.  It takes humility and discipline to be willing to let go of cherished beliefs or core constructs when confronted with more reality and with contrary truth. 

Today the author of Deuteronomy gives us one of his maps, a clue to a guiding paradigm.  "Know therefore that the Lord you God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and who repays in their own person those who reject him.  He does not delay but repays in their own person those who reject him.  Therefore, observe diligently the commandment -- the statues and the ordinances -- that I am commanding you today."

God rewards the obedient; God punishes the disobedient.  God does so promptly.  God does not delay. 

God repays the one who is unrighteous.  "Repays in their own person," not postponing to punish a descendant or later generation.

This is the theology of the Deuteronomic editor.  It is the world view and paradigm that organizes and interprets the Biblical books of Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings.  Sometime around the sixth century BCE, a scholar or school of scholars organized and edited the ancient stories and surviving texts of history substantially into the form we inherit today.  The editor(s) used the stories from history as a platform for teaching a central conviction -- God rewards the good and punishes the bad. 

So we read the cycle of the Judges of Israel.  Israel sins.  God punishes Israel by letting an enemy oppress them.  God raises up a righteous judge who rescues the people and restores peace and prosperity.  But Israel sins again, and the cycle continues.  The teaching is powerful within the context of the generation of the Deuteronomic editor, for it explains why Israel of the sixth century BCE lived in exile in Babylon.  The ancient pattern has been repeated in the contemporary generation.  For its sins Israel was exiled.  Therefore, obey the commandments and God will restore us.

We also read the cycle of stories of the kings.  Saul disobeys God and the kingdom is taken from his hand.  David, the ideal king, beloved of God, does right, and the kingdom is established.  We go through the series of kings.  When they are good, God blesses them with peace and a long reign.  When they do evil, God punishes them and the people. 

But history is not so clear and just.  Ironies abound in the Deuteronomic editing.  From a purely historical perspective, possibly the most famous and successful king of Israel was the ninth century King Omri.  He ended a fifty-year series of civil wars.  He consolidated a territory comparable to Solomon's and made peace with his neighbors.  He founded the northern capital of Samaria.  He was the first internationally recognized king of Israel, and he bequeathed a dynasty to the Deuteronomic history's villain Ahab.  But the Deuteronomic editor gives Omri only seven verses, emphasizing that "Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; he did more evil than all those who were before him."

Most observers of history would say that sometimes the good guys lose and the bad guys win.  And sometimes the bad guys do not get punished in their lifetime.  Among those who would dispute the world view of the Deuteronomic editor is the author of Job.  Job was written to challenge the theology that says that God rewards the good and punishes the wicked.  Job is a righteous man who suffers unspeakable tragedy.  His friends come to comfort him.  But when Job declares his suffering to be unjust, his friends defend the theology that we see in the Deuteronomic history (and in Proverbs and some of the Psalms as well).  At the end of the disputation in Job, God declares Job the winner.

It is an important debate.  When we look upon suffering and misfortune, do we assume it is deserved, a judgment and punishment from God?  When we look upon those whose lives are blessed and golden, do we assume it is deserved, they are virtuous and good?  The Deuteronomic editor and the author of Proverbs would generally say "Yes."  The author of Job would say "No."

Modern sensitivities learn toward Job and recognize the formula view of the Deuteronomic editor to be naive.  But in some sense, we are all like the Deuteronomic editor.  We all try to put order, structure and understanding into our experience of life.  We see things through the constructs that we believe are most true, most believable. 

The challenge comes when a Job event challenges our Deuteronomic certainties.  That's why we have to hold our understandings lightly.  We are finite.  We are only human.  We cannot know.  We do not have the knowledge of God.  And God is ultimate mystery, so we dare not claim we have defined God. 

So we do our best to make our understanding and interpretation match what we can know.  When we learn something that challenges or expands our understanding, we fearlessly commit to truth, and adjust our paradigm.  We trust that God is absolute truth, so anything that participates in truth is of God.  We ask God to lead us into all truth, as we continue to live in faith, which is an attitude of trust toward God, the Ground of all Reality.



Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location -- --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 4:52 PM, Anonymous janet said...

Lent One

Gentle winged Dove
Holy Spirit rests upon
Jesus - Lamb of God

(from evening prayer)



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