Giver Over Gift

For forty years, God tested Israel in the wilderness by cultivating in them a rhythm of dependence. “Then the LORD said to Moses, 'Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.'” (Exodus 16:4) Before God brings them into this land flowing with milk and honey, Moses recites the law over them again to ensure that Israel understands that a change in geography does not make this rhythm null and void. The expectation is that they would not repeat Pharaoh’s system of oppression, production, and hoarding at the expense of God’s image bearers. So Brueggemann, “Moses expects Israel to reject the acquisitive culture of its neighbors for the sake of a covenantal alternative.”[1] He goes on to say:

Moses regards the land of Canaan, it being so fertile, as an enormous temptation and a huge seduction to Israel. Moses knows that the affluence that the land is sure to create a crisis in covenant faith.

The new land will work so well that Israel will think they can manage their own. They will be tempted to autonomy, without due reference to YHWH. And the reason they will be tempted by autonomy is that the new land will make them inordinately prosperous. Moses knows that prosperity breeds amnesia. (p. 37)

Moses warns Israel about amnesia:

“[T]hen take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 6:12)

“[T]hen your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” (Deuteronomy 8:14, ESV)

If God’s people allow his material blessing to drown out the memory of his emancipatory effort, they will unwittingly recreate the same shackles that held them. God promised a fertile land as a sign of his favor and covenantal blessing on his people, but this was to lead them to deeper trust, thanksgiving, and lives of generosity. The warning was that they should not be satisfied in the abundance of produce, but in the One who sends the rain.

Moses understands, as do the prophets after him, that being in the land poses for Israel a conflict between two economic systems, each of which views the land differently. On the one hand, the land is regarded as property and possession to be bought and sold and traded and used. On the other hand, in a context of covenant, the land is a birthright and an inheritance of the whole people of God.(p. 38)

When the land is seen as a possession, “the proper way of life is to acquire more.” But when the land is seen as an inheritance, an unmerited gift from God, “then the proper way of life is to enhance the neighborhood and the extended family so that all members may enjoy the good produce of the land.”

  1. Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 39.  ↩