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Read Deuteronomy 8:1–20

This passage from Deuteronomy 8 is part of Moses’s reiteration of the law he received from God on Mount Sinai. He reminds the people of all that God has done for them in freeing them from their bondage and bringing them unharmed through their long years of wandering: “The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these forty years” (v. 4). He tells them that God’s care for them was for a larger purpose: “[God] humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna . . . in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (v. 3).

Along with these reminders Moses offers encouragement. He tells them their motive for keeping God’s commandments is because “God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey. . . . You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land [God] has given you” (vv. 7–8, 10). It reminds me of a verse from a familiar hymn: “The Lord has promised good to me. / [God’s] word my hope secures. / [God] will my shield and portion be / as long as life endures.” The appropriate response to such “amazing grace” is joyful, grateful obedience.

With that in mind, Moses offers a warning, and it’s one we ought to pay close attention to. “When you have eaten your fill,” he says, “and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt . . . [and] led you through the great and terrible wilderness” (vv. 14–15). It’s human nature, I suppose, to forget the Blesser when the blessings are abundant, and I suppose that is why Moses takes such pains to warn them against that slippery slope beforehand. “If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish” (v. 19).

In his song “My Thanksgiving,” Don Henley sings, “The trouble with you and me, my friend, / is the trouble with this nation: / too many blessings, / too little appreciation.” His indictment is spot-on, so it is imperative, especially for us Christians, to listen to Moses’s warning. To say that we will perish if we forget God is not to say that God will send a plague or a natural disaster or an act of violence to punish us. Rather, it is a clear-eyed assessment of the predictable consequences of living ungrateful lives. Those who forget from whom their blessings come invariably give themselves credit—they are “self-made men” who have “pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps”—and just as invariably become stingy toward others who have no basis for those claims. The result is isolation, suspicion, self-righteousness, and a meagerness of spirit that, if it’s not defined as perishing, it should be.

So let us practice disciplined remembering, and in our remembering may we always remain aware that not we but God is the source of our blessings. Let us hold those blessings loosely, for those who cling too tightly always seem to lose their grip. And in all things let us remember the Lord our God and base our lives on every word that comes from God’s mouth.

Grace and peace,