The Elephant Ethics of Deuteronomy

They say "an elephant never forgets." I'm not sure if there is any proof to substantiate this claim, but it doesn't really matter. I just wanted an interesting title for this post which is about how the Ethics of Deuteronomy are derived from a memory that God intended to be forever embedded in his people's psyche and identity:

"Remember, you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this." Dt. 24:22

Allow me to skim through the ethics of Deuteronomy in paraphrases.

Treat your servants well, because you were once slaves yourselves.
Treat women well, because you've been weak and vulnerable before.
Don't be a slave driver or taskmaster, because you've been on the other end of that oppression.
Take a day off every week, because you're not slaves anymore.
Every seven years, free your slaves, because God freed you.
Every seven years, cancel all debts, because you've seen how debt destroys society.
Don't take advantage of people, because you know what its like to been taken advantage of.
Don't do anything to make people cry out to me, because you know I hear those kinds of cries.
Be generous to the poor, because God was generous to you when you owned nothing.
Treat foreigners kindly, because you yourselves were once foreigners.

You get the idea.

God's people are forever supposed to understand themselves as the Exodus people: ex-slaves, former-foreigners, once-vulnerable. A people with that kind of identity simply can't help but living ethically. We too, are the people of God. And if we understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ we know that we too are an Exodus people...

ex-slaves to sin (Rom. 7:14)

former-foreigners to the covenant (Eph.2 )

once-vulnerable to judgment (Rom. 3)

I've been slowly reading Rob Bell's newest book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile. In it Bell highlights a burgeoning area of theology called New Exodus Theology. The idea is easy enough to grasp: what Jesus accomplished on the cross was like what God and Moses accomplished in the Exodus. Maybe this is what Moses had in mind when he spoke about another prophet coming who would be like him (Dt. 18:15) [As a sidenote, what Jesus accomplished on Easter morning bears striking resemblance to what God and Joshua accomplished when they took the People of God into the Promised Land.]

Let me return to what I hope you'll remember and ponder. We too, are the people of God. We are a freed people. We are an exodus people. If the people of Israel could have lived out of this memory, they would have served as an effective instrument of God's redemption...a light to the nations. Of course, we know, they forgot and their ethics followed suit until, as Bell points out, they began to look a lot like the Egypt they had escaped. And so, as Deut. 28 promises God brought on them "all the diseases of Egypt" and treated them like the anti-people of God they had become.

"Jerusalem is the new Egypt." (p. 41)

How's your memory? If you're finding your ethics don't seem to be as gracious or generous as God seems to demand, the best prescription is a little trip down memory lane not trying to will yourself into obedience.

Remember, you were slaves to sin, alienated from God, isolated from real relationship, destined for death and without hope. Now live like you remember from whence you've came.

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