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Living carefully.


Teaching through the Book of Deuteronomy recently I've been impressed by the 34 repetitions of the word usually translated "careful", on occasion "carefully". Moses was reminding the young generation that had survived forty years in the wilderness of the things God had done and said to preserve the nation during those years. The many uses of this term seemed to address three primary topics: God commanded them to be careful in their navigation toward the Land of Promise; to be careful in obeying the commands he had given them for the journey; and to be careful in remembering the acts of God and teaching them to their future generations. Note these three examples---

Give the people these orders: you are about the pass through the territory of your

brothers the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very

careful. Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even

enough to put your foot on.

Deuteronomy 2: 4-5, NIV

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord your God commanded me, so that

you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them

carefully for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations...

Deuteronomy 4: 5-6, NIV

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.

Deuteronomy 4: 9, NIV

As usual, there are many more, at least 31 in the NIV. Noticing these "careful" passages after thirty-nine years of pastoral ministry and Bible teaching was a little perplexing. Maybe these old eyes can see some things that my younger, more aggressive eyes refused to see, especially about living carefully. Whatever the reason, these words and verses jumped off the page now while they were basically unnoticed for the previous four decades. Though the times are distinctly different, there is some resonance with the elders of Israel. They were all dead when Moses presented their children with the thoughts of Deuteronomy. There's the truth that Moses was speaking in hindsight. And, yes, life viewed through the rear-view mirror is 20/20. But, the Book of Deuteronomy is evidence that older Israel had not lived or traveled carefully. The repetition of "careful" words is Moses hammering the younger generation about their need for careful living as they proceeded to the Promised Land. They probably appeared in bold print to me now because "careful' is suddenly a 24/7 life concept.

Of course, the older generation of Israel had not been attuned to the "careful" elements of their journey either. It had taken them forty years to travel a distance that should have normally required an eleven day trip (see Deuteronomy 1: 2, NIV). Their disobedience and neglect of vigilance, watchfulness, and intentional travel consigned them to the grave before entering the land that had been promised to their patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, there's little doubt that Moses' repetitive calls to carefulness was his attempt to prevent this same behavior in the generation standing on the banks of the Jordan River preparing to cross over to the Promised Land.

Careful living is anathema to moderns. The complexity and velocity of exponential times places most of us on the leading edges of harried accomplishment and fervent work. Error and miscalculation are accepted norms in a world on the make. Being overly careful seems timid and cautious when bold decisiveness is the order of the day. This is true in believers lives as well, especially when extreme carefulness borders on a legalistic works related faith. Few of us want to go there.

That's not to conclude that believers in the twenty-first century desire carelessness instead. Israel's leaders and Moses weren't actually careless either. Like us, they devised their own set of rules to govern them as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. They were casual in following God's direction, obeying God's commands, and remembering what God had done to guide them. Their response to God was tempered by an "almost" attitude of following. Moses wanted the younger cohort to cross-over from their matter-of-fact shrug to careful navigation, obedience, and remembering. He wanted them to reach the Promised Land God's way.

Moses wanted to teach them the grace and joy of living carefully, God's way. The potential of repeating the sins of their fathers drove Moses to repeat his calls for careful living. Sometime repetition prevents repetition.

That's the deal this week. Be blessed.

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