Church services were cancelled today because of the snowdrifts, so let’s see if I can do two entries today to make up for missing it last night.
This is where the legal portion of Deuteronomy wraps up, with just a few remaining commandments: presenting the first fruits and giving the annual tithe to the poor every third year.
A few interesting things stood out to me. The first is are the three things that you’re not supposed to have done with a tithe you give to the LORD. You can’t eat while in mourning, touched it while unclean, or previously offered any of it to the dead. That last part is interesting because there hasn’t been much talk about the ancestors, or death, or the afterlife at all in Deuteronomy. The ancestors are people God made promises to, with whom you have a close connection. But there’s been no talk about what actually happens to people after they die, nor has there been any talk about offerings to the dead.
That’s interesting because you’d think that in their lists of beings to whom you’re not supposed to make offerings, Deuteronomy would be sure to list ancestors, since ancestor veneration or service for the dead is common worldwide. In spite of that, it hasn’t, which makes me curious: did Deuteronomy consider this a neutral issue? You are neither required to care for the dead nor forbidden from it?
Or is is commanded after all? Is that actually what “honor your father and mother” means? That’s certainly how Jesuits decided to interpret it in East Asia, arguing that offerings for the ancestors and the cleaning of graves was just a different way of “honoring” one’s parents than what Europeans were used to. They lost that argument, and with it, a lot of East Asians who were reluctant to give up taking care of their ancestors.
I know from having lived in Japan and visiting houses of members of my church that some Japanese Christians still do keep home altars with their ancestor’s name tablets. We also would hold graveside service at O-Bon. This concern is actually apparently a really big one worldwide, one that “First World” Christians don’t always appreciate the importance of.
The second interesting thing was an odd turn of phrase. “Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us.” (v 15) It made me think: how often has God been said to be living in heaven thus far? Throughout the Pentateuch, God’s presence seems to be moving around on the earth, particularly around the Israelites. God is present on the top of Mt. Sinai, in the tabernacle, eventually in the temple.
Through the glories of oremus’ word-search function, I was able to look up all references to “heaven” or “heavens,” and come up with some observations.
- An angel of the LORD speaks to Hagar and Abraham from heaven, but God does not. (Gen. 21:17, 22:11, 15)
- Fires comes “from the LORD out of heaven” (v 19.24) but it’s not clear if the LORD is up in heaven, or if that’s just where the fire is coming from.
- The angels of the LORD go up and down from heaven, but there’s no mention of whether God is up there. (Gen. 28:12) In fact, Jacob them calls the place on the earth “the House of the LORD,” as if the angels were coming down to see God. (Gen. 28:17)
- Heaven is pretty much always mentioned along with earth and sometimes places below the earth. In other words, heaven is just one part of creation.
Conclusion: while the “heavens” (i.e. the sky) are important because of the sun, the moon, and rain, and that’s probably where the angels live, other than this passage, God does not live in heaven. God actually wanders around a lot, in both the sky and earth. We may have this image of God sitting up on a cloud looking down at us, but in the Pentateuch, God is usually somewhere on earth.
The Japanese: wazukana “few, small” (v 5), shiitageru “to persecute” (v 6), nouki “appointed time for payment,” hodokosu “to give, to extend to” (v 12), hazureru “to vary, to stray” (v 13), mochuu “mourning” (v 14), seiyaku “oath, vow” (v 17).