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Hubris

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Deuteronomy 4:5-9
Moses speaks: I have taught you laws 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, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people."

What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?

And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

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.

Moses had been ground down to the nubbies. After living in luxury and privilege he found himself wanted for murder, exiled for decades, then returning to his boyhood friend - now Pharoah of Egypt - with the words of God catching in his throat. "Let my people go!" "God will kill your first-born son!"

He led thousands and thousands of people, young and old, into the desert with nothing to eat or drink. At times they hated him for it. He learned over and over the value of going to God first and tried to teach it to his helpers. He knows he is about to die without entering the "Promised Land." When God spoke, he learned to listen. Now his own words also carry some weight.

In the nineteenth century a not-so-uniquely American idea emerged, eventually called "manifest destiny." It has been defined as

the belief that the United States was destined to extend from sea to sea so that it could bring the blessings of liberty to the entire continent. The westward expansion was also seen as a moral obligation to enlarge the area of freedom, thereby keeping the lands from falling to a tyrant.

Described as a "divinely inspired" idea and propagated with religious intensity, manifest-destineers excused almost any means for the virtuous end of bringing democracy and Christianity to the world.

This sounds familiar, of course. It's a large part of the justification for our incursion into Iraq. And it's not without merit. But when Moses spoke, he spoke with authority. When the government of the United States speaks, we don't usually feel quite the same sense that God's in the room.

What's the difference? Moses had been humbled, broken, devastated. He had failed. God lifted him up; he didn't lift himself up by his own bootstraps. God is proud of his people, rather than their being proud of themselves. Of course, in the coming generations that changed, and that deterioration is chronicled in the Old Testament.

To be God's chosen nation in any era is not a trifling thing. No people can stand it for long without mistaking God's strength for their own. That's what has always happened. Moses' words intend to prevent this calamity. And even if it always happens, we have to heed his words.

Father, forgive us for our pride. Remember not the sins of our youth. Break into our delusions with your strength, your grace, your faithfulness.



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