For the past several weeks I have spent quite a bit of time meditating in the Old Testament books of Numbers and Deuteronomy. There is a clear theme that runs through these two books that speaks to the heart of God and what He expects from His covenant people. He makes it clear that they are to love Him with their whole heart, but there is a way that this love is lived out horizontally that is quite revealing.
Three passages really stuck out to me during my study.
- Numbers 32:1-32: It is here that we read that the tribes of Reuben and Gad found land more suitable to their livestock and did not want to cross over the Jordan to possess the land with the rest of Israel. This incurred the wrath of Moses who thought that they were pulling the same mess that ten of the twelve spies did when their lack of faith made them shrink back from going in to conquer the land. The leaders of Reuben and Gad made it clear to Moses that this was not the case at all, and they promised that they would set their families up, but would not rest until they armed themselves and went to help conquer the land with [for] their brothers. They were determined to make sure their brothers came into their own.
- Deuteronomy 25:5-10: Here God’s law states that if two brothers live together and one dies, and he had no son with his wife, then his brother is to go into his widow and impregnate her (sounds weird I know) but the reason is explained in the text. It is so that his brother’s name will not be blotted out of Israel. It is so that his brother’s name will still have a place in the record book of the people. The text says that it is his [the living brother’s] “duty.”
- Deuteronomy 22:1-4: We see the heart of God continued to be revealed. Here it is said that the Israelite was not to see his neighbor’s ox or sheep straying and he not take the time to bring it back. The picture here is that he is not to say “I am too busy and occupied with my own work.” As Thomas Schreiner puts it, “love requires that time be taken away from one’s own concerns to assist others.”
Here is the point of the matter. God calls His people to be a “community people” to the degree that each individual in the community is invested in the success and well being of the other individuals within the community. This is not just lip service! It is to be lived out by arming yourselves and going into battle with your brother knowing that you could be injured in the process. It is the action of seeing that someone else has a name and reputation in the community when they are unable to exact this on their own. It is living out the inconvenience of stopping what you are doing; stopping what helps you and your own family’s self-interest for the purpose of going to rescue someone else’s livestock. By the way, as you read that passage, it states that if the owner does not live near you that you are to take the animal home and tend to it. The theme here is a love expressed in inconvenience.
As I write this my heart aches with pastoral concern. I see in our society a bent towards unhealthy individualism and isolationism that erodes true community. The problem for me is that this same attitude has crept into the Body of Christ. We have become very silo minded in our engagement with each other and absorbed in our own self-interest. I keep wondering where is the evidence of Pentecost as seen in Acts 2-4 where the Spirit expressed itself in the activity of koinonia [fellowship by having all things in common]?
My prayer is that the Church reclaims the mandate to fight for its neighbor’s inheritance and reputation. I call the church to a commitment to inconvenience.
Paul says in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
The mandate of the Old Testament continues through Christ in the New Testament. As we live this out, we become a reflection to the world of the heart of God.
 See Schreiner, The King in His Beauty, 94.