The Three Gods of Death


Dennis Olson’s little commentary on Deuteronomy, entitled Deuteronomy and the Death of Moses, contains some wonderfully insightful gems. Here’s one he picks out in Deuteronomy 7-10. Following hard on the heels of the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 (‘Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’), the author presents some of the other ‘gods’ that might threaten Israel’s allegiance to YHWH:

  • Militarism – “You may say in your heart, ‘These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?’ . . . remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharoah” (Deut 7:17-18)
  • Materialism – “You may say in your heart, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deut 8:17-18)
  • Moralism – “Do not say in your heart, ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness’ . . . Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the Lord your God in the wilderness.” (Deut 9:4-7)

Many commentators note that Deuteronomy 6-11 is an exposition of the first commandment given in Deuteronomy 5. The big threat to the people of God is spiritual amnesia, hence the repeated call to ‘remember.’ And the temptation when they forget God is to trust instead in might, wealth, or their own righteousness. These instructions, given to a community some three millennia ago, seem strikingly relevant today. The danger of forgetting God’s care, provision, and mercy is always there. Further, our temptation to find our security or well-being in some sort of pursuit of power/position, standard of living, or self-righteousness is not difficult to spot. The antidote is simply to remember the grace and mercy of God. The regular provision for that can be see in the instruction of Deuteronomy 12, but that’s a subject for another time.


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