I came across a single verse a few weeks back that has consistently stuck with me. It is in Deuteronomy, which means immediately my ears perk up, because I know Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell speech, and anyone’s last words tend to be very important. And the verse is in a section about true and false gods and prophets. It is Moses reminding people of who the one true God is and how the people ought then to respond. He says this:
You shall go after Yahweh your God, and him you shall revere, and his commandment you shall keep, and to his voice you shall listen, and him you shall serve, and to him you shall hold fast (Dt 13.4).
What I like about this is simply that is it so short and direct. I think to myself when I read this: “If I just did this, my relationship with God would be significantly different (read: better).” It is very simple, true, but it ain’t easy.
The verse is divided into six imperatives, each of which I want to treat briefly and separately:
(1) “Go after”: this could also be rendered “follow.” Following means allowing someone else to take the lead and walking behind them. This is actually a great encouragement to me because it means I don’t have to blaze a trail and bushwack. God goes ahead of me and he makes a way. He takes the hits because he is at the front of the pack and he deals with the obstacles. Now, following does mean that I have to have a clear sense of where God is going. This isn’t always easy. Frequently I know he is ahead of me+, but I don’t know which way he has gone. The Israelites had the benefit of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. I don’t. So it is a bit more challenging, but far less challenging than trying to break trail myself.
(2) “Revere”: this could also be rendered “fear”. Personally I connect with God best when I have a proper perspective on how big God is and my relative importance and finitude. I love passages like Isaiah 6, where God is pictured as so enormous that the only thing that can fit into the temple is the hem of his robe. When I have this perspective and know that as much as He loves me, he is king and I am not, it helps me live as I should.
(3) “Keep”: this could also be rendered “guard”. We keep or guard something that is important to us, that we cherish. Do we treat his commandments in this way? Could we say: “the law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold”? (Ps 119.72)
(4) “Listen”: this could also be rendered “obey”. We obey those whom we respect and who we recognize as having authority over us. And to obey we need to listen, and to listen we need to recognize what we are hearing. Jesus said his sheep know his voice (Jn 10.27). To be honest, much like how I don’t always know where God has gone off to, I am not always confident that I know his voice. But that comes as I spend more time with him, and as I shut up long and eliminate noise from my live long enough to hear it.
(5) “Serve”: Pretty straightforward. I am reminded of Paul’s exhortation to serve others as if serving the Lord (Eph 6.7). We own our full allegiance to God, not other deities, but even in that, we serve others as if serving him. Jesus reminds us that as we serve those in need, we are truly serving him (Mt 25.40).
(6) “Hold fast”: this could be rendered “cling”. I regard this as a summary statement for the verse. All the other five things are in some respect action-oriented items. There is activity and action in following and listening and serving. Clearly clinging is an action as well, but I know less than the other verbs what that actually looks like. Instead, I think of it more as an inner attitude. To cling to God means to regard everything else as unimportant (or at least less important). There is a desperation, a “this is my only chance”-ness to the idea of “cling” that speaks to an attitude to fulfills the other imperatives and ultimately makes them truly possible.