Devarim and the torah as a call to action
In Deuteronomy 1:6, God says, "You have remained long enough on this mountain". Israel had received the Torah, and it was now time to move on.
In verse 8, God then tells them where they are to go, "See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore to give to your fathers - to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - and to their descendants after them".
It is evident here that not only did God give Israel the Torah to live godly, righteous lives but that the Torah was also a call to action. Put another way, the Torah was a project, the means through which we were to participate in the sanctification of the land with God.
We see this relationship with God play out at numerous times. In Deuteronomy 2:31-33 it says, “And the Lord said to me:’ See, I begin by placing Sihon and his land at your disposal. Begin the occupation; take possession of the land’. Sihon with all his men took the field against us at Jahaz, and the Lord our God delivered him to us, and we defeated him and his sons and all his men”.
Whilst God delivered Sihon to Israel, it required of Israel to still take up their swords and possess the land. The defeat of Sihon therefore required two actions, one by Israel, the earthly mundane action, and the religious action by God. Sihon was not defeated by one of these actions, but by both working together – God delivered Sihon, and Israel defeated them.
It is important to note though, that while Israel was to commit to a course of action and prepare herself for it, her action was ultimately a moral one. Faith and observance of God’s Torah were the necessary conditions for God to work through Israel. This was the ultimate theme of Moses speech to Israel just before they set about taking the Holy Land. Israel was not to simply sit and wait for God to miraculously deliver the land to them, they were to commit themselves in faith to God’s plan, and through action, experience God’s work through them.
This sense of experiencing God was central to Moses’ teaching. Moses taught that our faith was not to come from our ability to intellectually “know God”. Rather, faith in God was to be premised on our experience of His involvement in our lives and in history. In Deuteronomy 4:9, Moses says, “But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live. And make them known to your children and to your children's children”. Here, Moses is telling Israel to have faith, not via some intellectual acrobatic means, but to have faith based on the experience of what God has done. Further, Moses was telling Israel that their participation in the coming work was not an individual affair, and that Israel was to teach their children and their children’s children the Torah because the Torah was intended for a community and a nation of believers working towards a common goal.
As if to really drive home the point, Moses then, in verse 11, reminded Israel of their awesome meeting with God at Horeb, where the experience of God was such that Israel would never forget the experience of fearing God. In Exodus, this theme was also taught. There, it was taught that “God has come…in order that the fear of Him may be ever with you, so that you do not go astray” (Exodus 20:17).
Many within the Church have struggled with the idea that man was created to participate as a co-creator with God. There are legitimate concerns with the Christian doctrine of co-creationism. I won’t recount the debate here, but I believe part of the issue is more semantic than anything else. Despite this debate, the sanctification of the land, which is ultimately a moral struggle, is how we work with God in advancing his plan, notwithstanding we do not create the same way God does. That God would make space in his plan for us to experience Him in action is one of His greatest gifts to us.