Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (NRSVCE)
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity . . . blessings and curses.”
Moses presents a choice to the people. He has laid out the consequences of both options, quite emphatically, and now it is up to them to decide. It seems simple enough when you picture it in the moment. We don’t hear their response, but I can’t imagine anyone standing there that day really thought to themselves “That death option sounds kind of nice, come to think of it.” Surely they would have heeded Moses’ warnings, right?
But then, I can’t help but think of how this exhortation must have sounded to the post-exilic people. This passage must have been heart-wrenching for them to hear. Moses laid out the choices clear as day and night. But they failed. They did not choose life, and were thus driven to exile. Moses knew this would happen, as we learn later on (31:16-22). That much is revealed to the exiles. Moses knew. God knew. And yet Moses spent all that time and effort explaining and presenting the choice anyway. They are left with the same question we are in our own time. Why?
The answer lies in the very first verse. “I have set before you today”. This isn’t a choice only left for the ancients, for those who stood before Moses as he preached. It isn’t a choice once offered, and forever lost. It’s a choice which must be made in every time, by every person. A choice to live according to God’s will. A choice to obey. It’s the central theme of Deuteronomy: Obedience results in abundance and blessing, while disobedience results in poverty and affliction.
But let’s take it a step further than that. It’s not simply a matter of “obey because I am God, and if you don’t I will make you regret it.” If God truly is the source of all things, both the origin and the destination of all things (Romans 11:36), then the idea of “obedience” is not merely “living according to the dictates of another.” It would instead be living in accord with right reason, or perhaps more simply put, orienting ourselves in the proper direction. Disobedience, then, is not just “defiance”. It is quite literally turning your back on what you are. It is leaving the path lit before us by Christ who is our Light, and finding ourselves stumbling around in darkness. “Choose life” does not mean doing what we are told. It means being what we were created to be. It means being human, in the fullest sense.
That is the choice Moses presents to his people, and to the exiles, and to us now. The exiles hear the sermon and weep, but they also must rejoice because they are offered the very same choice, just as you and I are. A choice to embrace our humanity, and to follow the path which leads us to God.