In order to discuss this lesson I need to first discuss the difference between superstition and faith.
Superstition vs. Faith
Superstition is Satan’s counterfeit for faith. Superstition is either a vague or specific fear that one event will cause another event to happen, and the two events can be completely unrelated to each other. Superstition can also be a firm belief that certain things, just by their very existence have power to create luck, good or bad, or to cause things to happen, independent of all other influences. For example, if you break a mirror you will be plagued by seven years of bad luck. Or did you know that pouring salt on the floor keeps devils from entering your home? In some cultures one number brings bad fortune, while another number brings wealth. There is no rhyme or reason to the superstitions, they just are what they are. The amazing thing is that people live their whole lives according to the rules they have been taught surrounding their culture’s superstitions. Superstitions can shape an entire culture’s biases and belief structure. For example, have you ever seen a 13th floor button on an elevator?
Faith, on the other hand, is based on knowledge and promises from God to man. We are taught that exercising active belief in a certain principle of the gospel will bring certain kinds of changes in our lives, changes we will be able to identify and bear witness of their happening. Read Alma chapter 30 for a definition of faith and how it works. When we learn about a principle of the gospel of Christ and choose to live it, we are promised that certain things will happen. It is the fulfillment of those promises that teach us that God can be trusted to live up to His promises.
Sometimes superstition can look like faith because if you break a mirror and a sequence of bad things happen in your life, for whatever reason, you might look back on that sequence, and in an effort to explain how you came by that much bad fortune you might blame it on breaking that mirror. Sometimes after you break a mirror a bad thing will happen. Sometimes a good thing will happen, but we are not looking for the good to happen, we are looking for the bad, so that is what we are more likely to see.
Retraining the Children of Israel
When Moses brought Israel out of Egypt they were spiritually blind. We have no record of there being any prophets among them since the days of Joseph who was sold into Egypt, and who got them choice land to live in because of his position in Pharaoh’s court. That is three hundred plus years of being indoctrinated into the superstitions of the Egyptian culture. They were taught to worship the Egyptian gods, and live the Egyptian lifestyle. They had the oral history of father Abraham and the covenants God made with their ancestor, but they no longer actively worshiped Abraham’s God.
For more than forty years Jehovah worked with the children of Israel to teach them faith. Time and time again He gave them promises, then followed through with physical demonstrations of the promises. He was trying to teach them that Abraham’s God could be trusted in all things. He wanted them to learn that when He spoke, they needed to take Him seriously. God promised them that they could trust him to lead them and protect them day and night. Sure enough, by day they were led by a cloudy pillar through the wilderness. By night there was light by a pillar of fire that stood over them. He sent manna from heaven to feed them six days of the week, and to teach them to honor the Sabbath he gave them extra on the sixth day with the instructions to gather twice the normal amount so they would have food for the Sabbath.
Even when Jehovah had to punish the people and many died from these punishments, there was always a commandment coupled with a promise for obedience to the commandment. This is how he taught them to exercise faith in Him and the prophet’s words. No superstition needed.
Deuteronomy 8:11 says,
11 Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day:
Beware of what? As you read this lesson take note of all the examples Moses gives the people of the signs and blessings God gave the people, even when they had done nothing to deserve those blessings. They whined and complained because they got thirsty, but the Lord gave them all the water they could drink. They groaned and complained because they did not have all the variety of food they once had in Egypt, even though they did not have to do anything except step outside their tent and pick the food up from the ground, so the Lord sent them quails in such abundance the people foolishly gorged themselves and made themselves terribly sick.
On the other hand, when the people had corrupted themselves with the Moabites and the Midianites against the commandments of the Lord, he punished them with death by the thousands. When they complained bitterly about their living circumstances, and wished again to be back in Egypt, the Lord sent fiery serpents that killed many of the people. But even then he prepared an easy means of escape if a person had been bitten. All they had to do was look at the brass serpent Moses made and raised up on a pole for the whole camp to see. By the simple task of looking they could be healed, but we are told by Nephi in 1 Nephi 17:41 that because of the easiness of the task, many of the children of Israel hardened their hearts and died rather than look and live.
Jehovah made learning faith in Him as easy as it can possibly be made, and still, an entire generation died because they refused to believe in truth, they preferred the superstitions of the Egyptians. And admittedly, it was not just the superstitions of the Egyptians, it was also that they Israelites had spent many generations as slaves, and still had a slave mentality. They had a lot of maturing to experience before they, as a people would be ready to walk into these other cultures and be able to exercise the confidence in the newly found God of their fathers.
The Answer to the Question
When Moses warned them not to forget, he did so by recounting all the instances of how the Lord tried to demonstrate that His promises were always fulfilled, and that meant his promises of punishments as well as of blessings. This was the last chance Moses was going to have to impress upon the people the importance of believing in God and His promises. He needed them to understand the gravity of the covenants they had made with Jehovah. They had heard His voice, they had seen the mountain blaze with fire and billow with smoke as God spoke to them with His own voice. They had seen the earth open up and swallow those who had broken the commandments, as well as drunk their fill with the sweet waters that sprang from a rock in a barren wasteland just for their benefit.
So what can we learn from their experiences? How many times has the Lord made us promises and followed through with the promised blessing or punishment? How many times have we been forgiven of our sins, only to find ourselves going back yet again to ask for more forgiveness? What lessons can we learn from Jehovah’s examples of mercy to His people? How many times did the people revolt against Him or His servant and yet he was lenient and forgiving in His efforts to teach them faithfulness? What lessons can we learn about how seriously the Lord takes sexual sins or the sin of worshipping something, anything other than Him? He says that He is a jealous God, which means He is a god of deep and tender emotions. When we are blessed, and blessed, and blessed then turn to gods of pleasure, leisure, wealth, or vanity, how should we expect Him to react?
The challenge of this lesson is to evaluate how each of us lives our life. Am I like the children of Israel? Does the Lord give me sign after sign, only to have me complain that He is not doing enough for me? How careful am I to acknowledge the blessings I have received at His hands? Moses told the people to literally bind the laws of the Lord on their arms and on their head so the law was right there between their eyes – in other words, so that they never forgot or ignored God’s commandments. Today we do not bind commandments on our bodies, so what have you done to keep His commandments ever present in your life?
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Beware, Lest Thou Forget
OT Week 17