Deuteronomy 6:1-25 (Part 4) – The Roman Empire, The United States, You and Me

Posted: January 6, 2017 in Book of Deuteronomy
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Deuteronomy 6:1-25 (Part 4 of 6)

Love the Lord Your God

There is an old saying that goes, “If you do not learn from history that you are doomed to repeat it!” That is what I think of when I think of the United States compared to the Roman Empire. Each nation was the premier nation of its time. The Roman Empire was ultimately overrun by its enemy nations/empires that neighbored it but the decline of the Empire such that it could be overrun occurred from within. The empire became weak from within long before it fell from forces without. The same I fear is true for our nation.

 

Some of the reasons for fall of the Roman Empire, still the greatest and longest lasting empire man has known, include the loss of a Roman work ethic. The nation increasingly relied on slave labor pulled from conquered lands to do the dirty work of the nation. The nation forgot how to work. As the empire stop expanding its lands, the fresh supply of new slave labor began to dry up. Further, economic crises began to occur as the Vandals began seizing Roman lands in North Africa which cut off significant trade and commerce routes for the empire. Without an adequate supply of slave labor, agricultural production began to falter and with certain trade routes cut off, commercial production began to falter as well. The division of the empire into two governable halves also caused the fall. It made the empire easier to govern in the short term but as time progressed the nation actually became two separate ones that failed to work together to ward off external military threats. We marvel at the expanse of the Roman Empire at its height but the sheer magnitude of the empire was one of the reasons it fell. Overexpansion and military spending became a larger and larger part of its yearly spending. As military spending chewed up more and more money, infrastructure and innovation suffered. Another reason was political intrigue. Rome became consumed with obtaining and maintaining the throne of emperor. There were more than 20 emperors in one 75 year span. Corruption in the Roman Senate kept it from being an effective counterbalance to the excesses of the emperors. This may be the most telling blow was that there became an inward focus on Roman power rather than on maintaining or expanding the empire. This inward focus was like two brothers fighting over a toy while the house is burning down around them. There was an expectation or entitlement mentality that Rome was going last forever and there really no longer needed to be an outward focus. There was a great influx of the Germanic tribes into the empire because the Huns had pushed them out of their lands. The great influx of people strained the country’s infrastructure. This economic troubles of the empire caused a collapse of services to these people and the Romans also treated them like crap. The Goths revolted and marched on Rome. Their victories emboldened the Saxons in to pour across the northern borders and into England and Spain. Finally, the Roman legions once the envy of the world became weakened. Laws passed that prevented Roman citizens from having to serve in the military caused a shortage of personnel and a shortage of quality leadership. Rome had to hire mercenaries to fill out its military, mainly from the Germanic tribes. Here, again, the inward focus came into play. Instead of defending the empire, the military became a power struggle over who was going to run the military. These mercenaries from the Germanic tribes were more concerned about their own power within the military than they were about being loyal to the idea that was once Rome.

 

As you can see, it was Rome’s own success and excess that became its undoing. It seemed as though Rome became preoccupied with itself rather than its place in the world. The entire empire, from the emperor down to the middle class citizenry, became preoccupied with self. No longer was the empire about its ideals of serving the greater good of Rome, making sacrifices to make Rome great, and doing whatever it took to expand the ideals of Rome around the world. Rome was once proud and invincible. Just think of all the great architecture, literature, civic innovation, legal innovation, and military innovation and expansion that occurred when Rome had its high ideals of what Rome was. However, success breeds and inward focus eventually. Generations of privilege leads people not to remember a time when Rome was not great. The wealth and superiority of Rome was an expectation not something to be appreciated and worked hard for. Then, Rome became about me-me-me rather than about the ideals of Roman as a beacon to the world. Rome fell from within long before it fell from without. People no longer wanted to work hard. They became preoccupied with their own pleasures. Greed and corruption soon followed. Rome lost its outward focus and its grit and guts and became a nation of pleasure and power seekers. That’s when Rome died…long before it fell.

 

Sound familiar? How much similarity do you see between the Roman Empire and the United States of America that we know today. The United States used to be a nation that saw itself as a beacon to the world. We used to have ideals of defending freedom. We used to pride ourselves in being the leader nation of the world. Our parents, grandparents, and generations before them made great sacrifices to make this nation great. They were willing to do without so that our nation could be all that it could be. We will maintain our status as the pre-eminent military power for maybe another generation or two but we are now a nation of entitled citizens who are preoccupied with our own pleasures. We think America as we know is going to last forever and, as such, we are entitled to the privileges and wealth that we have as a nation. Our poorest people are some of the richest people in the world by comparison. But we all think we are entitled to this standard of living. With this entitlement, pleasure seeking mentality, all we care about is what we can get for ourselves. I don’t care what’s happening with ISIS as long as I have my flat screen, my big house, my cars that cost as much as houses used to, and my vacations at the beach. Governments of nations who only care about themselves become corrupt because we have become corrupt as a nation. We will fall and we will wonder why. This was supposed to last forever right? We lost our focus on being the leader of nations and have become a nation preoccupied with our own entertainment. Sound like Rome? Yes. All empires fall and so will ours at some point. As a nation, we were also once focused on God rather than ourselves. Great things happened in our nation when we had our eyes on Him rather than ourselves. But as our nation drifts from God, the focus becomes ourselves and our pleasures that we think are our rights. We will fall. All nations fall. Kingdoms rise. Kingdoms fall.

 

That’s the thing that I thought of this morning when reading through Deuteronomy 6:1-25 another time. This morning, I thought about how the Israelites, the Romans, and we Americans all have something in common. Some say familiarity breeds contempt, but sometimes it’s prosperity. Today, in this passage, I focused on vv. 10-13:

 

6 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

 

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

 

10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

 

13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. 16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. 17 Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. 18 Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors, 19 thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said.

 

20 In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21 tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23 But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24 The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”

 

Moses warned the people not to forget God when they entered the Promised Land and became settled and prosperous. During their wilderness journey, they had seen many signs and wonders from the hand of God. It was a struggle during those years. Sacrifices were made. Life was hard. But the nation stayed together because of their generalized trust and fear of the Lord (I say generalized because there were times of rebellion against the Lord). The Lord kept proving over and over after Egypt and during the wilderness wanderings how much He loved Israel. They saw his protection and provision during the tough times in the desert. But would they remember Him once they “had arrived”. They were not at their destination. The Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. It was everything the wilderness was not. They were no longer going to have to wander. They would have a home where they could develop a society and all its trappings. And we see in the Old Testament books after Deuteronomy this very thing come true. Israel throughout the centuries became a nation that drifted away from God. They were to be the light of the world through which the Messiah came. However, they had drifted so far from God that they did not even recognize the Messiah when He came.

 

Prosperity, though, can dull our spiritual vision. It tends to create in us a feeling that we are self-sufficient and that we are our own kings. Prosperity often leads us to stray from God because we think we are the cause of our prosperity and that our prosperity is a right and not a privilege granted by God. It can happen to us individually and to us as churches. Once we become successful in terms of numbers, buildings and programs, we can easily become self-sufficient. We can become more about maintaining our stuff at church than we are about spreading the gospel and discipling people into a deeper relationship with Christ. There can become an inward focus in churches rather than an outward focus to the world. Success can lead to patting ourselves on the back … cause look how good we are doing. Buildings become bigger. Technology becomes more complex. The production becomes as important as the message. Being at the “in-crowd” church becomes more important than the message. Leaders become rock stars rather than conduits for the message of the gospel. The name of the church I go to is more important than the message of salvation.

 

Let us be a people in this country that appreciates that the we live a privileged life in this country. Let us not take our opulence for granted. Let us always use our opulence to feed and cloth the world and to make the world a safer, better place. Let us remember as a nation, our prosperity is a gift from God not a right. Let us remember as churches that we started in somebody’s living room or in a coffee shop somewhere. All churches are church plants at some point. Let us remember the hard times where the gospel message was all we had — not fancy buildings, sound systems, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and cool logos. Let us remember that the success of our churches is not because of us but because of the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. Let us remember that it’s about Him and it’s about those outside whatever our doors are. Let us remember as individuals that any success that we have personally is a privilege granted by God and not have a feeling of entitlement about what we have been granted. Let us remember that it comes from God and let there be thanksgiving daily that comes from that.

 

Amen and Amen.

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