Article for July edition of The Hillside Messenger
“Reflections on Deuteronomy 10:17-21,
the First Lesson appointed for Independence Day”
The propers for Independence Day were included first in the 1928 Prayer Book, the 1789 Prayer Book having no commemoration of Independence Day, since it was a matter of political controversy among clergy during the period immediately after the Revolutionary War, as many of the clergy had been loyalists. In the 1928 Prayer Book, Independence Day is a votive, or commemoration, but in the 1979 Prayer Book it is regarded as a festival. The propers used for the day in the 1928 Prayer Book include Deuteronomy 10:17-21, on which I shall now offer a few reflections. Here is the passage:
For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name. He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen.
In the verse preceding this passage, the Holy Spirit commands the people of Israel not to be stiff-necked, or proud and stubborn. The first verse of this passage states why the people should not be stubborn: the LORD their God is “God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward” (Deuteronomy 10:17). It should be abundantly clear to us today, that the authors of the 1928 Prayer Book did not believe these words applied only to Israel. They realized that just as Israel had a vocation to be obedient to God since it was His chosen nation, so, derivatively, the United States of America has a vocation to be obedient to God, since it is “one nation under God”. The doctrine of American exceptionalism must be subject to the Biblical doctrine of God’s impartiality, and His love of people of all nations. America remains always both the object of God’s love and His scrutiny, who is the wholly just, supreme God, who cannot be corrupted with a bribe, or influenced to compromise his justice or holiness. In all our dealings as individuals, and in our dealings as a nation with people of other nations, we must remember who God is, to whom we belong as a nation, and the love and justice that He requires of His people.
Since God is supremely just, and gives judgment for the orphans, widows, and aliens (in ancient Israel these people were often the poorest), and loves aliens, we should treat these groups of people with justice and love also, including those widowed or orphaned because their spouses or parents died in action in the military, or in their duties as police officers or firefighters.
In particular, the command is given to Israel to love the stranger, or alien, since the Israelites themselves were once aliens in Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:19). A parallel can be drawn to the citizens of the United States, many of whose ancestors came from various nations of the world to make a new life in this land. Therefore, because God is Love, because we are answerable to God as a nation, and especially since many of us are Christians, as God has given us this command, we must love immigrants, aliens, strangers.
Political ideology in this regard should never outweigh the Biblical imperative to show love to all. If we are to be obedient to God’s commands, we should not have any immigration policy that separates children from their parents, since this is like making temporary orphans out of children, and causing them needless distress and anguish. Always we must remember that God loves the alien and gives him food and clothing (Deuteronomy 10:18). The Greek word for “hospitality” literally means “love of strangers,” and the command to show such hospitality is reiterated in the New Testament (Matt. 5:46-48; Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2; 1 Tim. 3:2, for example), and is central to the Christian way of life.
As if to remind God’s people of the motivation for their love and obedience and that no other loyalty should cause them to deviate from this goal, the Holy Spirit adds the command to hold God in awe, serve Him, and be loyal to Him, since God is the object of their praise and their God, who has done for them the wonders that they have seen (Deuteronomy 10:20-21). Similarly, as we remember all the wonderful things that God has done for us in this beautiful country, and all the trials through which He has safely brought us, we must be wholly loyal to Him, loving Him wholly, and not allowing ourselves to be led astray by any worldly ideology or by anyone professing a greater claim on our loyalty and love than God himself.
Furthermore, we must remember that all the freedoms we currently enjoy were won and maintained at great cost, the cost of many soldiers’ lives in the Revolutionary War and subsequent wars. We must remember with gratitude all who have laid down their lives in the service of the United States of America, and all who currently serve in every branch of the Military. Let us not, by indifference to God and ingratitude for our heritage, forfeit the liberties we have received. An egalitarian society in which anyone who works hard can succeed without barriers of race, gender, class, national origin, religion or economy hampering him, is a society to be prized indeed. A community in which Christians of every denomination can gather and worship God freely is a blessed community indeed. There are countries in the world where Christians dare meet only in secret, and where they are bitterly persecuted for their faith.
Finally, let us pray that the citizens of the United States of America will always remember God’s favor and be glad to do His will (Prayer for Our Country, p. 36, The Book of Common Prayer, 1928), as well as have the grace to maintain in righteousness and peace the liberties won by their fathers (p. 263, op. cit.). Let us also continue to pray for our President, Donald Trump, for Congress, for the State of California, for Governor Jerry Brown, and for all in authority, that they may seek God’s will, know it, and do it.
Independence Day holds reminders of our history, our heritage, our liberties, and, above all, our Christian origins as a nation. Let this be a time in which we pray that many Americans return to God through the Lord Jesus Christ, and honor Him through lifelong obedience and service.