I recently told someone that our plans were “etched in ice”. In other words, the plans were very tentative and everything was subject to change. That’s a far cry from today’s Bible reading* where Moses and the Elders command the people after they cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land to build a stone altar. The words of the Covenant are to be etched in stone. Not just some of the words. Not just an outline of the words. Not just a summary of the words, but all of the words of the Covenant.
Moses reminds the people that they have become God’s people. As God’s people, they are to hold fast to God’s covenant. They are to observe God’s statutes, commands, and ordinances, and they are to obey Him. They are to follow them with all they are: all their heart and all of their soul. (Deuteronomy 26:16)
In Matthew 22:37 — looking back at Deuteronomy 6:5 — Jesus tells a Jewish religious scholar that the Greatest Commandment is to love God with all you are. So which is it? Obey God with all that you are? Or love God with all that you are?
Because you’re in a covenant relationship with God, you are to love Him with all that you are. And the way that looks like is to obey Him with all that you are. It isn’t either/or, but both/and!
Then in the next chapter, Moses and the Elders command the people to solidify their commitment to love and obey God with all that they are by etching God’s Word into stone. Not etched in ice. Not etched in wood. Etched in stone.
And they aren’t allowed to use any iron tools to etch in the stone. What else could they use? Wooden tools wouldn’t be substantial enough to make a mark in stone. The only other substance they could use for etching is other stone. Etching with stone tools would take a great deal longer than etching with iron tools. A lot longer. And that’s the point! The people would spend a lot of time looking at their commitment as they completed the task.
“Etched in stone” sounds a little constraining. It doesn’t allow for much flexibility. Any flexibility. But then again, loving and obeying God with all that you are doesn’t allow for flexibility either.
* Chapters covered in today’s reading: