You yourselves know how we lived in Egypt and how we passed through the countries on the way here. You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison. When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,” they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. The Lord will never be willing to forgive them; his wrath and zeal will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will fall on them, and the Lord will blot out their names from under heaven. The Lord will single them out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law. – Deuteronomy 29:16-21
A person who “goes their own way” will bring destruction on the watered land as well as the dry land. So what does watered land look like? The plants grow big and strong and they are green and lush. They are able to weather a few dry spells and withstand heat. Plants and animals in a watered land also tend to be more resilient and able to deal with stress like drought or heavy rains. In contrast, a dry land has few plants and animals and there is little evidence of growth. Most of the plants are prickly or poisonous, and many of the animals are dangerous too. This is because in this the harsh dry land everything is fighting to survive. They all put up barriers and prickles to prevent others from eating them or robbing them of resources like water.
Sometimes I feel like much of our society in America is like a “dry land” spiritually. Everyone is fighting to survive, many people are prickly, and no one has time for each other. Perhaps our land is dry because we have cut ourselves off from God. We are spiritually in a dry land because we choose to “go it alone” and fail to accept, and drink in, the rain from heaven that God provides.
This passage also sheds some light on the philosophical question of why bad things happen to good people. Here God says that the bad choices made by people unwilling to follow God’s commands affects both the dry land and the watered land. I take this to mean that sometimes the poor choices of others can affect people who did not make those same poor choices. There is collateral damage. Although this does not seem fair this is not the first time God has described this dynamic of the spiritual realm and the way consequences for poor choices work.
There is another interesting aspect of this passage. We as humans have invented lots of ways to make dry land wet. Irrigation from wells, dams, canals, all these make formerly dry land well-watered. The catch is that almost all of those systems used to make dry land wet require someone to maintain them. The “well watered” land God seems to be describing here is land that is well watered because it is being provided rain from heaven rather than from our own ingenuity and irrigation systems.
For the Israelites the “irrigation” used to create “watered lands” out of “dry land” took the form of idols to replace God and his provision. God made it clear that this was not good. As Christians we have our share of idols that we use to artificially create a “well watered” land. I think that even some of our traditions and liturgies can become a replacement for God’s provision and an attempt to create a well watered land by our own actions rather than God’s.
Prayer: God teach us to rely on you to provide the water in our lives to help us grow strong and thrive.