What English student doesn’t know about Cliffs Notes (or its cousin Spark Notes)? These mini-“study guides” distill a work of literature to its important elements, like major plot lines and character summaries. Slacker students (or people who hate reading), love them. Forget reading the assigned novel; dive into these yellow and black books and learn enough to pass the test or perhaps write a serviceable (though incredibly average) essay. These aren’t the best avenue to take when getting an A in a class (or learning all that you can/should) is your goal. They also drive teachers crazy, in part because they know what is left out.
I may have used one or two in my pre-college career. I didn’t like some of the books assigned in high school. Maybe I was just lazy. Cliffs Notes helped me pass a few tests but learned little. I also missed out on building key reading skills, which returned to bite me in college. I may have learned what happened, but skipping the manner in which things unfolded or the nuisances of why something happened compromised my ability to understand all I should have.
Deuteronomy is God’s version of Cliffs Notes for the Israelite tribes, who about to enter the Promised Land. And like Cliffs Notes, this section of the Bible sticks to the big picture events and themes, eschewing the nuisances that provided context (and depth) for the events.
Deuteronomy unfolds like Moses’ fireside chat. His purpose: remind the Israelites of what they’ve endured these past forty years—from the end of their captivity in Egypt to their arduous trek through the desert. Maybe even more significantly, this condensed version of their trials and tribulations serves as the first time (perhaps) some of the young members of tribes have learned of these details. Having been too young to have experienced these events first hand, they will hopefully grasp their importance.
And like a teacher working with students who are only familiar with the Cliffs Notes version of a novel, Moses is weary. This lesson isn’t falling short. God knows they will screw themselves too (31:16).
With his last chance to make his case, Moses knows that if they don’t understand and commit to maintaining the values and ideals he has instilled in them, God will destroy them. You’d think that all that these people have been through would have left a big impression, but since almost everyone that fled Egypt died in the desert, the experiences of the previous generations just aren’t real enough to have an impact. What would it have taken for them to appreciate what sacrifices have been made thus far? Maybe they just needed more information.
Still, maybe God was being too harsh on them. People disobey things all the time. Parents tell their children not to do something and they do it anyway. Teachers assign texts and expect students to read them. Some take the short cuts—seeking things like Cliff Notes—but this doesn’t make them bad students, it just means they don’t get as good of grades as the ones who do take the time. You can’t have an entire class of A students nor can you expect to.