A God Who Is Near

1 “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you. Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal-peor, for the Lord your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor. But you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today. See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?– Deuteronomy 4:1-8 ESV

God had just reconfirmed that Moses would not be leading the people of Israel into the land of promise. With his little display of self-aggrandizement in the Wilderness of Zin, Moses had angered God by attempting to steal glory from God. In his anger with the people of Israel, Moses had disobeyed God’s commands and attempted to grandstand before the people, leaving them to believe that it was he who was supplying their need for water. Moses was out to win the respect of the people, when he should have been leading the people to honor, glorify, and revere God.

Yet, in spite of the news that he would not be entering into the promised land along with the rest of the people, Moses didn’t shirk his leadership responsibilities. He continued to perform the task assigned to him by God all those years ago in the land of Midian. While Moses had been caring for his father-in-laws flocks, God had appeared to him in the form of a burning bush, telling him:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” – Exodus 3:7-10 ESV

God was going to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt and He was going to use Moses to make it happen. But God’s deliverance of His people would include a deliverance to and not just from something.

“I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.” – Exodus 3:16-17 ESV

Now, more than four decades later, the people had arrived at their final destination: The land of promise. And while Moses would be denied the joy and pleasure of leading them into the land, he was going to make sure that were well-informed as to their obligations to God once the arrived in the land.

God had personally given His laws to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai, and Moses had delivered them to the people of Israel. Those laws remained binding upon the people and were intended to regulate their conduct once they arrived in the promised land. They were not suggestions, but were irrevocable laws that required willful obedience on the part of the people. So, Moses wanted to make sure that the new generation of Israelites, who would be the first to enter the land, would know and obey the commands of God.

“…listen carefully to these decrees and regulations that I am about to teach you. Obey them so that you may live, so you may enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 4:1 NLT

Moses was taking no chances. He was not going to assume that the parents of these people had been affective in passing on the laws and statutes of God. Moses knew that ignorance of God’s laws would be just as deadly as choosing to ignore them. And he also knew that God would not tolerate any alterations or additions to His law.

“Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you.” – Deuteronomy 4:2 NLT

God would not tolerate any deviation from His law. His commands were not up for debate or open to interpretation. And, just to make sure the people understood the gravity of their situation, Moses reminded them of one of the many times when their parents had failed to keep God’s commands. It had happened on the plains of Moab at a place called Shittim. When the people of Israel entered the Moabite territory, Balak, the king of Moab, had attempted to hire a local diviner named Balaam to place a curse on them. But when Balaam discovered that God would not allow him to place a curse on the people of Israel, he came up with an alternative plan. He instructed the king to have the women of Moab seduce the men of Israel. And the book of Numbers tells us exactly what happened.

…some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the LORD’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

This was far more than a display of immorality that angered the Victorian sensibilities of God. It was a blatant violation of His law.

“You must worship no other gods, for the LORD, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you. You must not make a treaty of any kind with the people living in the land. They lust after their gods, offering sacrifices to them. They will invite you to join them in their sacrificial meals, and you will go with them. Then you will accept their daughters, who sacrifice to other gods, as wives for your sons. And they will seduce your sons to commit adultery against me by worshiping other gods.” – Exodus 34:14-16 NLT

And yet, that’s exactly what the people of Israel had done at Shittim. And Moses reminded the people what God had done in response to their disobedience to His commands.

“You saw for yourself what the Lord did to you at Baal-peor. There the Lord your God destroyed everyone who had worshiped Baal, the god of Peor. – Deuteronomy 4:3 NLT

Those same laws still applied and God was not going to allow His people to bend or break them, without suffering the consequences for their disobedience. Moses knew that the abundance and fruitfulness of the land would mean nothing if they people refused to remain faithful to God. The land flowing with milk and honey would become a killing field flowing with blood if the Israelites did not take God’s commands seriously. Partial obedience would not result in partial blessing. It would bring the full wrath of God. Which is why Moses warned them, “Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations” (Deuteronomy 4:6 NLT).

God had a secondary purpose behind His laws. They were to guide and direct the lives of His people, providing them with clearly understood parameters for living in submission to His will for them. His laws were meant to protect them. His laws were intended to assure that they enjoyed His blessings and avoided His curses. But they were also meant to provide the nations living within the land with a visual testimony of what it looks like when men live in a right relationship with God Almighty.

The Mosaic Law was intended to display a never-before-seen relationship between a god and man. The pagan religions of the day featured a plethora of gods who were distant and, for the most part, invisible to their worshipers. Except for carved idols, these gods were nowhere to be seen. And the relationship between the worshipers and their chosen deity was a fickle one, with the people never knowing if their god was truly pleased with their behavior.

Yet, the God of Israel, while transcendent and all-powerful, had chosen to insert Himself into the lives of His people, providing them with laws that regulated not only their behavior concerning Him, but with one another. He wanted to influence every facet of their lives, providing them with righteous rules and regulations for every imaginable form of conduct. And as the people of Israel obeyed His laws, they would be displaying their wisdom and intelligence to the nations around them – a wisdom and intelligence that originated from God, not men.

Moses knew that if the Israelites would obey God’s commands, the pagan nations would be amazed at their wisdom.

“How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!” – Deuteronomy 4:6 NLT

But he wanted the Israelites to remember that it would not be their wisdom that set them apart. It would be their God.

“For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?” – Deuteronomy 4:7-8 NLT

The very presence of God’s law was proof of God’s proximity. He was with them. He was intimately involved in their lives and cared about every detail concerning their conduct and character. Unlike the false gods of the nations living in the land of Canaan, Yahweh was real and His relationship with His people was intended to be all-pervasive and highly personal. He was not a distant, disinterested deity, but a loving, caring God who longed to display His glory in the lives of His chosen people.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

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Too Smart For Our Own Good.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:21-23 ESV

Wise fools. The world is full of them and always has been. Paul describes them as futile in their thinking. The Greek word Paul uses is mataioō and it can mean “to passively become foolish, or to become idolatrous.” Paul says they are without excuse because they have had every opportunity to honor or recognize the existence and reality of God, who has revealed Himself through His creation. “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20 ESV). These kinds of people indict themselves because they all end up worshiping something or someone. They may not call it worship, but they esteem or honor other things, giving them the place of prominence in their lives that belongs to God alone. Some end up worshiping man, making humanity to end-all-be-all of our existence. They believe we are our own savior. Others worship science, placing all their hope and trust in reason and man’s ability to solve all of the world’s problem through scientific research and development. We can end up worshiping political parties or governmental policies. Elevating men or man-made ideas to a god-like status in our lives has been the lot of humanity since the fall. That was the original temptation of the serpent in the garden. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV).

Paul makes it painfully clear that all men know God. They sense the existence of something bigger and greater than what they can see. Creation virtually shouts that there is something or someone out there, the first cause behind all that we see. Ancient man knew that there was something out there. That’s why they created idols. That’s why they worshiped the sun, moon, stars, animals, nature and every other created thing. But modern man is more sophisticated than that. Our idols are more subtle and sensible. We wouldn’t dream of worshiping the sun. But we will worship the Big Bang Theory. We will go out of our way to concoct every possible explanation for our existence, while refusing to accept the idea that God exists. Claiming to be wise, we become fools, self-deceived and sadly mistaken in our conclusions. We end up exchanging the glory of the immortal God for a cheap, but seemingly plausible replacement.

Paul insists that man’s persistent attempt to explain away God has left him with a darkened heart. What was once clearly visible to them, the invisible attributes of God, has become cloudy and veiled. Man has lost the ability to sense God’s presence and power. This has left him with the nagging need to explain his existence and make sense of a world that continues to spiral out of control, despite all our scientific advances, modern conveniences, and moralistic efforts. We keep hoping and believing that we can make the world a better place. We have made vast improvements in communication, transportation, medicine, education and agricultural production. Yet the world remains plagued by hatred, disease, famine, ignorance, and inequities in all their hideous forms. We have been able to make advances in everything except the state of man’s heart. We can help him live longer, but we are incapable of making him live better. Human reason will never come up with a way to deal with sin. Science will never come up with a solution to the problem of the human heart. In our wisdom, we have become fools.

And  yet, in the midst of all of mankind’s arrogance and pride, God sent His Son. Paul calls it the gospel, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 ESV). In the gospel, the righteousness of God has been revealed. What God expects of humanity has been made known through His Son coming to earth as a man and living a sinless life. Jesus did what no other man had been able to do since Adam. He lived in perfect obedience to the law of God. And it was His sinless life that made Him the perfect sacrifice to pay for the sins of man. He died so that man might live. He gave His life so that we would not have to give ours. The death of Jesus was what God required so that men might be made right (righteous) with Him. And this righteousness is only available by faith. Not by reason. Not by scientific explanations or experiments. Not through human effort or any amount of seemingly moral advancements.

Man, apart from God, is helpless, hopeless, blind, ignorant, and spiritually dead. Even his best efforts on his best day are flawed and, ultimately, worthless. As the prophet Isaiah so aptly put it, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). Man has become to smart for his own good. His intelligence has left him unable to honor God or give Him thanks. He is determined to come up with his own explanation for his existence and his own plan for his future. But in the end, all men must face the reality of God’s existence. God doesn’t go away because we attempt to explain Him away. He doesn’t cease to exist simply because our intelligence refuses to accept Him. God has revealed Himself in His creation. He has made Himself known through His written Word. And He has given men the means by which they can know Him personally and permanently through His Son. But the knowledge of God is ultimately available as a result of faith, not wisdom.