Moses continues his history lesson. He wants the people to be very clear that it’s not because of their own righteousness that God will give them victory over the stronger peoples in the land, but because of those peoples’ wickedness. He is declaring judgment on the peoples, not affirming Israel’s worthiness. It’s amazing how consistent the Bible is about this fact, that people cannot earn God’s acceptance by their works. Yet human nature is such that every one of us want to make our relationship with God about works and not grace. God had to go through a redemptive history of over 2,000 years to try to get this point across to our thick skulls, and rebellious hearts, and we still want to earn our way.
He tells Israel that they are a stiff-necked people, then proceeds to lay out the evidence, starting with the golden calf. And then in chapter 10 from verse 12 to the end of the chapter we read one of the great texts in the foundations of Western civilization. Through Israel, and then Jesus, God gave to humanity a completely different way of looking at reality. The ancient Near East knew nothing of the worldview God bequeathed to Israel.
In v. 12 & 13 Moses implores them to fear and obey the Lord, but he does more, he implores them to love and serve him. I’m pretty confident that the other gods of the peoples, and other gods of the pagans throughout history, never demanded love. How could you love a god who is capricious and basically a human invention, who is just the best and worst of human traits? But since we are made in God’s image, and not the other way around, we love and worship a God who is fully worthy.
Then Moses establishes God’s bona fides. First, God is creator and all of the universe belongs to him. As I saw last time through the OT, God affirmed as Creator is done over and over again. Then the Lord picked them, he choose them from among all the other peoples of the earth. Isn’t that unfair? Why didn’t God choose every people? This is a very difficult concept for human beings to accept, that God is sovereign and they are not! And this is a big difficulty for non-Calvinists. Is not God showing there that salvation will never be universal, and that he is the author of it? That he is going to save himself eternally a people and he will decide who those people are? I think so.
Moses uses an interesting word that you wouldn’t find of the other gods; God set his “affection” on Israel’s forefathers. God has feelings. The synonyms for affection tell us a lot about the nature of our God: fondness, love, liking, tenderness, warmth, devotion, endearment, care, caring, attachment, friendship. If God were not Triune this would make no sense. How could God be a solitary monism for eternity, know nothing of relationship, then out of the blue create humans and love on them? For all eternity he is completely alone, interacting with nothing, then bam! He decides one day he’ll create something and have a relationship with it even though the concept of relationship is foreign to him. I think not.
And we see something in verse 18 and 19 that change the course of ethics in human history:
18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.
In the ancient Near East this was just plain radical. Where would this come from if it didn’t come from God? This was also unknown in all of the Greco-Roman world, except among the Jews, and until Jesus fulfillment of it all in the gospel. It’s basically the golden rule, but much deeper than that. I don’t treat others well because I want to be treated well; I treat others well because God had mercy on me, rescued me from the slavery of sin and death, and I am obligated because of that, and thus obligated to God to love others, even the least in human terms. All the ethical norms westerners take for granted today and believe come from nowhere and nothing, are rooted in God’s relationship and commands to the people of Israel.
He ends the chapter with these profound words:
20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.
What does this say about what the focus of our lives should be? When John says in the first chapter of his gospel that in Jesus was life, and that life was the light of men, he, as Moses says here, is saying that God himself is the source of our existence, that which we must stay plugged into in order to be, and to be fully human, be what we were meant to be before the fall turned us inward on ourselves, Satan’s temptation that we might be like God. And he doesn’t tell us to do this just “on faith” as God’s enemies always claim, but based on evidence, what we can and have seen with our own eyes. Biblical faith is profoundly evidential, that we might have faith in, i.e. trust, in our God.