Exploring Deuteronomy Weeks 9 & 10: Holy, Holy, Holy
During the past couple of weeks we have focused in on Deuteronomy 12 and 13. These chapters give instructions for worshipping God and worshipping Him alone. Some of the content in these chapters seems foreign or harsh. But when we look at them in context, I think there is so much that shows us God’s love, grace, and desire for relationship. Here are a few quick thoughts!
In the Ancient Near Eastern mind, people would bring offerings to their gods in hopes that they would not get mad at them. But in Deuteronomy 12, we see some instructions for sacrifice and offering, not out of fear, but out of gratefulness to God who has brought them into such a spacious land. In fact, God wants the people to come and rejoice with Him.
Our God invites people to worship Him with joy and thankfulness. But many other nations in the Ancient Near East, worshipped and sacrificed solely to appease their gods. For example, there’s an Akkadian myth in which a god is sleeping, and the humans on earth are being noisy. This wakes him up, he becomes annoyed, and he decides to wipe out the earth with a flood. These types of myths and these types of mindsets about the easily disturbed emotions of the gods were very common during the time when the Bible was written. However, we never see any arbitrary emotions from the God of the Bible. The Israelites didn’t have to worry that God would randomly get angry with them and destroy them. All of His instructions are made clear in the Bible, and God only punishes for sin. And as we see with the prophets, God invites people to repent for a long time before He ever even sends punishment.
I loved that in Pastor Dan’s sermon on Sunday he explained the why behind Israel’s obedience to God. Israel is to only worship Yahweh God — Him and Him alone — because He is the only one who has ever acted on their behalf. He is the one who has saved them. The exodus is the focal point of the Old Testament, and it is something God reminds the Israelites of all the time. They agree to obey Him and worship Him alone because of what He has done for them. Israel has no need to worship other gods. Other gods are made of wood and stone and are in danger of toppling over (Isaiah 41:7). Yahweh God steps into history, He sends plagues, He parts the Red Sea, He comes down on a mountain and has supper with His people, and He sends His Son to walk with us and die for us. Why on earth would we worship anyone but Him?
On Sunday I was also convicted about where I stand in my awe of God’s majesty. Deuteronomy 13 is a tough chapter — it feels harsh and strict. It commands death to those who try to convince us to worship other gods. But as Pastor Dan pointed out, and C.S. Lewis eloquently put in his book on the Psalms, the evil of worshipping false gods is not to be shrugged at. Our God is the holy one. He is the creator of all life. He is set apart, He is perfectly good, He is the supreme authority, He is the one, true God. When I remember this, when I step back and ponder who God is, then a passage like Deuteronomy 13 only confirms these truths about the majestic reality of our God.
We see this emphasis on God above all else all throughout the Bible, and especially in the 10 Commandments. The first commandment is to have no other gods before Him. The commandments then move on through God, family, life, sex and marriage, and possessions. Christopher Wright points out that God is the priority in the 10 Commandments, and things go from there. But sadly, we often mix up the order in our culture today. Wright says:
“The order of the commandments thus give some insight into Israel’s hierarchy of values. Roughly speaking, the order was God, family, life, sex, property. It is sobering, looking at that order, that in modern society we have almost exactly reversed that order of values. Money and sex matter a lot more than human life, the family is scorned in theory and practice, and God is the last thing in most people’s thinking, let alone priorities.”
That’s what Pastor Dan’s sermon made me think about yesterday — my priorities. What is most important to me? Who is most important to me? Where do I have these things out of place?
God deserves first place. He is the holy one. Both Deuteronomy 12 and 13 emphasize this. When we look at these chapters and recognize God’s majesty properly, we sit back in awe at this God who is so set apart. But what is amazing is that He invites us to know Him — He is set apart, but comes near to us. I found that Old Testament theologian Robin Routledge had something beautiful to say about God’s holiness. Whereas we often think of the biblical instructions or prohibitions regarding God’s holiness as restrictive, Routledge emphasizes that holiness is tied to relationship:
“Restrictions and prohibitions exist not to keep God away from humankind but to provide the means and conditions by which One who is Wholly Other may have contact with and enter into a relationship with his people.”
We serve a holy God. A God who is set apart. A God who is righteous when we are not. A God who created all things, is through all things, and who holds all things together. But for some reason, He loves us so much. He reaches down to talk with us and listen to us. He chooses us. He invites us and makes a way for us to be in relationship with Him. And for all these reasons — and so many more — He is the only one worthy of our worship.