If you and I were to sit down and talk, get to know each other for just a bit, it wouldn’t be too long before you learned that I love the Old Testament. More specifically I love the Pentateuch. Those first five books of the Bible, and Deuteronomy in particular, they have my heart. I had the opportunity to take an intensive class on Deuteronomy this year, and in that short week I fell more in love with Torah. Here is a small glimpse into why I love Torah.
Imagine all of Israel encamped on the eastern side of the Jordan River.
Moses stands before them, his arms spread wide, as he recounts for them their parents’ exodus from Egypt and subsequent rebellion when they were first invited into the Promised Land.
The story is familiar, but each Israelite listens intently as Moses reminds them of the punishment they and their parents endured at the hand of Adonai. And Moses reminds them that throughout the entire journey, a journey which should have taken eleven days but instead took forty years, God was with them, providing for their every need each and every step of the way.
The kings of Heshbon and Bashan have been defeated.
The land has been divided.
Moses stands before them, his arms spread wide, as he begins to instruct those he has loved and shepherded well. Knowing he cannot cross over into the Promised Land with them, he prepares Israel to receive the gift that is the Law.
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 4:5–8
Moses gives them the law so that, in his absence, Israel will know how to obey and worship God.
But Moses does not simply demand their obedience. He tells them why they are to obey. Keeping and doing the Law will be their wisdom and their witness to those around them. And the keeping and doing of the Law will not simply be wisdom and witness.
Moses reminds Israel that in the midst of pagan nations serving capricious gods with unpredictable moods and vulgar appetites, they serve a God who has come close and drawn near. They serve a God whose presence dwells among them. They serve a God who draws near to them.
This God they serve has not just drawn near and dwelt among them. He has, in His drawing near and in His dwelling, given them explicit instructions on how to interact with Him, on how to be in relationship with Him. Moses asks Israel, weary from her desert wanderings, ready to dwell in something other than tents, longing for food that is not manna, what other nation has been given such a good and righteous way to be in relationship with their gods.
“What great nation is there that has a god so near to is as the Lord our God is to us whenever we call upon him?”
“What great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?”
His questions are rhetorical. The answer to each is obvious. No nation. No great nation has a god so near or statutes and rules so righteous.
After years of wandering, and dwelling in tents, after years of eating the same thing day after day, what a beautiful picture Moses has painted.
Imagine weary Israel basking in the glow of these words that so beautifully remind her just how special she is to the Lord.
Imagine exhausted Israel soaking up the statues and decrees Moses passes along to them from God, stating so clearly what it will look like for them to be in relationship with Him.
Should you ever find yourself on the edge of the desert, staring westward across the Jordan River imagine Moses there, asking you those same questions.
What other god is there that is as near to you as the Lord your God?
What other god is there who has fulfilled the statues and rules through his own righteous life and sacrificial death so that you might clothe yourself in his righteousness, so that he might always be near to you?