Deuteronomy 6:20-25 (ESV)
20 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. 23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. 24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’
Here we see Moses instructing the Israelites about how to explain the purpose of the law and the ceremonies to their children who did not witness the Exodus. In this little passage two things stand out to me.
First, in verse 22, Moses highlights the powerful and deadly things the Lord did to the Egyptians, saying, “And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household.” God used his might to lead the people out of Egypt. He sent a series of plagues upon Egypt, plagues resulting in death and destruction. The Lord also swallowed up Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, drowning soldiers and horses alike.
The reason that this stands out to me is that it is so far from being culturally acceptable today. The truth is, though many people generally say that they are OK with the idea of God, they are not, not at all. It seems to me that most Americans I know do not like God any more. They do not want to allow for the possibility that God is exactly who he claims to be or that he has done what he has claimed to do. Most people I hear want to sit in judgment over God, allowing him to be or do the things they approve of, but rejecting the notion that God might be or do things that do not fit modern, American views of morality, tolerance, or gentleness.
But, we must recognize that God is far greater than us. His ways are perfect. His holiness is as far from our ability to capture as the heavens are above the earth. God is not like sinful man. Nor is God subject to our present version of morality.
This week, I have been reading other ancient creation stories. In both the Greek and Babylonian creation accounts, the elements are all separate beings, forces which often oppose one another in a battle for supremacy. In both instances, one deity rises above the other through violent conquest in order to become supreme. But, in all of those other stories, the deity is subject to external standards of what might be called justice, rightness, etc.
But our God is not like the mini-deities in the creation stories of other religions. He is not one among many. He is not subject to external sources of morality. What makes right actually right is that it comes from the character of God. God’s character is not measured against another standard, because God’s character is the standard for what is perfect. Thus, when God forgives graciously or when God destroys justly, he is right, because he is, by definition, the measure of righteousness.
Also, in verse 25, Moses said, “And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.” The call to the Israelites was to remember and to obey. I wonder how far obedience has been removed from modern Christian teaching in the 21st century. I’m a big opponent of legalism. I hate the idea of making up rules God did not make or thinking that certain behaviors are what earn our favor with God. Yet, I also understand that the word of God does call the people of God to obey the commands of God. We are not told to simply sit around, be forgiven, and wait for Jesus. We are told by God to grow, to know his word, and to do what he commands. We do not obey to earn righteousness, but because of the grace of Christ already given to us.
Lord, this morning I ask that you would help me to remember first that you are who you are, perfect, holy, and righteous. I do not have any right to look at your actions and judge them. Your actions are right because they are your actions. You are the standard of righteousness. You are not subject to my opinion or to the opinions of all of humanity combined. You are the Holy One, and I submit to your rule.
I also ask that you would help me this day to remember the call to obedience. Please, Lord, help me not to take your grace for granted. Yes, you have granted grace to me as a gift. Yet, you also have commanded me to follow you. So, help me to obey your commands for your glory and for my joy.