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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Gaining Righteousness Through Grace - Deuteronomy 6

Deuteronomy 6

            This chapter is a sermon within the second sermon Moses spoke to the Israelites. Deuteronomy 6 is a sermon on the first commandment. The first commandment is the commandment upon which the other nine hinge. It places first value on God. Moses told the people then and us now the basic attitude toward the LORD Yahweh of the covenant is love and that it requires obedience from the faithful. When love is real from Yahweh’s followers, what occurs is obedience and reverence. From these come the desire to ensure their children and their children’s children learn about Yahweh – His greatness, covenant love, awe, and their obedience to His commandments.

            Before we begin to dig into this chapter, we need to understand definitions of a few words. Moses used the words might, shall, and should. We need to differentiate the meanings of these words to get the whole message from this text. The word “might” speaks of a possibility of something occurring or gives permission to a person to do something. It does not imply that an action will definitely occur. The word “should” is a conditional word. A person, if they do an action, will then encounter or receive something. The word “shall” is future tense and is a strong assertion, command, or an intention expected to happen. In addition to these three words, we must remember that when the Bible authors wrote the word LORD, they referred to Yahweh God. The Jews believed it was wrong to pronounce Yahweh or spell it so they used the word LORD instead. They often used YHWH when writing God’s name. The Israelites’ reverence was so high they felt they could not speak or write God’s name, YAHWEH, which He told them while they wandered in the wilderness.

            Several theological commentators express that the first three verses of chapter six are a continuation of chapter five. I and other commentators believe these three verses apply to chapter six as a prelude to what Moses said in this sermonette and after he reminded the Israelites of the Ten Commandments. Moses told them in these three verses what God permitted them to do and what they should do. (Remember, God’s commands are imperative, but He gave free will to humans when He created them so they could choose to do His will or not.) Moses began his sermon with the statement that the LORD commanded him to teach them His commandments, statutes, and judgments. (This is where it sounds familiar to chapter five.) In the next part of this sentence, Moses said he taught them that they “might do them in the land where you are going to possess it” and that their ancestors “might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes, commandments” all the days of their lives so their days would be prolonged (vs. 1-2). If the Israelites obeyed God’s commandments, statutes, and judgments, God promised they would possess the land, they and their ancestors would fear the LORD, and they would live long lives. God gave them permission and the possibility to follow Him. The Israelites had to choose to follow God or their own will. With following God, He promised the possession of a land as well as long life and gifts from the LORD. God does not mandate that we must follow Him. He gives each person who walks on earth freewill to choose to follow his or her own will or God's will. Moses’ use of the word “might” here expressed that idea. Again, in verse three, Moses said they “should listen and be careful to do it.” The Israelites were to enact God’s commandments and statutes. The Hebrew word for “listen” is shame and means to hear, listen to, and obey. The Hebrew word used as “do” in verse three is shamar, which we encountered in earlier chapters and means to hear, heed, and do. In the Hebrew language and culture, one cannot hear and disregard what the speaker says; obedience is required. Notice in verse three, Moses used the word “should.” That means God gave a condition within this sentence. If the Israelites listened and did what Moses taught them from Yahweh, then God would take care of them and they would “multiply greatly just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised in a land flowing with milk and honey.” These three verses then set the basis for what Moses taught them in the next twenty-two verses. Hearing and doing God’s commands grows love and reverence for God in them.

            Verse four is the thematic statement and basis of this chapter. It says, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” The Hebrews/Jews use this statement in their prayers morning and night. It forms the foundation of the Shema, which includes Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13.This statement is the pivotal statement for Hebrews and Christians. In a world where people worshipped a myriad of gods, this statement of faith proclaims the LORD of the Hebrews is one God, not many. It stresses the unique oneness of God and is a call to sole allegiance to Him. Their response to His singleness and uniqueness was to be absolute love toward Him. When Moses used the word “hear,” he commanded them to listen, understand, and obey. “Hear” is a call to obedience, the first way to show their love of God. Earlier I said this statement was pivotal for the Jews. Throughout the Bible, the people of God repeated the faith proclamation, “The LORD is one!” Deuteronomy 4:35 & 39, John 10:30, 1 Corinthians 8:4 and Ephesians 4:6 each proclaim Yahweh is God and He is one. They say Yahweh is single without inconsistency. God makes known Himself and His will. People cannot escape noticing Him since He created everything that is, sustains it, and promises eternal life to those who follow Him through Jesus Christ. Yahweh deserves undivided attention. He alone is worthy of complete devotion, love, reverence, and obedience. He is one.

            From his thematic statement, Moses fleshed out how we love and reverence the LORD. What he said in verse five, Jesus expanded in His Sermon on the Mount. Moses taught the Israelites, “You shall love the LORD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Remember the word “shall” is a future tense strong assertion, command, or intention that God expected to happen. God expected the Hebrews to love Him with their whole being. The love spoken of in this verse is ahab, a love of one human for another and for God. This kind of love is the most a human can give to God, which He requires. The people of the time considered the heart as the seat of the person – their emotions, passions, reasoning, and being. The soul is the inner person and their might is the strength of their body. When Christ added love God with all a person’s mind during His Sermon on the Mount, He addressed a person’s attitudes. If a person does the right actions and looks like he or she is obeying, but still does not have love for God, then the person is not in a relationship with God. Hence, Jesus said, “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27). The Deuteronomic passage assumes obedience comes from love of God. Obedience is the most direct expression of love for God. Love is not primarily an emotion, but is devotion and obedience to God. Love is the most common response to God in the Bible. God expected Israel to have this love for Him. This love encompasses the whole life – heart, soul, and strength. This is total, absolute devotion and comes with fear, reverence, and worship. People must express this love with loyalty, service, and obedience to the demands of God’s law. Jesus expressed this sentiment in John 14:15 when He said, “If you love Me you will keep my commandments.” Deuteronomy 10:12 expresses the expectation of this love for God, too.

            Moses taught that the Israelites were to love and worship only God and that the expression of this love was obedience. In verses six through nine, he gave practical ways to show love to God. These actions were to be part of their being, days, and ways – inside you, on you, on your home, and imparted to their families. In verse six, Moses commanded the Israelites that the words he taught that day “shall be” on their hearts – their soul, mind, will, and heart. When a person understands God’s expectations, then he or she can obey Him. Moses wanted the Israelites to understand God’s expectations exactly. God’s will and ways were not to be an afterthought, but the primary way the Israelites lived. In verses seven through nine, Moses commanded, “You shall teach, bind, and write them.” God expected them to live with the laws in their hearts, on their persons, and on their gates, and to teach them to the next generations. He expected the Laws to be part of their everyday lives. Moses commanded them, “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (vs. 7). At every point of their lives with their families, the Israelites were to teach God’s commands and laws. We do that now, do we not? When we eat a meal, we teach our children to thank God for providing the meal. When we wake in the morning, we teach the children to thank God for another day and to make them obedient to His will and His promptings that day. At bedtime in the evening, we teach the children to thank God for keeping them safe during the day, for giving them food and other necessities, and to help other people. We talk with children about God’s ways as we walk through the day, too. Moses commanded the Hebrew people to do this with their children. Would they not want the children to know who did great things for them, who provided salvation for them, and who chose them to be His people? Of course, they would want to share such wondrous and great things. We all would want to share that good news.

            In verse eight, Moses commanded, “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.” By doing this, they had a visible reminder to think about God and follow His ways. The “sign” Moses spoke of was a distinguishing mark of remembrance for the Jews. Whether a person believes the binding/frontlet should be literal, as the Jews do with their band on their heads and arms, or figurative, keeping God foremost in your mind, the end should be the same. These actions are the same unless the Israelites wore the phylacteries just for show, as the Pharisees did. God is to be most important and foremost in peoples’ minds and hearts throughout each day. Moses added in verse nine, “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” They were to do this to remind themselves as they entered and exited their homes of the importance of God and His laws. Literally doing this would remind a person of God every time he or she entered or left their home. God and His commands are to be foremost on their minds.

            Moses taught when they loved the LORD their God with all their being, they would possess the land that God promised to their fathers - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God was about to give the Israelites the Promised Land which He promised to their fathers. To possess it, they had to continue in their covenant with their Yahweh God. Their covenant with Yahweh was from Mount Sinai, the Ten Commandments. God blessed them by fulfilling His promised to their ancestors. Moses stated this in verses ten and eleven,

Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied… [NASB]

God is faithful to His promises and His covenants. Giving this generation of Israelites the Promised Land shows that. In verse twelve, though, Moses issued a warning, a conditional statement. He said, “Then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The word “watch” is the same word Moses used often, shamar, which means to keep, guard, observe, and obey. “Remember to do these things,” Moses said to the Israelites. He used another command in this conditional statement. Moses said, “Do not forget the LORD.” The word “forget” comes from the Hebrew word shakach, which means ignore, cease to care about, or forget. “Do not ignore and cease to care about the LORD. Remember, the LORD brought you out of slavery and gave you salvation,” Moses said. Faithfulness to God requires remembering the LORD brought them out of Egyptian slavery. God gave them salvation from Egypt. Faithfulness for us requires remembering the LORD brought us out of slavery to Satan and our own willfulness. God offers salvation from sin today through His Son, Jesus Christ. We must focus on the source of the blessing more than the blessing. The Israelites did not earn their possessions independent from God and neither do we. The ability to work is God-given. Only God gives salvation. Nothing we do can earn that. Only God gives blessings. We thank God by loving Him and acknowledging Him as the source of every thing we enjoy through praise and thanksgiving. We must set aside time every day to bring our sacrifice of praise and thanks to God.

            When a person loves the LORD, the natural response to that love is reverence, fear, and awe. The time set aside each day to bring sacrifices of praise and thanks to God is worship. By doing this, our reverence of God shows and we put God at the center of our lives. Obedience is the expression of love for God. Worship is also an expression of love for Him and a statement about our own smallness. Moses understood fear, reverence, and awe. He stood before God at the burning bush and on Mount Sinai. He recognized his own unworthiness. God recognized Moses’ servant heart and humility. He called Moses to serve Him and lead His chosen people to the Promised Land. Moses commanded the Israelites, “You shall fear only the LORD your God and you shall worship Him and swear by His name” (vs. 13). Moses repeated this command in Deuteronomy 13:4 and Jesus, during His forty days in the wilderness, confronted Satan with this when he tempted Him (Matthew 4:10 and Luke 4:8). How does a person fear the LORD? Moses gave four ways in verses fourteen through eighteen with conditions in verses fifteen and eighteen for judgment for failure should the commands not be followed. Moses repeated the first commandment, the one upon which the other nine rest. He said, “You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you” (vs. 14). The word “follow” in Hebrew is halak, which means depart with or walk about with. The Israelites would be tempted to absorb the gods of the lands that they were about to take since it appeared those gods made the lands rich. God ensured they remembered His first and primary command. As incentive, as parents do with their children, Moses said, “…for the LORD your God in the midst of you is a jealous God, otherwise the anger of the LORD your God will be kindled against you and He will wipe you off the face of the earth” (vs. 15). The word “jealous” repeats four other times in the Old Testament, in Exodus and Deuteronomy, and always in relation to God. The word qanna, jealous, is the precursor for the word “zealous” later in the Bible. When qanna reflects God’s actions, it means the Lord will actively protect His possession - His people - because He is that jealous they remain His people. Moses stated if they did not continue to worship God, He would destroy them “off the face of the earth.” This may appear like God was irrational, but we need to remember His covenant with the Hebrews, to which they agreed, stipulated this. Yahweh’s will and presence were essential to the covenant. Moses reminded the Hebrews of this covenant their parents made with God and which they affirmed themselves in chapter five. Worship only God. God demands exclusive allegiance, absolute love.

            Moses stated a second way, in the negative manner that the Hebrews were to worship and fear God. Moses taught, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah” (vs. 16). First, you must remember what happened at Massah. Read Exodus 7. At Mount Sinai/Horeb, the Israelites quarreled with God seeking proof of His power and faithfulness. They quarreled with God about bringing them into the desert just to let them thirst and starve. The word “test” in Hebrew means to test, prove, or tempt. The name Massah means quarrel. People who fear the LORD do not ask for proofs. They live from what He provides. Moses exhorted the Hebrews to obey the commandments.

            The third way Moses said the Israelites were to worship and fear God is in verse seventeen. Moses said, “You should diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and His testimonies, and His statutes which He has commanded you.” Notice this command comes with a condition. The other side of the condition is in verse eighteen, which ties in with verse seventeen. Before we go there, though, let us understand verse seventeen better. The statement is conditional and Moses used the word “keep” (shamar), meaning to listen to and heed. The Israelites were to hear and obey the commandments, testimonies, and statutes of God. The Hebrew word for commandments is mitzvah, with which we may be familiar from the Jewish rite of passage bar mitzvah. The mitvah is God’s code of wisdom, the commandments of God to do something with a moral imperative. The word “testimonies” is edah. Edah are testimonies from God’s congregation about God. “Statutes” is choq, which means something prescribed as a task, limit, boundary, or law. Each of these, commandments, testimonies, and statutes, teach about God, His power, and His greatness. Moses told the Israelites to hear and obey these as a way to worship, reverence, and fear the LORD.

            As stated earlier, verse eighteen is a continuation of verse seventeen. Moses said, “You shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may be well with you and that you may go in and possess the good land which the LORD swore to give to your fathers.” Doing what is right and good in the sight of the LORD requires following His commandments, testimonies, statutes, laws, and judgments. Moses stated each of these earlier in this chapter. God attached these requirements to a condition, which makes this a covenant. A covenant is a pledge for two or more parties to enact the terms of the agreement mutually. In verse eighteen it may appear God required these Israelites to be bound to the covenant promise He required of Abraham before He gave them the Promised Land. That is not so. Israel received her land from God per His promise to Abraham. God’s grace (unearned favor) gave them the land. The Israelites did nothing to earn it. Notice Moses used the word “possess” attached by a conjunction to the receipt of the Promised Land. The Israelites would possess the land by obedience to God’s covenant requirements. The word “possess” is yarash in Hebrew and means to inherit. The Israelites occupied the land, but they would only inherit it from one generation to the next by choosing God as their one sole God. This came from their own covenant with God from Mount Sinai. When they obey the Ten Commandments, and love and fear God, they worship and follow Him alone. This faith in God is what saves them and allows them to possess the land. They were inheritors of God’s promise to Abraham, but to remain God’s people, they must abide by their covenant with God by following the Ten Commandments and God’s statutes and judgments.

            As an expansion on the command in verse seven and a result of being in a covenant relationship with God so that His love overflows to their families, God commanded the Israelites through Moses to teach their children, as Moses stated in verses twenty through twenty-five. The Israelites were to teach their children about God’s testimonies, statutes, and judgments, which He commanded them to do (vs. 20). They were to teach their children about the LORD so they did not forget Him or His commandments. Added to this, the Israelites were to teach them of their salvation history with the LORD - how He rescued them from slavery in Egypt, showed great signs and wonders, and how He brought them out to give them the land He promised to their fathers (vs. 21-23). They were to make sure to tell the stories so the next generations would benefit from the witness of those who had been there to see God’s mighty acts and experience firsthand His salvation. The Israelites were to attest to God’s continual presence and activity in their lives. They were to tell their descendents about God’s faithfulness to His promise with their fathers. God did not neglect them because He is faithful. Today we still have reliable witnesses to God’s greatest act of salvation – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – through the written witness of His disciples in the New Testament.

Because God is faithful, gracious, loving, and worthy of worship, the Hebrews followed these statutes as God commanded. Moses said in verse twenty-four, “So the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD for our good always and for our survival, as it is today.” The Hebrew word for “observe” is asah, which means to obey. So, the Israelites were to obey and revere the LORD God. Moses reiterated the intent of the whole chapter in these words. Notice this verse comes with a condition should the Israelites not obey and fear the LORD. The purpose of the statutes was to help and to give commandments and limits of actions. The statutes were to teach the Israelites fear, reverence, and worship of God for their good always to provide for their preservation through the years. The Israelites were only righteous when they were obeying the requirements of the covenant they had with the LORD. Their obedience brought them into God’s presence to love and worship Him.

Verse twenty-five brings Moses’ conclusion of this sermon within a sermon. He said, “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us.” A connection between obedience and righteousness exists. Obedience and fear are complimentary terms. People obey what they stand in awe of and respect. People obey God because of their love and fear/reverence of Him.

What does this mean for us today? As we obey the Law, we are led to Christ as the means for our justification (Galatians 3:19-24). Our justification, being made just, does not come from anything we do or have. Hence, works are not the basis of righteousness. Righteousness, rightness with God, only comes through faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God whose death took the penalty for the sins of every person. Our obedience to God is the way we express love for God and faith in Him. Works and rituals, even religious rituals, cannot make us righteous. However, they can be a central part of the faith life of a disciple of Christ, one who already believes in and follows Christ. If any one of us is not sure of his or her salvation, he or she can look at the foundation for salvation. Only God’s payment is sufficient to pay the full penalty for our sins, our willful walking away from God and His will and ways. Nothing a person does, can do, or has is enough to pay the death penalty for his or her sins. God is the Creator of the world. He is the one who provided the commandments for harmonious and peaceful interrelations among people and between themselves and Himself. So, for the judgment for sinning against God’s commands, He is the only one who can give the proper and sufficient offering to take the death penalty for sin. God’s provision for the death penalty was the life of His Son, Jesus Christ, who broke the power of death Satan held. Jesus gave victory over death for everone who trusts in and relies upon Him as their Savior. All anyone needs to receive salvation is faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Son. No one needs to die eternally anymore because God’s grace and mercy gave redemption for everyone from the penalty of death they deserve due to their sin. Each person who believes in Jesus Christ can be in heaven with Him forevermore.

Three questions arise now –

Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Do you need to accept the LORD’s gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ?

Do you need to remember and renew your covenant to the LORD?