A God So Near
The book of Deuteronomy is a series of four sermons given by Moses just before Israel entered the Promised Land. This was indeed the end of an era— the wandering in Wilderness and the leadership of Moses. It would be a time of great transition and change… and of great danger. Would Israel remain faithful to God after the death of Moses or would they seek the idols of Canaanites whose land they would possess? Deuteronomy is a kind of “second law” restatement of God’s promises and God’s warnings. It is very much like the speech a father gives to a child who leaves home—“I trust that you will remember who you are and do the right thing…and if you don’t, then you’re dead meat.”
Moses will remind Israel of a lot of things—their liberation from Egypt, the giving of the law, and their failures and success in the wilderness. But most of all, Moses would remind them of their God. He wants them to remember that they have witnessed things that no other people have ever witnessed. And that they have a God that is unlike any other God. Listen to Moses theme statement from yesterday’s reading from Deuteronomy 4:5-8:
5 See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?
Moses argues that the God of Israel was different from any other God in that He had come so near to them, and his nearness and power was seen in two different ways.
- First, God came near to Israel whenever they PRAYED to Him. Yahweh was a God who listened to his people when they prayed. Yes, God is powerful and mighty—but He is not distant or remote. The gods of the pagans sat on mountains and threw thunderbolts, gods to be feared and appeased… and avoided all costs. But Yahweh was a God who listened and came near to them in prayer.
- Second, God also came near to them in the LAW that God gave them. It was through the Law that God revealed Himself to His people. In her best moments, Israel didn’t see the Law as a burden to bear. That is how we may think about the Law— rules and regulations. But it was in the Law that Israel saw God— His mercy, goodness, holiness. That is why David can say in Psalm 119 that he truly loves God’s Law (119:47, 97, 163, 165).
Moses said that God’s was near to Israel and powerful in Israel because of their PRAYER and His LAW. God is near to His people today in exactly the same ways. As we pray to God and as he given attention to His Law, God comes near. That’s why we need to devote ourselves to both of these each day.