“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 8:1-3.
Sometimes we say we have God in our lives. But is your life in Him? Is He something you have in your possession, like a good luck charm? Or are you His possession?
If God were merely our creator, that would be enough to make us worship Him and build our lives around Him. But He is so much more, because He has shared his counsel with us, has identified with us, has left Heaven for us to die for us. He does not stand outside of us, but has taken us into Himself. To forget this, and to forget Him, is the tragedy of unbelief.
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire.
” Deuteronomy 7:1-5.
God is not content to be a competing idea in the intellectual marketplace. Nor is He the first among equals. He wants those idols destroyed, along with their worshippers.
Today, we are under a different covenant that is based on better promises (Hebrews 8:6). We are bearers of glad tidings of great joy. Because of Jesus, and what He did for us, our sins are no longer counted against us. We bring good news!
What hasn’t changed is how God feels about idols. Through Christ, God has reconciled us to Himself. And like a man being reconciled to an adulterous spouse, He is not agreeing to let the boyfriend move back in with her. She is being restored to be faithful again.
“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.” Deuteronomy 6:10-15
This is a good warning for Americans to heed. We have truly grown up in a land of milk and honey. Even if you are poor, there is no better place in the world to be poor than America. And yet, we are a nation of whiners and complainers, perhaps the most ungrateful people on the planet. Nothing is ever good enough for us. That is what forgetting God looks like.
This is why we need the word of God. It calls us to account, reminds us of the big picture, and resets our priorities. Without it, we decide for ourselves what is true north: our greed, our sexual appetites, our ideologies, our resentments.
Several years ago, some opportunistic politicians scolded business owners, saying, “You didn’t build that!” They were making the case that the owners owed their success to those who built America’s infrastructure. They were half right. Success and prosperity come from God, but His constituency is very small, so He seldom gets the glory.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. Deuteronomy 5:8-10.
Every young man has probably flinched at the words, “You’re just like your father!” It is part insult and part warning. And it is true that some sinful tendencies are learned from our parents. But God does not put them there, any more than the sarcastic relative or neighbor puts your lesser traits on you. The word that is translated “visiting” from the original language could also be rendered as “observed,” or “noticed.” If a mere human can notice your father’s faults in you, so can the almighty.
So we must choose sides. Will we embrace and defend our inherited weaknesses? Or will we renounce and reject them and let God be our father? When His commands come in conflict with our sinful nature, we must bow our knee to the commandment.
Many years after these commands were given, Christ came and took our punishment for sin. When He died, we died with Him. When He was raised to new life, we were raised with Him. But this benefit, and the power that comes with it, requires our faith in this supernatural event before we can enjoy it. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.