Deuteronomy 4: Theological Implications of God Rescuing His People from Slavery

Deuteronomy 4: Theological Implications of God Rescuing His People from Slavery

In my last post I focused on some of the uninvented takeaways from this chapter, or why I think it couldn’t be made up. Briefly, if it was, the author was a liar, and the Bible is a worthless piece of trash. Not that I feel strongly about it or anything. You’ll remember the writer (Moses, we believe, and the topic of a future post) kept repeating the eyewitness nature of the Exodus. As God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt, they saw his amazing works among them and heard his voice. Either it happened, and they did see and hear these things, or they did not. There is no in between. If it did not happen pretty much the way portrayed in this chapter and in the Pentateuch, I’m just not interested. I have better things to do than believe lies are true, and then base my life, and death, upon them. Don’t you? But I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the Bible records true history, which is why I wrote Uninvented, hoping I might help other Christians grow in their confidence that the Bible is indeed what it proclaims itself to be, God’s revelation of the redemption of his people.

There is also, however, the theology to consider, the truths of this redemption for we who believe the Bible is in fact God’s word. Jesus said in Matthew 4:4 quoting himself from Deuteronomy 8:3 that, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This substance we take from his word is theology. You may know theology is the study of God. Any word ending in ology is the study of something, and in this case of theos, or in Greek, God. So, in reading and meditating on Deuteronomy 4 theologically, we’re trying to discover something about the being and nature of God, and there is a lot here to discover. Here is a brief overview of the book of Deuteronomy from Chuck Swindoll:

Deuteronomy means “second law,” a term mistakenly derived from the Hebrew word mishneh in Deuteronomy 17:18. In that context, Moses simply commands the king to make a “copy of the law.”1 But Deuteronomy does something more than give a simple copy of the Law. The book offers a restatement of the Law for a new generation, rather than a mere copy of what had gone before. Deuteronomy records this “second law”—namely Moses’s series of sermons in which he restated God’s commands originally given to the Israelites some forty years earlier in Exodus and Leviticus.

The older Israelites are beginning to die off and will not be allowed to enter the promised land because of their rebellion, so Moses is re-telling the law to the new generation following Joshua across the Jordan. Moses himself will only catch a glimpse of the promised land because he too didn’t trust God, but one day he will enter the eternal promised land with us.

Which brings us to the profound theological truths in this chapter. Our tendency as self-centered sinful human beings is to, no surprise, to be self-centered. As I’ve said a multitude of times in blog posts, sin is well defined as Incurvatus in se, Latin for being turned or curved in on oneself. This is more profound than being selfish or self-centered, an obvious human malady, and for most of us overcome to one degree or another as we grow older and mature. We learn that self-obsession doesn’t really pay, so we are able to see things beyond our own self-interest. Spiritually, however, the self is a more pernicious foe, and deceptively subtle.

As a young Christian, my faith was primarily about my choices and decisions. God laid out the conditions, and I decided whether I would obey or not. If I jumped through the hoops, God and me, we were good, if not, well, I had to work harder. It was more about what I did for God, than what God had done for me in Christ. When I was introduced to Reformed theology by a “chance” encounter in February of 1985, I experienced a proverbial Copernican revolution. Instead of my Christian faith revolving around me. my experiences, choices, will, decisions, I now saw how it revolved around God’s work for me in Christ. The gentlemen who introduced me to this radical theology, known as Calvinism, suggested I read a systematic theology (I’d never even heard the phrase before) by the great 19th century theologian Charles Hodge.

Hodge said something that perfectly captured my newfound understanding: Christianity is the work of God in the soul of man. Our self-centered tendency, however, is to see our faith as God responding to our work, and not us to his. In other words, law not gospel. In Deuteronomy 4 we see it is God who initiates the relationship with his people, and it is he alone who saves them:

20 But as for you, the Lord took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance, as you now are.

34 Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?

35 You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other. 36 From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire. 37 Because he loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength, 38 to drive out before you, nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today.

And throughout Deuteronomy, he reminds them that they were “slaves in Egypt,” and would still be slaves if not for his mighty saving power. This is true for us too! It is God’s work alone, his power, that raises us spiritually from the dead, changes our sinful heart of stone, to flesh. In theological terms, this is called regeneration, or the transformation of our beings from his enemies to his children. Only then, our hearts transformed, can we put our faith, our trust in Christ. Our rescue from the slavery of sin was “by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord our God did for” us in Christ!

Embrace The Suck! The Gravitational Pull of Sin

Embrace The Suck! The Gravitational Pull of Sin

I apologize for the semi-vulgarity, but this has become something of a favorite phrase of mine of late. I guess it’s because life can so often seem so sucky to us. Things rarely go like we think we want them to, and even when they go like we think we want them to, they never quite live up to what we think they should. I wonder why. That’s a rhetorical question because, well, we all know the answer, but so often we seem to forget. I’ll give it to you, no charge: We live in a fallen world in a fallen body among fallen people. That means, life is really hard most of the time. I’ll explain why that’s good news below, but first we have to understand why, and fully accept it. The latter part is far more difficult then the former. The reason for the former, the why part, is found in Genesis 3:

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

We call this the fall, but for some reason we don’t envision falling as the essence of life, as the thing we have to constantly fight against day in and day out, day out and day in. For some odd, irrational reason, we tend to think things should go smoothly, that the rough patches in life should be few and far between, or at least not be so darn often! When things go off the rails, and not at all like we think we want them to go we conclude . . . something is wrong! Well, no, nothing is wrong; that’s life lived in a fallen world in a fallen body lived among fallen people. I once heard a phrase from a pastor not too many years ago that captured so well this thing we battle against every day: The gravitational pull of sin. Oh, how it weighs us down, and in so many ways. Unfortunately, the way we fight against it is to complain and moan, or react in any number of negative ways. I’ll share a secret. It’s not the negative experiences or situations or people that is the suck; it is us!

Yes, brothers and sisters, you and me. That is what we must embrace, that we are the problem, not our situations or others. It is that we are incurvatus in se, utterly curved in on ourselves, which determines our negative reactions to situations and others, and why we are problem. We have to get to the point where we embrace the simple fact that it is we who suck, that we are helpless sinners if left to ourselves. It is only when we get to the point of accepting and embracing the spiritual reality of our utter suckiness (pushing this suck thing too far, but hang with me), that we realize our utter unworthiness before the unapproachable holiness of God. Then we can relate to the tax collector in Jesus’ parable:

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

It is when our heads are bowed down in a certain kind of shame of our unworthiness before God that sanctification can really take hold in our souls. At that point we finally have nothing to prove, nothing to defend, no excuses to make, and that the only thing we bring to the God in Christ on the cross is our sin. Grasping the true spiritual reality of who we are by (sinful) nature makes this passage in John 3 so powerful:

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

I would implore you to read the passage in Numbers 21 that explains what happened. If someone doesn’t understand something of redemptive history, this will appear absolutely absurd. God punished his people for being ingrates by sending venomous snakes among them to kill them? Seriously? What kind of God is this! Well, he’s a just God, and he’s told them, and us, from the very beginning that the wages of sin is death. Where’s the good news in all this? Jesus!

The reason the gospel is such good news, which is what the word means, is that when we are bitten by the snake, all we need to do is to look up to him and trust him, and we will live. What do we do, though? We look down at the bite! It hurts, we think, what else are we supposed to do? Look up! The pain and hurt and sorrow are what should cause us to look up to him, to trust him that he has the answer for all of it. That’s what believe means, in Greek, pisteuó-πιστεύω, trust. The reason embracing the suck is so important is so that we don’t look to ourselves, or to our circumstances to save us, to provide the answers to our problems. We are the cause of those problems! All of them. As we learn to trust him, everything falls into place, everything works, and we experience a peace that passes all understanding. Notice what Paul says allows us to have that peace. There is an entire blog post in those verses, but giving thanks is part of it, and as he says elsewhere, in all circumstances. When our knee-jerk reaction when things go south is to give thanks instead of complain, we’ll know real sanctification is happening in our souls.

Why I Love Hymns, And You Should, Too!

Why I Love Hymns, And You Should, Too!

I’m one of a rare breed, those who love hymns, and will only go to a church where hymns are sung. When we were younger and moved to a new state (which has happened four times), we would go church hunting. A couple times with my wife and kids in tow we walked into a church, saw the setup for a band, and promptly turned around and walked out. Radical, I know. I’ve attended plenty of churches with modern praise music, and most of the time I find it, well, not sure of the word, annoying maybe. Grating? Painful? It sort of depends on the quality of the music and lyrics.

I have a friend who calls all of it, “Jesus is my boyfriend” music (none of it is that bad, but you get the point). Some is clearly better than others (Getty for example). I remember going to the church where one of our sons attends last year, and I turned to my wife and said, “There sure are a lot of I’s in these songs.” What I meant is that so many of the lyrics had “I” in them, as in, I will do this, and I will do that, I this, I that. Which Identifies my issue with so much modern “praise music.” The focus is often more on me than God, on what I must and should do for God, rather than on what God has done for me in Christ. In other words, it is more experiential than theological.

Why I love hymns so much is because they are theology in song. We sang four hymns in church during a recent service, and each one was more theologically rich than the next. Here are the first two verses from the first one we sang by the great 18th century pastor and hymn writer, and one time slave trader, John Newton, Glorious things of thee are spoken:

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Holy city of our God;
He whose word cannot be broken
Formed thee for His own abode;
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.

See the streams of living waters,
Springing from eternal love,
Well supply thy blessed members,
And all fear of want remove;
Who can faint, when such a river
Ever flows their thirst t’ assuage?
Grace which, like the Lord, the giver,
Never fails from age to age.

I compare this to most modern praise music, and there is no comparison. I would joke with my family sometimes that if a hymn was written after 1850 it was too new for me. This is not to say all modern praise or hymn music is the same, not at all. I am not familiar enough with it outside of my anecdotal experience, so I can’t discount all of it. If it appeals to more people who will come into a church, and stay, because of it, I certainly don’t gainsay that. However, we need to ask what the point is of singing in church.

I think all Christians can agree the purpose of music in church is the worship of God. How come, then, so much of it is about us? It so happens last Sunday I went to church with my other son, not to our normal hymn singing church. The very first song they sang as we sat down was, “I surrender . . . .” Which of course was repeated over and over again. Now, I’m all for surrendering my life to my Savior, but I thought, it isn’t about me! I want to sing about who he is and what he’s done for me, not what I am willing to do for him. Notice that next time you’re in church if the church you attend doesn’t sing hymns. Are the songs they’re singing primarily about them and what they are willing to do for God, or what he has done for them in Christ? Big, huge, gargantuan difference. Too many Christians are under the impression that God responds to me, that the initiative in the relationship is mine, and is dependent on my will. Wrong. Christianity is about God taking the initiative, about my responding to him, about him transforming my affections so my will is his. I want to sing songs in church that affirm that, theology in music.  

The Real First Christmas

The Real First Christmas

No, it wasn’t Bethlehem and Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus and a manger, shepherds keeping watch by night, a choir of angels, a bright star or wise men from the east.  Actually, that first Christmas was the fulfillment of something that came way before that, and if you want to know the true meaning of Christmas you have to start there, when Christmas became necessary. I’m talking about the story of Adam and Eve told in Genesis 3, and something we call “the fall.” That is where the first Christmas really happened. You’ll remember that the serpent deluded Eve into thinking being like God might be a good thing, and Adam the solid leader he wasn’t, went along with it. Bad move. At once they realized they were naked, and did what human beings have done ever since, sewed fig leaves together to try to cover their nakedness. No, people don’t use fig leaves anymore, but they do the same thing; with their own works they try to cover their nakedness, sin and death. That is no more effective then Adam and Eve’s effort. Human religion is futility in action. Then we get a picture into Christmas, and what was in effect the first Christmas: God promises, and we can take it to the eternal bank: (more…)

More Thoughts on Mars Hill: There is Something New Under the Sun, the Church!

More Thoughts on Mars Hill: There is Something New Under the Sun, the Church!

In my previous post on the dysfunction that was much of Mars Hill church, I focused on The Church being full of sinners, saved sinners, but sinners nonetheless. So to be surprised when “stuff” happens, and sinners act like sinners, is silly. Even a cursory look through the New Testament makes it apparent that perfection isn’t in the cards for Christians, even though in the 19th century and part of the 20th there were perfectionist movements in the church that claimed just that. This was such an influential movement, as hard as that is to believe today, that the great Reformed theologian B.B. Warfield saw the need to write a substantial book on it called, Studies in Perfectionism. In fact, when I became a Christian in 1978 the idea was still such an influence in the church, even if not taught outright, that when I discovered his book in the mid-1980s it felt like a life saver. Fundamentalist Christianity, a version of which I was born-again into, has always had a tendency toward works righteousness, which was a burden I could not bear. (more…)

The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill: Nothing New Under the Sun

The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill: Nothing New Under the Sun

If you’re unfamiliar with Mars Hill, I’m not referring to the place in Athens where Paul debated the philosophers in Acts 17. There, Paul made his case for Christianity to the philosophers in a place called the Areopagus, but it was also known as Mars Hill, thus its importance as a phrase implying taking a stand for the Christian faith. In the 21st century the phrase also came to be associated with a church in Seattle led by controversial pastor Mark Driscoll. Mars Hill was a phenomenon in the first decade or so of the century. The church grew, sprouted many campuses, and had an impact far and wide, driven by the intense and entertaining preacher who led it. Driscoll was also part of a movement called “Young, Restless, and Reformed,” and associated with the likes of Tim Keller, John Piper, and The Gospel Coalition, although his theology was all over the place. Behind all the growth and success, though, were problems that would eventually lead to the church’s demise, and Driscoll walking away from his crumbling empire in 2014. I didn’t know the half of it. (more…)