Deuteronomy 4 is an amazing passage both in Uninvented and theological terms. I will address the former here and the latter in my next post. If you’ve read Uninvented, you will know I was tempted numerous times to pontificate on the incredible theology in certain passages, but my focus had to remain on my uninvented argument. The question in the book was always, did this happen and in just this way, or not. Was it made up by the authors, mere human fiction to further a religious agenda? Or was it history, and happened pretty much the way the narrative presents it happening? It is either one or the other; there is no in between. One either has to accept the entire narrative or reject it all. Any partial acceptance or rejection is completely arbitrary and requires some human authority to determine what should be accepted and what should not. If we compare how scholars’ approach other ancient literature to how they treat the Bible’s historical claims, we’ll see just how arbitrary and biased they are. The reason is as simple as it is unjustified.
Critics for several hundred years have insisted that anything claiming to be supernatural in the Bible, the miraculous, had to have been invented, made up, fiction, because those kinds of things, those not explained by purely natural, material phenomena simply cannot happen. This, as I contend, is rank, anti-supernatural bias without any justification other than worldview preference. Bob is a materialist (the material is all that exists, there is no spiritual reality), so Bob cannot accept anything that contradicts his materialist worldview. Coming to the text begging the question like this means the reader must reject anything that cannot be explained “naturally.” If we come to the text without that bias, and not rejecting God’s existence and power a priori (i.e., beforehand), we can see if the narrative evinces realness, or verisimilitude as I discuss in the book.
Deuteronomy 4 is a tremendous example of a stark choice readers have. Either the author is lying, or he is telling the truth. The authors of the Bible throughout claim to be eyewitnesses to the works of God for his people. These were not events as portrayed in fairy tales that happened a long, long time ago in a land far, far away, where maybe little snippets of possible historical fact are embellished over time to make up a coherent grand historical narrative. Fairy tales or legends don’t tell coherent grand historical narratives over 2,000 years like the Bible, which even the critics agree is one of or the greatest works of literature in history. As I said over and over in the book, the Bible doesn’t read at all like the myths and legends critics insist it is, and this chapter is an excellent example of why.
Moses here is re-telling the Israelites’ history of their Exodus from Egypt, and how God rescued them, as he says, “from the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance.” The key to this passage, and the challenge before us, is a phrase he uses multiple times, that what happened in their rescue was something they witnessed “with their own eyes.” We only have two options when reading this passage: either the author is telling the truth, or he is not. Critics contend it is the later. Deuteronomy, they claim, was written sometime during the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people in the fourth century BC, not by Moses a thousand years previously. If the critics are right, the author is fabricating a story he knows is not true. On the other hand, if we don’t come to the text assuming miracles can’t happen, thus begging the question, we can let the text speak for itself and see if it reads real. You decide:
9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. 10 Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” 11 You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. 12 Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice.
15 You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire.
33 Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? 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.
If this is fiction, then the Bible is a monstrous lie. If the critics are right, then there is absolutely nothing of value to be found in the Bible’s pages. I’m not interested in moral lessons told as “nobel lies.” On the other hand, if we’re willing to let the Bible speak as what it claims to be, God’s revelation of the history of the redemption of his people, we’ll let the text speak for itself.
This passage, of course, doesn’t stand in isolation, and it is the grand historical narrative from Genesis to Revelation that makes this passage so powerful, and read so real. God is continuing to reveal himself to his people, those he rescued from slavery in Egypt, allowing them to “hear his voice” so they will know that this God is unlike the gods of any of the other nations on earth. Which is a good segue to the amazing theology in the passage, the topic for the next post.