The judges face away from the stage. They don’t get distracted by the looks of the singer, or the costume, or the reputation, or the stage presence. They have to concentrate on LISTENING CAREFULLY. They work hard to hear the QUALITY of the singer’s tone and intonation and pitch and the control and the emotion and energy.
They’re forced to concentrate all their energy into HEARING because they can’t use their OTHER senses.
OTHER shows consider the total package. But on THIS show, it’s ALL ABOUT THE QUALITY OF THE VOICE. Nothing else matters.
And that’s Moses’ point here in Ch 4. It’s what separates the TRUE GOD from the gods of the nations. There’s no image – nothing to see. JUST A VOICE. So we should CONCENTRATE on what God has to say.
Look at how Moses describes what happened at Mt Sinai. There in v10.
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.
God has spoken! So hear his words!
Or again in v15.
15 You saw NO FORM OF ANY KIND the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire.
Moses is going to the trouble to point it out because it’s UNIQUE. He’s THE VOICE. There’s no other god LIKE that. Every other nation has gods you can SEE. You can BOW DOWN TO. Every other nation has an IMAGE to worship. A representation that influences the way they THINK about their god.
But not the God of ISRAEL.
Look at the sorts of things the NATIONS do. V16. Don’t become corrupt, says Moses, and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape. Not a man or woman or animal or bird or fish.
V19. Don’t make something that looks like the sun or moon or stars, then bow down and worship it.
Don’t worship them because the TRUE God has GIVEN those things to every nation, as part of his creation. He CREATED them.
Created things aren’t to be worshipped. It’s the complete opposite of the way God established things with Adam and Eve. Humans were made in the likeness and image of God. And they were commanded to rule over created things. (God over humans over creation.)
But ever since the fall, human nature has been to REPLACE our Creator. We turn things upside down. Instead of God making us in his image, and us ruling over created things. We choose to make images of created things, and then to let them rule over us. And in the process ignore God. (creation over humans over God)
It’s not RIGHT says Moses. God spoke with a VOICE ALONE. He’s OUTSIDE and ABOVE created things. No PHYSICAL FORM. He’s UNIQUE.
Therefore, watch yourselves (9-31)
So, how do you RESPOND to the God of Word? The unique God who SPEAKS to you out of fire? Who has the power to speak judgment, and people fall down DEAD?
It’s obvious! VERY CAREFULLY. Back up in v9. Moses says,
9 Only BE CAREFUL, and WATCH YOURSELVES CLOSELY so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
Make sure you do EXACTLY what he says. And never forget it.
He says the same thing down in v15. This time SPECIFICALLY to do with not making any idols of God.
15 You saw NO FORM of any kind the day the LORD SPOKE to you at Horeb out of the fire. THEREFORE WATCH YOURSELVES VERY CAREFULLY, 16 so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape,
Same thing again, over in v23. When you finally make it into the promised land,
23 BE CAREFUL not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden.
And here’s a pretty good reason to be careful. V24.
24 For the LORD your God is A CONSUMING FIRE, A JEALOUS GOD.
Nothing is more important. Nothing less than COMPLETE DEVOTION MEASURES UP to the wonder of what God’s done. Look at all the different ways Moses pleads with the people to pay attention when the God of Word SPEAKS.
Starting at v1 HEAR the laws. FOLLOW them.
V2. Don’t ADD OR SUBTRACT from them. KEEP them.
V4. HOLD FAST to the Lord.
V6. OBSERVE THEM CAREFULLY.
V9. Be careful, watch yourselves closely. Do not forget. Teach them to your children
V10. Learn to REVERE, or respect, God
In every area of life. With every part of your identity. For the whole length of your life. With all your physical and emotional and mental strength.
Over in Ch 6 v4, he summarises it like THIS
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Everything. Do it because he’s UNIQUE. Do it because he’s SPOKEN. Do it because he deserves NOTHING LESS.
è So that the nations may notice (6-8)
And do it (v6) SO THAT THE NATIONS WILL NOTICE. It’s what evangelism looked like in the Old Testament.
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?
A people who honour the God who saved them by FOLLOWING HIM WHOLE-HEARTEDLY. Who look to him in prayerful dependence. What a witness THAT would be!
Who knows what the shape of God’s people would have been if Israel had actually DONE that! Imagine it – Nations flocking into Israel to live out together the justice and compassion and peace of God!
Things could have been SO DIFFERENT!
The reality, however, was that by the end of the Old Testament, the Jews had shrunk to a couple of tribes. The land was ruled by Gentiles. And rather than the nations flocking to Israel, Israel was spread among the nations. Diluted and ineffective.
It would take THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS and THE SENDING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT before the boundaries of God’s people would spread beyond Israel in any significant way. Before God’s people could begin to obey his laws with all their heart.
But at least for the moment, Moses is holding up the ideal before them. Here’s what things COULD LOOK LIKE if you listen carefully to the God who speaks.
It’s easy, isn’t it, to be critical of Israel? To point out all their mistakes and hard-heartedness? But let’s hold up v6-8 as a mirror. Is that a job description WE’VE taken seriously? Observing God’s decrees and laws carefully? So that people will NOTICE?
Do people look at the way WE live, at the way we approach life. At how we treat each other and outsiders. And say to themselves, “Surely this is a wise and understanding people. Surely they follow a great God. When people really live God’s way, life just… WORKS!”
I wonder, what would it take for us to start making THAT sort of impression with people?
The one and only (32-39)
But back to Israel. Moses wants to give them a motivation to listen well. To respond to the one and only God, who’s actions have never been seen before. Down in v32. Look back through history. Look from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened? V33
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 miraculous 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?
Never before, and never since. God, the One and Only. And he did it all, so we might RECOGNISE him for it. v35.
35 You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.
All of it, a visual aid. A teaching point designed to produce a RESPONSE. So people would know that he’s the ONLY God. ALL OTHER CON-tenders are PRE-tenders.
People think it’s a religious smorgasbord out there. Lots of gods. Take your pick – whatever you feel like. But the truth is there’s only ONE GOD ON THE MENU. Take it or leave it.
You don’t get much more politically incorrect than THAT in today’s multi-cultural society. But if you’ve got a problem with it, don’t complain to ME. Take it up with God.
è Therefore, obey
But it’s not enough to just RECOGNISE it. To just BELIEVE it. You’ve got to DO SOMETHING about it. v39
39 ACKNOWLEDGE and TAKE TO HEART this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. 40 KEEP HIS DECREES AND COMMANDS, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time.
Know it. And Consider it. Dwell on it. Let it soak into your nature. God is the ONE AND ONLY. But don’t stop there. SHOW IT, by keeping his commands. Listening to the God of Word. Then DOING it. That’s the way to respond to the only God who’s ever spoken to his people.
How well does that process work FOR YOU? That step between v39 and v40? How well does what you know with YOUR HEAD/ go on and influence YOUR LIFE?
You’ll nod in agreement at all the Heidelberg Catechism questions. You’ll read out the answers with conviction. You’ll say Amen at the end of the prayers. You’ll sing the songs with gusto.
But how’s the connection to Monday morning? To the way you speak to your kids when you’re rushing to get them ready for school? To the choice you make about whether to open the Bible first, or the newspaper? To the way you answer that question at work about how your weekend was? Do you mention church, or do you keep quiet?
How’s the connection between the things you KNOW, and the WAY YOU WORK? The attitude of HUMILITY you show to EVERYONE – CEO and janitor? The sense of JUSTICE you have – whether it’s $5 on the line or five MILLION? The WORK ETHIC you show – whether you’re pay review’s coming up, or whether you’ve been knocked back for the promotion again?
How does the head knowledge impact the things you DESIRE? The things you daydream about? Your priorities? Your credit card statement? Your diary?
Heart, soul, mind and strength says Moses. The one and only God deserves nothing less. Home, work, weekend and holiday. Words and actions and choices and passions.
Acknowledge and take it to heart. Then KEEP HIS DECREES AND COMMANDS.
Has anything so great as this ever happened? Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire AND LIVED?
The God of Word becomes flesh
And if ISRAEL had a spectacular motivation to pay careful attention. We have even GREATER motivation. Because the God of Word didn’t just come and speak out of fire.
The God of Word became the Word of God. The God without shape took on shape. Took on human form and became a man. The God who spoke from the MOUNTAIN/ came DOWN from the mountain/ and spoke from a MOUTH.
John Ch 1 describes it like this.
1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
And then, v14.
14 The Word became FLESH and made his dwelling among us. We have SEEN HIS GLORY, the glory of THE ONE AND ONLY, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The God who refused to allow an image to be made of him/ wrapped flesh around his own son, making him into his PERFECT image. Like Father – like Son.
And humankind have SEEN him. Seen his GLORY. Seen the self-revealing presence of God himself. Just like the glory cloud on the mountain, or in the temple. But BETTER.
Oh, the wonder of grace that God should condescend to show us himself LIKE THAT! V16.
16 From the FULLNESS of his grace we have all received ONE blessing after ANOTHER. 17 For the LAW was given through MOSES (ONE blessing); GRACE AND TRUTH came through JESUS CHRIST (the BETTER blessing). 18 No one has ever seen God, but GOD THE ONE AND ONLY (that’s Jesus), who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
God the Father is the ONLY TRUE GOD. And Jesus is God, his ONE AND ONLY Son. And he’s been SEEN and he’s made the Father known.
How much more should we listen to THAT ONE?!
How much more should we listen to THAT ONE?!
Jump over to Hebrews Ch 12. It’s written to Christian believers, and thinking back to Moses and Israel. Ch 12 v18. And the point is for us to appreciate the PRIVILEGE of what we’ve received in Christ. V18.
18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
THAT was SPECIAL. Moses could say that nothing so great as that had ever happened! But it was so frightening, so holy, so distant. The people could hardly BEAR it. Even Moses shook like a leaf.
Compare that to what we have as Christians. V22.
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
That’s your identity. Your nationality.
That’s your future.
That’s your HOPE. Your Saviour. Your GOD.
So how should you RESPOND to that? Exactly the same way as Israel should have responded. By LISTENING to the God who speaks. Heb 12.25
25 See to it that you DO NOT REFUSE HIM WHO SPEAKS.
Down in v28, we see what that LOOKS LIKE IN PRACTICE.
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken (that’s the picture back in v22-23), let us be THANKFUL, and SO WORSHIP GOD ACCEPTABLY WITH REVERENCE AND AWE,
God has SPOKEN, we are to respond with THANKS AND WORSHIP.
And just like Israel, that acceptable worship is going to show itself in EVERY AREA of LIFE. Because that’s what the one and only God DESERVES.
Acceptable worship is FAR MORE than just turning up to church on Sundays. It’s far more than songs and prayers and standing and sitting.
The chapter divisions in the Bible can help us find things. But at OTHER times they’re UNHELPFUL. And that’s the case here. (At the end of Ch 12 and the beginning of Ch 13). The ORIGINAL letter didn’t have chapters, or headings, or even VERSE NUMBERS. It just flowed straight on.
And chapter 13 is full of examples of what it LOOKS LIKE to worship God acceptably. Follow the logic with me.
SINCE (12:28) we’re receiving a wonderful kingdom.
THEREFORE let us be thankful and worship God acceptably.
WHICH WE DO BY (13:1)
– Loving each other
– v2 Being hospitable
– v3 Looking after the prisoners
– v4 Keep sexually pure
– v5 Be content
– v7 Follow your leaders
And down to v15
Through Jesus, therefore, let us CONTINUALLY offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that confess his name.
More than just songs and prayers on Sunday. God deserves words of praise ALL WEEK. To WHOEVER WE MEET. A sacrifice offered EVERYWHERE, not just in a temple.
And it’s not just WORDS. V16. It’s actions TOO.
16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such SACRIFICES God is pleased.
That’s sacrifices and offerings that will cost you MUCH MORE than what you drop in the collection plate.
Because God DESERVES much more.
The one and only God has SPOKEN. Are you LISTENING?