August 12, 2013 David Balzer

Deuteronomy 5-11: The God who initiates

Isaac had loved Amy for ages. And when he decided he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, he wanted to propose marriage in a BIG way. Completely unexpected.

So, in 2012, in Portland, Oregon, over the course of months, he designed and planned the ULTIMATE marriage proposal. A HUGE GESTURE of LOVE.

Pretty impressive, wasn’t it? It involved months of planning. Over 70 family and friends. As you saw, it included choreographed dance moves, video cameras, laptops, signs, props, costumes and even a marching band.

All to show Amy the depth of his love. All so that she might RESPOND with love and a heartfelt YES to his proposal.


Grace before works

A little like God’s relationship with Israel. He’d taken the initiative. He’d done the work. The relationship had been established. Israel’s job was simply to RESPOND. To live out the relationship they already had.

It might SEEM like Deuteronomy is full of LAW. One REALLY LONG sermon of rules and regulations. Of how to please God. And that’s TRUE.

But what’s often missed is Moses’ emphasis that it’s GOD who’s taking the initiative. GOD who’s proposing. He’s done all the work. He’s made the commitment. In a HUGE way.

He’s CALLED them. He’s SAVED them. He’s made them into his people. And made a covenant with them. All before they’ve done anything to earn it, or deserve it, or play THEIR part. GRACE BEFORE WORKS.

And it’s only AFTER his action, that he wants a response. To obey his commands ONCE THEY’VE BEEN SAVED. Good works in RESPONSE to salvation. Not to EARN salvation.

Which sounds familiar. Because it’s exactly the way God works in the New Testament TOO. It’s the way he’s ALWAYS worked. Let me show you how it works in Deuteronomy.

At the start of Ch 5, Moses summons the people to hear how God wants them to live. What life will look like in the promised land. And he reminds them of what God said from Mt Sinai. There in v6.

6 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

God announces who he is. He’s THE LORD. Many of you know that LORD in capitals is the way English Bibles translate God’s NAME, Yahweh, or Jehovah. It’s his COVENANT name. The name HIS PEOPLE can call him by. He revealed it to Moses himself.

Jews think God’s name is so holy they can’t even SAY IT. So when they read Yahweh in their Hebrew Scriptures, they say “Adonai” instead. Which means LORD. And that’s the way we translate Yahweh.

So, God announces WHO HE IS. And then he announces what his RELATIONSHIP is to Israel. He’s THEIR God. “I am Yahweh, YOUR God.” No one else’s. You ONLY.

And then he adds what he’s DONE for them. How he’s SHOWN that he’s Israel’s God. “Who brought you out of Egypt. Out of the land of slavery.”

He initiates the relationship. He becomes Israel’s God, and makes them his people. He saves FIRST. Then asks for response SECOND. Which begins in v7. The Ten Commandments. How Israel are to respond to THEIR God, who SAVES them.

We’ll come back to those in a moment. But let me show you how the pattern continues. God INITIATES, his people RESPOND.

Over in Ch 6 v20. Moses says, In the future, when your son asks you what the meaning is of all the laws they keep. You’re to say (v21)

“We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the LORD sent miraculous signs and wonders


But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers.

God acts FIRST, then (v24) OBEDIENCE comes SECOND.

24 The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive

God acts FIRST, we RESPOND. He saves for a purpose. So that his people can OBEY him.

It’s the same thing again in Ch 7. Israel are to drive out the nations. Have nothing to do with them. Show no mercy. Don’t inter-marry. Smash their idols and altars.

But look at what came FIRST. V6.

(Burn their idols in the fire). 6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God HAS CHOSEN YOU OUT OF ALL THE PEOPLES on the face of the earth to be HIS people, his TREASURED POSSESSION.

They have no other gods BECAUSE God’s chosen them to be his. Saved FIRST. Good works SECOND.

And just in case Israel were tempted to think he’d done it because of their WORTHINESS – some innate goodness or suitability – Moses quickly puts them in their place. V7

7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand

Nothing to do with them. It’s all about God’s LOVE, not Israel’s LOVELINESS.

And I could show you MORE examples. I’ve listed them there in the notes if you’re interested. But I hope you’ve got the point. God BEGINS the relationship. He chooses, he calls, he saves. He makes a people. Our response is simply TO FOLLOW. We obey BECAUSE God made us his. He doesn’t make us his because we OBEY.

And that puts a very different spin on the ten commandments. Back in Ch 5. He said, “I am Yahweh, YOUR God. Who BROUGHT YOU OUT OF EGYPT. Here’s how to RESPOND to me.”

The ten commandments don’t BRING YOU INTO the covenant. They GIVE EXPRESSION to the covenant God’s ALREADY made.

Number One. V7. Have no other Gods before him. Obvious really. He’s your God, you’re his people. So don’t have any other gods.

Same with number TWO. No idols. Not of GOD, or of anything ELSE.

And number THREE flows right on from it. v11. “Don’t take the LORD’S name in vain”. It’s often taken to mean something about SPEAKING his name in a wrong way.

But a literal way of translating the Hebrew is “Don’t bear (or carry) the LORD’s name EMPTILY (or worthlessly).” I quite like that because it lifts this commandment to a whole new level. He’s YOUR God, you’re his servant who bears his name – or who WEARS HIS OWNERSHIP. Don’t take that LIGHTLY. Live that out WORTHILY.

In Isaiah 44, God looks forward to the day when that will happen. To the day when his Spirit will bring life to his people. To the day (v5) when

5 One will say, ‘I belong to the LORD’;

another will call himself by the name of Jacob;

still another will write on his hand, ‘The LORD’s,’

and will take the name Israel.

Bearing his name means belonging to him. Don’t do that LIGHTLY, or FLIPPANTLY. Live that OUT! Which is what the REST of the commandments are about.

V12. Rest on the seventh day. Keep it HOLY. And not just YOU. Your whole household. Kids. Servants. Even ANIMALS. Treat those under you with compassion, says God (v15), because YOU used to be slaves. And God treated YOU with compassion when he rescued you.

God acted FIRST. You respond.

That’s what it means to bear God’s name WORTHILY. To reflect him in your dealings with people. To value OTHERS the way God valued YOU.

Including PARENTS. V16. Honour them. Value them.

And v17. Value human life. Don’t MURDER.

V18. Value MARRIAGE. No adultery. No sexual relationships outside of marriage.

V19. Value the PROPERTY of others. Don’t steal.

V20. Value JUSTICE for others. Don’t lie against your neighbour. Don’t commit perjury in court to gain an advantage.

And, finally, v21, value your neighbour’s SECURITY. Work at building TRUST across the fence in the community. Keep your eyes to yourself. Keep them off his wife, or his house, or land, or servants, or animals.

That’s the way to bear his name WORTHILY. In ALL of life. He’s ACTED FIRST. Made you his people. Now respond APPROPRIATELY.

Moses goes on to expand on what ALL OF LIFE means. Into Ch 6. v4. “Hear, O Israel, The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

Another way to translate it is, “Yahweh is OUR God, Yahweh ALONE.” And THAT means in EVERY AREA of LIFE. From the innermost to the outermost. (v5) “LOVE Yahweh your God

with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength

There’s got to be PERSONAL transformation. In every part of your life.. With everything you’ve got. Write in on your innermost being. V6. On your HEART.

But not just PERSONAL. In EVERY area of life. Make his laws central in YOUR FAMILY. V7.

7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up..

But not just in your FAMILY. Make them a PUBLIC matter TOO. God’s law should transform SOCIETY.

8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Jews today take v8 LITERALLY. But it’s probably meant to be a METAPHOR. Make God’s laws central to the work of your HANDS. And they’ve got to impact your THINKING. The decisions you make about money and family and priorities.

And v9 is about God’s laws impacting your FAMILY LIFE. Your doorframes – so you see them going out and coming in. Flavouring how you raise your kids, how you honour your parents, and respect your wife, and treat your slaves.

And his laws have to influence WHOLE TOWNS. The gates refers to the CITY gates. Where business took place. Where judges delivered verdicts. God’s law needed to be reflected in the justice and fairness of THE WHOLE SOCIETY. In buying and selling, and law courts and witnesses and trials.

It was a wonderful vision. Society and families really WOULD be different if people lived out God’s law like THAT.

What about us?

(pause) But that was Israel. A different PEOPLE. In a different PLACE, In a different TIME. Under a different COVENANT. But what about US? What do the Ten Commandments have to say to Australian society TODAY?

a. The ten commandments are for God’s people

Let me say, first, that Western civilisation has much to thank the Ten Commandments for. The good ordering of society, principles of law and justice – many of the specific laws themselves- come from the Bible.

And society works BEST when it follows God’s laws as summarised in the Ten Commandments. INDIVIDUALS have a better life, as a general rule, when they follow the Ten Commandments.

Having said THAT though, there’s one logical consequence of my main point. If grace comes FIRST, and works comes SECOND. (If God MAKES a people, and THEN commands them.) Then that means THE TEN COMMANDMENTS AREN’T FOR UNBELIEVERS. God doesn’t EXPECT them to obey it. It’s not for THEIR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

God is no more pleased that “Joe the unbeliever” keeps the Sabbath than he DOESN’T. It’s neither here nor there to God if he or marries his girlfriend, rather than lives with her.

Joe’s BIG problem is that he’s a rebel and a sinner and God’s enemy. What God wants is his repentance and humility. Not his good works.

The Bible commentator Daniel Block makes this comment, “The problem with western society is NOT that people do not keep the 10 commandments; it is that most have never left Egypt (They’re not God’s people – he hasn’t saved them). It is UNREALISTIC and UNBIBLICAL to EXPECT THOSE WHO HAVE NOT BEEN REDEEMED to live according to the principles and commitments of the redeemed. They have neither the motivation nor the indwelling Spirit to empower them to do so.” 172

Good works are what he expects of HIS people. Look at what Moses says in Deut 6:25.

25 And if WE are careful to obey all this law before the LORD OUR God, as he has commanded us, that will be OUR righteousness.”

Obedience will SHOW that we are his people. Rightly connected to him. If we obey him BECAUSE of his grace.

But it doesn’t work with NON-BELIEVERS. God wants their repentance FIRST.

Let’s preach THE GOSPEL to the world. And not judge their lifestyle or moral choices. Let’s not focus on WORKS. Because that comes SECOND, not FIRST.

I wonder if Christians would have a better name in the media, and be ridiculed less as bigoted and judgemental, if, like Moses, we did a better job of preaching GRACE, not WORKS. Preaching THE GOSPEL before we preached the RESPONSE to the gospel.

b. preach grace not works

And that’s the application I want to make when it comes to CHRISTIANS, TOO. Preach grace, not works.

It’s a complicated question – how the Christian is to relate to the Law. And we’ll focus on it NEXT WEEK. But let me say ONE thing today.

God hasn’t changed. He’s STILL the God who initiates. Who shows grace before works. Whether it was through Moses for Israel. Or through Jesus for US. Ephesians 2 v8

8 For it is by GRACE you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 NOT BY WORKS, so that no one can boast.

Grace comes FIRST. Salvation doesn’t depend on our good works. Our WORTHINESS. It’s all about trusting, instead, the works OF JESUS. On our behalf.

But once that happens. Look at what comes NEXT. ONCE we’re saved. V10.

10 For we are God’s WORKMANSHIP, created in Christ Jesus TO DO GOOD WORKS, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

God showed us grace – he called us and saved us through Jesus FOR A PURPOSE. TO DO GOOD WORKS. To live out his justice and mercy and goodness and love in our relationships with people around us. JUST LIKE ISRAEL.

And that means that has to be OUR MESSAGE TOO. We have to preach GRACE, not LEGALISM. Too often, either in preaching from pulpits or just as Christians talk to non-Christians, we get things back to front. We put the cart before the horse.

We focus on ACTIONS, rather than ATTITUDE. We concentrate so much on what WE SHOULD DO for God, and so little on what God has done for US, that we’re really just preaching LEGALISM..

Whether it be Old Testament legalism or New Testament legalism. Old Testament legalism like keeping the ten commandments. Not working on the Sabbath. Not lying or stealing. Honouring our parents.

Or whether it’s New Testament legalism. You see, we’re also pretty good at expecting rule-keeping from THE NEW TESTAMENT TOO. At expecting that TRUE Christian conduct will LOOK like a certain thing.

Regular attendance at church, especially at the Lord’s Supper, tithing, membership of a Bible study group, active in personal evangelism, regular quiet times.

And those who don’t conform, well, perhaps their very salvation is in question! The way we preach sermon application, we almost make these things a CONDITION of our salvation, rather than the FRUIT. And it’s not BIBLICAL!

Listen instead to a BIBLICAL emphasis on what drives our good works. Rom 12:1

12:1 THEREFORE, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-

BECAUSE of everything that’s come before in Romans. All that God’s done to SAVE you. All his mercies. Offer your bodies as living sacrifices. Good works done in response to grace.

Or what about Titus 2:11-14?

11 For the GRACE OF GOD THAT BRINGS SALVATION has APPEARED to all men (pause). 12 It TEACHES us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,

Grace comes FIRST. And that TEACHES us to respond with good works. With godly lives.

Or look at what comes next. Same thing AGAIN. V13

13 while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 WHO GAVE HIMSELF FOR US to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, EAGER TO DO WHAT IS GOOD.

Jesus GAVE himself to purify a people. What for? So they’d be EAGER TO DO GOOD WORKS. Grace first, Works IN RESPONSE.

I need to emphasise GRACE. To describe the riches of God’s mercies as ATTRACTIVELY and COMPREHENSIVELY as I can. So we can LOVE Jesus more. Heart, soul, mind and strength.

And that we’ll live it out in good works.

Grace first can lead to pitfalls

And BECAUSE we’ve been shown grace. Just like Israel. Moses has warnings for us. About the pitfalls that come from living with grace. The TRAPS. God’s saved Israel, and brought them into the land FIRST. He’s ALREADY MADE them his people. THEN he expects their obedience. Same as US.

And it’s human nature to lose the incentive to keep your side of the bargain when you’ve already GOT what you want. It’s why you never pay a tradesman until he’s finished the job. If there’s nothing in it for him anymore, he’ll just keep putting off FINISHING.

And once the people are IN the land, Moses knows their natural reaction will be to lose interest in obeying God. And we can learn from Moses AS WELL. Because we’re tempted to take grace for granted. To treat it with contempt.

The pitfall of prosperity-pride

So the first pitfall Moses warns them of is of PROSPERITY-PRIDE. Of forgetting God, and thinking THEY’VE EARNED all the good things they’ve got. Look at Ch 6 v10.

10 When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you–a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant–then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Don’t be PROUD. God’s BROUGHT you into the land. He’s given you everything. You didn’t build ANY of it. Remember the LORD. It’s HIS work, not yours.

But Moses doesn’t just WARN. He gives the ANTIDOTE to performance-pride. Over in Ch 8. Look BACK, he says. V16.

16 He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to HUMBLE and to test you SO THAT IN THE END IT MIGHT GO WELL WITH YOU. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 BUT REMEMBER THE LORD YOUR GOD, FOR IT IS HE WHO GIVES YOU THE ABILITY TO PRODUCE WEALTH, and so confirms his covenant,

Look BACK. God taught you HUMILITY in the desert. Everything comes from his hand. It’s ALL of grace. HIS work, not YOURS. So don’t fall into the trap of forgetting God – of thinking you don’t need him any more – when you become PROSPEROUS.

Same FOR US. Look back. Focus on the cross. Confess your sin. Focus on Jesus’ perfection. Everything you have comes from God. Count your blessings. And be THANKFUL. There’s nothing for you to be PROUD about. So, continue to live in humble dependence.

The pitfall of peer-pressure (7:1-6, 17-25)

Second pitfall is there in Ch 7. The PITFALL OF PEER PRESSURE. No problem when they were out in the desert. All on their own. But the promised land would be different. There the nations around will lead you astray says Moses. You’ll see their gods and their temples. Life will seem to be going so well for them. And you’ll be tempted to CONFORM. To JOIN IN. To inter-marry. To make life just that little bit FULLER.

But Moses’ is clear about the ANTIDOTE to peer –pressure. DESTROY IT. Cut it off. Don’t let it influence you. Have nothing to DO with them.

Jesus said a SIMILAR thing. If your right hand causes you to sin, CUT IT OFF. Don’t let it INFLUENCE you. Be BRUTAL. FLEE temptation.

And Moses gives the REASON there in v6 of Ch 7.

6 For you are a people HOLY to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

He’s called you out to be SEPARATE. So be DIFFERENT, uninfluenced, even while you live among them. Whether in Canaan, or Ashfield.

The pitfall of performance-pride 9:4-6; 10:12-16)

The third pitfall is over in Ch 9. It’s the pitfall of PERFORMANCE-PRIDE. Of thinking that God LOVES you because you’re LOVELY. That he gave you everything because you DESERVED it. Ch 9 v4.

4 After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the WICKEDNESS OF THESE NATIONS that the LORD is going to drive them out before you.

Or down in v6.

6 Understand, then, that it is not because of your RIGHTEOUSNESS that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a STIFF-NECKED PEOPLE.

It’s the problem with mistaking GRACE for PAYMENT. For thinking that you’ve received something because you’ve EARNED it. Rather than because it’s a GIFT.

Don’t be PROUD. Don’t compare yourself to OTHERS. Don’t be STIFF-NECKED. THAT’S what comes naturally. Not righteousness. The reality is Israel had a long history of being STIFF-NECKED. Of wilfully doing things THEIR way, rather than God’s way.

Moses WARNS them against performance-pride. And he gives them THE ANTIDOTE. 10:16. The remedy to spiritual stiff necks. And it’s just as anatomically impossible as the illness. Circumcise your hearts. 10:15.

15 Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. 16 CIRCUMCISE YOUR HEARTS, therefore, and DO NOT BE STIFF-NECKED ANY LONGER.

A circumcised heart is the OPPOSITE of a stiff neck. It’s about turning from a heart-orientation of pride and self-interest, and turning to God, in humility and loving commitment and obedience.

That’s the way to overcome performance pride.

Focus on God. On his character. On his goodness and grace. Focus on all that he’s done for us in Jesus. Heart circumcision. Preach grace not works TO YOURSELF. That’s the motivation to humility and gratitude. The motivation to RESPOND to him with loving obedience.

Look at how MOSES directs their attention to God’s goodness. Preaching GRACE to them. Deut 10:16-22

16 CIRCUMCISE YOUR HEARTS, THEREFORE, AND DO NOT BE STIFF-NECKED ANY LONGER. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. 20 Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

God has acted FIRST. He’s made you HIS. Now fear and serve him in loving and obedient RESPONSE.

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