Deuteronomy 5: 1 - 4 :: "But With Us"by Ed de la Cour on April 14, 2013
Deuteronomy 5: 1 - 4 :: "But With Us"
By Ed de la Cour
Everywhere we look we see signs of our decreasing ability to maintain focus. You might recall how the Russian Pavlov discovered conditioned reflex and trained his dogs to respond to the sound of a bell. Ever since then, the ice cream truck has achieved great success calling children with the sound of its little bells. Now, our phones have beeps, chirps, buzzes and bells to alert us to a text, a Facebook message, or an incoming email. Some of us carry pagers. It used to be it was only at McDonalds that would we hear the beeps and whistles to indicate the fries were done. Now, whatever we are doing - working, reading the Bible, talking with our families, if some bell or distraction goes off, we are instantly pulled away.
Distractions surround us and impact us throughout life. Our most important relationships are rendered secondary by whatever is allowed to interrupt. We need to be constantly reminded that God has called us to Himself, and that is my privilege today. I want to declare to you that in Christ God moved heaven and earth to accomplish redemption for us! Listen – that is the most important headline in the world and worthy of full attention. But we are all so busy, so taken up with the stuff of life. We will be careful to remember to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we forget and fail to give to God what is His. That failure has significant consequences. Chief among them is increasing distraction and inability to focus on the things of God as well as the things of lie.
And so, as I was innocently reading in Deuteronomy this week, I was struck by the words at the beginning of chapter 5.
Let me set the stage quickly. Moses had been forbidden to cross the Jordan and set foot in the Promised Land. At this point, Israel had spent forty long years marching around in the desert, and they were ready to make the crossing into Canaan. Before that would happen, God led Moses to rehearse the recent history of Israel and to declare the Law of God to all of Israel once more. You see in the first verse, “Moses summoned all Israel and said:” Deuteronomy is the retelling of the Law. The pertinent part of this passage, and that that grabbed my attention, is in verse 3: “It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today.” When Moses spoke those words, almost everyone who had stood at Sinai and who had been present when Moses received the Law of God had already died. Their bodies littered the desert of Sinai. The Law was given forty years ago.
Why did Moses say God made the covenant with them and not their fathers? God certainly did enter into covenant with their fathers. But God is so good! Although God has a long memory, He knows we tend to forget what God has done in our lives. We are the ones who are so easily distracted. We are the ones who are pulled away. We are the ones who are taken aside by anything and everything that might seem more important at the moment.
When you have a small child who is easily distracted, you take the child and help him focus his attention, making him pay attention to what you are saying, not allowing him to be carried away by loud sounds, bright colors, or any other thing. Only in that way is communication possible.
Because, like small children, we are so easily distracted, God’s way of entering into a relationship with us is one that precludes anything and everything else. He focuses our attention, sometimes literally taking hold of us so we cannot be distracted. He will allow us to entertain no other gods. Our God is not the kind of god who will happily permit us to look to other gods because our God is a jealous God. Friends, God will own you outright or not at all.
But God is good. God wants every one of His children to know that He is not interested in religious observances. Many of us use the facts of religion and the knowledge of the Bible as a substitute to knowing God. God is interested in a relationship with you. The covenant – God’s promises to Israel and their commitment to worship Him alone - is the most basic and deepest declaration of that relationship. God made His covenant with you, not with someone else.
Even though God was dealing with the nation, He was also speaking personally to the people who made up the nation of Israel. The covenant God made was “with us.” That’s the language of a personal relationship with God and not a relationship based only on having a priest. Priests were part of the old covenant, but they are not part of what God did for us in Jesus. Because Jesus Himself is our priest, God can still say, “but with us.” Jesus Himself intercedes with the Father on our behalf. So often we act as though we need to find someone to “do” our Christian life for us. Maybe the pastor can pray… say the grace… pray for my Mom. Here is some truth: no one else, no one other than you can live your life for Jesus. No one but you can build that relationship. I cannot read your Bible for you. I can’t engage in prayer for you. I cannot grow to maturity in your place. You have to build that friendship with God. No one else can relate to God in your place. No one can be like an Old Testament priest for you. A relationship with God is God’s gift to you because God is good and He loves you.
God made His covenant with you and me personally, and so we cannot rely on what God did in the lives of those who have gone before us. Many people believe America is a blessed nation, that God oversaw its founding and that He blesses us still. There is a problem with the implications of that way of thinking. God was certainly working in the hearts of many of our founders. The Pilgrims left the certainties of the Old Word for the strangeness and dangers of the wilderness of the American frontier. But God worked His covenant love in their hearts. Read the Mayflower Compact. Those people recognized and depended on their God for life and sustenance. God is utterly faithful, and certainly His blessings have lingered. All of what we enjoy in America today is the result of God’s gracious hand on their lives. But we cannot relax and presume about what God did in the lives of our fathers. It was not with our forefathers that God is dealing, but with us. God may have made certain covenants with them, but those were not lasting covenants. Not only is His faithfulness new every morning, but indeed His covenant promises with us are new every morning also. God makes His covenant with you today. There is also a sense of immediacy about a relationship with God that complements the eternal nature of His covenant with us.
To live with disregard for the things of God or to allow distraction to keep us spiritually disoriented and confused is to admit, we are guilty of presuming on God’s grace! We presume that, just because God has always blessed America, He will continue to bless faithfully, with no regard for the way we live. Like spoiled children, we say, “God, you have to protect America. You must take care of us.”
But God says, I made my covenant with you, not your fathers. Where is your eagerness to seek My face? Where is your desire to magnify My name? Why are you silent when the name of God is ridiculed in the street? Don’t look back on the founding fathers – they cannot save you for what you are failing to do today. Don’t blame God for the judgments that are falling on us because He invited us to love Him with a single heart and we got distracted.
God made His covenant with us because He loves us. For example, part of the covenant is observing the Sabbath. I have never been a legalist about Sabbath observance, but think about this: every one of us wants to able to shop or work or do anything we want seven days a week. The gods we serve never take a day off. The gods we serve want us to work our hearts and minds to the bone. The gods we serve want to wear us out with stress, worry and fear. But our God is good and our God loves us. Only the God of the Bible is able to bring His children to a place of rest and green pasture. Only our God will lead us beside quiet waters and restore our souls. But we won’t talk about rest as a good thing. We make it sound as though by resting God was preventing us from achieving our full potential! But the truth is that by living in covenant with God, He has given us an opportunity to experience His goodness first hand. Part of that goodness is found in obeying the command to rest.
God made His covenant with us because He loves us. God’s love is like no other love. In Isaiah 49: 15 - 16, God declares, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has born? Though she may forget, I will never forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands.” You may find it unimaginable to think a mother or a father might forget their child, yet it happens. Although it may be inconceivable for the bond created in the womb to be somehow severed, it does happen. How often have we complained because we think we have been forgotten, that God or man has failed us? God says, His love is greater than the inconceivable. God’s love is deeper than the unimaginable.
God says He has your name engraved on the palms of His hands. When we were kids, some of us wrote on our hands because sometimes we cheated on tests. But what we wrote was in ink and eventually it washed off. Not so with our God who loves us! He engraved your name. Your name is indelibly carved into His hand. He will not forget you! God did not make His covenant with a generic mob of nameless and faceless people. He knows you. He knows you by name. He called you, and He loves you.
The New Covenant God made at the cross on which Jesus died is not like the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was literally carved in stone. Because Israel broke that covenant, God determined He would make a new and more lasting covenant. In Jeremiah 31: 33, God says, “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” God loves you! He is not going to write His intentions for your life in stone. Instead, God will use the soft and malleable, teachable flesh of the human heart. Our God is not cold or impersonal, but He is intentionally intimate. Placing God’s heart in your heart - this is the language of love.
We are His people! You can just hear the heart of the proud Father, that loving Dad as He pronounces those last words: “I will be their God and they will be my people!”
Are we so easily distracted because we are thousands of years removed from the Cross of Jesus and the empty tomb? No – we came to faith one day and Jesus was powerfully real to us then. He forgave us, He delivered us, He changed our hearts, and then we began to walk through life with Jesus by our side. We started a relationship that changed at least some of the way we live. We stopped offering ourselves to immorality. We stopped engaging in destructive behaviors.
What happened to our journey into personal holiness? Did it end when we stopped hearing God speak? Why did His voice stop? Did He stop speaking, or did we stop listening? Did the changes God was making in our lives cease when we decided it was easier and less complicated to listen to the voices of this world?
We are all easily distracted. We are easily and quickly drawn away from our Savior. I know that when a small child needs to be re-focused, sometimes the re-focusing becomes quite unpleasant for the child as well as for the parent. Perhaps God is using the circumstances of our lives to gain our attention. As He holds our faces in His hands – on which our names are engraved – He uses those circumstances in our lives to help us focus our attention where it needs to be. Can any of us deny our circumstances have come to a point where we can see God is calling us to set aside everything that hinders, everything that entangles, and everything which distracts and allow His Spirit to draw us back to Himself? It’s time for us to make that decision to grow up, to put on our big boy shoes and our big girl shoes and say, “No” to the distractions that are keeping us away. Friends, God loves us. He came into this world in Jesus to create a relationship, not with somebody else, but with us.
Edmund C. de la Cour, Jr.