The God of Great Power
Sunday School Lesson for December 9, 2001
Focal Teaching Passage: Deuteronomy 4:32-40
An Affirmation of Godís Incomparable Greatness (4:32-40)
In this section of chapter four Moses calls the Israelites to reflect upon Godís great deeds in the pastóin "the former days. . . from the day God created man on the earth"ówhich have served to make known His character, nature, and sovereign power. The purpose for this reflection was to impress upon this new generation of Israelites both the absolute incomparability of Yahweh and His magnificent sovereignty as the one true God. Ultimately the apprehension of these truths would lead them to faithful and obedient living as the chosen and unique people of God.
In the course of these two verses, which are "without comparison as a discourse on the doctrine of God," Moses raises three questions designed to cause the Israelites to reflect upon the greatness of their God (Eugene Merrill, Deuteronomy, The New American Commentary, Vol. 4, 72):
The purpose for such displays of divine sovereignty and infinite power was two-fold. In the first place, Yahweh acted as He did in order that the Israelites might "know that the Lord is God" and that "besides Him there is no other." The events which God had brought about in the history of Israel were not "incidental, random, or even self-justifying but rather were accomplished for pedagogical and salvific purposes" (Merrill, 131). It was through these very actions that God would make Himself more fully known to His people. Thus, every divine act, every release of sovereign power, and each display of Godís presence was in order to disclose something of the divine nature to the elect nation. More specifically, Israel herself would become convinced that there was only one God worthy of worship, obedience, and love. Such knowledge would, theoretically at least, keep them committed to the exclusive worship of Yahweh. It should be remembered that the knowledge of God, or lack thereof, is a recurring theme in the later prophets who scolded the people of God for their lack of such theological understanding.
Secondly, God had so revealed Himself to the Israelites in order that He might "discipline" them. That is, it was not simply "monotheistic enlightenment" but ethical transformation that God desired for His people (Wright, 56). According to the Bible, the knowledge of God and ethical reformation are inseparable. As Wright reminds us, this is repeated with particular clarity in the book of Jeremiah (56):
This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD.
Thus, Godís mighty acts in history also serve to train ("discipline") the people of the covenant nation to live radically holy lives patterned after their covenant Lord.
These verses answer an important question regarding the motive behind Godís powerful actions on behalf of Israel. What had caused or motivated God to act in such a glorious way? Why was Israel afforded "favored nation" status? Was it that Israel deserved such favor? Was it that they proved to be a superior or more worthy nation than others in existence at that time? The answer is certainly none of the above. It was, according to this passage, simply a matter of Godís gracious choice. Here Moses asserts that Godís great love for the "forefathers" of Israel was based upon His sovereign choice of their "descendents." At this point we must understand that the terms "loved" and "chose" are virtually synonymous in meaning. Both are expressions of a sovereign grace that is dispensed to those who are unworthy and unable to earn such favor. Therefore, it was because of the choice of Israel by God that He acted in history to redeem them from certain destruction at the hands of Pharoah. Merrill comments:
The exodus and even the ensuing covenant did not make Israel the people of the Lord. Rather, it was because they were his people by virtue of having been descended from the patriarchs, the objects of his love and choice, that he was moved to save and enter into covenant with them (133).
Later in the book of Deuteronomy this same theme will be stressed again with even greater force:
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 and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
As we come to the New Testament revelation we see very same emphasis in Paul:
1 Corinthians 1:26-29
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-- and the things that are not-- to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.
Verse 38 stresses that the redemption from Egypt was not all that God had accomplished for His covenant children. Having rescued them from death, He then, in keeping with the promises made to Abraham (Gen. 13:14-18; 15:18-21), determined to provide them with their own "land" as an "inheritance." Since it would be theirs by virtue of divine grant, the hand of God would summarily drive out all other "greater and stronger" nations. God would not only give them a land, but would see to it that they could actually possess it by defeating all their enemies.
The section concludes with Mosesí announcement of the proper response to such covenant blessings. In light of Godís elective love and gracious actions on behalf of His people, Moses orders the Israelites to "keep his decrees and commands." Again we note that that the knowledge of Godó"acknowledge. . . that the Lord is God in heaven"óshould lead directly to faithful and loving obedience on the part of His subjects. Donald F. Ackland reminds us that difficulties often associated with the doctrine of election "become less acute when we realize that God did not choose Israelóor usóto be His pampered favorites but to be the instruments of His purpose" (45). Accordingly, it is by means of such ethical excellence that God is glorified and honored as the only true, eternal God. This purpose will be explicitly stated in chapter seven:
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.
In addition, those who keep the Law of God out of a spirit of gratitude for His abundant mercies will experience the great blessings of spiritual prosperity and long life "in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time." Therefore, not only will Godís purposes be realized and His people blessed, but also the nations of the world will behold the evidence of His uniqueness and glory as the one true God, thus fulfilling the "missionary" component of the original Abrahamic covenantó"in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:3). Christopher Wright concludes:
If Godís people abandon their ethical distinctiveness by forgetfulness, idolatry, or disobedience, then not only do they jeopardize their own well-being (v.40), they also frustrate the broader purposes of the God who brought them into existence by electing love and out of darkness by redeeming power (58).
A Summary of the Key Points in This Section
One: God is an awesome God. His incomparable glory and unequalled power have been uniquely revealed by means of His special actions in the history of Israelís redemption.
Two: The nation of Israel was blessed with indescribable privileges. Though they were unworthy sinners, they were chosen and loved by God and made to be His covenant nation.
Three: The blessings of the knowledge of God granted to the covenant nation were accompanied by solemn responsibilities. Specifically, the covenant people were called to be holy in all of life as a reflection of the holiness and moral excellence of their sovereign God.
Major Themes for Application and Discussion
One: The benefits of a "long memory" when it comes to the works and wonders of God.
We have seen that the practice of recalling Godís great acts in the past serves to strengthen the faith of His children in the present. How can believers today "remember" the great deeds of God?
Two: The freedom and security of resting in the unchanging love of God.
Scripture repeatedly calls us to contemplate the greatness of Godís love for us in Christ (c.f. 1 John 3:1). Why? What effect should this knowledge have upon us? How does recognizing Godís eternal love for His children help us serve Him more faithfully?
Three: The imperative of holiness for those who are saved by grace.
Is it possible to be a true child of God by faith in Christ and remain unchanged and unconcerned about holiness? Can you find scriptural support for your answer?
Four: The responsibility of bearing witness to Godís glory, grace, and power.
Our passage has reminded us that God redeems us in order to save and bless others with the gift of eternal life. In this regard, every Christian is a "missionary." Do you think most believers understand this concept? In light of this, what should be our attitude toward the culture in which we live? Are we to see ourselves always "at war" with the culture, or is there a better approach that might open more doors for evangelism?