Proper 17 • Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–9 • September 2, 2012

By Thomas Manteufel

What does the Old Testament portrayal of Israel have to do with us followers of Jesus Christ?
This question may well occur to hearers of this and similar Old Testament lessons. The fact is that when God through Moses addresses Old Testament Israel, he also speaks to us. By way of analogy think of one of C. S. Lewis’s fantasy novels in which some children see a picture of a ship. The picture has marvelous powers, which draw the children into the ship and with it into the land of Narnia to which it is sailing. Now let this text of God’s word draw us in and make us part of this picture here of God speaking to the people he had delivered from bondage and calling them to lives consecrated to him. That is the objective of this study and this sermon.

Does this text, then, require Christians to keep all the statutes and rules of Moses, including the ceremonial laws?
The followers of the Messiah in New Testament times are obligated to keep the moral requirements, not the ceremonial and political regulations which were given to the Israelite nation in the period before the Messianic Kingdom—e.g., Rom 13:9–10; Col 2:16–17; Mk 7:18–23 (the Gospel for the day); Mt 19:5–8. Disobedience to the moral commands is an “abomination” for people of all nations, and all need to hear a warning against bending or ignoring them and forgetting God (Dt 4:2, 9) through the perversity of the wayward heart (Mk 7:23). In the Deuteronomy 4 discourse Moses warns of God’s wrath and punishment when the heart turns away from him (v. 27), urging the people to remember the sad results of the Baal worship and sexual immorality at Peor (v. 3; cf. Nm 25:1–9).

What is God’s attitude toward his people?
While he makes his demands and threats of wrath very clear, his people also know of his readiness to forgive the penitent, as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex 34:6). He wants to be known as Israel’s God and to act as such (Dt 4:2ff; Ex 6:7), just as he was Abraham’s God (Gn 17:7–8). He wants to be known as the deliverer of Israel—in the exodus and throughout Israel’s communion with him, setting them free from their troubles, including sin (Ex 20:2; Dt 4:20; Ps 34:17; 8–9). He wants to continue to love them in the same way he loved Abraham and all the fathers (Dt 4:37–38; 7:7–8; Jer 31:3).

Is the Lord near to us as he was near to Israel?
He was “near” to the faithful (Dt 4:7), accepting them in love and dwelling with them to benefit and help them (Lv 26:11–12). He was “near” to those broken-hearted over troubles and sins to give comfort and aid (Ps 34:18), “near” to those under assault from those who were “far” from him (Ps 119:150–51). Furthermore, he promised them a saving Messiah, who would be Immanuel, “God with us”—the ultimate in nearness (Is 7:14). This was Jesus, God with man in human flesh (Mt 1:23; Jn 1:14). He is indeed near to all who trust in him for salvation and spiritual restoration, who know him as the great deliverer and Savior (2 Tm 1:19; 1 Thes 1:10), who have met divine love in him (1 Jn 4:15–16, 19). He, with the Father and the Spirit, are near to us (Jn 14:16–17, 23), and abiding in him we can joyfully bear the fruit of obedience for which Deuteronomy 4 calls (Jn 15:5–11).

So is there a link between the Christian church and Israel?
All who trust in Jesus as the Messiah and Savior are branches which have been grafted into the “olive tree” of Israel, God’s people, while those who do not believe are broken off and must be called to believe and be grafted in (Rom 11:17–24). The believers are spiritually the children of Abraham (Gal 3:7–9) and can confidently rely on the promises given to Israel of deliverance and of God’s love and nearness. God’s dwelling with his people is a reality for them (2 Cor 6:16–17). This is a message and viewpoint which is a pleasure to pass on to our children. So where is faithful Israel now? In the hearts of believers in Christ (according to St. Paul).

Suggested Outline

Christians and Israel
Introduction: Why should Christian believers spend time on the words of this text about Old Testament Israel?

  1. We need to hear that the God who commanded Israel to obey also requires it of us
    • The righteous and just laws call for a right relation with God (v. 8*)
    • Forgetfulness and disobedience toward God and His will deserve wrath (vv. 9, 23)
  2. We need to know that the God of Old Testament Israel is also our God
    • He is also near to us (v. 7)
    • We, too, have a wondrous heritage to transmit to coming generations (v. 9)

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