At last I am beginning to be able to sit at the computer for more extended times. My recovery from surgery and internal infection has been very slow and is not finished yet, but I can bear to stay away from Deuteronomy no longer.
In the magnificent passage we last explored (Deut. 6:1-12) Moses warns God’s people not to become so distracted by the blessings of God that they begin taking them for granted and end up forgetting that all gifts come from the grace of God. “Take care,” he says, “that you do not forget the Lord. . .”
In today’s verses he continues the theme but with a slightly different and stronger emphasis. We are to fear God, serve him, and swear by his name alone. Let’s look at those three in reverse. To “swear” in this context does not mean take an oath so much as ground all your words and promises in the name/character of God. To “serve” God is to do and say and think always in response to God, always seeking to please and honor him. As St. Paul many centuries later says to the Christians in Colossae, “. . .whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
To “fear” God sounds to many people as if it were too old fashioned to heed. We prefer to think of “sweet Jesus, meek and mild,” our friend with whom we walk and talk whenever we feel like it. We badly need to be reminded that “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him” (Psalm 25:14). When we lose the fear of God, we begin to take friendship with him for granted, forgetting that each moment of closeness with him — indeed, each moment of our entire life — is a miracle of God’s grace.
We like to remind one another — and rightly so — that God loves us but we ought at times to enlarge the theme a bit: God knows you and loves you. He knows us? That itself can be a frightening thought because we feel so vulnerable when we feel transparent. We grab for fig leaves as quickly as did Adam and Eve, seeking to hide from the Lord whom we know to be the righteous and powerful judge of all the universe. He sees right through our excuses and deceits, knowing us completely and deeply, yet by his amazing grace loves us just as we are.
When we forget what a miracle it is to be loved by God, we let ourselves slip away from time to time to worship other gods or, as we are more likely to say these days, other values. We give ourselves partly to God and partly to the values of the world around us, trusting without fear that God will put up with our disloyalty anyway.
Moses’ words grab our attention: God is jealous of all that which competes with him for his rightful place at the center and circumference of our hearts. His anger at our disloyalty can be absolutely deadly. Our God is a fearsome Lord, righteous, powerful, and able to see into the very center of our beings.
The friendship of the Lord is clearly abused by those who do not fear him. Do you?