Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1-31
“When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, so as to provoke him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess...But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:25-26,29)
Israel had been delivered from slavery in Egypt close to forty years ago. Moses was now in his old age, and seeing that he knew he was not going to enter the promised land, he gave a series of sermons making up the book of Deuteronomy which means “the second law”. Moses was reiterating again the message God gave at Mount Sinai to the younger generation of Israel.
At the beginning of Moses’ sermon, he preaches about idolatry and the need to keep away from it. However, to understand this message in its true depth, we need to see where this sermon fits in with the context and history of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness.
After 430 years of captivity as slaves in Egypt, God finally sent Moses to bring Israel out of Egypt. That day was a day marked with an overflowing celebration. God had freed them using the ten plagues. Not only that, He saved His helpless people from the Egyptian army that pursued them on chariots at the Red Sea. This deliverance was marked with the Passover and the sacrifice of the firstborn.
Yet, not long after the Israelites had left Egypt, they started to grumble. “there is no food and drink! Why did God deliver us to starve to death in the wilderness? It would be better to go back to Egypt!”. It didn’t take long for the Israelites to forget what God had just done for them. Their hearts did not love God. They did not like the idea that God delivered them into the wilderness so that they could worship Him. They enjoyed the pleasures of Egypt. Though they were enslaved, they thought it was better that way.
When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and spoke to Him on Mount Sinai, what did the Israelites do? They made a golden calf, saying they needed a god who would go before them. Mind you; God had been leading the Israelites up to this point with the pillars of cloud and fire. Yet, the Israelites didn’t care. They needed an idol to worship. The punishment that came from such idolatry was severe. God sent Moses and the Levites to kill their friends and brothers, around three thousand men. Also, God sent a plague throughout the people.
God was going to leave His people here. He said He could no longer continue leading these stiff-necked people. Yet, after Moses pleaded, God had mercy and renewed His covenant with His people. Did Israel repent upon receiving this grace? Well, only for the time being.
When the Israelites got close to the promised land, Moses sent out spies to the land of Canaan to see if the land was prosperous. Indeed, the spies reported the land flowing with milk and honey. However, the people who inhabited the land were big, fierce warriors. Once again, the Israelites complained. “If we go and fight them, we will all surely perish. It’s better if we turn back and go home to Egypt!”. Again Israel did not trust God. They created idols of themselves. And because of this, God turned Israel back to wander in the wilderness.
There are even more stories of the multitude of times Israel made and worshipped idols in the wilderness. But, here is the point. Now, Moses preaches to the new generation — don’t worship idols. Isn’t this a bit ironic? It seems as if falling into this trap is inevitable. And such is only true for us as well. We have been delivered from slavery to sin through Jesus’ sacrifice. Yet, we repeatedly fall for idols and stray away from God. Sometimes we feel like giving up because we can never be faithful to the one who has loved us.
Yet, that is aside from the point because God’s point is that He is the faithful One. When Moses preached of idolatry, He also preached of God’s faithfulness. “When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice. For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:30-31).
Although we are unfaithful to God, He is still faithful to us. He has given us life in His Spirit, who abides in the hearts of true believers. We have been free from the bondage of sin and the law. The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will also give us life in our mortal bodies (see Romans 8:11). What is more, nothing can separate us from His love and continual faithfulness. He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6).
When we fall, take heart, for He is faithful. He continually works to redirect our hearts to love Him. Praise God! “If we are faithless, He remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13).
Lord, forgive us, for we so often turn from You to worship our own idols. Thank You that You love us and are continually faithful to us. Praise be to You for who You are. Please teach us to humbly obey You and glory in Your unfathomable love and wisdom. Help us to grow in our knowledge of You, our Saviour. Have mercy on us. In Jesus’ name, amen.