See, I have taught you the decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb… the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of the words but saw no form; there was only a voice.” ~ Deut 4:5-12
From my study Bible: “The unique Biblical revelation is not of image, but of words. The Jewish people become a nation centered in words, a people of the Book.”
When getting ready to share my thoughts with you today, I was almost certain that I was going to share on Deut 3: 2: “The Lord said to me, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have delivered him into your hands, along with his whole army and his land.” The reminder that if God has promised something, the appearance of the circumstances don’t matter, was a powerful reminder to me today. It’s an important lesson that I seem to frequently forget, but that has a deep connection with what I feel like the Lord laid on my heart to share today.
That really cool note in my study Bible references that the Israelites became “people of the Book.” What an incredible way to be described. And it strikes me that at the end of our main passage out of Deut 4, it references that the Israelites only heard God and saw no form. They had nothing to go on but the words they heard. The passage also gives us some very important (and practical) information about the Word.
1. We will have wisdom and understanding. So much so, that it will be a witness to those around us.
2. That wisdom and understanding is somehow related to God being near us and responding to our prayers.
3. The Word sets us apart- no other laws or decrees (or philosophy of life) is righteous like the Word.
4. It is so important that we are to never forget, and so make sure we teach them to younger generations so no one will ever forget.
It is clear that God trained the Israelites to walk by obedience to what He said (faith) and not by sight. They became people of the Book. That was all they had- His Words. And their history with Him reinforced that the physical circumstances around them had nothing to do with what He said. Over and over again, we have already seen how things went well and God conquers what seems like impossible circumstances when they followed Him (and the reverse!). God trained them to be followers of His Word(s) and not their sight.
Let’s fast forward. The note in my Bible continues to say that it is astonishing when you understand how against images the Israelites were, and then the “Word became flesh.” Jesus but an image and a physical form to everything that God had been saying. To His Word(s). No wonder the people of the Book had such a difficult time accepting Jesus as Savior, when He seems to challenge their traditional interpretation of what the Book was saying. And what a hard transition even for those of them that made the faith leap! Their Book of guidelines now had feet! They had to adjust to following Jesus’ life just as much as they were following the Book. Equal parts obedience to the Image and to the Word. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been.
Let’s jump forward even farther to us today. Now that we have spent 2,000 years as Christians trying to follow the Image of God (Jesus), I think we have forgotten some of the original emphasis and importance placed on following the Words of God. We like to preach of following Jesus’ example, but because we no longer have Him in front of us to watch His example, we have to try and follow what we learn is His example (either from the Bible, or someone’s teachings). And there is a natural challenge in this. Imagine if someone only got to know you, your personality, and what you care about just from reading your emails. Or even worse, your Facebook! Compare that to how well the people you live life with know you. You can still learn a lot about someone the other way, but the personal- side by side- living of life is still a much deeper picture of who they are and what their heart beats for. The other inherit challenge here is that by only learning His example, we have the risk of only learning one side. If someone read your work email versus your personal email, they would get very different ideas about you. The same works with the Bible and learning about Jesus’ example. The Bible is big. And we only have so much time during our day. And if you’re anything like me, there are passages that you gravitate towards, and others that get can get left behind. It takes an intentional effort to get the full picture of who Jesus is, and what example He set. It requires reading authors we might disagree with in order to see if they have real and valid points. It requires that we read all of the Bible (and believe it!), not just the parts we like.
Below are a couple of practical applications of this to think about.
1. The Word is a person- not a list of rules. Then doesn’t it make sense that there are theological debates where both sides seem to have evidence? I recently took one of those personality tests off of Myers-Briggs, which tests 4 categories of opposites. This one gave a bar graph for each of the letters to show how strongly you are that trait. There is a reason why when we take those tests, some of the descriptions fit and some don’t. As people, we are a combination of traits. When I just took it, I ended up an extrovert, but my bar was only a 17% on that side. And the last time I took it, I was a similar percentage on the Introvert side. I am a combination of an introvert and an extrovert. So are you. John 1 says the “Word became flesh”. So Jesus is the physical manifestation of the Word. Or, I should say, the Word is the linguistic manifestation of Jesus. And the Word reads like one of those personality tests, where in some situations it seems like opposites are both true. Culturally, the current American example of Christianity tends to follow the “grace” side of Jesus, but ignores the righteous side of Jesus. It would be like looking at parent only during their child’s birthday party (or Christmas!) but ignoring what they’re like when it’s bedtime. It’s wouldn’t be an accurate representation of us, and it’s not an accurate representation of Jesus. If you’ve only been taught to know the hyper-grace Jesus- you actually don’t know Him at all. On the other side, there is legalism, where salvation is just a matter of self-control and the ability to avoid the right things. And just like hyper-grace, this is also not a real representation of Jesus.
2. We need to get back to the balance. We need to be equally people of the Image of God (Jesus) and people of the Word. Being committed to the Word will keep us from taking Jesus’ example out of balance and just focusing on what makes us (or others) fell good. Being committed to Jesus, keeps us from just being committed to a philosophy or religion. The Israelites have been an excellent example for us on what it looks like to be people of the Book. And we need to get back to that. As Christians we need to return to the commitment to what God says, where if He says it- it just makes it true… no matter what the circumstances look like or the culture around us says. We need to be people of the Book. We need to read and study so that we are aware when someone is trying to teach us something that isn’t in line with what God says or who the whole and true Jesus is.
What would happen to our cities, states, country etc if we as a Church could be accurately described as people of the Book?