In part 1 of this section of this study of the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, we saw that the covenant between God and Israel is not merely a set of arbitrary laws, but rather it is a careful reminder to the people of Israel and, by extension, to believers of the gospel, that this is about a covenental relationship between God and his elect people. God chose to initiate the relationship. God did all of the work. He removed the obstacles. Everything that was done was done by him alone, for him alone, so that those with whom he makes the covenant have to do is, for lack of a better way of phrasing it, stay within the lines that God has drawn.
So what are “the lines” that God has drawn?
Scripture and Summary
This historical hearkening backwards to that first encounter on the mountain, where the LORD appeared in fire, without form, only a voice speaking to them his terms for their relationship. He had rescued them for his purposes, freed them from their bondage for his ends, cared for them as a father cares for a child to bring himself honor. The past becomes the lense thatbthe present uses to envision the future…or, at least it should.
“I am the LORD, your God, you shall have no other gods but me.” Singular, supreme devotion is what this God requires. The gods of the nations didn’t care about who was worshiping who, but this God did. Divided loyalties ultimately bring disaster at whatever level one wants to place them.
The LORD God was not to be represented in any physical way. We often misunderstand this prohibition in that idols were not themselves perceived to be the gods of the nations, but were seen as interfaces where the god could come and rest and be cared for and be bargained with. The LORD could not be limited, could not be contained, could not be coddled, and could not be bribed. To even attempt to do so would be to diminish God.
This is an often misunderstood commandment. We often minimize the seriousness of it by placing it into the context of mere language, but “to take the name” of someone in that context was to identify yourself with them. Just as when a woman takes the name of her husband in marriage, the people of Israel were taking the name of the LORD and were to model his goodness before the world. To “take it in vain”, as a “common thing” was to show that they had no intentions of living up to the standard that the LORD would set for them in their relationship.
The Sabbath was meant to draw the focus of the people of God away from themselves and to God. Six days were dedicated to common labor and one day to rest from that labor. This was not to be merely a day of inactivity, but a day of specific activity: worship of God. The justification for its observance here is liberation (compare with the justification given in Exodus). Further, this is a positive command in that rest was to be mingled with celebration for God’s labors.
There is a clear division that exists in the covenant: a division between the relationship with God, and the relationship with man. Ones relationship with man is only as good as his relationship with God.
The covenant puts forward out a set of priorities, ordering the society in a meaningful way. It is neither arbitrary nor capricious in its terms, rather it reflects a transcendent value meant to bring man into balance with his Creator and fellow creatures.
“…was not a commercial bargain or legal contract, but rather Israel’s pledge of loyalty to him who had first chosen and saved her. It laid no obligations on God, who had already of his free grace both pledged himself to Israel and given the evidence of his devotion to her in the deliverance and wrought.”(1)
This first division within the covenant God set out clear lines that circumscribed the relationship that his people were to have with him. There was not to be any undivided loyalties. He alone had saved them, he alone had brought them out. No other deity could take credit for his work and he would not tolerate anything taking credit for his work.
We then have to ask, in the gospel context, did man play any role in the act of salvation? If man played no role in the freeing of Israel from her slavery in Egypt then, with Deuteronomy serving as an analogy for the work of Christ, it follows that man plays no role in his salvation from sin. All that must be done is merely maintenance and resting in the work done.
- Rowley, H.H. The Faith of Israel. Westminster Press. Philadelphia, PA. 1956. p.69