From July 20, 2016
Deuteronomy is a book in which Moses gives the Israelites a recap of their journey thus far through the wilderness. At this point in the Bible, Israel has been established as God's chosen people - the recipients of a special measure of God's grace and covenant promises. They had been enslaved to the Egyptians for 400 years until God miraculously set them free by way of 10 plagues that he put on display through his prophet Moses. As they journeyed through the desert, God promised Israel better days in a land flowing with milk and honey and it was toward this future reality that the Israelites set their hope.
For me, a constant question that lingered in my mind was 'Why Israel?' Surely there were other nations that could use God's grace and guidance, so why did God select such a small grouping of people to extend favor? The first place my mind, and maybe yours, would go is to the worthiness of the people themselves. Maybe God chose Israel because he could foresee the unwavering faith and commitment of Abraham, the integrity of Joseph, and the leadership of Moses. Maybe knowing that people with such strong character would emerge out of Israel led God to make his decision.
In hindsight, this is a pretty silly thought especially when it pertains to Israel.
"Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people" (Deuteronomy 9:6)
At that time, Moses' words really should not have been shocking. After God's miraculous and gracious rescue of Israel from the hands of the most powerful nation on the planet at the time his people responded not with gratitude, but with consistent grumbling. They complained about the type of food God rained from the sky; they complained about the taste of the water they were given; they complained about the leadership of Moses; they complained that they would rather be back in slavery in Egypt. While Moses was receiving God's specific guidelines for Israel up on Mt. Sinai the people were busy worshiping a golden calf, and when God had Moses send spies into the Promised Land to see it they returned with fear and spread a bad report to the entire camp rather than trust God's promise. And Moses was sure to remind the Israelites of all of this behavior (Deut. 9:1-24).
"...for you are a stubborn people" (Deut. 9:6)
"You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day that I knew you." (Deut. 9:24)
The connection here is that the church today is Israel. I don't mean that symbolically; it is literal. God's people past, present, and future become his people "not because of [their] righteousness" but because of his great mercy. There are few things more important to remember than this reality. Christians are sometimes tempted to look at the outside world and puff up their chests in moments of subconscious arrogance believing that God's favor rests upon them because of their righteous character. Non-Christians are tempted to look at the church and see a group of people who believe that their morality makes them superior and brings them into a special relationship with Jesus. That thought is understandably repulsive. If I were not a Christian and believed church to be all about the morality of its congregants I would stay far away.
Here's the point: a relationship with God is all about God. God didn't choose Israel based on any of the things I listed before (Abraham's faith, Joseph's integrity, etc.). God didn't choose a single individual in the church past, present, or future based on their ability to behave righteously or think correctly. God's choice is based solely on his mercy. This fact should cause immense gratitude to flow out of the heart of a Christian and manifest itself in grace, forgiveness, and patience toward all other human beings - knowing that everyone is in the same boat: in need of God's mercy. This fact should alter a Non-Christian's perspective on what it is the Bible teaches and what it is that Christians believe. We aren't (for the most part) a pack of self-righteous weirdos singing hymns and casting judgment on anyone not like us. We are the recipients of undeserved grace through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone and we believe that the only way that this world will experience any real change is if each and every heart is gripped by the grace of Christ.