GREAT EXPECTATIONS: Much Given – Much Required
Introduction: Have you ever wondered what God wants from you? Most of us probably have given at least some thought to that question. Micah 6:8 asks the same question, “What does the LORD require of you?” His answer is that God wants you to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. Now Moses poses the same question to Israel as they are preparing to enter the place God has promised them. Moses has already reminded Israel of God’s faithfulness and power to deliver them from Egypt and to miraculously provide for them over the past forty years. Moses essentially says, “Remember what God has done for you. Now, Israel, here is what God requires in return.” God had blessed and provided for them time and time again. He gave them His Presence, His word- the Law, food, protection, deliverance, and victory. What did God want in return? He wanted them to be totally committed to Him in love and obedience. He wanted them to enjoy a close relationship of love and trust with Him. As God of the universe, He held exclusive rights to their entire lives. However, His desire was that they would choose Him above all else and live in close relationship to Him. The demands that He made upon them apply to us today as well. What does God require from us? He wants a people who are totally and exclusively committed to Him.
Proposition: The life of total commitment that God requires of us is only possible through a close relationship with Him.
Interrogative: How can we experience this intimate relationship with our Creator?
Transitional Sentence: Our text gives us four main keys to help us develop a close relationship with Yahweh and to live a life that is totally devoted to Him.
I. Follow His Principles of Covenant Relationship (vv. 12-13)
The five requirements listed in verses twelve and thirteen are not necessarily an exhaustive list of the principles of covenant relationship. Rather, they are basic ingredients that should be found in a proper relationship with the Lord of the universe. Moses expounds upon them and reemphasizes them through the remainder of his address. To take away any one of them would result in an imbalanced relationship with a wrong view of who God really is. The wording should give us a grand indication that it really is all about Him. Our part is to give Him the allegiance and loyalty that He alone deserves. What does the Lord require from us? In a word - everything. He wants us to give Him all that we are so that we might begin to know all that He is. Let’s take a look at these principles of covenant relationship with God.
A. The Required Attitude
1. Fear Yahweh (12)
When Moses speaks of the fear of the LORD in this passage, he is not referring to a sense of terror or dread. Yahweh wants closeness with His people and has no intention of terrifying them. He loves them (15) and wants no harm to come to them. The fear of the LORD includes a sense of reverence and awe that acknowledges the infinite greatness and sovereignty of God. God requires His people to hold Him in highest regard because of who He is. The fear of God is mentioned over one hundred times in the Bible in a positive way with obedience and faith.
Abraham is a good example of one who feared God, yet had a relationship so close that God called him His friend. When Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son in obedience to God, an angel of the LORD stopped him and said, “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (Genesis 22:12, NIV). Then, in Isaiah 41:8, God refers to Abraham as “Abraham, My friend.”
The New Testament reaffirms our need for the fear of the Lord. In Luke 12:5 Jesus says, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” Also, the New Testament church knew the value of the fear of the Lord. “It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31, NIV). Even Gentiles who did not have Israel’s covenant with God found proximity with Him through fear and obedience. Peter’s visit to Cornelius showed the God “accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:35, NIV).
So, God desires that we have a healthy reverence and respect for Him. This is part of the required attitude every believer should have. Love is the other major factor of a proper attitude towards God.
2. Love Him (12)
It seems incredible, but Yahweh wants a love relationship with His people. The echo of the Shema rings clearly in this passage: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5 NIV). It is difficult to express a succinct biblical definition of love for God. It would follow along the lines of how a child loves his or her father. Regarding the attitude of love, it would certainly include such ingredients as affection, admiration, appreciation, respect, and devotion. It is expected and required that Yahweh’s people focus their ability to feel and express vertical love only to Him. Since this is given as an imperative we can see that love for God is a choice, just as it would require a choice to worship and love other gods. Just as Yahweh had set His affection on their ancestors, so Israel is called to set their affection on Him. The attitude of love must also have expression. This is seen in the other imperatives of verses twelve and thirteen.
B. The Resultant Actions
1. Walk in His Ways (12)
Walking in the ways of the LORD seems to encapsulate all of the other requirements listed in these two verses. Fearing, loving, serving, and obeying Yahweh could be summed up as walking in His ways. It is only by walking in His ways that we find the proximity required for intimacy. Another way to express this is “Get as close to Him as you can. Do what He does. Say what He says.” As this passage progresses we find an invitation of imitation. God’s people are exhorted to follow God’s lead and become like Him in character and conduct. This is not a new concept in the Pentateuch. Ever since the fall of man, there has been the need for man to be restored to the image and likeness of the Creator. The rationale for holiness in Leviticus is the fact that God Himself is holy. "Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2, NIV). Just as children imitate their parents and desire to be just like them, so we should imitate our heavenly Father. This idea is echoed strongly in the New Testament. “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6, NIV). Jesus imitated His Father while He was on earth. Now we are to imitate Him and we will also be more like the Father. Walking in the ways of the LORD is truly an expression of our love for Him.
2. Serve Yahweh (12)
Whole-hearted love for Yahweh will result in whole-hearted service for Yahweh. Moses instructs Israel that Yahweh requires them to serve Him with the entirety of their heart and soul. This leaves no room for serving other gods. The requirement for Israel is “to serve Yahweh your God.” There will be other gods whom the pagans serve in the land they are entering, but Yahweh demands the absolute allegiance and exclusive loyal service of His people. The idea of serving may include worship, sacrifice, work, and even serving under the rule of a king. Living in subjection to God’s authority is one aspect of serving Him. Joshua later requires a commitment from Israel to choose whom they will serve. “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15, NIV). Serving Yahweh reinforces the theme of total commitment required of Israel.
How can we be sure that we are serving God with all of our heart and soul? Just because we are generally not tempted to worship pagan gods does not mean that we are serving God with all that we have. A few questions may help us see where our service is being directed. How do we spend most of our time? Where do we spend most of our resources? On what do we focus our thoughts and energies most often? Could we be giving our service to ideals of success or material wealth? Could the pursuit of pleasure be stealing from our loyalty and service to God? God calls us to a higher ideal. What does He require from us? He requires that we serve Him with all of our being.
3. Keep His Commands (13)
Willing obedience is one of the most practical ways to show our love to God. God had given the Law to Israel so that they might know how to live in His blessing and enjoy His presence. The commands and statutes that God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai are in view here. Contrary to the thoughts of many today, the Law was good and was not a set of legalistic demands as some view it today. It was not impossible to keep the Law for those who lived in close fellowship with Yahweh. Near the end of Deuteronomy, Moses again calls for obedience to God’s words. He said, “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it” (Deuteronomy 30:11,14, NIV). Obedience was required by God. Therefore, in keeping with God’s character, obedience was made possible by God. God does not require anything of us that we cannot do with His help. One must also keep in mind that God desires communion, not conformity. If they tried to conform to the Law without a relationship with the LORD, then they would fail miserably. However, when someone like David, a man after God’s own heart, lived in close fellowship with God, then he could truly say, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long” (Psalm 119:97, NIV).
The New Testament speaks out on obedience as well. “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3, NIV). “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15, NIV). Love and obedience are inseparable in the context of our relationship with God. Obedience to God is the natural expression of love for God. Therefore, it is essential that we obey the word of God fully. Pragmatic obedience will not do. If we only obey God when it makes sense to us or seems practical, then that should be a clue that our relationship is suffering. Yet we do see a practical side to obedience. Moses tells the people that God’s commandments are for their good. God’s commands are always for our good. Do you want a better life? Obey God’s commands out of love for Him.
With these five imperatives established as principles for a close relationship with God, let us look further into how Yahweh modeled the love He requires.
II. Follow His Pattern of Expressing Love (vv. 14-19)
These verses serve to expound on the five imperatives just mentioned. We might view it as a practical application of God’s principles for close relationship. Walking in the ways of the LORD means following His example and expressing our love horizontally to man, as well as vertically to Him. We see two sets of triplets in this section that proclaim who God is, what He has done, and what His people should do.
A. Yahweh Expresses His Love for His Chosen People
1. Who God is in Relation to His People (14)
Moses uses a possessive pronoun to highlight the relationship between Yahweh and Israel: “To the LORD your God belong the heavens.” Yahweh was not owned by them, nor did they have exclusive rights to Him; however, there was a special relationship that Israel enjoyed with Him. Moses has already highlighted this special relationship: “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?” (Deuteronomy 4:7). Let it be known: Yahweh is the God of Israel! What a privileged position they were in! No other nation had such closeness with their gods, let alone with the Creator of the universe.
As Christians we can also rejoice that this privilege has been extended to us through Jesus Christ. We can call Yahweh “our Father.” We speak of Jesus as “our Lord and Savior.” The new covenant agreement is now available to all people in all places. Just as the angel announced to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11, NIV). This is good news indeed! The same closeness that was available to Israel in Deuteronomy is available to us today.
Now Yahweh was a God who desired a loving relationship with His people; but, lest they lose sight of who He really is, Moses reminds them of His greatness. The heaven and the heaven of the heavens belong to Him. Jewish writings showed a belief in seven heavens. Moses speaks of the heaven of heavens in the same way that we think of God as the King of Kings. The superlative idea is that even the highest heaven belongs to Yahweh. Additionally, the earth and everything in it is His. That puts Him high above any other god or man. Then Moses narrows the gaze of the LORD down to Israel and what He has done for them.
2. What God Has Done for His People (15)
Out of all the nations of the earth, God set His affection on the ancestors of the people to whom Moses is speaking. Why was Israel the selection for His affection? Only God could answer that. Moses showed surprise over God choosing Israel in Deuteronomy 7:6-8 because Israel was so small. Here in verse 15 Moses shows surprise over God’s choice of Israel because God is so big. Yahweh has chosen Israel in the past, and has blessed her and brought her to the place where Moses is speaking to her in this passage. Moses leaves no doubt as to the identity of the recipients of God’s love and election. He says, “even you above all peoples, as it is this day” (Dt. 10:15, NASB). We catch a glimpse of the purpose of His choice in chapter 4. Observe [the decrees and laws] 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" (Deuteronomy 4:6). God wanted the other nations to see what life could be like for those in close fellowship with Him. Even in Moses’ time, God wanted all men to have fellowship with Him. Now for Israel, with privilege comes responsibility. In light of His love and affection for them, how should they respond?
3. How God’s People Should Respond (16)
They are told to circumcise their heart and stiffen their neck no more. To circumcise the heart may include the idea of making the heart more responsive and sensitive as the organ of commitment to the LORD. The aim is greater obedience and commitment to Yahweh. The stiff neck refers to stubbornness and disobedience as evidenced in the wilderness wanderings. In light of who God is and what He has done, we also should devote our hearts and our lives entirely to Him. We must not stubbornly resist Him or His requirements, but should willingly walk in His ways in order to enjoy a close relationship with Him. We now move to the second trio which shows us more of the heart of God.
B. Yahweh Expresses His Love for Those in Need
1. Who God Is as Expressed in His Character (17)
With increasing acclamation, Moses again focuses on the majesty and greatness of Yahweh. We see two more superlatives (God of gods and Lord of lords) that describe Yahweh as being over and above all other powers and rulers. Looking back to the first of the five imperatives in verses 12 & 13, there is just cause to fear Yahweh in the sense of awe, respect, and wonder. The Hebrew language emphasizes His greatness by using a definite article in front of each of the three adjectives to describe Him (the great, the mighty, and the awesome God). The fact that He is the awesome God means that He inspires reverence or godly fear or awe in those who encounter Him. He is also a just God who cannot be swayed or manipulated in His judgments by anyone or anything. And yet this transcendent, all-powerful God shows concern for the affairs of mankind, as we will see.
2. What God Does in Light of His Character (17b,18)
God’s character is such that He acts in complete fairness and justice. Negatively, He does not show partiality nor take bribes. Positively, He carries out justice for those who are powerless to obtain what they need. Justice may not be carried out in a judicial sense, but rather through helping the poor and destitute by providing for their needs. Though the word is not mentioned here, the mercy of God is very evident in His justice. Repeatedly through Scripture we can find that God cares deeply for those who are helpless and in need. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27, NIV). Yahweh also expresses His love and concern for foreigners, who were often outcasts in Middle Eastern society. God shows His love by providing food and clothing for them.
3. What God Expects from His People (19)
One of the ways God provided for the foreigner was to include him in the Law. Leviticus 19:33-34 instructs the Israelites to accept the foreigner as one of their citizens and not to wrong him. Moses specifically mentions that Israel should show their love to the foreigner because they had been foreigners in Egypt. God’s expectation for His people included ministering to all who were needy. God concern for those in need should be transferred to His people. “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done” (Proverbs 19:17, NIV).
The picture that we get is that Yahweh, though He is awesome and mighty, cares deeply for mankind. He is just, and His mercy compels Him to act on behalf of those in need. In light of this, God calls us to care, to be fair, and to share. Maybe you have never known real need, but there is a pretty good chance that you will someday, and you will likely reap what you have sown. So, benevolent giving has its pragmatic side, but most of all it reflects the goodness and kindness of God. That is enough reason to do it. Next, a close relationship with the LORD requires us to draw near to His presence with a heart of praise.
III. Follow His Presence with Deep Devotion (vv. 20-22)
A. Remember the Personal Principles of Covenant Relationship (20)
More imperatives are given that seem to echo from verse 12. The first two have already been covered (Fear Yahweh and Serve Him). To cling to Him or hold fast to Him is the language of closeness and intimacy. The verb “cling” is used elsewhere to express the affectionate love of a man for a woman (Gen. 2:24 being one- “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” KJV). However, Deuteronomy alone uses this verb to describe Israel’s relationship to Yahweh. God truly wants His people to be close to Him. The closer we are to Him, the greater our loyalty and devotion will be as we commit our lives completely to Him.
B. Recognize the Praise Due to Yahweh (21)
Yahweh alone deserves praise. His very nature draws praise from those who encounter Him. Those who avoid the encounters with Him also avoid praising Him. Yahweh is the object of Israel’s praise. He is the one in whom they can boast. Jeremiah wrote, “This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:23-24, NIV). Israel could boast in the LORD because of the great and awesome things they had seen him do for them. Likewise, we can praise the Lord because of what we have seen Him do, and for who we see Him to be in His word. This calls for a life of devotion and praise to the one true God. The final thought shows that our whole-hearted commitment is worthwhile because Yahweh’s promises will always be fulfilled.
C. Realize that God’s Promises Are Sure (22)
For those who walk in God’s ways and commit themselves entirely to Him, His promises are as good as fulfilled. Verse 22 refers back to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 18:18,19 “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (NIV). This final verse shows us that God keeps His promises and is worthy of all of our trust and loyalty.
Conclusion: We have seen that the life of total commitment that God requires of us is possible because God has provided the means for an intimate relationship with Him. This relationship with such a loving God is strengthened through following His principles of relationship, following His pattern of how to love, and by getting as close as we can to Him and holding fast to Him. If we keep our life focus on the Great Commandment – to love Yahweh with all of our being – then total commitment and loyalty will be part of the package.
How is your relationship with the Lord? Do you have the right attitude about Him? Does He have your respect and honor and love? Are you living in obedience to His ways? What is important to Him becomes important to you as your relationship grows. How about your love for those in need? Are you reflecting God’s heart by helping meet their basic needs? Finally, are you as close to God as you can be? Are you walking with Him daily, enjoying time in His presence? He is calling us to a higher level of living that is only found by those who will press in close to His heart and cling to Him. I encourage you to respond to His invitation of intimacy. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV). Come and establish or renew your relationship with Him.
Craigie, Peter C. The Book of Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1976, 204. Craigie identifies allegiance to God as the common theme of this passage.
Payne, David F. Deuteronomy. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1985, 72. Payne shows fear and love as the attitudes God looks for which find expression in the other 3 imperatives.
Dictionary of Biblical Imagery.
Weinfeld, Moshe. Deuteronomy 1-11. The Anchor Bible, Vol. 5. New York: Doubleday, 1991, 436.
Wright, Christopher. Deuteronomy. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996, 146.
Brueggemann, Walter. Deuteronomy. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001, 130.