Thursday, June 10, 2010

Deuteronomy 9:4-6, Not for Our Righteousness

"Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, 'It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,' whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that He may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and to Jacob. 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."

On the verge of the conquest of the Promised Land, Jehovah yanks the reins of Israel. He knows that their wicked hearts would assume the credit for the promise, rather than to give the credit to His grace. In correcting that attitude, He lets them know that His blessings on them are not as wages to their righteousness, because they are instead a stubborn people, i.e., stubbornly wicked. This is the same declaration made at the other end of the Bible to the church at Laodicea, Revelation 3:17, "For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." So, that spiritual pride can certainly not be described as a special quality of ethnic Israel.

Paul repeated that warning in Titus 3:5, "He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit."

In contrast, Jehovah calls Israel to obedience, lest they in turn be overthrown and banished from the land (see especially chapter 28, starting at verse 25). God at the beginning of Deuteronomy is scattering the rejected peoples to make way for Israel. But at the end, He threatens to scatter Israel to make way for another people. Deuteronomy 28:64 tells them, "And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other..." And we see God carry out this threat twice, temporarily under the Assyrians and Babylonians, and then finally in the Roman conquest of 70 AD.

The same covenant promises and warnings are made to Christians. In Revelation 3:9, we see the initial replacement, this time of the unbelievers of ethnic Israel by the Christian Gentiles: "Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie - behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you." See also Romans 11:17-24. The covenant threats follow quickly in the Revelation, in the case of the church at Laodicea, which God threatens "to spit out of My mouth" (Rev. 3:16), followed by a very deuteronomish (is that a word?) warning in verse 19, "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent."

Christians today read the description of Israel in Deuteronomy 9, but consistently fail to recognize themselves in it. Too often, we say, "You go, God; let 'em have it!" without considering whether we are urging judgment on ourselves. If Israel received the promise contrary to their worth, in the grace of God alone, how can we be spiritually worthy? This is the error of attitude behind free-will theology, this concept of worthiness on our part. There is none. Instead, we are "wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked."

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