A Great Nation

Deuteronomy 4:6-8 “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?”

We usually think of witnessing as something we do with our mouths. Here the Lord reminds us that the witnessing we do with our bodies is often the first kind to be noticed. When the children of Israel observed God’s commandments, their witness led the nations around them to acknowledge that God’s ways are wise and understanding. In some cases, we know that they even led people of other nations to worship the true God: Rahab from Jericho who hid the spies; Ruth from Moab, the great grandmother of king David; Naaman, the Syrian general, who was healed of leprosy.

A wise people still listens to the Lord today when he says, “Let your lights so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Perhaps we fear that too many people would find us quaint or ignorant if they really knew everything we teach and believe.

But maybe it is in just such cases that the witness of our lives can help the witness of our mouths. When we are at peace with God because he has forgiven all our sins, and that peace is spilling over into peace in our families; when a loving and forgiving spirit pervades our relationships, that’s attractive. We may not have it all together, but when we are striving to keep God’s commandments in love, this produces a very desirable life. People who don’t agree with particulars of God’s word might admit there is something “wise” and “understanding” there. Some might even be willing to give us another listen.

If they do, they will find more than a set of rules to keep. In his grace, God has promised to be near. “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?”

Israel was a privileged people. No other nation on earth had their gods near them. All the other gods (which, of course, didn’t actually even exist) were conceived of as being aloof, unconcerned, self-seeking deities. Their character flaws were sometimes bigger than those of the people who worshiped them. They might help their people, if they felt like it. They might just as well take the day off and let the people suffer.

Not the God of Israel! His people were dear to his heart. His gracious presence accompanied them in the wilderness. He visibly led them in the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud. He talked to Moses face to face, as a man talks to his friend. He took up residence in the tabernacle, the Israelite worship facility. He fought their battles for them. He gave them food from heaven. He forgave their grumbling and rebellion time after time. He answered their complaints directly, often with a miracle. The Lord was near them.

What other people are so great as to have God near them the way the Lord has been near us? Once he came to earth as a child. He lived as a man and died as our substitute so that we need never be far from him again. Even now he makes every event of our lives, every waking or sleeping moment, his own concern. He is present when two or three gather in his name. He hides in bread and wine to be near us with his grace and forgiveness. He even makes our own hearts his homes by faith.

Christians don’t make up a nation in the usual sense of that word. But as citizens of God’s kingdom, no other nation is so great as the Lord has made us—to have his word, and to know his will, and to enjoy his unwavering presence in our lives.

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