Deuteronomy 4:8-9 “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? Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely, so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.”
Moses’s assertion about Israel and its laws has parallels to Christians as a faith community. People outside of Christianity might be tempted to laugh out loud at his assertion. Maybe even we are tempted to back away from such a claim. I mean, aren’t Biblical principles about lifelong marriage (between a man and woman), sexual chastity before marriage, honesty even if it means sacrifice, sobriety, protecting life from conception to final breath, modest dress, greed as a kind of idolatry, keeping your tongue under control–aren’t these things hopelessly out of date? In some cases, aren’t they even bad for us?
No! God’s law is nothing more and nothing less than the instruction manual for how life is supposed to work if it is going to operate properly. Ignore it, defy it, and at some level something isn’t going to work right. I suppose that I could drive a nail with the back end of my electric drill. I might not even break the drill the first time. But do this enough and the drill won’t work and the nail will either be bent or only partially driven. Perhaps we can get along for a while ignoring something in God’s law. But eventually something in life isn’t going to work right. Pursue the wrong path in persistent, open defiance of God, and the mess we make will ruin our eternity.
Note that Moses doesn’t say, “What other nation keeps God’s laws so well…” That wasn’t Israel. It doesn’t describe us either. We struggle. We fail. We deal with the consequences. But at least we have the law that can set us straight. At least we know what needs repenting, or we can learn it. At least God has given us what we need to see our sin, and see our need for a Savior. Then we can turn to the God who is always near us with his forgiving grace. Isn’t that a clear advantage of the Biblical faith? Doesn’t that make God’s laws a gift, together with his gospel?
The clear advantage of knowing God’s help and having his law led Moses to issue a warning: Hold on to these things for yourselves. “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely, so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.”
Sometimes it’s good to have a short memory. Painful things happen. It’s good not to remember them. My son had to endure the taking of a bone marrow sample from his hip without anesthesia when he was diagnosed with cancer years ago. You can ask him about it today. He doesn’t remember. Sometimes people do things that offend us. If we keep thinking about it, it keeps us distant. It’s better to let it go.
Sometimes our short memory gets us into trouble. It’s hard to forget a miracle. Can you imagine walking on dry ground between two walls of water where there used to be a sea and forgetting it happened later in life? Only if one suffered from severe dementia, it seems to me.
Moses wasn’t so concerned that Israel would forget the miracles they witnessed. He did not fear that the 10 Commandments would slip from their memory. He was concerned that Israel would stop seeing the significance of the lessons they taught. “Do not…let them slip from your hearts…” He didn’t want them to stop making an impact on the things they believed about God and the way they lived their lives. That’s exactly what had happened over and over during forty years in the desert.
It happens to us. Problems come and we panic, or we despair. It can be as small as the car breaking down or the rent going up. It can be as big as marriages or health falling apart. God got us this far, didn’t he? “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” If God didn’t love us, if he didn’t intend to take care of us, would he have given up his Son? Has his word ever changed? Has it stopped applying to our lives?
Let’s hold on to what we know about his love, his power, and his will. There is nothing else so great for us to live by.