Week of March 12

Mercy Me!

Read: Deuteronomy 3-4; Psalm 36; Mark 13
“For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.”
Deuteronomy 4:31, ESV


William Temple once said, “Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness, the nourishment of the mind with His truth, the purifying of the imagination with His beauty, the opening of the heart to His love, the surrender of the will to His purpose.” I believe that Deuteronomy 4 points us specifically to covenantal worship of the sovereign God. Indeed, the chapter has been called a “miniature sermon on the covenant and laws,” and may seem at first glance not to be a great first choice for a devotional, but it opens our eyes to true worship!
If I may, let me suggest that we view Deuteronomy chapter 4 in this fashion and view it as an opportunity in continuing worship education! The continuing education (CE) requirement seems to be spreading throughout all levels of our culture because lifelong learning helps to sustain excellence. Deuteronomy means “second law,” and Moses recounts the Israel’s recent history in a CE exercise! Let’s join the session today.

The Meaning of the Text

A brief overview of the chapter
Deuteronomy is an expanded version of the covenant established at Sinai and serves as a renewal text that has several important—and lasting—theological features. The book’s introduction gives us a geographical and historical background for the “covenant message” that Moses is about to give to the people. One critical feature will be Moses’ extended review of the Ten Commandments, which is foundational for God’s children (4:44-5:33).
Deuteronomy 4 may be viewed as a whole, or it may be broken into various portions: putting God’s Law into practice (vv. 1-14); warning not to worship idols (15-31); and the uniqueness of God’s people (32-40). It is the latter portion of the chapter that catches my eye and heart and will be our focus today. The orthodoxy and orthopraxy are to “be” evident in the way Israelites represented God in their lives.
How we may embody our beliefs about our merciful God
God calls His children to remembrance of their past history (4:32). This has become a vital part of my own pilgrimage, especially when I face what may seem to be insurmountable heartbreaks. God calls us to remember His past goodness and deliverance. He does not want Israel (or us) to stop at this point. He next calls us to search over the entire earth and see if there is anywhere that such greatness has been encountered. What on earth, no pun intended, does God mean?
He invites Israel to look back and remember His appearance at Sinai (4:33, 36); the exodus from Egypt (4:34, 37); and the conquest of Canaan (4:38). He then asks, “Has anyone ever heard of anything like this?” No one has ever heard of another god attempting to do such things for humanity. Israel would many times show their utter disregard for such love, but Jesus’s coming to earth demonstrates that God always shows regard for His covenant mercy. Even for all this care, Israel (we, too) shows a lack of genuine commitment. You are no doubt thinking that you did not want this sort of reminder to start the day! True, but let’s double back and read our focal verse.
Always remember that God is merciful. This means that the God who is also described as being a “jealous” God and “consuming fire” (4:24), is also compassionate and tenderhearted. There have been many attempts to translate the idea: “heart,” “liver,” and bowels.” What is the point? God wants us to know that His mercy is a superior love that is rooted in a deep natural bond. Elsewhere this word is used of a mother’s love toward her nursing baby (Isaiah 49:15) and a father’s love (Psalm 103:13).
When this word is used of God it means two things: the strong tie that God has with those whom He calls His children (Psalm 103: 13) and reflects His unconditioned choice (grace!). God is gracious and merciful to whomever He chooses (Exodus 33:19). The wonder of it all is that God has chosen you and me!

The Message for Our Lives

There is an inner “me alarm” that sounds whenever I step into a worship service. I am looking to avoid any temptation to make the experience about “me.” How about you? This can be a challenging task! I admit that I am tempted by the creature comforts offered to me: warm beverages, comfortable seating, and even a climate-controlled environment. I am tempted at times to set my own spiritual thermostat for the cozy comfort of warm fuzzy music and self-help messages. Mercy me! I am penning the statement as a verbal plea. God help me. Thank God for Deuteronomy 4!
So, what is the goal? True worship means that I enter God’s presence. Truly, from what Moses writes here, how could I ever escape God! He is ever before me and around me in all that I see. I must always keep in mind that my first cry in worship, as Isaiah writes, should be “Woe is me!” (Isaiah 6:1-8). Everything from the Ten Commandments (5:6-21), which provides core life principles, to the Shema, the basic statement of the Jewish law, and its confessional nature (6:4-9), points to the uniquely Sovereign God who has prescriptions for His people. The entire covenant may be summed up in a two-word obligation—exclusive love. This means “faithful obedience” is the central duty (inclusive of worship) of God’s servant people (cf. NAC).
I must shape my understanding of who God is by His own declarations. He is not my “buddy,” “the “big guy in the sky,” or even “the Cuddly Comforter.” A proper view of God causes me to recognize that my wickedness that restricts His sovereignty over my life does not mix with His holiness. The music, the prayers, and the Word of God should be structured to remind me that “unworthy me” has been made the recipient of His “unfailing mercy.” I am to offer my brokenness to Him, allow His “consuming fire” to burn off the impurities within my heart, then fall into the embrace of a loving Father whose mercies are supplied.

For Thought and Action

1. God invites us to see His grandeur today. Use portions of this chapter to thank God for ways that has shown you His mercy in your past and in the present.
2. Ponder the ways that “me” has begun to eclipse the divine “Other” in your corporate worship. Determine to make your worship about God.
3. For Families: One of the most significant character traits we can instill into the lives of our children is gratitude to God. A good way to help your children to be grateful is to pause every few months and ask them to make an illustrated list of God’s gifts to their lives. We often take them for granted; yet to become aware of them, to isolate them, and thank God for them, is the stuff of character-building.

Someday soon, maybe on a Saturday when you are fixing dinner, roll out some butcher-block paper across the floor and ask your children to write down the top ten things God has given to them (a family, a warm house, nice clothes to wear, good food to eat, grandparents, etc.). Then encourage them to illustrate these with their own artwork. Finally, ask them to pen a letter to God, right there on their paper, to express their gratitude to the One who is merciful, loving, and calls us to Himself.

Wrap this love letter around your dinner table walls for the next week to remind your family of God’s covenant love.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock