The Responsibility of God’s People: Deuteronomy 5 & Hebrews 11

Yesterday, in comparing Deuteronomy 4 and Hebrews 11 we saw the blessing of God upon His people. Whereas in the Old Testament, God blessed one nation like no other nation; in the New Testament God has blessed one people like no other people. As majestic as the blessings of the Old Testament were upon Israel, the New Testament blessings upon the church are much greater.

The connections between Deuteronomy and Hebrews continue in the following chapters of each book. God does not just redeem a people to set them free from all authority. In Paul’s words, we have been freed from sin to become slaves of righteousness. Deuteronomy 4 and Hebrews 11 detail the blessing of being God’s people. Deuteronomy 5 and Hebrews 12 follow that teaching with instruction about the responsibility of living as God’s people.

Deuteronomy 5 contains the retelling of the Ten Commandments. Just as in Exodus 20, the basis for the giving of the Law was the experience of the grace of redemption:

The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, while I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain. He said: “‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “‘You shall have no other gods before me… (Deut. 5:4-7)

Because “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt,” therefore “You shall have no other Gods before me.” The Law was given to Israel not to make them the people of God, but to guide them as the people of God. God had already loved them. God had already redeemed them from slavery. As a consequence of his gracious loving kindness, the Lord gave instruction to the people who were already his. God did not free Israel to set the nation loose.

The writer of Hebrews begins with the very same even described in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5: the great and terrifyingly awesome appearance of the Lord upon Sinai to give the Law:

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” (Heb. 12:18-21)

That is not our experience of coming to God. The church has not had such a traumatic encounter with the Eternal. The church has something better:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Heb. 12:22-24)

Echoing Paul’s typological interpretation of Sinai and Zion, Hebrews encourages Christians to embrace the better reality: the spiritual reality. Israel saw the terror of God’s presence at one time in history at a particular location on earth. The church experiences God’s presence continually wherever and whenever she is as she joins in the eternal heavenly worship offered to the Lord.

But is this some Elysian paradise of broad meadows and fruited plains? Hardly, for just as in Deuteronomy 5, we are given the great responsibility that comes with such a privilege:

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken–that is, things that have been made–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:25-29)

Dear Christian, you cannot have it two ways. You cannot see the blessing of the Lord upon Israel and the greater blessing of the Lord upon the church and think that such increased blessing does not carry with it an increased responsibility for God’s people. God is many things, but he is not “nice.” Do you think God’s severity against those who broke the covenant signified by blood and goats exceeds his severity toward those who spurn the covenant of the blood of his Son? If the theme of Hebrews is the superiority of the New Covenant, one of the sub-themes is the greater responsibility that comes with that New Covenant (cf. Heb. 2:1-4; 3:6-4:7; 10:28-29; 12:25-29).

We are indeed grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. The boundaries of our inheritance are not defined by rivers and seas on earth: they are eternal. As long as Israel sought an earthly kingdom, it sought a temporary kingdom. A kingdom destined to the same fate of all kingdoms not Christ’s.

We have inherited eternity. We are not shut off from the mount of Sinai, we are invited to Mount Zion. But God is the same: an awe-full consuming fire. Christians do not come to God flippantly. We bring no meager offering.

How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

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