The Foundation of Life
Most likely we have all had the opportunity to experience a major change in the direction that our lives take. Some seminal moments that bring change include graduation from high school, graduation from college, marriage, the birth of the first child, the empty nest, and retirement. There are also very significant changes that take place in our careers, in family responsibilities and relationships, and in many important experiences of our lives. Many times, if not most of those times, we enter a new direction with some anxiety as we face an unknown future. What are some of the questions that become significant at times like these? People of faith experience the same significant changes and challenges in life, and have a wonderful resource in the LORD who has promised to provide for them. We have a choice when we face change: to go through it without giving consideration to the LORD and the Holy Spirit who accompanies us, or to embrace His love and seek His will when these seminal moments enter our lives.
Often, facing the unknown is much like embarking on a trip without a road map. We would like to be able to see the future so that we can make the decisions that will best serve us. Though the LORD has promised to provide and protect, we are still faced with decisions that we must make, and those decisions can have a profound impact on our future and upon those with whom we have close relationships. Godís Word provides us with a foundation from which to make wise decisions. Simply, any time we choose an attitude or action that is contrary to the Word of God, and we know that it is contrary to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we are stepping away from Godís hand of provision and protection.
Ancient Israel faced this type of situation when they were about to enter the Promised Land of Canaan. They had been nomads in the region of the Sinai Peninsula for two generations, and this was the life they knew. Many were satisfied to continue to live in the wilderness, including the tribes of Gad and Reuben. The decision to enter Canaan brought no little anxiety to this nation of about two million people. How would Israel accomplish this change and remain within the protection of the LORD? In his ďlast sermonĒ from the plains of Moab, Moses gave the nation some sound teaching that is recorded as the book of Deuteronomy, basically a commentary on the ten commandments. A review of the LORDís plan for Israel can serve to help us to understand how to approach the decisions that come with lifeís changes.
STAND FIRM ON THE ONE FOUNDATION
Deuteronomy 4:1. Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do [them], that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you.
Why do so many people in this world go through their lives with little or no direction, wandering aimlessly from one event to another, driven by every wind of culture or fad? Many people find direction from many different sources, including many well-defined systems of belief. Some systems, such as Mormonism teach a system that leads people to conservative and moral behavior. Others lead people in aberrant directions. People seek the approval or acceptance from others and find may find it in self-destructive behaviors such as alcoholism or drug abuse.
As Israel is seeking direction, the LORD provides the wisest advice: adhere to the statutes and judgments of the LORD. Most of the people of this world have never seen, or have no interest in the Bible. For those who are aware of the Bible, few give it any attention. Most people of western, Judeo-Christian cultures are familiar with the Bible, yet few of these take the opportunity to actually study and learn its contents. Many Christians own Bibles that they keep on tables or in shelves, but rarely open it.
The Bible is the written Word of God, and as such has an authority and dynamic that is available from no other source. Its pages contain direction for the most important decision of our lives: that choice to give our lives to the LORD, the creator of the universe. It also gives instruction on living a life that is submitted to the LORD, finding in that submission direction, peace, and joy that lift us above the chaos of this pagan and ungodly world.
Israel is about to enter into a land that is quite different than the wilderness that has been their home for so long: Canaan is populated. There they will be immersed in an ungodly culture that stimulates the personal senses and leads one away from godly behavior. Before crossing into that land, the LORD clearly stresses the importance of submitting oneís self to the Word of God so that they can do so successfully:
So that you may live. If we consider this statement as referring to physical life, we can understand that Godís Word contains direction on living in this world, defining the nature of godly relationships among one another, so that we can thrive. If we consider this statement as referring to spiritual life, Godís Word establishes the most important truth in this life: eternal life with God is found only through placing our faith and trust in Him. Without faith, one is forever separated from God: the very definition of death itself. If we are to ignore Godís Word, we will find only despair and death in this world, and separation from God, eternal death, when we leave it.
And possess the land. Godís Word teaches us of the many blessings that God promises to those who place their faith and trust in Him. ďThe landĒ is a reference to the Promised Land of Canaan that stands in front of the nation, on the other side of the Jordan River. However, in a larger sense, God has promised a future for all who place their faith and trust in Him. If we consider that future land to be an eternal heaven where God is LORD, we would not be misdirected. However, the hand of Godís protection is also extended to those who are obedient to Him, and that obedience serves to keep us from many destructive attitudes and behaviors.
In this way, Godís Word carries a unique and eternal authority in the life of a believer. Consequently, in order to adhere to its teaching, it is paramount that an obedient believer develop a basic desire to learn more and more of Godís Word. This world would distract us from the priority of this task, but the Holy Spirit will lead every believer to its study. The Christian who gains the most from their faith is the one who has a sincere desire to learn the contents of Godís Word: a desire that is strong enough to lead them to continually learn and study.
GODíS WORD: THE FOUNDATION OF ALL TRUTH
Deuteronomy 4:2-3. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish [ought] from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. 3Your eyes have seen what the LORD did because of Baalpeor: for all the men that followed Baalpeor, the LORD thy God hath destroyed them from among you. 4But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God [are] alive every one of you this day.
It is natural and normal for people to follow some source of authority, and Godís Word is the only true source. The Bible contains many passages that refer to the necessity of keeping it untainted with any addition or subtraction by man. Certainly, as the Word of God, the word of man has nothing to offer in contrast to Godís wisdom and purpose. Anything that man would choose to remove from its content is removing something that God Himself put there. Anything that man would add to the scriptures would be lacking of the same wisdom that God provides throughout its pages. Consequently any change that man would make to Godís Word is to introduce error.
However, there has been no shortage of redaction when it comes to the presentation of Godís Word. This passage refers to ďBaalpeor,Ē one who led men away from God through his own plan of behavior. The first part of his name, ďBaalĒ is the name of the most predominant pagan god of the Canaanites, identifying that this man led the children of Israel away from the protection of Godís hand and into the dangers of this wicked world, and ultimately to eternal separation from God.
It may be important for us to understand what it means to add to or subtract from Godís Word. Some might argue that there is no value in reading anything that is written other than the Bible itself, rejecting written commentaries and sermons, thinking that these are an attempt to add or subtract. This is not the intent of the Biblical mandate. The command to ďmake disciplesĒ (Matthew 28:18, ff) refers to the importance of discipleship in the Christian life. A disciple is a learner, and learners require teachers. There are many biblical references to teaching Godís Word to one another, to our children, etc.
Commentaries, sermons, and other written Bible helps are a valuable part of learning Godís Word. However, they serve this purpose only when the Bible is the only source of authority. If any person or group attempts to take spiritual authority for themselves, they are adding or subtracting from Godís Word by their insistence that their position or authority adds to that of the LORD. Consequently, all biblical teaching comes under the scrutiny of the Bible itself. Any time a teacher presents a position that is in opposition to the biblical message, that position is in error. Thankfully, the LORD has led many people over thousands of years to the study of the biblical text, and those who have been true to the authority of Scripture provide a united message. Today, Bible students can be confident in the voracity of those who rely on solid Biblical scholarship that has proven itself over the years.
GODíS WORD: THE FOUNDATION OF WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING
Deuteronomy 4:5-6. Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. 6Keep therefore and do [them]; for this [is] your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation [is] a wise and understanding people.
It is natural and appropriate that we seek wisdom and understanding as we go through this journey of life. It is our desire to know our world, its nature, and its people. Mankind has always sought after wisdom and understanding. However, as deeply as we may search into the philosophies of this world, we can never find anything to compare with the wisdom of the One who created it.
The LORD refers to those who choose to place their faith and trust in Him, will not only find true wisdom and understanding, but they are also considered by Him to be known by those who do not know Him as a wise and understanding people. We might be reminded of how the godly wisdom of Joseph was recognized by the Pharaoh of Egypt, or how the wisdom of Daniel was recognized by the king of Syria. King Solomon was, during his reign as the king of Israel, known as the wisest man alive in his day. In these examples we find Godís purpose for all who place their trust in Him, and by so doing choose to live a life that is in obedience to His word.
What does Godly wisdom do for us? When we learn Godís Word we are given examples of how to overcome many of the issues and challenges of this life. When we listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit who is consistent with the Word of God in every way, we will find guidance as we make choices in our attitudes and actions.
What does Godly understanding do for us? With godly understanding comes a basis for bringing godly context to the issues of life. Godís Word, like a light, illuminates the things of this world with the light of His wisdom helping us to understand how the events of this life work together for His purpose. When we seek answers to the many questions of life, we find in Godís Word the foundation of those answers. There is no event that takes place in this world that is beyond the illumination of Godís Word.
GODíS WORD: THE FOUNDATION OF HIS NATION OF PEOPLE
Deuteronomy 4:7-8. For what nation [is there so] great, who [hath] God [so] nigh unto them, as the LORD our God [is] in all [things that] we call upon him [for]? 8And what nation [is there so] great, that hath statutes and judgments [so] righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?
Godís purpose is that, through His Word and through the work of the Holy Spirit, that He will bring people to Himself. Those people who have placed their faith and trust in Him form the church of all ages, the New Jerusalem of the Revelation of John, and the nation that Moses refers to as he addresses the nation of Israel. It is Godís desire that Israel would be that nation. However, at the time that Moses presents this lengthy sermon, the nation is anything but godly. As he as worked to lead them to the LORD in the wilderness, few would actually embrace his teaching. The nation of Israel is not that nation of sincere followers of the LORD, though some followers of the LORD have been and will always be a remnant of that holy nation.
Moses reminds the people that, as they enter the land of Canaan that is populated by pagan nations, that the basis for Israel is the Word of God, and that foundation makes them different from all the nations of the world. The nation that serves the LORD is set apart from the rest of the world as one who stands with the Creator Himself, one who has gained the love, peace, wisdom, and understanding that the rest of the world searches for.
However, this statement also illuminates the contrast between the godly nation that the LORD describes, and the nation of Israel. Given as much evidence of the glory of God that Israel has witnessed, even Israel turns away from Him. The rest of the nations have been devoid of these experiences and have only the testimony of Israel or the direct intervention of God to have any hope of ever finding God.
What is it that keeps the nations from faith in God? The stumbling block can be summed up in one word: trust. To turn to God in faith requires one to place their trust in Him. This is an act of submission, an act that is in direct opposition to the pride that so much defines the attitude of man. Pride keeps people from submitting to any authority that is not forced upon them, and the LORD does not force His authority on any person. How do we overcome that sin of pride and choose to serve the LORD?
Deuteronomy 4:9-14. Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons; 10[Specially] the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and [that] they may teach their children. 11And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness. 12 And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only [ye heard] a voice. 13 And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, [even] ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone. 14 And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it.
Moses then reminds the people of Israel of the amazing miracles that they have seen that demonstrate the presence, power, and faithfulness of God. When they enter the land of the Canaanites they will be tempted to forget the LORD that brought them out of Egypt. God did among the people of Israel the same that He does today.
He made Himself known to the people.
He presented His words of wisdom and understanding.
He made His awesome nature known.
He commanded the people to teach of Him to their children.
He never showed any form of hypocrisy, only love and sound judgment.
He made a covenant with those who would trust in Him.
He presented them with a code of behavior thatÖ
He commanded them to adhere to.
Likewise, it is easy for this world to have the same influence on people today as the land of Canaan did on Israel. Though they had seen him, by failing to pass their faith on to their children:
They no longer knew God
They had no knowledge of His words of wisdom and understanding.
They did not revere, or fear, God.
They continued in their failure to pass their faith on to their children.
They did not know or care of Godís faithfulness, love, and sound judgment.
They broke their part in the covenant by rejecting Him for the things of this world.
They held to the worldís code of behaviorÖ
and ignored the commandments of God.
Though this was already happening, Moses declared to the people that they would take heed that this does not happen. Consequently, Mosesí words would be best heard by the remnant of those who were faithful to God, and he could only hope that some of the rest would turn from their apostasy back to the LORD.
We face a similar challenge today. This pagan and secular world is characterized by this second list above, and has a great influence on people who have not yet made a commitment for the LORD. Many churches today are populated by adults and senior adults who have not passed the legacy of their faith on to their children. Without the influx of new believers, many churches are closing their doors. The result of this is a generation that is becoming more and more devoid of the foundation of faith that will strengthen them, guide them, and protect them from the dramatic consequences of submission to the evil of this world. Without direction, people will follow the pagan and secular culture of this world:
Deuteronomy 4:15-19. Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day [that] the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: 16 Lest ye corrupt [yourselves], and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 The likeness of any beast that [is] on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, 18 The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that [is] in the waters beneath the earth: 19 And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, [even] all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.
Moses describes what happens when people turn their back on God and follow this world culture:
They become corrupted by its evil.
They give authority to things of this world that belongs only to God.
They worship images, people, animals, birds,
They worship the moon, the starts, and the planets.
When Moses states, ďgive heed,Ē he is proclaiming a call to purity. People today, including people of faith, tend to believe the cultural lies that such behaviors are harmless.
They are willing to take part in practices that are clearly not Godís plan and purpose for them, not realizing that this is a corrupt behavior.
They make all manner of things of this world more important than God, and by doing so, make it an idol.
Though few worship animals and birds today, we have simply replaced them with sports teams, world leaders, objects of possession, and a myriad of other things.
Many people of faith believe that astrology and the reading of horoscopes is harmless, yet it is based upon pagan idolatry and the Word of God repeatedly commands that people of faith abstain from it.
These are just a few examples of attitudes and behaviors that are accepted by many in the community of believers that serves to diminish the work of the LORD in their lives and in the lives of those whom they influence, particularly their children. The people of God are to be separate from this world in belief and in behavior, with a belief in God that is sincere, and a resulting love for Him that leads them to godly behavior. The nation of faithful believers in the LORD have received a tremendous gift from the LORD, the Creator of the universe, that is His presence, and His Promise:
Deuteronomy 3:35-40. Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the LORD he [is] God; [there is] none else beside him. 36 Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he shewed thee his great fire; and thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire. 37 And because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt; 38 To drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou [art], to bring thee in, to give thee their land [for] an inheritance, as [it is] this day. 39 Know therefore this day, and consider [it] in thine heart, that the LORD he [is] God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: [there is] none else. 40 Thou shalt keep therefore his statutes, and his commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong [thy] days upon the earth, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, for ever.