If you have been following along, you have noticed how so far Deuteronomy has been a cross between largely a history lesson for and a plea to the Israelites. That plea is coming from Moses, and has regarded following God's Law to attain righteousness and killing all of the Promised Land's present occupants. In this study, we are getting back to God and history again, and find out more about God's true nature.
Who Is God?
People of faith say that you can learn about God through His Word, the Bible. With each Bible study, the picture of God becomes clearer, and so far it is turning out to be rather a scary image. Deuteronomy 8 paints another portrait, displaying even more who God is.
Moses begins by telling the Israelites again to obey all of God's laws (Deuteronomy 8:1). Then the discussion turns into another history lesson, but this lesson has a spin to it. Take Deuteronomy 8:2, for instance:
“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.” NIVAs the story goes, God did indeed lead the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, but it was not to test them. As we learned in a previous study, their 40 year sojourn was to punish them (Numbers 14:32-34) despite having already been forgiven by God (Numbers 14:20).
Perhaps more interesting is the part about testing the Israelites to see if they would obey God's commands. The implication is that they did pass this test, and so God will let them enter the Promised Land. However, during that time they ignored God's law about circumcision (Joshua 5:2-8). Plus, it was evident that they did not continue obey God's commands as they were entering the Promised Land, such as when Achan angered God by taking some plunder for himself after the conquest of Jericho (Joshua 7:1). So this “test” was effectively meaningless.
Moses continues on in Deuteronomy 8:3-4 with slightly less spin:
“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.” NIVThis episode with the manna occurred in Exodus 16, which was a month and a half after they had left Egypt (Exodus 16:1). The Israelites complained of having nothing to eat (Exodus 16:3), despite having left Egypt with large flocks of livestock (Exodus 12:38). At that time, God had said that the miracle of the manna would let the Israelites know that God was God (Exodus 16:11-12).
Together, the Exodus story and this latest spin send a message that God is saying “you are only alive because I am letting you live.” While technically true (or at least true to the Biblical text), it does not really confer a sense love. Believers could argue that it displays love in the form of mercy, but that does not stand up to honest scrutiny. When have you told someone you love that they are only alive because you are allowing them to live?
Keep in mind that prior to the manna episode, the Israelites had been “humbled” already when they were led into the desert for three days without water, and had to complain to God in order to get some. So this was a redundant lesson.
Also, keep in mind that we already know that this humbling experience did not stop the Israelites from turning away from God's laws, making it appear to be an inadequate effort on God's part, which calls into question His omniscience of both the future and human nature in general. Perhaps if God had tried an approach of love as opposed to system authoritative fear, it would have gone better. Why? Think about the next verse, Deuteronomy 8:5:
“Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.” NIVIf children are not disciplined when they break the rules, then they will have a tendency to disregard the rules. Plus, as noted in the study about the teaching of the Law, Proverbs 13:24 and Ecclesiastes 8:11-12 point out that laws without timely enforcement are useless.
Now under the system of authoritative fear, if God slacks off on His parental discipline, from person to person or from generation to generation, we would naturally expect the Israelites to stray from God's Law, just like we see how parenting with little or no rule enforcement leads to unruly kids. Well, obviously God did slack off, and thus the Israelites did stray.
What follows in Deuteronomy 8:6-18 is largely a plea by Moses for the Israelites not to forget God when they get to the Promised Land. When they become lavishly wealthy in this new land, they might begin to think that it was through their own effort. So Moses tells them to remember that God is the one who gives them the ability to become wealthy, in keeping with His covenant (Deuteronomy 8:18). That verse could have a few different meanings, including the idea that prosperity preachers use that if you are wealthy, it is because God is blessing you for doing the right things. Yet this could also simply be interpreted that God had given them this rich Promised Land; a land where anyone could prosper.
Ending the chapter, we neatly summarize God's position. Deuteronomy 8:19-20 states:
“If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.” NIVCause. Effect. Turn away from God, and your nation will be destroyed and taken by invading armies.
Yet we find that God is slack in His discipline. The prime example is King Manasseh of Judah, as recorded in 2 Kings 21. He was the most evil king which the Israelites had ever had, doing even greater evils than the pagan nations before them. Yet he reigned for 55 years without God's discipline, with the exception of God's confirmation that their nation would be destroyed for these evils. And it would. About 55 years after King Manasseh's reign.
As before, God is not showing the face of love, at least not love as we know it. When have you ever threatened to kill the one you love if they stopped obeying you?
So who is God? What do we learn about Him in perspective of these verses and the events which would follow? God is your Heavenly Father; but that father is one who motivates through life-threatening fear instead of love, who lays down the Law and threatens punishment for breaking it but then essentially walks away from enforcement for generations, only to come back later inflamed in wrath because His children have become disobedient. God is far from being an exemplary father, although you could use Him as an example of what not to do...