There is a phrase bantered about these days particularly in conservative political circles, and that is the concept of American Exceptionalism. Most people don’t understand what this truly connotes, simply taking it at face value to seem to imply a hip-hip-hooray view that America is #1 in the world – waving the giant sponge index finger in the air. Actually, the phrases involves the concept that the historically unique American system of government – allowing freedom, industry, and capitalism to thrive without the heavy hand of the state – is an exceptional expression of human law that best provides conditions toward producing success and the pursuit of happiness.
While I would confess to being a proponent of this view, I freely admit that there was a better exceptionalism historically – that which was granted to the nation of Israel. It was a theocracy for sure – where the Lord God promised to be their provider, in accord with Israel’s obedience as his people. In this passage today, we essentially see God giving Israel this truly sweet deal – saying that no other nation could possibly be found who had a God so close, or who had laws and guidelines for life so completely in their possession.
What Israel had was a perfect recipe. God’s law did not need to be spiced up by adding something to it, nor watered down by taking something away. The people simply needed to obey it and all would go well for them. But to obey, they had to know God’s words and remember them. Moses reminds them of how this body of truth was given in the midst of a mighty scene of the smoking mountain. Remember! The words were written down by God on stone and carried with them in their travels. Remember! At a place called Baal Peor (Numbers 25:1-9), some of the nation forgot to be pure unto the Lord and got involved rather with Moabite women and worship – being destroyed by the thousands for such. Remember! And they were to teach these truths to the rising generations so that they would … what? Yep! Remember!
It all seems so simple and easy enough to follow. If we were there, surely we’d obey! But we have not just God’s Old Testament Law; we have the complete record of God. We know the full story of redemption in Christ. We have the Holy Spirit living inside us upon our salvation. So what do we too often do? We forget. We mess with the recipe. We get tired of waiting for God to come through on something, and so we take over the controls of life. And what don’t we do? We don’t remember God’s word.
Summary – When we remember, we have revival!
4 Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.
3 You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor. The Lord your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, 4 but all of you who held fast to the Lord your God are still alive today.
5 See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And 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?
9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. 10 Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” 11 You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness.12 Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13 He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. 14 And the Lord directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.