Grace and the Fire of “Inequality” (Dt.9:1-12)
from The Church under Fire sermon series . . .
It’s a phrase we all struggle to hear coming from the others; yet, we generally have no problem using it when we believe we have been wronged. It’s used all the time in the mainstream culture—in the media, politics, and workplaces. It’s often used in an attempt to shut down disagreement and debate about various issues. The phrase is, “It’s not fair.”
But in mainstream culture, we’re too sophisticated just to use the word “fairness” because we know it can come off sounding petty and cliché. The word en vogue today is inequality. It’s true that in this world under sin’s curse there is plenty of inequality going on in every nook-and-cranny of the world—and as Christians, we must be vigilant to search our hearts for evidences of this sin, and we strive to right real injustices where we can. But the deep-er problem is that the definition of inequality has been going through a process of change. Remember what we said about Deconstructionism’s goal to tear down truth claims in order to establish a new foundation of authority? What better way to go about it than deconstructing long-agreed on definitions of words and ideas?
As Christians and as a local Church, how do we stand against the “fire” of “inequality” as it has been redefined and is being used as a cultural, political, and theological weapon against the truth? Well, the answer to all the “fires” we’re addressing in this series is found in the pages of God’s Word. Deuteronomy 9 is one of the best texts in Scripture that gets to the more important reality underneath all discussions of equality in our world.
Deuteronomy 9:1-5—“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, 2 a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ 3 Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you. 4 “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. 5 Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Our Scripture today takes on common misapplications of inequality, beginning with a stark reminder.
1. The LORD is our victory over the enemies of His truth (vv.1-3). “Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over Jordan today, to go in to dis-possess nations greater than you are, cities greater and fortified to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ ” (vv.1-2). Israel had no fortified city walls to hide behind; and Israel had no mighty warriors that compared to the size and tactical abilities of the sons of Anak. We don’t know how big the Anakim men were, but they were much larger than the average Canaanite. To give us a reference point, they were at least as large or larger than the giant, Goliath, who seems to be a descendant of these people—and Goliath was six and a half cubits tall (somewhere in the 8-9 foot range).
Moses continues, “Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the LORD your God” (v.3a). The LORD says, “Know therefore.” The word know means understand this, believe this, and remember this. Know what? Know that God is the one “who goes” before us into every battle. Know that God is a “consuming fire”, not you or me, not the Church itself. Earlier in Deuteronomy, we read that God is called the all-consuming fire as a warning to all His enemies—even those who claim to be His people yet fail to follow Him faithfully.
Deuteronomy 4:23-24—Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden. 24 For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
And the people of Israel were all too familiar with the LORD’s use of fire. Moses met God at the burning bush (Ex.3:2). God led Israel out of Egypt by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex.13:21). Mt. Sinai “was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descend-ed on it in fire” (Ex.19:18). The appearance of God on the mountain “was like a devouring fire” (Ex. 24:17). Israel’s offerings were consumed with fire as a picture of what their sins deserved (Ex.29:14, 34). Na-dab and Abihu were consumed by fire by God after they offered “unauthorized fire” on the altar (Num.10:2). And God consumed Korah and 250 rebels that dared burn unauthorized incense before the LORD (Num.16:35).
Moses details how God’s victorious fire will consume His enemies. “He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the LORD has promised you” (v.3b). As the Church, we cannot and must not militarize our mission, but we can apply the principle that Moses is relating. It is God who must bring our enemies down before we can drive them out. We are called to do our part, namely proclaim the truth and live according to the truth we believe. But it is the LORD who is victorious because His truth prevails, whether we are faithful or not.
What does this teach us about our own sin that is just as deserving of His judgment as all His enemies? “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you” (v.4).
2. The LORD is our righteousness, which is received according to His grace alone (vv.4-12). Too often, we can confuse God’s favor on us to mean we have done something to deserve His grace. As indicated by verse 4, this is a fatal error. Instead, the Moses makes it clear that the sole cause of God’s grace is God’s grace.
Deuteronomy 9:5-6—“Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 6 “Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.
Israel was no more righteous or upright than any of the evil people in Canaan (v.5a). The only reason that Israel had been chosen by God was according to His covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (v.5b). Moses clearly states that Israel had no righteousness of their own, proven by their persistent stubbornness as a people (v.6). Such stubbornness was due to their unwillingness to submit to God’s sovereignty over over every circumstance in their daily lives. Moses then gives specific examples of their stiff-necked behavior.
Deuteronomy 9:7-12—“Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord. 8 Even at Horeb you provoked the Lord to wrath, and the Lord was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you. 9 When I went up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord made with you, I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water. 10 And the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and on them were all the words that the Lord had spoken with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. 11 And at the end of forty days and forty nights the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant. 12 Then the Lord said to me, ‘Arise, go down quickly from here, for your people whom you have brought from Egypt have acted corruptly. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them; they have made themselves a metal image.’ “
Israel had been persistently rebellious throughout their wilderness journeys coming out of slavery in Egypt (v.7). And Moses recounts the pinnacle of their rebellion at the foot of Mt. Sinai while he was atop the mountain meeting with God to receive the Ten Commandments (vv.8-11). The people got tired and bored with waiting on Moses (and ultimately on God!), so they decided to to make an idol of gold, the golden calf, for the people to worship, which Moses goes into detail about in verses 13-21.
Did you notice that God tells Moses that these are now “your people” (v.12a). It was not a rejection of Israel so much as ultimately a test of the leadership of Moses. In-deed, will Moses be willing to call Israel his people now that they have sinned? Thankfully, he was willing, evidenced by his fervent prayers to God to save Israel despite their wickedness (vv.18-20). In all this, we learn that Israel was incapable of producing the righteousness required for their salvation. Israel was incapable of faithfulness to God’s commandments apart from His gracious granting of forgiveness.
Church, even now in the New Covenant of Christ’s blood, we are no more capable of producing righteousness and faithfulness than the people of Israel. Receiving God’s righteousness is always and only possible by His grace as He grants us faith and repentance. As wonderful of an intercessor as Moses was for God’s people, we need a greater Intercessor—and in Christ, we have one!
Romans 8:31-34—What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us
1 John 2:1—My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you my not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with he Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
3. All earthly inequalities find their answer in either God’s justice or His grace. On one hand, it is true in many ways that this earthly life is, humanly speaking, not “fair.” This is a lesson we must learn and relearn repeatedly. But the “truer” truth (the deeper truth) is that every moment of our lives is the result of God’s grace toward us.
The truth that modern definitions of “inequality” are missing is the reality that every human being deserves God’s justice. No one deserves earthly wealth. No one deserves an “equal” share in this world’s goods and opportunities. There are thousands of variables at work in God’s providence that have led to the circumstances of every person on the planet. Too many people approach life and it’s inequalities thinking in terms of what is deserved. God’s justice says you deserve only His eternal judgments for your sin.
But it is God’s grace that grants undeserving sinners blessings untold. In God’s grace, both believers and unbelievers enjoy God’s common grace everyday of this earthly life. Every breath, every heartbeat, every morning we awake, every morsel of food, every hug from a loved one is God’s common grace. And even the inequalities that exist in our world are designed by God to accomplish one of two things: either salvation or damnation because people will react to all earthly sorrows related to sin in one of the two ways.
2 Corinthians 7:10—For godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
Therefore, God’s grace transcends the issue of equality, for no one deserves any of God’s blessings, whether temporal or eternal. And no one is accepted by God based on their own righteousness because no one has a righteousness that is acceptable to God. For “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom.3:10b). We will say more about equality in the coming weeks when we address the important topics of repentance, justice, and racism. But for now, as Christians, we are called to be concerned about earthly inequalities; but we must never allow these to wash away the foundation of our salvation, which is the grace of God. Our hope is not in issues of equality in this life, but in the grace of God that grants the believer life-everlasting in Heaven.