photo by Laura Evans
It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers....
Deut. 7:7–8a ESV
Dear ICB family,
As we saw on Sunday from Deut. 7:7–11, Israel's only hope was that God would remain faithful to do exactly what he said he would do.
"[I]t is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharoah king of Egypt" (Deut. 7:8 ESV).
And just in case Israel might have gotten the idea that they as a nation contributed at least a little to God's decision to deliver them, God says, "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples" (Deut. 7:7), and, "Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust [the Canaanites] out [of the Promised Land] 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…. and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob" (Deut. 9:4–5).
God loves you because he loves you.
In other words, as Pastor Neil so pointedly stated, "God loves you because he loves you," which is another way of saying that God loves his people not because of their loveliness but because God is a loving God. Likewise, God said he going to be faithful to his people because he is a faithful God. He hadn't chosen Israel because of all the great traits he saw in them, and he wasn't going to remain faithful to his promises to them only to the extent that they remained faithful to his covenant commands.
Nearing the end of Israel's 70-year captivity in Babylon, Daniel prays something that reveals that he had read his Pentateuch: "O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our please before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name" (Dan. 9:18–19).
'I will remember my covenant' (Lev. 26:42).
God had promised his people numerous curses including exile for their trusting in idols and not keeping his commandments (Lev. 26:14–46; Deut. 4:25–31; Deut. 28:15–68). But he had also promised them that even then, "[I]f they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they have committed against me… [and] if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land…. [W]hen they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God" (Lev. 26:40–45).
Daniel got it exactly right when he based his entire prayer solely on God's mercy and faithfulness to his people who were called by his name.
Now, what does all that have to do with us?
Just like Israel, we as God's people under the New Covenant (the covenant that God has made with us and ratified by the blood of his Son) have a single hope, and that is the same single hope that Israel had: God will be faithful to us today and will fulfill his promises to us today for the sole reason that he is a faithful God. He didn't chose us because he saw our great potential. (If you've seen The Chosen, though I like the series in general, I happen to strongly disagree with the words put in Peter's wife's mouth to Jesus that Jesus must have seen all that Peter could have become and that that's why he chose Peter to follow him.) Likewise, God will not remain faithful to us based upon our faithfulness to him.
We as God's people under the New Covenant… have a single hope, and that is the same single hope that Israel had: God will be faithful to us today and will his promises to us today for the sole reason that he is a faithful God.
He does not hear our prayers for forgiveness and restoration when we find ourselves under his loving discipline because of our righteousness or because of how sorry we feel or because of how much penance we've done to set things right. Yes, God is "near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18), meaning there is no way around true repentance. However, what I'm arguing here is that our ultimate, bedrock hope that God will hear our repentant cry is that he is faithful to his promises. That's how we can know without even the slightest hint of a fraction of a doubt that when we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). He will do that because that is a clause in the New Covenant.
We can rest assured that Jesus will welcome us the very minute we have committed the most grievous sin we can think of because Jesus said, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out" (John 6:37). And Jesus will do that because that, too, is a clause in the New Covenant. And God keeps his covenants.
When we as individuals, as a community, as a local church, as a nation, or as the worldwide body of Christ come to God, our only hope in that moment is that God will be faithful to honor the promises that he has ratified to his people in the New Covenant.
Do you pray that way? Not, "Bless us because of our shining righteous example." Instead, "Bless us because you are a good Father who knows how to give good gifts to your children, and you've promised to do so."
Not, "Forgive me because this time I promise I will never do it again." Instead, "Forgive me because you have promised to forgive and cleanse your people when they confess their sins."
Not, "Fill me with your Holy Spirit because I'm pretty good and could become great if I had a boost of divine power." Instead, "Fill me with your Holy Spirit because you promised that under the terms of your New Covenant with your people you would do exactly that."
Not, "Hear our cries for deliverance because we're so lowly and pitiful and could really use your helping hand right about now." Instead, "Hear our cries because you have commanded us to cast all our cares upon you because you care for us."
This is what it means to live by faith. At every moment we anchor our soul in what God has promised us, and we cling to that as the only basis of our hope in this life and the next.
Standing on the promises with you,