Most ancient Near Eastern cultures had laws against murder, theft, adultery and the such like. These are the kinds of legal problems which every civilized society must contend. But what made ancient Israel stand out from the rest was its monotheism – its belief that there is only one God, that He is the Creator of all else, and that as human beings we are directly accountable to Him for our actions. This radical conception was enshrined in the very first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3; NKJV).
“To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord Himself is God; there is none other besides Him” (Dt. 4:35). Because there is only one God, and we owe everything we have to Him, even our very existence, we have a very definite obligation to Him. First of all we own Him our complete love and devotion. The great creedal statement of Israel is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Dt. 6:4). And then this is immediately followed by a moral injunction: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all you soul, and with all your strength’ (v. 5). Jesus called this “the first and great commandment” (Matt. 22:36-38). If God is wise and good and holy, if He has blessed us with life and health, with intelligence and strength, then He is infinitely of our love and devotion. We would be stupid jerks not to acknowledge His goodness toward us and respond accordingly.
But there is more involved than just that. We are also to fear God. “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good?” (Dt. 10:12,13). To “fear” God in this sense does not mean to be terrified of Him, the way a child might be afraid of a drunken and abusive human father. Rather it means to hold God in reverential awe. God is infinitely greater that ourselves, eternal, all-present and all-knowing. He is the Creator of heaven and earth, and He is absolutely pure and holy in His character. Such a consideration should fill us with awe and wonder, and profoundly humble us. Who are we, mere specks of dust, to approach such an awesome God?
One thing that the fear of God should do for us is prompt us to obey Him.
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil;
Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverse mouth I hate.”
If we could even begin to have a true conception of God’s power and holiness, we would shudder even to think of doing something He hates. We would cringe at the prospect of doing anything He dislikes. We would live every day of our lives knowing that He can see everything that we think or feel, let alone do. How differently would we live!
On the other hand if we truly feared God as we ought we would never fear human disapproval. Jesus stated the matter quite pointedly when He said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). There will come times when we will have to choose between obeying God and obeying human authority. The human authority may have the power to arrest, imprison, torture and even kill. And yet our eternal destiny is at stake and God is the one who determines the final outcome. It is pure folly to ignore Him.
In such circumstances we must learn to put our trust in Him. David could write:
“Truly my soul silently waits for God;
From Him comes my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation;
He is my defense;
I shall be greatly moved.”
When faced with real problems in life (in his case often outright persecution) David looked to God to provide a solution. In some cases this meant that he had to wait patiently for an answer.
“My soul, wait silently for God alone,
For my expectation is from Him.”
The answer may not come right away. We may have to wait to see results. But a firm trust in God takes Him at His word and waits patiently for the promised deliverance.
The temptation here, of course, is to lose patience and take matters into our own hands, sometimes resorting to questionable means and methods to achieve our goals. But God’s warning in such situations is unmistakably clear:
“Do not trust in oppression,
Nor vainly hope in robbery;
If riches increase,
Do not set your heart on them.”
The ends do not justify the means!
Why, then, should we worship and serve God alone? First of all, because He is our Creator.
“Know that the Lord, He is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.”
His “mercy” (Heb. chesed) is His favorable disposition towards His creatures to show them kindness. His “truth” (Heb. ‘emunah) is His honesty, consistency and reliability – His complete trustworthiness. In other words, God’s character should capture our admiration. We should love Him for the way He is; when we fail to do so it speaks volumes about our own perverseness.
Most modern people do not bow down and worship physical images. But we find a zillion substitutes for the true and living God as He has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. God created us for Himself, and when we exclude Him from our lives it creates an emotional and psychological void which we must then fill with something else. It might be financial success, or sports or politics or entertainment. It might be the grosser vices of sex, drugs or alcohol. Or it might be a false religion or philosophy. Anything and everything to avoid acknowledging the one true God, the God who actually made us. In this sense what passes for modern civilization is a religious travesty. What will it take to wake us up?