Deuteronomy Part 3: God of the Underdog

Introduction & Review

hello everybody
it has been two months since I last spoke here.
who can remember what book of the Bible I was talking about?
Yes, Deuteronomy
Let’s start with a multichoice quiz to remember where we were.
 
 
One: in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, God promised Abraham:
the best rugby team in the Middle East.
He would win Lotto.
To bless his descendants, and to bless all peoples through them.
 
The Lord said to Abram, … “I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others….  All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
Genesis 12:1-3
 
Two: by the start of the second book of the Bible, Exodus, there is bad news:
the Israelites lost the World Cup
they lost all their money at Lotto.
They were slaves under Pharaoh, King of Egypt
 
the people of Israel cried out to God, he heard, and he sent Moses.
 
Three: through Moses, God:
gave them the best rugby coach so they could win the next World Cup
rescued them from being slaves in Egypt
helped them make money again.
 
Moses led the people out of Egypt, to Mt Sinai in the desert
 
Four: at Mt Sinai, God gave the people of Israel:
training in tackling and passing and kicking and scrums
many laws telling them how to live.
Tips on choosing the winning Lotto numbers
 
 
all of these laws together were called the law of Moses
there were 613 rules.
It’s easy to get lost!
 
In Deuteronomy, Moses reviews the law and emphasises the big ideas.
– Deuteronomy means "second law."
Last time we looked at the foundation of the law, in Deuteronomy 5 and 6.
The first of the 10 Commandments, and
What Jesus called the greatest commandment.
They are like two sides of the same coin
 
Five: these were:
don’t hurt people and love your neighbour.
Don’t break the rules and play fair.
Have no other gods, and love the Lord with all your heart and soul and strength
 
behind all the many commands,
the heart of the law is a close relationship with God
 

Following the God who Loves the Underdog

We see the same in this beautiful passage:
in my Bible, it is titled, "the essence of the law."
 
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul. And you must always obey the Lord’s commands…
Deuteronomy 10:12-13
 
what does God want from us? [1]
To fear him – respect like a parent
To live a life that pleases him, or "walk in all his ways."  (10:12)
to love him, serve him wholeheartedly, obey him.
 
Does that describe your life?
Do you want it to?
How would your life be different if it really did?
 
 
Perhaps it’s summed up in two words, "loving obedience"
like Jesus said:

If you love me, you will obey my commandments
John 14:15
 
 
So what does it actually mean to "walk in all God’s ways"?
It means following him.
Imitating him.
doing the sort of things that God does.
Becoming the sort of person that God is
having the sort of priorities and passions that God has
 
So we have to know God’s character
Moses carries on to describe him:
 
Look, the highest heavens and the earth and everything in it all belong to the Lord your God. …
For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God
Deuteronomy 10: 14,17
 
Nothing and no one can compare to him
– that’s one of the big messages of Deuteronomy, that we saw last time
God is all-powerful.
High and exalted
He rules over the universe.
 
 
but look what Moses says next, here is the amazing thing:
 
God ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing.
Deuteronomy 10:18
 
 
What is God’s first priority?
who does he have a special heart for?
The rich and powerful, like kings and queens?
No: Orphans, widows, foreigners. –  we meet them over and over in Deuteronomy
Children without parents
women who have lost their husbands.-in many cultures, they are nothing
People far from their home, strangers who don’t fit in.
 
Not the top dogs but the underdogs.
An underdog is someone at the bottom of society,
someone who has no hope of winning.
 
 
Here is what makes the God of the Bible so unique, so good:
he is God of gods, King of kings, Lord of lords,
yet he cares for everyone,
especially for the little, the least, the last, the lost [2]
 
 
God says,
“I live in the high and holy place, and …
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble.”
Isaiah 57:15
 
 
If we want to please God, to walk in his ways.
We must do the same.
 
God shows love to the foreigners … So you, too, must show love to foreigners
Deuteronomy 10:18-19
 
 
This is a big theme of the Bible:
Justice and fairness and compassion for the weak. [3]
It’s what many of the laws in Deuteronomy are all about.
today, we will see a few of them.
To get a taste for the flavour.
 

A Caring Society of Freedom

When the Israelites were back in Egypt,
they were the underdogs themselves.
Crushed down foreigners,
Helpless slaves.
 
But God is the God of the underdog
he heard their cries
he saw their suffering
he cared.
he rescued them
 
 
And now God wants Israel to be different
a society where everyone is equal before him.
Where everyone is free
where they are no longer slaves.
 
The reality in Israel wasn’t perfect,
But many of the laws point towards an ideal of freedom.
Look at this:
 
If slaves should escape from their masters and take refuge with you, you must not hand them over to their masters. Let them live among you in any town they choose, and do not oppress them.
Deuteronomy 23:15-16
 
For the time, that was amazing
in most other countries, it was a serious offence for a slave to escape, or anyone to shelter them.
The penalty was sometimes death.
 
But Israel was a society of escaped slaves – rescued from Egypt by God.
All the land was to be a place of refuge, where people could be safe, where people could be free.
 
Did anyone see the movie Amazing Grace?
It tells the story of William Wilberforce
because of Bible verses like these, he fought against slavery in the 1800s.
it was a great victory: slavery became illegal in the British Empire
 
 
In our world, there are still slaves – often woman and children.[4]
there are refugees in New Zealand,
who may go to prison if they are sent back to their own countries.
 
 
That’s physical slavery.
an economic form of slavery is debt
when people owe a lot of money that they cannot repay.
So the rich get richer, the poor get poorer,
whole generations can be trapped in poverty.
God gave Israel laws to break the spiral of debt and slavery:
 
At the end of every seventh year you must cancel the debts of everyone who owes you money….for the Lord’s time of release has arrived. …
 
If there are any poor Israelites … do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward them.  Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need…. share freely with the poor…
Deuteronomy 15:1-11
 
If you know the book of Exodus, back in Egypt,
Who are we told was hardhearted?
Who was tight-fisted and refused to release people?
Pharaoh, King of Egypt.
 
If the Israelites act like Pharaoh, they will become like Egypt – a society of slaves
exactly what God rescued them from.
What a tragedy!
The chapter continues, to stop this happening:
 
If a fellow Hebrew sells himself or herself to be your servant and serves you for six years, in the seventh year you must set that servant free…. do not send him away empty-handed. Give him a generous farewell gift from your flock… Remember that you were once slaves in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you! That is why I am giving you this command.
Deuteronomy 15:12-15
 
Again and again in Deuteronomy, Moses says to the people:
remember that you were slaves in Egypt.
So you know what it is like to be oppressed. [5]
 
And remember how God set you free
So you must do the same for others.
 
And don’t just send them off with nothing.
When people come out of prison,
sometimes they don’t know where to start or what to do or how to live.
Deuteronomy says give generously, the way God gives
So people can support themselves in their new free life
 
aren’t these good laws?  (E.g. Psalm 19, 119)
 
 
Some Christians have applied texts like this to fight global poverty.
The Jubilee 2000 movement said rich nations should write off the loans of poor nations.
Set Third World countries free from debt.[6]
 
 
Slavery is physical and economic;
it can also be spiritual.
many of us carry a heavy load of shame and guilt,
for wrong things we’ve said and done, or others have done to us .
Spiritual freedom comes through forgiveness
and it’s the same pattern:
God first forgives us, so we forgive others.[7]
 
The Christian Church is like Israel.
a society of escaped slaves – rescued from sin and shame by Jesus.
So is the Baptist Tabernacle a place where people come to find forgiveness and safety and freedom?
 
Has someone hurt you, and you are still hanging on to anger and bitterness?
Do you need to release them?
Forgive them, set them – and yourself – free from the past?
It can be hard, but God can help:
 
Wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17
 
freedom that is physical, economic, and spiritual
one of the great things about these laws is that when you unpack them, they are both
a strong social-economic message.
And a personal spiritual application.
 
 
Here’s another example:
you sometimes hear, the law is for those who can’t afford to fight it
God wants the law to be fair.
With judges who protect the rights of the weak:
 
True justice must be given to foreigners living among you and to orphans, and you must never accept a widow’s garment as security for her debt. Always remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from your slavery. That is why I have given you this command.
Deuteronomy 24:17-18 [8]
 
 
Moses is talking about people like Loan sharks – there are a lot in South Auckland.
They charge big interest in exchange for a loan and take poor people’s property.
Like taking a widow’s coat.
 
We mightn’t do that, but it’s easy to hurt people in need.
Do we give shy people, who aren’t good at English, a chance to talk?
Or do we dominate the conversation?
That unjust, unfair
 
 
again, Moses said, remember you were underdogs in Egypt.
Now that God has rescued you and times are better, do not forget.[9]
 
 
Especially in my teenage years, I often felt lonely and depressed.
Of course, I prayed that God would take that away
but I also prayed, that I would not forget what it is like.
 
So I would care for others who are unhappy and hurting.
remember what a difference a warm smile or a kind word can make when you’re feeling low.
 
 
For some of you, remember when you first came to New Zealand
how did you feel?
Maybe you felt homesick and lonely and confused
you didn’t speak much English, you didn’t understand how things worked.
maybe people laughed at you or treated you badly or took advantage of you.
You were an underdog.
 
Some of you are now doing much better
you’ve got jobs, you’re making money, you fit in.
Do you remember what it was like at first?
Do you look out for those who are struggling like you once did?
 
————————————————————————————————
we are now going to hear the story of someone who recently came to New Zealand,
and can relate to these verses we’ve been seeing.
————————————————————————————————
 
I hope we’ve glimpsed something of the spirit of compassion that runs through Deuteronomy.
in every area of life, Israel was called to be a caring society
where people really love their neighbours as themselves
 

let’s finish with one more law.
It’s like the Good Samaritan commandment of Deuteronomy!
 
If you see your neighbor’s ox or sheep or goat wandering away, don’t ignore your responsibility. Take it back to its owner. …
If you see that your neighbor’s donkey or ox has collapsed on the road, do not look the other way. Go and help your neighbor get it back on its feet!
Deuteronomy 22:1-4 [10]
 
 
Have you ever seen a sheep wandering down Queen Street?
Or a donkey fallen down on K Road?
No?
But on the news, we see refugees, without a home, starving and sick.
Do we care?  Do we pray?  Do we give?
 
here in Auckland,
our neighbours are often needy.
 
In your class, have you noticed that person who has no friends, and always sits alone?
Why don’t you say hello, eat lunch with them?
 
If you have a car, do you know someone who has no transport and might need a ride?
Little things like that can make a big difference
 
Do you look out for other’s needs?
Do you notice how you could help?
Or do you look the other way, pretend you haven’t seen?
just walk past,
Maybe too busy to even notice.
 

Becoming a Blessing to All Peoples

in all of this we’ve seen, that God wants Israel to be different from Egypt.
A place where people are no longer crushed down as slaves.
Where the weak are not exploited, but cared for
where people love and help each other.
 
But it is not just about Israel being a nice place to live
remember God’s promise to Abraham:
 
All the families on earth will be blessed through you.
Genesis 12:3
 
So Moses said about God’s commands:
 
Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations. When they hear all these decrees, they will exclaim, ‘How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!’ For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him?  And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions?
Deuteronomy 4:5-8
 
Israel was called to be different
so that people around would look at them and say,
wow! the presence of God is really here.
hey!  what good and fair laws they have!
 
 
Israel was to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6, 49:3-6)
and Jesus said the same to us:
 
You are the light of the world… let your good deeds shine out for all to see
Matthew 5: 14-15
 
Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.
John 13:34-35
 
 
From Deuteronomy to Jesus, it is the same message – this is God fulfilling his promise to Abraham
It’s the same challenge:  when people look at us, what do they see?
An intimacy with God and a community of love, like nowhere else?
 
 
the first Christians lived this Deuteronomy-Jesus way.
In the book of Acts, we find:
 
All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. … those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.
Acts 4:32-25
 
 
Does that describe us?
Nearly a century later, in A.D. 125, a writer described Christians: (Aristides)
 
They love one another. They do not despise the widow or grieve the orphan….  If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof, and rejoice over him as if he were their own brother… And if there is among them a man that is needy and poor, and they have not an abundance, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with food.
 
it sounds just like Deuteronomy and Acts!
 
how do we compare to them?
When is the last time you welcomed a stranger,
gave something up, even skipped a meal, to fulfil someone’s need?
Did you ever not buy a coffee or not go to an expensive restaurant,
so you could sponsor a poor child, or give to God’s work?
 
 
By the next century, the church was the main social charity in Rome.
caring for thousands of needy people.
Again, people looked at Christians and they said with amazement,
‘See how they love one another.’ (Tertullian, around 200 AD) [11]
 
 
When the people at your work, or your classmates at school, look at you, at us,
Are they amazed at our love?
 
Do they say, wow!
See how those people at the Baptist Tabernacle love one another!
I want to come along and be part of a community like that.
I want to learn about the God they talk about.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christians attracted people like that?
 
 
Do we have open hearts and open hands?
Do we give generously and set people free?
Do we treat people like God does?
Or are we hardhearted and tight fisted, like Pharaoh in Egypt?
 
 
All this stuff is very challenging
by the standard of Deuteronomy, of Jesus, Acts, the early church
how do I measure up?
I very quickly see that I’m a very self-centred person.
I need God’s Spirit to soften my heart and open my hand
much more to the needs of people around me.
 

We Are All Underdogs

 
It’s challenging, but it’s also encouraging
 
Because at the end of the day,
all of us are weak and vulnerable.
we all make mistakes, we all make a mess at times, we will all die.
We are all underdogs.
 
And that means we’re all candidates for God’s special care and compassion.
Moses said to Israel:
 
The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you …
Deuteronomy 7:7-8
 
The oath to their ancestors means God’s promise to Abraham.
For his great plan to bless all peoples, God did not choose
A great civilisation, like the Egyptians with their pyramids,
or a mighty empire like Rome that conquered the world
he chose the little insignificant people of Israel
The underdogs of history.
 
Little people, like you and me.
And like most of us, they weren’t even very righteous or good or godly!
 
It is not because you are good and do what is right… the Lord is not giving you this fertile land because you deserve it.
Deuteronomy 9:5-6 [12]
 
underdogs know they don’t have to earn God’s blessing – We can’t!
It’s all by God’s free love and grace.
It’s exactly the same message that Paul gives in the New Testament:
 
Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. … God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all… As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.
1 Corinthians 1: 26-29  [13]
 
 
do you feel insignificant?
not very rich or clever, good-looking or famous?
You don’t feel like you have much to offer?
Well, that’s great!
you are exactly the sort of person God chooses and uses!
 
Remember what we’ve seen:  the high and mighty God, ruler of the universe.
King of Kings and Lord of Lords
has a special heart for the humble.
We must be the same.
 
 
Here’s a challenge:
ask God to open your eyes this week and show you someone who has a need
then open your heart, open your hands, go and help
 
some of you may want to get into the bible, hunt down more verses about God’s heart for the poor.[14]

Jesus said very clearly,
how you treat someone who is hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison
is how you are treating Jesus.[15]
our attitude to the underdog reveals our attitude to God.
 
 


All Deuteronomy Sermons


[1] Cf O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:
   to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8
[2] cf Isaiah 40:28-31
[3] www.povertyandjusticebible.org/
[4] http://www.antislavery.org/english/slavery_today/default.aspx, http://www.freetheslaves.net/, http://www.stopthetraffik.org/default.aspx
[5] So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19
Do not mistreat a foreigner; you know how it feels to be a foreigner, because you were foreigners in Egypt.  Exodus 23:9
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin comments that a slave had more rights under Jewish law 2500 years ago, than just over 100years ago in the USA!
[6] “A central theme of scripture is God’s care for the vulnerable. Through verbs like love, protect, give and nurture, God’s heart for the poor is shown. God’s people are repeatedly exhorted to reflect a similar care and concern.”  At http://www.micahchallenge.org.nz/index.php/gods-heart
[7] Forgive one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32
[8]  19 “When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don’t go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all you do. 20 When you beat the olives from your olive trees, don’t go over the boughs twice. Leave the remaining olives for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. 21 When you gather the grapes in your vineyard, don’t glean the vines after they are picked. Leave the remaining grapes for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. 22 Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt. That is why I am giving you this command.
Deuteronomy 24:17-22
[9] "When Israel forgot its history, it forgot its poor" (Wright, 261)
[10] 2 If its owner does not live nearby or you don’t know who the owner is, take it to your place and keep it until the owner comes looking for it. Then you must return it. 3 Do the same if you find your neighbor’s donkey, clothing, or anything else your neighbor loses. Don’t ignore your responsibility.
[11] They were ‘leading in love,’ (Ignatius).  An anti-Christian Roman Emperor (Julian the apostate), said “the godless Galileans feed not only their own poor, but ours also.”   See http://jitterbuggingforjesus.com/2009/10/28/see-how-they-love-one-another-a-look-at-the-caring-sharing-of-the-early-christians/ , http://www.pastorfairchild.com/2006-04/21/tertullian-on-early-christian-generosity/
[12] You must never think that you have made yourselves wealthy by your own power and strength. … Don’t say in your hearts, ‘The Lord has given us this land because we are such good people!’
Deuteronomy 8:17-18, 9:4
[13] We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.  2 Corinthians 4:7.  God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
Ephesians 2:8-9
[14] see “What does the Bible say about the poor?”, at  http://www.worldvision.org/content.nsf/learn/g8-bibleverses , http://www.zompist.com/meetthepoor.html
[15] ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’… ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’  Matthew 25:44-45.
If you oppress poor people, you insult the God who made them; but kindness shown to the poor is an act of worship.  Proverbs 14:31.  If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord.  Proverbs 19:17