The Lord's Care for Us
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, June 5, 2005
Copyright © 2005, P. G. Mathew
I will proclaim the name of the lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.
In our previous study of Deuteronomy 32, we learned that the teaching of the Lord falls on us like refreshing, renewing rain on tender young plants (v. 2). This tells us that God's people cannot survive without regularly hearing his word and applying it to their lives. Verse 3 says, "I will proclaim the name of the Lord." The heart of this teaching is the proclamation of the name of the Lord-the surpassing greatness of his person and his saving deeds in our behalf. As we receive it, it will nourish our souls and cause us to worship God, saying: "Oh, praise the greatness of our God!"
The Lord himself proclaimed his name, as we read in Exodus 34:6-7: "And [the Lord] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, 'The lord, the lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.'" The Westminster Confession of Faith tells us about the nature of this great God:
There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.
God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He hath made, not deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them: He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things, and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleaseth. In His sight all things are open and manifest; His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands. To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them. (Chapter 2, Sections 1, 2)
Are we impressed by the greatness of the Lord, or are we impressed by ourselves? In the eyes of the Lord, all our accomplishments are nothing. When we understand the transcendence, majesty, and holiness of our infinite, sovereign God, we must praise the greatness of the Lord! Let us then examine who our great God is, according to Deuteronomy 32:4-14.
I. The Lord Is Our Rock
Deuteronomy 32:4 calls the Lord "the Rock," which is the first time in the Bible this word is applied to God. It is used five times in this chapter to refer to the true God and twice to idols.
Idols always fail those who depend on them. Verse 31 says, "For their rock is not like our Rock, as even our enemies concede." Notice, this is not debatable. Every unbeliever must concede that his gods are false, and the God of Israel is the true and living God. And verse 37 asks, "Now where are their gods, the rock they took refuge in?" When the unbelievers needed help, their gods failed them. The covenant Lord, the eternal "i am," is the only true Rock of salvation.
Verse 4 elaborates further on the character of this Rock:
"His works are perfect." No blemish is found in God's works because there is no blemish in his being.
"All his ways are just." All of God's decisions are right, including the existence of heaven and hell. When God punishes the wicked, his judgment is right.
"A faithful God." Because God is truth, emunah, he is faithful in all his promises as well as his threatenings; not even one shall fail.
"Who does no wrong." God is not a mixture of good and evil; he is light, and in him there is no darkness. He permits evil in this world for his greater glory, but he has no evil in himself. "Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?" Jesus asked (John 8:46).
"Upright. . ." which means he is righteous, "and just is he." Yashar in Hebrew means to be straightforward. The same word appears in Isaiah 40:3: "Make straight the way of the Lord in the desert." When God speaks, he means what he says, and we can count on it.
Sadly, despite the holiness, righteousness, justice, and truthfulness of their God, his people became corrupt, warped, and crooked: "They have acted corruptly toward him; to their shame they are no longer his children, but a warped and crooked generation" (Deuteronomy 32:5).
How can God's own people act toward their holy and compassionate God this way? The answer is found in verse 15: "Jeshurun grew fat and kicked." Jeshurun is the pet name for Israel. It means "straight, upright one," but here it is used ironically. At whom did Israel kick? He kicked against God. It is like a child rebelling against his parents. Here God himself is being kicked.
The Qualities of Our God, the Rock
Why does God identify himself as our Rock?
He is stable, reliable and trustworthy. We can always depend on our God; when we stand on him, he will bear us up.
He is permanent. Our God is eternal, from everlasting to everlasting.
He is a firm foundation. Just as homes slide down a hillside after a storm because they have no sure foundation, so also people's lives often crumble and crash because they have built them upon the shifting sands of this world and its philosophies. Jesus Christ is the only sure foundation for our lives; we build upon him by hearing and doing the word of God (Matthew 7:24).
He is the refuge from the storm. In the midst of a storm, we can find refuge next to a rock; and in this fallen world, storms will come. Though our lives may be calm and prosperous now, we must never think that storms will not come. They will, and they will test us to our very foundation. If we have not truly trusted in Jesus Christ, we shall crumble. But if we attach ourselves by faith to the Rock, we shall stand.
He provides shelter. The Lord Jesus Christ is where we come to find shelter from the heat of the day.
He provides water. According to divine direction, Moses hit the rock, and out flowed the clean, refreshing water of life. We need this water, and our Rock provides it for us. It is a mystery and a miracle-how can a Rock give us water?-but he does.
He provides food. It is not uncommon for bees to make combs of honey in the cracks and fissures of a rock. We receive food from our Rock that is sweeter than honey--the food of his word (Psalm 19:10).
Jesus Is the Rock
Who is this Rock, this sure foundation for our life? The Lord Jesus Christ. First Corinthians 10:3-4 tells us, "They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ." Christ is the Rock, the reliable, permanent one; the foundation stone; the refuge from the storm; the shadow from the heat; the water from the rock. He is the honey from the rock that nourishes and delights us; nothing in the world is able to delight us as this One.
In Acts 4:11, Peter says of Jesus: "He is 'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." This is the exclusivism of Christianity.
In 1 Peter 2:4-8 we find a longer description of this Rock:
As you come to him, the living Stone-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone," and, "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall."
The Stone who makes us alive and saves us will also cause those who do not believe in him to stumble and fall. But if we trust in him by saving faith, we will be eternally joined to One who is stable, permanent, and strong; thus, we will be safe and secure.
The entire Bible points to Jesus Christ, as he himself said (Luke 24:44). The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms all speak about this Rock, who is the Savior and Judge of the world.
II. The Lord Is Our Father and Creator
The Lord is also presented here as our Father and Creator. Verse 6 asks, "Is this the way you repay the Lord, O foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?" God's own people mocked him, kicked him, and abandoned him in favor of false gods. Yet out of all the peoples of the world, the Lord had chosen Israel for himself. This is the electing love of God. As their Father and Maker, the Lord gave Israel existence and organized them as a nation in Egypt and in the wilderness.
Verse 9 says, "For the Lord's portion is his people." God chose Israel as his allotted inheritance, and she is his delight and treasure. What an amazing mystery, that we can give pleasure to God! And because God loves us, he provides for us and protects us. Israel merited nothing from her covenant Lord. She was nothing and less than nothing, dead in sin and under the wrath of God. She was like the infant girl we read about in Ezekiel 16-a newborn thrown out to perish. The Lord found her "in a desert land . . . in a barren and howling waste" (Deuteronomy 32:10).
We can never boast about our greatness, nor can we impress God with it. When he found us forsaken and abandoned in the desert, he said, "Live!" and we lived. Because of his great love and rich mercy, God showed pity to us and saved us for himself.
God's Continual Care for Us
The verbs used in verses 10 through 13 to describe God's care are frequentative. For example, "In a desert land he found him" can be translated "in a desert land he findeth him," meaning finding again and again and again. It is not a one-time event. Or "in a barren howling waste he shielded him," can be "kept on shielding," daily, moment by moment. Thirteen verbs are used in this way in this passage: kept on caring for, kept on guarding, kept on nourishing, kept on leading, and so on. It is like the mother of an infant son. She doesn't take care of him just for one day; she keeps on caring for him.
Day by day and moment by moment, this Rock, this Father/Creator, cared for Israel. Thus, we can conclude that he will also care for us. His eyes are on us because we are his portion, his inheritance, and his delight. God's mercies are new every morning, and out of his fullness we receive grace upon grace daily. Thus, Jesus taught us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread."
Verse 10 tells us, "He guarded him as the apple of his eye." Israel was the apple of God's eye, referring to the pupil-the most precious, most delicate, and most dear part of his own being. Israel was most precious and most dear to God; she was the beloved of the Lord, as Deuteronomy 33:12 tells us: "Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long. And the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders." And because Israel was beloved of the Lord, he guarded her as one guards one's own most precious possession.
This idea of being the apple of God's eye was picked up by later writers. In Psalm 17:8-9 the psalmist prays, "Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me." In Zechariah 2:8-9 we read, "For this is what the LORD Almighty says: 'After he has honored me and has sent me against the nations that have plundered you-for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye-I will surely raise my hand against them so that their slaves wll plunder them." Because we are God's treasured possession, he is committed to our eternal safety and salvation. He who fathered us and created us will also protect us from all our enemies.
Second Corinthians 5:17 tells us, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" We who were dead in trespasses and sins were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love and rich mercy, God made us alive. We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Ephesians 2). Our Father created us, we are his delight, and he is committed to keep us from falling.
As God's children by adoption, we see his fatherly care in our lives: "There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place" (Deuteronomy 1:31). The idea is that of a helpless, defenseless infant whom God takes care of by carrying him. We find the same idea in Isaiah 46:3-4: "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you."
What about those who suffer in this life? "In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old" (Isaiah 63:9). Our Father/Creator pities us, forgives us, saves us, protects us, cherishes us, and takes delight in us.
Remembering the Lord
God looks down on us, and we look up to him because we are his portion and he is ours. But we also tend to forget our God. So Deuteronomy 32:7 says, "Remember the days of old. . . ." Unless we are careful to remember how our covenant Lord has helped us, we will become like ungrateful, rebellious children. That is why it is vitally important to engage in serious, systematic, daily study of the word of God.
What happens when we remember the Lord? We find one example in the book of Judges. When the people of Israel sinned, God abandoned them. The Midianites invaded the land and prevented God's people from harvesting their own crops. (PGM) In the midst of this trouble, Gideon remembered the Scriptures, and when the angel spoke to him, he asked, "'But sir,' Gideon replied, 'if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, "Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?"'" (Judges 6:13)
Do you teach your children the history of God's dealings with his people? All world history is simply the frame of a painting; the painting is the history of the church. We are God's poem, his painting, his creation; the church is his plan, purpose, and portion-everything else is background. We must pay attention to the written Scriptures, that we may be reminded of our great God.
When Gideon remembered the Lord, the Lord remembered Gideon and saved him. When we remember our God, he will also come to our aid and lift us out of our mire of misery and hopelessness. Think about him who created us and chose us from all eternity, who found us when we were perishing in the howling waste. Think about the One who guards us as the apple of his eye, the One who leads us, provides for us, protects us and nourishes us. He is the pillar of fire that gives us warmth at night and light in the darkness, who guides us in the trackless way and protects us from all our enemies. He is the pillar of cloud that saves us from the heat and surrounds us.
III. The Lord Is Our Mighty Eagle
Verse 11 says, "like an eagle that stirs up its nest. . . ." This analogy of God an eagle appears several times in the Bible. In Exodus 19:4 we read, "You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself."
When an eagle makes its nest on a high mountain, it covers the nest with soft materials. Then it lays its eggs, they hatch, and the young eaglets are fed several times a day. After some time, the mother eagle instinctively stirs the nest to train these young ones to exercise their wings and fly. Some are eager to fly; they have already begun to flap their wings even while they are in the nest. Others are not eager; they would rather stay in the nest and be indulged by the mother. So the mother eagle does a strange thing: she removes all the soft material from the nest until the thorny parts stick out. This makes some young ones much more eager to try their wings. But if even that fails, the mother picks up the remaining eaglets and throws them out. And as they fall, they suddenly discover the functionality of their wings! Yet, they soon become exhausted, stop flying, and begin to fall. Even that is no problem; the mother swoops down and bears them on her large, outspread wings. After they have rested, she drops them again until, finally, they learn to fly and fend for themselves.
The Necessity of Suffering
Like an eagle, the Lord gives us new birth, shields us and provides for us. But he also trains us to exercise the wings of faith. We grow in faith only as we face trials and tribulations; a Christian cannot escape the trial of faith.
In Deuteronomy 8:1-3 Moses reminded the people how God caused them to grow in faith:
Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the Lord promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Romans 5:1-5 tells us:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into the grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
We must go through the gates of suffering, perseverance, and character to reach the gate of the hope-hope of the glory of God. Suffering causes us to trust, not in this world, but in the world to come. Suffering is God's way of focusing us heavenward: "the things of this world shall grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace."
The entire book of 1 Peter deals with the sufferings of God's people. First Peter 1:6-7 tells us, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."
Anyone can confess Jesus as Lord and join a church. But God reserves the right to test our faith through sufferings to prove whether we have genuine, saving faith or the spurious faith of the devil. True faith will glow in the fire of trials, just as the faith of the three Hebrew children did. When they were asked to disobey God by worshiping an image, they refused and were thrown into a fiery furnace made seven times hotter. When Daniel was thrown into the lion's den, his faith was proven genuine, and God preserved him. True Christianity always includes trials. This is the divine order. But if we are saved by the supernatural faith given us by the Holy Spirit, we will persevere to the very end.
According to Deuteronomy 8, the purpose of trials is that we may live by the word of God and have faith in it, no matter what happens. Trials cause us to look away from the temporal and perishing, and look to the eternal and heavenly. Let us therefore glory in trials, always being aware that, like the mother eagle, the Lord whose portion we are will not let us fall and be destroyed. Jesus said, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish" (John 10:28). "The eternal God is [our] refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms." (Deuteronomy 33:27). Our God will always come to bear us up and save us from destruction. Even death cannot destroy us; his everlasting arms, which were crucified for our salvation, shall bear us up and carry us to heaven.
As Samuel Rutherford languished in a prison in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1636, he wrote to Lady Culross, "Grace grows best in winter." I have proved that to be true. Grace does not grow much in prosperity; it grows best in winter.
IV. The Lord Is Our Shepherd
Deuteronomy 32:12-14 says, "The Lord alone led him; no foreign god was with him. He made him ride on the heights of the land and fed with the fruit of the fields. He nourished him with honey from the rock, and with oil from the flinty crag, with curds and milk from herd and flock and with fattened lambs and goats, with choice rams of Bashan and the finest kernels of wheat. You drank the foaming blood of the grape."
The Lord is the shepherd of Israel; thus, his people lacked nothing as he safely led them to Canaan. All the gods of this world are worthless idols, and, in fact, behind all idols are demons, which can only destroy. Baal cannot lead us or give us rain or food; the Lord alone leads, protects, and provides for his people. The psalmist says, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want," and the rest of the psalm speaks about God's provision of various things, such as rest, life, guidance, safety, comfort, provision, and finally, heaven.
The shepherd of Israel provided his people with great victory. Verse 13 tells us, "He made him ride on the heights of the land," which is speaking about the Lord's defeat of the Anakim, the mighty enemies of Israel. The ten spies feared these Anakim. But the captain of the Lord's army gave victory to God's people and caused Israel to ride on the heights of Canaan in triumph. The apostle Paul tells us God always leads us in triumph. The Lord causes his church to ride on the heights because Christ has defeated all our enemies.
The good shepherd also provided the best and the most luxurious provisions for his people, giving them "honey from the rock," from the rocky places where the bees make honeycombs in the fissures and cracks, and "oil from the flinty crag," referring to the olive trees that thrive in the rocky hills of Palestine. The Lord gave them "curds and milk from herd and flock," and the best meat of lambs, goats, and "rams of Bashan," an area known for its fine wheat and cattle. He gave them the finest bread made out of "the finest kernels of wheat," an expression we find in Psalm 81:10, 16: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it . . .But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you." Then the Lord says, "You drank the foaming blood of the grape." That stands for the best wine.
As a shepherd, the Lord gives his people the best. Isaiah 25:6 tells us, "On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of ages wine-the best of meats and the finest of wines." He is the chief shepherd, the great shepherd, and the good shepherd. He is the living bread from heaven and the living water. He is our Passover Lamb who gave us the best when he laid down his life for the sheep, and we feed on him when we eat his flesh and drink his blood by faith. And as we are fed with the finest heaven can offer, our souls are nourished. Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification. Christ is our life, our food, and our drink. The finest heaven can provide has been given to us in Christ.
Response to God's Care for Us
In view of God's care for us, how should we respond? What was Israel's response to this great salvation? Verses 5, 6, and 15 tell us the sobering truth: They became corrupt, warped, crooked, foolish, unwise. They grew fat and kicked against the Lord, rejecting him and going after false gods. They abandoned their only Savior and Lord in favor of the pleasures of sin for a season.
May God help us not to follow the example of Israel! The purpose of this teaching is that we may embrace it and be renewed and encouraged by it. May this teaching fall like rain upon our souls to refresh us, that we may praise the greatness of the Lord!
Copyright © 2005, P. G. Mathew
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