The Sovereign Saviour – A Portrait of God (5)

I have been working on a new book project for a while, God Is: Portraits of the King. It consists of short expositions of Scripture portraying the character of Yahweh, our God. This and related posts are chapters from this book.

6And Yahweh, your God, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring so that you will love Yahweh your God with all your heart and all your soul, so that you may live. 7Yahweh, your God, will lay all these curses upon your enemies and upon those hating you, who persecuted you. 8You will turn and obey the voice of Yahweh and do all His commands, which I have commanded you today. – Deuteronomy 30:6-8 (my translation)

Israel’s sin with the Golden Calf in Exodus 32 was not the end of their failures. The book of Numbers is replete with moments when they broke their covenant with God. In Deuteronomy, as Moses recounts Israel’s history with God at the edge of the promised land, a terrifying truth comes to the surface. Israel’s sins are not unexpected or unprecedented occurrences—rarities that will not often be repeated. No, faithful obedience is a rarity (5:29); sinful, hardness of heart is fundamental to who they are as humans. In Deuteronomy 29, God through Moses foretells Israel’s apostasy. In Deuteronomy 32, Moses teaches Israel a terrible song, recounting their future apostasy (see Deut 31:19-22). This song is a perpetual witness to Israel of the justness of the covenant curses they will receive. In all of this, where is the God of Abraham—promising to take the curse upon himself?

A clear theme emerges from Deuteronomy: Israel needs a saviour who would renovate their sinful hearts. As they could not bring themselves from Egypt, so they could not change the hardened hearts of sin with which they were born. This is exactly what God intended to do.

In Deuteronomy 30:1-14, our gaze is drawn to the distant future, after Israel has received curses for their covenant failure. After all these things had come upon them, after they were cast into faraway lands, then God would act. God would bring them back from their exile. More so, he would give them a heart transplant: he would take out the hardened heart of stone and give them hearts of love. Equipped with new hearts, they would finally be able to obey God (30:6-8). Looking to the future, the impossible demands of the Torah would be removed, for God would implant his Law in the new hearts he would give them:

9Yahweh, your God, will prosper you in all the works of your hand, in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your land. For Yahweh will turn to rejoice over you for good, as He rejoiced over your fathers. 10For you will obey the voice of Yahweh your God, to keep His commandments and His precepts, the ones written in this book of the law. For you will return to Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 11Forthis commandment, which I have commanded you today, will not be too difficult for you and it will not be far away. 12It will not be in the heavens, that you should say, “Who will go up to the heavens and retrieve it for us and make us hear it so that we may do it?” 13And it will not be beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea and retrieve it for us and make us hear it so that we may obey it?” 14For it will be very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you will do it.1

This promise is the fount of the prophets’ hope for a New Covenant; this language is echoed in Isaiah 54, Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36-37, and in New Testament, in John 6, Romans 10, and elsewhere. Israel needed a saviour who was powerful enough to act on their behalf before they were able to ask him to do so. They could not obey God, they needed him to create obedience; they could not submit to God, they needed him to create submission within them. If they were to enjoy the abundant life God wanted for them, they needed a God to act in unilateral power.

They could not consent to God’s renovating work, for it was their very rebellion and disobedience that he had to destroy. Yet by acting in such power, to change the direction of the human will, is evidently a beautiful act of mercy. If God did not do so, each of us would be dead in our trespasses and sins. We would be without hope in this world. The dead cannot accept the gift of life, but when it is given to them, they would hardly refuse it.

How foolish would Lazarus have been to walk out of the tomb and tell Jesus, “I did not agree to be raised, put me back in the ground where I belong.” No, the proper response to God’s sovereign mercy is adoration and worship. How kind is God! How loving is God! How merciful and good is God who uses his unchallengeable power to give life to rebels, enemies, even adulterers—those who have gone after other gods?

This is God, a sovereign saviour. He is a saviour, acting for the good of his people. He saves us from genuine despair and the terrible fate of final judgment. He is also sovereign; he acts without receiving permission or authority from another. For those dead and unable to act, those blind and unable to see the right way, consumed with self-destructive pride and jealousy, this is exactly the saviour we need. We need a God who saves first, then invites us to trust him and enter into an eternal marriage covenant with him. Having secured our salvation through his inscrutable work in our hearts, we most certainly accept his proposal.

Portrait 1 – (God is) The Beginning

Portrait 2 – (God is) Unpredictably Gracious

Portrait 3 – (God is) The Self-Revealing One

Portrait 4 – (God is) Great in Mercy

Photo by Pisit Heng on Unsplash

  1. My translation. For my defence of this translation, see Appendix 1 in Prevenient Grace, The Gift of Reading – Part 2, or God’s Gifts for the Christian Life – Part 1. []

2 thoughts on “The Sovereign Saviour – A Portrait of God (5)

  1. After reading this excerpt from your new book, I can\\\’t wait to read the whole book. When will this be published?

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