Relevant Verses: Deuteronomy 4:1–9, 32–39
Theme: From Small to Great
Leading Question: Should Adventists be special?
According to Deut 4:1–9, Moses was convinced that something had happened to the people of Israel, something of world-transforming significance. As an unsignificant group of people, slaves of Egypt, they had encountered a God who was not like other gods. They had been chosen for a task that would not only affect them but also those who would come in contact with them. The laws given to Israel were different from the laws of other people.
“So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?” (Deut 4:6–8)
The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote regarding this passage that it was “the Torah that served as a model for how to undertake the journey from slavery to freedom, from oppression to law-governed liberty.” There was nothing special about the people, it was not their righteousness, nor their size that made them exceptional or superior (Deut 9:5–6; 7:7). It was and still is today their story with God that inspires others to undertake the long walk to freedom.
Question: What are some of the dangers produced by Christian or Adventist exclusivism?
According to the book of Deuteronomy, Israel was a unique nation in the context of the ancient world. While other people worshiped humanly crafted images set up in temples or objects of nature, Israel worshiped and an unseen God. Nonetheless, in the worship texts of Israel God is said to hear the cries of his people, to feel their burdens, and respond with saving acts.
In addition, Israel’s God expected of his people to live in accordance with laws that would establish a just and righteous society in that it included and cared for people groups that usually lived on the margins. Righteousness was not an abstract norm but was related to concrete ethical acts directed toward the interests of others. Israelite laws cared for widows, orphans, the poor, and the foreigners. For Israelite judges, bribary from the wealthy or higher-class people was considered a crime and blind justice was an unknown concept. According to Deut 24:10–17, a judge was called to be on the side of the poor and marginalized people. The laws of the sabbath, the sabbatical year, and the year of jubilee would be exemplary in establishing a society that provided means to live and rest days for slaves, indentured servants, individuals who lost their property, etc. Even a person who killed could escape revenge by fleeing into a designated city of refuge. In this way, Israel would be a model among the nations.
Question: How can we make a positive impact when we are such a small community of people in the world?
Question: What are some of the challenges produced by nationalism relative to Christian belief?
Beyond nationalistic convictions are actions that take on extremism. Some actions in the Old Testament could indeed be viewed as religious intolerance. Today the linking of religion with nationalism is way beyond being proud of the God you serve. A United Nations report on Religious Intolerance says, “The worldwide trend as regards religion and belief is towards increased intolerance and discrimination against minorities and a failure to take account of their specific requirements and needs . . . Sadly, intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief are ever-present in the world . . . [with an] ever-worsening scourge of extremism. This phenomenon, which is complex, having religious, political and ethical roots, and has diverse objectives (purely political and/or religious), respects no religion. It has hijacked Islam . . . Judaism . . . Christianity . . . and Hinduism . . . The casualties of this aberration are . . . religions themselves.”
As a world movement we need to avoid nationalistic sentiments. We need to proclaim our God as a God for all human beings, who is the Savior of the World. In that way we can be true to the sentiments in Deuteronomy without fracturing the body of Christ on national or religious lines.
Question: What did Paul mean when he wrote that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek (Gal 3:28)?
Question: How can we best represent God without falling into exclusivism?