5“Look, I now teach you these decrees and regulations just as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy. 6Obey 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!’ 7For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? 8And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?Deuteronomy 4:5-8
In the current milieu of relativity with very few, if any, absolutes, this passage may be difficult to understand. After all, it seems the righteous decrees and regulations of God are not seen as wise or intelligent by the people who surround those who follow Jesus.
Let’s pause for a moment and put these verses into context. In the Ancient Near East (ANE), laws and punishments were decided by human rulers based on what they perceived the many gods wanted, of course, influenced by their own personal preferences. These rulers utilized a stele (a prominent slab of stone) to record important information. Think public bulletin board. The earliest and best preserved example is the laws of Hammurabi (c. 1760 B.C.). On this slab of stone Hammurabi had scribes carve into the stone the crimes and punishments for his domain. Anyone coming into his territory would see the stele and be without excuse when accused. At the top of the stele is a relief of Hammurabi facing the sun god Shamash.
The importance of these discoveries is evident when we consider the passage above. You see, the laws of ancient rulers did not favor the accused. As a matter of fact, they did not necessarily favor humans. When God gave his laws and decrees to the Israelite people, they stood in stark contrast to the laws of neighboring nations. God’s laws always protected human life and creation in general, they regulated punishments and allowed for the accused to give testimony. Basically, God’s laws protected human dignity in such a way that surrounding nations longed to be included.
Not only were his decrees righteous and fair, but God was also approachable. He lived among the people in the Tabernacle. He was predictable and responded to the cries of the people. This was completely unknown by other nations.
Today as you go about your daily activity, be reminded that God’s decrees for you are righteous and fair. By obeying them, you show yourself to be intelligent, wise and prudent!
The crowning jewel of it all — God is near and he responds when we call on him!
16So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.Hebrews 4:16