God’s Compassion to Idolaters

I love the book of Deuteronomy. It is filled with so many exhortations to obedience and reminders of God’s goodness and promises. This morning I was struck by something that Moses said to the generation about to enter the land. The first generation had died off (Deut. 1:34-40; 2:16). The second generation, which had seen God’s mighty deeds (Deut. 1:30-31; 2:7) was now being urged to obey God and His Word. They were to “give heed to yourself and watch soul diligently” (Deut. 4:9). The motivation to such self-watch and obedience was that they had heard God on the mountain and had been rescued from the furnace of Egypt to be God’s own possession (Deut. 4:9-20). Moses racks up the privileges and the corresponding responsibilities. It is a good sermon! “So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you” (Deut. 4:23).

But then there is a shift in the exhortation, Moses seems to begin prophesying. After the people had been in the land for a while they would act corruptly and make idols (Deut. 4:25). Moses then calls for creation itself to serve as covenant witnesses against Israel as He judges them with exile (Deut. 4:26). God’s judgment would include scattering the people and judging their idolatry with more idolatry (Deut. 4:27-28). God’s judgments are not to be trifled with, He often judges sin by giving us over to more sin, creating a forceful downward spiral.

The prophecy however does not end there. Moses then prophesies that “from there,” that is the place of exile and idolatry, they would seek Him (Deut. 4:29). It is worth noting that there is also a strong conditional emphasis, they could not just sit around and wait for God. “You will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deut. 4:29). Their repentance is then described. “When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice” (Deut. 4:30). There is nothing in this passage which would encourage passivity. There is much to encourage earnest repentance in the form of seeking the LORD, returning to Him and hearing His voice. The promise is for those who in their distress, under the judgment of God for their idolatry, return to the LORD with all their heart. In their distress they realize that their only hope is to return to God on the path of hearing His voice (i.e., obeying His Word).

What can those who return expect? Earlier in the passage Moses said, “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut. 4:24). But those who return will not be consumed by the fire of God’s holiness, rather they are urged to return, “For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them” (Deut. 4:31). Frankly, this is remarkable. Those who had abandoned God, will find Him compassionate. Those who walked away from the covenant will not be destroyed because God remembers His covenant. The idolater, in his distress, is called to return because of God’s great compassion and covenant faithfulness.

The parallels to us are unmistakable. Have we not lived long under God’s blessings, gifts and provision? Do we not still feel “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love”? Have we not made idols in rebellion and defiance against our kind and loving Savior? Perhaps it is worse than anyone knows. Perhaps God has disciplined your sin with more sin and you feel stuck and your heart hardened. Here is your hope, your only hope, the kindness of God leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Turn in your distress and you will find a God of compassion, not standing there with His arms crossed and a scowl, but standing there with arms wide open, ready to receive those who return to Him.

Why wait? Your sin will not only disappoint you, it will destroy you. Return today. He will not disappoint you. He will not destroy you. He will shower you with grace, wash you from your uncleanness and restore you.