“And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” (Deuteronomy 29:2–4 ESV)
The Israelites had been witnesses of the loving care, miraculous power & sovereign rule of God and yet they did not have seeing eyes, hearing ears or understanding hearts. They had wandered in the desert and their clothes & shoes had not worn out, God had defeated kings and given them their land (29:5-9). Their obedience was designed to flow out of grateful hearts that remembered their God & His faithfulness to them. It is easy for us to look down on the Israelites for their unbelief – after all they saw God do mighty miracles with their own eyes! We ought to be careful with our self-righteousness, because unbelief is our problem as well (“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”” (John 6:29 ESV), see also 1 John 3:23). Jesus alludes to unbelief by using the same analogy of having a hearing problem (Matthew 11:15; Mark 4:9, 12 & 23; Luke 8:8, 14:35).
Why didn’t the people obey? Because the Lord had not given them believing hearts. Unless the Lord opens our eyes, ears & hearts, we will remain blind, deaf & cold towards Him. God is the one who opens hearts (Acts 16:14), and enables faith by the regenerating power of His Spirit; our only contribution is the sin that makes reconciliation necessary. One of the major themes of Deuteronomy is Israel’s need for right hearts; it foreshadows the people’s inability to respond rightly to God (Deuteronomy 5:29, 8:17, 9:4). It looks forward to a day when God would give His people new hearts (10:16, 30:6), which is a theme that is continued throughout the Old Testament (see Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27).
Our greatest need is not more impact, influence, morality or even obedience. Our greatest need are hearts that truly believe the seemingly impossible promises of God. The Central Promise of the bible is that a good, perfect, holy & all powerful God would make a way for His rebellious creatures to be reconciled into a relationship with Him. The staggering implications of this should mark our entire lives. The more that we understand that we are far more sinful than we first thought, but the gracious sacrifice of God in Christ covers our ongoing apathy & rebellion, the more that we walk in dependent humility. A deeper, fuller understanding of the gospel shatters self-righteousness which is rooted in our own performance & morality.
Let us abandon our propensity of pretending to be godly, and let us actually pursue godliness. Let us beg God to give us faith to believe, for we cannot produce this on our own. God, take our far too small faith & multiply it, we do believe, but help us with our unbelief (Mark (9:21-24); help us to behold you for who you really are and cause us to become more like you (2 Corinthians 3:18).
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