Chapter three begins with a discussion of the God who makes himself known. God, in the Bible, is known by what he does and what he says. And two mighty acts of God are recorded as occasions for Israel to come to know their God: the exodus and the return from exile.
Knowing God through the experience of God’s grace
The Exodus is the great defining demonstration of God’s love, power, and grace in the Old Testament. It was a major self-revelation of God and a major learning experience for the nation of Israel.
Ex. 5:22-6:8 is a pivotal text in the story. In it, God offers a clarification of his identity (6:2-3) and a summary of his redemptive intentions (6:6-8). Exodus 6:6-8, according to Wright, is God’s mission statement for the whole narrative. On the guarantee and character of his own name, God promises to do three things for Israel:
1. Liberate them from the yoke of slavery
2. Enter into a mutual covenant with them
3. Bring them into the land promised to their forefathers
The only thing Israel will do is to come to know God conclusively as God through the events (6:7). So the “anticipated outcome of the exodus was that Israel should know YHWH as God and should also know some fundamental truths about his character and power. This is indeed how Deuteronomy looks back on the great events of that generation.” As a result, Israel came to know (1) that YHWH is incomparable and (2) that he is sovereign and (3) that he is unique.
Because there is none like YHWH, all nations will come to worship him as the only true God (Ps. 86-89). This is the missional aspect of this truth.
The nature of YHWH’s kingship is unexpected. He expresses his kingship on behalf of the weak and oppressed. “This is implied already in the Song of Moses at the Sea; what is being celebrated is precisely the liberation of an ethnic minority community who had been undergoing economic exploitation, political oppression and eventually a state-sponsored campaign of terrorizing genocide.” So into the empire of Pharaoh steps the reign of the one who hears the cry of the oppressed. God is a God who hears, sees, remembers, and is concerned.
The claim in Deuteronomy 10, as a commentary on these events, is astounding. First, in 10:15, the creator God that rules over everything has chosen Israel as his own. The second is that the “power of this God over all other forms of power and authority, humanly or cosmic…is exercised on behalf of the weakest and most marginalized in society – widow, orphan and alien (v. 18). Indeed, the balance between verses 15 and 18 implies that when God saved Israel from their suffering as aliens in Egypt, when he fed them and clothed them in the wilderness, God was simply acting in character – doing for Israel what he typically does for others.”
The return from exile.
The aspects of God that the people learned in their return from exile include: YHWH is sovereign over history, YHWH exercises sovereignty through his word, YHWH acts for the sake of his name, YHWH’s sovereignty extends over all creation, and YHWH entrusts his uniqueness and universality to the witness of the people.
How will the rest of the world come to know these truths about YHWH? He entrusts his intentions for the nations to the witness of his own people. The primary responsibility of a witness is to tell what they know. This is the huge responsibility of making the claim that we know God. The fact that the people of God are alone in knowing God is a defining aspect of our faith.
Knowing God Through Judgment
Israel primarily knew God through their experience of grace. But they, like other nations, would know God through judgment. In judgment, Israel learned that YHWH had no favorites, that He will use any nation as his agent of judgment, which is righteous and justified. But they also learned that God’s people, even under judgment, remain God’s people for God’s mission.
“On the plane of human history, it was perfectly true that the exiles of Judah were the victims of Nebuchadnezzar’s imperial conquest. From the perspective of God’s sovereignty, however, they were still a people in the hands of their God.” (Jer 29:1-14) “The exiles had a task – a mission no less – even in the midst of the city of their enemies. And that task was to seek the welfare of that city and to pray for the blessing of YHWH upon it. So they were not only to be the beneficiaries of God’s promise to Abraham…they were also to be the agents of God’s promise to Abraham that through his descendants the nations would be blessed.” This teaching in Jeremiah’s letter turned “victims into visionaries. Israel not only had a hope for the future, they also had a mission in the present.”