“For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe” (Dt 10.17).
Moses did his best to prepare his team for the big leagues. No longer was Israel a runt nation and the world’s perennial homecoming opponent. Israel was a force to be reckoned with and Canaan would know the brunt of it. However, God wasn’t going to strengthen them because they deserved it, but because he made a promise to their great-whatever grandfathers (Dt 10.15). God never breaks a promise.
But they weren’t invincible.
They would have to keep the pressure on or else they’d be lulled into easygoing idolatry. If they weren’t careful they would start thinking Yahweh was like all the other lifeless gods they saw. They would think they could worship Yahweh along with or just like the other nations did their gods. Grease your gods palm and he makes things go well for you. Fill his or her belly and he or she fills yours (see God’s tongue-in-cheek rebuke in Ps 50.12). Drop some coin in the coffer and your god returns the favor.
Not Israel’s God. He is “God of gods and the Lord of lords.” Israel’s God (a.k.a. God Almighty, the One True and Living God, the Only God) owns “heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it” (Dt 10.14). In other words, what exactly do you get the God who owns everything? What would you give a God who already owns what you’re offering?
No, Israel’s God “does not show partiality nor take a bribe” (Dt 10.17).
Now that we’ve said our “amen” let’s be honest about how we pray to the God of gods. Do we not think God might well be persuaded by a bribe? We assume God hears us more willingly when we bring spiritual capital to the table. I’ve racked up some Bible-reading, logged in some kindness to my wife, registered some canned beans for the food drive and recorded some time at the clothes closet. I withdraw all these deposits and bring the bounty to the Throne, whereby I intend to trade my hard-earned merits for some face-time with God. Assurance of forgiveness follows a little back-scratching with God.
Of course, I’ll say I’m praying “in Jesus’ name” but with a wink-wink. God knows the drill. It’s quite silly when you think about it in light of the gospel.
The gospel of Jesus Christ transforms bribers into to worshipers. You see, God is too holy and too gracious to be bribed.
Now what do we account more hateful or even execrable to God than the fiction of someone asking pardon for his sins, all the while thinking he is not a sinner or at least not thinking he is a sinner? Unquestionably something in which God himself is mocked! Yet . . . mankind is so stuffed with such depravity that for the sake of mere performance men often beseech God for many things that they are dead sure will, apart from his kindness, come to them from some other source, or already lie in their possession (Calvin, Institutes, III.XX.6).
Do we really think we come before God as anything other than sinners? Do we really think we have something to offer God? Do we really think God can be indentured? God needs nothing from us (Acts 17.24-25). We need everything from him. And there is not a universe full of worlds that could possibly raise one of his eyebrows because he already owns them! God only hears righteous people and that eliminates us all.
The glory of the gospel is that God himself has provided the means by which he hears and blesses sinners like us. We neither have or bring anything other than the name of Jesus Christ. God only hears perfect people and Christ is God’s precious gift to us so that he will hear and save.
And by that I don’t mean the tagline “in Jesus’ name” at the end of prayer (or, if God tweeted, #inJesusname). Even that has become a form of bribe for most of us. We love turning biblical phrases into magic words. “In Jesus’ name” is the “abracadabra” of prayer. We assume it obliges God in a similar way that engraving “for God’s glory” on the stone of a gazillion-dollar entertainment complex obliges him to send the crowds.
Praying “in Jesus’ name” is to come before God with only and all of the righteousness of Christ. We readily come before God knowing we should otherwise be obliterated for beseeching such a Holy God. But because he is gracious to give us the protection (intercession) needed we can trust God because Jesus brings us to him (Jn 14.13; 1 Pt 3.18). To pray to God is to do so knowing there is no other reason why he should hear or respond except that Jesus is our Advocate (1 Jn 2.2).
God is not waiting in heaven for us to bring him anything. Jesus is in heaven having bought for us everything. God doesn’t wait for the magic words or to see if we’re able to impress him before giving us a hearing. God requires we come to him as broken down sinners with no hope other than the merits of Jesus Christ on their behalf. In fact, it brings greater glory to God when great sinners come to him on the merits of our Great Savior. God loves the exaltation of the Son. And every time another sinner comes to him because the Son is their only hope then God is most assuredly pleased.
So let’s stop bribing God with our infinitesimal works and words. Let’s go him boldly with the name of Christ and his bloody sacrifice in our hands (Heb 4.15-16). We will find him more than willing and able to be our heart’s fullest joy.