Deuteronomy 4:7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?
This shows clearly the polytheistic mindset of virtually everyone in those days. I doubt that any of the Israelites thought of Yahweh as the only God, He was just the strongest, and most especially, He was their God. That was perhaps the biggest factor in their being so prone to getting into trouble with other gods, such as the Baal of Peor that Moses mentions here. Moses isn’t asking them to make the jump to full monotheism, he’s just trying to point out that none of the other gods they know about is as close and personal as Yahweh. We have trouble understanding this mindset today, in America at any rate. In the US, theism is assumed to be monotheism, when that was firmly entrenched even in Jewish thinking only much later than Moses. All of that said, it is still very relevant to us today that God is indeed near when we call on Him. Monotheism doesn’t do you much good if you only see God as some distant being who doesn’t care about you. One of the consistent, and amazing, themes of the Bible is exactly the fact that God does care, very deeply in fact. As John said, He is love, (1 John 4:8) and the opposite of love is indifference. When God is love, it follows that He cares more about us than we care about ourselves. Nothing else could explain the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s what John 3:16 is all about: He cares. Peter said it too: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) When we really get that fact into our minds and hearts, both rebellion and worry should go out the window. We live in a fallen world, which means that we will have troubles in this life, but when we really understand the love of God, those troubles are no big deal. (John 16:33)
The whole matter of dealing with people where they are, polytheism and all, is extremely relevant to me in Japan, because the average Japanese has some very deep polytheistic tendencies. Most Japanese are dedicated to the gods at a Shinto shrine as infants, then have a “Christian” wedding and a Buddhist funeral, and they see no conflict to that. I wonder if I haven’t kept some people out of the family of God by my insisting on monotheism from the outset, rather than letting the Holy Spirit straighten that out after they open the door to Jesus. The Japanese themselves describe their nation as “the land of 8 million gods,” because Shinto is animistic, and almost any impressive natural feature is liable to be worshiped. Historically, that fed into worshiping not just the emperor but also other impressive human beings after their death, which dovetailed with Confucian ancestor worship, as practiced in Japanese Buddhism. That’s the spiritual mess I deal with all the time! Nowadays people generally go through religious motions without any real personal faith, which makes them suspicious of active Christianity in which Christ is our life. That is true even in church! I certainly can’t straighten it all out in my own strength or wisdom, either on a macro or a micro level, so I’ve got to depend on God. I too need to remember that He cares, that He’s not distant or indifferent, and make myself available to Him in obedient trust, for His glory.
Father, You really helped me lay the problem out clearly. Thank You. Knowing the problem, help me trust You for the answer, not trying to cook it up on my own but recognizing it as You show it to me, so that as many as possible of these Japanese whom You love may be brought into Your family, Your kingdom, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!