When Your Dad Is a Wandering Aramean
By the time we get to Deuteronomy 26, Moses has covered significant literary ground and is now giving instructions for corporate worship and specifically how the Israelites were to offer their first fruits and tithes. God, through Moses, is describing what worship in the land will look like and how it is to be done correctly. There is a give and take that occurred between the worshiper and the priest that introduced this segment of worship. And then the Israelites were instructed to repeat an unsettling liturgy:
“And you shall make response before the LORD your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous.’” (Deut. 26:5)
Really? A Wandering Aramean?
This portion of Israelite worship began in earnest with an unnerving confession of genealogical lore. What a strange title for Abraham. After all, Abraham was the beneficiary of the covenant promise. He was the father of the people of God—a nation by ethnicity and a covenant people by faith (Gal 3:29). He would be the one through whom the Davidic dynasty would be built. He would be a physical progenitor of the long awaited messiah.
Of all the titles that could be justly and in a God glorifying manner be applied to Abraham, why did God choose this one? A wandering Aramean? There is little there to take pride in and little there to build any kind of positive identity.
Or is there?
The Principle - The Humility Requisite for Worship
It is difficult to escape the conclusion from a brief study of Deuteronomy 26:5 that God has explicitly commanded the liturgy of biblical worship to be founded on a deep humility. It is an important principle to remember. As John Calvin insightfully comments in the opening of his Institutes,
“It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.”
There is an aggressive self-scrutiny demanded by God when he commands his people to begin their worship by mentioning a hero of Redemptive History with a less than flattering nickname—a wandering Aramean.
But that is just what we as worshipers both forget and therefore need to remember. There must be a humbling self-scrutiny about our worship that challenges the location of our identity. Our faithful God knew that his people would be prone to stake their identity on a thousand different things not the least of which would be their lineage from Abraham rather than on God’s grace and mercy (John 8:39). It would not be enough to simply proclaim that God was great and had done amazing things. His people would also need to simultaneously confess that they were not great and had committed open and serial rebellion against their God. As church history has shown us, we cannot confess God’s ultimate glory and simultaneously deny our total depravity.
It is that confession of lack, inability, and a checkered family history that keeps the people of God looking for a savior in some location other than their own spiritual accomplishments. A deep recognition of rampant inability guards against self-worship and reserves for God the right to be called solely and only—the Savior of sinners. Humility is the personal posture of the worshiping people of God exactly because honor, glory, and unapproachable awe is the personal posture of our worshiped God.
A Name In Which to Boast
The worship we see prescribed in Deuteronomy would find its partial fulfillment in the reigns of David and Solomon. Solomon’s apostasy (1 Kings 11) marked a sometimes slow and sometimes free-fall decent into a double exile out of which Israel never really recovered. It is into that depressing scene that Jesus, the God-man, entered into human history. His law-fulfilling life, justice-satisfying death, and redemption-declaring resurrection would be the final answer to the question unresolved from Deuteronomy 26:5,
If we can’t look to Abraham for our identity, then is there no man in whom we are to boast?
The wandering Aramean gave way to the Son of God. The man of faith gave way to the man in whom we place our faith. The beneficiary of the covenant gave way to the Mediator of the Covenant. The point of Deuteronomy 26:5 is not that there is no man in whom we might place our faith. The point is that our faith must firmly rest in Jesus, the only God and only mediator between God and men (1 Tim 2:5).
It is the work of Jesus that would finally solidify for the worshiping people of God an eternal humility (1 Cor 1:29). And so the people of God continue to open worship with an unnerving pronouncement about our spiritual heritage, a self-indicting and humility-producing liturgical device, a statement that declares simultaneously the profound exposure of our failings and the radiant mercy, power, and justice of God. It is said every Sunday in a dozen different forms. Put simply it goes like this:
“Welcome to worship in the name of Jesus Christ, Savior of sinners.”