|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Structure of Deuteronomy 1-11
At first sight, Deuteronomy is not easy in that it appears repetitious in the early chapters. For that reason we have provided the following detailed summary of the first 11 chapters covered by this series of meditations, and we recommend you regularly come back to this summary to see where you are in the overall structure of these chapters. These chapters, you will see, are calls to obedience set in teh context of israle's history with the Lord.
1. The Preamble (1:1-5) [Study 1]
2. The Historical Prologue (1:6-3:29) [Studies 2 -7]
2.1 They set off from Sinai (1:6-8)
2.2 How leaders had been established (1:9-18)
2.3 How they had failed to enter the land originally ( 1:19 -46)
2.4 How they had wandered for 40 years (2:1)
2.5 How they had peacefully passed through 3 countries (2:2-23)
2.6 How they had defeated Sihon (2:24 -37)
2.7 How they had defeated Og (3:1-11)
2.8 How they had divided the land east of Jordan ( 3:12 -20)
2.9 How Moses was refused entry ( 3:21 -29)
3. Arguments for Obedience & Faithfulness (4:1-40) [Studies 8-12]
3.1 A call to obedience (4:1-9)
3.2 A call to remember Sinai (4:10-14)
3.3 A call to avoid idolatry (4:15-31)
3.4 A recognition that the Lord is God (4:32-40)
4. Brief Historical Aside (4:41-5:5) [Study 13]
4.1 Setting up the cities of refuge east of the Jordan (4:41-43)
4.2 Brief summary (4:44-49)
4.3 Historical context reminder (5:1-5)
5. The Ten Commandments (Ch.5) [Study 14,15]
5.1 The Ten Commandments restated (5:6-21)
5.2 The historical context for those Commandments (5:22-33)
6. The Call to love the Lord & be faithful to Him (Ch.6) [Studies 16-18]
6.1 Brief overview of the purpose of these laws (6:1-3)
6.2 Call to love the One unique God (6:4,5)
6.3 Call to teach and pass them on to future generations (6:6-9)
6.4 Call to keep them in the new land (6:10-12)
6.5 Call to reject ‘others gods' and hold to these commands (6:13-19)
6.6 Call to pass this on to future generations (6:20-25)
7. The Call to Completely Clear the Land (Ch.7) [Studies 19-22]
7.1 Call to completely destroy all that is there (7:1-6)
7.2 Realise the wonder of the relationship you have with the Lord (7:7-10)
7.3 Promise of blessing on obedience (7:11-15)
7.4 Second call to destroy all that is there (7:16)
7.5 Don't be afraid of them for the Lord will drive them out (7:17-24)
7.6 Don't save their idols or anything else of theirs (7:25-26)
8. Further Arguments for Obedience & Faithfulness (Ch.8) [Studies 23-24]
8.1 Obey to receive your inheritance (8:1)
8.2 Remember how God disciplined you through the desert (8:2-5)
8.3 Obey to receive the goodness of the land (8:6-9)
8.4 Beware forgetting Him once you have settled (8:10-14)
8.5 Remember how He has previously provided for you (8:14-18)
8:6 Warning of destruction if you disobey (8:19,20)
9. Keeping it all in perspective (Ch.9 & 10) [Studies 25-28]
9.1 Reassurance that God is going with them (9:1-3)
9.2 It's not happening because you are righteous (9:4-6)
9.3 For example 1, remember the golden calf incident (9:7-21)
9.4 For example 2, remember how you rebelled going in fist time (9:22-24)
9.5 Moses interceded on Sinai 40 days (9:25-29)
9.6 Moses had recreated the 2 tablets (10:1-5)
9.7 Brief historical note – Aaron dying (10:6-9)
9.8 Moses continues – Lord responded to Moses' Intercession (10:10,11)
10. Further Call to love and obey (10:12 – 11:32) [Studies 29-32]
10.1 Call to love and obey (10:12,13)
10.2 They are chosen by a unique God (10:14-15)
10.3 Stop being rebellious but obey/He's great & made you a nation (10:16-22)
10.4 You adults obey because you saw it all (11:1-7)
10.5 Be obedient so you can take this wonderful new land (11:8-15)
10.6 Disobedience will bring a curse (11:16,17)
10.7 Remember these commands and make sure you pass them on (11:18-21)
10.8 If you obey the Lord will give you success (11:22-25)
10.9 Summary: A blessing & a curse to be declared in the land (11:26-32)
|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Meditation No. 1
Meditation Title: Based in History
(Focus: Deut 1:1-5)
Deut 1:1 These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the desert east of the Jordan --that is, in the Arabah--opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab.
I must be honest, as I start out in this new set of meditations, that until recently Deuteronomy has been a dry book to me, and that is perhaps an understatement, and yet just recently I find myself drawn back to it again and again and I find it a source of wisdom in the light of all of the negative things that have been said by crusading atheists in the early years of the twenty-first century. It has answers that challenge their shallow assumptions about God and it provides a foundation of belief that is excellent.
It starts out with an explanation of what it is: “the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the desert,” (v.1) and in case you aren't sure which desert, the writer goes on to describe it, the land that is “east of the Jordan” and then goes on to locate it by reference to no less that seven geographical locations. Those who do not read the Bible often appear to have the idea that the Bible teaching and accounts are vague, probably made up, and therefore highly suspect, but the actual accounts throughout the Bible do not allow for that interpretation of the Bible in any way at all. Again and again we find the events being tied down by other historical events and by reference to many geographical locations. We will see this coming up in this book again and again. Everything is tied into time-space history. It did happen at a particular time and it did happen in a particular location. There is no vagueness about this!
So we have this opening introduction that this book is made up of what Moses said to Israel when they were located in the desert to the east of the Jordan . Now the only time that Moses came there was immediately before his death and before Israel moved in to start taking the Promised Land. We find this confirmed in the two verses that follow: “(It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.) In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the LORD had commanded him concerning them.” (v.2,3) Yes, this took place near the end of the fortieth year of their desert wanderings and the scribe writing this can't help adding that little reminder that in fact it normally only takes eleven days to get to the southern end of Canaan from Mount Horeb (or Sinai) but because of their disobedience it had taken them forty years!
But there is an additional point included in verse 3, that what we are about to read is “all that the Lord had commanded him concerning them.” This is a God-sent message or series of messages. In many ways this book is a summary of all of what had happened between God and Israel so far and all that He had said to them. In that sense it is a very useful book.
We have had one time-reference locating when this happened and now we are given another which also has strong geographical indications in it: “This was after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and at Edrei had defeated Og king of Bashan , who reigned in Ashtaroth.” (v.4). This is highly significant. On their way up to their present position, they had asked to pass peacefully through the lands of two other kings but those kings, feeling defensive about Israel , had fought against Israel and lost. Israel were now feeling a lot better about themselves than they had forty years ago. Now they have two victories under their belt. So again the time and place have been located by reference to two recent episodes in their life involving two other nations.
Thus the writer eventually sums up, “East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab , Moses began to expound this law.” (v.5) All that follows is Moses ‘report'. But note again, this ‘report' comes in a clearly defined historical context – at a specific time in history at a specific place – and it is going to refer back to other specific times and places. This is not fiction; this is an historical record.
This point needs to be made again and again because many of us fail to realise the significance of it. Our faith today is founded on factual history. The same is true when we come into the New Testament. I particularly like Luke's Gospel for this reason: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar --when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene -- during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas , the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.” (Lk 3:1,2). Luke, in those two verses, anchors the coming of John the Baptist by reference to seven historical figures and five geographical locations and one very specific time reference!
The message should come over loud and clear: our faith is founded in historical fact that involves real time and space anchors. It happened and because it happened, we can believe it. It happened with Israel , it happened with Jesus – we have a book full of information upon which to build our faith. Let's read it and take it in intelligently.
|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Meditation No. 2
Meditation Title: Leaving Horeb
(Focus: Deut 1:6-8)
Deut 1:6-8 The LORD our God said to us at Horeb, "You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers--to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob--and to their descendants after them."
Now for the next two chapters of Deuteronomy, we are going to find Moses reminding Israel of their history. Now you may think this is a bit tedious as he recounts what has happened but it is vital to see the significance of it. In our opening meditation we observed, even from the opening comments, that everything Moses speaks about is based in history. This was an historical event – him addressing Israel outside the Promised Land – and he is about to speak about other historical events, things that actually happened in time-space history. What makes them so significant is that they are historical events that involved God. God's history is interwoven with our history. When we examine this area of history, we find God active in it. Everything He says and does is within an historical context.
Now there is a second reason why these historical events are so significant and it is that the past is to be the foundation of the future for Israel . The call to covenant relationship with the Lord at Sinai meant, on Israel 's side, that they were to obey the Law, God's design-rules for how they should live as a people called back into relationship with the Creator. Their past history with God is to act as a motivating force to help them keep the Law.
Many centuries later, Isaiah, who was having trouble with people trying to contact the dead for encouragement for the future, declared, “To the law and to the testimony!” (Isa 8:20) Go back to the Law, he was saying, and go back to the testimony that you have, the record of God's dealings with you, and there you will find all your answers. Their history with God was their testimony, the account of what they knew had happened; that was why it was so important for it to be handed down through future generations.
So Moses starts by reminding Israel of what had happened since they met with the Lord at Sinai. He doesn't deal with the Exodus, he only deals with what happened after Sinai because only then were they designated God's people, only then has the covenant been established between them and God. He reminds them that at Horeb (another name for the area where Mount Sinai was) the Lord had told them to move on. Their movement had been initiated by the Lord. The Lord had prompted them to leave there. They had to travel up through the neighbouring lands to take a land that the Lord had promised to the Patriarchs.
This takes them back to their very origins in Abraham. It was to Abraham that the Lord had promised this land, and subsequently to his son and grandson. What was taking place now was a direct fulfilment of what God had promised four centuries ago! This should challenge us to understand that God sometimes takes a long time (by our timescale) to do what He says He will do, but He WILL do it!
So what is happening to Israel is not merely because of the covenant at Sinai, but also because of the promises the Lord had made to Abraham, all that time before. This is the framework that Israel needs to keep in their minds in the years ahead. They are God's chosen people and have been for over four hundred years, although the practical reality of it as a nation had only been seen in the last forty.
Moses is now reminding Israel of what happened forty years ago. We can say those words so easily, but when we think back forty years from this moment, how many people that we know weren't alive then? How much has happened in that period of time. Forty years seems a long time ago and it is easy to forget in the mists of a hazy memory what actually happened. All of these present adults had been there then but all under the age of twenty. Twenty year olds see things differently than sixty year olds. These present sixty year olds need reminding just what happened back there then. it was all part of their life with God and as such tells them much about God.
So of the moment we have seen God who initiates relationships (with Abraham etc. as individuals, and then with Israel as a nation) and God who leads us out into life (as when He led them out from Sinai).They are WHO they are because of God and they are WHERE they are because of God and they have a particular future because of God. Everything about them is tied in with the Lord – and they will need to remember that in the future.
|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Meditation No. 3
Meditation Title: Law Administration
(Focus: Deut 1:9-18)
Deut 1:9,10,12,13 At that time I said to you, "You are too heavy a burden for me to carry alone. The LORD your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as many as the stars in the sky. But how can I bear your problems and your burdens and your disputes all by myself? Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you."
We have seen in the first two meditations how all that Moses is about to say, which is recorded in this book, is grounded in history. There is an historical context which shows why Israel are where there are, to the east of the river Jordan , and why Moses is speaking to them. In the previous meditation we saw how Moses reminds them of the start of their walk with the Lord, back at Mount Sinai , which in itself is founded on promises that the Lord made to Abraham four hundred years beforehand!
While they were at Sinai something had happened and Moses now goes on to remind them of that. It actually had been at the prompting of his father-in-law that he had appointed judges for the people (see Ex 18:13 -26). Moses had referred this problem back to the people and had asked them to choose wise, understanding and respected men from each tribe who could act as leaders and judges to share the load. That appealed to the people and so that was what had happened and Moses had charged those leaders, “Hear the disputes between your brothers and judge fairly, whether the case is between brother Israelites or between one of them and an alien. Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.” (Deut 1:16,17)
Now what we have here is a simple recounting of what had happened and it is legitimate to ask the question, why was Moses bothering to include this account in this book now? We can make several suggestions.
First, as we have gone to some lengths to show, Moses is setting everything in the context of history so that Israel can see that everything about the Law and everything about how they should live is set in the context of all of their dealings with the Lord – except this is more about Moses than it is about the Lord.
Second, it is possibly a gentle attempt by Moses to show the people that he had not been a domineering leader but had always had their welfare at heart and had sought to share the burden of leadership among the tribes.
Third, it is an explanation of how the nation is now being run, and why it is being run like it is. We may take this for granted but Moses is speaking to the many older people and their younger family members and is seeking to put everything in context. There is a reason that they are a people ruled by judges, and it goes back to that time at Sinai when Moses alone was their leader and he wanted to ensure they were better cared for.
Fourth, although we have said this passage is mainly about Moses it does bring a reminder, as we saw above in verse 17, that judgment and justice are essentially things that belong to God or, if you like, all such judgment is answerable to God. They ARE a people under God and answerable to him. The very application of the Law, or its administration, if you like, is through the judicial system that Moses established back at Sinai. It is still like that and nothing has changed! These judges are the means of applying the Law that Moses will go on to expound.
There is, within all this, an implied duty laid upon those judges to uphold the Law rightly and wisely before the Lord. What starts out appearing a rather mundane passage about Moses not being able to carry the burden of Israel alone, produces a legal system through which the Law will be administered. Without it, the Law could not be administered in the years and centuries ahead. This actually becomes a vital reminder, a foundation stone, for the administration of the Law.
Yes, it might have started out as a means of lifting the burden from Moses, but it has resulted in raising up a large number of judges from each tribe who are now responsible for applying that Law. Moses brings the Law and it will be down to them to apply it in the centuries to come. This comes as such a gentle recounting of history that many of us miss the significance of this.
This is Moses saying, very gently, this is the administrative foundation that was established right back at Sinai to help you administer all the laws that I have brought you from the Lord. Again, we may take the laws for granted, and they do bring the greatest thrust through this book, but unless these appointed judges fulfil their roles, these laws will not get to be applied. This is the primary significance that lies just below the surface of these verses! So, no, they are not a mundane recounting of history, they are a foundation stone for the life of the nation.
|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Meditation No. 4
Meditation Title: Failure to Enter
(Focus: Deut 1:19-46)
Deut 1:19-21 Then, as the LORD our God commanded us, we set out from Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites through all that vast and dreadful desert that you have seen, and so we reached Kadesh Barnea. Then I said to you, "You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the LORD our God is giving us. See, the LORD your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the LORD, the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."
The next ‘historical reminder' we find Moses bringing to Israel, as they wait in the area to the east of the Jordan getting ready to enter the promised Land, is in respect of their spectacular failure to enter the land forty years ago. Now you might think that Moses was trying to build their faith in preparation for entering the Land now and so it would be prudent to forget this particular episode, but instead, I suggest, Moses uses it as a blunt reminder to Israel of the consequences of not obeying the Lord.
In the chapters of this book we are going to find countless exhortations to obey the Lord. As far as Moses is concerned, obedience is the all-important issue for the life and very existence of Israel in the years to come. We cannot emphasise that enough, for it is something that many today almost think is an optional thing. No, in the kingdom of God obedience to God is always the all-important thing! The other side of this particular coin, is a recognition of the consequences of disobedience – hence this passage running from verse 19 to the end of chapter 1 is vitally important. We may prefer to forget our past failures, but the Lord allows us to remember them simply as a means of helping us avoid them in the future.
The story may be summarised as follows: after travelling from Sinai, Israel reached the southern borders of the Land at Kadesh Barnea, and so Moses had instructed them to go in and take the Land. Putting together this account and that found in Numbers 13 it would appear that the people suggested sending in spies, Moses took it to the Lord, and He confirmed it as a course of action. The spies went in and when they returned came back with a mixed report: “Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they brought it down to us and reported, "It is a good land that the LORD our God is giving us.” (v.25) That was the good news, but the bad news was that some of them reported, “`The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.'” (v.28)
This caused much doubt among the listeners and so Moses had sought to encourage them: “Then I said to you, "Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt , before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” (v.29-31) but it was to no avail: “In spite of this, you did not trust in the LORD your God, who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.” (v.32,33)
As a consequence of this the Lord swore, “Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your forefathers, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the LORD wholeheartedly.” (v.35,36) Because of that Israel felt the better course was to go into the land. Note; they did not repent – that is clear by the language: “Then you replied, "We have sinned against the LORD. We will go up and fight, as the LORD our God commanded us." So every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country.” (v.41)
The Lord saw that this was a self-centred response and warned them against doing it but when they continued they were severely beaten by the inhabitants of the land. The result was that they had wandered in the desert for forty years!
Now within this story are some very obvious lessons. First, as stated before, when God instructs, we are to obey. Maturity means we realise that whatever God instructs is for our good. We don't need to question it; we can trust Him. Second, when we disobey – and realise our folly – we should not turn back and do what it was for our own benefit. That is self-centred and godless. Instead we should genuinely repent, confess our sin and declare our sorrow and our willingness to do God's will – because it is HIS will! Third, we need to realise that whatever the Lord calls us to do necessitates involving Him in it. Without Him we cannot do it. Jesus said to his disciples, “apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5)
These are key lessons for the Christian life as well as for the life of Israel over two thousand years ago. We should learn from their mistakes. Moses recounted that episode so that they would learn – but they so easily forgot it. May we not do the same!
|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Meditation No. 5
Meditation Title: End of Wanderings
(Focus: Deut 2:1-23)
Deut 2:1-3 Then we turned back and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea , as the LORD had directed me. For a long time we made our way around the hill country of Seir. Then the LORD said to me, "You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north.
There are parts of Scripture which, to be honest, are not as alive and vibrant as others. In other words, the temptation may be there for us to think they are boring and uninteresting, but the truth is that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16) So what is this present, apparently mundane passage from verse 1 to verse 23 of Deuteronomy going to tell us?
Moses reminds Israel of the consequence that followed their disobedience and refusal to enter the land forty years ago. So they “turned back and set out towards the desert.” What a contrast. Instead of entering the land of plenty they were going to live in the desert for forty years. So, “for a long time” they wandered in the desert until the Lord had decreed the time was up. Now Moses is going to cover the period between leaving the desert wanderings and arriving where they are now – and there are some significant things that happened during that time. We'll only cover the first of them in this meditation.
Observe the instructions that the Lord had given them: “Give the people these orders: `You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir.'” (v.4) So, to approach Canaan from half way up the Jordan they have to pass through the lands of various other peoples, but look what the Lord says about them: “They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own. You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink.'” (v.4-6) Summarised, the Lord's instructions are that you are to respect and honour them. They will be afraid of you but you are not to provoke them to fight you for I will not support you. In fact you are to honour them and pay for any food or water you take from their land.
Sometimes people think the Lord was looking for any excuse to deal violently with any godless peoples, but this passage shows that this is just not so! In case Israel feel negative about paying the inhabitants, the Lord reminds them that they have plenty: “The LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast desert. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.” (v.7)
Thus Moses then reminds them how they passed peacefully through the first lands: “So we went on past our brothers the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. We turned from the Arabah road, which comes up from Elath and Ezion Geber, and travelled along the desert road of Moab .” (v.8) Note also, in the light of our earlier considerations in these meditation, the geographical locations that tie this all into history.
We then find the same instructions were given by the Lord to pass peacefully through the land of the Moabites: “Then the LORD said to me, "Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession.” (v.9). That was the second nation they were to pass through without provoking war. But it goes on: “ When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot ." (v.19) So there was a third nation through whose land Israel had to pass without giving cause for attack.
So three times the Lord had instructed them to pass through lands without attacking the peoples there. Israel were NOT on a ‘kill anyone in sight” campaign! God was NOT bringing judgment on these three people groups and so Israel had passed through these countries without upset.
So why was Moses reminding them of this? First because it had happened! This was part of their recent history. It showed that they were not total isolationists, they were not enemies of every nation. No, they had passed peacefully through these three areas without there being war. God's intent was not willful destruction. Where there were nations to be fought against, there was a reason for it. Where a nation did not rise up against them, they were not to fight it. This further historical recollection should give a further dimension of understanding to who they were and what they did. The lesson is, let the Lord lead and often the outcome will be peace.
|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Meditation No. 6
Meditation Title: Victories
(Focus: Deut 2:24-3:13)
Deut 2:24,25 "Set out now and cross the Arnon Gorge. See, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his country. Begin to take possession of it and engage him in battle. This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. They
Moses now moves on with his historical reminders, from the three countries through which they passed peacefully, to the two nations who they had to fight. The Lord had warned that their first fight as the new nation (the older generation having passed away) was about to happen. It was a general warning and it came with a consequence: other nations “ will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you." This will become a means by which the Lord will eventually seek to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan , as we'll see later. Now let's see how that worked out.
“From the desert of Kedemoth I sent messengers to Sihon king of Heshbon offering peace and saying, "Let us pass through your country. We will stay on the main road; we will not turn aside to the right or to the left. Sell us food to eat and water to drink for their price in silver. Only let us pass through on foot- as the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir, and the Moabites, who live in Ar, did for us--until we cross the Jordan into the land the LORD our God is giving us." (v.26-29) Moses had made a very reasonable approach to king Sihon – they would restrict themselves to the main road, and they would pay for food and drink and pass through without causing any trouble, just like they had done with the previous nations. But that was of no avail: “But Sihon king of Heshbon refused to let us pass through. For the LORD your God had made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to give him into your hands, as he has now done.” (v.30) Now we don't know the history of Sihon and the Lord, but when we compare this with the story of Pharaoh in Exodus 1-12, it was actually that the king already had a hard heart and the Lord simply hardened it further by confronting him. So Sihon refuses to let Moses through and even more, “Sihon and all his army came out to meet us in battle at Jahaz.” (v.32) The result was as the Lord had declared: “the LORD our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army.” (v.33)
Now when we follow this through, it seems somewhat brutal and barbaric on today's standards: “At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them--men, women and children. We left no survivors. But the livestock and the plunder from the towns we had captured we carried off for ourselves.” (v.34,35) Although today we, here in the West at least, try to avoid killing civilians, that hasn't always been so, as the bombing of cities in the last World War shows, and the eventual bombing of Japan . Such action we see as evil but sometimes the lesser of two evils. On this occasion it does not seem that the Lord instructed Israel to do this but they simply carried out what was a common practice of those days in wars.
What followed was a simple repeat: “Next we turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan with his whole army marched out to meet us in battle at Edrei. The LORD said to me, "Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.” (3:1.2) This time we aren't given any details of any approach Moses might have made to them, but the outcome was the same: “So the LORD our God also gave into our hands Og king of Bashan and all his army. We struck them down, leaving no survivors. At that time we took all his cities. There was not one of the sixty cities that we did not take from them--the whole region of Argob, Og's kingdom in Bashan . All these cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars, and there were also a great many unwalled villages. We completely destroyed them, as we had done with Sihon king of Heshbon, destroying every city--men, women and children. But all the livestock and the plunder from their cities we carried off for ourselves.” (v.3-7)
Subsequently “Of the land that we took over at that time, I gave the Reubenites and the Gadites the territory north of Aroer by the Arnon Gorge, including half the hill country of Gilead, together with its towns. The rest of Gilead and also all of Bashan, the kingdom of Og , I gave to the half tribe of Manasseh.” (v.12,13)
Thus they had settled the land to the east of the Jordan . In accordance with the ways of war in those days, they had completely cleared the land of its occupants and had settled some of their own people there. This must have built their self confidence immensely. Again, the lesson was simple: obey the Lord and He will give you victory.
|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Meditation No. 7
Meditation Title: Land Divisions & Obedience
(Focus: Deut 3:12-29)
Deut 3:18-20 I commanded you at that time: "The LORD your God has given you this land to take possession of it. But all your able-bodied men, armed for battle, must cross over ahead of your brother Israelites. However, your wives, your children and your livestock (I know you have much livestock) may stay in the towns I have given you, until the LORD gives rest to your brothers as he has to you, and they too have taken over the land that the LORD your God is giving them, across the Jordan . After that, each of you may go back to the possession I have given you."
Moses continues to recount their recent history. He has reminded them of forty years ago, of their desert wanderings and then how they returned to the borders of Promised Land, but this time to enter, not from the south but from half way up from the land east of the Jordan, and how they had peacefully passed through three different peoples' land and how they had fought and triumphed over two nations who opposed them.
The land that they took from these two kings was then apportioned to three of the tribes: “Of the land that we took over at that time, I gave the Reubenites and the Gadites the territory north of Aroer by the Arnon Gorge, including half the hill country of Gilead, together with its towns. The rest of Gilead and also all of Bashan, the kingdom of Og, I gave to the half tribe of Manasseh.” (v.12,13) This was further detailed in verses 13 to 17. It was important, however, that the fighting resources of those three tribes was not lost to the nation and so when we arrive at verses 18 to 20 we find Moses instructing that although the families may settle in this land already taken, the fighting men of these tribes must continue on over the Jordan with the rest of the army to take the land. It was vital that, although settled in the east, these three tribes continued to see themselves as part of the whole nation that still had a responsibility to take all the land to the west. Thus he reminds them about national solidarity.
He is picking up important issues about the nation as he prepares to talk about the Law and about obedience, and so next he turns to the subject of leadership: “At that time I commanded Joshua: "You have seen with your own eyes all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings. The LORD will do the same to all the kingdoms over there where you are going. Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you." (v.21,22) Moses was passing on the leadership baton and just in case the people might have said, “Why can't you come with us and continue to lead us?” he explains again what had happened to him: “At that time I pleaded with the LORD: "O Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan --that fine hill country and Lebanon ." (v.23-25) He had wanted to come with them but that wasn't possible. Why?
“But because of you the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me. "That is enough," the LORD said. "Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan . But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see." (v.26-28) This referred back to the incident reported in Numbers 20:9-13 and then Num 27:12-14. Moses had not been faithful to the Lord's character on that one occasion and so the Lord was taking him home to heaven rather than let him continue into the land. That in itself would act as a reminder to Israel that the Lord was holy and holds His people accountable to Him – whoever they are!
Thus we come to the end of this early part of the book where Moses recounts their history. To go back to what we said at the beginning, the Law and calls to obedience, which follow, must be seen in context – the context of history. Israel are what they are and they are where they are because of the Lord. Already, through the things that have happened to them over these past forty years, they have learned much about the Lord. Indeed everything that follows must be seen in the light of that.
For us today our faith is founded in history – things that have happened on this earth already. Yes, they may have happened many centuries ago but the records are clear and the records may be trusted. We have the records in this book we call the Bible, and they can be trusted. We are what we are and we are where we are because of the Lord. The church is what it is because of the Lord. All that we have and all that we are is because of Him and because of what He has done already for us. That is why it is so important that we read and understand and hold on to these records. It is as important for us as it was for Israel . May we remember that!
|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Meditation No. 8
Meditation Title: Call to Obedience
(Focus: Deut 4:1-10)
Deut 4:1-4 Hear now, O Israel , the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you. You saw with your own eyes what the LORD did at Baal Peor. The LORD your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, but all of you who held fast to the LORD your God are still alive today.
Very well, we now start to move away from the historical reminders (although history as an anchor will keep appearing!) There are a number of significant issues brought up in what Moses now goes on to say and we'll take them as instructions:
1. Listen and take note! “Hear now, O Israel , the decrees and laws I am about to teach you ” (v.1a) i.e. Israel , this is important so please make sure you are listening. Please understand that what I am about to share, you need to LEARN, i.e. not merely hear as information, but you need to absorb it and understand it!
2. There are Consequences! “Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you” (v.1b) The corollary obviously is if you don't obey you will be in big trouble and won't be able to enter the land that has been promised to you!
3. Don't alter them! “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.” (v.2) i.e. hold on to them exactly as they are, don't change them at all but just obey them.
4. Remember Consequences of Disobedience! “You saw with your own eyes what the LORD did at Baal Peor. The LORD your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, but all of you who held fast to the LORD your God are still alive today.” (v.3,4) This refers back to how some of them had allowed themselves to be seduced by Balaam's strategy and some had married Moabite women and were subsequently put to death. Disobedience leads astray and ends in death!
5. These are for the nation's future : “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it.” (v.5). You have already received them once from me and so this is simply going to be a reminder of what you must hold on to for the rest of your history.
6. These will God's wisdom to the rest of the world: “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people." 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? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (v.6-8) These laws are God's design for mankind.
7. Don't forget them but pass them on! “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, "Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children." (v.9,10) The biggest threat to your future is that you forget them – don't!
He is going on to do another historical reminder in a moment, but we'll pause at this point just to take in these preliminary commands. Scan back over these things and see that they are different facets of the same thing – a call to hear, take in, understand, obey and hang on to all the laws that God has conveyed to them through Moses. There is literally no greater threat to their future than they don't do this. The covenant agreed at Sinai required “if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” (Ex 19:5) and the laws that were subsequently conveyed were referred to as the covenant: “When Moses went and told the people all the LORD's words and laws, they responded with one voice, "Everything the LORD has said we will do." Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said. …Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey." (Ex 24:3,4,7) There had been, subsequently, other laws added and these collectively form the covenant with God. They are, very simply, the ways God wants them to live to come back in line with His original design for mankind and in so doing, they will reveal this to the rest of the world. We too, are now to reveal the Lord to the rest of the world. That is our calling. May we fulfil it!
|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Meditation No. 9
Meditation Title: Remember Sinai
(Focus: Deut 4:10-20)
Deut 4:10-12 Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, "Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children." You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice.
Moses has just made a preliminary call to obedience, to obey the laws that God has given them, to learn those laws, take them in, understand them, keep them, and hang on to them, never forgetting them. This is what this book is all about. But now he goes on to reinforce that call with a reminder as to how all these laws came about. They were not just a good idea that Moses had; they originated with God.
He calls them to think back to that encounter at Sinai (otherwise known as Horeb): “ Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb.” (v.10a) That is what this is all about – working out the fruits of that encounter! He continues, “when he said to me, "Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children." (v.10b) God had spoken and called them together with Him.
So, he says, “You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (v.11-14) That's what happened – do you remember it? You saw it all and you heard it all – this is part of your memory – it happened forty years ago, but you were there so you know it is true!
Now look, he continues, “You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars--all the heavenly array--do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.” (v.15-19) Now this is very important. God did not show Himself to you in any form that you could see; you just heard Him. Stop and think – this IS important (you may not realise how important!) – you must never try and make any representation of Him and worship that, for (implied) whatever you make can never represent Him, it will only make Him smaller in your understanding and you mustn't do that – He is the all-powerful Creator of all things.
I have come to believe that mostly we just do not understand the significance of the call to refrain from idolatry. All the nations of this area had images of their gods but they were lesser deities in their thinking, superstitious expressions of their fear of the world. These deities, images, idols, call them what you will, needed to be appeased or satisfied and the ways that the peoples of the world did that were often horrific, even sacrificing their own children. That is what superstition leads you into! This was so far from the truth – that there is only one God, the almighty God of Creation who is all-loving and who does not need appeasing. Israel must never fall into the error of their neighbours for they have had the unique experience of encountering The Living God at Sinai and they must never forget that.
Indeed, they must never forget the bigger picture: “But as for you, the LORD took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt , to be the people of his inheritance, as you now are.” (v.20) They were a people who had been slaves and God had come and miraculously delivered them from that slavery in Egypt and was taking them to give them an inheritance of a new land to be lived in under His guidance and that means under His laws. Laws are simply rules for living in a harmonious and peaceful society. That is what God has in store for this people. First of all they have to take the land from the pagan Canaanites and their idols, and we are going to see reminder after reminder not to get entangled in that idolatry.
It is absolutely vital to their future welfare. If they turn to idols it means they will be turning away from God and if they turn away from God they will not be able to receive His wisdom or His guidance or His help and provision. They will be moving into a life of isolation whereby they will have to rely on their own wisdom and their own strength – and they don't have enough of either to survive in a world that will be out to get them! They need to cling on to the memory of Sinai and of their experience of the Lord and cling on to Him for their future wellbeing. The same is true for us today!
|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Meditation No. 10
Meditation Title: Learn from Moses
(Focus: Deut 4:21-28)
Deut 4:21-24 The LORD was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the LORD your God is giving you as your inheritance. I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan ; but you are about to cross over and take possession of that good land. Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
Check the context. Moses has just reminded Israel of their encounter with the Lord at Mount Sinai when He had conveyed the Law to Moses. That followed an initial call to obedience and to follow all of God's laws, which were to be passed down through the generations. They were to see those laws in the context of their encounters with God. They were to remember the sense of awe that they had had at Sinai. This was a holy God, a God who held Himself at a distance and yet who still communicated with the people to draw them into relationship with Him. Yet things could go wrong and when that happened, there would be consequences! This reminder will come again and again: there are consequences for disobeying God. Thus he now uses himself as an example of this very thing.
He has already made brief reference to this: “Because of you the LORD became angry with me also and said, "You shall not enter it, either. But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it.” (Deut 1:37,38) and further reference: “But because of you the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me. "That is enough," the LORD said. "Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan.” (Deut 3:26,27). Now he reiterates that for the third time: “ The LORD was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the LORD your God is giving you as your inheritance.” (Deut 4:21). When Moses had failed to properly represent the Lord, the Lord was going to discipline him so that all Israel and all future leaders would know that the Lord would hold them to a higher level of accountability.
Moses then contrasts Israel with himself: “I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan ; but you are about to cross over and take possession of that good land.” i.e. this is what is going to happen to me, but not to you! He continues, “Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden.” You will be going into the land, you will have an ongoing relationship with the Lord, so you need to remember these things and learn from them and hold firmly to the covenant agreement and obey the Lord and not make any representations of the Lord in the form of an idol.
In the previous meditation we saw that the Lord had given a long warning not to make any representations of him in any form whatsoever and He is now reiterating that. Moses' reference to himself comes between these two calls to avoid idolatry. It is as if he is saying, “Look, if you disobey God and make idols there will be severe consequences. You have seen what is to happen to me because of my disobedience. Make sure that doesn't happen to you - for it will if you are disobedient!” Look, he goes on, “the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” God will not just sit back and let you get away with it. If you set up competitors to what He is really like, these idols that can in no way represent Him, He will come and deal with you for (implied) you are to be a light to the rest of the nations and you are to represent Him to them. Idols will not do that!
He then goes on to warn them prophetically what will happen if they do turn to idols: “After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time--if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God and provoking him to anger, I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed. The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.” (Deut 4:25-28) i.e. God WILL hold you accountable and will not let you continue to represent Him.
We have to go to Jeremiah to see this being worked out. There the word of God comes again and again to call them back to Himself, but eventually Nebuchadnezzar comes and takes them out of the land and they end up in Babylon for the seventy year exile. Moses is doing all he can to keep Israel on the straight and narrow. He has reminded them of his own situation, a living example of disobedience and when they soon lose him and have to enter the Land without him, they will know that disobedience has consequences. They should bear this in mind when they hear this warning against idols. They probably cannot see the importance of this warning but Moses has spelled out that their very future depends on obeying it. They can never say they were not warned!
|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Meditation No. 11
Meditation Title: Hope through Grace
(Focus: Deut 4:29-31)
Deut 4:29-31 But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him. For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.
We concluded the previous meditation with a serious warning given to Israel by Moses about their future. It essentially prophesied the Exile. Now for the Jews involved in the Exile, it is probable that they thought that the end had come for Israel . For centuries they had lived in the Promised Land as the people of God. Unfortunately they trusted in their name rather than in the covenant with the Lord. Jeremiah parodied this: “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel , says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!" If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.” (Jer 7:3-8) Merely because the Temple was there, that was not a guarantee of their security. Eventually the Lord said ‘Enough!” and the people were taken out of the land into Babylon .
Now for those who were still faithful, such as Jeremiah, a knowledge of the Deuteronomy scrolls would have been very reassuring. These verses that we have before us now bring hope to the survivor in exile. The encouragement starts, “If from there” and the ‘there' will be Babylon . There they may feel God is a million miles away but if they seek Him with all their heart, they will find that He is there for them. He reiterates what will happen: “When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him.” There will come a time when they will be given an opportunity to turn back to the Lord; it will not be the end of the people of God , Israel .
Then he states a basic principle: “For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath. ”The Lord had promised to Abraham that he would bless the world because of him: “I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen 12:2,3) and later, “Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Gen 22:17,18) That ultimate blessing was going to come through Jesus, born into a family from Abraham's family tree, and through Israel . Israel may give up on God but God will not give up on them because He will yet use them to bless the rest of the earth.
There is something quite remarkable at the heart of all of this. It is the sovereign plan and purpose of the Lord to bless the earth. He had chosen Israel to reveal Himself to the rest of the earth. Yet even if they fail Him, He will still use them to reveal Him when He sends His Son through this nation. In the days of Jeremiah , Israel may reach the height of their apostasy and idol worship, rejecting the Lord, yet even through that He will still work. When you read the accounts of the Exile what is amazing is that the Lord still has His various men speaking His word to the nation and to the world. As Jerusalem is about to be taken, Jeremiah is the Lord's mouthpiece. Among the exiles in Babylon , Ezekiel is His mouthpiece. In the royal court in Babylon , another exile, Daniel, will yet be God's mouthpiece to a number of these pagan kings. Even in the face of their failure, the Lord is going to continue speaking and revealing Himself to His world.
The revelation that is going to come through Israel is that despite being God's chosen people they are still sinful mankind and prone to getting it wrong. Yet behind all that, there is the Lord and He is sovereign and He knows what will happen (as Moses indicates here), but has a plan that will bring blessing to the earth anyway! Indeed, as Moses says, God is a merciful God. Mercy is not deserved. It is just given anyway. The Lord is going to bless the earth regardless of Israel ! One might almost say, despite them! Today the Lord still continues to seek to bless whoever will turn to Him, and when they do they will still be imperfect and still often get it wrong – yet he will persevere and bless and bless His children. The end will be glorious! Hallelujah!
|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Meditation No. 12
Meditation Title: Nothing like This!
(Focus: Deut 4:32-40)
Deut 4:32 Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created man on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of?
It is essential, in these studies within Deuteronomy, to constantly remind ourselves of the context. At the beginning of chapter 4 we saw: “Hear now, O Israel , the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.” (Deut 4:1,2) It looked like Moses was about to launch into a reminder of the various decrees or laws that God has imparted to them but his long warning to keep those laws reverted into yet another reminder of what God had done for them back at Sinai and how He had forbidden Moses to enter the land. He then went on prophetically to warn about the future apostasy and the Exile, but concluding that even there, if they sought the Lord, He would be there for them. Under-girding it all are historical references. You cannot study the Law without seeing its historical context.
But now, for yet further encouragement towards obedience, he take a broad sweep of history asking if they know anywhere in history have they heard of any such a thing happening to a people? He becomes more specific, detailing why what had happened to Israel is unique: “Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived?” (v.33) The Sinai experience was unique in history. “Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?” (v.34) i.e. in all the world religions and miscellaneous religious beliefs, have you ever encountered a God who has done what the Lord has done for us?
He then moves on to give explanation for what has happened: “You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.” (v.35) No, the only answer to all this is that God IS and He wants you to know Him – and there is no other like Him! He speaks again of Sinai: “From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire.” (v.36) You've heard Him, not just heard about Him!
He goes back a stage to remind them about the Exodus from Egypt : “Because he loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength.” (v.37) Yet again, there is that hint that goes right back to Abraham. But He has a specific purpose for delivering you: “to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today.” (v.38) Taking the Promised Land is the end product of the present stage of His plan for Israel .
Now, remember that this is a quick overview of history that says what has happened has been unique. He is saying all this, as we've noted a number of times, to reinforce his calls for obedience and to encourage them to take note of, hold on to, and obey all the laws that the Lord has given them. As a conclusion to this last overview he instructs them: “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.” (v.39). That has got to be the end conclusion: there is only one God and they have encountered Him.
So why, again, is he saying this? To encourage them to “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time.” (v.40). There is a cold, progressive logic in all that Moses is saying. What is His ultimate goal? It is to get them to obey God's laws when he is gone. How? It is by helping them see the laws in historical context. Never lose contact with the truth that they are a people promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a people miraculously delivered from Egypt , a people who encountered the Lord at Sinai and a people who have been both disciplined and blessed by Him since! These laws are not a bright idea from Moses. They are the rules for a peaceful life from the Designer of the human race Himself. Never forget it!
For us today this is not just cold academic information. It shows us the base for the nation of Israel – their testimony and their law. But it also reminds us that we too have a faith that is grounded in history. We are what we are because God came to earth in time-space history two thousand years ago in the form of His Son. All else follows from that! The experiences we have today, of the Lord Himself as expressed by His own Holy Spirit, are measured and assessed in the light of all that was said and done in that period of history as recorded in our New Testaments. Without it we are at sea, adrift in a world where anything goes. We are anchored by the word of God which is grounded in history. Hold on to that, remember it, and be assured by it.
|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Meditation No. 13
Meditation Title: Summary
(Focus: Deut 4:41-5:5)
Deut 4:44-46 This is the law Moses set before the Israelites. These are the stipulations, decrees and laws Moses gave them when they came out of Egypt and were in the valley near Beth Peor east of the Jordan, in the land of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon and was defeated by Moses and the Israelites as they came out of Egypt.
After four chapters of coming and going, Moses is about to restate the Law that God had given Israel , but we're not quite there yet. First of all we find that he did set up the three cities of refuge (see Num 35:9-28 for more description): “Then Moses set aside three cities east of the Jordan, to which anyone who had killed a person could flee if he had unintentionally killed his neighbor without malice aforethought. He could flee into one of these cities and save his life. The cities were these: Bezer in the desert plateau, for the Reubenites; Ramoth in Gilead, for the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan , for the Manassites.” (v.41-43). While Moses is still with them, he does what is required by the Lord and as this had been spoken of previously, he sets up these three cities while the people are still on the eastern side of the River Jordan. It is part of the general administration of the nation, something to help them in the centuries ahead, and he does it while they are there on that side of the land, before he leaves them.
Then we are given again a reiteration of the fact of King Og having been defeated so that Israel could take all the land to the east of the Jordan : “They took possession of his land and the land of Og king of Bashan, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan . This land extended from Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge to Mount Siyon (that is, Hermon), and included all the Arabah east of the Jordan , as far as the Sea of the Arabah, below the slopes of Pisgah.” (v.47-49). The land to the east of the Jordan has been settled and Israel are in full possession of it. They are ready to enter the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan but before they do, and before Moses dies, Moses has to remind them about the Law.
So it is that we come to the start of his pronouncement about the Lord, beginning yet again with a reminder about the historical background to it: “Moses summoned all Israel and said: Hear, O Israel , the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. (At that time I stood between the LORD and you to declare to you the word of the LORD, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.)” (Deut 5:1-5)
Note the order. First of all, “Moses summoned all Israel and said….” (v.1a). This is a special unique occasion. He calls all the people together to hear the Law. One would assume that it is simply a continuation of all that has gone before so far in this book, but the emphasis is made that he called the whole nation together to hear.
He is quite simple and straight forward in his intent: “Hear, O Israel , the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them.” (v.1b) It's just as we said: these are the laws that God gave us, so take them in, understand them, hold on to them and, above all, obey them! And why? It is because “The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb.” (v.2) We are the covenant people of God, the only people in all the earth who have been called into relationship with Him! That's why! Look, “It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today.” (v.3) We are the ones He has called to enter the Promised Land, we are the ones who are at the good end of this covenant, receiving all of God's goodness, planned for those who enter into covenant relationship with Him. Do you remember when it happened? “The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain.” (v.4)
Yes, it was at Sinai that it came about. Never forget that, never forget that God drew us into covenant relationship with Him at Mount Sinai and we gladly accepted! Do you remember it, do you remember it was scary stuff? “At that time I stood between the LORD and you to declare to you the word of the LORD, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.” (v.5). Yes, that's how it happened; that's how we came to be receivers of God's goodness. We didn't realise it at the time, but that is what it is all about and that is why we have to uphold our side of the bargain which is to keep God's design rules for us, the Law.
For us who are Christians today, there is a similar challenge, and a similar encouragement. We are what we are today because of what happened on a different mount, at Calvary, where a new covenant was inaugurated, where the Son of God did all that was necessary for us to enter in and receive the goodness of God today. Our side is to love him, to hold fast to him, to follow him. And for that we receive all the goodness that God has stored up for us. How wonderful! Hallelujah!
|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Meditation No. 14
Meditation Title: The Ten Commandments
(Focus: Deut 5:6-21)
Deut 5:6,7 The LORD spoke to you ….And he said: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt , out of the land of slavery. "You shall have no other gods before me.
Thus, at last, Moses starts restating the Law. It begins with what we call the Ten Commandments. These are clearly the fundamental or basic laws that, I would suggest, would apply to any godly nation. I use the word ‘godly' because, contrary to popular perception, the first four commands are all about honouring God. But before we get to the details, observe again both here as in the Exodus 20 original account, the commands are put into an historical context They flow out of their relationship with the Lord which was established when He delivered them from Egypt. That is the starting place for both accounts.
Now a comparison between this account and the original one in Exodus 20 is interesting. For instance the first three and commands 6 to 9 are identical in both passages. Moses has them on the two slabs of stone being kept in the ark and presumably quotes directly from them. We might ask, therefore, why there are slight variations in the others. The answer has to be that as Moses reads them out he goes to make particular and special emphases as different points to make them clearer and stand out even more. Let's see if that works.
In the fourth command, in the Exodus account, we read, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” In the present account it reads, “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.” The word ‘observe' seems stronger and emphasizes that the Law isn't to be just known, but obeyed. The addition, “as the Lord your God has commanded you”, emphasizes that this is not Moses' law but the Lord's and that demands obedience. In the ‘explanatory part' of that command, Moses now adds in , “nor your ox, your donkey.” possibly to make it all inclusive with no get-out clauses and he adds at the end, “so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.” Again it emphasizes that everyone is to be able to rest; something we have lost entirely from modern life today.
The biggest change comes, however, in the reason that is given at the end of that command. In the Exodus account it was a reference to the fact that God rested after six days of Creation, but here it is explained as, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” The focus is, as it has been many times so far in this book, on responding to God because of what He has done for you in delivering you and making you the people that you are. Indirectly it acknowledges that we are a fallen human race and therefore what has happened to Israel is even more wonderful, and they should let that motivate them to be obedient.
In the fifth command, to honour parents, Moses adds, “as the LORD your God has commanded you,” and then also as a reason, “and that it may go well with you” in the land. Again there is the added emphasis about it being God's command and the way it will work out in the Promised Land ahead of them. It fits better in the present historical context.
In the last command there is a slight change in order of the words and Moses says, “You shall not set your desire on your neighbor's house,” which is perhaps a more simple way of saying ‘don't covet.'
In each of these instances Moses simply reinforces the original command and puts it more into the present context. It is interesting to note that he feels he has this freedom to do this. He is God's representative and obviously feels he has God's approval to do this. These are not casual mistakes but purposeful reinforcing and emphasizing to a people who have been through forty years of discipline and who need that refocusing as they prepare to enter the land.
The Ten Commandments still stand as a beacon in a dark world, as God's ‘design-rules' for an orderly society. They begin with commands about holding to the truth of who God is and not varying from that, to simple absolutes that delineate right from wrong. It is wrong to murder, steal etc., so why do people foolishly say that we no longer need the Ten Commandments? The truth is that it isn't to do with those obvious laws for a peaceful and harmonious society; it is to do with the ones that speak about relationship with God! That is the issue in the debate!
We might ask a final question. Are the Ten Commandments all we need? As basics for a wise and godly society yes, but as far as helping a society in a fallen world, no! Part of the Law was to do with the sacrificial system and that was all to do with putting people right with God after they had done wrong. Part of the Law was to do with putting things right within society and that also is needed in a fallen world where mankind does not always do what is right. Both of these areas covered the fallen nature of humanity. The Ten Commandments cover neither. They are the starting point for a godly society but they do not deal with the fallen side of humanity. A study of all aspects of the Law given through Moses will help us understand mankind very much more. Let's learn!
|Series Theme: Deuteronomy Meditations|
Meditation No. 15
Meditation Title: Reinforcement
(Focus: Deut 5:22-33)
Deut 5:22 These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.
I have suggested at various times in these studies that Deuteronomy is all about Moses restating the Law to Israel on the plains to the east of the Jordan , but what keeps on coming through is Moses insistence on putting it all in an historical context. These laws came in a particular way in a particular time in a particular place in history. In his desire to encourage Israel to keep these laws, he emphasises this again and again to remind them that these are God's laws and that they are answerable to God – and that God has shown Himself as One who deals with people on the basis of righteousness, and He does hold people accountable for the way they behave. All of this is in the background to Moses' declaring the Law. His primary thrust is that Israel MUST obey these laws and these are the reasons for that.
So having just restated the Ten Commandments he immediately puts them into historical context: God gave them on Mount Sinai on two stone tablets. But that isn't enough. He wants Israel to be reminded of what happened back there forty years ago. He has spoken of the Sinai encounter already (1:6,19, 4:10-15, 5:2-5); in fact he continually reminds them of it, and so here, now, he reminds them yet again what their response had been: “ When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire, all the leading men of your tribes and your elders came to me. And you said, "The LORD our God has shown us his glory and his majesty, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him. But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer. For what mortal man has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived? Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey." (5:23-27). Yes, it had been a scary encounter and one that should remain in their memories. Indeed it is important that they do continue to remember it and pass it on to their children and future generations of children so that they will know exactly what had happened back there at Sinai.
He reminds them of the Lord's response: “The LORD heard you when you spoke to me and the LORD said to me, "I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good. Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever! "Go, tell them to return to their tents. But you stay here with me so that I may give you all the commands, decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving them to possess.” (5:28-31) There had been a two-way conversation and the Lord also had spoken to Moses to tell him how to handle the situation. The Lord hadn't just spoken out the laws and that was it; there was a relationship there between He and Moses where the Lord instructed and guided Moses as to how he should proceed.
Now, yet again, we see that Moses says all these things by way of encouraging Israel to obey the Law that God has given: “So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.” (5:32,33) There it is, yet a further exhortation to obey these laws. Now we could become bored with this repetitious encouraging of Israel to obey the Law but it tells us something very obvious about both the Lord and about us.
First, it tells us that we are prone to forgetting and we often need constant reminding of what has been said or done. Isn't this the very reason for the Lord Jesus' instructions about Communion: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19). He knew that we would need constantly reminding of the basis of the Gospel, that he had died for us. Hence it is one of the few things he specifically instructed us to do regularly.
But this constant repetition also shows us that God knows we need these reminders and this encouragement and so He provides it in Moses' words. The Lord seeks to meet our weakness but in so doing takes away any excuses Israel might have made for ‘not knowing'. This repetition is so great in these chapters that there is no space for anyone in Israel to say in the future, “But we didn't know.” They do and they will be held accountable. Grounds for faith are there in the Bible for anyone who seeks. Failure to look for it simply indicates that state of heart that is there. We have no excuses!