Thursday, April 22, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 9, Israel Benefits From Her Enemies' Actions

Moses has been speaking of the years Israel spent in the wilderness. The wilderness years are about to come to a conclusion because all the men who were twenty years or more who came out of Egypt have passed on with the exception of Joshua and Caleb. 

You'll recall that the Edomites, relatives of the Israelites through Jacob's brother Esau, did not treat the Israelites kindly when they requested passage through Edomite territory on their way to the promised land. The Edomites refused them entry and the Israelites had to go the long way around. But the Lord made sure the Israelites had everything they needed, as Moses pointed out yesterday, saying, "These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything."

Moses continues, "So we went on past our relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. We turned from the Arabah road, which comes up from Elath and Ezion Geber, and traveled along the desert road of Moab." (Deuteronomy 2:8) 

The Lord told the Israelites that none of the territory inhabited by the Edomites was to be theirs as part of the promised land. Although Esau lost his birthright due to his own foolish decisions, his descendants are still the kinsmen of the descendants of Jacob. The Lord didn't give Israel permission to take anything from them.

The Lord also told the Israelites that the land of their kinsmen the Moabites won't be part of the promised land either. "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." (Deuteronomy 2:9) They aren't to try to take Ar from the Moabites because the Moabites are related to them through Abraham's nephew Lot.

The Moabites were a people who didn't treat them kindly. As you'll recall, the Moabites and their neighbors the Midianites wanted to drive the Israelites away and they hired Balaam the prophet to curse Israel. But Balaam was unable to fulfill their request so the Midianite women seduced some of the Israelite men into idolatry through sexual allure, hoping to bring about their military downfall through a spiritual downfall. Still, the Lord marked out a specific territory for the Moabites and instructed Israel not to touch it.

At one time giants lived in the region of Ar. The following footnote about them has been added: "(The Emites used to live there---a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. Like the Anakites, they too were considered Rephaites, but the Moabites called them Emites.)" (Deuteronomy 2:10-11) The Rephaites (Rephaim) are believed to have been men of more than average height, and they are often referred to as "giants" in the Bible although their name can also mean something like "terrible ones" or "great ones". In addition, the word "rephaim" is sometimes used in the Bible to describe a disembodied spirit or a lost soul because this word became synonymous with something to be feared. I do believe it's proper to translate references to the Rephaim as "giants" because otherwise Moses would not point out their tallness, saying they were "as tall as the Anakites". The ten Israelite spies who brought back a negative report about the land of Canaan said they saw Anakites there and that these people were "stronger and taller than we are" and that in comparison to the Anakites "we seemed like grasshoppers". 

The Emites used to live in the territory of Ar. What happened to them? Apparently the Moabites drove them out and took their land, although the Bible doesn't specifically say so. I believe this is implied because this same passage mentions a group of people the Edomites drove out. "(Horites used to live in Seir, but the descendants of Esau drove them out. They destroyed the Horites from before them and settled in their place, just as Israel did in the land the Lord gave them as their possession.)" (Deuteronomy 2:12) Verses 10-12 seem to be saying, "The Moabites drove the Emites out of Ar and settled in their place, just as the Edomites drove the Horites out of Seir and settled in their place." 

We know very little about the Horites as they are mentioned only in the books of Genesis and Deuteronomy. It's possible they were giants since they are mentioned in the same passage as the Rephaites. If this is the case, even though the Edomites and the Moabites treated the Israelites poorly, the Israelites benefited from some of their actions. If the Rephaites and Horites had not been driven out of the hill country of Seir and the plains of Moab at some time prior to Israel's emergence from Egypt, these giants would almost certainly have attacked the Israelites as they passed through the region. Several times now the hardships of the journey have caused a large number of Israelites to want to turn back to Egypt. Imagine how much more they'd have wanted to turn back to Egypt if giants opposed them in the wilderness! It's one thing to fight giants once Israel is already across the border of the promised land; it's a far different thing to face giants before they ever lay eyes on the land flowing with milk and honey. Once in the land they'll know what they're fighting for but right now it's hard to picture the goodness of the land in their minds. The people will have far more incentive to fight with all they've got once their boots hit the ground in Canaan. The Lord lovingly spared the Israelites from dealing with the Rephaim and the Horites on their way through the wilderness and He used people who aren't kindly disposed toward them (the Moabites and the Edomites) to do it.

I'm reminded of something King Solomon once said, "When the Lord takes pleasure in anyone's way, He causes their enemies to make peace with them." (Proverbs 16:7) The Moabites and Edomites were not friends of Israel and did not make a peace treaty with Israel, but they accidentally did good things for Israel by driving giants from the area before the Israelites got there. The Lord can cause us to profit from the actions of our enemies, even in cases where our enemies deliberately set out to harm us. As Jacob's son Joseph said to the brothers who once hated him and sold him into slavery, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good." (Genesis 50:20)

I'll close with a personal story. Earlier this year my husband and several other employees at his workplace were unexpectedly let go. Now, a thing like that is understandable in these hard times because apparently the company had lost revenue several months in a row---significant amounts of revenue---likely due to the pandemic which brought about tough economic times and caused people to not buy nearly as much of the product that this company makes. Vast numbers of our fellow citizens have been laid off work since the arrival of the pandemic. But what was different at my husband's workplace is that the owner (a person who regularly demonstrated his unscrupulous character and who spoke to the employees in ways no one should ever speak to anyone) didn't want to incur any of the expenses of unemployment benefits. If you have time and are unfamiliar with how layoffs cost employers money, you can google how this works. I was somewhat aware it cost money but didn't understand how it works til I did an internet search about it. This employer made up reasons to let the employees go so he wouldn't lose any money; losing money was the one thing on his mind all day every day already. He fired all the people he let go instead of laying anyone off, writing up weird and unfounded reasons for their termination. For example, he claimed my husband was looking for other employment while he was on the clock, which was absolutely not the case at all. My husband never did any such thing and couldn't have if he'd wanted to, not having access to his personal email and personal phone, etc. during the workday. Another employee, who had been given permission to work from home because all of his IT duties actually could be done from home, was written up for "working from home too much", claiming they had told him he couldn't. If that had been true they wouldn't have kept paying him during all the months he worked from home, but it's hard to fight claims like this with the unemployment bureau. I could supply other examples of things that happened but you see where I'm going with this. The intent was to lay off a number of employees without it costing the employer a dime because if you're fired you can't draw unemployment benefits.

But what this man intended for evil, the Lord used for good. The Lord gave my husband a new job where the management treats employees with respect. The Lord gave my husband a job where there's a pleasant and helpful atmosphere. The Lord gave my husband a job that pays more and has better benefits. I hope the same is true for all of my husband's former co-workers. My husband's unrighteous former boss did him a favor without meaning to and I think that's probably going to be the case with everyone the man treated poorly. 

This was the case with the Moabites and Edomites. They never intended to do Israel a favor. If they could have gone back in time and not driven the Rephaites and Horites from Ar and Seir, perhaps they would have left these giants alone so they could have attacked the Israelites and sent them running back to Egypt. But what's done is done and the very thing the Moabites and Edomites would have liked to see happen (the Israelites driven away) was actually prevented because some time in the past the giants were driven away instead. 

Isn't God good? He makes a way for His people. He opens up a way forward where previously there was no way. He parts seas. He moves mountains. He sends giants running out of our paths. When the Lord intends His children to have something, He does whatever has to be done to make sure His children get it, and sometimes this means even our enemies do things that benefit us. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 8, Protection And Provision For Forty Years

Moses is looking back on Israel's forty years in the wilderness and he speaks some words to encourage Israel for the work that will be involved in taking over the promised land. 

Almost four decades earlier, after being defeated when trying to go up to the promised land after the Lord said that first generation out of Egypt had forfeited entry into it, Moses says, "Then we turned back and set out toward the wilderness 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." (Deuteronomy 2:1)

Seir was a mountainous region occupied by the Edomites, the descendants of Jacob's brother Esau. The Israelites were the kinsmen of the Edomites. Because of this the Lord didn't intend to give any of the land of the Edomites to the Israelites. "Then the Lord said to me, 'You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north. Give the people these orders: 'You are about to pass through the territory of your relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. 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 their 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.'" (Deuteronomy 2:2-6) The Israelites weren't to take anything from the Edomites for free, either by force or by compelling the Edomites to provide refreshment due to familial obligations.

You'll recall that the Israelites never got a chance to pay the Edomites any money in exchange for refreshments. The Edomites treated them unkindly and refused to allow them to pass through their territory even though they could have profited monetarily from granting them safe passage.

Next we come to a verse that means something personal to me. The Lord used it to give me a spiritual victory over discouragement and depression one dark winter morning. As Israel stands poised to enter the land of promise, the Lord reminds her of the way He's always protected her and provided for her in the past. She can trust Him to continue protecting and providing. Moses assures the people they can trust the Lord by saying, "The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything." (Deuteronomy 2:7) 

How did the Lord use a verse regarding Israel to make me feel better about my own life? I woke up the morning of my fortieth birthday feeling heavily burdened down. Several things in my life weren't going well at that time and I recall frequently thinking to myself, "How did I get here?" I'd made very careful choices for my life. I'd been certain that my big decisions were made according to the will of the Lord and yet things had happened that I never saw coming. We've often talked about the fact that we can bring a lot of trouble upon ourselves by not seeking the Lord's counsel when making decisions, but sometimes we can be living smack dab in the Lord's will and still have troubles come into our lives. We live in a fallen world, surrounded by fallen mankind, and things can go wrong even when we're trying our best to do right. I haven't always made the right choices, but in that season of my life I knew I had made those particular choices prayerfully and with the guidance of the Lord, and still my circumstances had become nearly unbearable. While it's true that some of our hard times in life are the consequences of going in the wrong direction, it's also true that we can be going in the right direction and the Lord will allow us to enter a difficult season in order to accomplish some purpose other than correction. Whenever trouble comes, it's smart to get alone with the Lord and to search our consciences to determine whether our situation is the result of sin so we can repent of it and get back on the right track. But there will be times when we'll come to the conclusion that troubles have come upon us for some other purpose, even though that purpose may not be clear to us at the time or even in this lifetime.

I felt very discouraged on the morning I woke up forty years old. I felt little had been accomplished by my life because at that moment everything I'd worked hard for seemed to be turning to ashes. I was disappointed and somewhat bitter at how things had turned out for me. I could look around me and observe several people close to me who didn't care whether they were in the Lord's will or not and things seemed to be going along fine for them. I had the same attitude that morning as the psalmist Asaph who was distressed by the way the wicked prospered and by the way he---who was trying to live right---was going through hard times. He said to himself in his disappointment and bitterness, "Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments." (Psalm 73:13-14) He said, "Why did I bother to do what was right? Where did it get me? It didn't spare me trials and tribulations. Yet I know people who are living in sin and living it up. They're getting along great without a care in the world." If you have time to read the entirety of Psalm 73, you'll see how the Lord lovingly gave Asaph an attitude adjustment. By the end of Psalm 73 you'll find Asaph's perspective completely changed and you'll find him praising the name of the Lord for His goodness. The Lord gave me an attitude adjustment too.

On the morning I turned forty I hopped on my exercise bicycle in an angry mood with an ugly scowl on my face. I figured things were going wrong for me but that neglecting my health wasn't going to help anything so I might as well get some exercise. I reached over to the bookcase near my stationary bicycle where I was in the habit of keeping the Bible and also a fictional book so I'd have reading material while I exercised. That morning I grabbed the Bible, thinking, "Maybe this will improve my mood," but not really believing it. I need to point out that I'm not a proponent of randomly opening the Bible and taking the advice of the first verse your eye or your finger lands on; that's not how the Bible is meant to be studied. It's not a Magic 8 ball. If we could ask the Lord questions and then flip the Bible open and ram our pointer finger down onto a page and immediately find the answer, we'd never do any in-depth studying and as a result we would maintain only a shallow relationship with the Lord. But on the morning of my fortieth birthday I grabbed my Bible in my hand and just started reading on the page where the book naturally flipped open and the first verse to meet my gaze was, "The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything." (Deuteronomy 2:7)

I have never had my attitude adjusted so fast! I've never gone so quickly from crying the blues to shouting hallelujahs as I did when the Lord said to me, "I've protected you and provided for you thus far. I've watched over your journey through this vast wilderness of a world and have kept you safe. I've never allowed you to go hungry or thirsty or without clothes on your back or without a roof over your head. These forty years I have been with you, and you have not lacked anything you needed." Did I have everything I wanted in that moment? No, several things in my life weren't at all the way I'd have liked them to be. But did I have everything I needed? Yes! I was in a warm house on a cold January morning with clothes on my back, with water I could turn on at the tap, and with food in my refrigerator and in my cabinets. I had family members and friends who loved me. I had pets who loved me. I had a job to get ready to go to after I finished my exercise. There were a lot of things that seemed wrong in my life but there were a lot of things that were right, and those things were the things I needed---the things that were sustaining me. 

I'm fifty-one years old now and on every birthday since my fortieth I've remembered the way the Lord used Deuteronomy 2:7 to give me victory over intense feelings of sadness and discouragement. I've remembered the way He took my focus off myself (the way I was moaning about life not turning out the way I expected and about not having accomplished as much as I felt I should have) and put my focus on Him (on all the ways He had protected me and provided me for forty years). If we're feeling down and we keep focusing on ourselves, our mood isn't likely to improve very quickly. But if we fix our thoughts on the Lord and on all the ways He's taken care of us up til now, we'll find ourselves encouraged. We may not always find it easy to encourage ourselves this way; I know sometimes it feels easier for me to wallow in self-pity. But I'm reminded of the time David encouraged himself in the Lord even though his family had been abducted, his settlement at Ziklag burned, and all his property stolen. The same things had happened to the band of men with him and they blamed him for their predicament and wanted to stone him to death. Even in those trying circumstances, the Bible tells us, "But David found strength in the Lord his God." (1 Samuel 30:6b) David was facing more troubles at one time than probably you or I will ever face at one time. So how did David find strength in the Lord? I think he did it by thinking back on all the times the Lord had helped him before. This gave David the strength to believe the Lord would help him again.

Moses is reminding the Israelites of how the Lord has helped them during their forty years in the wilderness so they will have the strength to believe the Lord will help them in the promised land. The road ahead won't always be easy but the Lord has brought them through a lot already. He's still as powerful as He ever was. He will give Israel victory, no matter how fierce the battles ahead may appear.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 7, Defeat Due To Disobedience

Moses has been warning the new generation not to make the same mistakes their fathers did who were too afraid of the report of ten of the spies to enter the promised land. Their fathers accused Moses (and by extension, the Lord) of bringing them to the borders of Canaan just to let them to fall to the enemy sword and to allow their wives and children to be taken captive. But just the opposite was true. The Lord brought them to the borders of Canaan to give them a great blessing, but it was going to take faith to take hold of the blessing. 

Because the generation who came out of Egypt didn't trust the Lord to give them victory in Canaan, He said to them, "And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad---they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it. But as for you, turn around and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea." (Deuteronomy 1:39-40) If you'll recall from the book of Numbers, they didn't turn back. The people wanted to turn back until the Lord told them to turn back. Isn't that just like human beings, though? As long as something is our own idea, we want to do it, but when we're told we must do it, we don't want to. After hearing the negative report of ten of the spies, most of the Israelites wanted to turn back all the way to Egypt, but now they don't want to turn back even as far as the Red Sea. Now that the Lord isn't giving them a choice, they realize they've lost out on a blessing by being weak in their faith. They won't see the promised land. They've forfeited their God-given right to this blessing. Their children will receive it, but they themselves will miss out on it.

When the Lord told them to turn back from the borders of Canaan, they saw the error of their ways. They repented, which was a good thing, but in their distress over their mistake they made another one. "Then you replied, 'We have sinned against the Lord. We will go up and fight, as the Lord commanded us.' So every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country." (Deuteronomy 1:41)  Their reaction is the type of reaction we've all had at one time or another when we realize we've made a big mistake. We make a mess out of things and then try to fix the mess in our own strength, often creating an even bigger mess. The best thing to do when we realize we've gotten out of the will of God is to confess it to Him and repent of it and then ask Him what we must do next. We need to get back into His will as quickly as possible, not make more wrong decisions. Repenting is a good thing but trying to fix our mess in our own strength and by our human way of thinking can actually make a bad situation worse. What looks like the correct route to us may be completely wrong. That's what happened to the Israelites. They said, "Okay, we see we've really messed up. We're so sorry about that. We sinned against You and failed to believe You would do what You said You would do. Now we're ready to go up and fight." But the Lord had already issued the command to turn back. If they go up, they go up in their own strength, not with the power of the Lord behind them.

Moses tried to talk them out of this idea, to no avail. "But the Lord said to me, 'Tell them, 'Do not go up and fight, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by your enemies.'" (Deuteronomy 1:42) The people sinned against the Lord, and He was angry with them over it, but He didn't want to see them defeated in battle. Like any loving father, he wanted to spare them from the consequences of mistakes. He warned them not to go up because He wouldn't be fighting on their side. If they go up they will reap the consequences of doing the wrong thing because, again like a loving father, the Lord knows that sometimes the only way to teach a lesson is to let a stubborn child experience the natural consequences of disobedience. The lessons we tend to remember most are the lessons we learn the hard way. 

The people were still in the frame of mind that, "We can fix this! We know we messed up but we can fix it. Just give us a do-over and we'll make it right." That's why they went up anyway. "So I told you, but you would not listen. You rebelled against the Lord's command and in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country." (Deuteronomy 1:43) If in our own strength we can't help messing up from time to time, what makes us think that in our own strength we can fix our mistakes? The best thing they could have done at this time was obey the command to turn back, even though this command wasn't what they wanted to hear. I've missed out on blessings because of disobedience. I've had to turn back. It's not pleasant. It's a bitter pill to swallow when I realize I'm the one to blame for missing out on something good and for causing myself hardship at the same time. But it's far better to turn back at the Lord's command than to charge ahead without Him. That only causes more hardship. And I've made that mistake too! There have been times when I've gotten ahead of the Lord and times when I've gone places He never intended me to go. That always makes a bad situation worse. When we realize we've sinned, we need to repent and get back with the program fast. We need to say, "Lord, I'm sorry. I disobeyed You. I've made a mess out of things and I can see that now. What would You have me do next? I want to get back in Your will and do what You want me to do."

The army experienced defeat because they were not in the will of the Lord. "The Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah. You came back and wept before the Lord, but He paid no attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you. And so you stayed in Kadesh many days---all the time you spent there." (Deuteronomy 1:44-46) When the soldiers brought defeat upon themselves by acting in disobedience to the Lord, He was not sympathetic to their plight. Instead He said, "I told you so." This too reminds me of a parent who has warned a child not to do a particular thing, then the child did it anyway, and upon seeing that the child was upset over the consequences of his mistake, said, "I told you not to do that." 

I'm reminded of a particular time when I was a little girl and my mother warned me to stop doing something. A neighbor child and I were running madly up and down my gravel driveway and the gravel dead end road in front of my house while my mom and the other child's mom sat in the front yard. It had rained recently and there were some pretty large mud puddles and I was running awkwardly in my slightly too large rain boots. My mom called to me, "You're going to fall!", but I ignored her and fell headlong into the biggest mud puddle out there, completely soaking myself head to toe. Nothing was hurt except my pride, especially since my little friend was laughing at me, and my mom commented drily from her chair in the front yard, "I told you not to do that." We can see why she wasn't sympathetic to my plight and we can see why the Lord wasn't sympathetic when the army forged ahead, against His will, and suffered defeat. 

Time and time again we've talked about how necessary it is to consult the Lord on all our big decisions. While we are all going to experience hardships in this life that are beyond our control, a great deal of the hardships we endure in this life are hardships we bring on ourselves by either going in the right direction at the wrong time or by going in the wrong direction altogether. We need to daily pray for the Lord's protection and guidance. He knows the path we should take and He knows when we should take it. The last thing we should ever want is to go anywhere without Him.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 6, Moses Announces His Successor To The Congregation

Moses has been talking about Israel's previous sojourn at Kadesh when the Lord told them it was time to go in and begin taking hold of the promised land. But the people wanted spies sent in first and ten of the spies came back with a very negative report, influencing the majority of the congregation to want to turn back to Egypt. 

The Lord was so angry with the faithlessness of the congregation in Numbers 14 that He declared no one who was over the age of twenty who had witnessed His signs and wonders in Egypt and in the wilderness would enter the promised land except the two spies who brought back a positive report: Joshua and Caleb. At that time the Lord did not specifically say that Moses and his siblings Aaron and Miriam would not enter the land, but it was implied by His statement. Now, as we study the book of Deuteronomy, Miriam and Aaron have already passed on and the Lord has already told Moses plainly that he will not be the person who leads Israel into the promised land. Moses begins our passage today by remarking upon how the Lord became angry with him because of how he reacted to the way the people accused him and quarreled with him when they ran out of water. "Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, 'You shall not enter it, either.'" (Deuteronomy 1:37)

Can Moses rightly blame the people for his own actions? Well, I think we always have a choice as to how we react to someone else's behavior but I also think Moses was driven to the breaking point a number of times. The job of leading over 2,000,000 people in the wilderness would have been hard even without any grumbling or complaining, but Moses' authority was challenged many times (once by his own brother and sister). His life was overtly threatened once and several other times he had reason to believe his life was in danger. He had a lot to deal with and in his place I'd have lost my cool a lot sooner and a lot more often than he did. I also believe that that, as faithful a man as Moses was, the Lord needed a different type of leader to take the people on into the promised land. 

My pastor preached a sermon last week about the differences in Moses' and Joshua's leadership styles and it demonstrated how Moses was the right leader for the wilderness years (he was the mediator of the first covenant between God and man and he helped the people work on their spiritual relationship with God) and how Joshua was the right leader for the years of combat (he taught personal responsibility and helped the people to toughen up physically and emotionally). As my pastor said, when the people under Moses' leadership were thirsty, Moses brought water out of a rock for them. But when they became thirsty under Joshua's leadership, Joshua told them to dig wells. 

King Solomon famously said that there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1) There was a time for Israel to heal from several centuries of slavery in a pagan land. There was a time to learn the commandments and laws. There was a time to build the tabernacle and to make all its furnishings. There was a time to learn about the sacrificial system and to begin using it. But there is also going to be a time for war, and Moses is not the man to lead Israel's army in battle. Joshua is the man with the skills to do that job. As Solomon said, "There is a time for war and a time for peace." (Ecclesiastes 3:8b) In the wilderness years the Lord laid out the terms for being at peace with Him and now it's time for war with the pagan tribes of Canaan. The Israelites are not to make peace with or blend in with the heathens of Canaan. They must drive those tribes, and their sins of idolatry, from the land. 

The Lord told Moses some time back that Joshua would be his successor, saying, "But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it." (Deuteronomy 1:38) Moses is talking to the entire congregation here in Deuteronomy 1 and this may be the first time he's formally announced to them that Joshua has been chosen by the Lord to succeed him. I believe Joshua is the man Moses would have chosen himself but it's important for the people to know that Joshua is not being appointed solely by Moses. As God's chosen man to lead Israel's army into the promised land, the army is to follow Joshua's orders unquestioningly because Joshua will be receiving the battle plans from the Lord. Just as Moses received the commandments and the law from the Lord and passed them on to the people, Joshua will be receiving marching orders from the Lord and will pass them on to the people. 

I love the way the Lord instructs Moses to encourage Joshua. It would be understandable, to the human mind, if Moses felt bitter about being denied entry to the promised land. It would be human nature for Moses to feel resentful or envious toward the man who will take his place. But the Lord tells Moses to help Joshua in any way he can and I believe Moses did so to the best of his ability. Moses wants Israel to be successful and that means Israel's leader must be strong and courageous. It means Israel's leader must be a man of faith who trusts and obeys the Lord. I think Moses did everything he could to set Joshua up for success. Joshua's success is Israel's success and Moses only wants the best for Israel. 

Moses wasn't a perfect man but we can learn a lot from the examples he sets for us on the pages of the Bible. He never lost faith. He never lost heart. He never considered quitting. He never stopped caring about the people under his leadership even when they wanted him dead. He never stopped interceding for them with the Lord. He never stopped loving them. Whose attitude does Moses' attitude remind us of? The Lord's! Moses was a human being who sometimes made mistakes but he loved the Lord so much that he couldn't help behaving like Him. He couldn't help having a heart like the Lord's for the people. No wonder Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to love the Lord and to love our fellow man. If we truly love the Lord, we can't help loving the people He created. The closer we draw to the Lord, the more we'll care about those around us. Moses beautifully demonstrated this principle for us by the way he led and loved Israel in the wilderness.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 5, Trusting The Word Of God

Yesterday Moses talked about how the generation of Israelites that came out of Egypt believed the negative report of ten of the spies who were sent to look into the land of Canaan. He spoke of how he encouraged the people to trust the Lord because the Lord would fight for them. Today we pick up there with the reaction that generation had to his words and with the reaction the Lord had to the people's words.

"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. When the Lord heard what you said, He was angry and solemnly swore: 'No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, 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.'" (Dueteronomy 1:34-36) Caleb wasn't the only one of that generation to see the promised land, as we'll see in a minute, but above we see that the Lord was angry when He heard what the Israelites said. What did they say? They said, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?...We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt." (Numbers 14:2-4)

They said, "It would have been better if we'd all perished together in Egypt without ever experiencing freedom from slavery. Tasting freedom only makes our coming defeat in Canaan more bitter. Or if only we'd died of hunger or thirst in this barren wilderness. That would have been more merciful than having our sons fall by the sword and our women and children taken captive by the enemy. We mustn't go any further. We cannot take Canaan. The best thing to do is get rid of Moses and Aaron and elect a leader who will take us back to Egypt. We'll submit ourselves to Pharaoh and take whatever abuse he chooses to dish out. At least in Egypt we won't lose our families. Whatever fate befalls one of us there will befall us all."

Have you ever heard the expression, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't"? I'll paraphrase it like this: "Better to stick with what you're used to, even if it's bad, than trade it for something else that may end up being worse". The Israelites have something bad in their past: slavery in Egypt. But when they heard the report ten of the spies gave, they viewed moving on into Canaan as being worse than slavery. Why? Because their confidence failed them when they listened to the words of man instead of to the words of the Lord. After hearing the discouraging report about the large fortified cities and the men of giant stature in Canaan, the people felt their odds of survival were better in Egypt than in the promised land. They said, "We'd rather go back to Egypt and spend our lives under the yoke of slavery, and consign our descendants to slavery, than have our men wiped out in battle and our women and children taken by heathen foreigners." That would have been a valid point if indeed they were going to face defeat in Canaan. If these bad things were truly going to happen to them there, then going back to Egypt with their families was the better choice, even if that meant they would never be free. At least they'd be alive. At least they'd keep their families together. Slavery in Egypt was a bad thing, but if defeat was certain in Canaan, Egypt was preferable. 

As we said earlier in the week, when we take God out of the equation, the difficulties of this life can appear pretty hopeless. But God is part of the equation of taking over the promised land; in fact, He's the biggest part of the equation. Could the people have taken the land on their own? I think not. If it had not been the Lord's will to uproot the pagan tribes and plant Israel in their place, Israel could not have been successful on her own in driving the tribes out of the land. Israel couldn't even have rescued herself from Egypt without the Lord, much less have survived in the wilderness long enough to reach the borders of Canaan and then attempt to take it over. Pharaoh and his people were too strong for the Israelites to face down. The Israelites could not have risen up against the Egyptians and won their freedom in battle. Freedom from Egypt was the Lord's doing, just as winning the land of Canaan will be the Lord's doing. With Him in the equation, victory is assured. 

This is why it's so important that we study and learn the word of God. Then, when we hear negative words from our fellow man, we won't falter in our faith. We won't lose our confidence. Has the Lord ever told you to do something in particular and then someone expressed doubts about the success of the plan? I can recall a time of major distress in my life when almost everything that could go wrong was going wrong. Someone I am required to deal with on a very regular basis kept telling me to give up. She kept saying my circumstances would never change. She kept saying people would never change and that it's impossible for people to change. It was a near-daily assault, those negative words. But you know what else was happening daily? I was immersing myself in God's word, not because I'm some great "super Christian" but because I literally had nowhere else to turn. It was the only place, in that season of life, where I could find words to lift my spirits. If it had not been for memorizing and clinging to certain Bible verses at that time, I probably would have agreed with the person who kept telling me things were hopeless. I would have been defeated. But I knew God was part of the equation and I could not accept that He might not turn things around. I'll admit, I only gave my situation a 10% chance of turning around. I was 90% certain some aspects of my circumstances were not salvageable. But I wasn't 100% certain of that because I didn't know what God might do. I knew He was capable of parting seas and moving mountains. I knew He could open up springs in the desert and supply nourishment for a hungry soul, and my point is that if I'd done nothing but listen to the negative words of my fellow man I'd have given up. That's why so many of the Israelites gave up at Kadesh: they listened only to the negative words of ten of the spies and not to the promises of the Lord. 

Not all of them gave up. Joshua and Caleb, two of the spies, firmly believed the Lord would do for Israel in the promised land exactly what He said He would do. Moses and Aaron also believed this. Why? Because they placed more emphasis on what the Lord says than what on man says. Because they kept the Lord in the equation, and as we said yesterday, when the Lord is on our side we are in the majority. It doesn't matter who disagrees; if the Lord says a thing can be done, it can be done. 

What happened to the person who kept telling me my circumstances were hopeless, that I needed to give up, and that I wasn't going to receive a miracle? Well, I guess she had to eat her words because the Lord performed a miracle. The change He brought about in my circumstances was as dramatic as the difference between night and day. He suddenly started moving the mountains and parting the seas. Things that should have taken years to straighten out, by human standards, made a complete turnaround within a few short months. But what if I'd given up and given in because of the negativity of someone around me? Maybe I'd have never experienced this miracle. Maybe I wouldn't have learned things about the Lord I never knew before. Maybe my faith would have weakened instead of growing. But one thing I know for sure: it was the word of God that kept me from giving in. It wasn't due to any inner human strength of my own. It wasn't because I'm a person who never doubts or makes mistakes. It wasn't because I'm anything special at all. It was because God's word can be counted on. It was because God's word is a firm foundation under our feet when it seems like the whole world is falling down around us. If we don't fill our minds with the truth we will fall for lies. I guarantee it. We will fall into discouragement and turn back, just like the Israelites fell into discouragement at the borders of Canaan and wanted to turn back. We can't fill our minds with the garbage of lies and have victory in this fallen world. Even if studying and memorizing God's word only enables us to give our circumstances 10% odds of working out, that may be all we need to see God do great things for us. 

What giants are you facing today? What circumstances would you like to see changed? Turn all those things over to the One who has never lost a battle. Allow His words to sink deep into your minds and don't give heed to anyone who tries to tell you the Lord isn't going to do anything for you. That's the kind of words the devil speaks. No matter who is giving us a negative report, behind every negative report about God is the slimy voice of the enemy of our souls. This enemy is the one who says, "You should just give up. God isn't going to change your circumstances. Who do you think you are that the Lord would do anything for you? Look how weak and frail you are. Look how often you fall into doubts and fears. Why should He reward your pitiful faith with miracles? You're a nobody. Your prayers are falling on deaf ears. The Lord isn't going to do a thing to help you." But, in contrast, what does the Redeemer of our souls say? He says that we are worth dying for. Does Someone who thinks we're worth dying for not have any interest in our prayers? Does Someone who thinks we're worth dying for not want to help us in our times of trouble? The next time a negative report comes to your ears and someone (or even your own mind) asks who you think you are that the Lord would come to your rescue, on the authority of God's word you may answer, "I am the child of the living God through the Lord Jesus Christ. My Father loves me. My Father wants good things for me. My Father hears me when I call to Him." 

We'll close today with a link to a song that has been my theme song so far this year. It talks about how the Lord makes a way when it looks like there is no way. Every time I've needed encouragement this year, the words of this song which are based on God's holy word have encouraged me. I hope they have the same effect on you.

"Graves Into Gardens" by Elevation Worship

Friday, April 16, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 4, Moses Encourages The New Generation

Moses is going to retell the tale of the rebellion that occurred when the twelve spies returned from Canaan. He's telling the tale to a new generation---to the generation that will enter the promised land. They've no doubt heard the story many times before but it bears repeating now as they have come full circle and are camped at Kadesh again nearly forty years later. He doesn't want them to make the same mistake their parents made.

When it was time to begin taking hold of the promised land almost four decades earlier, the people balked and would not go because ten of the twelve spies had nothing but negative things to say about it. "But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 1:26) I think their reasoning went like this: "Ten out of twelve spies say it can't be done. That's a majority. We trust their opinion more than the opinion of the two who say we can scale walls and fight giants." 

The ten spies, and those who trusted their opinion, might have been correct if God had not been on the side of Israel. Israel's soldiers might have been no match for the fierce tribes of Canaan if the Lord had not fought along with them. In their minds many of the people subtracted God from the equation and lost heart, which is something that can happen to any of us. When we try to face the obstacles and troubles of this life all on our own, success begins to look impossible. And in many ways it is impossible to live a victorious life with peace in our hearts if we leave God out of the equation. If we aren't depending on the Lord's help, every wall begins to look too tall to scale and every trial looms over us like a giant. But with God all things are possible. With God on our side, it doesn't matter who or what is against us. We are in the majority with God. We are on the winning team with God. If He says it can be done then it can be done because He's going to supply the power to get it done.

Moses reminds his audience of the discouraging words spoken by their forefathers who came out of Egypt. "You grumbled in your tents and said, 'The Lord hates us; so He brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. Where can we go? Our brothers have made our hearts melt in fear. They say, '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.'" (Deuteronomy 1:27-28)

When we are deeply troubled we may not think clearly and I believe that's why the Israelites accused the Lord of having bad intentions toward them. Did it make sense to claim the Lord brought them out of Egypt to kill them years later as they attempted to take over the promised land? No, because if the Lord truly had hated them and wanted them dead He could have killed them in Egypt. He could have allowed a plague to fall on the whole community while they still lived in the land of oppression. If He didn't have good intentions toward Israel, there would have been no need to perform signs and wonders in Egypt. There would have been no need to bring them all out boldly in the light of day, loaded down with gold and silver and clothing from the Egyptians. Doing all those great things for Israel would have been a waste of time and effort if the Lord had bad intentions toward them in the wilderness or inside the borders of Canaan. 

I too have questioned the Lord's intentions when I've been under great duress. I can't criticize the Israelites without being a hypocrite. There have been times in my life when circumstances have become so difficult that I've felt angry toward God. I've questioned God. I've been offended by what He's allowed to happen. I've gone through a season already this year of questioning why He allowed a particular unfair, unexpected thing to happen. In my shock and anger and disappointment I felt a sense of betrayal. But as these circumstances begin to turn around I am seeing how foolish I was not to hold firm to the promise that, "In all things God works for the good of those who love Him". (Romans 8:28) As I'm coming out the other side of this thing I'm wondering why I ever tossed and turned in the dark of night worrying and complaining. Why did I ever wonder whether God had my best interests at heart? Why was I angry? Why was I offended? I wish I could say I've never had that reaction before in my life. I wish I could say I'll never have this reaction again. But human nature being what it is, and knowing myself, I wouldn't dare boast that I'll never fall into this type of negative thinking again. 

Moses knows human nature. He hasn't led an enormous congregation through the wilderness for forty years for nothing. He's learned a thing or two about how the human mind works. He's seen the discouraging words of only ten men affect a congregation that likely numbered over 2,000,000. He knows it's quite possible that this new generation will make the same type of mistakes the older generation made. They may doubt God's goodness when troubles come. They may question His motives. They will certainly, at times, ask the age-old question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" This is why Moses reminds the new generation of the words of encouragement he spoke to the previous generation, "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. 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.'" (Dueteronomy 1:29-31)

One of the best ways to encourage ourselves in the Lord is to think back on all the times He came through for us in the past. If the people had taken heed to Moses' words and encouraged themselves in the Lord then they would not have rebelled during their first sojourn at Kadesh, but they were overwhelmed with fear of the unknown and didn't listen. We can understand their thought process because they'd never laid eyes on or set foot in the promised land. They'd never fought armies or taken fortified cities or faced literal giants. But on the other hand, great victories already lay in their past---victories won by the Lord---and this is why Moses urged them to strengthen their faith by thinking back on those victories. The Lord performed mighty signs and wonders in their sight in Egypt. He brought them out without them having to lift a finger against the Egyptians. He parted the Red Sea for them and led them through on dry ground. He caused water to flow for them from solid rock in the desert. He provided food for them in a barren wasteland. Could He not also subdue Canaan for them? Could He not give them victory in battle? Could He not cause them to take over, inhabit, and prosper in this new land? Was He not capable of keeping the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Moses asked the previous generation, "Can the God who carried you in His arms like a child from Egypt not also carry you into the promised land?"

I'm ashamed of the times I've doubted God and yet I'm sure there will be times in the future when I'll be caught off guard or become stricken by fear and will again struggle with doubts and anxieties. Moses knows the Israelites will go through trials and tribulations in this world. He knows they'll be tempted to doubt the goodness of God or wonder why bad things sometimes happen to good people. He reminds them that the best way to combat negative thinking is to replace it with positive thinking: to list in their minds all the times in the past the Lord came through for them. When faced with hardship they must think back on how the Lord worked things out for their good in the past. This will help them to trust Him in the future. 


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 3, Moses Recalls Sending Out The Twelve Spies

Now that Israel is nearing the end of her time in the wilderness, Moses recaps various events in her history since she left Egypt. Today he talks about the time, almost forty years prior, when he sent the twelve spies to look at the land of Canaan.

"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 wilderness that you have seen, and so we reached Kadesh Barnea." (Deuteronomy 1:19) At this time the Israelites have come full circle. They have previously been at Kadesh Barnea and now they are in that region again, but nearly forty years have separated their lodging there. The first time the Lord told the people to leave the region and enter the promised land, they did not do so because of the bad report of ten of the twelve spies.

The first time they were getting ready to break camp from Kadesh Barnea, Moses announced to them that it was time to go in and take the promised land. "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 ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.'" (Deuteronomy 1:20-21) It was never what the Lord wanted for Israel---remaining so many years in the wilderness. As the general of her army, He gave her the marching orders a long time ago, but she did the very thing Moses encouraged her not to do: she became afraid and discouraged.

Fears and doubts can keep us from receiving blessings at the appointed time or keep us from receiving particular blessings altogether. When the Lord says, "It's time to move ahead. I'm giving you this blessing. Move forward and take this opportunity.", and when we say, "I can't do it. The job is too big for me. I won't be able to accomplish this.", we run the risk of having our blessing delayed or missing out on the blessing completely. Here's a simple example to prove our point: Have you ever tried to give your child something good but they've refused to take it or try it? Let's say you've made a delicious chocolate dessert that you know your small chocolate-loving child would really like but because the dessert is something new he shakes his head and won't open his mouth to taste it. Obviously you aren't going to force some of the dessert into his mouth, so he ends up missing out on a yummy food that might have become one of his favorites. Our heavenly Father is a gentleman and He doesn't force us to try the blessings He's holding out to us. If we refuse to accept whatever good thing He's offering, He accepts our refusal. He respects our human dignity. He respects our right---as creatures with free will---to say no. 

When Moses told the Israelites it was time to take hold of the promised land, instead of moving boldly forward they wanted to first send in some men on a reconnaissance mission. They wanted to know what they were getting into before they crossed over into Canaan. Did it matter what they were getting into? No, because the Lord was going to make certain they accomplished the takeover of this territory. But it's human nature to want to size up a new situation before beginning to work on it. "Then all of you came to me and said, 'Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.'" (Deuteronomy 1:22) Of course the Lord Himself was going to tell them which route to take. The Lord is in command of this army and He is in charge of the battle plans. He never intended them to rush blindly forward with no strategy in place; He intended to tell them when and how and where to attack the pagan tribes of Canaan.

The idea to send in spies originated in Numbers 13. At that time we weren't told it was the people's idea. We were simply informed that the Lord instructed Moses to select a man from each tribe to go on the mission. It appears that the Lord's instructions involve how to carry out this mission, not that the Lord ordered them to send in spies. I believe the idea came from the people, then Moses agreed to it, and then Moses consulted the Lord about how many men he should send and which men he should send. "The idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you, one man from each tribe. They left and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshkol and explored it. 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.'" (Deuteronomy 1:23-25) 

Moses must have regretted agreeing to their request. Ten of the twelve spies came back with such a negative, discouraging report that almost the entire congregation rebelled. They even wanted to stone Moses and Aaron to death, appoint a new leader, and go back to Egypt. I think Moses consulted the Lord about how to select and send out the spies, but perhaps he didn't ask the Lord whether he should do it. This mistake, and the mistake most of the people made after the spies returned, cost them forty years. 

As we've seen time and time again, all of our big decisions need to be made with the help of the Lord. In addition, we need to stand firm on His promises to begin with. If all the people had just stood firm on His promise that He was going to enable them to take over the promised land, it would not have occurred to them to send spies into the land first. If Moses had stood firm on the Lord's promise and had not given into the people's wishes, no bad reports would have come to anyone's ears and caused them to rebel against going forward. Forty years could have been saved. They could have been inhabiting and enjoying the land for four decades. Rather than criticizing Israel for this, we need to take stock of our own lives and consider all the times when we've behaved similarly. I know I have had doubts and fears when there was no reason for me to feel doubtful or fearful. I could have enjoyed more blessings if I'd only stood firm on the Lord's promises. I could have enjoyed some of the blessings I did take hold of a lot sooner if I hadn't wasted time worrying and fretting. No wonder the Bible says over and over, "Do not fear," because we are so prone to giving in to fear. But we'd give in to fear less often if we just said to ourselves, "The Lord told me not to fear. So I'm not going to."