Monday, May 17, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 31, Blessed Above All People

The Lord told the Israelites that they must destroy the idolaters and their idols from the land of Canaan which they are going in to possess. They are not to move in and live among the heathen tribes of the promised land. They are to remove them and take their place, and when they do they must remove all traces of the false religious practices that have been going on there for many centuries. Why? So they will not be corrupted by them, "For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, to be His treasured possession." (Deuteronomy 7:6)

Why did the Lord choose Israel, out of all the peoples on the face of the earth at that time, to bless more than any other nation? One commentary I consulted phrased it like this and I think this is one of the best explanations out there: "He saw the unique potential in them to become a treasured people." There was something unique about Israel, for no other people at that time---no nation as a whole---served the Lord. Most nations had rejected Him entirely, though they knew of Him and though their ancestors may once have worshiped Him. Scattered among the nations were those who still believed in Him, for we've found priests and prophets of the Lord in the Old Testament who were not Israelites. But the vast majority of the people of the world cared nothing for the Lord and had abandoned Him in favor of idolatry. Israel alone, as an entire race of people, remained faithful to the Lord. 

The Israelites stood for the Lord and stood out from the crowd. They shone like beacons in a dark and fallen world. They were the only nation capable of lighting the way to salvation because they were the only nation who served God. The Lord promised Abraham (who rejected the false gods of his fathers and answered the call of the one true God and set out in faith for a land he'd never seen) that, "Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me." (Genesis 22:18) The Lord is keeping His promise to bless Abraham's descendants and to bless all nations through the offspring of Abraham, for it is into the nation of Israel the Lord will send His Son, a descendant of Abraham. It is through His Son that all nations will be blessed. 

The Lord didn't choose Israel because she was the mightiest nation on earth. She wasn't. He didn't choose Israel because her army was the most powerful. It wasn't. He chose Israel because He loved Israel, and although it's true He loved everyone on the face of the earth, only Israel reciprocated His love. So imperfectly she reciprocated His love, but isn't that true of us all? Yet He kept His promise to Abraham to give the land to his descendants and to make a great nation of them. "The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your ancestors that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments." (Deuteronomy 7:7-9)

We see that, aside from His love for Israel and Israel's love for Him, the Lord blessed Israel above all other people for Abraham's sake. Abraham had been dead for centuries by the time the Israelites entered the promised land but for Abraham's sake the Lord was still keeping His word. The Lord does not break His word even when man breaks his. We won't find one hundred percent of Israel being faithful to the Lord all the time but the Lord will remain faithful. The Lord won't refuse the promised land to Israel. The Lord won't go back on His oath to make Israel into a great nation. The Lord won't decide not to send the Redeemer to Israel---the One through whom all nations will be blessed. The Lord said He would do all these things for the descendants of Abraham and He will do all these things. 

If the faith of one man is still paying off many centuries later for his descendants, we cannot truthfully say, "I'm just one person. What can I do?" Abraham was one man who believed on the Lord in Ur which was filled with people who worshiped false Gods, but because he was willing to trust the Lord wholeheartedly and follow Him wherever He led, the Lord continues to bless his descendants. The faith of one man accomplished much. How might your faith influence others? How might your love of the Lord and your obedience to Him keep paying off for generations to come? What might He do for your grandchildren or great-grandchildren for your sake? 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 30, The Command To Destroy The Tribes Of The Promised Land, Part Two

Yesterday we discussed the historical and religious background of the Lord's command for Israel to destroy the tribes of the promised land as they took it over from them. You might also say we discussed the morality of it, from the Lord's viewpoint, and why it was a command issued only for a specific time and place in history. 

It is imperative that the Israelites not move in and live side by side with the tribes inhabiting the land of Canaan. This would bring about their own downfall. "Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following Me to serve other gods, and the Lord's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you." (Deuteronomy 7:3-4) 

In the New Testament we find the Lord, through the Apostle Paul, warning Christians not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. (2 Corinthians 6:14) When a farmer puts two animals in a yoke, those animals have to be pretty equally matched in size and strength or else the partnership will be ineffective or even dangerous. The same goes for marriage: a believer should never marry an unbeliever. There's no guarantee the believer will ever be able to lead his or her spouse to the Lord. Often it's the unbeliever who has the greatest influence, for their disinterest in all things holy discourages the believer. It can be lonely and depressing for a married person to have to attend religious services without their spouse. It can be difficult to set aside time for Bible study and prayer when the unbelieving spouse feels those things are a waste of time. The Lord knows that if the Israelites intermarry with heathens it's going to affect their spiritual life. At the very least, it will cause them to place less importance on spending time with the Lord. At the worst, they will fall away from the Lord and fall into idolatry.

I grew up in a household where my parents were unequally yoked together. My mother was a Christian from her youth and my father was not a Christian until late in his life. I have no doubt that their marriage would have been far more fulfilling spiritually and emotionally if they'd been equally yoked together. My dad did more than a lot of unbelieving spouses would have done; due to his immense love for my mom he got up early every Sunday morning and drove her to church (because she didn't learn to drive until she was in her forties) even though he didn't attend with her. He waited outside for her every Sunday, week after week, year after year. I know she must have longed to have him pull up to the church one Sunday morning and say, "I'm going in with you this time." I know she must have wished he was sitting beside her in the pew like many other husbands in the church. He did eventually come to Christ but it was during his final years on earth when his health was so bad he wasn't able to go to a church and attend a service, and I am sure he probably regretted all those years he didn't serve the Lord and didn't sit beside my mom in church. Likewise, I believe my mother probably had regrets late in her life because she gradually, in her fifties and sixties, stopped attending church altogether until after she was widowed. Part of this was due to her taking a job that required her to work every other Sunday, but that doesn't explain why she didn't go to church on the Sundays she was off work. I think my dad's disinterest in church had affected her by that point in her life. She started spending her Sundays off work at home with him.

The Lord wants us to have peace in our homes. Marrying someone who doesn't share our faith does nothing to promote peace in the home. If anything, it often causes conflict. The Lord wants us to have marriages where we help each other grow in our faith. This is best achieved by marrying someone who loves the Lord like we do. If I were a single woman looking for a marriage partner, knowing what I know now at the age of fifty-one, I wouldn't even give the time of day to a man who doesn't love Jesus at least as much as I do---preferably even more since the Lord has appointed to the husband the responsibility of being the spiritual head of the household.

The Lord commands the Israelites to destroy the idolatrous tribes from the promised land. And after they have done this, they must destroy all traces of those tribes' pagan religions. Every heathen altar and idol is to be torn down so no one will be tempted by the sight of them. "This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire." (Deuteronomy 7:5)

Removing the idols from the land is as important as removing the idolaters because it's never smart to "make occasion for the flesh" as the Apostle Paul puts it in Galatians 5:13. If we make it easy to indulge the carnal side of our natures, we will indulge the carnal side of our natures. If those altars and temples and idols are left standing, sooner or later they will be put into use again---but by the Lord's people this time. They must clean house when they move into the land. They must remove the leaven of sin, so to speak, in order not to be tempted by it and drawn into it. 

We can't completely avoid the sight of sinful things as we go about our lives in a fallen world but we can control what comes into our houses and what goes on in our houses. We don't have to watch or listen to sinful things on TV, on the radio, or on the internet. We don't have to purchase pornographic magazines or pornographic novels. We don't have to keep alcohol in the cabinet. We don't have to be in the possession of recreational drugs. As believers we have a responsibility to sweep our houses free of the leaven of sin, just as the Israelites were responsible for sweeping the promised land free of every trace of heathen idolatry. Leaving sinful things within our sight and within our grasp just sets us up for failure. We may think we can keep ourselves from giving in---and our spirit indeed is willing---but, as the Lord said, the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41) And as the Apostle Paul said, we have this conflict in our earthly bodies where our carnal side fights against our spiritual side and our spiritual side fights against our carnal side. (Galatians 5:17) Why make it easier for our carnal side to win the battle? For whatever reason, the ancient Israelites struggled with the temptation to fall into idolatry. Leaving idols in the land would only set them up for failure. Your weakness may be something completely different but leaving that thing within your sight or within your grasp sets you up for falling into sin. My weakness may be different than yours but if I make it easy for myself to fall into that particular temptation, sooner or later I probably will fall into that temptation. 

In addition to putting distance between ourselves and whatever we have a weakness for, we must draw close to the Lord and be led by Him in everything we do. The Apostle Paul says we will have far more victories over sin if we "walk by the Spirit" because this will help us not to "gratify the desires of the flesh". (Galatians 5:26) The Lord Jesus said that because our flesh is weak we must "watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation". (Matthew 26:41, Mark 14:38, Luke 22:40, Luke 22:46) The Apostle James, brother of Jesus and leader of the Christian church at Jerusalem, advised that to avoid falling into sin when we are tempted we must, "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you." (James 4:7-8a) We will have victory over temptation far more often if we remove as much garbage as possible from our homes and from our minds and focus on those things which strengthen our relationship with the Lord. This is what the Lord is telling the Israelites to do in their new home. This is what He's telling us to do in our homes too.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 29, The Command To Destroy The Tribes Of The Promised Land, Part One

The Lord intends to uproot the tribes living in the promised land so He can plant Israel in their place. This means He will command the Israelites to destroy those tribes. Failure to destroy them means Israel will end up mingling with them professionally, socially, and romantically. If they don't obey the Lord's command to wipe the land clean of these idolatrous tribes, "Those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live." (Numbers 33:55) The Lord warned the Israelites in Numbers 33:55 that they will only bring harm on themselves, on their children, and on all their descendants if they are willing to live side by side with the people of Canaan who practice all manner of abominations in their religions. 

The Lord knows that in time the Israelites would be drawn into idolatry. We've already seen one such incident when the young and beautiful women of Midian enticed a large number of Israelite men to attend pagan feasts with them and bow down before idols. It's no use for the Israelites to think they can live and work among and intermarry with pagan people and not be drawn away from the Lord; it's no use for anyone to think they could have resisted the amount of temptation the Israelites would have faced if they'd simply moved in and lived with these heathen tribes. Pagan altars dotted the land. Statues and other artwork depicting false gods were everywhere. The lives of the people of the tribes of Canaan revolved around their heinous religious practices. Feasts where drunken fertility orgies went on were commonplace. The names of false gods were lifted up all over the countryside in chants that went on for hours at a time while the name of the one true God was blasphemed. At first these things would have been shocking for the Israelites to see and hear but in time the sights and sounds of heathen worship would have become commonplace. The Israelites would have become comfortable around it. They might have found themselves curious about it. Or, as has already happened once in the Old Testament, they might have been lured into it by physical lust or affection for members of these tribes. 

To use a modern example of how commonplace the sights and sounds of sin would have become, think about how jaded we've become in our own society to the sights and sounds of sin. We can't even stand in line at the grocery store checkout without seeing things on the covers of magazines and newspapers that are intended to lead our thoughts away from godliness. We can't flip through TV or radio stations without seeing or hearing things involving drunkenness, drug use, or sex outside of marriage. I'm fifty-one years old and I can recall the days when you wouldn't hear the name of the Lord used as a curse word on your nightly TV programs. You'd have had to watch an R-rated movie to hear something like that, but these days you'll hear people blaspheming Him on regular network TV. We live in a fallen world where we're continually bombarded by things intended by Satan to entice us into sin. But we are not commanded, as ancient Israel was, to uproot unbelievers. Instead, in the age of grace, we are commanded to live among them and be the light of the world. We are to live in the world without being part of the world. We are to be so different from the world that we can shine like a beacon, leading people to Christ. How can we do that while being daily beset with temptation? By staying continually connected to our Lord. We must wash our minds clean by reading and meditating upon the word of God. We must attend church services where we can be strengthened and encouraged by the faith of other believers. We must pray to the Lord daily. We must be sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5b), meaning confessing wrong thoughts and wrong attitudes to Him and submitting ourselves to Him for the strength to stand firm. 

The command to remove a certain group of unbelievers from the earth was a command unique to a particular time and place in history. It was a command given to Israel regarding the tribes of Canaan and in no way can we claim that this command applies to us in our day. In our day we are commanded to live among unbelievers while at the same time not allowing ourselves to be drawn into their immoral practices. The Israelites had just come out of Egypt, the most idolatrous nation on the earth, and they could not have withstood the idolatry of Canaan if they had not (at least to an extent) obeyed the Lord about destroying the heathen tribes. (We'll see later on that they do not fully obey the Lord's command to destroy everyone.) The Holy Spirit was at work in those times ministering to human beings but He did not constantly indwell believers in the way He does now following the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. I feel it's only because we who believe on the name of Christ have the Holy Spirit living within us at all times that we are able to live and work among unbelievers without falling away from the Lord and falling into idolatry. This is why the Lord can tell us to go into all the world to share the gospel and this is why He can tell us to be the light of the world: He knows the Holy Spirit will enable us to stand firm while surrounded by idolatry and immorality. We are not commanded to uproot unbelievers from the world. We are commanded to lead unbelievers to Christ so they can be "rooted and built up in Him" (Colossians 2:7a) like we are and so they can be "rooted and established" (Ephesians 3:17b) in the love of Christ like we are. 

We must keep in mind that the tribes Israel will destroy from the promised land knew about the Lord long ago but chose to reject Him long ago. Abraham lived among them centuries earlier and witnessed to them about the one true God. Other men and women inhabited the land who worshiped and witnessed about the one true God, such as the priest of God known as Melchizedek whom we studied in Genesis 14. We don't know his heritage but it's clear he wasn't an Israelite, yet he knew and served the living God. If there was one priest who served the living God, there were others. For example, Moses' own father-in-law, who was a Midianite, was a priest of the Lord. And if there were priests, there must have been congregants unto whom these priests ministered. Yet before Israel ever went down to Egypt, the people of Canaan had fallen deep into abominable practices such as divination rituals to contact the spirit world/demons, bowing down to false gods, holding sexually immoral festivals in honor of these false gods, and even sacrificing children to these false gods. Long before Israel went down to Egypt---before Abraham even had one descendant--- the Lord said a day was coming in which the sins of the people of the region would reach a tipping point. (Genesis 15:16) The Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years and during those 430 years the tribes of the promised land had numerous opportunities to repent, yet they did not. If anything, they grew worse, and now the time of judgment has come. 

The Lord will pull them up by the roots like a gardener pulling weeds out of a flower bed. They have been unprofitable like weeds in a flower bed. The Lord was patient and longsuffering toward them even though He always knew they would never repent and now the time has come to plant something useful (Israel) in their place, just like a gardener plants beautiful flowers in place of the weeds he uprooted. Difficult as it may be for us to understand or accept, the Lord orders Israel to destroy all the people of the promised land. The land is the Lord's and He has the right to give it to whomever He chooses. Likewise, the Lord created human life and has all power and authority over it. As Creator and Sovereign Lord---as the One who created man from the dust of the ground and breathed life into his body---the Lord has the right to decide when a human life ends. He can make such a decision without being unrighteous in the least. This is why He can issue the command to Israel through Moses: "When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations---the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you---and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy." (Deuteronomy 7:1-2) 

It was important for us to discuss the background of the tribes of the promised land before we arrived at verses 1 and 2. Tomorrow we will continue moving on through Chapter 7 and continue looking at the Lord's instructions for Israel regarding these tribes.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 28, A Sermon On Loving The Lord, Part Two

In Part One of Moses' sermon on loving the Lord he urged Israel to, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:5) In the second part of his sermon we see examples of how people live when they love the Lord.

Those who love the Lord will love His laws and commandments and promises. "These commandments I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:6-9) We tend to spend a lot of time thinking about and talking about the people and the things we love, don't we? We get excited about what we love. We display enthusiasm about what we love. If we love the Lord the way we ought to love Him then we'll think about Him a lot, talk about Him a lot, spend time studying His word, spend time in prayer with Him, and spend time thanking and praising Him for all His goodness toward us. Those around us will know we love the Lord by the way we talk about Him and give Him credit for all our blessings and victories. 

Moses talks about writing down the commandments of the Lord. Most of us have some favorite Bible verses, don't we? We have verses we've memorized because they commemorate a great thing the Lord has done for us. We have specific verses we tend to turn to when we're feeling down. We have verses we use to assure ourselves of the Lord's promises. Moses says, "Take these favorite verses and write them down where you can see them. Let them remind you of the Lord's great power and promises. Display them where you and your family can see them on a regular basis. The word of God should be a huge part of your life if you love the Lord."

Those who love the Lord won't neglect thanking Him for their blessings. "When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you---a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant---then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." (Deuteronomy 6:10-12) The Lord alone did these great things for Israel. Israel did not do these things on her own, nor did any other gods do these things for her, which brings us to the next point.

Those who love the Lord won't turn from Him to idols. "Fear the Lord your God, serve Him only and take your oaths in His name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and His anger will burn against you, and He will destroy you from the face of the land. Do not put the Lord to the test as you did at Massah." (Deuteronomy 6:13-16) 

Massah is where the Israelites quarreled with Moses and with the Lord because no water was found there. (This account is found in Exodus 17.) They questioned whether the Lord was really with them or whether He was going to do anything for them, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?", after He had already displayed His great power and great love for them through signs and wonders performed in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness. In times of distress we might find ourselves wondering, "Has the Lord left me? Does He no longer love me? Is He not going to come to my assistance?" But it's in those times when we must cling even tighter to His holy promises, for He promises never to leave or forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5) The Lord loved us before He created us. He loved us after He created us, even though we fell from grace, and this is the proof: "God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) While we were still sinners---while we were worthless reprobates incapable of doing anything for the kingdom of God---the Lord sent us a means of salvation. If He loved us before we were redeemed, how can we doubt He loves us after we have been redeemed? He loves us today. He will love us tomorrow. He will love us for eternity.

And on the subject of love, those who love the Lord will want to obey Him. "Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees He has given you. Do what is right and good in the Lord's sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors, thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said." (Deuteronomy 6:17-19) Obeying the Lord doesn't guarantee us life will be easy all the time. We live in a world polluted by sin where bad things happen even to good people. We live in a world where we deal with unbelievers on a regular basis, and these unbelievers sometimes treat us poorly. But I'd far rather walk through this fallen world with the Lord by my side than to try to navigate it on my own. If the Lord is with me then I have the peace of His presence, the promise of His provision, the comfort of His love, and the blessing of His guidance. If we are guided by the Lord we'll bring far fewer problems upon ourselves. We can't control what others do but we can allow ourselves to be led by the Lord and thus avoid falling into many a pit of sin.

Those who love the Lord will want others to know and love Him too. We'll tell them what the Lord has done for us in hopes of leading them to the Lord to experience His goodness for themselves. "In the future, when your son asks you, 'What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?' tell him: 'We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders---great and terrible---on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But He brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land He promised on oath to our ancestors. The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.'" (Deuteronomy 6:20-25)

We owe the Lord our love. He has loved us like no one else ever has or ever will. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 27, A Sermon On Loving The Lord, Part One

In Deuteronomy 5 Moses stressed the importance of fearing (honoring and respecting and obeying) the Lord. In Deuteronomy 6 he speaks of the importance of loving the Lord.

We have all obeyed someone out of fear rather than out of love. We've had teachers whose personalities we didn't particularly like or bosses who weren't very kind-hearted, yet we did what they said because they were in authority over us. But we've also had people in authority over us who we genuinely cared about, such as our parents or beloved teachers or bosses who were good friends to us. It's a joy to obey the instructions of a person we both love and respect. That's why it's important for us to both love and respect the Lord so our obedience will be a delight. It will be a willing sacrifice of putting Him ahead of ourselves. 

Moses has just completed a sermon on the Ten Commandments and he refers back to them by saying, "These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all His decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you." (Deuteronomy 6:1-3) 

The people are to obey God because He is Lord, because He is holy, because He is righteous, and because He is the only God. "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." (Deuteronomy 6:4) This alone should be enough to compel man to worship Him, but the Lord also wants us to be able to serve Him with joy, and that's where love comes in. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:5)

There is only one God and this does not negate the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity in which we worship God in His three offices: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We do not believe in three Gods. We believe in three aspects of one God. He ministers to us in three different ways. As the Father: the Creator and Lawgiver. As the Son: the Teacher and Redeemer. As the Holy Spirit: the One who reveals to us our sins and wrong attitudes, who leads us to repentance, and who guides us in holy living. In no way does the Christian doctrine deny Deuteronomy 6:5 for we agree that "the Lord our God, the Lord is one". In addition, we believe that Genesis 1:26 confirms the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, for God (referred to there as the plural Elohim) says, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness". To whom was He speaking? To the angels? No, we are not created in the image of angels. We are created in the image of our God who is referred to in plural form because the Trinity is in view in Genesis 1:26. This is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. All three facets of the one true God were at work in the creation. All three facets of the one true God have been at work on man's behalf ever since. This is how He can be one God and be the plural Elohim at the same time. 

In addition, when Moses says the Lord is "one" he uses the Hebrew "echad". This word denotes a plurality; it means something that is unified or joined together. This same word is used when speaking of the evening and the morning making up the first day, when speaking of a husband and a wife being joined together, when speaking of the clasps that were used to hold all the curtains of the tabernacle together, and when the prophet Ezekiel is told to bind two sticks together representing the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom of Israel. The word echad indicates multiple parts joined together to make one whole. There is only one God but He can rightly be referred to as Elohim (a plural word) because He is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit joined together as one whole (echad). 

Speaking of God the Son, when He was asked which is the greatest commandment of all, He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5, saying, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matthew 22:37-38) It's so much easier to obey someone we love than to obey someone for whom we feel little or no affection. Loving the Lord is the first and greatest commandment because it enables us to serve Him willingly and joyfully. Obeying Him then becomes an honor and a privilege, not a chore or an obligation. 

Loving and serving the Lord enables us to love and serve our fellow man, which is why Jesus said the second greatest commandment is closely connected to the very greatest commandment, "And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:39-40) 

Every law and commandment has to do with either our relationship to the Lord or our relationship to our fellow man. Every law and commandment involves either how we are to obey the Lord or how we are to treat our fellow man. If we love the Lord we'll naturally want to honor Him with godly living. If we love our fellow man we'll naturally want to treat them with kindness and respect. It's far easier to keep from breaking the laws and commandments of the Holy Bible if we love the Lord with everything we've got. It's far easier to avoid sinning against our neighbor if we love our neighbor and value his rights just as much as we value our own. That is why Jesus said all the laws and commandments in God's holy word hang on loving the Lord and loving our neighbor. That is why the Apostle Paul said, "The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not covet,' and whatever other command there may be are summed up in this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does not harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:9-10)

If we love the Lord we'll do a better job obeying the commandments regarding our relationship with Him and we'll do a better job at loving our neighbor and treating our neighbor according to the Lord's instructions.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 26. Moses Preaches On The Ten Commandments, Part Four

We complete Deuteronomy 5 today with the remainder of Moses' sermon on the Ten Commandments.

"Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you." (Deuteronomy 5:16) Jesus pointed out hypocrisy which He observed regarding the way this commandment was being handled in His day. Men could deliberately avoid providing for their father and mother in their old age by pledging the money to the Lord instead. Giving money to the Lord's work is not a sin in itself but it is a sin if doing so breaks one of the Lord's commandments. It is a sin if doing so causes family members, for whom a man is responsible, to be in need. But a man who didn't want to honor his parents was allowed to say, "Sorry, but I've already pledged this money to the Lord. My word to Him cannot be broken." He would not come under censure for failing to provide his parents with basic necessities. In regard to this Jesus had some harsh words, "For God said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and, 'Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.' But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is 'devoted to God,' they are not to 'honor their father or mother' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God with your tradition. You hypocrites!" (Matthew 15:4-7a) 

As we studied yesterday, it's possible to follow the letter of the law while losing the heart of the law. Just as Jesus pointed out it was a sin to keep the commandment not to work on the Sabbath if that meant refusing to render aid to someone on the Sabbath, it's a sin to give money to the Lord's work if it's being given to avoid providing for someone we are obligated to provide for. 

These next four commandments require no additional commentary and Moses does not add any. "You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor." (Deuteronomy 5:17-20) The Lord could not have made these commandments any plainer so He simply says, "You shall not do it." 

Coveting is an emotion which leads to things such as murder, adultery, theft, and bringing false charges against someone whom we envy. This is why we must take care to recognize and repent of covetous thoughts. "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor's house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (Deuteronomy 5:21) 

Covetousness was something the Apostle Paul struggled with before he converted to Christianity, for he said that while he lived under the law he recognized in himself "every kind of coveting". (Romans 7:8) The commandment not to covet caused him to feel convicted in his heart of sin, but under the law he had no permanent means of absolution for this sin. Under the law he found no victory over this sin. But under grace he found a permanent means of absolution in Christ's sacrifice, and through Christ he attained victory over his tendency to covet what others had. He lost the constant desire to grasp more worldly fortune and fame for himself. When he became a minister of the gospel he lost all the wealth and status he had accumulated during his pre-Christian years when he had climbed the ladder of success faster than most men his age (Galatians 1:14) and he said of the loss of the things he once treasured, "I consider them garbage." (Philippians 3:8) He considered these material things garbage because he valued Christ more. The luxuries he lost meant nothing in comparison to "the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord". (Philippians 3:8) He said the law had not been able to relieve him of his covetous desires but knowing Christ set him free of them. 

Moses begins to wrap up his sermon. "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." (Deuteronomy 5:22) Moses says, "These commandments are not my words. They are the Lord's words. They were not given to you by man but by God. He spoke them with His own voice. He wrote them with His own finger. They are to be accepted and obeyed, for they are not the rules or the opinions of man, but are the very word of God."

"When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire, all the leaders 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 person can live even if God speaks with them. 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 has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the 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.'" (Deuteronomy 5:23-27) Moses says, "The thundering voice of our God struck such awe and fear in you that you preferred He speak to me and that I relay His words to you. This is how much you revered Him on that day. Keep that attitude always and you will revere His commandments and obey them." 

Moses reminds the people that the Lord was pleased with the awe in which they regarded Him on that day, "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.'" (Deuteronomy 5:28-31)

King Solomon said that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10) If we do not fear the Lord (if we do not regard Him with respect and awe) then we will not be obedient to Him. If we are not obedient to Him, we are not wise---we are fools. "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 obedience to all 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." (Deuteronomy 5:32-33)

Monday, May 10, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 25, Moses Preaches On The Ten Commandments, Part Three

Moses previously relayed the Ten Commandments to the congregation of Israel but in Deuteronomy 5 he preaches a fresh sermon on them to the new generation which is soon to enter the promised land. We have spent the past two days studying his sermon and we pick up today with verse 12. "Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 5:12-14a) 

The Lord doesn't ask more of us than we can give. Out of every six days He only asks that we dedicate one to Him. In the New Testament it appears Christians are not required to observe the Sabbath in the same way the Israelites were instructed to observe it in the Old Testament (Colossians 2:16-17, Galatians 4:9-11), but because the Holy Spirit indwells us we are, in a sense, obligated to observe the Sabbath every minute of every day in our hearts. In addition, I believe we are obligated to gather together with fellow believers in religious services when possible, for we are told it was Jesus' custom to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath. (Luke 4:16) If the holy and perfect Son of God felt He should be in the house of worship on the Sabbath, certainly you and I are not exempt from it unless our health or other circumstances prevent it. The Apostle Paul, who was formerly a very religiously observant Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin council, also felt it was necessary (after his conversion to Christianity) to gather together with other believers in an attitude of worship whenever possible. He said we should not neglect meeting together but that we should come together to encourage each other in the faith. We can tell from a study of the New Testament that the members of the early Christian church met together for worship on more occasions than just the Sabbath, so if anything we ought to be in the house of God or gathered together with other believers more often than just on the Sabbath if possible. 

In these modern times many people have jobs that require them to work on the Sabbath. I believe the Lord understands this. Not only that, but the Lord expects us to do good on the Sabbath even if that means we are performing something that could be considered labor, for when Jesus was criticized for healing on the Sabbath, He said, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." (Matthew 12:11-12) And He said, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" (Mark 3:4) We are not breaking the Sabbath if we are doing what is needful for the wellbeing of our fellow man. (This might take the form of working to provide for our family on the Sabbath as required by our jobs or working in a field where we are rendering aid to others on the Sabbath, such as in the medical field.) A person would not allow his animal to be in distress on the Sabbath; he would render aid to it because its services were valuable to him. But the life and the soul of a human being is even more valuable and we are required to render aid even if that aid is needed on the Sabbath. In Jesus' day there were people who were observing the Sabbath so strictly that they were actually breaking the law in order to keep the law, for in refusing to render aid on the Sabbath they were breaking the law which commands them to love their neighbors as themselves. 

Another way in which a person could break the Sabbath spiritually while observing it physically was to force someone else to work on the Sabbath. "On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 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. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." (Deuteronomy 5:14b-15)  

It was a day of rest for all. If the Lord had not commanded this, it would have been legal to make people work seven days a week every week of the year without ever giving them a day off. Most people would not have treated their servants like this but there are bad apples in every bushel, as the saying goes. There are people in every culture so greedy for gain that they consider their workers expendable. The Lord tells the Israelites to recall how they were treated in Egypt. The Egyptians didn't care about their physical or spiritual welfare. It was not only a human rights violation to make the Israelites work seven days a week, but it also prevented them from having a day off in which to observe their religion. The Israelites must not treat anyone the way they were treated in Egypt. They must allow everyone a day off from work and a day in which to commune with the Lord, for to do otherwise would be to hinder the faith and spiritual growth of those over which they had authority.

The thing for Christians to remember in regard to the Sabbath is that we must set aside time for the Lord as regularly as possible and that we are to meet together with other Christians, but this does not have to be done on any particular day of the week. We are to do good in the name of Christ every day of our lives, not because works save us (we are saved by faith) but because if we love the Lord we will naturally do the things the Lord would do. The Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath, as the Lord Jesus pointed out in Mark 2:27. It was created so man could have a day of physical rest and a day of spiritual renewal. It was not created so we could become so legalistic in its observation that we actually break the laws of love and refuse to help our fellow man by saying, "Sorry, it's the Sabbath. I can't do anything for you until tomorrow." We are to observe a Sabbath of the heart every day of our lives by loving the Lord and loving our fellow man. We are to think on the Lord every day, commune with the Lord every day, and honor the Lord every day. We cannot honor the Lord if we don't stretch out hands of mercy to others, even if that means doing good works on the Sabbath. The Lord Jesus was in the house of worship in the Sabbath but He also did good works on the Sabbath. I know of no greater example than the one He set for us.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 24, Moses Preaches On The Ten Commandments, Part Two

Moses is preaching a sermon on the Ten Commandments. Yesterday he talked about how there is only one true God and that the people must worship Him and only Him, thus fulfilling the first commandment. Today Moses keeps moving on down the list.

The Lord says this to the people through Moses, "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments." (Deuteronomy 5:8-10) 

Earlier in our study of the Old Testament we discussed what we believe is meant when the Lord says He punishes the children for the sin of the parents. I don't think that when hardship comes into a person's life it's because his grandfather sinned, for example. What I think is happening here is this: The people of the early Old Testament lived very long lifespans and a man could live to see multiple generations of his descendants. In his long time on earth he could have a very strong influence on all those descendants. Imagine if he were a wicked man who hated the Lord. His children would grow up watching him serve false gods and hearing him blaspheme the name of the Lord. His children could grow up to be just like him, as could his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. By that time he would be considered an elder and an elder was to be respected and obeyed as a leader of his family. A wicked family elder who hated the Lord could entice his entire family into sin. If multiple generations of that family rejected the Lord because they followed the example of their elder, those generations would fall under judgment for their sins. 

A person's wickedness may influence their family for a few generations, but what about a person's righteousness? The Lord says this affects a thousand generations! What mercy this is! What goodness! To use an example from the Bible, I believe Abraham prayed for the Lord's blessings on all his descendants. The Lord told Abraham about the good land He intended to give his descendants and I think Abraham prayed they would do well in the land and that they would keep serving the Lord. I believe the Lord is still answering Abraham's prayers for Israel today. To bring it down to a more personal level, you and I may have had ancestors who prayed to the Lord for His blessings on all generations to come from their family line. We may never have known those ancestors, yet the Lord is blessing us today because they prayed to Him long ago. More recent relatives have prayed for us, such as parents or grandparents or great-grandparents who have gone on to be with the Lord, but their prayers were heard and are still being answered even though they no longer walk among us on this earth. This should encourage us to pray not only for our family members who have already been born but also for all our family members who will be born in the future. The Lord will bless and watch over them for our sakes because we have loved and served Him.

What is one way to be a godly influence on our family? By honoring the name of our Lord. "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name." (Deuteronomy 5:11) One example of misusing the Lord's name is when people say His name like it's a curse word. Another example is when someone uses His name as an exclamation of surprise, delight, or dismay in an irreverent way. Yet another example is when someone who does not actually serve the Lord throws His name into conversations in a pious manner in an effort to appear religious when they actually are not. Any way in which we use the Lord's name that is not reverent and respectful is misusing His name. 

Every time the Lord's name crosses our lips it should be for the purpose of acknowledging His power and holiness. We may speak His name in prayer. We may speak His name to comfort others. We may speak His name when quoting Scripture. We may speak His name when giving our testimony about the great things He has done for us. We may speak His name in songs of praise. These are all acceptable, reverent ways of using His name because these things bring glory to His name.

Join us tomorrow as Moses keeps expounding on the Ten Commandments in his sermon to the congregation of Israel.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 23, Moses Preaches On The Ten Commandments, Part One

When we began the book of Deuteronomy we talked about how the word "deuteronomy" means something like "copy of the law", or "retelling of the law". Moses has been retelling what has happened while Israel has been in the wilderness. In Chapter 5 he goes back over the Ten Commandments as part of a sermon he preaches to the congregation.

"Moses summoned all Israel and said: 'Hear, Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them.'" (Deuteronomy 5:1) In our churches and synagogues today we regularly hear a retelling of the Lord's decrees and laws so that we may "learn them and be sure to follow them". The Lord gave us instructions for godly living and we are doing ourselves a disservice, and we are dishonoring our Lord, if we don't place a priority on knowing and following these instructions.

Moses continues, "The Lord made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today." (Deuteronomy 5:2-3) Verse 3 could also be rendered as, "It was not only with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant". In other words, His instructions weren't meant only for those who were alive to hear them firsthand. His instructions were meant for every generation to come.

God's instructions weren't meant only for the people of ancient times. They were meant also for you and me here in 2021. What was a sin in 1300 BC (the approximate time period for when the Ten Commandments were given) is still a sin today. What the Lord considered godly behavior in 1300 BC is still what He considers godly behavior today. The word of the Lord is every bit as relevant in our own day as it was in Moses' day, "For the word of God is alive and active." (Hebrews 4:12) The word of God still speaks to us. It still guides us, still reveals our sins to us, still leads us to repentance, still comforts us, still encourages us. 

As Moses pointed out in yesterday's passage, no other nation on earth could claim that the Lord interacted with them the way He interacted with Israel. This should impress upon Israel the importance of knowing and obeying His words. The Lord personally came and spoke to them. The Lord wants to be a personal God to them. They must not even consider bowing down to any deity of the land of Canaan to which they are going. No other deity has made himself or herself known to Israel---there is no deity except the Lord. "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.) 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.'" (Deuteronomy 5:4-7)

In the generations to come, every citizen of Israel is to remember that it was the God of their forefather Abraham who rescued them from slavery in Egypt and settled them in the promised land. No other god did this for them. No other god spoke to them from the fire or provided them with the ten commandments and the law. No other god performed signs and wonders in their sight. It's vitally important to keep this fact always in their minds because they have been and will continue to be bombarded with idolatrous imagery. Israel came out of Egypt, a land filled with idolatry. Israel passed through territories filled with idolatry on their way to the promised land. Israel is about to enter the promised land where they will be taking it over from tribes who practice idolatry. But the people are to guard their hearts so they will never be seduced by idolatry. 

In this same way, you and I are perpetually confronted by worldly things capable of leading us into idolatry if we allow ourselves to be seduced by them. We are bombarded by images and messages every day that could lure us into sinful thinking and sinful actions. But the Bible tells us we can live in this world without being part of the world. We won't live perfect, sinless lives as long as we inhabit these frail mortal bodies but we can still be different from unbelievers. We have been instructed to be "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14) but we can't light anyone's way out of darkness if we appear to be living in darkness ourselves. As believers, we are meant to stand out from the crowd and be different from the culture. That's what Moses is saying to Israel in our passage today. The Israelites are about to enter a land where the landscape is dotted with pagan altars. The are about to invade cities filled with temples and idols dedicated to false gods. They must not allow themselves to be seduced into idolatry by the sight of these things. They must destroy these things and keep their hearts and minds fixed on the one true God so they can remain faithful to Him. If they do this, they will be different. They will stand out. They will be lights in a dark world and perhaps those who are living in the dark and in the cold will be drawn by them to the one and only God.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 22, The Lord Is God; There Is No Other

For the past two days Moses has been warning the congregation against anything that might lead them into idolatry. In our passage today he reminds them that there is only one God. Other nations may worship various so-called gods but they are deceiving themselves. By contrast, Israel knows the God who created all things, the God who performed signs and wonders in Egypt, the God who rescued Israel from slavery, the God who did miracles in the wilderness, the God who is taking Israel to the great inheritance He promised long ago. No other people on earth have experienced the Lord the way Israel has experienced Him. Due to these experiences, Moses tells the people they must never allow themselves to be drawn into the worship of anyone or anything else. 

"Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created human beings 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? Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by 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?" (Deuteronomy 4:32-34) Israel has been awesomely blessed and, as we've said before, to whom much is given much is required. It's a far worse sin for someone who has experienced the Lord in these ways to fall into idolatry than it is for someone who has never heard anything but His name or who has never heard of Him at all. 

The Lord has proven His existence to Israel. No other god has spoken to Israel. No other god has done a anything for Israel. No other god ever will, for the Lord God of Israel is the only God. Moses tells the people they already have all the proof they need to believe in Him and trust in Him. "You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides Him there is no other. 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. Because He loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them, He brought you out of Egypt by His presence and His great strength, 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." (Deuteronomy 4:35-38)

How has the Lord proven His existence to you? How many times has He come through for you in a mighty way? How many prayers has He answered? How many situations has He resolved? How many times has He healed you? How many times has He protected you from danger? Just yesterday I was awestruck and humbled by the goodness and power of my God when I learned how He had protected my household from a situation we couldn't have seen coming. Earlier this year I learned of another instance in which He protected us from something we couldn't have known about. In both these cases we were presented with potential opportunities that looked very good, but in both cases the Lord blocked our path forward. Now I know why. I had to take time yesterday to bow on my knees when I realized what a close call we'd had and how the Lord in His wisdom kept us safe. He sees so much farther down the road than we do! When He says no it's to protect us, just like when we were kids and our parents said no to things they knew weren't good for us. With our limited knowledge, a thing may look pretty good. It may appear to be a great opportunity. But the Lord knows how these things are going to turn out down the road and we must trust Him and thank Him when He says no.

The Lord has proven Himself time and time again to Israel and Moses stresses the importance of taking all this proof to heart. The people must settle the matter once and for all in their hearts that the Lord is God---that He is their God---and that there is no hope or help to be found in any other. "Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. 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." (Deuteronomy 4:39-40)

The Lord exists. He created human beings, loves them, interacts with them, and acts on behalf of them. Considering all this, don't we owe Him our obedience? Don't we owe Him our gratitude and love? He is our only source of hope and help. 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 21, If Idolatry Is Not Avoided

In our last segment Moses warned the congregation of Israel not to create images of God or man or the animals or the heavenly bodies. This would lead them into idolatry, just as it had already led many other nations into idolatry. Today Moses takes extra care to describe for them the penalties of falling into idolatry, for he will not be with them in the promised land and he wants to impress upon them the seriousness of angering the holy God who brought them out of Egypt.

He says, "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." (Deuteronomy 4:21) Moses certainly never engaged in idolatry, but he failed to obey and honor the Lord at Meribah, and because of that he will not have the honor of delivering the people to their destination. If a man like Moses was disciplined by the Lord, how much more will the Lord discipline those who turn away from Him to serve useless idols? Moses goes on, "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." (Deuteronomy 4:22-24)

The Apostle Paul, who is believed to be the author of the book of Hebrews, quoted the words of Moses in his letter to the community of Jewish Christians, urging them to always "worship God acceptably and with reverence, for our God is a consuming fire". (Hebrews 12:28b-29) The Lord is jealous in the sense that He will not share His glory with anyone or anything else. He is the Creator of heaven and earth and all that is in them. He is the God who chose Israel and brought her out of Egypt and planted her in a land of goodness and prosperity. He is the God who protects and provides for Israel. To call upon the name of any other deity or to bow down before an image is like spitting in the face of the Lord. He will not tolerate it because He is the only deity to make Himself known to Israel and to do anything for her---because He is the only deity there is---and He will say when He testifies on His own behalf someday to the nation into which idolatry has stealthily but steadily crept, "You are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one." (Isaiah 44:8b) There is no one else Israel can point to and say, "He has delivered me. He has saved me. He has planted me in a good place. He has defended me against my enemies. He has offered me mercy and salvation." God alone has done all these things and He will not allow the credit for these great deeds to go to anyone else.

He is jealous in another sense: He is jealous for Israel. He wants the best for Israel. No one can enjoy the Lord's best if they are living at a distance from Him in their hearts. No one can enjoy the Lord's best if they reject Him in favor of someone or something else. If you are a parent, aren't you jealous for your children in the sense that you want them to have the very best this life can offer? You want them to have the best opportunities and advantages. You want them to have all their needs met and all their wants too, when those wants are things that are reasonable and safe. You want them to be able to have a good education and a successful career and a loving marriage and healthy children. You want them to be able to afford a nice home and a dependable car to drive. You want them to live long and happy lives. You want them to know and serve the Lord so they can have the peace of the Lord in this life and eternity with Him after this life on earth is over. The Lord feels the same way about Israel as you do about your children; He wants good things for her. He wants her to have every advantage and opportunity. But if she rejects Him she will not be able to have all the wonderful things He longs to give her. Rejecting the Lord leads a person (and a nation) down the wrong path and into much sorrow. As the Apostle Paul warned, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." (Galatian 6:7-8) The last thing the Lord wants for any person is that they would reap sorrow and loss and destruction, but a person who sows sin will reap a sad harvest, and there is no greater sin than the sin of idolatry. There is no greater sin than to reject the One who created us.

If Israel falls into idolatry the Lord will discipline her as a father disciplines a wayward child. The purpose of the discipline is to correct wrong behavior. The Lord will allow misfortune to fall upon the nation if idolatry is allowed to enter in and flourish, but this misfortune is intended to cause the people to repent and turn back to Him. He can remove Israel from the promised land as easily as He removed the heathen tribes before her, and He will do so if that's what it takes to turn Israel back to her God. The Lord always has eternity in mind in His dealings with man. He sometimes has to cause us temporary discomfort in order to do us long term good. It's better for a person to endure discipline than to continue ruining their life and endangering the fate of their eternal soul. Sometimes the Lord even takes a person out of this life if they are having too wicked of an influence on those around them, as He did when He allowed a plague to fall on the men who entered into immorality and idolatry with the pagan Midianite women in the book of Numbers. If He had not taken swift and severe action, the entire nation might have gone astray. 

Moses continues, "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 arousing His anger, I call the heavens and the earth to witness against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land 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." (Deuteronomy 4:25-28) If the people fall into idolatry and persist in it, the Lord is able to remove them from the land and scatter them among other nations where there is nothing but idolatry---so much idolatry it would make a person sick of it. The Lord will say something like, "So you prefer senseless, useless blocks of wood or stone to Me---the living God? I will send you to a land where you'll see nothing but senseless, useless idols. There you will see that they are powerless. There you will get your fill of them and will not be able to stand the sight of them." This is intended to turn hearts back to the one and only God.

"But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and 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 you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which He confirmed to them by oath." (Deuteronomy 4:29-31) The Lord will accept the repentant prayer of the one who has committed idolatry. He won't say to any of the Israelites at that time, "Sorry, but I don't want you back. I'll never get over the way you scorned Me and ran after other gods. I can't forgive it." To use another parent/child example, if you put your child in time out or temporarily removed a privilege as correction for disobedience, you won't refuse their apology and say, "You're no child of mine now. I'm disowning you." The Lord doesn't say that either. When we realize we've done wrong and we repent and confess our wrongdoing to Him, "He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) 

The Lord is raising us up like children. Like a loving Father, for our own good He must correct our behavior at times, but like a loving Father He accepts our penitent apologies. You and I may never have literally bowed on our knees before a carved idol but there are ways to commit idolatry in our hearts. When we value someone or something more than our relationship with the Lord, we are making a "god" out of that person or thing. The Apostle Paul pointed out to the Christian church that things like immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed are idolatry. (Colossians 3:5) Letting these things have control over us is a form of idolatry because we are violating the Lord's principles. We are forsaking His laws and commandments in favor of getting dishonest gain or fulfilling sexual desires outside of marriage or making a name for ourselves or getting ahead of someone else at work or in society. If attaining a particular thing causes us to violate God's word, that thing is a sin. That thing is not God's will for our life. We are committing idolatry if we choose to forsake godly principles in favor of taking hold of the thing which our heart wrongly desires. 

The Lord will have to take steps to correct such behavior if we don't quickly realize the error of our ways and repent. But if that happens we must keep in mind that the correction is for our good, not for the purpose of disowning us. No one enjoys being disciplined, but we will close with some words that help us to put it into a perspective that will help us to see that the Lord only administers as much discipline as we need when we need it and that this discipline comes from the loving hand of a Father who wants only the best for us. "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined---and everyone undergoes discipline---then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:7-11)

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 20, Avoiding Idolatry

In yesterday's passage Moses told the congregation it was important to always remember the power and glory of the Lord when the mountain shook and was covered with smoke and when the Lord spoke to them with a thundering voice from the midst of the fire. The people were awestruck on that day and must never forget that this is the God they're dealing with---a God who is to be revered and worshiped. But at the same time they are not to create any images to try to commemorate the glory of that moment. They are not to attempt to paint any pictures or form any object to represent the Lord because this could lead to idolatry. Moses instructs them, "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 like any fish in the waters below." (Deuteronomy 4:15-18) 

The tribes of Canaan will have all sorts of images of pagan gods, along with images of human beings and animals. The Israelites must not fashion such things, not even for the purpose of artistic expression, because this could send them down a slippery slope. They've recently come from Egypt, a land filled with idols where images of gods, humans, and animals (and bizarre human/animal hybrids) were everywhere. They're going to a new land where the inhabitants are heathen idolaters who engage in all sorts of occult practices and immoral celebrations. It would be easy to become comfortable with the sight of idols because it was so commonplace where they've come from and where they're going. It would be tempting to want to make images to represent their own beliefs, since the other peoples of the world have such things, but the Lord calls Israel to be different. 

The Lord calls Israel to be sanctified and set apart, just as He calls the church of Christ to be sanctified and set apart. If that means we stick out like a sore thumb in a world filled with immoral imagery and in a world filled with idolatry (where the acquisition of material goods or the gratification of carnal desires or the attainment of status and fame have become more important to many than knowing and serving the Lord), then so be it, let us stick out like a sore thumb. Let us stand out in the crowd for not going along with the crowd. Just as in Chapter 3 of the book of Daniel when Meschach, Shadrack, and Abenego stood out in the crowd when they refused to bow along with everyone else before the golden idol fashioned by King Nebuchadnezzar, the Lord's people today must not be afraid to stand out in the crowd for standing up for what we believe in. Our faithfulness to the Lord may cause an unbeliever to want to find out more about Him. An unbeliever might be impressed by the boldness and courage we possess and want this type of boldness and courage for themselves in the Lord. Blending in with the crowd and living like the unbelieving world will do nothing but damage our testimony. We can hardly light the way for someone else if we appear to be living in the dark ourselves.

In addition to practicing a form of idolatry in which the images of men and women and animals are worshiped, some of the tribes of Canaan also practiced astrology and/or worshiped the heavenly bodies themselves. Many cultures of the world have believed in sun gods and moon gods instead of believing in the one true God who created the sun and the moon. Many cultures have consulted the position of the stars in the sky to guide their decisions instead of consulting the God who hung the stars in the heavens. The Israelites must never create images to represent celestial bodies because this could lead them astray. "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. 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." (Deuteronomy 4:19-20) 

There is no way any work of art could even begin to capture or express the glory of the Lord. Any attempt we make to represent Him in this fashion is going to diminish Him. It's going to fall so far short that we disrespect Him with a project that was intended to honor Him. Even though Christians worship Jesus Himself and not the statues or paintings that have been created to represent Him, I feel we'd have been far better off to have adhered to the command the Lord gave to Israel not to create such imagery. The Bible doesn't tell us what Jesus looked like, although we can safely conclude that He looked just like all the other Jewish men of His era. This must be the case because everywhere He went He was immediately recognized as a Jewish man and also He was able to blend in with other Jewish men so well that He could not be picked out of a crowd based on His appearance. His manner of dress and His style of hair and beard were like that of all the men of His culture. He definitely did not look like the blonde, blue-eyed Jesus portrayed in the framed painting that hung in the church of my childhood, and I feel that representing Him this way in art (or attempting to represent Him in art at all) has done more harm than good. Jesus was not a Gentile. Jesus was not a Christian. He was a Jewish man who adhered to all the regulations of the Jewish faith. Portraying Him as a blonde Gentile is not only erroneous but has served to bolster racism in those who have a tendency toward it already. 

It is never good to try to make the Lord into our own image, yet throughout the ages mankind has attempted to do so. At all times we must remember that He made us and that He calls us to godly living. If we try to pull the Lord down to our level, we end up falsely believing that He thinks just like us and that He is okay with our sin and immorality. We can convince ourselves that, even though He may not approve of our sins, He understands why we commit them and He's not going to discipline us for them. Join us tomorrow when Moses warns the congregation of the discipline that will fall if the people try to make God into their own image and begin to forget how indescribably holy He is. 


Monday, May 3, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 19, Moses Encourages Israel To Obey The Lord, Part Two

Moses is instructing the people to think upon and obey all the commandments and laws of the Lord.

"See, I have taught you the 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." (Deuteronomy 4:5) Moses faithfully relayed the Lord's words to them so they will be prepared to take over and inhabit the promised land. In order to enjoy the Lord's best, they must give Him their best, and that means honoring Him with their obedience. Moses will say when the book of Deuteronomy begins to come to a close, "If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book...You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess." (Deuteronomy 28:58a,63b) Chapter 28 details all the fearsome things that will befall Israel if her citizens do not regard the Lord as holy and revere His commandments.

If we don't honor God as Lord in our hearts, and if we don't display our respect and love for Him by obeying His words, we can hardly expect to receive all the good things the Lord longs to give us. We block blessings by being disobedient. Just as a parent can't reward bad behavior without reinforcing the behavior, the Lord can't reward disobedience because that only encourages us to be more disobedient. He is our Father and He disciplines us as His children. Usually the discipline begins as a warning from the Holy Spirit telling us to immediately stop the behavior, repent of it, and turn away from it. This manifests as a very unsettling feeling of unease and guilt. It produces an awareness of the distance we've placed between ourselves and our God. It's intended to make us want to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. But if we don't remedy the situation, there's a tendency to become hard-hearted. If we can tolerate feeling like we're not as close to the Lord as we used to be, and if we can ignore our consciences so much that we are no longer troubled by them, we will fall deeper and deeper into sin. At that point the discipline for our disobedience may become more severe. The Lord is far more concerned with the health of our eternal souls than with our temporary worldly comfort and prosperity. Hardships usually befall us when we're deliberately living in opposition to His laws and commandments. He may allow us to go through a very unpleasant season in life for the purpose of helping us to acknowledge and repent of our disobedience. When troubles come, we have a tendency to wonder why, and sometimes we find that it's because we haven't been living like the children of God. The sooner we repent and get back on the right track, the sooner we can expect a positive change in our circumstances.

Not only will obeying the Lord cause Israel to prosper in the promised land, but the fame of Israel's God will spread far and wide. Regarding the importance of observing the Lord's laws in the sight of unbelievers, Moses says, "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 to 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?" (Deuteronomy 4:5-8) Moses says, "You are privileged in a way no other nation on earth has ever been. The other nations worship gods who do not exist, gods who cannot speak to them or hear their pleas or do anything for them. Your God speaks to you. Your God listens to you. Your God has provided you with a guidebook for holy living. No other nation on earth can say that! The fame of Israel's God will cause your enemies to think twice before trying to attack you. Not only that, but heathen peoples may turn to the one true God when they hear how He blesses you for honoring and obeying Him."

Unbelievers watch believers. If they see us obeying our Lord as best we can day after day after day, and if they see us remaining faithful to Him no matter what comes our way in this fallen world, and if they see the way He blesses us with comfort and peace, and if they see the way He comes through for us time after time after time, there may come a day when they seek Him themselves. It's vitally important that we lift up the name of our Lord by representing Him honorably in the sight of unbelievers. If we don't revere Him in word and deed and attitude, we can hardly expect to lead others to Him. They must find Him lovable and loving. They must find Him righteous and holy. They must find Him worthy of honor and obedience.

Moses reminds the Israelites that they are blessed beyond any other nation on earth and they must never forget that "to whom much is given much is required". (Luke 12:48) Because they know the Lord in a way no one else has ever known Him, they have a great deal of responsibility to worship and honor and obey Him and to lift His holy name up to all the peoples on the earth. They must lift up the holy name of the Lord to their children and grandchildren and to every generation to come. "Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them." (Deuteronomy 4:9)

Our frail mortal minds are so prone to focusing on the here and now---on the daily grind---that we are in danger of forgetting to meditate on all the good things the Lord has already done for us. It's extremely beneficial for us to regularly take time to think back over our lives and thank the Lord for all His provision and protection. He comes through for us every minute of every day by holding our souls in this life and by providing our basic needs. He rescues us time and time again when we encounter urgent or dire circumstances. How many times did a bill get paid when you weren't sure how it was going to get paid? How many times has He healed you and your loved ones of sicknesses and injuries? How many times has He repaired relationships you didn't think could be repaired? How many times has He come through with a job or a good report from medical tests? He's been so merciful to us! He's been so faithful to us! We must be careful and watch ourselves closely so that we do not forget the things our eyes have seen or let them fade from our hearts as long as we live.

Moses reminds the congregation that they accepted the Lord's covenant with them by agreeing they would do everything He said. (Exodus 19:8, Exodus 24:3, Exodus 24:7) They are obligated to keep their word. "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. 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." (Deuteronomy 4:10-14)

This God is not a God to be trifled with. This is a God who shakes the earth and speaks from the midst of a blazing fire. This is a God whose voice thunders and makes mountains quake. If the goodness of the Lord is not enough to make us want to obey Him, the fear of Him---the awe and reverence of Him---should compel us to honor Him with our obedience. Our covenant with Him is not something to be taken lightly. It is something to be kept with our whole heart.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 18, Moses Encourages Israel To Obey The Lord, Part One

In our passage today and tomorrow Moses encourages the people of Israel to think on and obey all the commandments given to them by the Lord. They are to love the Lord's laws and keep them. I am reminded of Psalm 119, which is believed to have been written by King David and in which he extols the Lord's laws and speaks of his love for them, saying, "I delight in Your commands because I love them. I reach out for Your commands, which I love, that I may meditate on Your decrees." (Psalm 119:47-48) Moses wants every citizen of Israel to feel just like this about every law and commandment of the Lord so all will go well for them in the promised land. 

Moses isn't promising that nothing will ever go wrong in anyone's life if they try their best to live within the Lord's will. In this fallen world there will be accidents, diseases, and death. Believers must live among unbelievers who won't always behave honestly and honorably toward them. Life isn't necessarily a bed of roses for anyone but there will be far fewer thorns if we don't go through our days deliberately disobeying the laws and commandments of our God. Trouble will find us from time to time even when we're walking on the right paths but a situation like that will have a better outcome than one in which we purposely stray from the right path and go looking for trouble.

"Now, Israel, hear 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 the Lord, the God of your ancestors, 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." (Deuteronomy 4:1-2) As we've said many times before, partial obedience is still disobedience. The Lord's laws and commandments are to be kept exactly as they are written. If we only obey part of a law then we are still disobeying it. 

For example, the seventh commandment says, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." But Jesus said a person could keep the letter of this commandment while breaking the heart of this commandment if a person was looking upon another while thinking lustful thoughts. (Matthew 5:28) To bring this example up to modern times, a person might not be physically unfaithful to their spouse but they might be thinking lustful thoughts about someone they work with or they might be in the habit of viewing pornography. They are not being fully obedient to the Lord in this matter and, in their heart, they are breaking the commandment. Eventually they may weaken enough to literally break the commandment. Jesus said the same type of thing about the sixth commandment which is, "Thou shalt not kill." Murder begins in the heart and Jesus warned His listeners that harboring hatred or anger toward their fellow man meant they weren't fully obeying the sixth commandment. (Matthew 5:22) Most people don't suddenly commit adultery out of the blue. They've usually allowed themselves to mull it over in their minds for a while first. Most people don't suddenly rise up and slay a fellow human being either. Wickedness was allowed to take root in their hearts long before their hands took action. 

Moses reminds the congregation what happened when some of their men allowed wickedness to take root in their hearts. They fell into immorality and idolatry. "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." (Deuteronomy 4:3-4) The wages of sin is death, as the Apostle Paul phrased it in the book of Romans, and at Baal Peor these wages were paid out upon those who lusted in their hearts for pagan women and followed them to their idolatrous feasts and bowed down with them before images of false gods. We studied this incident in Numbers 25 in which 24,000 men died of a plague due to their sin. This was an enormous loss but a far greater loss would have ensued if the Lord had not judged such flagrant breaking of His commandments. It was better that 24,000 men die than that the entire nation forsake the Lord for false gods. 

Moses is encouraging the people to obey the Lord so they will enjoy the goodness of the land. Sin might be pleasurable for a season, but eventually we reap what we sow, and Moses wants the people of Israel to sow only good seed so they may reap the blessings of the Lord. He is presenting a choice to the people: obey the Lord and enjoy His protection and provision or disobey the Lord and suffer the consequences. He will say something similar to the Israelites near the end of the book of Deuteronomy, not long before he dies, and we will close with those words today. The words Moses spoke to Israel are just as relevant in our own times as they were in his day and we would do well to obey them if we want to enjoy all the good things that come along with walking in fellowship with our God. "See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to Him, and to keep His commandments, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess." (Deuteronomy 30:15-16)

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 17, Moses Recalls Being Forbidden To Cross The Jordan

In Numbers 20 we were told that the Lord was displeased with the behavior of Moses and Aaron at Meribah. The people were out of water and found no water source there. The Lord instructed Moses and Aaron to take the staff (the same one they used in Egypt when calling down plagues, also the same one that miraculously budded and produced almonds overnight) and to stand in front of a rock in the sight of the entire community. Then they were to speak to the rock and it would bring forth water for all the people and livestock. 

But Moses was frustrated and exhausted. He was angry with the people for quarreling with him about the lack of water. He was offended that they'd accused him and his brother Aaron of having brought them into the wilderness to perish. He lost his cool and, as I pointed out when we studied Numbers 20, in his place I'd have lost my cool long before he did. Moses wasn't a perfect man but most of the time he has set a good example for us. But on that particular day, in that particular place, under those particular circumstances, Moses gave in to the strain he was under. He was thirsty too. He was tired too. Like the people he led, he probably would have liked something to eat other than manna. Like the people under his care, he too was weary of wandering in the wilderness. He let his emotions get the better of him at Meribah and lost his temper and failed to display the attitude of the Lord. He also didn't give credit to the Lord for the water that sprang forth, saying instead, "Must we (meaning himself and Aaron) bring you water out of this rock?" 

The Lord told Moses and Aaron that due to their failure to honor Him in the sight of the people, He would not allow them to lead the people into the promised land. When we studied the passage of the Bible where the Lord appoints Joshua as Moses' successor, we talked about how all this fit into the Lord's plan. Moses was the best man to bring Israel out of Egypt and to lead Israel in the wilderness but he was not the best man to command Israel's army in the takeover of the promised land. The Lord always knew, even before Moses or Joshua was born, which man He had chosen to perform which part of the work. Moses and Aaron represent the old generation: the generation of people aged twenty and up who came out of Egypt. But by the time Israel crosses the Jordan, everyone aged twenty and up who came out of Egypt will be dead, except Joshua and Caleb. No one will be left who believed the report of the ten faithless spies who said Canaan could not be conquered. The new generation needs a new leader, and since the new generation will be fighting battles for the land the Lord promised them, they need a leader capable of being a military general. That man is Joshua, not Moses.

In our text today Moses recounts his conversation with the Lord regarding the Lord's decision that he would not cross the Jordan. But first he reminds the people that his successor, Joshua, has already been chosen by the Lord and that the Lord commanded him to encourage Joshua for the work ahead. Moses could have sulked and pouted and wallowed in his disappointment over not being allowed to take the people into the land he longed to set his feet on, but instead he obeyed the Lord. Moses loved the Lord and he loved the Lord's people Israel. Like the Lord, Moses wanted the best for Israel, so after Israel defeated the powerful armies of King Sihon and King Og, Moses spoke these words to Joshua: "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." (Deuteronomy 3:21-22) Moses said, "You saw the Lord's great power with your own eyes. What He has done before He will do again. No matter who or what comes against you in the promised land, your God is bigger. Your God is stronger. Don't give fear the time of day. Charge forward in faith knowing that the Lord wields His mighty sword ahead of you."

Moses obeyed the Lord by encouraging Joshua and then he pleaded with the Lord to let him enter the promised land. He knew he would not be leading Israel in battle but he wanted to at least see the people in the land the Lord promised long ago to Abraham's descendants. Moses believes the Lord will keep this promise, but after leading Israel in the wilderness for forty years, Moses wants to see the promise fulfilled with his very own eyes. He's so close to the land that he can almost smell the flowers. He can almost taste the abundant fruit. It's a bitter pill for him to swallow that, by his own actions, he's lost the privilege of being able to stand in Canaan on his own two feet while viewing it with his own two eyes. Knowing the Lord is a merciful God, he begged the Lord to change His mind. "At that time I pleaded with the Lord: '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.'" (Deuteronomy 3:23-25)

My heart hurts for Moses when I read his prayer. I can almost feel how fiercely he longs to see the land. There have been several times in my life when I've longed fiercely for certain situations to turn out in specific ways and sometimes the Lord said yes and sometimes the Lord said no. The things I longed for weren't sinful in themselves, just as it isn't sinful for Moses to want to see the promised land, but those things weren't in the Lord's will for my life, just as entering the promised land isn't the Lord's will for Moses' life. In addition, it isn't the Lord's will for Israel for Moses to go into the promised land with the people. Israel needs one leader to get behind wholeheartedly and I think even if Moses clearly handed the reins of leadership over to Joshua before the entire community crossed the Jordan River, there might have been a division of loyalty among the people. If some of the people were displeased with a plan of Joshua's they might have stirred up strife by insisting Joshua be deposed and Moses reinstalled in his place. I think the leadership of Israel must be abundantly clear to one and all as the people cross the Jordan and I believe that if Moses had still been alive there might have been a lack of trust in Joshua. When Joshua issued an order, I think there would have been some who would have wanted to get Moses' opinion before obeying Joshua. Israel can't take over the promised land if her citizens are fighting among themselves. Suppose half the nation still wanted Moses as leader but half the nation would rather have Joshua as leader. How could Israel have presented a united front to her enemies? How could all of Israel's soldiers have fought together if they were fighting with each other? I do not believe the promised land could have been taken if the Lord had allowed both Moses and Joshua to cross the Jordan. 

We will see momentarily that the Lord firmly told Moses to stop asking Him to change His mind. It's not in the best interests of Israel for the Lord to change His mind. It's not in Moses' best interests either; Moses needs to accept the Lord's decision so he can feel peace in his heart about it. The Lord was angry with Moses when He made His decision but Moses has repented of His behavior and has been forgiven. When Moses says what he says next, he's not telling us that the Lord is still angry with him or that the Lord hasn't accepted his prayer of repentance. The Lord loves Moses and has extended mercy to him but Moses must still deal with the natural consequences of his actions. 

Have you ever made a bad choice and still had to deal with the consequences that ensued, even though you had repented to the Lord and He had forgiven you? We can make things right with the Lord but still have to endure the unpleasant result of our actions. I believe Moses made things right with the Lord but the Lord's decision still stands. Moses will not cross over the Jordan and Moses will feel better if he stops agonizing over his past behavior, which cannot be changed. Moses will feel better if he accepts the Lord's will in this matter, for the Lord knows best, and though the promised land would be a wondrous sight, heaven will be an even more wondrous sight---and heaven is where Moses is going. Moses will soon be in the very presence of the Lord he has so faithfully served. The glories of the promised land pale in comparison to the glories of eternity with the Lord. Moses wouldn't return to earth and enter the promised land if he could, not after seeing heaven and not after meeting his Creator face to face.

Moses says, "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.' So we stayed in the valley near Beth Peor." (Deuteronomy 3:26-29) 

After being told he would not cross the Jordan, Moses is to focus on preparing his successor to take his place. Moses commanded Joshua, upon the authority of the Lord, not to be afraid. We won't study the death of Moses til we get to the end of the book of Deuteronomy, but the book of Joshua begins by telling us what the Lord said to Joshua right after Moses' death. "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9) When did Joshua receive this command? He received it first through Moses! Moses obeyed the Lord and commanded Joshua not to be afraid. When Moses dies and the heavy mantle of leadership is laid on Joshua's shoulders, the Lord reminds him of His command through Moses not to be afraid. The Lord also repeats this command to Joshua without an intermediary. The Lord speaks the words, "Do not be afraid," directly to Joshua. Nothing could have demonstrated more clearly that a new administration is in place. The Lord will interact with Joshua in the same way He interacted with Moses. The Lord will be with Joshua in the same way He was with Moses. But suppose Moses had stubbed up and refused to encourage Joshua or to relay the Lord's command to Joshua to not be afraid? I think Joshua might have had a harder time moving forward. If Moses had not already been assuring him the Lord was with him, I think Joshua might have had more difficulty not being afraid when the Lord Himself commands him not to be afraid. But Joshua trusted Moses and this helped him to trust the God from whom Moses received his orders. This will enable Joshua to obey the Lord's orders.

Moses messed up at Meribah and it cost him the promised land. But, by and large, Moses was a wonderful example of godly living, not only for Israel but for us today. Difficult as it was for him, he accepted the Lord's will and he harbored no jealousy or bitterness toward his successor. Instead he did everything he could to set Joshua up for success. We won't get everything we want in this life. Sometimes the Lord says no to things that look pretty good to us. But there's nothing to be gained by wallowing in bitterness and self pity. Moses could have spent his final days on earth feeling sorry for himself and feeling envious of Joshua. But that wouldn't have benefited Moses or anyone else, so he obeyed the Lord and spent his final days preparing Joshua and all Israel for the glorious future ahead of them.