Monday, April 12, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 1, Time To Move On

We begin the book of Deuteronomy today and find a command issued by the Lord for the Israelites to move on from Horeb and on into the promised land.

Have you ever been thrilled or relieved when it was time to move on from something? Has an unpleasant situation ever seemed to drag on and on? Has life felt like it was in a holding pattern? Has the wait been long? Sometimes we're not necessarily in a bad place, just in a place where we don't feel like we are progressing. The life in my own household has felt like it was in a holding pattern for a while and it's always difficult for me (an impatient and restless person, I admit) to wait. But we received good news and now this particular holding pattern is at an end, starting today. I didn't even have to wait three months for these particular circumstances to change and I can only imagine what a relief it is to the Israelites, who waited forty years, to finally be told it's time to move ahead and take hold of what the Lord has in store for them in Canaan. 

"These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan---that is, in the Arabah---opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab. (It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Moun Seir road.)" (Deuteronomy 1:1-2) The word "deuteronomy" means "repeated law" or "repetition". Some scholars translate it as "second law" but a more accurate translation would be "second giving of the law" because the guidelines for holy living we'll find on the pages of Deuteronomy are unchanged from when the Lord first gave them at Mount Sinai. The law has already been given to the people, but it was given while the congregation was still primarily made up of the original group that was brought out of Egypt. Everyone from that generation who was at least twenty years old at the time of the exodus has passed on with the exception of Joshua and Caleb and of course Moses who will die before Israel takes the land but who is still very much alive and well at this time. In Deuteronomy we'll find Moses preaching a series of sermons that incorporate the ten commandments and the law. This new generation needs to hear them straight from the mouth of the one to whom the Lord originally spoke these words. They are about to enter a new chapter of life and it's imperative that they be reminded of the Lord's holy statutes as they make a new beginning.

"In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded concerning them. This was after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and at Edrei had defeated Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth." (Deuteronomy 1:3-4) The current generation of Israelites already have two great victories behind them. They have proven themselves to be of stronger faith than the previous generation and these two victories have served to strengthen their faith in the Lord who fights for them. If they were able to defeat the armies of two powerful pagan kings with the help of the Lord, they will be able to defeat any army, any tribe, any king, and any giant in Canaan with the help of the Lord.

When we're facing a new battle it helps to remember past victories. Has the Lord brought us through difficult times before? Did He make a way forward when there didn't appear to be a way forward? Did He remove obstacles from our path? Did He deliver us from the enemy? Did He give us victory over defeat or doubt or depression or discouragement? Did He heal us of illness? Did He restore an important relationship? Did He provide for us when we didn't know how we were going to make ends meet? Thinking back on all the times the Lord came through for us in the past will help us to trust Him today and in the future. I wish I could say I've been consistently faithful in encouraging myself in the Lord by thinking back on how He's helped me in the past, and I wish I could say I always look forward to the future with confidence, but I fail from time to time. I'm ashamed of the doubts and fears I've harbored and yet I know I'll fall into doubts and fears again. Like me, the Israelites will fail from time to time to fully trust in the Lord, and they will experience doubts and fears, but the Lord won't give up on them and He won't give up on you or me either. He's faithful even when we are not because He can only be who He is: a loving and faithful Creator who keeps His promises.

Before the Israelites embark on the greatest adventure of their lifetime and the greatest adventure of their people as a whole, Moses will preach sermons based on all the Lord's laws and commandments. He isn't changing the law or adding to the law. As our next verse informs us, he simply expounds on (spells out, comments on, explains, illustrates, interprets, clarifies) the law. "East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to expound on this law, saying: 'The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, 'You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore He would give to your fathers---to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob---and to their descendants after them.'" (Deuteronomy 1:5-8) 

What welcome words these must have been: "You have stayed long enough." When we are in a difficult place or when we feel like we're at a standstill, the words, "You have stayed long enough," are music to our ears. It's a beautiful thing when the Lord informs us, "See, I am giving you a good thing, a new thing. Go and take possession of it." The Israelites could not have taken the promised land without the Lord's help and they must always keep in mind that, even though they will have to perform work to obtain and keep the land, it is a gift to them from the Lord. If He had not chosen this land for them, it could never have been theirs. It wouldn't even have entered their minds to take it, for even when the Lord told them they could take it, the original generation that came out of Egypt lacked the faith to believe it. The path forward that the Lord chooses for us might not be one we'd have thought of ourselves. It might go in a direction it never occurred to us to take. But that's because we often think too small. We tend to want less for ourselves than what the Lord wants for us. The path forward isn't always easy and there is usually work involved in taking hold of and keeping what the Lord wants to give us, but we couldn't do it without Him. And if He made it too easy for us we'd likely appreciate our blessings less. If He made it too easy for us we'd have fewer opportunities for our faith to grow and prosper. Our weak human minds think too small. We're content with less than what the Lord wants to give us. We like to choose the path where the living is easy even if that means our walk of faith remains at a mediocre level. Many of us crave nothing more than a simple, ordinary life that's comfortable and unchallenging but the Lord---like any good father---wants us to be the best we can be and to experience extraordinary things and to develop a bold and enduring faith.

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