Monday, May 31, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 42, Fear The Lord And Serve Him

For the past several days we've been studying a speech made by Moses in which he cautioned the Israelites not to forget that they have sinned against the Lord in several major ways after He brought them out of Egypt. They are to remember how merciful the Lord has been to them in forgiving their mistakes, including the golden calf incident which broke the covenant they'd entered into with the Lord before Moses even returned with the tablets of the covenant. They are to be thankful that the Lord gave them a second set of tablets and that He is still taking them to the promised land just as He promised. The Lord is faithful to His promises even when man is not; therefore man owes Him his reverence and obedience and love, which is how Moses concludes this section of Deuteronomy.

"And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to Him, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord's decrees and commands that I am giving you today for your own good?" (Deuteronomy 10:12-13) In the original text the word translated as "fear" means "to revere, to stand in awe of, to respect". Moses is telling Israel to give the Lord the honor due Him for the great things He has done. Honoring the Lord in this way is the duty of man in return for the Lord's goodness toward human beings. King Solomon said something very similar in the book of Ecclesiastes: "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind." (Ecclesiastes 12:13) The prophet Samuel, in his farewell speech to the nation of Israel, urged the people: "Be sure to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things He has done for you." (1 Samuel 12:24) The author of Psalm 112, who was most likely King David, pointed out that the one who fears and obeys the Lord will be blessed by the Lord, "Praise the Lord. Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in His commands." (Psalm 112:1) The prophet Micah worded it like this when he reminded his fellow citizens that they owed the Lord their allegiance: "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8) 

To love and respect the Lord is the least we can do, when you think about it, in comparison to all the things He has done for us. He is not asking us to do something impossible. He is simply asking us to do our duty. He is asking us to pay Him the reverence due Him. And He is telling us to do this for our own good, not because He needs our love or praise. Loving the Lord will help us to escape many a snare in this life, for we'll choose to do what He says instead of doing what our carnal minds tell us or what the fallen world tells us. As Moses said in verse 13 above, the Lord gave His commands and decrees for people's own good. If we love and respect the Lord, we'll naturally want to abide by His commands and decrees. In our human weakness we won't be able to perfectly keep them all but the Lord looks on our hearts and knows whether the desire to do right is within us or not. As the Apostle Paul said, the Lord accepts our willing spirit even when we are not able to do for Him all that we would like to be able to do. (2 Corinthians 8:12) 

The Lord does not need anything from man, yet He wants to have fellowship with the human beings He created. "To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set His affection on your ancestors and loved them, and He chose you, their descendants, above all the nations---as it is today." (Deuteronomy 10:14-15)

The friendship between the Lord and human beings is very one-sided because the Lord loves the most and gives the most, yet it gives Him great joy to do wonderful things for mankind. Moses reminds his fellow citizens that the Lord needs nothing from them (and there is little they can do for Him in their human weakness other than to reverence Him) but He chose them anyway and longs to do them good. He chose them not because they were sinless or because they had always displayed a heart filled with respect and love for Him; you might say He chose them in spite of the fact that they didn't always do those things. We could say the same thing about ourselves. The Lord has been good to us not because we have always done a good job of honoring Him, but in spite of the fact that we haven't always done a good job. 

Considering how merciful the Lord has been to them, Moses appeals to the Israelites to yield themselves to the authority of the Lord. This is the least they can do in exchange for His goodness. "Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer." (Deuteronomy 10:16) Circumcision was the outward sign of the covenant the Lord made with Abraham and his descendants. But a person could have the outward sign of this covenant on his body and not be in covenant with the Lord in his heart. Moses says, "Give your hearts fully to the Lord. He wants relationship, not religion. Don't simply go through the motions. If you don't build a relationship with the Lord---if you don't love Him---the rituals of your religion will be a chore to you. But if you love Him, obeying Him will be a delight to you."

The Lord is good and is worthy of our love and obedience. He is not like man, who sometimes shows partiality. He is not like man, who may accept a bribe to pervert justice. He is not like man, who might turn a blind eye to the needs of others. "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt." (Deuteronomy 10:17-19) The same God who created one race of people created all the other races. He values every life and every soul the same, so if anyone wants to join the congregation of Israel and convert to Israel's God, no one is to refuse them due to a different skin color or different background. The Israelites were victims of racism in Egypt and they must keep in mind how much they suffered  from the Egyptians' prejudice so they will not perpetrate prejudice upon others. One of the ways we show love to God is by showing love to the people He created---all people. 

The Lord is the only God. He is the God who created all things. He is the God who brought Israel out of Egypt and made her into a great nation. It should be a joy to serve Him. It should make the people's hearts glad to obey Him. They owe Him their love and respect. It is the least they can do in exchange for all the Lord has done for them (and it is the least we all can do for everything the Lord has done for us) so Moses sums up his sermon like this: "Fear the Lord your God and serve Him. Hold fast to Him and take your oaths in His name. He is the one you praise; He is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky." (Deuteronomy 10:20-22) 

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 41, A Second Set Of Tablets; A Second Chance

In Chapter 9 Moses provided a number of examples to prove to the Israelites that everything the Lord is about to give them is due to His mercy and goodness, not due to them having maintained godly living ever since they came out of Egypt. Today he underlines that point by speaking of the way God gave them a second chance following the golden calf incident. We will be talking about the Lord's awesome mercy toward mankind and how He reaches out to us even when we mess up horribly. 

Moses broke the first set of tablets containing the Ten Commandments when he came down from the mountain to find that the people had fashioned an image and were holding a festival around it. He broke the tablets to symbolize that they had broken their side of the covenant they entered into with the Lord. But the Lord, in His great mercy, did not leave things that way! He reestablished fellowship with the congregation of Israel by providing a second set of tablets, thus signifying a second chance. 

The Lord is always the one who initiates fellowship with us and who keeps reaching out to maintain fellowship with us. As our Creator and as someone infinitely wiser and more powerful than we are, He has the responsibility for making the first move. He invites us into a relationship with Him and, even when we make mistakes after entering into a relationship with Him, He makes overtures of peace to us. He doesn't berate us when we mess up or kick us while we're down; instead He reaches a hand out to us so He can pick us back up. Like a loving father whose young child is learning how to walk, the Lord understands that our whole lives long we are learning how to walk with Him, and when we stumble and fall He helps us back to our feet. What He wants for us is what any good parent wants for their child: for us to grow in strength and to stumble less often and less spectacularly. When the Lord provided a second set of tablets for the Israelites, He was setting them back on their feet and saying, "Let's try this again."

After Moses broke the tablets the Lord announced to him His intention to make another set. "At that time the Lord said to me, 'Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones and come up to Me on the mountain. Also make a wooden ark. I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Then you are to put them in the ark.'" (Deuteronomy 10:1-2) 

"So I made the ark out of acacia wood and chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hands. The Lord wrote on these tablets what He had written before, the Ten Commandments He had proclaimed to you on the mountain, out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. Then I came back down the mountain and put the tablets in the ark I had made, as the Lord commanded me, and they are there now." (Deuteronomy 10:3-5) The Lord didn't say, "Sorry, you blew it!" Instead He made the tablets over again. 

In a minute Moses will tell us where the Israelites went next after they moved on from the place where they received the second set of tablets. When we stumble and fall, the Lord wants to lift us back to our feet and help us keep moving forward. He doesn't want us remaining on the ground, wallowing in self-pity after our sin has been confessed and our fellowship has been restored with Him. He also doesn't want us getting up but standing like we're rooted to the spot, afraid to move forward in case we mess up again. Doing either of these things can actually be a worse sin than the sin we committed in the first place. We can't keep looking back at and grieving over the mistakes in our past. We also can't remain in one spot for fear of making more mistakes. What can we do for the Lord's kingdom like that? How can we grow in our knowledge of Him and in our trust in Him if we don't keep moving forward? So once the golden calf incident was dealt with, the Lord wanted the Israelites to start putting one foot in front of the other again. Moses says, "(The Israelites traveled from the wells of Bene Jaakan to Moserah. There Aaron died and was buried, and Eleazar his son succeeded him as priest. From there they traveled to Gudgogah and on to Jobathah, a land with streams of water. At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister and to pronounce blessings in His name, as they still do today. That is why the Levites have no share or inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as the Lord your God told them.)" (Deuteronomy 10:6-9) As Israel moved on from the location where the golden calf had been made, the Lord was working on things for Israel's future, not dwelling on the past. 

"Now I had stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights, as I did the first time, and the Lord listened to me at this time also. It was not His will to destroy you. 'Go,' the Lord said to me, 'and lead the people on their way, so that they may enter and possess the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.'" (Deuteronomy 10:10-11) Israel's idolatrous mistake in the past did not disqualify her to serve the Lord in the future. We may be tempted to think our past is too ugly for the Lord to ever use us for His glory but the Bible does not support such a doctrine. If our past has been dealt with between us and the Lord, we need to leave it there. The Lord isn't sitting on His throne in heaven looking over a list of sins for which we've already obtained forgiveness. He is looking ahead to our future. That's what we should be doing too! To do otherwise is actually a sin because it displays a lack of faith. It displays a lack of faith that the Lord does what He says He will do. We are promised "if we confess our sins" then the Lord "is faithful and just and will forgive our sins". (1 John 1:9) Do we believe the word of God is true? If we do then we must accept what He says about repentance and forgiveness. If we don't accept what He says about repentance and forgiveness then it will be quite difficult for us ever to do anything worthwhile for the kingdom of God because we're going to be wallowing in guilt and self-pity over things we can't seem put behind us---things the Lord has cast behind His back, as the prophet Isaiah so beautifully worded it. (Isaiah 38:17) If the God whom we sinned against isn't holding the sins of our past against us, why should we? If the God whose laws we've broken has accepted our repentance, why can't we accept His forgiveness? 

Israel moved on and so should we. It's not true our past has disqualified us from doing great things for the Lord in the future. On the contrary, it lifts up and glorifies the name of God when everyone sees how He saved "a wretch like me" as the song goes and turned our lives around. His honor and renown grow when others see how He uses lips that used to speak blasphemy to speak words of praise, feet that used to run to sin to run to church instead, and hands that used to perform evil acts to be clasped together in prayer or reaching out to the lost and needy. No matter what's in your past, if you and the Lord have dealt with it, leave it there and walk away from it. He wants you to move on.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 40, Rebellion And Intercession.

We will be concluding our study of Chapter 9 today. Throughout most of this chapter we found Moses recounting the golden calf incident and the Lord's anger over it and Moses' intercessory work of prayer on behalf of Israel. The remainder of the chapter deals with other times when the congregation stirred up the wrath of God, times when Moses prayed for His mercy upon them.

The point of these remembrances is so no one will say, once they have attained the promised land, "The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness." (Deuteronomy 9:4) The Israelites obtained the promised land because the Lord chose to give it to them, not because they had earned it by righteous acts. In the same way, none of us can claim we have earned salvation, for none of us can perfectly keep the commandments and laws of God. As the prophet Isaiah said, even at our very best when we are working hard to do good deeds, "All our righteous acts are like filthy rags." (Isaiah 64:6) 

In comparison to the Lord's indescribably holy deeds, how do our puny human deeds measure up? Lest we start patting ourselves on the back, thinking we're doing an awesome job that causes the Lord to owe us something, Isaiah essentially says, "You've blinded yourselves to the truth. You look into the mirror and think your feeble human works that you've done in your own strength have caused the Lord to owe you something. You think you can earn salvation even though you can't live a perfectly holy life. If you could see yourself with spiritual eyes you'd realize you're dressed in torn, filthy, smelly clothes. Then you'd be humbled by realizing that anything the Lord blesses you with is because of His own goodness and righteousness." 

Jesus said something similar about trying to obtain salvation by works instead of by faith. He pointed out that a servant who does everything his master commands is only doing what he ought to be doing. The servant is not earning himself anything extra when he performs the duties he's commanded to perform. The master isn't obligated to heap blessings and treasures upon a servant who is only doing what he's supposed to be doing. "Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'" (Luke 17:9-10) 

In other words, even if we could perfectly keep all the Lord's laws and commandments, we'd only be doing our duty. The Lord wouldn't be obligated to load us down with extras. A servant who only does what he's commanded to do and never goes above and beyond that will have his work assessed as satisfactory but there's no reason for his master to heap riches and praise upon him. So how do we go above and beyond? By faith, for, "Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) Salvation is by faith and it has always been by faith. Abraham was credited with righteousness because of his faith. (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3) We too obtain righteousness by faith, "Not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:9) Good works will naturally follow salvation, but good works are not how we obtain salvation. Salvation is by faith and faith is the only way we can please God.

Moses tells the Israelites not to boast of good works because their deeds (like yours and mine) have not always been godly. Their deeds were sometimes ungodly deeds that angered the Lord. "You also made the Lord angry at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah." (Deuteronomy 9:22) These were places where grumbling and complaints against the Lord occurred, places where the people accused the Lord of not having their best interests at heart, places where they fell into doubt about the goodness of God.

"And when the Lord sent you out from Kadesh Barnea, He said, 'Go up and take possession of the land I have given you.' But you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You did not trust Him or obey Him. You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you." (Deuteronomy 9:23-24) Trust and obedience come from faith and, as we've already seen, without faith it is impossible to please God. Even if the people had done all they were asked to do, if they were simply going through the motions instead of obeying the Lord because they believed in Him and trusted Him and loved Him, they still could not boast they had earned earthly rewards or salvation from Him. But they did not do all that He asked them to do, and neither have you and I, so we need faith to obtain salvation. 

Faith bridges the gap. Faith makes up for our inability to live perfect lives because faith says, "I'm trusting the Lord to do for me what I cannot do for myself. Faith drives me to the Lord for forgiveness and mercy. Faith pleases the Lord and faith is what causes Him to credit me with righteousness, just as He credited Abraham with righteousness because of his faith. Without faith my works are useless, like filthy rags. But with faith my imperfect works become acceptable in the eyes of a holy God. I cannot perfectly keep the Lord's laws even though I want to, but if I have faith He extends grace to me. He covers me with His righteousness so that I am no longer dressed in the disgusting robes of sin but am dressed in the clean robes of a child of God."

Moses recounts how he interceded for the people when they refused to go up and take the land the first time God commanded them to do so. "I lay prostrate before the Lord those forty days and forty nights because the Lord had said He would destroy you. I prayed to the Lord and said, 'Sovereign Lord, do not destroy Your people, Your own inheritance that You redeemed by Your great power and brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Overlook the stubbornness of this people, their wickedness and their sin. Otherwise, the country from which You brought us will say, 'Because the Lord was not able to take them into the land He had promised them, and because He hated them, He brought them out and put them to death in the wilderness.' But they are Your people, Your inheritance that you brought out by Your great power and Your outstretched arm." (Deuteronomy 9:25-29) Not only were lives at stake, but the great and honorable reputation of the Lord was at stake. If the Lord did not preserve Israel and take her into the promised land then the heathen nations would laugh at Israel and at her God and claim the Lord lacked the power to do what He promised. Moses wanted Israel preserved and He wanted the name of the Lord to be lifted up and glorified, so in his intercessory prayer he spoke of how both these things would be accomplished by the Lord's mercy upon the nation. Moses had the faith his fellow citizens lacked at that time and he prayed on their behalf. He admitted they had sinned against the Lord; he didn't try to gloss over their sin or try to justify it. He simply asked, in faith, for the Lord to forgive them.

Faith is what brings us to the Lord for forgiveness. Faith is what credits us with a righteousness we could never obtain on our own. And faith is what causes the Lord to hear our prayers, so don't ever give up praying for that lost loved one who is living in sin far away from God. The Lord forgave the sin of an entire nation because of Moses' prayers. Can He not also bring our lost loved ones to salvation because of our prayers? No matter how long you and I have been praying for someone to come to the Lord, we must not become discouraged. If anything, we need to double down on our prayers. Sometimes it seems like the person we're praying for is falling into more grievous sins all the time, but that can be an indication that in the back of their minds they are feeling conviction over their sin. It can be an indication that they feel enormous guilt over their sin but that they're trying as hard as they can to keep from surrendering their hearts and souls to a holy God. A person who mocks God and tries to run from Him will often say later on, after they've been saved, that they ran so hard from God because they didn't want to acknowledge their sin and were resisting making anyone the Lord of their lives other than themselves. 

Keep praying. Just as Moses pointed out that if the Lord preserved the Israelites He was both saving their lives and glorifying His name, if the Lord brings our loved one to salvation He is both saving their souls and glorifying His name. The Lord wants people to be saved. The Lord wants His name to be honored so more souls will be drawn to Him. The Lord wants us to come to Him in faith and pray for those who don't know Him as Lord and Savior. We can rest assured that we are doing something that is right in the Lord's eyes when we pray for those who need to come to Him for salvation.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Deuteronomy, Day 39, Remembering The Golden Calf, Part Four

Moses speaks of times he interceded in prayer for Israel and he begins with the golden calf incident. Yesterday he talked about how the Lord told him on the mountain that the people had made an image. Coming down from the mountain and finding that this was so, he threw the tablets of the covenant to the ground and broke them. Afterwards he did this: "Then once again I fell prostrate before the Lord for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the Lord's sight and so arousing His anger. I feared the anger and wrath of the Lord, for He was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the Lord listened to me." (Deuteronomy 9:18-19)

Did Moses' prayer change the Lord's mind? I think yes and no, at the same time. I don't believe the Lord wanted to destroy Israel but His wrath was strong enough to do it and the sin was grievous enough to justify it. What the Lord wanted for Israel, and for all human beings, is that they would make Him the Lord and Savior and King of their lives. His wrath was great and it was justified but His love was greater. He knew that Moses, the mediator of the first covenant, would intercede for the people and He knew He would accept Moses' prayer on their behalf because His heart's desire was to accept prayer on their behalf. Human beings need someone to mediate a covenant between them and God. Human beings need someone to intercede for them with the Lord in prayer. Moses had such a loving heart for Israel---much like the Lord's heart---that the Lord specifically chose him because he would do everything humanly possible to help Israel. The Lord knew Israel would need intercession and He chose a man who would do it with all his heart. So although the Lord could have and perhaps would have destroyed Israel after the golden calf incident, at the same time He knew He wouldn't take this step because He had chosen a mediator and intercessor whose prayers were so loving and sincere on behalf of Israel that He would hear them and honor them.

Moses had to intercede for his brother Aaron following the golden calf incident in addition to praying for the nation as a whole. "And the Lord was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too." (Deuteronomy 9:20) The Lord's wrath burned hotly against Moses' brother Aaron, the man who would become the first high priest of Israel, because he had given in to the people's request to, "Make us a god who will go before us." (Exodus 32:1b) 

When we studied Exodus 32 we talked about why Aaron gave in to their request and we concluded it was most likely out of fear. The Bible tells us all the people "gathered around Aaron" and in the original text the word used for "gathered" indicates an assembly for the purpose of political matters, for the purpose of waging war, for the purpose of passing judgment, or for the purpose of religious matters. I think the people gathered for all these purposes combined, for Moses had left Aaron in charge during his absence so Aaron was acting as both political leader and spiritual leader at that time. I think the people were capable of demoting him from his position (or worse) if he rejected their request, so we could also say that this meeting had the potential to turn violent---that the people could have passed judgment upon him or waged war against him, doing him bodily harm or even killing him. You'll recall there was at least one incident we've already studied in which we were plainly told they wanted to stone Aaron and Moses to death. There were other times when the anger against Moses and Aaron was so fierce that the desire to inflict bodily harm on them is implied by the text. When the people requested his help in fashioning an image, I think Aaron recognized the potential for the situation to turn violent and I think out of fear for his life he gave in. Not only that, but perhaps he too was struggling with doubts and fears just as they were when they said, "As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him." (Exodus 32:1c) 

The Lord did not destroy the nation or Aaron. What did get destroyed? The idol. Moses says, "Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you had made, and burned it in the fire. Then I crushed it and ground it to powder as fine as dust and threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain." (Deuteronomy 9:21) 

If we do not destroy our idols they will cause our destruction. Anything or anyone we put in place of God is an idol. We were created for fellowship with the Lord and our relationship with Him is intended to be the deepest, most important relationship of all. When we do not place Him at the center of our lives, there is going to be an empty space inside our souls that nothing else can satisfy. That space was designed for God and there isn't anyone or anything else that can fill it. An idol does nothing but separate us from God and cause us to drift farther and farther away from Him as time goes on. An idol has the potential not only to ruin our lives on earth but also to prevent us from enjoying the presence of the Lord forever after this life on earth is over. Idols place our earthly lives and our eternal lives in jeopardy. In the Bible the Lord refers to idols as a lie, as a shame, as worthless things, as a snare, as detestable objects, and as useless things incapable of hearing or speaking or doing anything whatsoever to help anyone who trusts in them. In contrast, fellowship with the Lord provides us with the truth, with honor, with a deep satisfaction in the soul, with abiding peace, with comfort, with help in time of need, and with the assurance that when this life is over we will forever be in the presence of our Creator. 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 38, Remembering The Golden Calf, Part Three

We've been studying Deuteronomy 9 in which Moses cautions the congregation not to forget the time they made an idolatrous image. It's important for them to remember this incident because they're being given a land that has been inhabited by idolatrous people and they must take care not to fall into idolatry there themselves. Remembering how close they came to disaster is intended to help them avoid coming close to it again when they take over the promised land which is filled with pagan altars and pagan images.

In yesterday's passage Moses recounted being told by the Lord, while he was on the mountain with Him, that the people had made an idol. This is where we pick up today. "And the Lord said to me, 'I have seen this people, and they are a stiff-necked people indeed! Let me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they.'" (Deuteronomy 9:13-14) The Lord said, "Let me alone," because Moses was pleading with Him on behalf of the Israelites. But Moses didn't give up on them and neither did the Lord. The Lord could have destroyed all of them except Moses and his family and still kept His promise to Abraham to make his descendants into a great nation, since Moses was a descendant of Abraham. But the Lord knew Moses would intercede for the people; Moses was a humble man who wanted all Israel---not just his own family line---to inherit the land. The Lord knew Moses would intercede and the Lord knew He would hear Moses' prayers.

Aren't we thankful the Lord hears prayers on our behalf? And aren't we thankful He doesn't give up on us? He could say of each of us, "They are a stiff-necked people" because we all have chosen at times to deliberately disobey His instructions. Yet He has had mercy on us. Moses reminds the congregation that the Lord has had mercy on them and that they owe all their thanks to the Lord for the prosperity they will enjoy in the promised land. They aren't to ever begin thinking, "The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness." (Deuteronomy 9:4) To settle into this line of thought would lead to an attitude of pride, as we discussed yesterday, and pride leads to sin because pride tells us we deserve blessings---that we've earned them. Pride causes us to have too much confidence in the flesh when it comes to resisting sin, for we are unable to live godly lives in our own puny strength. Pride drives a wedge between us and the Lord who is the source of strength. So Moses is saying, "Don't forget how close to destruction you came! You could easily fall that far from grace again. You must be on guard against the temptation of idolatry or else the Lord, who is removing the pagan nations of Canaan for their idolatry, will also remove you from the land for the same reason."

Remember how sinful our lives were before we came to faith in the Lord? The propensity for that kind of living is still in our carnal flesh even though our spirit is willing to be obedient to the Lord. The things that tempted us before our conversion may still be an area of weakness for us and if we do not stay on guard and rely on the Lord to resist then we could fall back into some old habits. That's why we must never boast pridefully about our own strength. That's why it's so dangerous to start thinking, "The Lord provides for me and rescues me from troubles because of my righteousness." Remember how close we came to destruction when we didn't have a relationship with the Lord and when we lived in opposition to Him? We didn't save ourselves from our old lives of sin; the Lord saved us. We don't keep ourselves saved; the Lord keeps us saved. Now that we have been saved, the Lord is the one upon who we must rely to keep from falling into old habits and behaving like we are not the children of God. 

Moses hurried down the mountain upon hearing that the people had made an idolatrous image. "So I turned and went down from the mountain while it was ablaze with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my hands. When I looked, I saw that you had sinned against the Lord your God; you had made for yourselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way the Lord had commanded you. So I took the two tablets and threw them out of my hands, breaking them to pieces before your eyes." (Deuteronomy 9:15-17) Before Moses went up on the mountain to receive the tablets written by the finger of God, the Lord had laid out the terms of the covenant He wanted to make with Israel and Moses had relayed these terms to the people. The people accepted the terms, saying, "We will do everything the Lord has commanded." So the Lord put the terms of the covenant in writing. But before Moses returned to camp with the tablets, the people had already broken the covenant. That is why he broke the tablets. As we talked about when we studied this incident, I don't think Moses threw them to the ground in a fit of anger. I don't think he acted outside of the will of God when he did this. I think he did it to signify that the people had not kept their end of the bargain, for the Ten Commandments begin by instructing man to have no God but the Lord and to make no type of idolatrous image. 

But all is not lost. As we move on through Chapter 9 tomorrow we'll find out that when Moses made intercession for the people he lay prostrate on the ground before the Lord and fasted for forty days and forty nights. Moses was pleading for those forty days and nights for the Lord not to destroy the people and the Lord's wrath was turned away from them. As Moses will say, "The Lord listened to me." 

Moses was the mediator of the first covenant God made with man. Moses loved the Lord and he loved the people and he relayed the Lord's offer to the people and relayed the people's acceptance to the Lord. In this same way, the Lord Jesus Christ is the mediator of the new covenant God has made with man. Jesus loves God the Father and Jesus loves all mankind. He has brought God and man together under a covenant that depends not upon works but upon faith. We cannot keep the Ten Commandments, much less the entire law. But who can and who did, thus living a completely righteous life? The Lord Jesus, who can impute righteousness to us for our faith in Him. The offer God makes to us under the new covenant is to believe on His Son and the sacrifice He made as propitiation for our sins. Our acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord is how we accept the offer God makes and how we enter into covenant with Him. 

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to his fellow Israelites, explained the setting aside of the first covenant and the establishing of the second covenant like this: "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming---not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said: 'Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased.' Then He said, 'Here I am---it is written about Me in the scroll---I have come to do Your will, my God.'" (Hebrews 10:1-7) The quote in verse 7 is derived from Psalm 40 which was written by David. Paul is telling his readers that although sacrifices were made in accordance with the law, sacrifices could not eternally make clean the person who brought them. These sacrifices pointed toward a greater sacrifice that was coming---a sacrifice which could cleanse once and for all. When Paul says the Lord was "not pleased" with sacrifices and offerings he means the first covenant did not fully satisfy the needs of man or the heart of God. The Lord wanted to provide us with a permanent means of salvation and with a new covenant in which we do not have to bring such offerings year after year after year. Instead He provided us with a means of salvation that is by faith alone in the sacrifice of the One who gave Himself for us. 

Paul concludes his explanation like this: "First He said, 'Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings You did not desire, nor were You pleased with them'---though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then He said, 'Here I am, I have come to do Your will.' He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (Hebrews 10:8-10) 

Christ is the mediator of the new covenant between God and man. (Hebrews 9:15) We are all lawbreakers and we all need someone to intercede on our behalf. Moses performed intercessory work for Israel but he could not provide a sacrifice capable of cleansing them from their sins once and for all. Instead they had to offer the atoning sacrifices prescribed by the law and accept on faith that the Lord extended forgiveness and mercy to them until the next year when the atoning sacrifice was made again.  "But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship." (Galatians 4:4-5) The law was good but the sacrifices prescribed by the law could not do what the sacrifice of God's Son did. The old covenant was good but the new covenant is better. The new covenant is satisfying and pleasing to God in a way the old covenant was not. And the new covenant pleases and satisfies our hearts in a way the old covenant could not. Moses was a type of Christ in the Old Testament, but because he was only a human being like everyone else, he could not make a sacrifice to save mankind. I think he would have if he could have; he loved Israel that much. But at the right time and in the right way, God sent His Son who was fully God and fully man at the same time, and He made the sacrifice capable of saving us to the uttermost forever.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 37, Remembering The Golden Calf, Part Two

Moses is reminding the congregation of the time they fashioned the golden calf while he was on the mountain with the Lord. In the first segment of Deuteronomy 9 he told the Israelites that it's not because they have been righteous that the Lord is giving them the promised land. The purpose for him telling them this is because pride leads a person into sin, as King Solomon will later point out: "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." (Proverbs 16:18) 

Pride causes us to think we are strong enough not to fall into sin. Confidence in our own ability to resist temptation causes us not to be on guard or pray for strength against temptation. The next thing you know, we've sinned, perhaps shockingly. Moses reminds the people of a time when they sinned shockingly so they will never forget that everything they have is by the Lord's mercy and grace, not because they've earned it through perfect living. Likewise, everything you and I have is because of the Lord's grace and mercy. We have all sinned and fallen short of perfection. (Romans 3:23) We can't claim we've earned any of the Lord's goodness toward us. The Lord is good to us because He is good. 

Moses speaks of the way the people engaged in an idolatrous practice while he was on the mountain. "At the end of the forty days and forty nights, the Lord gave me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant. Then the Lord told me, 'Go down from here at once, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have become corrupt. They have turned away quickly from what I commanded them and have made an idol for themselves.'" (Deuteronomy 9:11-12) 

It's surprising how quickly we can fall into sin, isn't it? We think we are going to stand firm and resist it, but the truth is we often don't resist it for very long, especially not when we're allowing the idea to take up space in our thoughts. Moses was only away from camp for a little over a month but in that time the people fashioned an idol and held a pagan-style festival around it. I don't know about you, but I've given in to some pretty big sins in less time than it took the Israelites to make the golden calf, which is why we must pray daily for the Lord's help. I think it's important to note that when Jesus taught the disciples to pray (in the prayer known as the Lord's Prayer) He told them their prayer should include asking God to help them avoid temptation. I believe Jesus intended us to ask this every day, for in the same prayer we are to ask for our daily needs to be met and I feel this indicates it is a prayer to be prayed each day. It's a bad sign when we stop asking the Lord (or don't ask Him in the first place) to help us resist a particular temptation we're being confronted with because that means we may already be in the process of deciding to give in. 

Fear is a form of temptation although we may not be in the habit of thinking of it as such. But I believe fear is what led the Israelites to make an idolatrous image. They were afraid Moses had died on the mountain. They had placed much of their focus on Moses because he was the Lord's spokesperson. Without Moses standing in front of them, they became anxious and I believe their anxiety grew every day he was gone. I can't say for certain whether they neglected prayer during those days while they focused on their intense desire for Moses to return, but it's quite possible. Or even if they didn't neglect prayer, perhaps they didn't pray nearly as often as usual or perhaps their prayers consisted of appealing for Moses' return instead of asking the Lord to keep them strong while Moses was gone. Either way, I don't believe the Israelites would have fashioned a golden calf if they had not given in to their anxiety. It was something they did as an attempt to soothe their great fear and to have something on which to focus their minds. If you and I don't stay "prayed up", as the saying goes, we too can fall into sin while we are in the throes of anxiety. We might fall prey to substance abuse or we might give in to some type of temptation to distract us from our fear or we might behave in ways not becoming to a child of God such as giving in to angry outbursts or not setting an example of faith for those around us.

Fear tempts us not to trust God. Fear tells us that everything is out of control, when in truth nothing is outside the control of the One who created all things and who sustains all things by His powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3) Fear tells us that we are on our own and that it's up to us or to some other person or some other thing to fix our situation, when what we ought to be doing is seeking the Lord's will about how to proceed. Fear will tell us the Lord doesn't care. Fear will even try to tell us the Lord doesn't exist at all. And what happens when we don't believe there is a God or when we don't believe He loves us and is in control of everything that happens? We put someone or something in the place of God. Or we make ourselves the lord of our lives. That's idolatry and that's why I think the fear that overtook the Israelites during Moses' absence is what compelled them to fashion an idol. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and panic disorder since the age of twelve (and I'm fifty-one now so that's a lot of years) I know how powerful a force fear can be. It can affect our reasoning and our decision making. It produces a rush of adrenaline and shifts our bodies into a "flight or fight" mode rather than helping us remain in the "be still and know that I am God" mode. (Psalm 46:10) Time and time again throughout the Bible the Lord tells us not to be afraid because He knows it's scary for us to live in mortal bodies in a fallen world. He knows that, because we can't see Him with our physical eyes, we can give in to fear if we don't keep our spiritual gaze fixed upon Him, just as the Israelites gave in to fear when they couldn't see Moses---the Lord's representative---with their physical eyes. 

An awesome way to fight fear is by fixing our thoughts on Him. He is bigger than anything we'll ever face. He is more powerful than anyone or anything that will ever oppose us. There's no way we can "be still" and feel peaceful during the storm unless we settle it in our minds that He is God and that He is everything that a god should be: He is all knowing, all powerful, and all good.  

I feel the best way to settle this in our minds is to study the Scriptures daily to learn what the Lord says about Himself. We have to fill our minds with truth so we don't fall for the lies our anxious minds tell us or for the lies Satan tells us. If we don't know what the Bible says about the Lord, how will we recognize a lie? How will we keep from putting our trust in someone or something other than the Lord? We can't be still and know that He is God if our faith in Him isn't based on what the Scriptures actually say about Him. Will there still be times when an unexpected event catches us off guard and we feel that stab of panic in our hearts? Will there still be times when we receive upsetting news and we feel scared? Of course there will, but King David sets an example for us as someone who had learned to meditate on the Scriptures so much and keep in such close daily fellowship with the Lord that he could say, "I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken." (Psalm 16:8) 

David couldn't gaze upon the Lord with his physical eyes but he kept his spiritual gaze upon the Lord. He kept his heart and mind focused on the Lord. He meditated upon the truth of God's word. He communed with the Lord in prayer. Was David ever distressed? Of course he was, and many of his psalms prove it, but his psalms also prove that when he was distressed he looked immediately to the Lord for help and kept his gaze fixed upon the Lord expectantly. That's why even though things sometimes shook David up, nothing ever shook David away from his trust in the Lord. David didn't live in a perpetual state of fear. He didn't live his life based on what his anxious thoughts told him but instead lived his life based on who he knew the Lord was. And how did he know who the Lord was? By studying what the Lord said about Himself and by building a personal relationship with the Lord. This was David's recipe for spiritual success and it can be our recipe for success too. We will be shaken up at times. But we don't have to be shaken away from our trust in the Lord. The prophet Isaiah followed the same recipe for spiritual success that David followed and he learned how to be peaceful in spirit even when faced with adversity. Because this recipe was tried and true, Isaiah could testify that the Lord keeps in perfect peace the one whose thoughts are fixed on Him. (Isaiah 26:3)

Monday, May 24, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 36, Remembering The Golden Calf, Part One

I apologize for not making any blog posts on Saturday and Sunday. I was sick over the weekend and couldn't concentrate on the study or on much of anything else but I'm thankful to be feeling much better now. 

We are still in Deuteronomy 9 and Moses has told the Israelites not to think the Lord is giving them the promised land because they have been righteous. While it's true they believe on the Lord, they had a very close call with idolatry not long after leaving Egypt. The Lord is removing the tribes of Canaan because of idolatry, but lest Israel become prideful when the Lord gives her the land, He reminds her that the potential exists for anyone to fall into idolatry, as proven by the incident with the golden calf.

Moses says, "Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the Lord your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord. At Horeb you aroused the Lord's wrath so that He was angry enough to destroy you. When I went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord had made with you, I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water. The Lord gave me two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. On them were all the commandments the Lord proclaimed to you on the mountain out of the fire, on the day of the assembly." (Deuteronomy 9:7-10) 

While Moses was on the mountain with the Lord, the people feared he had died up there and was never coming back. I think perhaps this demonstrates that their trust was in Moses more than it was in the Lord, for even if Moses had perished on the mountain, the Lord who brought them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea was more than able to lead them on to the promised land---with or without a man like Moses to stand in front of them. Difficult as it may be for us in modern times to understand why the people said to Aaron, "Make us gods who will go before us," (Exodus 32:1) after witnessing so many miracles of the Lord, I think we have to keep in mind how recently they had come from the most idolatrous nation on earth. The Egyptians of those days likely had a larger pantheon of false gods than any other people in the world and they displayed statues and images of their gods everywhere. I feel that beholding these images every day had caused the Israelites to want to have an image they could always see that would represent their God. I am not sure the golden calf was intended to replace God; instead I think it was intended to represent God. Prior to Moses going up on the mountain he was the representative they looked to, but he was gone so long they didn't think he was coming back, and in an effort to bolster their faith by human efforts they demanded an image to which to direct their worship. 

But the Lord had already said from within the fire on the mountain in Exodus 20 that they must never make an object of worship like this. He spoke the commandments out loud to them on that day. It was not the case that they had not heard this commandment until Moses returned with the two stone tablets; they had already heard the very voice of God instructing them, "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. 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." (Exodus 20:1-4) This is why it was a sin to create the golden calf---because they knew better. And that's why Moses is saying, "Don't be prideful when the Lord removes the heathen idolaters from Canaan to plant you in their place. Don't start thinking you earned the promised land. The promised land is the gift of God to you and all the gratitude and praise for your good fortune should be directed to Him alone. You can't pat yourselves on the back as if you've never sinned. You mustn't have confidence in yourselves that you could never fall into idolatry. Look how close you already came to it!" 

Any human being has the potential to put someone or something else in place of God. This is why the Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10:12, warned the members of the Christian church not to be lifted up in pride or start thinking they are strong enough to withstand temptation on their own. Paul spoke of the people written about in the Scriptures who committed sins and errors and said to take these things to heart, for no one is capable of living a righteous life in their own human strength. No one is to read the Scriptures and think to himself, "I would never have committed the sin this person committed." Instead Paul says believers must read these stories and recognize in themselves the propensity to sin. He warns, "If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" In other words, don't think you are stronger than you really are. Don't think you are stronger than your ancestors were. Don't think you are stronger than your next door neighbor. The ancient Israelites probably didn't imagine themselves creating a golden calf but under a particular set of circumstances this option began to appear reasonable to them. We don't know what circumstances we'll face in this life and we can't imagine how tempted we might feel in those circumstances to look to someone or something other than the Lord for help. We can't afford to begin thinking we're too strong to give in to sin. We can't afford to trust in ourselves. 

You might have been taught the little children's song, "Jesus Loves Me", when you were a kid. A line in that song reminds us that we are weak and the Lord is strong. We can't live a perfect life in these mortal bodies in this fallen world but we can avoid falling into many major pits of sin and into many forms of idolatry if we keep reminding ourselves we are weak and unable to live honorable lives without the Lord's help. If I needed an example of the weakness of the flesh, the past few days have shown me just how quickly a person can be sidelined by a sudden and unexpected physical ailment. Last week I had made a list of things I wanted to accomplish over the weekend and I wasn't able to begin a single one of these tasks. They're all still undone because I live in a body that is subject to the forces of this world. If we can't, in our own strength, fully protect ourselves at all times from injuries or ailments, how can we possibly protect our minds and hearts, in our own strength, from contemplating sin? How can we keep ourselves from carrying sin out? We cannot, not on our own. This is why Moses tells the Israelites to always remember how far they fell into sin on the day they made the golden calf, for this will help them to remember they are weak. If they begin thinking they are strong on their own they will fall into sin again. But if they look to the Lord for help, and if they keep their eyes only on Him, and if they keep their minds fixed on Him, and if they keep their hearts set on Him, they can avoid the idolatry for which the Lord is purging the promised land of its pagan tribes. 

We can't trust ourselves because we are weak. But we can trust the Lord for He is strong.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 35, The Wickedness Of The Nations

Yesterday Moses warned the Israelites never to start saying to themselves in the promised land, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." They must always remember that everything they have was given to them by the Lord. Likewise, in today's passage, Moses reminds the people that the Lord is driving the nations out of the promised land because those nations are wicked. The Israelites are not to become prideful and think the Lord is giving them the land because their works have been righteous enough to earn it. No human being is capable of doing enough good works to earn righteous standing in the eyes of God. 

Our section of Scripture today deals with righteousness by faith, not righteousness by works which no imperfect human being can attain. Just as the Israelites will owe the Lord their thanks for their material prosperity in the promised land, they will also owe Him their thanks for their spiritual prosperity. The Lord chose Israel not because her citizens were born being somehow more valuable or special than any other human beings on earth; He chose Israel because of her faith. Her faith is what sets her apart from the other nations. Her faith is what causes the Lord to fight on her side, to protect her, to provide for her, and to give her good things. Salvation has always been and will always be by faith. Just as Abraham's righteousness was accredited to him by faith (Genesis 15:6) so also righteousness was obtained by Israel through faith, not by works. Faith is displayed by works (godly living, loving the Lord, loving others) but righteousness (salvation) is not earned by works but by faith. Abraham's faith is what saved him; his works were the outward display of the faith that was in his heart. 

Moses says, "Hear, Israel: You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky. The people are strong and tall---Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: 'Who can stand up against the Anakites?' But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one who goes ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; He will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the Lord promised you." (Deuteronomy 9:1-3) This victory will be the Lord's doing. There's no way Israel could have fought and defeated such mighty armies if the Lord had not been with her. But human beings have a tendency to sometimes pat ourselves on the back and start thinking we achieved things on our own, so Moses is careful to point out that the Israelites must never start thinking later on, "We defeated great nations! No one had ever been able to drive these large and powerful people from the land until we came along. Instead, other nations lived in fear of the people who inhabited the land of Canaan. But look what we've accomplished! We fought them, destroyed them, and took everything that was theirs. The Lord allowed us to do all this because He is pleased with our works."

The only thing the Lord was pleased with was their faith, and like the faith of most people, it was weak at times. The behavior of the people wasn't always admirable. The behavior of any believer isn't admirable one hundred percent of the time. Israel faltered and stumbled here and there like we all do but the Lord is so merciful to us in our weakness. He knows our frailty for He is the one who fashioned us from the dust of the ground, which is why David praised Him for His mercy upon feeble human beings, saying, "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust." (Psalm 103:13-14) 

Moses continues, "After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, 'The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.' No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people." (Deuteronomy 9:4-6)

Is the Lord saying that the wickedness of the nations of the land of Canaan was greater than the faith of Israel? His words certainly come across that way but He could probably say the same thing about the unbelievers of the world today versus the believers. The wickedness of the unbelievers in this world is exceedingly wicked, just as the wickedness of the tribes of Canaan was exceedingly wicked. By contrast, are we who believe on the name of the Lord exceedingly faithful at all times? Or are we sometimes a stiff-necked people? I feel the point Moses is making is that the nations of the promised land were already very wicked in Abraham's day, when the Lord made His promise to give the land to Abraham's descendants, and that these nations have continued growing more and more wicked just as the Lord knew they would. The Lord also knew that the descendants of Abraham would believe on His name, so He made a great promise about them to Abraham. The Lord is accomplishing two goals with one action: He's bringing judgment upon the wicked nations of Canaan and He's fulfilling His promise to Abraham at the same time.

Whenever the Lord blesses us we mustn't make the mistake of thinking it's because we are righteous and good. It's because He is righteous and good.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 34, Remember The Lord, Part Two

Moses has been telling the congregation of Israel to remember the goodness and holiness of the Lord when they reach the promised land. They are not to fear the enemies they must face there, for the God who provided food and water in the wilderness will give them victory. They must not stop calling upon the Lord in a land of plenty, for He is worthy of their love and respect. We talked yesterday about how we are in more danger of drifting from the Lord during times of prosperity than during times of need.

When their cup runs over with blessings, they must not neglect to honor and worship the Lord and remain close to Him. "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws and His decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." (Deuteronomy 8:10-14)

A person might have every worldly thing his heart desires and his bank account may be so full of money that he could never spend it all, but if he doesn't have a relationship with the Lord he's more destitute than if he were living in a cardboard box in an alley. He's bankrupt in his soul, empty on the inside, lacking the very thing for which he was created: fellowship with his Creator. What good is worldly wealth when the soul is impoverished? Jesus phrased it like this: "What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" (Mark 8:36) What will worldly wealth profit a person when he stands before the righteous Judge? Can he bribe the Lord to turn a blind eye to his sin? Can he purchase salvation? No, and this is why the Apostle Paul said, "We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it." (1 Timothy 6:7) When we die we leave all our earthly goods behind. The only thing that will matter then is whether or not we knew and served the Lord. 

Remembering the way the Lord rescued them from Egypt and the way He protected them and provided for them in the wilderness will help the Israelites to be thankful and obedient to Him in the land of plenty. "He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you." (Deuteronomy 8:15-16) We talked yesterday about how the Lord placed Israel in the desert to learn to trust Him in the desert. We talked about how that if we never had needs, and if we never had to call upon the Lord to fulfill our needs, we might never call upon Him at all. The wilderness was intended to be a place of spiritual growth and spiritual blessing. The wilderness years were necessary before entering a land of material blessing. 

If we can learn to trust the Lord in the desert places we can trust Him anywhere. I've gone through seasons in life when there was no way forward unless the Lord made a way. Things were not going to work out unless He performed a great deed on my behalf. That kind of place is a hard place to be but it's also a good place to be because when victory comes we can give credit to no one but the Lord. We will know we didn't work our own problems out. We will know no other human being worked our problems out for us. We will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Lord stepped in and intervened on our behalf. He intervened for Israel and Moses warns the people never to forget that. They must not ever begin to think that their freedom from Egypt and their provision in the wilderness and their bountiful life in the promised land were things they accomplished for themselves. "You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your ancestors, as it is today." (Deuteronomy 8:17-18) 

I wouldn't have woken up this morning or gotten out of bed to study the Bible with you unless the Lord had kept me alive during the night. I owe Him thanks for my very life and for everything else. I wouldn't have a roof over my head or clothes on my back or food in my kitchen right now if not for Him. It would be a lie and a blasphemy if I ever said, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced everything I have." I couldn't even take the next breath unless He gave it to me and this is why the author of Psalm 150 said, "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord." If we're breathing, we have something to be thankful for. We wouldn't have air in our lungs if the Lord didn't give us the ability to draw it in and we owe Him our praise for that and for everything else He's done for us. We are debtors to His provision and grace. To withhold praise from the Lord is the refusal to pay something we owe. He has been so good to us and the psalmist says we must not refrain from praising Him for His acts of power and for His surpassing greatness. (Psalm 150:2b-3a)

When a person refuses to acknowledge the Lord's works on his behalf he is in danger of falling into idolatry. Not recognizing God as Lord of his life leaves him vulnerable to making someone or something else the lord of his life. Man was created to worship his Creator and if he does not give the Creator the worship due Him then he will direct his worship somewhere else, so Moses closes with this warning: "If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 8:19-20)

As the old hymn "Amazing Grace" says, we've already come through many dangers, toils, and snares with the Lord's help. We owe Him our gratitude for everything He's done for us up to this point and we owe Him our thanks for everything He will do for us from here on out. It is the Lord alone who gives us life and breath and the ability to do anything at all. It is the Lord alone who offers us a means of salvation and eternal life in His presence. We can look back on our lives and thank the Lord for bringing us this far and we can look toward the future with a grateful heart and the assurance that the God who has watched over us up until now will watch over us always.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 33, Remember The Lord, Part One

Moses tells the congregation that when they arrive in the promised land they must not forget all that the Lord did for them prior to settling them in the promised land. Remembering His mighty deeds in Egypt and in the wilderness will help them to honor and obey Him in their new home. He is a loving Father who enjoys blessing His children but He is also a righteous and holy Father who is to be respected and obeyed.

"Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands." (Deuteronomy 8:1-2) Whenever we read about testing in the Bible I think it helps to keep in mind that tests are for the students, not for the teacher. The Lord didn't test the people because He didn't know their hearts; He knew exactly what was in the heart of every citizen of Israel. It was the Israelites who needed to see what was in their hearts. They needed to be taken to a desert place where they could be alone with God to learn about Him and see whether they found in their hearts the desire to know and worship Him. 

You and I don't always know what's in our hearts. We may like to think we'd follow the Lord faithfully no matter what circumstances come our way but until we're actually in those circumstances we can't know for sure. We might believe we'd trust the Lord wholeheartedly no matter what comes our way but it's easy to believe that while we're living at ease. But what about when we're in the desert places? Can we trust Him there too? We'll never know unless He leads us to the desert, which is where He led Israel before taking her into the promised land, and in the desert Israel learned that only the Lord could supply her needs. 

"He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you." (Deuteronomy 8:5) The Lord allowed the Israelites to experience hunger so He could feed them. He allowed them to have needs so He could fulfill them. We don't usually think of it this way but the fact that we have needs is a blessing from the Lord. If we were self-sufficient would we ever call out to Him? Would we ever want to know Him and have fellowship with Him? Would we have any interest in learning and obeying His instructions for godly living? If we had everything we needed for easy living in this world---if all our physical, emotional, and financial needs were met---would we recognize that we also have a spiritual need to know our Creator? I am not sure we would. I think the comforts and pleasures of this world would easily drown out the cries of a spirit that longs to be in fellowship with the Lord. 

But when we have worldly needs it doesn't take long for us to call out to Him, does it? When bills urgently have to be paid and everybody in the household is laid off work, or when we or a loved one is sick, or when our marriage is on the rocks, or when a child has become wayward and gone off with the wrong crowd, or when we're struggling with anxiety or depression---we can't ignore circumstances like these. We need someone or something outside of ourselves to come to our aid. We know the problem is bigger than we are. That's when we call out to our Maker and Miracle Worker. That's when we acknowledge we must depend on Him not only for our worldly needs but for our spiritual needs too. The Lord allowed the tummies of the Israelites to begin growling so they would look to Him to supply food. Then He faithfully and lovingly provided food so they would look to Him not only to get their physical needs satisfied but also to get their spiritual needs satisfied.

I've heard it said a number of times that the biggest threat to believers is not persecution or deprivation. Those circumstances are likely to cause us to call upon the Lord for help. The biggest threat to believers is prosperity. Moses understands this and that's why he warns the Israelites not to forget the Lord when they enter the land of plenty. "Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to Him and revering Him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land---a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills." (Deuteronomy 8:6-9)

Food in the promised land will be so abundant that they won't need to cry out to the Lord to supply manna from heaven. They must not allow their prosperity to come between them and the Lord. They still need the Lord every day even if their tummies are full and even if they are living in houses they did not build and harvesting fruit from groves and vineyards they did not plant. As the lyrics of an old song go, "Lord, I need You. Oh, I need you. Every hour I need You." The Israelites may not need the Lord to supply manna from heaven or water from a rock in the promised land but they are still going to need Him every hour. You and I need Him every hour too. We couldn't even take the next breath without Him, much less behave in ways that honor Him. Without His help we can do nothing. Without Him we are nothing. 

I'm going to close today with a link to the song I just quoted from above. A CD with this song is in my car's CD player right now and I play it often to remind myself that I need the Lord every hour of every day. I need Him more than I need anyone or anything else.

Lord, I Need You

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Deuteronomy. Day 32, The Lord Will Give Blessings And Victory

Moses tells the congregation how the Lord will bless them in the promised land and he discusses how the Lord will give them victory over the pagan tribes of Canaan.

First it is important to remember who God is. He is holy and righteous. He will reward their obedience to His holy decrees. Also, because He is righteous, He must judge deliberate disobedience of His holy decrees. The one who loves Him will enjoy His blessings. The one who hates Him will reap judgment. "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. But those who hate Him He will pay to their face by destruction; He will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate Him. Therefore, take care to follow the commands, decrees and laws I give you today." (Deuteronomy 7:9-11) The Lord is going to remove the pagan tribes of the promised land because these tribes have hated Him and turned away from Him. He is going to give the land to Israel. But, as He's warned the Israelites before, He will also remove them from the land if they turn away from Him. Their continued faithfulness is required in order to ensure their continued possession of and enjoyment of the land.

Now the Lord makes promises which are unique to Israel. He promises particular blessings as rewards for the people's obedience. While it's true that the Lord blesses in many ways those who are faithful to Him in every nation and in every time period, these particular blessings of prosperity are spoken to Israel. I don't think a Gentile Christian like me can claim these promises for myself. A promise I can claim is this: "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19) But in the book of Deuteronomy the Lord promises a type of fruitfulness that is unique to a specific people in a specific place: "If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep His covenant of love with you, as He swore to your ancestors. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land---your grain, new wine and olive oil---the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land He swore to your ancestors to give you. You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor will any of your livestock be without young. The Lord will keep you free from every disease. He will not inflict on you the horrible diseases you knew in Egypt, but He will inflict them on all who hate you." (Deuteronomy 7:12-15)

Before the people can enjoy this great prosperity they must rid the land of the idolaters currently inhabiting it. "You must destroy all the peoples the Lord your God gives over to you. Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you." (Deuteronomy 7:16) Over the past couple of days we discussed why the Lord ordered the destruction of the tribes of Canaan, so we won't go back over any of that again today. We also talked about how this command was for a specific time and place; the Lord certainly isn't telling us today to move into another nation and begin wiping out the unbelievers there. This command was for the nation of Israel in the time period which we are studying. 

The Israelites are not to doubt that the Lord will enable them to take the land. He has already displayed His ability to overthrow great nations. "You may say to yourselves, 'These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?' But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out. The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear." (Deuteronomy 7:18-19) Egypt was probably the most powerful nation on earth during the time the Israelites were held captive there as slaves, yet the Lord easily humbled Egypt. This is the God who spoke the universe into existence; showing Egypt who is boss was a piece of cake. It hardly took any effort at all. If the Lord so easily overpowered such a mighty nation, His promise to overpower the tribes of Canaan can be trusted. Those nations may be stronger than Israel and their armies may be bigger than Israel's army but the God who brought a superpower like Egypt to its knees will make short work of them.

"Moreover, the Lord your God will send the hornet among them until even the survivors who hide from you have perished. Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God." (Deuteronomy 7:20-21) It is not clear whether the Lord uses the word "hornet" ("stinging wasp" in the original text) figuratively or literally. What does seem clear is that He's saying even if some of the enemy soldiers escape the Israelite army, the Lord will bring destruction upon them wherever they are hiding. Whether this means literal wasps will attack them or whether the "hornet" is a euphemism for a plague or some other disaster, the Lord is saying to Israel, "Even if they escape you, they will not escape Me."

The Lord will fight for Israel but He will not clear the promised land of its tribes all at once. "The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you. But the Lord your God will deliver them over to you, throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed. He will give their kings into your hand, and you will wipe out their names from under heaven." (Deuteronomy 7:22-24) The Lord won't give the Israelites more than they can handle. If the land is cleared of its inhabitants too quickly the Israelites are not yet numerous enough to fill it. Then the wild animals will become overpopulated and the cleared fields will become filled with thorns and briers. In this same way I think the Lord has to sometimes dole out blessings to us a little at a time. If He gave us too much too fast we'd be overwhelmed. We wouldn't be able to handle it. 

The Israelites are to regard all the pagan altars and idols as abominations. They are to be removed just as the people who fashioned them were removed. "The images of their gods you are to burn in the fire. Do not covet the silver or gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, for it is detestable to the Lord your God. Do not bring a detestable thing into your house or you, like it, will be set apart for destruction. Regard it as vile and utterly detest it, for it is set apart for destruction." (Deuteronomy 7:25-26) Melting the gold and silver off the idols to keep for themselves will cause the Israelites to look upon and handle the idols too much. It's never smart to spend time gazing upon a forbidden object. That is what caused Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden; she looked upon the forbidden fruit so long that she gave in to the temptation to eat it. Likewise, King David will commit a terrible sin later in the Bible when he gazes upon another man's wife. He probably thought looking was harmless but the looking led to action, causing him to do things he never could imagined himself doing: committing adultery and murder. When the Lord says a thing is detestable, every part of it is detestable. We must have nothing to do with it. Sinful thoughts lead to sinful actions quicker than we think they will.

If the Israelites obey the Lord in the promised land, their blessings will overflow. The Lord may not necessarily promise wealth or fame to us in our day in exchange for faithfulness, and He may not promise life will always be a bed of roses, but He promises us the help of His presence and the hope of eternal life with Him. In addition, He supplies all our needs and many of our wants besides. He is a loving Father who longs to give good gifts to His children. 

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.