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This week’s readings came from Deuteronomy 1-25. There are still nine chapters left in the book, but I’ll go ahead and speak to the book in its entirety here.
The Israelites, at this point in their history, find themselves camped on the east side of the Jordan river. They have been wandering in the desert for the past forty years as punishment for their rebellion against God’s leadership since being brought out of slavery in Egypt. God had promised that all those who rebelled would die in the wilderness and would not enter into the land that He had promised them. Now if you will recall, that curse was given specifically to all the fighting men aged twenty and over, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, two of the twelve spies sent to scout the land. They stood against the rest of their people in favor of following God and entering the land as He had commanded.
A quick side note: Something I’ve always found interesting is that God says, in Numbers 14:24, “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants will possess it.” And yet a bit later, (verse 30), “not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.” Why mention only Caleb in the first instance, and both Caleb and Joshua in the second, when both of them stood together in obedience? I’ve looked some and been unable to find an explanation, but it is my thinking that Joshua is not mentioned in the first instance simply because he is younger than Caleb, and their age difference is likely that Joshua is under twenty years old and Caleb is over twenty. Hence, of the two, Caleb is the only one who actually falls under the curse. I don’t know if that’s the case, so if you know, please leave me a comment in the comments section of this post.
To put Deuteronomy in perspective, think with me through these reflections. I am currently 56 years old. As we’ve prepared our house for sale, I have been going through some mementos. Here is a picture of me in band during my senior year of high school. (The image is a composite because the picture was too wide for my scanner.) I have a red oval around me.
Here I am (bottom right corner) in a photo about a band award I received.
Finally, here I am a few years before in a school choir photo.
Needless to say, music was a big part of my high school days and has been ever since.
Here’s my point. I was in my teens when these pictures were taken, and I’m in my fifties now. I still remember quite a bit about my high school days. But, a lot has happened in the 39 to 40 years since these photos, including an entire teaching career. However, this represents the same length of time that the Israelites were wandering in the desert. The “teens” when the Israelites exited Egypt who witnessed the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the 10 commandments… these former “teens” are in their fifties now as Moses is delivering the words of Deuteronomy. These former “teens” have lost their parents in the wilderness and are now being prepared to enter and take the land that was promised forty years earlier. These former “teens” need to be reminded of some very important teachings and events which they probably remember, but may not have fully recognized the significances. Case in point – while I remember a lot from my teen years, I know for a fact that some of the things I did and learned at that time look very different now as seen through forty years of maturity, wisdom, and knowledge. We may read Deuteronomy and think it boring because it seems to be repeating things we just read a short time ago in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. However, as you reflect on it, try to picture yourself as part of the new generation of Israelites learning from the mistakes and experiences wandering with their parents in the desert for decades.
In Deuteronomy 5:1-3, it says
And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.
In Deuteronomy, Moses recalls the important events from the desert years, including the exodus from Egypt, the ten commandments, the idolatry with golden calf, the spies report of the land and the ensuing national rebellion, the importance of offerings, festivals, social justice, and clean living.
There are a couple of very important passages that I don’t want you to miss. First, Moses reminds the Israelites of why God chose them in the first place. Deuteronomy 9:4-6 says
Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess the land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.
He repeats THREE times, it’s not about you! The Israelites were to be God’s tools for judgment on wicked nations. Additionally, in Deuteronomy 4:4-8, Moses points out,
But you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today. See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?
Not only were they God’s tools of judgment, they were also simultaneously His tools of evangelism. This corresponds to Paul’s teaching about the church in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16.
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?
We have the same responsibilities – to simultaneously proclaim God’s judgment on the world and also offer reconciliation and peace through the gospel salvation and atonement available through Jesus Christ.