We have the second of our online sermon scripts, with this look at Deuteronomy chapters 2 & 3. This was preached by David Harley during our evening service on February 12th 2017.
Chapters 2 & 3
We are looking at chapters 2 and 3 of Deuteronomy. Moses is in the middle of a sermon reminding the people of Israel of some significant events in their history. Prayer
Remember what God has done (1:9 – 3:28)
Last month we were looking at this photo of our younger daughter on Woolacombe beach the age of 6. This was the terrible day when she got lost. It was a very hot day and the beach was packed. We were sitting on the beach near an ice cream van and she went into the sea to paddle. She knew that when she came out of the sea all she needed to do was to look for the ice cream van. So in due course when she had paddled around for a long time she headed for the ice cream van expecting to find us. But the ice cream van had moved further along the beach. She looked everywhere but could not find us and eventually sat down and burst into tears. It all ended happily for one of our friends found her and brought her back to us. This picture is some time later when she had recovered from her ordeal and was playing happily in a sand-boat I built for her. Catherine is now 44 but this day is etched deeply on her memory. Recently she asked for a copy of this photo.
Looking back at old photos or slides or videos brings back memories of good times and not so good times. Moses did not have a camera or a video recorder, but he wanted to remind the people of Israel about some key moments in their lives. So he tells the story as dramatically as he can, encouraging the people to learn from the past and trust God for the future.
Today we are looking at chapters 2 and 3. Moses reminds the people how God has looked after them in the wilderness and given them victories over their enemies. God has been with them all the time. “For the Lord your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness. For forty years the Lord your God has been with you and you have not lacked a thing.” (7) I want to draw out three encouragements for us from their experience.
First, God is with us in difficult times 2:1 – 23
Most of us go through times when we find it tough to continue in the Christian life. Some Christians describe it as going through a wilderness experience, God seems far away. It is difficult to pray or read the Bible. It is difficult to sing Christian songs. We lose any sense of joy in the Christian life. It is hard to hang in there. We have a friend, Kathryn Green McCreight, who suffers from bipolar disorder and wrote a book about her experience called “Darkness my only companion.” In her times of deep depression when it was difficult to pray or do Bible study, one thing that kept her trusting the Lord was the discipline of reciting the service of Morning Prayer.
We may not suffer from severe clinical depression but we know what it is like to struggle in our Christian lives. These struggles may be caused by pressure at work, exhaustion, illness of bereavement. For the people of Israel it was their own fault they were in the wilderness. They were there for 40 years.
It was tough surviving in such a hostile environment, living in crude shelters, being constantly on the move, seeking for enough water and for pasture for their cattle, defending themselves from other nomadic tribes. But they were still God’s children. Through those forty years God was always with them.
He guided them. He gave them precise guidance about where to go. In v3, God says: “You have skirted this mountain long enough; turn northward.” In verse 13 we read ‘And the LORD said, “Now get up and cross the Zered Valley.” So we crossed the valley.’ In verse 24 God says “Set out now and cross the Arnon Gorge.”
Sometimes he told to keep to the main road and not threaten other nations. (4 to 6): “You are about to pass through the territory of your brethren, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. Be careful. Don’t meddle with them, for I will not give you any of their land, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession. You shall buy food from them with money, that you may eat; and you shall also buy water from them with money, that you may drink.” (2:4-6). He gave them similar instruction when they passed through the territories of Moab and Ammon (2:9 and 2:19).
God guided his people through the wilderness. This reminds us of Paul’s second missionary journey where he tried to go to Asia and Bithynia and the Spirit of Jesus did not allow him. The in a dream a man from Macedonia said come over and help us. Should we expect such precise guidance? Sometimes God allows us to weigh up the issues and make our own minds up. At other times we are dependent on the wisdom of friends. Occasionally God may graciously prompt us in a particular direction. Rosemary and I have been wondering whether or not we should undertake anymore overseas speaking engagements. On Monday I received an email inviting us to speak at the OMF conference in Thailand. But the date on the email was November 1st. The email had taken 3 months to arrive and by the time it arrived they had invited someone else. God had closed that door!
God did not just instruct the people in the wilderness, telling them where to go and where not to go. He also provided everything they needed. “For the Lord your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness. For forty years the Lord your God has been with you and you have not lacked a thing.” (7) God provides for the needs of his people. I remember last year Steve and Anna needed somewhere to stay for three months for him to finish writing his book. I took a Christmas service at village near Crediton, where we happened to meet a couple who lived in central Devon and as it turned out had an ideal place for the Griffiths to stay. God guides his people and supplies their needs.
- God is with us in our struggles (2:24-3:11)
The next section describes the military campaign which took place on the east side of the River Jordan. There were two kingdoms on this side of the river – Heshbon and Bahsan. The people of Israel send messengers to the kings of these countries asking permission to pass through their territory. They promised to stick to the main road and purchase any food and water they needed along the way. But neither king wanted such a huge army of people to walking through their land and both responded by coming out to battle, determined to wipe out these invaders. Both kings are defeated, their lands are captured and their cities are razed to the ground.
The campaign lasted several weeks. The battles were fought over rocky terrain and in oppressive heat. The enemy soldiers did not just lay down their weapons and surrender. They fought with all their energy and to their last breath. This was a hard fought and bloody campaign. It was an exhausting few weeks. Doubtless many died on the Israelites side and many were wounded.
They had to contend for every inch of land but it was God who gave them the victory. Even before the battle started, God assured them of victory. Look at v24: “I have given Sihon into your hands.” God gave the victory but the Israelites had to fight.
Paul tells us we are engaged in a spiritual battle: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6). Sometimes we may be particularly aware we are in a spiritual war. I have twice been invited to speak on Ephesians 6 and on both occasions I was involved in a car accident. It seemed more than a strange coincidence.
As we engage in outreach we need to be conscious that we have unseen forces against us. That has been evident in the struggle we have had over the building of the new school. But here is the encouragement. We are not alone. Our God is with us. The battle belongs to the Lord, whether we live in Exeter or Sao Paulo. It is God who gives us the victory. Jesus said: “I will build my church and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”
These victories secured the eastern flank of the future nation. But while the children of Israel rejoiced, the people of these two kingdoms suffered. This is one of those passages which we find hard to read and it raises questions in our minds about God’s love and justice. For we read that the cities were destroyed and all the inhabitants were killed. This is a huge topic and we will be looking at it again when we study chapter 7. There are no easy answers but let me make a couple of observations.
Who are the people here who are being destroyed? They are Amorites. The term Amorites is used to describe a group of tribes who lived on both sides of the river Jordan. Their culture was characterised by obscene immorality and the sacrifice of children. God had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their great wickedness. And in Genesis 15 God said the time would come when the whole nation of the Amorites would be destroyed. And now that moment had come.
This meant that whole families died, as of course, they did in the time of the flood. That was a tragedy. But there are times when whole communities get caught up in a disaster and whole communities suffer because of the actions of their leaders. But the story of Rahab shows us how families could be spared if they turned to the Lord.
This was a unique event in biblical history, which brought judgement on the Amorites and the making of a homeland for the people of Israel. God set clear boundaries on who could be destroyed. There is no warrant for destroying other nations. The only reason why two nations on the East bank suffered in this way is because they attacked the people of Israel.
But beyond these events there is a sober reality. Here is a salutary reminder that all those who oppose the will of God and oppose the people of God and indulge in lives of gross cruelty and immorality will one day face the judgement of God.
Now we come to the third section:
- God is with us in our sadness 3:12-29
The East Bank of the Jordan is now secure. The people of Israel have conquered more land than they expected to do. The tribes of Reuben, Gad and some from Manasseh think it would be a good idea to settle down. They realise the land is good grazing pasture and they have a lot of cattle. Moses does not deny their request but reminds them of their responsibility to cross the river Jordan with the other tribes and see the completion of the conquest before they come back to their chosen inheritance.(3:18f.)
The chapter ends on a sad note. Moses prepares Joshua to assume the leadership of the people. He reminds Joshua of all that God has done and encourages him with the words: “Do not fear for the Lord your God is fighting for you.”
Then Moses turns to the Lord with one more request. “Just let me cross the river and have a look at the Land. It would mean so much to me.” You can understand how Moses felt. For the last forty years he has had one consuming vision – to take the people of Israel into the land God promised to Abraham. That was his dream when he first returned to Egypt and confronted Pharaoh. For the past forty years this dream sustained him through all the criticism and heartache of leading the people. And now he is on the very edge of achieving his life’s ambition. But God would not listen and said: “That is enough,” the LORD said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter.”
That was a huge disappointment for Moses. Sometimes we may face big disappointments. Things do not work out the way we hoped. Our prayers are not answered. Our wishes do not come true. The Lord takes away from us something we enjoy. He says to us “You have done a good job. Now it is time to hand that over to someone else.” That is what Moses is asked to do, to hand over the leadership to Joshua.
Some people find it very difficult to move on, to retire. When I had been principal of All Nations for 8 years and we had served there 15 years altogether, we felt it was right to return to missionary work. We loved being there but it was time to move on. We left our 5 bed detached house in the college grounds and moved into a small town house in Bromley. We lost our home, our work, our church, our colleagues and friends. I lost my role and my identity. Instead of having four secretaries I had none. Instead of a spacious office I worked in a converted garage. On the first day my computer refused to work. It all got to me and I felt pretty low. Then a friend invited us out to dinner and we had a bottle of wine and I felt much better! And the next morning the Lord spoke to me through a sermon.
Sometimes we feel like that because we find our identity in our status or role or achievements. But our true identity is in our relationship with the Lord. The defining factor in Moses life was not his achievements but in his standing before God. In his obituary written at the end of this book, the first thing that is said about Moses is not what he achieved but in this “that he knew the Lord face to face.” God understood Moses was disappointed and he told him to climb a mountain and look across the river to the Promised Land. One day Moses did stand with Jesus in the Promised Land in the Mount of Transfiguration. That’s the bigger perspective. That is the eternal perspective.
God is with us in disappointments and our sadness. Over these also two days we have been celebrating the lives of Rachel’s father and also the life of Jeremy Clark. Here are some of the things he wrote as he faced his own death. These are times of great sadness for the families. But here are some words that Jeremy wrote as he faced his imminent death:
‘At the moment when the news sank in something gentle happened. It was a feeling of deep peace. Words started flooding into my heart. “I am the Resurrection and the life. Those who die will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die”. If Jesus Christ has risen beyond death, I was safe with him’.‘What do we plan for? I’m honestly just so peaceful with both living and dying, leaving my situation ultimately in Jesus’ hands is the place of greatest peace’.