These sermon notes are from the talk on Deuteronomy chapter 8. This was preached by Tony Swain on Sunday 18th.
Tonight we continue our series on Deuteronomy.
You’ll recall from previous chapters that Moses has been giving instructions to the Tribes of
Israel in the desert knowing that he will die shortly, but that they will soon cross over the
river Jordan into the rich land that God has promised them. The main theme of Chapter 8 is
the necessity to remember God. It contains many of the same instructions and warnings
that are in previous chapters. By constant repetition Moses is making sure that the tribes
both fully understand and remember his instructions which will be vital to their continuing
survival and wellbeing.
I don’t know about you, but I have a dreadful memory. I am always mislaying my wallet, my
glasses, and particularly my keys. I often envy elephants for their memory.
Research carried out during the 1993 drought at Tarangire [Pron. TARRAN JEERY] National
Park in Tanzania discovered that some elephant groups left the park and went to very
distant sources of food and water that they remembered from the previous severe drought
several decadespreviously. Their survival rate was far better than the herds that remained in
the Park. Remembering important things is an key life-skill!
So with this in mind, please turn to Deuteronomy Chapter 8 in your Bibles, or printed on the
1. Remember God – in the desert
In verse 1 , and later in the chapter, Moses again implores the tribes to comply with all the
commandments if they are to survive and thrive when they enter the Promised Land.
His summary of the commandments – in Deut 6 verse 5 – was, you will remember:
5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your
Moses tells them in v2 that God has extended their time in the desert to humble them
following the continual disobedience of their forefathers.This was not done out of God’s
anger at them, but out of his love for the nation. God wanted to discipline them like a
parent disciplines their children, for their long term benefit. This was to ensure that their
hearts and minds would be given to God, and that they would learn to depend utterly on
him as they joureyed on through this inhospitable and challenging environment.
Moses then prompts them to remember them of two further examples of God’s amazing
provision in the desert, which he has not previously mentioned.
The first example is Manna – the mysterious substance that fell on the ground each morning
and which the Israelites ate as their main food each day – like bread. I won’t explain the
details of what it was like or how it had to be gathered and prepared: that’s all neatly
described in Exodus Chapter 16 and elsewhere.
Moses clearly states that God’s care for the tribes is much more than just for their material
needs. We read in verse 3:
”…man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the
No doubt you are familiar with this verse, mainly because it is quoted by Jesus when he is
tempted after 40 days of fasting in the same desert some 1500 hundred years later. We’ll
refer to that again shortly.
The second example is mentioned in v4:
“Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years”.
This really took me aback when I read it as I can’t recall reading about this before. Amazing!
Peoples’ clothes never wearing out and always being like new! Mind you, I bet the ladies
wouldn’t have liked that as they’d have wanted the latest fashion every season! And it’s
astonihing that no one got foot-ache despite all those decades tramping over the sharp
stones and thorny wastes of the desert.
If you’re man of a certain age, you’ll remember Bri-Nylon shirts. They never ever wore out,
got very sweaty, but washed and dried easily – and were frightfully uncomfortable. I’m sure God would have come up with something much better than Bri-Nylon for the tribes. But I’ll
leave it to you to ponder over exactly how God sorted these matters.
The main point is that the Tribes were in a tough environment and were totally dependent
on God – for both their material and spiritual wellbeing. This dependence made it easier for
them to remember God and to obey his commands. As a result they were now equipped for
the promised land.
2. Remember God – in the Promised land
In verse 6, Moses again reiterates the importance of remembering and obeying God,
especially once entering the Promised Land. He then lists it’s wonderful attributes of the for
the next four verses.
It’s got plentiful water, it’s ideal for growing wheat, barley, vines figs and olives. Honey bees
love it. There are lots of minerals for making bronze tools and weapons, – it’s a fantastic
place. And God says he’ll bless them and that they’ll all do really well. What’s not to like?
But as we read in verse 11 onwards, Moses has clearly seen that once they are settled and
comfortable in this rich new land, they’ll think more and more about their material
posessions, their busy daily lives, and the many temptations increasingly occupying their
thoughts, diaries, and hearts. Then they’ll think that their good fortunes are more a result of
their efforts than anything to do with God, and they’ll stray from their faith.
Moses neatly highlights the danger in v 17:
“Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gained me
And he clearly states the consequences in vv 19-20.
“19 And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship
them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20 Like the nations that the LORD
makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the
LORD your God.”
3. Remember God – Incarnate
With the benefit of the hindsight that are given in our Bibles, we know that the Tribes did
indeed enter the promised land, built a magnificent temple, and prospered. After many
generations of forgetfulness and disobedience, things went from bad to worse, culminating
in the nation being conquered and the temple being destroyed.
But around two thousand years ago, before the final destruction of the earthly temple, we
know that our Saviour Jesus Christ, the son of God, was incarnate – made flesh –and as we
say in the creed, was crucified, and rose again from the dead, and ascended into heaven.
And as we know, he proclaimed a new relationship between God and Man – replacing that
which had been given by God to Moses. A source of his key sayings was from Deuteronomy.
When challenged by the religious lawyer about the Commandments, Jesus responded that
the greatest commandment was still:
“ You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your
might” (Matt 22:37).
This is in all important respects identical to Moses’s summary of the law which we noted
earlier in Deuteronomy Chapter 6 v 4.
If you’ve got your Bibles with you, take a look at Matthew Chapter 4, verse 4. Here it says:
4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And
after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to
him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he
answered, “It is written,“‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes
from the mouth of God.’”
You’ll remember that last sentence came from Deuteronomy Chapter 8 v 3. And you’ll spot
that Jesus fasted for 40 days in the same desert as the tribes wandered in for 40 years,
preparing for his journey to Jerusalem and his impending death and resurrection. We
remember his fasting today (literally) as the Church season of Lent – a time of spiritual self
examination over – yes, you’ve got it! Forty days!
Jesus expands on this quotation in John Chapter 6: 32-35
32…. “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes
down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread
always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not
hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
And significantly at the last supper, as described in Luke Ch 22 v 19:
19 …… he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is
my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Notice how Jesus himself thanked God the Father for the meal they were eating, not even
taking that for granted. And then – critically – he said do this in remembrance of me.
So Jesus is saying that the very basic tenets of the faith are unchanged, despite the New
Covenant – Remember God, depend on God, and obey God.
4. Remember God- in the here & now
Living in the UK today has parallels with living in the promised land. It’s one of the ten
richest countries in the world and I’m told that these have more wealth than the remaining
90% put together.
Jane sometimes sends me off to buy our groceries. When I get back home she says “where
have you been?” and I explain that I’ve only been at the supermarket and didn’t go via the
pub. It’s just that there is such a massive choice there, it takes me AGES to select what we
need. For example there are dozens of types of milk – skimmed, semi-skimmed, full fat. And
these come in Organic, Farmer Friendly, and Westcountry produced types. Then there’s
buttermilk, Channel island milk, soya milk, buffalo milk, powdered milk. In all different sizes.
And that’s only the milk! Imagine how dazed I am by the other sections, honey included.
Yes, our country really is a land flowing with milk and honey
This is only an example of the wonderful things we have in this country. As we know, there
are many others: Peace, a stable political system, freedom of speech. Libraries, The NHS,
social services, Free schooling and so much more. Oh yes, and freedom to practice our
As a nation, do we have the attitude that we deserve all this because we’re British, and it’s
happened because of generations of our hard work, and our importance in the world?
From an individual perspective I’m tempted to look at my own personal circumstances –
our house, the car, my pension, our family – and think; I’ve worked hard for all this and I
deserve it. I often have to make a special effort to remember that everything that I have has
come from God – including my very being.
OOPS! Do you remember in verse 17 Moses’s warning to the Israellites before they went to
the promised land?
“Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gained me
And again remember Moses’s warnings in verses 19 and 20 about the very serious results of
These still apply to us all here and now.
I’m often distracted by my busy-ness, doing this and that, and thinking that I don’t have
enough time to pray, or go to house-group. Or I’m tempted to watch a film, do the
crossword, or look up something interesting on the internet rather than read my Bible. I
confess that at the end of some days I realise that I have not even thought about God. And
when I do pray and my prayers are answered, or if I am especially blessed, I find that –
shamefully – I soon forget.
But I’m sure none of that stuff applies to you good people here tonight.
However, we are fortunate these days to have lots of prompts to remind us of God, if we
choose to heed them.
There are physical prompts like crosses on buildings, or worn as pendants, and even on buns
at Easter – reminding us of Christ’s death and resurrection.
There is the food which we eat each mealtime, which should at least prompt us to say
We have easy access to the word of God through printed and on-line Bibles, and there are
websites from which we can be sent a bible verse each day – free of charge!
There is our church year – with all the festivals such as Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, to
name a few, which help us remember what God had done for us. And of course Lent, to
remind us do our own spiritual audit.
The are our Church Services, our songs of worship, and our bible teaching. There’s our
house groups, and prayer meetings, and prayer diaries.
There is the communion where we remember Jesus’s death and resurrection.
There are many other prompts to aid our remembering, so we have no excuses!
We are really well equipped, living here and now, in this land of milk and honey to
remember what God has done for us, and to remember his commands. It’s easy to be
distracted by our busy lives in a materialistic culture, and become distanced from God.
We may well remember what God has done for us and what his laws are, but the bigger
question is to what extent are we going be truly dependent on him, and remember to obey
him. Those are the points that I find the most challenging in this Chapter.
Lent is a good time to reflect on these issues.
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’.
We are going to start including the “script” from some of our sermons online. The first was preached by David Harley during our evening service on February 5th 2017.
Deuteronomy chapter 1
What is your favourite book in the Bible? The book of Ruth? The Psalms? John’s gospel? One book that Jesus quoted from more than any other was Deuteronomy. When he was asked which was the greatest commandment he replied: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (quoting Deuteronomy 6:4). When he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy, three times. Clearly he had a high regard for this book and knew much of it by heart. So I trust we will discover over these next few weeks why Jesus regarded it so highly.
A series of passionate sermons
The first thing I want to say about this book is it is a series of passionate sermons The first chapter begins: “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness of Arabah.” Moses is about to preach a sermon, the first in a series of sermons that continue through the book. Moses is an old man and before he dies he wants to encourage them to remain faithful and obedient to God.
These sermons are preached at a particular time and place. The author identifies the location on the East bank of the Jordan and gives a list of towns and villages nearby. He describes when these things took place – 40 years since they left Mt Sinai (Horeb). Like Luke in the New Testament, the author wants to record an accurate account of what happened.
Moses has a memorable rhetorical style, as do many great orators. Martin Luther King will always be remembered for his “I have a dream” speech. Barak Obama impressed audiences around the world with the power of his oratory. Each had their own distinct styles and personalities. In Deuteronomy, Moses demonstrates his distinctive style as a preacher. In earlier books, Moses is usually repeating the commands and instructions that the Lord has given him. In Deuteronomy he is preaching to the people of Israel to evoke their response. He speaks with passion and deep feeling. He speaks with honesty. He is not afraid to tell the truth or to warn the people of the consequences of disobedience. He speaks with affection. He loves this group of people whom he has led for 40 years. He only wants the best for them. He knows they will only enjoy God’s blessings if they walk closely with him.
His distinctive style can be seen throughout the book. He repeats phrases like: “Hear the word of the Lord,” “love the Lord your God,” “Fear the Lord your God” as he seeks to encourage the people to trust and obey God (6:4, 13). His rhetorical style was so powerful and effective that it appears to set the stylistic and doctrinal pattern for many of the later historical books. Books from Joshua to 2 Kings share this same style and vocabulary. All look back to the preaching of Moses in Deuteronomy as being the model to follow and the test of orthodoxy.
God’s word in a new context
But these sermons are not just the wise reflections of an old man, thoughts of Chairman Moses. They are not Moses recommendations of how the people of Israel should live in the Promised Land. They are God’s instructions. They are not the laws of Moses but the laws of God. Verse 3 states: “Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded him.” God has given commands to his people so that they may know how they are to live.
The name Deuteronomy means “the second law.” That is slightly misleading. This book is not a book of new laws but a reapplication of the laws already given. The people are about to enter the Promised Land. There they will face new challenges and experience a totally new way of life. They need to know how to obey and apply God’s law in this new context.
In these sermons Moses is seeking to explain or expound what God has said (5). The word “expound” means to make clear. The aim of everyone who preaches or teaches or leads a home-group or just sits down with a friend to read the Bible is to explain the meaning God’s word and to help them see its relevance to their everyday lives. We share the same responsibility given to Moses, even though on a different scale! Our task is to help others understand what God has said and to show them how it is relevant and applicable to our own situation today in the 21st century. We are not called simply to demonstrate how erudite we are, to amaze others with our knowledge of ancient languages or present them with abstract theological truths which bear no relation to their lives. We need to apply biblical truth to the contemporary context and culture. And like Moses we must do so with passion. Otherwise we are not preaching. We are delivering a lecture.
The Gospel of Love
One commentator describes Deuteronomy as the gospel of love. That is an apt description. Deuteronomy describes the loving and committed relationship between God and his people. In it God reminds his people of how much he loves then and how he has demonstrated that love in so many ways. He pleads with them to respond to his love by loving him in return with all their heart, soul and strength. He warns them not to forget his love and he goes on to describe how they should live as his chosen people. The book ends with a passionate appeal for them to love and obey him because that is the only way in which they can enjoy life to the full.
The message of the book could be summarised in four words:
Remember (1-3) what God has done
Love (4-11) the Lord your God
Live (12-26) Lives that please him
Choose (27-34) whom you will serve
Remember (1:6-45) Remember what has happened and learn from your mistakes
In this long chapter, Moses picks out three episodes from the past.
He reminds them of what happened way goes back to the time 40 years earlier when they were camped around Mount Sinai (Horeb). They had experienced an awesome encounter with God as he appeared in his power and glory. They had received his commandments, been adopted as his chosen people and given instructions on worship and daily living. Now the time for instruction was over and they were told to move on. In verse 5 God says to them: “You have stayed long enough on this mountain. Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites.” God was telling them to set out on the arduous journey towards the Promised Land.” So they start to pack up their belongings and get set to leave. You can imagine their excitement, with kids going around wearing Tee-shirts saying “Next stop the Holy Land” and “Only ten days to go.”
The problem was they were a very large crowd of people. We are familiar with long lines of refugees fleeing from Syria, trying to make their way to a better future. This crowd was numbered in tens of thousands. How were they to be organised on their travels? Who goes ahead? Who goes last? Who camps where? Who is responsible for what? Who arranges the guards to protect the camp? Who sorts out problems and arguments?
Moses realizes it is impossible for him to cope by himself. In verse 9 he says: “At that time I said to you, ‘You are too heavy a burden for me to carry alone.’” In verse 12, he goes on: “How could I bear with all your problems and burdens and disputes?”(12). His solution is to appoint others to share the leadership with him.
He asks for suggestions for potential candidates, people with the right temperament and gifts. It is like voting for the PCC! They are to be people who are well-respected, good listeners who will make wise decisions. Moses can cope with the difficult problems.
Moses then reminds them of what happened in the wilderness (19-25). They set off for the Promised Land and make steady progress.. It was an awe-inspiring journey. V19 describes how they went “through all that vast and dreaded desert.” But soon they approach the Promised Land. Moses said to the people. “This is the land God is going to give you. So let’s take heart and let’s go in.” A group of leaders come to Moses and suggest some men to spy out the land. So they pick twelve men and send them on their way.
And after a while they came back with a great enthusiasm. They state that the country is everything they could hope for. It is a land flowing with milk and honey. They even bring some huge bunches of grapes to prove the point (25). The symbol of two men carrying grapes is the logo of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.
Then Moses reminds the people that although the land was so fertile and beautiful they refused to go in. (26-46)
Moses was delighted with what he hears but his joy was short-lived. Ten of the spies continue: “Yes the land is great, but there are lots of other people there already and they are a formidable foe. Their cities are well built and well-defended. The people who live there are very tall and physically strong. They all look like the incredible Hulk. By comparison we felt like grasshoppers. We can’t possibly overcome these people. There is no way we can capture these cities. The task is hopeless.”
The people of God are paralysed by fear. They focus on the problems – the size of the population, the number of tribes, the strength of the cities. So often churches do not move forward, a vision is not realised, because we are obsessed with the problems.
The people forget the promises God has made. They forget what God did for them in Egypt. They forget how God rescued them at the Red Sea. They forget how God has met all their needs in the desert. All that has gone out of the window! In spite of all that has happened in the past, they do not believe God can help them now.
The reason they did not enter the Promised Land was not because of their sinfulness. It was not because they were weak and inadequately equipped. It was not because they had been guilty of idolatry and immorality. It was because they did not believe that God could do what he promised to do. It was not because of their sinfulness, but because of their faithlessness! They did not trust what God had said.
Far from trusting God they start criticising him: “God hates us. That’s the reason why he has put us in this impossible situation.” But Moses says: “No he doesn’t. He loves you. He is the Lord your God. He will be there right with you just as he was in Egypt.” But the people would not listen. V 32 puts it this way “You did not trust in the Lord your God.”
But the people refuse to listen. They decide not to go in to the land and they are condemned for the next 40 years to wander around in the wilderness. This generation will die. The next generation will enter the land. So a journey of ten days took 40 years.
Then as soon as God says you may not go into the land, they decide they will. God says “If you go up, you will be defeated.” But they march up into the hill country and the Amorite army comes down like a swarm of bees (44) and chase them out of the country. Moses’ verdict on that debacle was: “You rebelled against the Lord’s command.” (43)
So why does Moses spend so much time reminding the people of what happened and the way they failed. He does so not because he wants to embarrass them but because he wants them to learn from their mistakes. Those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them.
How does this all apply to us? We all ne challenges from time to time and we often panic and feel we cannot cope. We all make mistakes and sometimes forget to learn and face new challenges. So we go on repeating the same mistakes. So what is the antidote to fear and failure?
First, we need to remember what God has done in the past. Like the people of Israel we easily forget how God has helped us and answered our prayers in the last. That is what Moses points out to them. (Deuteronomy 1:30-31). Don’t you remember how God defeated the Egyptians? Don’t you remember how God carried your fathers through the desert like a father carries his child? One of the great antidotes to fear is thinking back and remembering what God has done.
Secondly we need to remember God forgives us. He does not abandon us. He does not abandon the people of Israel in spite of the fact that they have been winging and disobeying him for 40 years. The story of the OT is a story of God’s constant love for his people in spite of everything. God forgives them and presses on with them and he will do the same with us.
Thirdly, we need to remember God’s promise. In v8 Moses reminds them of God’s promise. God made a promise to Abraham and his descendants to give them a land and, even though now there has some delay, he is about to give them the land he promised. We too, like them, can trust the promises of God, in spite of our failings. Jesus said: “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Failure is never final with the people of God. After he had denied Jesus, Peter must have felt dreadful. He had let Jesus down completely. He must have wondered if he had any future. Could he still be a disciple of Jesus, let alone one of the leaders? Surely he was not worthy of that. But when the risen Jesus met the women by the tomb, he singled out Peter and said “Go and tell the disciples and Peter.” The in Galilee in one of the most moving moments in the gospel he drew Peter aside and re-commissioned him to be a shepherd of God’s people. What an important role Peter played in the life of the early years through his leadership, he preaching and his writing. Failure is not final with the people of God.