Sermon Notes: Deuteronomy chapter 2 & 3

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.

  1. 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:

  1. 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’.

Sermon Notes: Deuteronomy chapter 1

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.     

©David Harley

 

We’re Looking For A Children’s and Youth Administrator

Trinity Church is looking to appoint a Children’s and Youth Administrator; who would be an enthusiastic Christian with a heart for the gospel, who has proven administrative gifts and passionate about empowering our work with children and young people.

For more information please contact the Church Wardens (Mick Kendrick and Paul Johnson) on wardens@trinityexeter.com

Job Description and Person Specification

For an application form please contact the Church Wardens at wardens@trinityexeter.com

One night can make a lifetime of difference.

We’ve been asked to mention the YMCA Sleep Easy event which is coming soon to the centre of Exeter:

Last year, a young person was made homeless every hour in England and hundreds of young people spent at least one night on the streets. Take part in Sleep Easy 2017 and make a lifetime of difference for young people facing homelessness this year.

The Challenge? Get sponsored to spend the night sleeping rough

Why? To raise awareness of youth homelessness and essential funds for YMCA Exeter’s ongoing work

The Goal? 300 people raising £150 each – that’s a total of £45,000!

Registration fee – £10 (£1.21 admin fee when booking through Eventbrite)

As part of the national YMCA Sleep Easy week, join YMCA Exeter, Bishop Sarah Mullally of Crediton, Adam in the Hat and hundreds of other people as we spend only one night sleeping rough to make a lifetime of difference.

By taking part in Sleep Easy 2017 you will enjoy an unforgettable night of live music with rock country band, “Wrecking Ball”, entertainment from the brilliant “Paddleboat Theatre Company”, great company hosted by local sensation Adam in the Hat, a community fire pit, hot drink and food vans from a variety of vendors and a host of activities to keep you warm throughout the evening, all set within the stunning and safe grounds of Exeter Castle!

To book your place at Sleep Easy 2017 just visit www.sleepeasyexeter.org.uk.

Alternatively ring our Events Team on 01392 410530 to sign up over the phone, email hilary.bush@ymcaexeter.org.uk or download the paper sign up form.

Parentalk: A Four Week Parenting Course in Newcourt

Parentalk is a four week parenting course starting Thursday the 19th Jan at the Brokenshire house with a creche provided.

Exploring parenting the primary years age, this course helps encourage and equip parents as they learn together and from one another in a relaxed environment (with pastries!).

Please contact Rosalie on 07846012660 to find out our address and so that we can ensure there are enough DBS checked creche helpers.

Some Advance Warning…

Just a little bit of advance notice, during the week of Monday 7th November, there will be some maintenance undertaken on the Trinity Website. While we are hoping and expecting a nice smooth operation, there is a chance that the website may go offline at points towards the start of that week.

If that does happen, please don’t panic! We’ll be aware, and the right people would be “on it”.

Dont forget, that as well as the website you can also hear from us via eMail, Twitter, or Facebook!