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Deuteronomy 28: God’s blessing in your coming in, God’s blessing in your going out.
After reading the curses listed in the previous chapter I’m ready to hear some words of blessing! All the curses are related to the intentional breaking of the Laws of God. Once I get past them, I find myself in showers of God’s blessings. Moses tells his people that when they live in an obedient relationship with their God that he delights in pouring good things into their lives, blessing them in the city and in the country; blessing their children, their land, and everything about them. As a people of God they’ll be the envy of all the peoples of the Earth. I’m happy to dwell here among the blessings because I know that Moses is about to turn things back around again and restate all these blessings as curses that will come if they turn their back on the Lord their God. As a Christian I want to lay claim on all the blessings that are given to the ancient Israelites. After all, Christians have been grafted into the vine that is God’s people. However, I’ve concluded that I need to bridle in my enthusiasm at this point. While I’m sure God wants to bless his people I also have the balance of the Bible to read. Being a devoted follower of God can, at times land me, covered with sores, in an ash heap or I might find myself in prison asking my friends to be sure to send me an overcoat before winter comes. My conclusion is that God does bless his people (even those of us who have merely been grafted in). He blesses us with his presence in our lives and sometimes in big, unbelievable, material ways. I also conclude that these “here and now” blessings are only the tip of the iceberg of God’s good intentions for us. Ask any believer a million years from now about God’s blessings and I think you’ll hear a list that makes this one from Moses sound rather minor in comparison.
Take Away: The greatest blessing is God’s presence in my life.
Deuteronomy 15: Give freely and spontaneously. Don’t have a stingy heart.
The people in Moses’ congregation are a blessed people. If not for the grace of God they’d be slaves in Egypt. Because of God’s generosity they have food to eat and clothing to wear. The Lord has protected them from their enemies and provided guidance to them in their travels. Even now they’re poised to occupy the Promised Land. Moses reminds them that blessed people ought to be a blessing to others. Those who have received much should be givers and that giving should flow freely from their hearts. Does this describe me? The part about being “blessed” sure does. God has been good to me on many levels. Now, I need to ask him to help me to have a giving heart that will result in genuine generosity. Lord, please deliver me from having a “stingy heart.”
Take Away: Blessed people are to be people who bless others.
Point of decision
Deuteronomy 11: I’ve brought you today to the crossroads of Blessing and Curse.
Free will is both a wonderful gift and a terrible burden. It’s a gift in that it sets us apart from all other creatures. We’re made in God’s image. It’s a burden because it’s possible for us to freely make foolish decisions, which God will allow us to make, and for which he will hold us accountable. The people Moses speaks to stand at a point of decision. On one hand, they have the route to blessing. On the other is the cursed route. Clearly, the Lord wants them to pick “Blessing Street.” However, he won’t force them to do so. Since I have the benefit of being able to turn the pages of my Bible and gaze into their future, I find that, while there are many “blessing stories” yet to be told, there are plenty of the others too; even to the point of near extinction of their race. In his Sovereignty the Lord grants Israel the right to choose. By his grace they’ve arrived at this place of choice and by his grace they’re allowed to decide the next step. However, their choice at this point isn’t without consequences. Some of those consequences are good, others bad. The ability to choose is a gift of God but it’s also a burden because choices have consequences.
Take Away: The exercise of free will can bring wonderful blessings into our lives. It can also be our downfall.
The path to the good life
Deuteronomy 10: …live a good life.
These days, “health and wealth” preaching is pretty popular. “Have enough faith, pray hard enough,” even, “Give me some money” and as a result you’ll drive a nice car, live in a big house, and never be sick. Moses, though, has his own take on “health and wealth.” In this passage he carefully lists the route to the “good life.” It’s all centered on doing what God expects. What does he expect?
1. “Live in his presence in holy reverence”
2. “Follow the road he sets out for you”
3. “Love…and serve” him “with everything you have in you”
4. “Obey the commandments and regulations of God”
It’s not about me taking advantage of some spiritual principle for my benefit or my tapping into some hidden potential within myself. It has nothing to do with driving off the spirit of poverty or illness. It sure isn’t about me manipulating God to get him to do nice things for me. When I align myself with God’s expectations my life is a good life. That goodness, by the way, may not be seen in temporary things like health or wealth but, instead, in my living a truly blessed life, pleasing to God. The path to the good life is summed up in four words: live, follow, love, and obey.
Take Away: Many spiritual “secrets” are hidden in plain sight.
Live long and prosper
Deuteronomy 4: Obediently live by his rules and commands which I’m giving you today so that you’ll live well and your children after you.
So how does it work? Is it that God has given me these rules and regulations and will pay me back with blessings if I keep them? I don’t think so. God doesn’t lay down arbitrary rules just for the purpose of keeping me in line and he doesn’t treat me like a little child who’s rewarded with a stick of candy if I’m good. His purposes for me are filled with grace and mercy. If God says, “Don’t” I can be sure that it’s for my benefit and not his. My Creator, who knows me better than I know myself says, “When I created you I hardwired some very specific things about you. If you want your life to function at its best, here’s how you’re to live.” Following these guidelines doesn’t mean life will be trouble free (after all, there’s that ugly business of the fall in the opening pages of my Bible) but it does mean that I’ll live the best, most satisfying and fulfilled life possible. Not only that, but by living according to God’s plan, I’ll be teaching my children the best way to live. The result will be that my kids will be more likely to adopt my approach to living in a relationship with God and their lives will also be better lived.
Take Away: When I live God’s way, not only is my life better, but I also influence my children to live for God, resulting in their lives also being better.
What God intended in the first place
Numbers 23: How can I curse whom God has not cursed?
Balaam is hired by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites. After the talking donkey incident, Balaam has had a change of heart. After all, part of that unusual event is that he saw the angel of the Lord with sword in hand blocking his way. Now as he arrives, Balak urges him to go ahead and curse the Israelites. Balaam agrees to do his thing, but warns Balak that he can only say what the Lord allows him to say. He enters into his “prophetic trance” and the words that come out of his mouth are a disappointment to Balak. Right off it’s plain that the pitiful prophet, who’s toying with stuff he would be better off leaving alone, isn’t going to do a very good job of cursing God’s people. Instead, Balaam hears himself blessing them. This whole blessing and cursing stuff is off the mark anyway. God’s people don’t believe in spells and magic. Rather, we believe in God. In this case the Lord used Balaam’s hocus pocus for his own purposes, but remember this: God already intends to bless Israel. That’s what he’s been saying all along. Even if Balak’s plan had worked and Balaam managed to state a mysterious, mystic curse on Israel it would have just been a lot of hot air. Beyond that, Balaam’s blessing doesn’t actually mean anything either. God didn’t hear this silly prophet state a blessing and think he had to obey. The Lord continued to do what he intended to do all along.
Take Away: The Lord is sovereign and all the hocus pocus in the world isn’t going to force him to do anything.
Numbers 6: This is how you are to bless the People of Israel.
Progress is being made and it’s about time to put the new Tent of Meeting into service. The various sacrifices have been described along with the duties of those who will serve in this portable worship center. God has something he wants the priests to say: “God bless you and keep you, God smile on you and gift you, God look you full in the face and make you prosper.” Note that this isn’t something the priests or even Moses thought up. God wants this to be said because, he says, “I will confirm it by blessing them.” Isn’t it wonderful to be reminded that God desires to bless his people! He wants to keep us, to gift us, and to prosper us. Now, I could spend time here talking about what all this means, especially, in light of all the “health and wealth” teaching around. Instead, though, I’d rather just be reminded here of the good will God has toward us. We don’t hear Moses saying to the priests, “Let’s make it our habit to ask God to bless us.” Instead, here’s God, Himself, saying, “I want to bless you and as a reminder of that, here’s what I want you to say.” Thank you, Lord, for not only your blessings, but for your desire to bless.
Take Away: We are recipients of an abundance of good will from the Lord.
The God of Second Chances
Leviticus 26: On the other hand, if they confess their sins…I’ll remember my covenant….
I can’t imagine anyone enjoying the middle portion of Leviticus 26. It’s the “curse” part of the chapter in which God lists all that will happen if they break their promises to God. Like anyone else, I enjoy the “blessing” section and can happily skip the “cursing” part. However, there’s more to the chapter than those two elements. The final section is about God’s faithfulness. You might say that it’s the best part of all. God says that even if they utterly fail and if the entire “curse” comes to pass…even then, he’ll be just a prayer away. These words are all about grace and mercy and faithfulness. In this the Lord opens his heart to us. When it all falls apart because of sin the Lord waits to reestablish the covenant relationship with them. Here’s a clear view of the Lord as the God of Second Chances. There’s unbelievable power in the words, “I’ll remember.” In spite of failure, in spite of the feeling of a people being utterly rejected – in spite of it all, God remembers. I’m thankful, so thankful, that I serve the God of Second Chances.
Take Away: We all need this God of Second Chances in our lives.
Exodus 16: It got wormy and smelled bad.
It doesn’t take long for the 600,000 people to go through their food supply. Now, they’re out in the wilderness and wondering where their next meal will come from. One of the methods used by the Lord to meet this need is the introduction of a unique food source. It appears like the morning dew, tasting like bread and honey. Each morning the people literally “pick up” their breakfast. Thus begins what will be an ongoing provision of the Lord that will continue for four decades. Except for the Sabbath, each morning begins with their going out to receive this blessing of the Lord. Right off some people try to hoard this heavenly bread, but that turns out to be a bad idea as day old manna gets wormy and stinks. This blessing from the Lord can’t be stored up. Instead, it has to be received anew each day. Centuries later Jesus will teach his followers to ask their Father for their “daily bread.” This reminds us that, even as it was for the Israelites, the Lord provides but that each day requires a renewed trust from us. I’m not against hearing folks share precious memories from days gone by, but as I watch these Israelites collecting their manna, I’m reminded that if yesterday’s blessing’s all I’ve got, well, I haven’t got much.
Take Away: God’s blessings are made new in our lives every day.
Living between the promise and the blessing
Exodus 1: They made them miserable with hard labor.
Centuries earlier the Lord spoke to Abraham and made wonderful promises to him. Abraham’s descendants will number as the stars in the sky and they’ll have a land to call their own. When Jacob follows his son Joseph’s direction to relocate everyone to Egypt, the Lord promises to go with them and to bring them back to the Promised Land. Now, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph are all dead and while the promise of a multitude of descendants is being fulfilled, the people with the Promise are enslaved in Egypt. Generations are being born into slavery, living and dying having never known freedom. It occurs to me that being on either end of the process is the place to be. Living between the promise and the blessing isn’t nearly as much fun. At the beginning there are thrilling encounters with God; dramatic experiences filled with expectancy. At the end, of course, is the thrill of obtainment; God’s Word being made real. In the middle, though, is uncertainty; hanging in there when the circumstances tell us to surrender. The thing is that much of life is lived between the promise and the blessing. For instance, there have been many generations of Christians since Jesus promised to come back. They’ve lived their lives believing in that which remains unseen. The only prescription for dealing with living between the promise and the blessing is continued trust. Today, I’m reminded that the Lord has made certain promises to me and, even though I don’t yet see the blessing, I chose to trust in him as one who is always faithful. I build my life on that firm foundation here between the promise and the blessing.
Take Away: Most of life is lived between the promise and the blessing; it’s no wonder that God places such high value on faith.