The funeral was poorly attended
Deuteronomy 34: No prophet has risen since in Israel like Moses, whom God knew face-to-face.
At 120 years of age Moses is physically and mentally as fit as ever. The years have not taken their toll because the Lord has intervened, overriding the aging process. Now, though, the time has come for Moses to die. Under God’s direction this 120 year old man sets out alone to climb a mountain. From the peak he looks across into the Promised Land. He will never set foot there but he knows his people will. Then Moses dies leaving a legacy of superlatives. The only one at his funeral is the same God who met him alone at the burning bush eighty years earlier. From first to last it’s been God and Moses. I’m a bit sad that after giving his life to the project that Moses doesn’t get to lead the Israelites across Jordan. However, it’s hard to be too sorry about it. After all, he lived long and well. He walked with God and knew his Maker face-to-face. At the end of his long journey, the Lord, himself, lays him to rest. I can only hope that, with the more spectacular elements stripped away, something remotely similar can be said when the final lines of my life are written.
Take Away: There’s something beautiful about the passing of one of God’s choice people.
It’s a big deal
Deuteronomy 32: This is no small matter; it’s your life.
After the sermon comes a special in song. No, really. Moses finishes preaching and then teaches them a song that sums up all he’s said. It’s a song of God’s grace and faithfulness to them even in the face of disastrous failure on their part. After the song Moses tells them to take the words of both his preaching and the song he has taught them to heart. These aren’t the ramblings of a very old man. Rather, these concepts are life and death for them. I’m reminded today that most things in life are just “small matters.” In spite of the fact that I try to make them into big deals the fact is that they don’t amount to a hill of beans in the long run. However, there are big deals in life; things that last forever. Such things matter even across the scope of history. I must identify both the small and the big matters and deal with them accordingly.
Take Away: Treat big deals as big deals and little deals as little deals and don’t mix up the two.
Follow the Leader
Deuteronomy 31: Be strong. Take Courage. Don’t be intimidated…God is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.
There is a bit more to the book of Deuteronomy, but this is the conclusion of thirty chapters of preaching that makes up most of the book. As Moses preaches the people are looking across the Jordan to the Promised Land. They know who lives there and they know that their army isn’t ready to face the superior forces of Canaan. Beyond that, Moses, who is the only leader they’ve ever known, isn’t going with them. The new battles will be fought without their old leader. Well, not quite. Their real Leader is not only right there with them; he’s already confidently marching ahead of them preparing the way in places like Jericho. When Moses at 120 years of age breathes his last God will remain their strong leader. Even as Moses is about to commission his successor, Joshua, he reminds his listeners of God’s faithfulness to them. I thank God for people who have influenced my life by providing vital spiritual leadership along the way. Even more important, though, is the awesome steadiness of God. The finest, most dedicated person has their limits, but not the Lord. As Moses says, “He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.”
Take Away: The Lord is our faithful Leader and as we follow him, we can do so with confidence that he won’t let us down and he’ll never forsake us.
Deuteronomy 30: God will cut away the thick calluses on your heart…freeing you to love God with your whole heart and soul and live, really live.
Moses doesn’t have to see into the future to know what’s coming. After all, he’s led them for decades. When he describes the blessing and the curse that’s set before them, he speaks with authority about what will happen. They’ll rebel against God and travel the road of the curse. However, before Moses ever led this nation he followed God. Through the years he’s gotten to know the Almighty in ways that no other person of his generation has. Even as Moses speaks with authority about failure, he speaks with equal authority about the grace of God. This man of God is sure of this: when they turn back to God the Lord will be waiting to restore them. Clearly, though, there’s more than restoration here. There’s also transformation. The ultimate fulfillment of this promise will come with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. God, the Holy Spirit, will come to “cut away” that which handicaps people from fully loving the Lord. In that work of grace, his people will be set free to love God with their whole being. That’s the way to really live.
Take Away: The Lord not only delivers people from the slavery of sin. He also transforms them, changing them as deep as their very hearts.
Taking care of business
Deuteronomy 29: God will take care of the hidden things but the revealed things are our business.
Moses has been outlining the terms of the “blessing and the curse” for his congregation. He warns them that what happens along that line is up to them. God has already laid out his intentions for them, and it’s perfectly possible for them, by God’s grace, to live up to them all. Still, there’s much they don’t know. Once they cross the Jordan River they’ll encounter new obstacles and challenges. It’s here that we find this shining gem of both a promise and a charge. If they do their part, God can be counted on to do his. Without doing too much damage to this statement, I can pull it out of context and be warmed by its promise. If I’m not careful, I’ll spend way too much energy worrying about the “hidden things.” God says, “You pay attention to the things you know are your responsibility and I’ll take care of the rest.” That, my friend, is a very good deal!
Take Away: My accountability ends with the extent of my knowledge, but I’d better remember that that accountability is real and I am responsible before God.
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.
Renewal of vows
Deuteronomy 26: You’ve renewed your vows today that God is your God…today God has reaffirmed that you are dearly held treasure.
As a pastor I’ve officiated at several renewals of marriage vows ceremonies. In some cases it’s a landmark wedding anniversary, like the 50th. In others, couples just feel that they want to publicly reaffirm their commitment to one another. A renewal of wedding vows doesn’t make a couple any more married; it’s just a way to celebrate what already exists. That’s the feeling I get from this passage. God’s people renew their vows to God and he responds by reaffirming that he loves and treasures them. This also works on a personal level. It makes sense that I find occasions to restate my vows to the Lord — and what a blessing it is when he responds, telling me that he, too, treasures our relationship.
Take Away: It’s a good idea for believers to sometimes restate their vows to the Lord.
Let’s make a deal
Deuteronomy 25: Don’t carry around with you two weights.
This portion of Deuteronomy is a grab bag of varied topics. Some of them are pretty hard to read as they deal with stuff like fluid emissions, forced marriage, and rape. Others strike me as mostly curious. The prohibition against plowing with an ox and a donkey yoked together and the one against wearing clothes of mixed fabrics comes to mind. Then there are the practical ones like what to do if a farmer finds his neighbor’s ox loose and wandering around, rules for charging interest on loans, and the prohibition on carrying differing weights. This is a simple call to honesty. An individual doing business isn’t to have two weights that he claims are the same but are actually different. A dishonest person might reach into bag and grab the heavier weight when purchasing, say, some silver. Then, when selling it, he might use an identical, lighter weight to measure the weight of the silver. That way he gets more silver than he paid for, and then cheats the buyer by selling less than what is shown on the scales. The Lord says, “don’t do that – instead, be honest in your dealings with everyone.” Some of the stuff in these chapters feels dated and even a bit weird. However, a call to honesty in business speaks to every person who’s ever filled out a tax return or sold a used car. In all of business God’s people are free to make the best deal they can; that is, so long as it’s an honest deal.
Take Away: Honesty is the best (and blessed) policy.
Just do it
Deuteronomy 23: If you don’t make a vow in the first place, there’s no sin. If you say you’re going to do something, do it.
Reading through the middle part of Deuteronomy causes me to feel like I’m back in Leviticus with all of its rules and regulations. Still, there are some gems to be found along the way. When talking about vows, the words of Moses feel a bit more like one is reading in the books of Wisdom than the Law. Here, I’m reminded that it’s easier to make promises than it is to keep them. I’ve heard young people make big claims about what they’re going to do. One said she was going to be a lawyer and another said he was going to enter the ministry. They had big plans and I believe they were sincere about them. However, they first had to work through the smaller details like getting out of bed and going to class each day. I understand that Moses is talking about vows made to God here but I see that to great extent even vows made to God are first vows a person makes to oneself. “This is worth doing, and I’m going to do it.” That works whether I’m talking about doing something for the Lord, or pursing some life goal, or living in harmony with those around me. The council here isn’t against making promises. Instead, it’s about making promises worth keeping and then keeping them.
Take Away: Don’t avoid making promises, just be sure the promises are worth keeping.
The water’s fine, come on in
Deuteronomy 20: Don’t waver in resolve. Don’t fear. Don’t hesitate. Don’t panic. God, your God, is right there with you.
A dad is teaching his son to swim and his approach is quite reasonable. Dad doesn’t relax on the lounge chair and tell his son, “If you need me, I’ll be right here.” Instead, Dad gets into the pool and then beckons his son, “Come on in, I’m right here and I’ll help you.” Moses is instructing the spiritual leaders of the people of Israel. Soon these people will cross the Jordan River and engage the armies of the nations of Canaan. They’ll be outnumbered and will face experienced armies in numerous battles. Moses instructs the spiritual leaders of the land to prepare God’s people for battle by encouraging them to be strong and courageous. The reason for confidence is that God is going into the battle with them. Moses is about to depart but the Lord isn’t going anywhere. Instead, thick or thin, he’ll be with them all the way. God is never a sideline spectator to our lives. Of course he’s near when things are going well. He’s also near in the darkness of night. As my spirit trembles he reaches out to me, reassuring me that it’ll be okay because he’s right here and he’ll help me through it all.
Take Away: Everything in life changes, but God remains faithful.