The ultimate Prophet
Deuteronomy 18: God, your God, is going to raise up a prophet for you…a prophet like me.
It’s the nature of things for people to want a “word from the Lord.” Even when all the other aspects of religion are established and operating we want to hear from the Lord. In this passage Moses addresses this. The priests are doing their jobs and the Levites are in place but Moses knows that without the “prophetic voice” that the people will be tempted to turn to the occult in an effort to touch something, someone, beyond themselves. In addressing this issue, and as a true prophet himself, Moses speaks beyond his own knowledge. He understands that the Lord is promising to send someone who will speak with prophetic authority, but he doesn’t know just how great and complete that Voice will be. Out of their number God will anoint the ultimate prophet. In fact, this prophet will be the very Word of God. Throughout their history, these Hebrew people will hear the message of many prophets, but the ultimate prophet, the One who will proclaim God’s message with absolute authority, is none other than Jesus, the Son of God.
Take Away: In Jesus we not only hear the Word of God, but we meet the Word of God in the flesh.
Deuteronomy 17: Make sure you get yourself a king whom God, your God, chooses.
I’ve read the Bible through several times in my life so I know I’ve read this passage, but it never occurred to me that when the people of Israel demand a king during Samuel’s life that provision was made for it in the giving of the Law. Apparently, wanting a human leader rather than living in a theocracy under the rule of God alone is just human nature. Here, we have the aged Moses going through the worship ground rules with his people and the topic of kings comes up. Moses doesn’t tell them they shouldn’t have a king but he does frame the issue. He says such as desire is the result of their wanting to be like the heathen nations around them. Then he sets up some ground rules for that eventuality. The king must be a part of Israel and he isn’t to spend the resources of Israel in building up a war machine. Nor is he to amass a large harem. He’s to have his own personal copy of the Books of Law that he keeps by his side all the time. The number one requirement is that God, himself, is to pick their king for them. Obviously, hundreds of years later when the people of Israel demand a king these guidelines are only loosely followed. Solomon, in particular, leads the way in building a large army and a large harem. I find it interesting that long before Saul becomes the first king of Israel the Lord, through Moses, gives directions that should have been followed. Had they been followed Israel would have been protected from a lot of the bad stuff we find in the books of the Kings and Chronicles of our Old Testaments. This passage reminds me that God knows what he’s doing and that his ways are best in every eventuality.
Take Away: We always pay a price when we neglect the Lord’s instructions for our lives.
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.
Deuteronomy 13: You are to follow only God…hold on to him for dear life!
Moses says that sometimes other gods look attractive and actually seem to deliver the goods. When that happens we’re tempted to abandon the Lord God and follow the latest trend of society. In fact, Moses says, God allows that to happen to test our love for him. If I’d rather have the latest fad I can have it — but it will be my loss. As a sports fan, I’ve learned that, even though the names of the players change, the game remains the same. With this passage in mind, I’m reminded that, while the latest gods are not the deities of Egypt or Canaan, the game is the same. My loyalty to the Lord God is tested by the lure of the gods of my culture. They seem to deliver the goods, and millions follow these gods named “Pleasure,” “Affluence,” “Success,” “Power,” and “Entertainment,” telling me how wonderful it is. As one of God’s people I must remain ever alert to the subtle influence of that which erodes my loyalty to the one true God. I must “hold on to him for dear life!”
Take Away: Only as we keep our focus on the Lord are we absolutely safe from being swayed by the false gods of our society.
Deuteronomy 13: Do the right thing in the eyes of God, your God.
“Situational ethics: wrong is not always wrong and right is not always right.” “There are no absolutes.” “What’s wrong for you may not be wrong for me.” These are the creeds of our day. Sin is out and self-realization is in. Excuse the poor English, but it ain’t so. We have a Creator who is an ethical Being. He says that no matter who you are, or where (or when) you live, that there are universal standards of right and wrong. These aren’t arbitrary rules made up by some kill joy preacher and they aren’t the result of mere superstition. That isn’t to say that every rule and regulation of the Church is pure and above question. In fact, in this passage I note that Moses doesn’t say, “There are community standards of decency that must be observed.” Rather, he says, “Do the right thing in the eyes of God.” First, that means there are some actions that are always right and some that are always wrong; no matter who, when, or where. Second, it means that God is the Judge of whether or not those standards have been met in our lives. Now, some might take comfort in reminding me that I’m not their judge. That’s fine with me. I have plenty of my own concerns to address. However, it needs to be clearly stated that there is a Judge and each of us is accountable to him.
Take Away: I can’t please everybody, but, for the sake of my own soul, I must please God.
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.
Deuteronomy 9: You’re stubborn as mules.
I doubt the congregation is shouting out, “Amen!” in agreement with Moses’ declaration of their stubbornness, but they know it’s true. Just in case they need reminding, Moses is about to list all the failures of this nation…failures so great that at one point God is ready to just wipe them off the face of the earth. However, this portion of the sermon is more about God’s grace than about their stubbornness. In fact, it might be said that as great as their stubbornness is, God’s grace is greater. This is a story of “big failures but bigger grace.” By the way, the reason I can think about their stubbornness in particularly vivid ways is that I’m no stranger to stubbornness myself. However, that isn’t the end of the story for them or for me because I can also tell you that I am no stranger to grace. Any time grace is given a chance it wins.
Take Away: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!
Deliverance, protection, provision
Deuteronomy 8: If you start thinking to yourselves, “I did all this. All by myself. I’m rich. It’s all mine!” — well, think again.
The topic is God’s past blessings and his promise of future faithfulness. Their history is memorable: deliverance, protection, provisions. God has been good and that should be clear to them. After all, bread literally fell from heaven every day. But that may be the problem. Many of his listeners had not even been born when the bread started falling. A person in his audience can be 40 years old and every day (except on Saturdays) of his or her life they have gone out to collect manna to eat. These blessed people have never seen it any other way. Had you met one and asked them about their clothing: “Say, how long does a shirt last before it has to be replaced?” The response would have been one of confusion: “What do you mean, ‘last’ — I don’t understand the question.” Why? Because their clothing never needed to be replaced — ever! Is it possible that God can be so good to me that I forget that he’s the Source of the blessing in the first place? Once I forget the Source, the next step is for me to start thinking that I somehow deserve credit for it. Moses says that if I start thinking like that — well, I’d better think again.
Take Away: It’s okay to enjoy the blessing as long as I remember the Source of the blessing.
He never has failed me yet
Deuteronomy 8: So it’s paramount that you keep the commandments of God…walk down the roads he shows you and reverently respect him.
The road God has led them down has not always been easy. At times, they’ve been pushed to the limit. Still, in all of it God proved faithful. There has been manna from heaven, perpetual clothes and shoes, and many other direct evidences of God’s steady faithfulness. The fact of the matter is that while their wilderness journey is about to end, there are more times of testing to come. Those same giants that scared their parents off 40 years earlier still live down the road a few miles ahead. The cities are still fortified and the armies there are still superior. Moses says they need to learn from the past as they move to the future. I’m reminded today that sometimes God leads me down roads that scare me to death! Still, as the old song says, “He never has failed me yet.” With that in mind, I walk down the roads he shows me. If he says, “go” that means he’ll go with me and make a way even when I can’t imagine how it can all work out.
Take Away: The Lord never leads us where he doesn’t go with us.