34. One Place

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 34 :  One Chosen Place of Worship

(Focus: Deut 12:8-32)

Deut 12:8-10 You are not to do as we do here today, everyone as he sees fit, since you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the LORD your God is giving you. But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety.

Moses has just laid down the requirement that Israel are to clear the land of all signs of past pagan worship and are to only worship before the Lord in one place – where the Tabernacle will be set up. Now he reiterates and expands on that. At the present time, while on the move, they could not follow all the procedures being laid down in the Law for worship, but once they move into and settle in the Land, things will be different.

Once in the Land there will be just that one place to worship:Then to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name…” (v.11) As we noted before, they are not worship the Lord how they like, when they like. It is to be at the one prescribed place. “there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the LORD. And there rejoice before the LORD your God, you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns, who have no allotment or inheritance of their own.” (v.11,12) These will be the various expressions of their worship and celebration and the instruction is very clear: “Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. Offer them only at the place the LORD will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you.” (v.13,14) Although the instruction was so clear, is also becomes clear when you observe the history of Israel, especially after the land is divided after Solomon, that the Law was not being taught and this particular requirement was ignored and opened the way up to idol worship.

But then there are instructions about ordinarily eating meat at home: “Nevertheless, you may slaughter your animals in any of your towns and eat as much of the meat as you want, as if it were gazelle or deer, according to the blessing the LORD your God gives you. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it. But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water.” (v.15,16)  i.e. eat at home as much as you like but don’t drink the blood in the meat because, as it says elsewhere, that represents the life of the animal and is to be respected.

However, by contrast, anything that you decide to offer to the Lord must not be eaten at home but only at the chosen place: “You must not eat in your own towns the tithe of your grain and new wine and oil, or the firstborn of your herds and flocks, or whatever you have vowed to give, or your freewill offerings or special gifts. Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the LORD your God at the place the LORD your God will choose–you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns–and you are to rejoice before the LORD your God in everything you put your hand to.” (v.17,18)  What is set aside to be offered to the Lord, whether in penance, thanksgiving or celebration, must only be consumed at the chosen place for otherwise (implied)  it will start to be like the pagan worship of the Land as it is at present, and will soon degenerate into pagan, idol worship. There is also a reminder to take care of the tribe that is in charge of the Tabernacle: “Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land.” (v.19).

The following verses simply reiterate what he has already just said: if you want to eat at home that’s fine (v.20-22) but don’t drink the blood (v.23-25). However that which you have set aside for the Lord, must only be consumed at the chosen place (v.26-27). This is followed by a further call to obedience (v.28) and a promise that the Lord will drive the inhabitants out before them (v.29). Once that has happened they are to make sure they don’t drift towards seeking their gods (v.30) or even worshipping the Lord in various places like they did (v.31) for their worship was detestable or terrible, even involving sacrificing their children (v.31b). Israel, heed all this just as it is! (v.32)

This is a long and strong exhortation not to have a form of religion where each person did their own thing where they liked. To counter that, their religion was to be holy and observed at the Tabernacle, to stop there being any wrong forms of worship.  The truth is important and it is that there is just one God who is worthy of worship and they are to show that by the way they worship. The form of worship reveals much about both worshipper and the One worshipped.


33. Established Religion

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 33 :  Established Religion

(Focus: Deut 12:1-7)

Deut 12:1,4 These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess–as long as you live in the land. ….. You must not worship the LORD your God in their way.

There is something very specific about the instructions that Moses now gives, something that we have seen again and again but not made much note of. It is that the laws that he is sharing are for this nation in THIS specific land. The rest of the world may be doing something quite different but in THIS land this is how Israel are to live. It is this thing about them being a unique nation in the world, and they are unique because of their relationship with the Lord and because of the guide rules (the Law) that He has given them to follow as they establish their life as a nation in this particular piece of land.

Note also the use of the words, “decrees and laws”. A decree is simply a royal declaration of intent. For instance we have said that a “blessing” is God’s decree of good and a “curse” is God’s decree of bad. When God ‘decrees’ something it is a statement of His sovereign will, which WILL then happen. A law is simply a rule that is to be followed. So God decrees His will and expresses it in the form of individual rules or laws that Israel are to follow. All of the blessings and curses of chapter 28 are examples of decrees.

Note also that the call is for them to “be careful to follow” all these decrees and laws “as long as you live in the land”. These are for the whole of their existence. They are not just for the first couple of years; they are for all time that they are this nation in this land. Then comes the specific things that Moses has in mind and in this part of his speaking: it is all about their worship or their religion (I am using ‘religion’ here to denote the way they express their faith and their obedience to God) when they go into the land. First of all it is about establishing it: Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.” (v.2,3)

We saw this exact same command in chapter 7 which was followed by the reason for it: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (7:6) Part of that is similar to what we have above when Moses speaks of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess.” It is a reminder that they are what they are and where they are because of the Lord. They belong to Him and owe their existence there to Him, and they are to stick to him and not succumb to the worship practice of the occultic, pagan, idol worshippers in the land. To ensure they do that they are to remove every sign of their religious practices from the land the moment they enter it.

Moses sums it up: “You must not worship the LORD your God in their way.” This is both a summary of God’s intent and a preamble to what is about to come. They are not to follow the practices of the people of this land in any way. Now comes a specific way that their worship is going to be very different: “But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go.” (v.5). This is going to be where the Tabernacle is going to be set up. The big difference is that they are only going to have ONE place of worship whereas the occupiers of the land worshipped all over the place, making their own religion.

No, with God, it is going to be clearly established that they will go to the Tabernacle and “there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you.” (v.6,7) In the book of Leviticus Moses has enumerated all the laws regarding how to bring sacrifices and offerings and hold feasts to the Lord.

These are the very basic ‘ground rules’ for their worship of the Lord. Worship was expressed formally first, not as singing (although David later established that) but as bringing offerings as a tangible expression of their love for God, or sacrifices as a tangible expression of their penitence when they had done wrong. A number of times a year they would gather to worship the Lord in the form of celebrations of the Lord’s goodness. These were the ‘feasts’. These ways would be at the heart of their worship. It is clearly prescribed activity to be the expression of their hearts. No longer do we have such offerings and sacrifices for Jesus has become THE sacrifice and no longer are they needed, but today our hearts are still to be the arbiter of our worship. If it is not heart worship, it is not worship. That bears thinking about!


32. Blessing or Curse

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 32 :  Blessing or Curse

(Focus: Deut 11:26-32)

Deut 11:26-28 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse– the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known

Actions ALWAYS have consequences. That isn’t a spiritual law as such; it is just how life works. I eat too much food and I get fat. It can be applied to every facet of life: what we do has consequences. When it comes to the Lord though, it takes on a new dimension.  Some people think God is a distant God who just leaves this world to get on by itself. Not so!   The apostle wrote those familiar words, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7,8) There is the fundamental spiritual principle: you reap what you sow! What Paul’s verse doesn’t tell us is whether God will take action or it will just be a ‘natural’ consequence.

We say this in the light of a new subject that Moses is introducing to Israel. The detail of this will not come until chapter 28 but it seems fairly obvious from a glance at that chapter that what we are now talking about is a promise of intervention by God to match the circumstances. It is very simple; there are two possibilities: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse.” (v.26)  Hullo, Israel might have thought, pricking up their ears, what is this? So he continues: “the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God.” (v.27,28a)  There it is in its simplest form.

Even if we didn’t know what it entailed in detail, it is fairly obvious: a blessing sounds good and a curse sounds bad! The good follows obedience and the bad follows disobedience. The disobedience is likely to have another dimension to it: “and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.” (v.28b). If they turn away from God’s commands it is almost certainly because they are turning to the superstitious worship of their neighbours.  If they do that God is going to act against them.

Silly and thoughtless crusading atheists and their followers of the twenty first century talk about a harsh God who acts spitefully against Israel, but nothing could be further from the truth. Whenever God acts through a curse, i.e. a decree of bad, it is part of His process to draw Israel back into a place where they can live in the good of all that He intends for the earth. It is only sin that stops us receiving this. Read the book of Judges and you see this happening again and again. In fact more often than not it is simply God stepping back from Israel when they turn from Him, and that leaves them vulnerable to the sinful desires and acts of their pagan neighbours who then come and attack them.

For the moment though, Moses is simply setting up what is to happen when they enter the Promised Land: “When the LORD your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess….” (v.29a) Yes, this is not for now but for once they are in the Land.  Once you are there, “you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.” (v.29b) He clarifies where this is: “As you know, these mountains are across the Jordan, west of the road, toward the setting sun, near the great trees of Moreh, in the territory of those Canaanites living in the Arabah in the vicinity of Gilgal.” (v.30) Within the land there are these two ‘mountains’ that are quite close to each other and so one party will go up one and another party go up the other and the one group will declare loudly the blessings and the other party, on the other mountain top, the curses. They are sufficiently close and creating echoes so that everyone will hear. It is also like they are declaring these things over the whole land. They are declaring God’s future conditional decrees over the whole land.

Yes, do note that in passing: they are decrees by God to bring either good or bad, and they are conditional on the behaviour of Israel. Be a godly people following all of God’s guidance and your inheritance is guaranteed good!  That is a principle that is true for every person on earth. But the opposite is also true: be a self-centred and godless individual and your inheritance is guaranteed bad. The trouble is that so many people get so used to living with the bad, that they don’t even realise that it is bad or that there is a possible alternative! That is the folly of Sin!

So Moses had added yet a further command to all else that they have received and so that requires a further encouragement to be obedient: “You are about to cross the Jordan to enter and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you. When you have taken it over and are living there, be sure that you obey all the decrees and laws I am setting before you today.” (v.31,32) Every time there is a further instruction, there is a further encouragement to obey brought with it. Every instruction is to be seen in the context of going into and inheriting the Land. For us today, every instruction that we may find in the New Testament (and there are many) is seen in the light of all the good that God wants to bring us as the outworking of the work of Christ on the Cross.  Let’s not let Sin rob us of it!


31. Anchor it!

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 31 :  Anchor it!

(Focus: Deut 11:16-25)

Deut 11:18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

In the past I have watched steel frame buildings being put up. Large concrete pads are set in the ground with a number of bolt holes set in them with long bolts set in the concrete but given a little room for play so that steel base plates are located over them and the plates are bolted down. The base plates are already welded to the bottom end of the steel column. Thus the bolts anchor the column and so the entire framework of the building so that it is utterly fixed in place and nothing can move it. I believe these early chapters of Deuteronomy are just like those anchor bolts, and they anchor Israel in their relationship with the Lord. Even as many bolts hold down the structure so many times the same things are said in these early chapters.

Thus previously we read, These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deut 6:6-9) which finds its echo in our present verses.

Moses starts this section with a warning: “Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.” (v.16) Previously we read, “And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars–all the heavenly array–do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.” (Deut 4:19) When someone is enticed they are attracted by the lure of something. The attraction of ‘other religions’ is that they are ones in which man is in command. They are self-centred and godless. God will not let His people do that: Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.” (v.17) Why will the Lord do that? To catch the people’s attention afresh so that they will cry out to Him again and return to Him. We see that happening again and again in the book of Judges.

So, says Moses once more, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” (v.18) Anchor these words in your hearts and your mind. Let your will and your intellect be guided by them; may they be obvious and come to your attention at every point of life: “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.” (v.19-21)  The laws that Moses reiterates in this book are to form a central focus of the life of Israel both now and in all future generations. To achieve that they would need to present them to their children and show them the relevance of all the laws in every aspect of life. These aren’t laws just for ‘Sundays’; they are laws that cover all of life, seven days a week and there is no area of life that is outside them.

So, again looking forward Moses declares, If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow….  then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. Every place where you set your foot will be yours: Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the western sea. No man will be able to stand against you. The LORD your God, as he promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go.” (v.22-25). Note the “if – then” structure, a condition and a promise. Complete obedience is the condition and complete occupation of the Land is the promise.

But we’ve taken some words out of those verses that come at the end of the first verse: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him.” This how you observe these commands, by love! We’ve seen it before and it is a call for heart and mind to be given over to God, a life moved by the love and wonder of the One we are called to follow. Yes, in the Old Testament the call was to follow the Law, follow the rules, but the heart of that call was still love – and it still is. The apostle John wrote, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10). We love God because He loved us first. He IS love and we have received of it. THIS is why we love.


30. You’ll see it

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 30 :  You’ll see it

(Focus: Deut 11:8-15)

Deut 11:8,9 Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land that the LORD swore to your forefathers to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey.

We have commented before that Moses encourages and exhorts by looking back and by looking forward. In the first seven verses of chapter 11 he looked back to remind them of what they had seen and heard. Now he exhorts and encourages by looking forward to them going in an taking the land.

He starts it off with this intriguing instruction: observe all the commands so that “you may have the strength to go in and take over the land.” Now why should obedience to the laws bring them strength and courage? Well, first, there may be a psychological dimension to that. When you feel good about something you feel strong and capable. If they feel good about their relationship with the Lord, then that may naturally give them a good feeling that is expressed in strength and courage. The second thing, is that it may well be that when they are in a close relationship with the Lord, He is able to impart strength to them. Years later in the book of Judges we see a number of times that when the Spirit of the Lord came upon a man it brought physical strength and courage. The power and presence of the Lord did bring literal changes to a man.

But there is also a second part to the outworkings of obedience:so that you may live long in the land” Obedience will also bring the blessing of security and long life. If they stick to God’s design rules, the Law,  then the Lord will look after them and protect them in the land, and grant them long healthy lives.

Now note that as soon as he starts mentioning the Land, he moves into descriptive mode, saying encouraging things about this land. First of all it is a land flowing with milk and honey.” Milk comes from the cattle they keep while honey comes from the bees that make it from the lushness of the plant life in the land. These are shorthand descriptions of a land that is good, fruitful and bountiful. This is a good land! Then he makes a comparison again: “The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden.” (v.10)  This land, he continues, is going to be different from Egypt. There to create plant life you had to walk the land to cultivate it and water it. Water was not plentiful so you had to carry it to your plants like a vegetable garden. It was hard work, but this new land is going to be different: “the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. (v.11,12) No, this new land is quite different. It has mountains and valleys and rainfall and that means plenty of vegetation, lush vegetation. It’s a land that receives the blessing of God on it from one end of the year to the other. This is a very different land from that which they have experienced so far; it’s going to be a really good land.

The end product of their obedience will be the promise of the Lord’s ongoing blessing on it: “then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.” (v.14,15) Rain in two seasons will mean it is truly a bountiful land and that for a farmer can be equated with riches and well-being. That is the promise of this new land, that is what they have got to look forward to. But of course it IS conditional on their obedience so that “you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today–to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (v.13)

Now when you consider all the wonderful pictures of the land that have just been painted, there shouldn’t  need to be a stick to drive them to obedience, the wonder of this provision should be adequate motivation to help them along. It is not as if the laws are difficult, for they are not. Similarly today, if people grumble about ‘having to keep rules’ it simply means that they have not understood the wonder of the provision of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. The wonder of God’s love – when we have eyes to see it – should be more than enough to help us live holy and righteous lives. Indeed, the ‘rules’ of the New Testament are really all different expressions of loving God and loving your fellow man, and once you see the wonder of God’s love, expressing that love back and outwards to others is not difficult. it is not onerous being a child of God; it is a wonderful blessing! Hallelujah!


29. You saw it!

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 29 :  You saw it

(Focus: Deut 11:1-7)

Deut 11:2,7 Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the LORD your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm ….. But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the LORD has done.

Testimony takes on responsibility. When you have seen something yourself you have a responsibility to the truth. Testimony is very powerful and many of us don’t realise just how powerful it is. THIS is what happened! I often say it but it bears repeating, the blind man’s testimony in John 9 is brilliant: He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (Jn 9:25)  You really can’t challenge that sort of straight forward testimony!  I think the apostle John’s own testimony is equally powerful: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard.” (1 Jn 1:1-3)

So Moses starts out this chapter with a call to love God and obey Him: “Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always,” (11:1) and to further reinforce and encourage them he makes this long statement about their testimony which begins and ends as follows: Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the LORD your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm ….. But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the LORD has done.” You have no excuse is what he is subtly saying, you have seen and heard all this so you know who it is you are following.

Previously Moses had said something very similar but there it had been in respect of the Sinai experience: “It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain.” (5:3,4) No, they were the ones who have seen and heard everything at mount Sinai. Now he refers them back to what had happened in Egypt.

Moses spells this out, all that they saw: “the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country; what he did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots, how he overwhelmed them with the waters of the Red Sea as they were pursuing you, and how the LORD brought lasting ruin on them.” (11:3,4). Note this time he does take them right back to the incredible events in Egypt. It’s not just the Sinai experience but everything that went before it. You saw all that! It was one of the most incredible episodes in history – God versus a king! But is wasn’t only that, it was also what followed in the desert after coming out of Egypt and after Sinai: “It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the desert until you arrived at this place, and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them. But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the LORD has done.” (11:5-7)

Yes, YOU saw all these things and they should be well and truly fixed in your memories. There is absolutely no question who it is you are following. There can be no saying you didn’t know who He was or what He was like. You have no excuse possible for not obeying Him now! The call to remember is a familiar call in the whole Bible. That in itself it something we may take for granted but when you are called to remember something it is a call to recollect something that actually happened in time-space history, that happened earlier in your life; it is an appeal to remember events that occurred or things that were said in your presence.

I have this feeling that many of us forget the wonder of what has happened to us and now take it for granted. We forget what we used to be like, we forget the experience we had of coming to the Lord, we forget the incredible change that took place then, and we forget the many answers to prayer or other experiences of the Lord we have had since! In our memories there are possibly hundreds of things to do with the Lord, things that have happened to us in the years of our experience of Him. Maybe we need to sit down and quietly go back over our history and bring to remembrance those many things. If we did that we would be strengthened and be given much cause to praise Him. Why not do it today!


28. Walk in His Ways

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 28 :  Walk in His Ways

(Focus: Deut 10:1-29)

Deut 10:12,13 And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

Yet again Moses reminds Israel of their history with the Lord. He reminds them that after the first two stone tablets had been smashed, he had had to make two new ones and an ark or wooden chest in which to keep them (10:1-3) and the Lord wrote on them as before (10:4). Then they had travelled on and Aaron had died (10:6), then further on when the Lord set apart the Levites to carry the ark (10:7-9). On the mountain he had pleaded with the Lord not to destroy them and the Lord allowed them to go to enter the land. (10:10,11) After reminding them yet again of that, Moses calls them again to comprehensively follow the Lord (v.12,13 above). Observe the language.

Attitude fear your God, have a right respect for His awesomeness. Actionwalk in all His ways. Let your daily lifestyle conform to His will for you. Heart commitmentlove him. Heart expression serve Him. Assessment of both – wholeheartedly and being obedient. Note that the complementary attitudes of fear and love and seen to be there by the willingness to serve and obey the Lord.   Service and obedience are the measure of the heart. Yet, one must add, that a cold obedience and service is NOT what is being asked of Israel; it is to be a relationship of love.

The apostle John had this in mind when he wrote, We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:3-6) i.e. a genuine relationship of love with the Lord is expressed by obedience to all the New Testament says, and to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Failure in these areas raises questions as to the reality of the relationship.

So, Moses has appealed to the memory of the recent past to encourage Israel to be obedient to their calling by the Lord. But he wants to yet enlarge their understanding of the Lord: “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” (v.15). The Lord who delivered them out of Egypt and drew near to them at Sinai and who provided for them and disciplined them, is the Creator of the World. Everything in all of Creation belongs to Him. That is His greatness which makes all the more marvellous what has happened to them: “Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today.” (v.15) He isn’t a distant God somewhere ‘out there’ but He has drawn near to them to enter into relationship with them.

But Israel have a problem that has been revealed by their past behaviour that Moses spoke about in Chapter 9 (which reaches its conclusion here): “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.” (v.16) A little bit of mixed metaphors here! Cut out from your hearts the hardness that is there so that you will no longer be arrogant and rebellions (stiff-necked).

But there is another aspect to this particular problem: “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.” (v.17)  God is both holy (utterly different) and righteous (always behaving absolutely rightly).  The implication is that He will not tolerate their rebellious attitudes any longer. He is a good God and He looks for goodness in them: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.” (v.18,19)

So, he concludes, “Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.” (v.20,21). Stick close to God, He is the cause of all praise for He is God who has done great things for you, summed up as, “Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.” (v.22) God has done what He said to Abraham. He is faithful to His word and Israel are the proof of it. Now live it out!


27. Learn from Failures

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 27 :  Learn from your Failures

(Focus: Deut 9:7-29)

Deut 9:7 Remember this and never forget how you provoked the LORD your God to anger in the desert. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the LORD

In the previous passage Moses has just pointed out to Israel that God had chosen them, not because of their righteousness, because in fact they had been a stubborn people, and stubbornness is not righteousness.  The remainder of the chapter justifies that statement! Moses takes them back to remember all that has gone on in the past but this time it is to make this particular point: realise your very existence is down to the grace and mercy of God, not down to any merit you might think you have.  So, he starts out, think about this and remember you have provoked the Lord all the way along the line from Egypt’s deliverance right through to the present day!

Let’s ignore the Exodus (implied) and start with Horeb or Mount Sinai: At Horeb you aroused the LORD’s wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you.” (v.8) He then recounts how he had gone up on the mountain for forty days and received the Ten Commandments (v.9-11) but at the end of that time, “Then the LORD told me, “Go down from here at once, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have become corrupt. They have turned away quickly from what I commanded them and have made a cast idol for themselves.” (v.12) The Lord had seen the episode of the golden calf (v.16), “And the LORD said to me, “I have seen this people, and they are a stiff-necked people indeed! Let me alone, so that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they.” (v.13,14). Moses had pleaded for them (v.18-21) and only a limited number had died.

But then they had also grumbled at Taberah (v.22 – see Num 11:1-4) and again at Massah (v.22) over lack of water (see Ex 17:3-7)  and at Kibroth Hattaavah (v.22) over lack of food (see Num 11:31-35). Those had just been some of the times when Israel had provoked the Lord by their lack of trust in Him despite having seen His miraculous power at work for them. Then he reminds them of their failure at Kadesh Barnea, where he had said, “Go up and take possession of the land I have given you.” but “you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. You did not trust him or obey him.” (v.23)

Indeed, he concludes, “You have been rebellious against the LORD ever since I have known you.” (v.24)  Wow, what a condemnation! But it was true. He tells again how he had laid before the Lord forty days pleading for them (v.25,26). He had reminded the Lord about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (v.27) and pleaded for Israel, “Overlook the stubbornness of this people, their wickedness and their sin. Otherwise, the country from which you brought us will say, `Because the LORD was not able to take them into the land he had promised them, and because he hated them, he brought them out to put them to death in the desert.’ But they are your people, your inheritance that you brought out by your great power and your outstretched arm.” (v.27-29)  His only grounds for pleading for Israel before the Lord was the fact that the Lord had promised the Patriarchs that He would make a great people out of them, and this is what had happened.  Surely God’s plan had not been to then destroy them after all that had gone before!

Thus Moses came to understand the Lord’s plan; as he pleaded he came to realise it. Yes, there would be discipline, yes there would be judgments, but the Lord sought to maintain most of the people, for His plan was to take them into the Promised Land and make them a light to the rest of the world.

But fundamental to all of this was the need for Israel to respond to the Lord and completely trust Him. Indeed, surely Moses is trying to convince them that the Lord is for them. After all they have given Him so many causes to destroy them or cast them off and start again with someone else, that the truth must be that He is utterly committed to them.

Isn’t this the same truth today, with the fuller revelation of His love that has been revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ? Isn’t that famous verse, Jn 3:16, the very proof of this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” God’s love for the world was expressed in His sending His one and only Jesus to live here and die here for our sins.  Can there be any question that God loves us and is for us, when you look at and think about this verse. That is why the apostle Paul could end Romans 8 with that declaration that is basically summed up as ‘nothing but nothing can separate from the love of God.’ God is for us, totally for us and He’s not going to let anything keep that love away from us. We may reject it, as many do, but it will be there for the taking – always! Hallelujah!


26. Why this history

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 26 :  Why this History

(Focus: Deut 9:4-6)

Deut 9:4 After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you.

When God calls us or blesses us, there is a temptation to think we have some merit that has caused Him to do it. I have concluded after many years of thinking about this, that the only reason the Lord saves us (apart, obviously, from His love) is because He sees what He can do for us and with us; He sees that we are people who will surrender to Him and in our place of surrender, He can take us and lead us and use us and bless us and change us more in to the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. Your only merit is your ability to surrender! The apostle Paul wrote, He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him,” (1 Cor 1:28,29)  and then, For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor 4:7) i.e. God chose you because you were weak and you are what you are because of all that He has given you. We have absolutely no grounds for boasting!

Previously Moses had said to Israel, “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery.” (Deut 7:7,8)  No Israel, you are what you are, and chosen by God, NOT because you were big and powerful because in fact you are a small nation. It was God’s love and His desire to express good-will towards a nation that He chose you and, perhaps in the light of what we have read in the New Testament, because they had been weak and desperate as slaves.

Thus now Moses seeks to put their call into perspective again. Don’t say the Lord is doing this because we are a righteous people because, in fact, he will conclude this paragraph with “for you are a stiff-necked people.” Oh no, it will be despite you that you will go in and triumph!  No, the primary reason that is now given for what is taking place is because God is going to deal with a bunch of very wicked nations and bring judgment on them and end their national status by either driving them out of the land or utterly destroying them – and He’s going to use Israel to achieve that. In fact, as we’ve noted before, it goes right back to Abraham etc., (the oath he swore to your forefathers), to promises that the Lord made to bring blessing to them, their families and their future people, and part of that included dealing with a very ungodly, unrighteous, occult-driven, pagan, idol-worshipping part of the world! (see Gen 15:12-16)

Moses presses the point: “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you.” (9:5). One commentary declares, “Just how sinful many Canaanite religious practices were is now known from archaeological artifacts and from their own epic literature, discovered at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) on the north Syrian coast beginning in 1929. Their “worship” was polytheistic and included child sacrifice, idolatry, religious prostitution and divination.” That was the ‘wickedness’ of the inhabitants of Canaan. It had got to such a point that it was in danger of polluting the earth and so the time had come for the Lord to deal with it. That was part of the package that involved Israel! They were to be the instrument that dealt with this people.

If we hadn’t been sure about the reference just now to “the oath that he swore to your forefathers”, Moses explains it further: “to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (9:5) As we noted just now, this was a promise that their families would inherit this land and at the same time bring judgment on a people who were sinking deeper and deeper into sin which was reaching its peak at this time. It is now time for them to be dealt with.

So, he concludes, “Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” This is not all about you and about how good you are, for indeed, history has shown how you are a rebellious and stubborn people who have a knack of getting it wrong!  The history of the people of Israel, in a nutshell, simply reveals that sinful mankind can’t get it right even when God talks to them and gives them guidance – it needs something much more to deliver the human race from its Sin; it needs the work of Jesus on the Cross and the Holy Spirit’s empowering and changing power today. Nothing less than this means we keep on in our foolish and sinful ways!


25. God will do it

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 25 :  God will do it

(Focus: Deut 9:1-3)

Deut 9:1-3 Hear, O Israel. You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky. The people are strong and tall–Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: “Who can stand up against the Anakites?” But be assured today that the LORD your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the LORD has promised you.

Moses, we have been saying, has been encouraging Israel to stick close to God and obey all His laws as they prepare to go in and take the Promised Land. He has used a variety of methods of encouraging them. He has looked back and reminded them of the wonderful things the Lord has done for them, taking them out of Egypt, meeting with them at Sinai, providing for them in the desert for forty years and recently defeating two opposing kings. That was all looking back. But he has also looked forward and spoken of the wonder of this land that they have been promised which, in comparison to the desert they have been wandering in for forty years, is going to be truly wonderful. The future looks good. Now that is all very well but there is a problem: before they can enjoy the land they have to get rid of its inhabitants, so Moses is going to eyeball this problem and, by confronting it, focus Israel well and truly on the Lord again.

Chapter 9 starts with another of these “Hear O Israel passages. These aren’t just words, they are a strong call for Israel to pay attention – this is particularly important. Sometimes a preacher may ask a congregation to pay particular attention as he comes to a particular part of his sermon; he wants everyone to focus on a key point. What Moses is about to say is vital to Israel’s understanding.

He faces the problem full on: You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky. The people are strong and tall–Anakites!!” Yes, let’s face it, the nations in this land are bigger and stronger than you – and you know it! They have got some big cities with thick, high walls and there are people in the land known to be strong and tall. Yes, all of this is true and (implied) I wouldn’t try to mislead you over this. Yes, I know some of these people have a reputation – that is the truth.

Right, having got over that, let’s also face the bigger truth – and THIS is THE important bit! be assured today that the LORD your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you.” When you go into the Land you will only be following the Lord. He is going ahead of you and He is going to deal with the occupants before you. Please understand that – God will have gone ahead of you to prepare the way so all that will be left for you to do is drive them out and annihilate them quickly, Note there is a third reference to driving out the occupants. The role of Israel is to push the people out ahead of them.

When we see what happens in the book of Joshua, we see that it is the fear of the Lord that goes ahead of them, it is the fear of the Lord that takes all their strength away and subdues them. Some will have run and left the land before this terrible force that is coming (as they see it) and some come over to them (Rahab, her family [Josh 2 & 6] and the Gibeonites [Josh 9]). Others who opposed Israel, died in battle. Others remained in the Land despite the Lord’s original instructions.

The big issue here is who it is who is going to be responsible for dealing with the occupants of the Land: it is first the Lord and then the people of Israel. Remember David’s words to Saul before going out to confront Goliath: “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Sam 17:37). David knew that it was going to be the Lord who was going to cause Goliath’s downfall, yet it was going to be David himself who threw the stone that killed him. When Jesus came to deal with and ‘destroy’ death in the case of Lazarus, he instructed the people to play a part: “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.” (Jn 11:38,39)

Again and again we find in Scripture this order: we do something at the Lord’s bidding and then He causes the change.  He does what we cannot do but we have to do what He calls us to do.  Paul referred to himself as God’s fellow worker, or co-worker (1 Cor 3:9). He knew his part; he worked alongside God. Jesus indicated the same thing: “Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working….. I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:17,19). THAT is how it works. The Father has the power and the wisdom; we are simply His instruments through which He wants His Holy Spirit to flow. Got the picture?