10. Is this it?

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 10.  Is this it?

Heb 11:9   By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.

This is the second of four ‘faith’ things in respect of Abraham that the writer to the Hebrews covers. It is easy to miss it but the fact that Abraham “made his home in the promised land” is quite amazing; we’ll explain as we go along. To get to his new home he has had to leave his old home. It’s rather obvious but important. Home had been Ur. He had grown up there and it was familiar. The thought of going somewhere else is challenging. Will it be similar to here? Will I like it? What will it be like?

Going and being “a stranger in a foreign country” for the first time raises questions in the mind. It is easier today with the Internet able to show you images of that country and there is always plenty of information about whatever country it is you want to find out about. I remember the first time I flew out to Malaysia to teach, part of a team. I really had no idea what to expect. A friend of mine went on a similar ministry trip to Nepal and suffered with culture shock for the first week; it is a very real thing.

So God has told him to go and he set off, stopped at Haran but eventually carried on and he arrives in Canaan. Is this the place God meant for us or have we got to travel some more?

When we talk about God leading us by faith, what are we expecting Him to lead us into? What do we think we are going to find ‘when we arrive’? Do we have expectations, good or not so good? Some things are very simple and so we simply hear and do and that it is and we move on to the next thing, but suppose it is something bigger. Suppose it is moving on to a new job or a new career or, like Abram, a new place that we feel the Lord is leading us to? What were you expecting?  Suppose you find something different from what you were expecting? Consider what happened to Abram. There were three things that would make him wonder.

First he encountered different people: Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” (v.6) Faith so often has to do with people and the question that arises is how will these people respond to me? These are Canaanites and they have different gods, in fact they have gods and I have the One true God? Faith for us so often means interaction with people and the same sort of questions will arise in us. How will these people respond to me? What are they like? Who or what are their gods? How will they respond to my God?

Whatever the questions they ultimately boil down to the same fundamental question – am I in the right place, but somewhere along the line the Lord will bring reassurance: “The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. “ (v.7) Ah, that’s not quite what I expected – my offspring? Well yes, the Lord works on a long-term plan and our part is only a part, there is more to follow always. This step of faith may seem big for us but I have to tell you it is only A step and there are more to follow, but you’re in The Plan and God is with you!

So he’s apparently in the right place and has built an altar to worship the Lord, a sign of permanence, but am I to stay here or move on? Is there more to take in this experience: “From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.” (v.8,9) i.e. he kept going. The second thing about faith here is that we don’t settle! This may have been an amazing experience and I am truly blessed having come through it, but this is not a placer to settle. Faith can grow, our experiences can multiply, our lives can mature, we move on!

So far so good, but, “Now there was a famine in the land.” (v.10)  What? It has suddenly gone pear-shaped. This placed that seemed so good initially suddenly seems to be putting pressure on us. We have a problem. What do we do with it? How do we cope with it? Yes, that is precisely the problem and it is a learning situation we have been presented with. The third thing about faith is that so often the Lord leads us into a learning situation and that may be in the very act of faith or in the circumstances resulting from your act of faith.  The sensible thing at this point would be to ask God for wisdom but Abram is only in the very earliest stages of his relationship with the Lord. He has yet to learn that, and its absence is going to get him into trouble which you’ll see if you read on in Genesis.

For Abram this is only the first part of the fulfilment of God’s words to him. He’s stepped out and followed the leading and left his home land and journeyed to the new land. In the new land he has been exploring what is there but in the course of that he finds himself in trying circumstances. The good news is that although he doesn’t do very well in those trying circumstances the Lord doesn’t give up on him and He doesn’t give up on us as we sometimes stumble around in the waters of faith.

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6.1 Origins

Part 6: The Struggle for Canaan

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

6.1 Origins

Gen 15:16   In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.

Of all the questions I have been asked about God, the one that comes most is why did God instruct Israel to wipe out the inhabitants of Canaan? Not only is that perception inaccurate but the understanding of all that went on is complex because it is covered over quite a wide area of the early books of the Bible. Nevertheless, dealing with the Canaanites, one way or another, was clearly on God’s agenda and if it did involve their destruction – or even some other act – then it could constitute a judgement and we need to consider it here.

Our starting point must be to consider ‘the Promised Land’ in a wider context. Our starting place must be with Abram’s family: Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.” (Gen 11:31) Although the patriarch, Terah, seems to have led the family to leave their home in the area of Mesopotamia, we find that the motivator to do it came from Abram for, “The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1) So Abram and his family (less his father who had died in Haran) end up in the land of Canaan.

Later on in his story we find, “The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.” (Gen 13:14,15) Hence we refer to it as ‘the Promised Land’. God promised Abram that this would be his land and the land of his descendants. Later the Lord reiterates this: “He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” (Gen 15:7) It is as they act out a covenant procedure that our verses above appear.

The name Amorites appears to have been used to cover all the inhabitants. As one dictionary says of the state of Canaan 400 years later, “Just how sinful many Canaanite religious practices were is now known from archaeological artefacts 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.” They had seriously strayed from God’s design for human beings!

So to summarise so far: God took Abram and his family to this land where he lived alongside the other people groups there. Isaac was born there, as was Jacob and although Jacob left there, fleeing from Esau’s wrath, he did finally come back and settle there, only to leave and settle for his final years in Egypt when a famine struck forcing them to go to Egypt for food provided by Joseph. (We considered the Lord using famines in an earlier study). There they stayed until some four hundred years had passed and Israel developed into probably well over a million people who were forced into slavery by the Egyptians.  In the mean time the state of Canaan was getting progressively worse. In fact it would seem that God waited for that people grouping to get so bad that His judgement was essential, and Israel to get so desperate that they would do anything to escape from Egypt.

The entry into Canaan had been postponed for forty years when Israel refused to enter the land initially in a crisis of confidence when the twelve spies returned with their reports of what they found there. Now the forty years has passed and the previous generation (all those over the age of twenty except Caleb and Joshua) had died off. The next generation are now ready to enter the land and so before we see them doing that we will (1) consider the instructions the Lord gave them, (which many people are confused about), and then (2) see how they progressed from their desert wanderings to arrive at the border of the land, before (3) we will finally see how they got on with the task of clearing the land that the Lord had given them. These will make up the next meditations.

There are two issues to be considered in what follows: judgment on the pagan practices in Canaan, and then providing a home for the nation of Israel. Before we finish this one let us note God’s purpose declared again and again. At the burning bush, the Lord said to Moses, “So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey–the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. (Ex 3:8) 

 Later he instructs him to tell the elders of this:  Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, `The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob– appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites–a land flowing with milk and honey.’” (Ex 3:16,17).

Finally before the plagues start He reiterates this: “God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens,” (Ex 6:2-4)before saying what He will do with the Egyptians but ending yet again with the promise: “And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’ ” (v.8)

The scene is well and truly set. God’s intentions are clearly stated. In the next meditation we will see how He intended to do that.

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?

 

19. Hold to God

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 19 :  Hold to God

(Focus: Deut 7:1-6)

Deut 7:1,2 When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations — the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you– and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally

Because we so often have the tendency to miss the main point, I think it is worth reiterating what I said in the previous meditation, that this book is all about Israel’s relationship with the Lord.  Indeed EVERYTHING in this book flows out of that. Perhaps we need to spell it out even more simply, for many of the questions that I receive about Israel’s activities, especially about their taking the Promised Land, would never need be asked if we only understood something of the significance of this and the incredible importance that is attached to it.

Let’s look at the ‘big picture’ – which post-moderns don’t like doing – for therein is actually the truth about life. God created this whole world, the whole universe and indeed everything that is, as an expression of His love and His desire to express His love to sentient beings. He made us in His own image and He gave us free will, the ability to choose. His design was perfect. His assessment of what He had made was “very good”. Yet, nevertheless, the first true man and woman fell from innocence and sinned – they acted godlessly and in a self-centred way. Their experience of this Sin was the experience of every single human being since.

Yet, we said, God had made us to be people who lived in relationship with Him and in accordance with His design for mankind. Thus eventually He chooses Israel to demonstrate the possibility of living in relationship with God, revealing God for who He truly is. To do that, they have been given God’s ‘design-rules’ for them as a nation (the Law), through which they will reveal His wisdom. In addition, when they live in close relationship with Him, He will be able to guide them and help them and generally bless them. If they fail to live in close relationship with Him, none of these things will be possible. That is how crucial these things are.

Thus now Moses comes to speak about the time immediately ahead of them when they enter the Promised Land. Note, first of all, the reference to the Lord ‘driving out’ the inhabitants of the Land. People so often focus on Israel destroying the inhabitants, but God’s first intention, which is repeated MANY times, is to drive the inhabitants out of the land. They do NOT have to die! It is their choice if they do. If they do resist and oppose Israel, THEN, and only then, Israel are to utterly destroy them.

Now consider this for a moment. The present occupants of the Land are pagan, occultic, idol worshippers who even sacrifice their children to their idols. If these people, hearing about God (because the word DID spread ahead of Israel) and knowing Israel’s intent (which became very clear) then go on to resist and refuse to leave the land, what you then have is a people utterly committed to occultic, idol worship living in the midst of Israel and being a constant temptation to them to forsake the Lord. Everything about The Plan for Israel will be threatened if this is allowed to happen. It is for this reason that the command to utterly destroy them is here. Their entire future hangs on this. (In retrospect, we see that they failed to do this and that idolatry was the downfall of Israel, revealing that even a people drawn into relationship with God cannot simply keep the rules; sin is too strong!)

To reinforce this command to destroy, Moses then covers a variety of other possibilities which might have come into the minds of the people:

Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. (7:2-4). There is to be no alternative. No treaties, no marrying their girls. There is a very clear reason why you are not to do this: they will lead you astray from the Lord! It is as simple as that. The Lord knows the weakness of human beings and so seeks to keep us from that which will harm and destroy us.

Even more than this, when Israel go in to the Land, they are to clear out of it all remnants of the occultic idol worship that has continued there for so long: This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. 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.” (7:5,6)  Nothing of this terrible and superstitious and occult-based religion that is there at the present is to remain, for Israel are to be holy – unique among the peoples of the earth. Remember, they are supposed to be showing the rest of the earth a viable and good alternative. THAT is the objective behind these commands and Israel fail to heed them at their cost.

 

 

13. Summary

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 13 :  Summary

(Focus: Deut 4:41-5:5)

Deut 4:44-46 This is the law Moses set before the Israelites. These are the stipulations, decrees and laws Moses gave them when they came out of Egypt and were in the valley near Beth Peor east of the Jordan, in the land of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon and was defeated by Moses and the Israelites as they came out of Egypt.

After four chapters of coming and going, Moses is about to restate the Law that God had given Israel, but we’re not quite there yet. First of all we find that he did set up the three cities of refuge (see Num 35:9-28 for more description): Then Moses set aside three cities east of the Jordan, to which anyone who had killed a person could flee if he had unintentionally killed his neighbor without malice aforethought. He could flee into one of these cities and save his life. The cities were these: Bezer in the desert plateau, for the Reubenites; Ramoth in Gilead, for the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan, for the Manassites.” (v.41-43). While Moses is still with them, he does what is required by the Lord and as this had been spoken of previously, he sets up these three cities while the people are still on the eastern side of the River Jordan. It is part of the general administration of the nation, something to help them in the centuries ahead, and he does it while they are there on that side of the land, before he leaves them.

Then we are given again a reiteration of the fact of King Og having been defeated so that Israel could take all the land to the east of the Jordan: “They took possession of his land and the land of Og king of Bashan, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan. This land extended from Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge to Mount Siyon (that is, Hermon), and included all the Arabah east of the Jordan, as far as the Sea of the Arabah, below the slopes of Pisgah.” (v.47-49). The land to the east of the Jordan has been settled and Israel are in full possession of it. They are ready to enter the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan but before they do, and before Moses dies, Moses has to remind them about the Law.

So it is that we come to the start of his pronouncement about the Lord, beginning yet again with a reminder about the historical background to it: “Moses summoned all Israel and said: Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. 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. (At that time I stood between the LORD and you to declare to you the word of the LORD, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) (Deut 5:1-5)

Note the order. First of all, “Moses summoned all Israel and said….” (v.1a). This is a special unique occasion. He calls all the people together to hear the Law. One would assume that it is simply a continuation of all that has gone before so far in this book, but the emphasis is made that he called the whole nation together to hear.

He is quite simple and straight forward in his intent: “Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them.” (v.1b) It’s just as we said: these are the laws that God gave us, so take them in, understand them, hold on to them and, above all, obey them! And why? It is because “The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb.” (v.2) We are the covenant people of God, the only people in all the earth who have been called into relationship with Him! That’s why!  Look, “It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today.” (v.3) We are the ones He has called to enter the Promised Land, we are the ones who are at the good end of this covenant, receiving all of God’s goodness, planned for those who enter into covenant relationship with Him. Do you remember when it happened? “The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain.” (v.4)

Yes, it was at Sinai that it came about. Never forget that, never forget that God drew us into covenant relationship with Him at Mount Sinai and we gladly accepted! Do you remember it, do you remember it was scary stuff? “At that time I stood between the LORD and you to declare to you the word of the LORD, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.” (v.5). Yes, that’s how it happened; that’s how we came to be receivers of God’s goodness. We didn’t realise it at the time, but that is what it is all about and that is why we have to uphold our side of the bargain which is to keep God’s design rules for us, the Law.

For us who are Christians today, there is a similar challenge, and a similar encouragement. We are what we are today because of what happened on a different mount, at Calvary, where a new covenant was inaugurated, where the Son of God did all that was necessary for us to enter in and receive the goodness of God today. Our side is to love him, to hold fast to him, to follow him. And for that we receive all the goodness that God has stored up for us. How wonderful! Hallelujah!

11. Hope

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 11 :  Hope through Grace

(Focus: Deut 4:29-31)

Deut 4:29-31 But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him. For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.

We concluded the previous meditation with a serious warning given to Israel by Moses about their future. It essentially prophesied the Exile. Now for the Jews involved in the Exile, it is probable that they thought that the end had come for Israel. For centuries they had lived in the Promised Land as the people of God. Unfortunately they trusted in their name rather than in the covenant with the Lord. Jeremiah parodied this: This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.” (Jer 7:3-8) Merely because the Temple was there, that was not a guarantee of their security. Eventually the Lord said ‘Enough!” and the people were taken out of the land into Babylon.

Now for those who were still faithful, such as Jeremiah, a knowledge of the Deuteronomy scrolls would have been very reassuring. These verses that we have before us now bring hope to the survivor in exile. The encouragement starts, “If from there” and the ‘there’ will be Babylon. There they may feel God is a million miles away but if they seek Him with all their heart, they will find that He is there for them.  He reiterates what will happen: When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him.” There WILL come a time when they will be given an opportunity to turn back to the Lord; it will not be the end of the people of God, Israel.

Then he states a basic principle: For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath. The Lord had promised to Abraham that he would bless the world because of him: I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen 12:2,3) and later, “Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.(Gen 22:17,18) That ultimate blessing was going to come through Jesus, born into a family from Abraham’s family tree, and through Israel.  Israel may give up on God but God will not give up on them because He will yet use them to bless the rest of the earth.

There is something quite remarkable at the heart of all of this. It is the sovereign plan and purpose of the Lord to bless the earth. He had chosen Israel to reveal Him to the rest of the earth. Yet even if they fail Him, He will still use them to reveal Him when He sends His Son through this nation. In the days of Jeremiah Israel may reach the height of their apostasy and idol worship, rejecting the Lord, yet even through that He will still work.  When you read the accounts of the Exile what is amazing is that the Lord still has His various men speaking His word to the nation and to the world. As Jerusalem is about to be taken, Jeremiah is the Lord’s mouthpiece. Among the exiles in Babylon, Ezekiel is His mouthpiece. In the royal court in Babylon, another exile, Daniel, will yet be God’s mouthpiece to a number of these pagan kings. Even in the face of their failure, the Lord is going to continue speaking and revealing Himself to His world.

The revelation that is going to come through Israel is that despite being God’s chosen people they are still sinful mankind and prone to getting it wrong. Yet behind all that, there is the Lord and He is sovereign and He knows what will happen (as Moses indicates here), but has a plan that will bring blessing to the earth anyway! Indeed, as Moses says, God is a merciful God. Mercy is not deserved. It is just given anyway. The Lord is going to bless the earth regardless of Israel! One might almost say, despite them! Today the Lord still continues to seek to bless whoever will turn to Him, and when they do they will still be imperfect and still often get it wrong – yet he will persevere and bless and bless His children. The end will be glorious! Hallelujah!

7. Division & Obedience

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 7:  Land Division & Obedience

(Focus: Deut 3:12-29)

Deut 3:18-20 I commanded you at that time: “The LORD your God has given you this land to take possession of it. But all your able-bodied men, armed for battle, must cross over ahead of your brother Israelites. However, your wives, your children and your livestock (I know you have much livestock) may stay in the towns I have given you, until the LORD gives rest to your brothers as he has to you, and they too have taken over the land that the LORD your God is giving them, across the Jordan. After that, each of you may go back to the possession I have given you.”

Moses continues to recount their recent history. He has reminded them of forty years ago, of their desert wanderings and then how they returned to the borders of Promised Land, but this time to enter, not from the south but from half way up from the land east of the Jordan, and how they had peacefully passed through three different peoples’ land and how they had fought and triumphed over two nations who opposed them.

The land that they took from these two kings was then apportioned to three of the tribes: “Of the land that we took over at that time, I gave the Reubenites and the Gadites the territory north of Aroer by the Arnon Gorge, including half the hill country of Gilead, together with its towns. The rest of Gilead and also all of Bashan, the kingdom of Og, I gave to the half tribe of Manasseh.” (v.12,13) This was further detailed in verses 13 to 17. It was important, however, that the fighting resources of those three tribes was not lost to the nation and so when we arrive at verses 18 to 20 we find Moses instructing that although the families may settle in this land already taken, the fighting men of these tribes must continue on over the Jordan with the rest of the army to take the land. It was vital that, although settled in the east, these three tribes continued to see themselves as part of the whole nation that still had a responsibility to take all the land to the west. Thus he reminds them about national solidarity.

He is picking up important issues about the nation as he prepares to talk about the Law and about obedience, and so next he turns to the subject of leadership: “At that time I commanded Joshua: “You have seen with your own eyes all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings. The LORD will do the same to all the kingdoms over there where you are going. Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you. (v.21,22) Moses was passing on the leadership baton and just in case the people might have said, “Why can’t you come with us and continue to lead us?” he explains again what had happened to him: “At that time I pleaded with the LORD: “O Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan–that fine hill country and Lebanon.” (v.23-25) He had wanted to come with them but that wasn’t possible. Why?

“But because of you the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me. “That is enough,” the LORD said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan. But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.” (v.26-28)  This referred back to the incident reported in Numbers 20:9-13 and then Num 27:12-14.  Moses had not been faithful to the Lord’s character on that one occasion and so the Lord was taking him home to heaven rather than let him continue into the land. That in itself would act as a reminder to Israel that the Lord was holy and holds His people accountable to Him – whoever they are!

Thus we come to the end of this early part of the book where Moses recounts their history. To go back to what we said at the beginning, the Law and calls to obedience, which follow, must be seen in context – the context of history. Israel are what they are and they are where they are because of the Lord. Already, through the things that have happened to them over these past forty years, they have learned much about the Lord. Indeed everything that follows must be seen in the light of that.

For us today our faith is founded in history – things that have happened on this earth already. Yes, they may have happened many centuries ago but the records are clear and the records may be trusted. We have the records in this book we call the Bible, and they can be trusted. We are what we are and we are where we are because of the Lord. The church is what it is because of the Lord. All that we have and all that we are is because of Him and because of what He has done already for us. That is why it is so important that we read and understand and hold on to these records. It is as important for us as it was for Israel. May we remember that!