Snapshots: Day 132

Snapshots: Day 132

The Snapshot: “the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors.” (Josh 21:43) An amazing – and very surprising description! Yes, the Land has been taken but there are still pockets of the old inhabitants still there. So, yes, the Lord’s will, described in those early days of Exodus to Moses has been fulfilled. But it is a challenging analogy. When we come to Christ there is a new ‘land’ to be taken, a new life to be lived, having left the old one (Egypt, the place of slavery) behind. And as we go in to take this new ‘land’ that Christ has earned for us and the Spirit empowers us to take, there is much from the past to be considered dead, much to be put to death (see Rom 6:11-13, Col 3:5,8,9, Eph 4:22-32), the battle for a godly & righteous ‘land’.

Further Consideration: This is God who, in this fallen world, tolerates imperfection in us. The fact that Israel had not cleared out every single Canaanite from the Land did not mean that the plan of God was thwarted, it just means (as we’ve seen again and again) He realistically works with the imperfect and incomplete.

It is an amazing challenge both for those atheists who foolishly say that God is harsh and vindictive, and those legalists who say that God is holy and therefore judges all wrongdoing. Well, for the latter group, that is true but He does it through the Cross; Jesus has taken the punishment for every wrong deed. If he hadn’t, not one of us could stand, everyone one of us would be living in fear, waiting for the hand of destruction to fall on us.

And so Israel ‘possess’ the land but there are still pockets of the old inhabitants around and the Lord knew this and said He would leave them as a challenge to Israel to test them. Every time Israel fell into disobedience, these enemies rose up and attacked them. It was a funny form of discipline, it wasn’t God hitting Israel with a big stick, but God allowing Israel to be disciplined by their own failure to deal with their enemies outright.

Now this is where it starts getting painful because this is what happens when we come to Christ. When we are saved, we are perfect in God’s eyes as far as our eternal destiny is concerned but the depth of our conversion, if I may put it like that, will determine the practicalities of our future lives here on earth. If we are half-hearted about our commitment, about our obedience, and do not put to death the deeds of self, they will eventually turn and bite us, they will cause us pain when they come out into the open and be seen for what they are. Unredeemed anger and its causes is a good example. If we don’t let the Lord work deeply in us, then anger (for whatever its unresolved cause) will flare up, cause upset, hurt and so on, and we will feel the pain. A Warning.

Snapshots: Day 91

Snapshots: Day 91

The Snapshot: “Send some men to explore the land … all of them were leaders.” (Num 13:1,3) They do say leaders are those who go ahead. These men certainly did, but we know the story of how they came back and only two were full of faith to take the Land while ten only saw problems, and the ten caused Israel to end up for forty years in the wilderness. What a responsibility. There’s a challenge for any of us who have been, are, or will be leaders in whatever capacity in ‘the church’. We have the capability of encouraging and leading God’s people on in acts of faith, or we can just see problems and difficulties and hinder the progress of God’s plans. Such a responsibility is scary, but such a responsibility is only on those called and equipped. Who? Those with hearts open to be used by God.

Further Consideration: Responsibility in leadership is a tricky thing and it is something that has the potential to weigh one down with ‘all that responsibility’. Well let’s see if we can lift the load off while avoiding becoming negative reporters like Moses’ leaders.

I did a study recently on church leaders. There are those in the New Testament who appear to have been spirit-filled guys who looked after the material well-being of the flock. They were the deacons. The ones with spiritual responsibility were called elders, overseers or shepherds (pastors).  As the interchangeable names imply they were the mature and wise in the congregation of God’s people, those who guarded and protected the flock, and those who provided for the flock, whether it was food, security or healing.

Now here’s the thing, there seems little reference to them being ‘called’ whereas some denominational leaders make a big thing about ‘calling’. Actually in scripture it seems more of a natural gifting thing, an aspirational thing (1 Tim 3:1) and a character thing (3:2-7), something recognized by apostles (where there are apostles) or by the flock, and so if you are there, it is probably because God has gifted you accordingly and touched your heart – and will equip you with His grace to enable you to be a blessing to the flock. Calling? Maybe.

That’s it; if we are leaders we are called to be a blessing to the flock, serving them, looking out for them, not dominating them, but loving them and looking for all God’s goodness to them. So if you have God’s grace, what’s so difficult about that? People and Satan! Right, but His grace doesn’t change and will be sufficient to cope.

And one final thing in a short reflection like this: remember you’re imperfect and will not get it perfectly right all the time, but as long as we’re steering away from major sin, that doesn’t disqualify you. Enjoy it, be a blessing and be blessed.

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!

 

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!

 

22. Fears

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 22 :  Overcome your Fears

(Focus: Deut 7:17-26)

Deut 7:17,18 You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?” But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt.

Mostly, we have been saying, Deuteronomy is all about encouraging Israel to keep the laws, commandments and instructions of the Law. Mostly we have been associating that with the Law itself, the Ten Commandments and the laws that God subsequently gave Moses at Sinai. But part of those instructions has included how to take the Land and how to deal with the people who are there at present. The beginning of the chapter spoke about the Lord driving out the inhabitants and Israel completely destroying any who resisted (v.1,2). That was followed by instructions not to intermingle with them but to destroy them and remove all signs of their religion. So now they have come to the point where they are actually facing the thought of going in and doing this.  Moses seeks to reassure them by facing their potential fears.

The last time they came to this land they were sent packing and their memories may not be very good, but they can remember that! Moses reads their minds: You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?” (v.17)  That is quite a normal reaction for it is the truth! But this is where they need to look at the bigger truth: “But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt.” (v.18). Don’t put your eyes on the enemy, put them on the Lord and remember what you have learned of Him!  “You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the miraculous signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the LORD your God brought you out.” (v.19). That’s it! You need to remind yourselves what you saw the Lord do for you, and so…. “The LORD your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear.” (v.19b)  What the Lord did to Pharaoh He will do to the inhabitants of the Land.

“Moreover, the LORD your God will send the hornet among them until even the survivors who hide from you have perished.” (v.20)  God is going to act on your behalf and will do a thorough job of it!  So, “Do not be terrified by them, for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God.” (v.21). This is the truth and so you don’t have to have any bad feelings about the occupants, God will sort them!

But then he spells out some more detail: “The LORD your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you.” (v.22). There it is, a second reference to the Lord DRIVING OUT the occupants. As we said previously, killing them off is not the first priority, just getting rid of them from the Land, but when they refuse to go, that’s when battle ensues. It will be a slow and gradual thing so that the Land is not emptied completely and wild animals take it over. No, you will do it bit by bit. But when it comes to that, know that, “the LORD your God will deliver them over to you, throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed. He will give their kings into your hand, and you will wipe out their names from under heaven. No one will be able to stand up against you; you will destroy them.” (v.23,24) Notice four times there is this definite declaration, this WILL happen.  Israel, you can be assured that these things WILL happen. Victory IS assured for you!

Having dealt with that, he returns to the theme of dealing with the religion of the occupants: “The images of their gods you are to burn in the fire. Do not covet the silver and gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it, for it is detestable to the LORD your God. Do not bring a detestable thing into your house or you, like it, will be set apart for destruction. Utterly abhor and detest it, for it is set apart for destruction.” (v.25,26)   i.e. you are not to hold on to anything that was part of their religion, nothing whatsoever! If you hold on to anything, it will become a snare to you and superstition will be able to come and draw you off to follow the same ways that these people are following and that will be the death knell of the nation. You are to consider everything to do with their religion as detestable and have nothing whatsoever to do with it. There is to be no mingling with their culture lest you get enticed away to it yourselves.

There is perhaps a warning for us today, not to let anything of the enemy and the world mingle in with our faith. Superstition is to have no part in the Christian faith. What we have is to be founded on the truth revealed in the New Testament and nothing is to be added to that!  May we remember that!