God-Granted Exceptionalism (Deuteronomy 4:1-14)

There is a phrase bantered about these days particularly in conservative political circles, and that is the concept of American Exceptionalism. Most people don’t understand what this truly connotes, simply taking it at face value to seem to imply a hip-hip-hooray view that America is #1 in the world – waving the giant sponge index finger in the air. Actually, the phrases involves the concept that the historically unique American system of government – allowing freedom, industry, and capitalism to thrive without the heavy hand of the state – is an exceptional expression of human law that best provides conditions toward producing success and the pursuit of happiness.

While I would confess to being a proponent of this view, I freely admit that there was a better exceptionalism historically – that which was granted to the nation of Israel. It was a theocracy for sure – where the Lord God promised to be their provider, in accord with Israel’s obedience as his people. In this passage today, we essentially see God giving Israel this truly sweet deal – saying that no other nation could possibly be found who had a God so close, or who had laws and guidelines for life so completely in their possession.

What Israel had was a perfect recipe. God’s law did not need to be spiced up by adding something to it, nor watered down by taking something away. The people simply needed to obey it and all would go well for them. But to obey, they had to know God’s words and remember them. Moses reminds them of how this body of truth was given in the midst of a mighty scene of the smoking mountain. Remember! The words were written down by God on stone and carried with them in their travels. Remember! At a place called Baal Peor (Numbers 25:1-9), some of the nation forgot to be pure unto the Lord and got involved rather with Moabite women and worship – being destroyed by the thousands for such. Remember! And they were to teach these truths to the rising generations so that they would … what? Yep! Remember!

It all seems so simple and easy enough to follow. If we were there, surely we’d obey! But we have not just God’s Old Testament Law; we have the complete record of God. We know the full story of redemption in Christ. We have the Holy Spirit living inside us upon our salvation. So what do we too often do? We forget. We mess with the recipe. We get tired of waiting for God to come through on something, and so we take over the controls of life. And what don’t we do? We don’t remember God’s word.

Summary – When we remember, we have revival!

Deuteronomy 4:1-14

Obedience Commanded

Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.

You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor. The Lord your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, but all of you who held fast to the Lord your God are still alive today.

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. 10 Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” 11 You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness.12 Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13 He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. 14 And the Lord directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.

The Sooners of Israel (Deuteronomy 3:12-29)

In American history in 1889, public lands in the territory we now know as the state of Oklahoma were opened up for settlement claims. It is called “The Land Rush of 1889.”  Certain people illegally went there “sooner” than the starting time and made premature claims to lands … and so they were derogatorily called “Sooners.”sooner land rush

Today we read about the “Sooners of Israel.”  In recent devotional posts I’ve introduced you to the word “Transjordan” which speaks of the lands east of the Jordan River – east also of the Sea of Galilee (Kinnereth) and the Dead Sea (Arabah). This is the area that was inhabited by the Amorites and the Kings named Sihon and Og. In recent days we have studied their defeat by the power of God’s hand through the Israelites.

Tribes of Israel MapOf Israel’s twelve tribes, two of them (plus one-half of a third very large clan) looked around at this land and basically said, “Yo man, this be some mighty fine land for settling down!” These tribes had a lot of livestock, and the land was particularly suited for such an economy.

So they went to Moses and said, “We’d like to just settle down right here and receive this land as our inheritance if that is OK with you.” (This story is in Numbers chapter 32.)  Moses’ initial reaction was to essentially say, “This is the same song, verse two – the same lame excuse I heard nearly 40 years ago about not wanting to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land!”

So, the leaders of the tribe of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh came back by saying they would build pens for their animals, settle the women and children and infirmed in some cities, but all the fighting men would cross the Jordan to help the rest of the nation conquer the Canaanites in Palestine. This promise was deemed worthy and honorable, and indeed the tribes kept their word (which may be read about in Joshua 22).

The remaining verses of this reading for today (21-29) recount how Moses knew he was not going to be able to go over the Jordan to see the Land, rather Joshua was commissioned to lead that task of conquest. This was because of God’s anger at Moses for striking the rock to get water from it rather than speaking to it. Moses was angry at the complaining and rebellion of the people, but his act took glory away from the Lord and HIS divine provision. Moses was able however, to go to Mt. Pisgah and from that perspective have a personal view of this land toward which his life work was to lead the people. As I write this on MLK Day, I’m mindful that this is the historical allusion of which the Rev. King referenced in his “I Have a Dream” speech – stating the issues of justice he could envision in America, but saying that he may not get to go there with his hearers, but he could witness if from afar in his mind’s eye.

God puts such a high value on his people being a people who will be united and work together. This is a timeless principle of God’s blessing, and it is one that is especially pertinent for any church family comprised of diverse “tribes” of ages and preferences. It is more important that we fight together for one another against the larger enemy of the kingdom of darkness … than that we settle down prematurely into our own preferential tents of ease and enjoyment.

And I will say that this Moses story is one of the most baffling times for me when I think of how this great leader was withheld what would seem to be a just blessing of getting to personally witness the Promised Land. After all the complaining and grumbling and rebellion that he endured – to be prohibited for smacking a rock in frustration seems about as unfair as the guy who died when preventing the ark of the covenant from falling off the ox cart many years later. But it all speaks to the holiness of God – of His way of ordering that things be done and obeyed. This is a powerful lesson and application for those in leadership, and a reminder to those in “followership” of the unintended consequences of endless grumbling and complaining.

May this passage and these timeless applications bear the fruit of revival in all our hearts and lives!

Deuteronomy 3:12-29

Division of the Land

12 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.13 The rest of Gilead and also all of Bashan, the kingdom of Og, I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh.(The whole region of Argob in Bashan used to be known as a land of the Rephaites. 14 Jair, a descendant of Manasseh, took the whole region of Argob as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maakathites; it was named after him, so that to this day Bashan is called Havvoth Jair.) 15 And I gave Gilead to Makir. 16 But to the Reubenites and the Gadites I gave the territory extending from Gilead down to the Arnon Gorge (the middle of the gorge being the border) and out to the Jabbok River, which is the border of the Ammonites. 17 Its western border was the Jordan in the Arabah, from Kinnereth to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea), below the slopes of Pisgah.

18 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 the other Israelites.19 However, your wives, your children and your livestock (I know you have much livestock) may stay in the towns I have given you, 20 until the Lord gives rest to your fellow Israelites 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 Forbidden to Cross the Jordan

21 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. 22 Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.”

23 At that time I pleaded with the Lord: 24 “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? 25 Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.”

26 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. 27 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. 28 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.” 29 So we stayed in the valley near Beth Peor.

Only Just Begun to Fight (Deuteronomy 3:1-11)

One of the most famous statements of American military history is of course the legendary retort of John Paul Jones, when during a naval battle in the Revolution, he responded to the taunt of a British captain suggesting his surrender, “I have only just begun to fight.”

That could be the summary statement of the nation of Israel at this point of their history in the early stages of the conquest of the Promised Land. They had already done a good bit of fighting, though much more was to come.

To review: Moses has begun a series of sermons/teachings to the generation about to cross the Jordan and enter the long-awaited land of promise. They have ended a 40-year period of wanderings due to the unbelief of their parents’ generation. More recently, they had defeated some Amorite enemies under the direction and provision of the Lord. Moses is rehearsing their history at this point, reminding them of God’s faithful and strong hand on their behalf.

The passage today relates the account of a second group of Amorite peoples defeated in battle.  King Sihon was the character in the story yesterday – heading a kingdom directly to the east of Jerusalem, in an area often called the Transjordan. Well to the north of this kingdom, but still east of the Jordan and all of the way to where the Sea of Galilee is located, was another king by the name of Og – of the land of Bashan.

Again, God told Moses and the Israelites to not fear – that Og would be delivered into their hands. Indeed, this happened by the defeat of Og’s army. Beyond that, a total of 60 cities were conquered and taken for possession. These are said to have had high walls – one of the fears of the spies about how fortified and invincible were all the cities. It is interesting how an immense amount of fighting and effort is described merely by a couple of sentences. In the summary of these events, as one would look at the map of what has been accomplished, already the Israelites have conquered a tremendous amount of land. Certainly this should – as Moses reminds them – result in great confidence that God was for them and with them in every way.

I believe we often fail to have confidence that God is indeed for us and willing to provide for us as we trust Him in dependence. Yes, there are some Christians who name and claim things as if God has to obey them rather than the other way around. But equally wrong is to not have faith by acting like God is not willing and able to be strong on our behalf. Our need is to align with God’s work, and in so doing, we find that he cares for our every need.sarcophagus

By the way, the “bed” described at the end of this passage – 14 feet long by 6 feet wide – is really describing a sarcophagus. This is a carved funeral box for a corpse, which rather than being buried, was most often kept for display above ground. So the most impressive remembrance of Og was his casket!

Deuteronomy 3:1-11

Defeat of Og, King of Bashan

Next we turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan with his whole army marched out to meet us in battle at Edrei. The Lord said to me, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have delivered him into your hands, along with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.”

So the Lord our God also gave into our hands Og king of Bashan and all his army. We struck them down, leaving no survivors. At that time we took all his cities. There was not one of the sixty cities that we did not take from them—the whole region of Argob, Og’s kingdom in Bashan. All these cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars, and there were also a great many unwalled villages. We completely destroyed them, as we had done with Sihon king of Heshbon, destroying every city—men, women and children. But all the livestock and the plunder from their cities we carried off for ourselves.

Summary of the Early Invasion

So at that time we took from these two kings of the Amorites the territory east of the Jordan, from the Arnon Gorge as far as Mount Hermon. (Hermon is called Sirion by the Sidonians; the Amorites call it Senir.) 10 We took all the towns on the plateau, and all Gilead, and all Bashan as far as Salekah and Edrei, towns of Og’s kingdom in Bashan. 11 (Og king of Bashan was the last of the Rephaites. His bed was decorated with iron and was more than nine cubits long and four cubits wide. It is still in Rabbah of the Ammonites.)

The New Kid on the Block (Deuteronomy 2:24-37)

(Background – The history being rehearsed in today’s passage was fairly recent in the memory of those hearing the sermon of Moses. Again, those events of the Exodus from Egypt nearly 40 years earlier was but a story in the minds of about 75% of the people on this day. We might estimate that perhaps only about 25% of the people, if that – those ages about 45-60 – would have any memory of the Red Sea and God’s incredible deliverance.)

Two years ago in Maryland high school athletics, the state revised the system of divisional competition. And for the first time in many years, my school where I’ve coached cross country went from being a large fish in the smallest pond (of divisions) to the next higher division of larger systems. We were now to compete while being the very smallest of a category of about 50 schools. We made a lot of bluster – calling ourselves “the new beast of the west in 2A running.” But the fact remained that we had a distinctively David-like feeling in a world of Goliaths. Though we had success, the situation has now gotten even worse. In the reshuffling for next year, we remain at the same bottom-of-the-barrel place, but a much larger school has dropped into our division. It just happens to be the very best running school in all of Maryland, ranked even among all east coast schools. They are indeed “the new kid on the block.” They are so much bigger and better that they look entirely invincible.

That is how the nation of Israel looked to some of these localized people groups near the Promised Land. Remember that these areas are largely very arid in terms of climatic conditions. Water, crops, livestock and pasture are valuable resources. The thought of seeing multiple millions of people traipsing across your property under the alleged statement of “hey – don’t mean no harm – we’re just passing through” was hard to swallow at face value. It seemed to the natural mind of folks 1500 B.C. that the thing to do was just wipe them out and avoid the risk and problems. Adding to the invisibility fear factor of these nations was the work of the Lord in placing that fear of his people within them.

Sihon, the King of Heshbon, was the first to choose poorly when Moses offered him a peace treaty – basically telling the King, “we’re just so passing through that we won’t even get off of the interstate highway.”  The king’s heart was hardened. It got into that brittle condition all by himself, though God added as well to the hardness of it. The result was that Sihon lost his only chance of survival by his refusal of the treaty. In the end, his nation was destroyed down to the last person, while the plunder was carried off. This may seem overbearingly harsh for the character of God, though we must remember that God is accomplishing both redemption and judgment in his sovereign plans. (A fuller discussion of this topic and its implications will be found in the resources section of the series at a later time.)

The major lesson to be learned for the children of Israel at this point was the manner by which God would fight for his people, against all odds and visible circumstances. He was for them; he was on their side; it did not matter what other big bad boys were in their division. You might say, “I sure wish God was for me … like that!”  Well he is. How else are we to understand Romans 8 where it says, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”  Let us be revived by these words!

Genesis 2:24-37

Defeat of Sihon King of Heshbon

24 “Set out now and cross the Arnon Gorge. See, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his country. Begin to take possession of it and engage him in battle. 25 This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you.”

26 From the Desert of Kedemoth I sent messengers to Sihon king of Heshbon offering peace and saying, 27 “Let us pass through your country. We will stay on the main road; we will not turn aside to the right or to the left. 28 Sell us food to eat and water to drink for their price in silver. Only let us pass through on foot— 29 as the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir, and the Moabites, who live in Ar, did for us—until we cross the Jordan into the land the Lord our God is giving us.” 30 But Sihon king of Heshbon refused to let us pass through. For the Lord your God had made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to give him into your hands, as he has now done.

31 The Lord said to me, “See, I have begun to deliver Sihon and his country over to you. Now begin to conquer and possess his land.”

32 When Sihon and all his army came out to meet us in battle at Jahaz, 33 the Lord our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army. 34 At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them—men, women and children. We left no survivors.35 But the livestock and the plunder from the towns we had captured we carried off for ourselves.36 From Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge, and from the town in the gorge, even as far as Gilead, not one town was too strong for us. The Lord our God gave us all of them. 37 But in accordance with the command of the Lord our God, you did not encroach on any of the land of the Ammonites, neither the land along the course of the Jabbok nor that around the towns in the hills.

Picking Fights with the Right -ites (Deuteronomy 2:1-23)

I’ll grant that some of the passages of Scripture – like this one today – are more tedious than others. A prime example is the “begats” sections of Matthew and Luke – those genealogies of Christ. But we need to remember that all the Scriptures are God’s revelation to us and have instructive and practical value. Really? Yep! When you understand it and why it is there, it contains important truths and lessons. For example, the genealogies teach of God’s faithfulness over generations to see that at the perfect “fullness of time” Christ came into the world with all the rights to be the King of Israel, the King of Kings, and our perfect savior.

But here today we get into a section that talks about a vast variety of nations and people groups – all of what me might call the “-ites” of the Scriptures – you know, like Amalakites and Hittites … that sort of thing. But why does our nice narrative need to get so muddled with all of these termites, helgramites, or whatever? Not wanting you to get uptight or think I’m “obsessivite,” let me put a brief spotlight on it.

The Kadesh ‘epic fail’ happened about two year after the exodus from Egypt. The next 38 years of wandering around is covered in verse 1 today. Then, Moses rehearses their more recent history of being directed to enter the land as a new generation. If you reference the map at the bottom, you can see that Kadesh is straight south of the Promised Land. Following the arrows to the east of that, you can see how this conquest will skirt to the east of the Dead Sea, passing through some of the lands talked about today. We may note also that ultimately the Israelites would cross the Jordan from east to west (which gets talked about in the next book – Joshua).

As the children of Israel – all 2-3 million of them – are travelling through these habitats of various people groups, the text today tells us of three with whom the Israelites were NOT to pick a fight. These groups (nations) are the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites. The first of these were the descendents of Jacob’s brother Esau; and the latter two nations were related to Abraham’s nephew Lot.

Now understand that these are not God-fearing monotheists walking in covenant fellowship with the Lord. But here’s the point – God had made covenant promises to these people (see Genesis 19:36-38 for example), and God was going to keep his word. Centuries later, God would bring judgment upon these groups for their wickedness, but now was not that time.

How might this have practical benefit for us? Well consider this: God made promises to people who in short order walked in a direction away from him. It is not like God did not know that would happen, but he established their places of habitation with a promise during times when they intersected with the redemption story God was crafting through the nation of Israel. If God is this faithful to his word with such, why should we not trust him to be faithful to his word with us – his adopted children in Christ Jesus? Should not such a thought stir revival in our hearts?

Deuteronomy 2:1-23

Wanderings in the Wilderness / Beginnings of the Conquest

Then we turned back and set out toward the wilderness along the route to the Red Sea, as the Lord had directed me. For a long time we made our way around the hill country of Seir.

Then the Lord said to me, “You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north. Give the people these orders: ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own. You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink.’”

The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.

So we went on past our relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. We turned from the Arabah road, which comes up from Elath and Ezion Geber, and traveled along the desert road of Moab.

Then the Lord said to me, “Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession.”

10 (The Emites used to live there—a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. 11 Like the Anakites, they too were considered Rephaites, but the Moabites called them Emites. 12 Horites used to live in Seir, but the descendants of Esau drove them out. They destroyed the Horites from before them and settled in their place, just as Israel did in the land the Lord gave them as their possession.)

13 And the Lord said, “Now get up and cross the Zered Valley.” So we crossed the valley.

14 Thirty-eight years passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley. By then, that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them. 15 The Lord’s hand was against them until he had completely eliminated them from the camp.

16 Now when the last of these fighting men among the people had died, 17 the Lord said to me,18 “Today you are to pass by the region of Moab at Ar. 19 When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot.”

20 (That too was considered a land of the Rephaites, who used to live there; but the Ammonites called them Zamzummites. 21 They were a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. The Lord destroyed them from before the Ammonites, who drove them out and settled in their place.22 The Lord had done the same for the descendants of Esau, who lived in Seir, when he destroyed the Horites from before them. They drove them out and have lived in their place to this day. 23 And as for the Avvites who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorites coming out from Caphtor destroyed them and settled in their place.)

Exodus Map

That Grasshopper Sort of Feeling (Deuteronomy 1:26-46)

Frankly, grasshoppers creep me out. Even as a kid, I really didn’t like picking them up and feeling them squirm around in my hand. But the world through the eyes of a grasshopper in the weeds must be even creepier still. Everything from that perspective would look gigantic.

And that is how 83.3% of the spies of Israel felt about the Canaanite inhabitants of the Promised Land. Though all 12 of them had agreed that the land was truly a fruitful and beautiful place, they could not help but see the masses of people, the walled cities, AND especially the sons of Anak – giants in the land. It gave them that grasshopper sort of feeling.

Just as with the fruit of the land, all 12 spies agreed about the other realities they had witnessed. There were surely many tribes and nations; the cities were built with high walls; there were giants in certain parts of the region. Ten of the spies saw the obstacles and compared them to themselves; whereas the other two – Joshua and Caleb – saw the obstacles and compared them to the power and promises of God.

Of course, the people believed the report of the majority. When we read this story in Numbers 13 and 14, the wailing of the Israelites really does make you want to reach through the pages of Scripture and slap them! Yep, God felt the same way, and he did it for you. The people, realizing they had blown it, even attempted then to recapture the opportunity in their own strength … Epic Fail!

So off into a wandering around the wilderness for 40 years went the Israelites. Of the generation over 20 years old, only Joshua and Caleb would enter the Promised Land. And here is a humorous note of Scripture – those Giants in the land … Caleb and his own clan would whip them simply by themselves, recorded almost as a sort of footnote with the account of the conquest of Canaan. It is given but a couple of sentences of mention within the historic record – that’s how easily it was accomplished in God’s power.

It is easy to have the circumstances of life make us feel like we are but a grasshopper deep in the weeds of our suffering. But with God, we are always a majority; he is the ultimate high trump over every situation. On our own, we are small indeed. But in the end, we always win with the Lord. May we be revived with this realization!

Deuteronomy 1:26-46

Rebellion against the Lord

26 But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. 27 You grumbled in your tents and said, “The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. 28 Where can we go? Our brothers have made our hearts melt in fear. They say, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.’”

29 Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, 31 and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

32 In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God, 33 who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.

34 When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: 35 “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, 36 except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.”

37 Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, “You shall not enter it, either. 38 But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it. 39 And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.40 But as for you, turn around and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.”

41 Then you replied, “We have sinned against the Lord. We will go up and fight, as the Lord our God commanded us.” So every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country.

42 But the Lord said to me, “Tell them, ‘Do not go up and fight, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by your enemies.’”

43 So I told you, but you would not listen. You rebelled against the Lord’s command and in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country. 44 The Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah. 45 You came back and wept before the Lord, but he paid no attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you. 46 And so you stayed in Kadesh many days—all the time you spent there.

The Mother of All Epic Failures (Deuteronomy 1:19-25)

Describing something as an “epic fail” is a pop culture phrase often used.  The Urban Dictionary defines the phrase as communicative of “a mistake of such monumental proportions that it requires its own term in order to successfully point out the unfathomable shortcomings of an individual or group.”

Truly the mother of all “epic fails” was the situation described in today’s (and tomorrow’s) passage – the failure of Israel at Kadesh Barnea. The Scriptures repeatedly look back to this moment in Israel’s history as the pinnacle event of unbelief.

They had recently crossed a forbidding desert in a 100-mile waterless experience that must have been grueling. But God’s miraculous supply was with them – as it had been with the parting of the Red Sea, the cloud of God’s presence by day and pillar of fire by night, the water from the rock, and the manna and quail from the sky. One would think this would be enough to have confidence that if God has done this much, surely any other obstacles are not such a big deal.

So then, at the door of entry to the Promised Land – at a place called Kadesh Barnea – a group of 12 spies was sent to scout out the land before them. One from each tribe was chosen. God approved this endeavor as a wise move to learn about this unseen land toward the goal of possessing it according to his promise.

All the spies saw the same thing – “a good land” – which is a phrase used 10 times in Deuteronomy. They all reported that indeed the land was as advertised – a good and prosperous land; and they brought proof in the fruit carried back. We are borrowing from the passage for tomorrow to make a point today, but you know the full story of the ultimate lack of belief based upon the further reports of the giants in the land.

We all like to imagine ourselves as among those who, in that situation, would have been numbered with those who believed – surely not among the grumblers and merchants of fear and unbelief. Man, if we saw the Rea Sea waters stand up, witnessed bread falling daily from the sky, and had a daily experience of a visible presence of God to follow … surely we would be counted among the conquest hawks rather than the shirking doves! Really? Well, we don’t know. But we can probably all sadly recall too many times when we’ve not believed, but have rather halted at the very door of opportunity and faith. The fact is that none of us can ever look back and point to any time that God was not faithful in the past. So why should we fear anything about the future?

Lord give us a revival of our faith!

Deuteronomy 1:19-25

The spies sent into the Promised Land

19 Then, as the Lord our God commanded us, we set out from Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites through all that vast and dreadful wilderness that you have seen, and so we reached Kadesh Barnea. 20 Then I said to you, “You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. 21 See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

22 Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.”

23 The idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you, one man from each tribe. 24 They left and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshkol and explored it. 25 Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they brought it down to us and reported, “It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.”

kadesh barnea

The area of Kadesh Barnea

How Many Stars are in the Sky? (Deuteronomy 1:9-18)

In today’s reading, Moses continues his rehearsal of the historic situation that had occurred with the nation of Israel’s disobedience to trust God and possess the Promised Land.

stars of the skyThe number of people in the exodus from Egypt is really quite astounding. Only the men age 20 and over were counted, and they numbered about 600,000. A handy expression in the ancient world to capture the scope of such a multitude was to compare it to the innumerable number of stars in the sky. An estimate of the size of the entire nation would likely be in the range of 2 million to 3 million people. That is a lot of food, a lot of water, a lot of grumbling, and a lot of problems. Wherever there are people, there are problems and controversies and difficulties. It was more than Moses could handle.

In fact, the people and their problems were just about killing him. We read in Exodus 18 that he was busy from morning until evening dealing with all the issues, teaching God’s ways, and judging in situations of dispute. His father-in-law Jethro intervened by essentially saying to him, “Son, you are nuts killing yourself like this; here’s what you need to do.”  And so Moses took the advice and set up a multi-tiered system of judges and leadership.

I’ll admit that the inclusion of this story at this point seems a bit odd. Remember, this is an odd situation for these recent escapees from Egyptian slavery. They were not used to independence and living in a scenario where their provision was entirely dependent upon miraculous intervention. But what it teaches and reminds the hearer, then and now, are several things:

  • that there were a lot of people …
  • that these people had a lot of controversies …
  • that God provided in the midst of it all …
  • that Moses was an esteemed leader under God’s blessing …
  • that God’s truth is timeless and effective in every situation.

People have not changed; we are the same over the centuries and the millennia. Apart from a God-oriented eternal perspective, we will be self-centered grumblers. Then and now, God desires our complete trust in Him. His faithfulness to fulfill his covenant promises to us are indeed new every morning, ready to be picked up and applied. They are ready for us to revive our hearts and lives.

Deuteronomy 1:9-18

The Appointment of Leaders

At that time I said to you, “You are too heavy a burden for me to carry alone. 10 The Lord your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky. 11 May the Lord, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times and bless you as he has promised!12 But how can I bear your problems and your burdens and your disputes all by myself? 13 Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.”

14 You answered me, “What you propose to do is good.”

15 So I took the leading men of your tribes, wise and respected men, and appointed them to have authority over you—as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens and as tribal officials. 16 And I charged your judges at that time, “Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you. 17 Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.”18 And at that time I told you everything you were to do.

Are We There Yet? (Deuteronomy 1:1-8)

One of my favorite scenes in all of filmmaking is from the Shrek 2 movie when Donkey says to Shrek, “Are we there yet?” … “Are we there yet?” … “Are we there yet?”

To which Shrek responds, “The Kingdom of Far, Far Away is far, far away!”shrekdonkey

And Donkey moans, “I’m just so darned bored; there’s no in-flight movie or nothing!”

And the “pop, pop, pop (sounds)” leads Shrek to yell “DONKEY, can you just stop being yourself?”

After nearly 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Promised Land must have seemed like ‘The Land of Far, Far Away!’ And the Israelites were more than just a bit Donkey-ish with their continuous grumbling to Shrek Moses! To this generation of whom he had led from bondage in Egypt, Moses appeared worse than some old ogre from a swamp – being accused of leading them into the wilderness to die.

That is what they ended up doing there – dying because of unbelief. If you run the numbers, one person from the unbelieving generation died about every 20 minutes. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, they turned what we read in today’s passage was an 11-day journey, into a 40-year wandering.

But now in the 40th year, here on the plains of Moab at the door to the Promised Land, Moses delivers a series of sermons / teachings on God’s covenant law with His people – this being a sort of “second law” (the meaning of ‘Deuteronomy’) to the new generation. Note the word in verse 5 where it says that Moses began to “expound” the law to them. This is a very descriptive Hebrew word that literally means “to dig.” Moses was being very explicit with very clear instruction. And what he is beginning to do is to rehearse with this generation the history of all that had brought them to this place and time.

Fresh off the defeat of several kings and their peoples (see Numbers 21 about Sihon and Og), there was every reason for this new generation of Israelites to trust God’s provision – poised to reward their obedience and faith. But there was also every reason for the previous generation to have done the same – having been miraculously delivered from Egypt and given God’s law at Sinai (called here Mt. Horeb). It was time to inherit the long-promised land.

This very large area of land (far larger than where Israel is today) was promised to the patriarchal fathers generations before. Note how the land’s acquisition is spoken of in terms of a “done deal.”  It was essentially already given to them; their role was to take possession of it in God’s strength.

God has given us promises as well – in fact, better promises in Christ than those given to the Israelites. Yet the challenge is the same – to believe and obey … as it says in 1 Corinthians 7:1 “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

Deuteronomy 1:1-8

The setting for Moses’ teaching

These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan—that is, in the Arabah—opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab. (It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.)

In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded him concerning them. This was after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and at Edrei had defeated Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth.

Rehearsing Israel’s Recent History Since Leaving Egypt

East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to expound this law, saying:

The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”

Ready to Begin!

Here are some pictures of the worship team getting ready for the kickoff Sunday of the Revive series. Notice the stage set-up with the old revival theme, complete with tent, etc. Now understand, this is still Tri-State, so the theme only goes so far!  (insert smiley face)  I thought it was a great contrast to get a picture of the saxophone and electric guitar on each side of the old-fashioned wooden pulpit.

Come back tomorrow morning at this spot for the first of the weekday devotionals along with the reading plan.