Chronic Spiritual Wasting Disease (Deuteronomy 28:15-24)

You have often heard it said, “Do you want the good news first, or the bad news?”  Moses didn’t ask this of the Israelites, but what he did here in chapter 28 of Deuteronomy is give them the good news first – the blessings for obedience that we talked about yesterday. It only took a total of 14 verses to cover that material. Now, as Moses lists the curses for disobedience, this bad news will cover a total of 54 more verses!

The same four general statements are listed as negative outcomes in today’s reading in verses 16-19, just as they were positive outcomes yesterday in verses 3-6. And as Moses gave a brief sermon of application yesterday (verses 7-14), the sermon in today’s passage (and the 3 to follow until the end of the chapter) will be much longer. I will speak about this over the four days in terms of “consequences of disobedience.”

Consequence 1 (verse 20) – Destruction – Thinking ahead to the conquest of the land and the manner by which God would make possible the Israelite’s victory over powerful foes – it often happened because God caused a confusion in the midst of those camps that rendered them defenseless. This same sort of experience would befall Israel if they disobeyed God. And like all disobedience, it has a long, slow erosion, with the actual destructive fall occurring seemingly all at once.

Consequence 2 (verses 21-22) – Diseases – A number of categories of physical diseases are listed here, as well as a variety of afflictions upon plants and vegetation that lead to death.

Consequence 3 (verses 23-24) – Drought – The devastation of drought is well-known to us, as we saw it in much of America this past summer. We are paying for it with increased prices everywhere, yet our problems are not as severe as in many other parts of the world. God would allow this calamity to come upon the people for disobedience, whereas his promise was to always provide sufficient water as a demonstration of his faithfulness if they would simply follow his commandments.

It is interesting that the passage speaks of a “wasting disease.”  This is something we hear about in our area as a specific ailment that affects the deer population. The animal simply has a disease that causes it to lose weight and waste away over time. So also, when we disobey God, there is a sort of spiritual chronic wasting disease of the soul that goes on within us. We cannot thrive apart from obeying God’s timeless commands.

On the day that I write this, I have spoken with a friend who shared with me of their efforts to counsel another mutual friend who has essentially walked away from God and is seeking satisfaction in all the wrong places and values. A particular crisis was being dealt with on this date, though both yesterday and tomorrow feature other trials that are the fruit of bad choices. Our friend is wasting away, sadly dying an inch at a time – all the while confused in the belief that there are answers to be found other than by trusting in God. The answer is of course to be found in the title of this series – REVIVE.

Curses for Disobedience

15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:

16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.

17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed.

18 The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

19 You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.

20 The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. 21 The Lord will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess. 22 The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. 23 The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. 24 The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.

Heads or Tails (Deuteronomy 28:1-14)

When I was a kid growing up in church with multiple children’s programs and various Vacation Bible Schools, we had to learn and memorize a lot of verses. This really agreed with me! You got points and prizes for that! It was a way of keeping score and competing, and I loved it. I can still remember the summer after 1st grade finishing 2nd in the entire church VBS with 905 points. This girl named Jennie Shields got 970 points to win – which I still am bitter about to this day, because she was three years older than me!

I recall that we were at times memorizing some pretty remote portions of the Bible. But I don’t remember ever being challenged to commit verse 13 from today’s reading to memory: The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. You’ve got to admit, that is a way cool verse! Who wants to be a tail? Who wants to be on the bottom? And all you’ve got to do to be a head or to be on top is to obey God’s commands. The verse packs a summary of what you need to know to be successful.

Remember the commercials in the past that said, “My broker is E.F. Hutton, and E.F. Hutton says …” … and the room suddenly would go quiet as everyone leaned in to hear. My father was a very quiet man who was a lot like E.F. Hutton.  He didn’t talk a lot, but when he did, everyone listened. I remember one occasion when I was pastoring my previous church in New Jersey – attended by my parents – and before receiving the offering I did a brief interview with my father, who was by far the oldest man in the church. He simply said that many years before, in the midst of the Great Depression when he was earning only $20 a week, he determined that he was going to live for God and at a minimum tithe his meager income. He said, “From that day forward, I did not ever cease to prosper in my life.” He went from being the tail to being the head, from being at the bottom to being at the top. A holy hush came over the congregation.

The passage today lists the blessings that will come from obedience to the covenant of Israel with the Lord God. This does not mean that every day and every situation will always be perfect. This does not mean that there will not be lean times that test one’s faith. This does not mean that we will not find a lot of disappointment in this life, along with a desire for a better world. But it does mean that our needs are met, and often in abundance. And that should REVIVE us today.

Blessings for Obedience

28:1   If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.

4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

5 Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.

6 You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

7 The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.

8 The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.

9 The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him. 10 Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. 11 The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.

12 The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. 13 The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. 14 Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them.

The 50-Yard Line of Israel (Deuteronomy 27:9-26)

(Note – This passage and devotional needs to be read in concert with that of yesterday to have a full understanding.)

At a football game, there is the meeting at the 50-yard line before the contest begins. Here the referees meet with representative captains of the two teams for a coin toss to determine who kicks off and who receives, along with which goal each will defend. The dozens of players on the teams look on with interest, as do the thousands of fans in attendance. Certain specific rules are reiterated, particularly on the occasion of an overtime.

That mental picture of a football game may help in understanding today’s reading. Here we continue with the event to be observed upon the nation of Israel’s occupation of the Promised Land – ratifying the covenant with the Lord God. Six of the tribes were to stand on one mountain named Gerizim, representing the blessings of God in the covenant. Six other tribes were to occupy the opposite hill called Mount Ebal, representing the curses to follow the breaking of the covenant. Between them stood the Levites, who pronounced the truths of the Law, followed by the “Amen” of the representative people.

The picture shows Gerizim on the left and Ebal on the right. Shechem is in the middle. As you may note from the photo, this is not a large area … but it was a sort of natural amphitheater.

Something we need to understand from this passage is that everything about it is representative. Surely several million people did not occupy these hills, and not all the blessings and curses are given – it is all representative. Consider especially the last verse which is a summary statement about the Law and the need to keep it. What is interesting is that the Apostle Paul quotes this verse in Galatians 3:10 to demonstrate the impossible nature of keeping the Law – “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’”  We need to understand that the Law was not really about grace, but was rather about showing a man his sin toward the end that he would seek grace in forgiveness through sacrificial atonement – to be ultimately found finally in the work of Christ.

Curses From Mount Ebal

9 Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Be silent, Israel, and listen! You have now become the people of the Lord your God. 10 Obey the Lord your God and follow his commands and decrees that I give you today.”

11 On the same day Moses commanded the people: 12 When you have crossed the Jordan, these tribes shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin. 13 And these tribes shall stand on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali.

14 The Levites shall recite to all the people of Israel in a loud voice:

15 “Cursed is anyone who makes an idol—a thing detestable to the Lord, the work of skilled hands—and sets it up in secret.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

16 “Cursed is anyone who dishonors their father or mother.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

17 “Cursed is anyone who moves their neighbor’s boundary stone.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

18 “Cursed is anyone who leads the blind astray on the road.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

19 “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

20 “Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his father’s wife, for he dishonors his father’s bed.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

21 “Cursed is anyone who has sexual relations with any animal.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

22 “Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

23 “Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his mother-in-law.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

24 “Cursed is anyone who kills their neighbor secretly.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

25 “Cursed is anyone who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

26 “Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

The fulfillment of this: from Joshua chapter 8:

All the Israelites, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the LORD, facing the Levitical priests who carried it. Both the foreigners living among them and the native-born were there. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel.

Put it in Writing on Stone (Deuteronomy 27:1-8)

Background – As we have mentioned in both the sermons connected with this REVIVE series as well as in these devotionals, the book of Deuteronomy consists primarily of a series of four addresses of Moses to the people of Israel. The second of the speeches was a long one from chapters 5 to 26. In this daily readings and devotionals program, we covered chapters 5-11 concerning the general requirements of the Law; and we have then skipped over chapters 12-26 which specified the details of the covenant. Now we begin a shorter section from chapters 27-28 that specifically addresses the nation on the cusp of entering the land. Here commands are given for a “renewal of the covenant” ceremony to occur once they enter the land, along with a rehearsal of the blessings (for obedience) and curses (for disobedience).

When we enter into legal agreements such as a mortgage or a business contract, we draw up documents to clarify the terms of the pact. This is done to be certain that there exists a clear understanding of the mutual obligations to be followed. Additionally, it is not unusual for there to be specified consequence for non-adherence to the agreement – such as penalties and forfeitures.

In this passage today, Moses tells the people of a sort of legal ratification ceremony that they are to perform when they enter the Promised Land. Moses himself will not be with them at this time. God’s faithfulness is seen reiterated here, not only in the fact of their certain entrance and occupation of the land, but even to the detail of the location of this ceremony. It was to be on Mount Ebal, at base of which was located Shechem – the very location where the Lord first appeared to Abraham and where the patriarch had built his first altar to the Lord (Genesis 12:6-7).

The people of Israel where to take stones and stack them – coating them with plaster and writing God’s covenant word upon them. This would serve as both a reminder to the Israelites of God’s promises of blessings and warnings of curses, as well as being a witness to the Canaanite peoples of the majesty of the one true God. And they were to enter into the covenant with God through sacrifices and offerings – eating also joyfully in the presence of God.

Several Sundays ago in the sermon on “response,” I presented to you the idea that worship – both old and new covenants – consists of the word and the table. In the OT, it was this covenant law of God that contained his word, while the table was the altar of sacrifice. In the NT era of the New Covenant by Christ’s sacrifice, the word is the rehearsing of this truth through Scripture, preaching, and song … while the table is the remembrance of the completion of the eternal covenant through the blood Christ – commemorated through the elements and observance of the Lord’s table. This growing understanding among us is why we have elevated the observance of the communion in our services – even as the goal toward which we gather and fellowship with the Lord and one another.

A chart presented in that 4th week sermon is as follows:

Why we worship God

The Way we worship God

Involves the Word

Involves the Table

Israel – Covenant

Israel – Altar

Church – Gospel

Church – Lord’s Table

The Altar on Mount Ebal

27:1   Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people: “Keep all these commands that I give you today. 2 When you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. 3 Write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. 4 And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster. 5 Build there an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not use any iron tool on them. 6 Build the altar of the Lord your God with fieldstones and offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God. 7 Sacrifice fellowship offerings there, eating them and rejoicing in the presence of the Lord your God. 8 And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up.”

Did I Not Already Read This? (Deuteronomy 11:8-32)

One of my favorite church cartoons is of a man talking to the pastor at the door of the church on Easter Sunday, telling him that he is stuck in a rut – preaching on the same subject every time the man comes! And then there is the story of the new pastor in a church who preached his first sermon, but the next week preached the exact same message all over. The people thought he just made a mistake and decided to give him a third week … and sure enough, same sermon. So the people confronted him and he responded, “Well, when you apply this first sermon, I’ll move on to something else!”

In our readings in Deuteronomy, we cannot help but hear the same ideas over and over … “obey these commands … so that your days may be long … carefully observe … into the land the Lord your God is leading you … love him with all your heart … teach this to your children …”  The reason it feels like it is being repeated so much is because … well … it IS being repeated over and over! There was no reason for the people to not clearly understand!

It is not like the Lord was sending the Israelites into a horrible place where they would have to gut it out and struggle desperately to survive in a brutal environment. The place was truly fabulous, as it is largely to this day. Yes, there are arid regions, but the land is rich and prosperous … especially compared to where they had been living – in Egypt.

As it says in the reading today, Egypt was a land where crops would grow if you worked hard, foot by foot, to bring water from the Nile to irrigate the ground. Otherwise, the place was pretty much a desert. In the Promised Land, Moses describes it beautifully as a place with mountains and valleys that drink rain from heaven. God gives his promise as well to faithfully send the rains to make it prosper in accord with the people’s obedience.

What a sweet deal!  The Israelites were truly at a fork in the road. The choices could not be more different, more right and left, more black and white, more life and death … it was all about blessing and cursings. (The final portion of the reading about the two mountains will be repeated and explained in a reading next week.)

We face the same fork in the road – the same choice of obedience/rebellion, trust/independence, sufficiency/greed, contentment/discontent. The natural man within tells us to take charge of our own fate by seeing expedient opportunities and easy paths of creature comforts and pleasures. It is totally stupid! But we do it … and is the reason we need to step back and REVIVE.

Deuteronomy 11:8-32

8 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, 9 and so that you may live long in the land the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 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. 11 But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. 12 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.

13 So if 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— 14 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 olive oil. 15 I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.

16 Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. 17 Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up 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. 18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 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. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

22 If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow—to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him and to hold fast to him— 23 then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. 24 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 Mediterranean Sea. 25 No one 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.

26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— 27 the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; 28 the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. 29 When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses. 30 As you know, these mountains are across the Jordan, westward, toward the setting sun, near the great trees of Moreh, in the territory of those Canaanites living in the Arabah in the vicinity of Gilgal. 31 You are about to cross the Jordan to enter and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you. When you have taken it over and are living there, 32 be sure that you obey all the decrees and laws I am setting before you today.


The Importance of Telling Stories (Deuteronomy 11:1-7)

“Tell me a story,” says our children and grandchildren – often at bedtime or another teachable moment of life. I believe that in some way this in a divinely-infused innate desire to connect with the wisdom of the past. Children need to hear the stories of the past – of their family, of the human family, of the story of stories of what God has been doing from the beginning of time. These stories need to be honest and truthful – about the good AND the bad. There are, of course, lessons in each. Unless children are told, they will not know, because they cannot remember.

That is the summary of today’s reading. Moses reminds the people for the umpteenth time to love and obey God, AND, to be sure to tell the children what this generation of adults saw with their own eyes about God’s dealings.

There are essentially two parts of stories Moses commands to be told: first, the collection of major events concerning God’s miracles at the Exodus – which was a very positive story. And secondly, a lesser-known account of what happened to some people who actively rebelled against God.

Concerning the Exodus – Among the events of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt as particularly outstanding were the signs and wonders done to Pharaoh, the miraculous deliverance of the nation from a great and powerful country, and the defeat of the Egyptian army when swallowed alive by the waters of the Red Sea.

Concerning a Rebellion against the Ministry of Aaron – This account comprises the 16th chapter of the book of Numbers. These Reubenite families, along with a host of Levites, disputed the selection of Aaron as the high priest to represent the nation before God. In the confrontation that followed, the result was that these rebels were swallowed up by the ground opening around them, others were burned alive by fire from the Lord, and a plague claimed another 14,700 lives before Aaron was able to quell it by his intercessory atonement.

We all have stories in our lives – accounts of when we found God to be our great provider and sustainer, yet accounts also of where we failed to trust in full obedience. The generations behind us need to hear these stories, as it gives them a framework upon which to build the values and decisions of their lives.

Deuteronomy 11:1-7

Love and Obey the Lord

11:1  Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. 2 Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; 3 the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country; 4 what he did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots, how he overwhelmed them with the waters of the Red Sea as they were pursuing you, and how the Lord brought lasting ruin on them. 5 It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the wilderness until you arrived at this place, 6 and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them. 7 But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the Lord has done.

What Does God Want From Me? (Deuteronomy 10:12-22)

The question asked in the title today may be the most common question that comes to a pastor – though it may be expressed in varied forms. So what does the Lord want from his people – then or now? Well, the answer is rather simple, though, not to be trite about it, living it out in the details of life can be confusing at times. But, this is one time where it is not the Devil who is in the details, but the Lord God.

Look at this first verse in our reading today (verse 12). Moses gets really practical here with the application from all the history that he has been rehearsing about what God has accomplished and what the nation has done in response. Moses is essentially saying to this conquest generation: Here is what God wants from you …

–          To fear God – This means to appropriately honor and respect and acknowledge God accurately for who he is and what he has done.

–          To obey his commands – Does this need explanation? God has spoken; he has not stuttered.

–          To love God – Yes, this is a matter of passion and worship from a thankful heart that recognizes his goodness. Yet it is also evidenced, as is anything we love, by the amount of time and priority we give to it – to Him and to what He values.

–          To serve God – As immediately above, this means to prioritize those eternal values with all of who we are in our heart (mind) and soul (intellect, emotions, will) and strength (not stated here, but often in similar contexts).

Do you need some help and perspective in getting to the point of applying this? Look at verses 14 and 15, and see how they speak of something terribly vast, followed by something terribly small. In this context, it is the creation and the smallness of the nation of Israel – promised to Abraham individually, named after his grandson Jacob, comprising but 70 people some 400 years or so earlier when they all went to Egypt at the time of Joseph. And now, as Moses speaks to them, they numbered in the millions – and they, of all nations, were those upon whom God set his love… leading to a response of worship of lips and lives!

Hey! Listen! Don’t you see the same thing here about who we are in 2013?  We are those upon whom God has set his love by having Christ die for us. Out of all peoples, we have this calling, this truth made known to us, this grace lavished upon us through God’s Word and his sovereign arranging of circumstances of life that we may receive it and walk in its beauty. How do we respond to that? We do so with the worship of lips and lives. We praise God in the quiet moments of our personal adoration. We long to gather with others of like precious faith to join our praises in a swell we cannot render by ourselves, and we prioritize eternal values in the organization and administration of our personal lives and deeds.

Committing anew to this is …….. revival!

Deuteronomy 10:12-22

Fear the Lord

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

14 To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Take 2 Tablets and Come Back in 40 Days (Deuteronomy 10:1-11)

Today’s reading finishes Moses’ rehearsal of historic events before moving on to an important exhortation for the people – which will be our reading for tomorrow.

Here today we have the account of the replacement stones for those that were previously broken when Moses first came down from Mt. Horeb and found the nation worshipping a golden calf that was claimed to have essentially “jumped out of the fire.”  The Bible really is so full of humor. Here is something humorous you’ll have to link to in order to see. It is a Mel Brooks clip from the movie “The History of the World, Part 1.”

In the event that you were unable to see it, the scene shows Moses with 3 tablets of 5 commandments. And he says, “Here are the 15 commandments … (one drops and breaks) … ah, the 10 commandments from the Lord our God.”  So, to blow that scene all to pieces for you, let me tell you that in all likelihood, the two tablets EACH contained all 10 commandments (which we know from the archeological record of ancient Near Eastern Suzerainty treaties). Aren’t you so glad you’ve read this, and now you know things that nobody else in your office today will know!

So Moses again went to the mountain for 40 days, and again came back with the Commandments. This time they were not broken, but were rather put into the Ark of the Covenant. This oozes with all sorts of theological significance – see the book of Hebrews for the fabulous details!

Along with this discussion of the commandments naturally flows the issue of the family of Aaron (the brother of Moses) and also the tribe of Levi. As you know from the division of the Promised Land, there was no area given to the tribe of Levi. And there is no “Tribe of Joseph.”  That is because Joseph had a double portion – Manasseh and Ephraim; and the Levites were to be the religious leaders throughout Israel, with Aaron’s family being the priests. They would be supported through the tithes of the rest of the nation.

This passage today rehearses how, by God’s grace, the Lord renewed the covenant with the people. He didn’t need to do that. He didn’t need to do anything after Adam rebelled and led the whole human race into death and separation. God didn’t need to devise a plan of redemption that would be fulfilled by a new covenant in the person of Christ. He didn’t need to – again by HIS grace – bring it, in the course of life events, to your understanding that you may receive life eternal. But, as you have named Christ as savior, you know that he did indeed do that for you.

Feel revived yet?

Deuteronomy 10:1-11

10:1  At that time the Lord said to me, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones and come up to me on the mountain. Also make a wooden ark. 2 I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Then you are to put them in the ark.”

3 So I made the ark out of acacia wood and chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hands. 4 The Lord wrote on these tablets what he had written before, the Ten Commandments he had proclaimed to you on the mountain, out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. 5 Then I came back down the mountain and put the tablets in the ark I had made, as the Lord commanded me, and they are there now.

6 (The Israelites traveled from the wells of Bene Jaakan to Moserah. There Aaron died and was buried, and Eleazar his son succeeded him as priest. 7 From there they traveled to Gudgodah and on to Jotbathah, a land with streams of water. 8 At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister and to pronounce blessings in his name, as they still do today. 9 That is why the Levites have no share or inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as the Lord your God told them.)

10 Now I had stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights, as I did the first time, and the Lord listened to me at this time also. It was not his will to destroy you. 11 “Go,” the Lord said to me, “and lead the people on their way, so that they may enter and possess the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.”

Do You Have a Stiff Neck Today? (Deuteronomy 9:7-29)

No, I’m not talking about sleeping poorly on the wrong mattress or having the incorrect pillow for spinal alignment. On quite a number of occasions in the Old Testament (and once in the NT), the nation of Israel is called “a stiff-necked people.”

The meaning of this term actually comes from the world of ancient agriculture. The Hebrew term literally translated means “hard of neck.” The primary animal used in agriculture and for a host of other heavy-duty tasks was an ox. The animal was given direction with an “ox goad,” which was a sort of light pole. A tap on the neck would indicate which direction the beast was to turn. And any ox that was resistant to direction was spoken of as “stiff-necked.”  Therefore you can see the obvious allusion to any person/people/nation that is resistant to being directed by God.

This passage is essentially a validation of the final statement made in the reading from last Friday … from 9:6 where Moses said, “Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.”  So, Moses, what do you really think about the Israelites? I confess that I actually did a LOL when I read this again!

Just in case someone might presume that Moses was overstating the situation, consider the following list of epic failures of the Israelite nation as given in today’s reading.

–          At Horeb – This was Mt. Sinai where Moses was gone for 40 days getting God’s Law. When Moses came down from the mountain, there was the whole nation worshipping a golden calf.

–          At Taberah – Here the Israelites complained about their hardships to the extent that the Lord in his anger caused fire to consume some of them on the outskirts of the camp.

–          At Massah – This was the place where the Israelites were so angry and thirsty that they were ready to stone Moses … and God had Moses strike the rock to bring water from it.

–          At Kibroth Hattaavah – Here the Israelites suffered a plague sent from the Lord for their complaints about insufficient variety in their food. The quail were sent, but so was the pestilence for their moaning.

–          Kadesh Barnea – This was the big one!… the final straw. Here is the place where the Israelites rebelled against going up to conquer the Promised Land.

Wow, that is quite a list! That is a lot of rebellion and disbelief.

I have to laugh at one of our long-time church leaders who I know has on certain occasions — when someone was complaining to him about how we are too much this, or not enough of that – stepped back from them several steps without commenting. “What are you doing,” he is asked. And he says to them, “I’m stepping back because I don’t want to fall into the hole created when God opens up the earth to swallow you for complaining!”

Expressing legitimate concerns for the betterment of a situation – whatever it may be at home or church – is legitimate. But outright complaining and rebelling against the riches of God’s goodness and grace is just plain wrong. Let us not look to anyone else for application of this; let us each look only to ourselves to be revived.

Deuteronomy 9:7-29

Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the Lord your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord. At Horeb you aroused the Lord’s wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you. When I went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord had made with you, I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water. 10 The Lord gave me two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. On them were all the commandments the Lord proclaimed to you on the mountain out of the fire, on the day of the assembly.

11 At the end of the forty days and forty nights, the Lord gave me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant. 12 Then the Lord told me, “Go down from here at once, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have become corrupt. They have turned away quickly from what I commanded them and have made an idol for themselves.”

13 And the Lord said to me, “I have seen this people, and they are a stiff-necked people indeed! 14 Let me alone, so that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they.”

15 So I turned and went down from the mountain while it was ablaze with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my hands. 16 When I looked, I saw that you had sinned against the Lord  your God; you had made for yourselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the Lord had commanded you. 17 So I took the two tablets and threw them out of my hands, breaking them to pieces before your eyes.

18 Then once again I fell prostrate before the Lord for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the Lord’s sight and so arousing his anger. 19 I feared the anger and wrath of the Lord, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the Lord listened to me. 20 And the Lord was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too. 21 Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you had made, and burned it in the fire. Then I crushed it and ground it to powder as fine as dust and threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain.

22 You also made the Lord angry at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah.

23 And when the Lord sent you out from Kadesh Barnea, he said, “Go up and take possession of the land I have given you.” But you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You did not trust him or obey him. 24 You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you.

25 I lay prostrate before the Lord those forty days and forty nights because the Lord had said he would destroy you. 26 I prayed to the Lord and said, “Sovereign Lord, do not destroy your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed by your great power and brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.27 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Overlook the stubbornness of this people, their wickedness and their sin. 28 Otherwise, the country from which you brought us will say, ‘Because the Lord was not able to take them into the land he had promised them, and because he hated them, he brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.’ 29 But they are your people, your inheritance that you brought out by your great power and your outstretched arm.”

Pretty Good in Your Own Eyes, Eh? (Deuteronomy 9:1-6)

We live in the participation trophy era, where everyone is a winner simply for showing up. Everyone is good, and nobody is really bad. Youth sports get hit pretty hard with this criticism, though I understand the desire to encourage children to enjoy an activity before they face the pressures of performance. Yet I’ve seen this extreme grace extend pretty far into adolescence, and not just with sports. I’ve also observed it with such events as music competitions – where everyone gets a score of very good, excellent, or superlative. So the people who finished last weren’t losers, they were just the least of the very goods! It feels so much better that way!

Instead of picking on my runners I coached for this illustration, I’ll pick on myself. I was a good runner in high school, but I was on a very mediocre cross country team in a very small school. For some reason, our coach thought it would be a great and expansive experience for us to run against one of the better New Jersey public schools. And for some other reason I cannot imagine, this school invited us to run against them at their homecoming football game. When we got there, I have to say that I had never seen a school so large in my life – with an enrollment of about 3,000 students. We lined up to start the race at the beginning of halftime in this gigantic football stadium with thousands of people in attendance. I had never seen such big guys on a cross country team before. There were 39 of them, and 7 of us! I was a freshman on varsity – the last of our top 7 guys who were the only ones taken on this trip. I thought I was pretty good. However, I placed 46th that day in front of thousands of people. The race finished with a final sprint down the middle of the field from one goalpost to the other. I didn’t hold up the game or anything, and I actually ran a decent time; I was just out of my league completely. Everything about the other team and school had the appearance of giants!

In our passage today, Moses gives this new generation the facts about the situation they are facing. They are going into a land where the people are indeed as big as their reputations, and their cities surrounded by walls were such as to appear to reach the sky. Everything about the human circumstances spelled certain doom for Israel – the Canaanites were too big, strong, and well-fortified to be defeated. BUT, the Israelites had the Lord to go before them, and that would render their victory as swift and certain.

Moses also warns the people against the natural sense of pride and arrogance that might follow these victories. In no way should the people think that it was because of their righteousness that God was doing this. No, not at all; they deserved the opposite. Rather it was because of the wickedness of the Canaanite peoples, the covenant promises of the Lord to Abraham and the patriarchs, and simply because of God’s grace.

I speak often in these devotionals and in my sermons about timeless truths and principles. Another of these is the tendency that we may believe, even in our generation, regarding our salvation in Christ – the inclination to think that we are in some fashion worthy of the gift of eternal life. It is certainly not likely to be so bold as to believe we are really not that bad, but perhaps rather it is a notion that we were so smart as to receive Jesus Christ. No, no… that’s not how it works. As it says in Titus 3:5, “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” It is always a gift of grace. Don’t be fooled. Revive your view of God’s grace.

Deuteronomy 9:1-6

9:1  Hear, 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.

After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.