Not Exactly a Glowing Endorsement (Deuteronomy 31:14-29)

We read today through a passage that is filled with large contrasts. We see the goodness of God, yet we read of the certain declension of the nation of Israel. The faith of Moses and Joshua and their consequent blessings stand in stark contrast to the coming judgments upon the people for their rejection of God.

Again, the Lord tells Moses his end is near, and to appear before the Lord at the tent of meeting (the tabernacle = the localized presence of God) with Joshua, his younger replacement.

The communication from God to Moses and Joshua is that, though the presumption of success in conquering the land remains, the revelation is that before long after that time, the people would embrace foreign gods and forget the Lord. Moses is told to write a song – as this tune and text would be remembered even after other truths were forgotten, and the song would testify against Israel at the time of their judgment. (Looking at this song will be the theme tomorrow.)

Put yourself in the sandals of these guys. First, Moses is told he is down to mere days before he’ll be taken from the earth. And then Joshua, though bestowed with the great honor of leading a nation into victorious conquest, hears also that the fruit of it would be relatively short-lived. This would be like being named the coach of a NFL team and being told you will certainly win the Super Bowl in your first season, but from that point on, there would be increasingly losing seasons until the franchise was essentially eliminated. (But don’t worry Joshua, it’s not your fault!)

The final paragraph today speaks of the finalization of the writing of this book (Deuteronomy). Moses gives it to the Levites (the spiritual leadership tribe of Israel) to put beside the Ark of the Covenant – not within it. Inside the box were the tablets of the 10 Commandments. Again, Moses’ definitive statements as to the certain rebellion of the nation are shocking in their forthrightness… like verse 27: For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the Lord while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die!  If it were not so serious and so sad, one almost has to laugh at the brash nature of it. Imagine the dinner table that night in the homes of those Levites, “Old Moses sure has been a great leader, but he has gotten so cranky and belligerent these days – calling us names and all!”

Stepping back from the context of the nation of Israel, and seeking to bring some timeless truth understanding to this passage, it does present again the natural heart of mankind to fall away from the Lord. Unless there is a commitment of each generation to remember the Lord and stay faithful, the natural drift will be away from truth and away from the faithfulness of generations who did honor God. Surely all of us can see this in our family systems (if we have had previous generations who honored the Lord). I think of the incredible faith of my great-grandparents – totally exemplary in every way. Now, just three generations later, I would estimate that only maybe one-third of their descendants care about these values. Declension is easy; faithfulness is hard work … and is why we need to constantly REVIVE!

Israel’s Rebellion Predicted

14 The Lord said to Moses, “Now the day of your death is near. Call Joshua and present yourselves at the tent of meeting, where I will commission him.” So Moses and Joshua came and presented themselves at the tent of meeting.

15 Then the Lord appeared at the tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the tent. 16 And the Lord said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your ancestors, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. 17 And in that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and calamities will come on them, and in that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us?’ 18 And I will certainly hide my face in that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods.

19 “Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them. 20 When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their ancestors, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant. 21 And when many disasters and calamities come on them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants. I know what they are disposed to do, even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath.” 22 So Moses wrote down this song that day and taught it to the Israelites.

23 The Lord gave this command to Joshua son of Nun: “Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you.”

24 After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, 25 he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord: 26 “Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. 27 For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the Lord while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die! 28 Assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and all your officials, so that I can speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to testify against them. 29 For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall on you because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord and arouse his anger by what your hands have made.”

The Resignation of Moses (Deuteronomy 31:1-13)

The passage for today’s reading brings to mind the recent event of the resignation of the Pope. In each event, the time had come when one person’s role of service was at an end, and another would take his place. For the Pope, it is a matter of age and inability to continue the tasks. For Moses, though it seems from the text that it is likewise a matter of advanced years (being age 120!), in fact it was much more a matter of God’s plan. All along, the Lord had said that Moses would not pass over the Jordan with the people, and now that the time had arrived for this conquest of the Promised Land, Moses was in his final days of leadership. We will read in a couple of days that Moses’ health and vitality was not that severely diminished, even given his advanced years.

So, speaking in track and field terms, Moses was in the exchange zone – the area in a relay race where the baton is being passed from one runner to another.

Moses says that the Lord God will actually be the first to cross over the Jordan ahead of the nation of Israel, and that fact alone would secure their victory. Joshua would be the leader, and the results were to be just like the recent powerful defeat of the kings on the east of the river in the land of Moab.

We see here the first mention of a series of words that will repeat not only here at the end of Deuteronomy, but also over and over in the first chapter of Joshua. There are two positives and two negatives: be strong and courageous; do not be afraid or discouraged. Both sides of these four attitudes are possible because of God’s faithful word to be with them – granting every reason to be confidant, and every reason to not stress out!

The second section of today’s reading talks about an event to occur every 7th year in the new land at the Festival of Tabernacles. This annual feast that commemorated God’s faithfulness to the children of Israel through their deliverance from Egypt and preservation through the wilderness wanderings was spoken of earlier in Deuteronomy 16:13-15:

13 Celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. 14 Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. 15 For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.

The directive of Moses is that, while all of Israel would be gathered at one time for the festival, this would be the best occasion for the leaders to pull out the Law of Moses and have it read for everyone to hear. Obviously, if there was no specific plan for this to happen, it would take very few years for those with memories of these events to die off, and the children who had no such memories to also be unaware of the truths of God’s promises and of the necessity of renewing the covenant. In a time when most people were rather illiterate, and where there were no libraries and no Google search engines on varied communication devices, this event would be critical for Israel’s future. It would require leaders who, even though they could not personally remember Moses or the giving of the Law, still valued it and made the efforts to insure that this tradition was continued.

These thoughts today are full of timeless truths. At Tri-State Fellowship we talk all the time about generational ministry. We say it so much that I often feel like people get resentful that it is such an emphasis. But it has to be! Without it, the natural proclivities of life will result in not being diligent to disciple, love, and encourage younger generations … and truth and biblical values will fall through the cracks of forgetfulness. We need to take the effort to continuously REVIVE – ourselves first, and then those who come behind us to whom we must inevitably hand the baton. We REVIVE by discipling generations to love God, serve one another, and reach the world.

Joshua to Succeed Moses

31:1   Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: 2 “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’ 3 The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the Lord said. 4 And the Lord will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. 5 The Lord will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Public Reading of the Law

9 So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the Levitical priests, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 Then Moses commanded them: “At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Festival of Tabernacles, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. 13 Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”