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.”