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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Absolute Allegiance Calls for Commitment - Deuteronomy 8

Deuteronomy 8

            Chapter 8 of Deuteronomy continues Moses’ sermon on the First Commandment, which says, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). With the end of Deuteronomy 8, Moses reached the middle of his sermon on the First Commandment. He spoke about this commandment from chapters five through eleven. Within chapter eight, the thematic statement is verse eleven. It says, “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today.” Verse 11 is not the only time Moses stated this commandment in chapter eight. He iterated and expanded on it in verses one, six, eleven, and eighteen. Moses used the word “shall” seven times in both a positive (vs. 1-2, 6, 10, and 18) and negative format (11 and 19). You will notice, too, that the thematic statement (vs. 11) is in a negative format as a warning. Through the verses where God, through Moses, gave commands using the word “shall,” an outline appears. First, we must remember that the word “keep” in Hebrew is shamar and it means to listen (hear and remember) and obey (act and do). This means the first commandment encompasses hearing, acting upon, remembering, and worshipping the only LORD God. From this, we can go to the outline.

Vs. 1--------shall do the commandments

Vs. 2--------shall remember the ways the Lord led

            Remembering the LORD’s provision for them from Egypt until that point in time:

 (vs. 3-5) [Past]

Vs. 6--------shall keep the commands of the LORD to walk in them and fear/reverence Him.

(“Keep” is listening, remembering, and doing. (from vs. 1-2))

            Hearing how God will bless them in the Promised Land: (vs. 7-9) [Future]

Vs. 10------shall bless the LORD (“Bless” from the Hebrew means to praise and worship.)

Vs. 11------shall not forget the LORD by not keeping His commandments (negative wording of vs. 1, 2, 6, and 10)

            What will happen to their minds and hearts if they do forget the LORD is their

                Savior and Provider: (vs. 12-14a, 17) [Future]

            Keep remembering what God did: (vs. 14b-16) [Past]

Vs. 18------shall remember the LORD

Vs.19------shall come about if you forget the LORD, go after, serve, and worship other gods

– the curse 

The LORD will make you perish (vs. 20) [Future]

Moses said in verse one, “All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do that you may live and multiply and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your forefathers.” [NASB] Remember the word “shall” is an imperative command for the future. From earlier lessons, we learned about the verbs. The word “live” comes from the Hebrew word chayah, which means living beings or having life. Since God is the creator of all life, He is the one who determines the end of each life, too. Yet, we need to look at this another way. God decides the beginning and end of life; He can use life as a disciplining tool, as well. If the Israelites did not follow His commandments, their covenant with Him voided and they would not live long and multiply. In essence, He could end their lives because they chose not to follow Him as they promised in their covenant. We need to remember this point for when we study verses nineteen and twenty. God is the one who is in charge of life and death and He is the one who gives everything - material, spiritual, and mental blessings. The first generation of Israelites broke faith with God and perished before God gave the Promised Land to the Israelites. The point is that God controls who lives. “Multiply” means to become great or increase, and is God’s promise to the Israelites that they would not be the smallest nation on earth. His benefits to them included more people, might, and wealth. In chapters six and seven, we learned the Israelites inherited the promise God made to Abraham that He would give them a land of their own. So the “going in” part of verse one is God’s faithful fulfilling of His promise to Abraham. The Israelites “possessing” the land would come about because of their faithfulness to their covenant with God. The Ten Commandments was their covenant with God. Deuteronomy 8 is an expansion on the first commandment, the primary commandment upon which all the others hang. By commanding us to have no other gods, God set up the absolute basis of the covenant relationship. Following this commandment is forward-looking as well as current and past. It involves the future – life, growth, and possession. To get life, growth, and possession, God must will it and a child of God must give absolute allegiance to the LORD - to worship, obey, and follow Him.

            Whereas the first verse commands the Israelites to follow God’s commands, the second verse commands them to remember God and how He led them in the wilderness. This verse says, “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” [NASB] First, Moses commanded the Israelites to remember what God did for them in the wilderness. Next, he told them God led them through the hard times to humble, test, and teach them. Let us look at a couple definitions. “Led” comes from the Hebrew word halak, which means to walk with a person or people. The Israelites did not walk alone in the desert, but God walked with them. “Testing” comes from the Hebrew word nacah, which means to test, try, prove, or tempt. God disciplined the Israelites in the desert so they would know that when times got hard, if they remained in covenant with Him, He would give what they needed. They learned to trust in God. This same disciplining is what a parent gives their child to help them grow. Many people today consider disciplining to be a negative punishment, but the opposite is true. Disciplining is teaching and making a person strong. Athletes discipline their bodies, as do soldiers. Punishment is the negative side of discipline. When a person does not grow, they fail. His or her punishment is failure and the results of the failure. In the desert, God used the forty years to discipline the Israelites. He wanted to know them, wanted them to know themselves, and what they could be as faithful children of God. God used the remembering of His faithfulness to the Israelites, which was their testing, to teach them He is the one true God who will stand up for them. This led to their knowing and learning that He tested them by leading them through the desert. He tested and disciplined them just as an earthly father disciplines his child.

The Israelites knowing God in this way developed their faith in Him. Their testing and growth of faith resulted in obedience to God’s commandments. This explains verses three through six. Verses three through four remind the Israelites of their hardships in the desert. It reminds them, too, of God’s love and provision for them in the desert. God provided manna and water in the desert of which they and their fathers did not know. This taught them to trust in God’s provision and to trust that man cannot live by bread alone, but by everything that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Humankind lives because God created them. God determines when they die, too. He determines who will live eternally with Him, as well. By His breath, God created humans. By His word, humans die. By His Word, humans can have eternal Life. The manna came by God speaking it into being. God’s speaking brought life to the Israelites who were starving then. God’s speaking brought us life in the beginning and gives us Life through His Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:1). Verse 3 says, “man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.” Verse 4 reminded the Israelites that God ensured their clothes and sandals did not wear out during their forty year wandering. God takes care of every need – food and clothing for physical life and salvation for eternal life. Because the Israelites learned about God and grew to trust in and rely upon Him, they gained conviction about the LORD God. Their conviction led them to have faith in Him. The writer of the book of Hebrews put it succinctly when he said, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). With this growth of faith in the hearts of the Israelites, they learned to love and revere the LORD. The lesson on chapter six taught us that the ultimate expression of love and reverence for God is obedience. Moses made this point again in verse six of this chapter when he said, “Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.” [NASB] These are the three steps to a perfect response to God’s command in verse one and in response to the first commandment. It requires your attitude to be reflected in actions.

            Moses explained to the Israelites what the LORD was giving them because of His faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham. The Israelites would inherit a good land full of water, fertile soil, and land rich in ores (vs. 7-9). Their natural response to God because of this should be blessing. Moses stated in verse ten, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.” The word “bless” comes from the Hebrew word barak, which means to kneel, bless, and praise. Moses commanded the Israelites to praise, worship, and revere the LORD. By acknowledging that every good thing comes from God, their relationship with, conviction of, and faith in God increased. By the time they traveled with God for forty years, they should have been at the place where blessing God was automatic and would not need to be commanded. It makes you wonder how we could not praise and worship God for every blessing He gives us today. Many people see blessings as coming from their own hands and brains. We no longer praise God for them. Have we forgotten the Father who disciplined us?

            Verse 11 is where Moses warned the Israelites to keep God’s commandments. He gave the first commandment in a negative way. Moses said, “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today.” [NASB] You may say, “This is not the first commandment.” We must remember that the word “forget” comes from the Hebrew word shakach, which means to ignore, forget, and cease to care about. The first commandment says, “You are to have no other gods.” When a person turns away from God by ignoring or ceasing to care for Him, the person has put something else in God’s place in their life. God is not being worshipped, loved, revered, and obeyed. Moses told the Israelites not to forget the LORD by not obeying Him. So by not obeying, a person is ceasing to care about and ignoring God. This is the thematic statement for the chapter. When a person follows the commandment in verse one, he or she remembers (vs. 1) and does not forget (vs. 11).

            The next thing Moses said to the Israelites concerns us still today. If they did not remember the LORD and keep His commandments, they would become proud and would forget the LORD. The Israelites would say their wealth and material things came from their own hands (vs. 12 &13). They would deny that God gave them their power and strength and would become proud of self (vs. 17). Added to this, they would forget the LORD. They would ignore Him and cease to care about Him because they considered themselves self-sufficient, not needing God. The Israelites would not remember what He did for them in their past – saved from scorpions and serpents and gave water to drink and food to eat (vs. 14-16). People today fall into this trap. When life is going very well, a person believes he or she provided everything he or she needed. The person becomes self-satisfied and is tempted to say they do not need God anymore. The big issue, though, is how self-sufficient is a person? God created, chose, saved, provided, and directed the Israelites. Were they truly self-sufficient? The Israelites fell into this same trap many times. Each of these times, they failed in keeping the first commandment because they made their selves and their wealth into gods and forgot the LORD God. The humility God taught them while wandering in the wilderness forty years should have been visible even during their prosperous years. We, today, are no more self-sufficient than the Israelites and should keep our humility when living in prosperous times. God continues to be Provider today.

            Moses reiterated the commandment strongly in verse eighteen. He said, “But you shall remember the LORD your God for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers as it is this day.” The Hebrew word for “giving” means bestowing, granting, permitting, and entrusting you with. God did not give the Israelites anything He could not take away if they failed to keep His commandments. He gave them the Promised Land to fulfill His covenant with Abraham. The Israelites did not get the land because of their worthiness. If the Israelites remained true to their promise with God, the Ten Commandments, at Mount Sinai, they would possess the land and be His people.

            There was always a curse connected with Old Testament era covenants should one party fail to fulfill their side. The curse for failing to fulfill this covenant with the LORD is in verses nineteen and twenty. Moses said,

It shall come about if you ever forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so you shall perish because you would not listen to the voice of the LORD your God. [NASB]

This curse spells out what God considers as forgetting Him. God said going after (following), serving, and worshipping other gods is shakach, forgetting, Him. In verse six, God stated what following Him means. He said keeping (listening and obeying) His commandments means walking in His ways and fearing Him. Verse 19 speaks of doing (serving) and worshipping (fearing and revering) as the way a person follows other gods. The actions for God are the same as if people go after other gods – following, serving/doing, and fearing. By this reasoning, if Israel “forgot” and turned their back on God by following other gods, the LORD would “make them perish” just as He made the nations that lived in Canaan before them perish.

Turning one’s back on God leads to death – physical and spiritual. Forgetting God leads to drying up, shriveling, and dying. God made this happen to other nations who chose not to live in relationship with Him. Following God and His commandments leads to a blessed, full, and joyous life – physically and spiritually. Israel was different from other nations as long as they followed God and obeyed Him. When they abandoned Him, they were no longer different and suffered the same consequences. 

God still offers life to people who follow and obey Him. Through Jesus Christ, He gives spiritual Life forever to those who follow Him. God still gives blessings. His blessings are sometimes material. They are sometimes spiritual, too, and lead us to new growth and joy. Whenever and however God chooses to bless His children, He does not do it because a person is worthy. God blesses because of His love for humankind. What was His greatest gift? His greatest gift was the life of His only Son, Jesus Christ, given to die for our sins so that we would not have to die forever as the punishment for them. He felt the pain, guilt, and anguish of each of our sins then suffered and suffocated on the cross.

We do not have to accept God’s gift, His salvation from our penalty. We do not have to follow, obey, and worship Him. We do die; that is the great equalizer of humanity. What happens after our physical death is the choice of each person for him or herself. God gave the perfect sacrifice for our penalty. We choose if we will accept it and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as our Savior. By doing this, we choose to follow, obey, and worship God only. It is your choice.