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Monday, October 6, 2014

Promises, Faithfulness, Blessings, and Curses - Deuteronomy 10:12-11:32

Deuteronomy 10:12-11:32

            From Deuteronomy 5, Moses reminded the Israelites and the later readers and hearers over the millennia what they learned with the Ten Commandments, what the LORD requires of His children. God requires absolute allegiance. From chapters six through eleven, Moses taught the Israelites about God – His characteristics, His past works on their behalf, His presence at the current time, and His assured presence in the future. Moses taught them God’s ordinances, statutes, laws, and His future judgments, too, which would earn them blessings or curses.

            Deuteronomy 10:12-11:32 is a simplified and pointed restatement of the earlier four-and-one-half chapters. The outline of this sermon is simple and alternates between a verse of God commanding the Israelites and then a verse about God or of what He will do. It continues this pattern mostly throughout this part of Scripture with just a few segments being longer than one verse. The verses of this sermon divide into two parts – verses 10:12-11:7 and verses 11:8-11:32. A positive restatement of the First Commandment begins the first and second sections. The second section’s command of “keep” (hear, listen, and obey) all God’s commands is the succinct restatement of 10:12. Moses’ purpose for these two sections was to teach the Israelites what God requires and commands of His children – absolute allegiance to Him lived out as reverential fear and obedient love. Moses taught the Israelites in the first section about who God is – His characteristics and His past actions for them. In the second section, Moses taught the Israelites what God commands of them as His children and what He promises He will do for/to them if they obey or disobey Him – blessing or curse. The part of the second section that states the First Commandment negatively (vs. 16) introduces the typical covenantal clause of blessings and curses (vs. 17, 31-32). This division of Moses’ sermon demonstrates precisely what the word yada (“know” in English; see 11:2) means. Yada is a progressive learning that leads to knowing personally. It covers the spectrum from introduction, perceiving, recognizing, acknowledging, and then confessing one’s relationship with the introduced person. The Bible speaks of yada regarding a person’s relationship with Yahweh. From verses 10:12-11:7, Moses introduced Yahweh to the Israelites by describing His characteristics to them. In the second part of the first section, Moses taught them that what they experienced in their exilic departure from Egypt and in the wilderness showed the LORD’s actions for them because of His love for them. From 11:8-11:32, Moses taught the Israelites to acknowledge the LORD and confess Him because of His works for them in their past, in their present, and in their future. Instead of talking to the Israelites about who God is, in this section Moses spoke to them regarding what God will do as they cross the Jordan River and receive their inheritance and in their future. He taught them what God commanded them to do as His chosen people, too. The second section of the sermon was current and future focused. Throughout this sermon, Moses told the Israelites the LORD’s past actions teach them of who He is and His care for them. By this, they could recognize Him in the present and could know and trust He would be in their future. Let us look at these forty-three verses closer.

            In the first section of this sermon, verses 10:12-11:7, Moses taught four times what God required and commanded the Israelites as His chosen people upon whom He “set His affections” (vs. 10:15). He taught four times about God, too. In verses twelve through thirteen, Moses said God requires five things of His covenanted people. God gave His expectations of His people. Just as a good father explains his expectations of his child so they recognize when they are obedient or not, God outlined His expectations, so the Israelites knew what He expected of them. Within each section of the sermon, subsections occur that alternate speaking about the Israelites or about the LORD. Moses began this section of the sermon telling the Israelites what Yahweh God requires from them (vs. 12). In this verse (12), the word “require” comes from the Hebrew word sha’al, which means to ask. God asked them to be in a covenant relationship with Him. He chose Abraham and his descendents to receive His affection (10:15). Moses taught the Israelites God requires His people to be in a relationship with Him. [Remember, God created us to be in a relationship with Him (Ephesians 1:4).] God taught them through Moses what relationship with Him requires – reverential fear and obedient love. Moses gave the Israelites practical ways reverence and love are to be shown to the LORD – walking in all His ways and serving Him (10:12). The Hebrew word for “walk” is halak. It means living a way of life like God’s. To live this way, “walk,” they must watch and follow God and then imitate Him or live out what Moses taught them. The other practical way Moses taught them to love and revere the LORD is to serve Him. The Hebrew word for “serve” is abad, which means to voluntarily work for or serve as a subject. In chapter eight’s lesson, we learned the greatest expression of our love for God is obedience. Moses taught this. Verse 13 says it succinctly, “Keep the LORD’s commandments and His statutes, which I am commanding you today for your good.” “Keep” comes from the Hebrew word shamar. Moses used this word often as he taught the Israelites. It means to hear, listen, and obey. Human obedience to God comes from love and reverence of Him. Shamar/keep incorporates loving and revering. Moses spelled out for the Israelites how they were to enact shamar in their lives.

            With verses fourteen and fifteen, Moses taught the Israelites about God – His primacy and characteristics. He began this lesson about God with an imperative verb, “behold.” Moses wanted their attention and wanted them to see and understand something very important. He said the LORD your God owns the heavens, the earth, and everything that is in them. God is greater than anything they know of or can imagine, Moses said because He owns everything. Moses told them, too, that the LORD “chose to set His affections” on their forefathers and chose their descendents over every other people. These two verses told the Israelites that God is omniscient, all-loving, and great.

            Verse 16 begins with a conditional adverb, “therefore.” Moses said to the Israelites, since God is all-loving, great, and omniscient, they must accede their thoughts of primacy to Him by circumcising their hearts and not stiffening their necks. “Circumcise” means to cut and comes from the Hebrew word mool. “Heart” comes from the Hebrew word lebab and means the inner man – will, mind, heart, and soul. Moses and Jeremiah spoke of this in Leviticus 26:41 and Jeremiah 4:4. Remember earlier in Genesis, God required Abraham and all his men be circumcised, which signified their setting themselves apart as God’s own people. Their circumcision signified their covenant with Yahweh God, instead of to the other gods of the land. When a person circumcises their heart, he or she makes a covenant with God. Every person has a heart, male and female, so this circumcision is not just for men. When a person cuts away the foreskin of his or her heart, he or she cuts away the barriers and hardness he or she erected between him or herself and God. He or she is allowing God to enter his or her most-inner self so He can be his or her LORD and Master. The other part of this command Moses spoke tells the Israelites not to stiffen their necks. This goes back to Deuteronomy 9:6 when God said they were a stubborn people. When a person circumcises their heart, God has a home in his or her heart because he or she no longer stubbornly rebels against Him.

            In verses seventeen and eighteen, Moses told the Israelites more about God. He told them God is great (large in importance), mighty (strong), awesome (respected and revered), and is not biased, corrupt, unjust, or unmerciful. These are God’s characteristics. Moses did not end with that though. He set up a practical way the Israelites could “walk” (halak) in God’s ways – by being just, merciful, true, righteous, and faithful. Verses 12 and 13 told the Israelites to walk in the way of God. Verses 17 and 18 described God further and gave practical ways to do that.

            Moses then, in verses nineteen through twenty, told them to do what God does – love the aliens/foreigners in their land. In verse eighteen, he explained what that meant – give them food and clothing. Moses reminded the Israelites they were once aliens in Egypt, too, and know what it felt like to be mis-treated and not helped. Besides this practical action, Moses reminded them of what he told them in verses twelve and thirteen, “You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him and you shall swear by His name.” “Shall” conveys a strong command for the future. Moses strongly commanded them to revere God. He reminded them to love God by serving Him, too. The new term “cling to Him” comes from the Hebrew word dabaq, which means joined together or follow closely. The Israelites love and reverence for God should be so close they are considered bodily joined to Him so no distinction exists between God and them. As a final addition, Moses told them to swear by God’s name (Deuteronomy 5:11, 6:13, and Psalm 63:11), not as in misusing God’s name, but as making an adamant statement. Their promise was so trustworthy that they would attach holy God’s name to it to make sure the person knew of their seriousness.

            Moses taught the Israelites again in verses twenty-one and twenty-two about who God is. He said, “He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you, which your eyes have seen.” We must understand what Moses meant by saying “He is your praise.” In this instance, the Hebrew word for praise is tahillah and means praise song, adoration, and thanksgiving. Moses then gave them the reason they praised God – His greatness and awesomeness appeared when He multiplied their population in Egypt. The Israelites grew from seventy people to a multitude, almost too many to count. The Israelites praised God and He became the source of their praise. Praise was on their lips because of Him. The Psalmist and Jeremiah spoke of this too, in Psalm 109:1, 148:14, and Jeremiah 17:14.

            In the final command of the first section of this sermon, Moses taught God’s First Commandment in a positive way again. He commanded, because God is the one true God, they “shall love the LORD and always keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commandments.” Remember the word “keep” comes from the Hebrew word shamar, meaning to hear, listen, and obey. “Keeping” is loving and revering with all the internal and external actions involved, such as worshipping and serving. When Moses spoke of “His charge,” he used the Hebrew word mishmereth, which means obligations, service, and injunctions. Moses told the Israelites to hear, listen, and obey everything God commanded and taught them through him.

            The fourth time Moses taught the Israelites about who God is, he said,

“Know (yada) this day that I am not speaking with your sons who have not known (yada) and who have not seen (ra’ah – progressive seeing from being taught to look at to discerning and knowing) the discipline of the LORD your God – His greatness, His mighty hand, and His outstretched arm, and His signs and His works which He did in the midst of Egypt…” [NASB]

The Israelites who survived the wilderness and whom Moses taught to recognize the LORD were the ones whom God held accountable to this covenant, not their children. Those who experienced firsthand God’s greatness, mighty hand, and outstretched arm were the adults. Moses taught them about God and pointed out God’s works on their behalf. The Israelites had no excuse for not following God’s commands because they experienced His presence and knew Him to be real, true, and faithful. Moses gave the Israelites an account of several things they saw God do from Egypt to their present time in verses two through seven. (For more information about Dathan and Abiram in verse six, go to Numbers 16:1-35. God showed His justice, omniscience, and power in that instance.)

            The second section of this sermon alternates between what the Israelites were to do and what God would do. There are five of each, just as there were four in the first section of this sermon. This second part of the sermon concerns the Israelites’ present and future. It begins with a command that covers the First Commandment and the others from God. Moses commanded the Israelites to keep every commandment he spoke that day. Remember, Moses spoke at Beth-peor in one day every word from chapter four through chapter thirty-four. From chapter six through verse seven of chapter eleven, Moses taught and commanded the Israelites to keep the First Commandment. From 11:8, Moses spoke specifically regarding the First Commandment but included the other commandments, too. In the first half of verse eight of chapter eleven, Moses told the Israelites what they were to do. From the second half of verse eight through verse nine, he told them what God would do (the reason they should obey God’s commands). Moses said God would make them strong to prevail against the Canaanites so they could go in, possess the land, and prolong their days (personal lifetime and national longevity) in the land the LORD swore to their forefathers. At this point, Moses explained to the Israelites that their covenant with God was conditional on their obedience. As before, their inheritance of the land came from the Abrahamic covenant. The Israelites’ possession of and longevity on the land depended on their obedience to their own covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, with the LORD God. God swore upon Himself - holy God swearing an adamant oath - that He will abide by this covenant. Remember the Ten Commandments ends with the conditional statement, “that you may live long in the land” (5:29). From verse ten through verse twelve, Moses told the Israelites what the land that the LORD was giving them was like – fruitful. He told them God managed the land and cared for it, too – watered it and His eyes were always on it (vs. 11b-12). The rain came from heaven, God’s abode. God watered Canaan not the people. The land God was giving them to possess He cared for and made plentiful. The Israelites must remember, since God watches the land so well, He would see them and the way they lived, too. God is omnipresent.

            The next segment of the second section occurs in verse thirteen with Moses commanding the Israelites a second time in this section. This verse has a conditional if-then statement. Moses said, “It shall come about if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul…” The Hebrew word for our English word “listen” is shama, which derives from the same root word as shamar. Shama means to hear, listen, and obey. Moses defined shama in his correct wording, “listen obediently.” If the Israelites listened to and obeyed God’s word with all their hearts and souls, then something would occur. One final note on this verse, though, must be made. Notice the command is to love the LORD with all the heart and soul as Moses stated in Deuteronomy 4:29. God promised He would be found if a person sought Him with all their heart and soul, their whole being. Jesus taught this in Matthew 7:7-8, too.

            The other side of the “if-then” statement gives us the LORD’s actions. Notice the second section of this sermon has a similar format as the first section – a command to the Israelites and then a statement regarding God. In verses fourteen and fifteen, Moses told the Israelites if they listened and kept God’s commands, God would continue to watch over the Promised Land so it would be fruitful and the Israelites would have everything they needed to live. This statement is open-ended though. Humans are not always faithful.

            Another side to God’s promise exists. It occurs if the Israelites are faithless. This verse speaks of a negative action of the Israelites. Moses warned them by saying, “Beware that your hearts are not deceived and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them.” This negative restatement was ominous. The Israelites’ hearts, minds, and souls must have pricked with fear at its possibility. Yet we know that they failed to keep their covenant with God. Humans are stubborn and rebel against God.

            What did Moses say God would do? Verse 17 speaks of the curse, the judgment for the Israelites’ unfaithfulness. Their disobedience and stubbornness would ignite/kindle God’s anger against them. God’s anger comes from His righteousness. His righteousness requires justice. God’s justice against anyone who broke covenant with Him would be separation from Him. Separation from God brings neediness, drought, famine, illness, and death. Moses shared this judgment in the second half of verse seventeen. God would stop watering the land, which would then lead to famine, drought, and death of all things and people. The Israelites would no longer possess the Promised Land. By breaking their covenant with God, they would bring God’s curse upon themselves and be dispossessed like the earlier Canaanites.

            Moses implored the Israelites what they must do in verses eighteen through twenty. He taught these in Deuteronomy chapters four and six. The Israelites were to absorb and embody in their lives God’s commands so they would be a permanent part of their lives and beings. They were to take them into their hearts and minds (ephods and frontlets) so they spoke of them at all times (walking, sitting, waking, and sleeping) to their children. The Israelites were to make sure they remembered and obeyed God’s commands. They must write them on their doors and gates. Moses taught that God and His commands were to be an essential part of their lives and that without Him they would be bereft. God considered His covenant with the Israelites very important.

            To turn this to a positive view, Moses told them why God’s commands must be followed and why the actions of verses eighteen through twenty must occur. The Israelite’s faithfulness to the Ten Commandments ensured they would possess the land forever, “as long as the heavens remain above the earth.” God would make their days long in the land. The Israelites love and reverence (worship) of God was to be the impetus for remaining faithful to the covenant. In case that was not enough, God gave another possibility for faithlessness, a negative inducement. Parents experience the necessity of offering an ultimatum if a child refuses to obey. Judgment and punishment occur at those times. God, as the original and loving Father, provides the negative incentive, too, for the Israelites in case they consider breaking their covenant with God.

            For the final time, Moses commanded the Israelites to keep their covenant with God. Verse 22 states what God requires from the Israelites in their covenant with Him and what would occur when they do – His blessing. They were to keep every commandment of God, love Him, walk in His ways, and hold fast to Him. These are what Moses said in 10:12-13 with one addition. The addition is something he commanded in 10:20. “Hold fast” comes from the Hebrew word dabaq and means to cling to. Moses commanded the Israelites to cling to God as their source of life and reason d’etre because He is the almighty, all-knowing Creator, one true God – the one who existed before time, who redeemed them from slavery, and who promised to be with them forever, thus ensuring they have everything needed for life.

            Notice verse twenty-two is the first part of a conditional statement. If the Israelites keep God’s commandments and hold fast to Him, then the LORD will do something. He will ensure their possession of the land. Every nation that stands between them and the Promise Land will fear the Israelites and their God (vs. 25). God is faithful to His promises.

            Verses 26 through 30 speak specifically about God’s blessing and curse. The blessing is a gift and the curse is death (Deuteronomy 30:1, 19). Moses said God’s blessing would occur if they listened (shama – hear, listen, and obey) to the commandments of the LORD. The blessing is long life and possession of the land if they fulfill their covenant with God (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). God’s curse occurs if the Israelites rebel and turn away from their covenant with God to follow other gods. The curse is death – God’s not watering the Promised Land leads to physical death (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). Moses next instructed the Israelites where to place the blessing and curse when they cross the Jordan River.

            Moses summed up God’s blessings and His covenant with Israel. They would cross the Jordan River to possess the land and live in it because God was giving it to them. The Israelites were to be careful (shamar) to do all God’s commands.

            Many people know the history of the Israelites. They failed to keep their covenant and God dispossessed them. Multiple times in history other nations destroyed their cities and displaced them  – 712 BC, 586BC, 70AD. People look upon the Israelites as negligent or fickle. God’s commands appeared so simple. Yet the Israelites failed many times.

God had a plan to bring humankind back into relationship with Him from the beginning of time. His plan was the death and resurrection of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. People may wonder what God’s purpose was in giving the Ten Commandments if it was not enough to save people from themselves, their sins. Obeying God’s Laws cannot ever make a person righteous. God gave the Ten Commandments to lead people back to Him, to fellowship with and worship Him. This worship of Him would lead a person to God’s prophesied Messiah, the Savior God planned for humankind’s redemption from the curse they deserve – death. Humankind is enslaved to sin. The word “redeem” comes from the Bible-times context of buying the freedom of a slave. When sinless Jesus died on the cross, He chose to take the rightful place of sinful humankind. Jesus redeemed humankind from the slavery and penalty of sin – death – if they believed in Him. Why, then, did God give the Ten Commandments and command the Israelites to listen and obey them? He did it to bring them back into a relationship with Him. He did it to bring their focus back to worshipping Him, the Creator of everything, and away from their sinful selves and lusts. When Moses told the Israelites to fear and love the LORD God with their hearts and souls, he taught them how to have a relationship with God that occurred when they walked with and worshipped Him. The Ten Commandments lead humankind to refocus on God. They lead us to the Messiah and Savior of humankind, which brings an eternal relationship with God.

            God chose to “set His affection to love” the Israelites. He sets His affection to love each of us. He chooses you and me, but He does not force Himself on us. We each must choose Him over our own selves. By doing this, we place Him first and follow Him daily. What must we do to have eternal life with God? Each of us individually must admit that he or she is a sinner and needs a Redeemer/Savior to bring him or her back into relationship with God. Each person must believe Jesus Christ is God’s holy Son who died and whom God resurrected. By his or her belief, he or she can have renewed and eternal life with God. Each person must confess with his or her mouth that Jesus is Lord (Kurios/Yahweh – the person who has power over people and things; Master) (Romans 10:9).

What will you decide today? Will you return to God and worship Him? Will you admit, believe, and confess? It is your decision, but if you say, “Not now,” you are saying, “No.” Is that really what you want? It is your choice.