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Saturday, June 20, 2015

NEVER FORSAKE YOU – DEUTERONOMY 31

Introduction

In the study of Deuteronomy 30, Moses told the Israelites when they were in exile or captivity because of their unfaithfulness to their covenant with God, God would heed their pleas and requests for forgiveness. God promised they would continue to be His chosen people. He would forgive them and take them back to the Promised Land.

In the second part of Deuteronomy 30, Moses encouraged the Israelites to “choose life.” The Israelites who stood on the brink of crossing the Jordan River were not the ones who made the original covenant with the LORD at Mount Sinai. The current Israelites were infants at that time or were born after the Sinai covenant. Moses exhorted the current Israelites to choose to be in a covenant relationship with the LORD. He encouraged them to “choose life.”

In Deuteronomy 31, we find three distinct sections of text – Moses speaking to the Israelites, God speaking to Moses and Joshua, and Moses speaking to the priests, elders, and officers. Threaded throughout these sections are the words of encouragement “be strong and courageous” and “do not fear or tremble.” Besides these, we read a few times, “God will cross ahead of you” and “God is the one who goes with you.” In the middle section, where God spoke to the Israelites, He foretold the Israelites future disobedience and turning away from Him to serve other gods. It appears Deuteronomy 30 was suitable for the Israelites to listen to before they heard God foretelling their turning away from Him. By doing so, they would understand God would always forgive them if they repented. In addition, by foretelling the Israelites’ future, God showed the Israelites once again He was not just the God of their past and present, but of their future, too.


Moses Speaks

Moses to the Israelites.

In the first section of this chapter, which encompasses verses one through thirteen, Moses spoke to three sets of people – the Israelites, Joshua, and the leaders – priests and elders. The time Moses spoke with the Israelites is in verses one through 6. Verses seven and eight record Moses speaking to Joshua. His command to the priests and elders is in verses nine through thirteen.

Moses began his speech to the Israelites reminding them of his age. He was 120 years old. Moses spent forty years in Egypt learning how to lead people, forty years shepherding and learning to follow the LORD, and forty years with the Israelites learning from God how to lead/shepherd His people. In the Bible, the number forty often reflects times of trial – to learn and discipline oneself to be a better follower of God. We see Moses’ life as just such a case. Besides reminding them of his age, Moses told them he could not lead them any longer and would not cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. If you remember, the latter was God’s punishment of Moses from Numbers 20. At that time, the people grumbled about having no drink. God told Moses to tell the rock to yield its water. When Moses arrived before the people, he hit the rock and water came from it. He did not give the credit and glory to God (Num. 20:12); therefore, the people did not learn God provided for them again. Remember, part of Moses’ task was to help them know (yada’ – progressively come to know) of and who the LORD was. At this point in Deuteronomy 31, Moses told the Israelites he would lead them no longer. He reminded them God would cross before them as He had previously gone before them.

Besides God crossing the Jordan with them, their next God-appointed leader, Joshua, would cross before them, too. Remember, Joshua was one of the twelve spies who scouted the Promised Land. He was one of the two spies who said the Israelite should have gone into the land forty years before when God told them He would give them the land. As God would have done forty years before and did to the Amorites on the east side of the Jordan, He would do to the Canaanites when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River at their current time. The LORD would deliver the Canaanites to them. The Israelites were to do as the He commanded them do to the Amorites (vs. 4-5).

Moses encouraged the Israelites in the last part of this sub-section when he said God would be with them. He told them to be “strong and courageous” and “do not be afraid or tremble.” Because God was with them, the Israelites had no one and nothing to fear. They were strong because God is strong. Moses told them to be bold and step out in faith because of that fact. From experience, they would be acquainted with the LORD God and His strength and omniscience. The Israelites could stand in faith knowing what God commended them to do would occur as long as they followed Him.

Moses to Joshua.

This sub-section of the chapter is just two verses long. In front of the Israelites, Moses called Joshua to him. While standing before the people, Moses told Joshua God chose him to lead His people into the Promised Land. He encouraged Joshua by telling him to “be strong and courageous” (vs. 7) and “do not fear or be dismayed” (vs. 8). You will notice Moses said the same to the Israelites in verse six. He said it again in verse twenty-three.

Moses next told Joshua he would go with the people into the Promised Land (vs. 7), but with God going before them (vs. 8). This may have been the first time Joshua discovered Moses would not be going into the Promised Land. He may have felt fear. Moses encouraged him when he said, “The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail or forsake you” (vs. 8). The last part of this verse is a promise many Christians have held on to over the centuries. We understand Joshua reminded the people of this in Joshua 1:5 and the writer of Hebrews used it in Hebrews 13:5. God proved Himself faithful to the Israelites and His covenant with them. We read of it in the Bible many times.

Moses encouraged the Israelites by saying God would go ahead of them, just as he did to Joshua. He told them to be strong and courageous; do not fear or be dismayed, just as he did Joshua. Moses was their leader. From him the Israelites learned about God. They learned how to recognize Him, and how to hear and obey Him. Moses prepared the Israelites for his departure by giving them a God-appointed leader, Joshua. He encouraged them further with his words by reminding them who God was and is for them and who He would continue to be. Just as Moses called out Joshua from the Israelites, he spoke directly to their leaders – the priests and elders of the tribes.

Moses to the Leaders.

In this sub-section of section one in the chapter, Moses directed his speech to the Israelite leaders – the priests and elders of the tribes. Moses wrote the law – the commands, laws, statutes, and ordinances – God gave to the Israelites over their forty years’ journey. He finished writing them with Deuteronomy 31. Moses next gave the book of the Law to the priests with a command (vs. 9).

Moses commanded these leaders do two things with the Law and at two specific times. First, he charged the priests to read God’s Law every seven years at the remission of debts and every year at the Feast of Booths (vs. 10). These two feasts and festivals were when God required every Israelite and resident of Israel to worship at the sanctuary or temple.

The second command Moses gave the priests and elders was to gather every person of Israel to listen to the reading of God’s Law so they would learn and fear the LORD being careful to observe all of it (vs. 11-12). We must remember what the Hebrew words for “hear,” “learn,” “fear,” “careful,” and “observe” mean to understand the depth of this command. “Hear” comes from the Hebrew word shama’ and means to hear, listen, and obey. Remember the Hebrew culture taught when students learned things they should listen to and act upon them else the person did not truly hear. “Learn” derives from the Hebrew word lamad, which means to exercise in and learn. Practicing the laws by acting upon them was important. “Fear” comes from the Hebrew word yare’. It means to fear and revere. The Israelites were to revere the LORD from whom the laws came and by association hold fast to His laws. They carried great weight and influence amidst the people of Israel. “Careful” comes from the Hebrew word shamar, which has the same root as shama’. Shamar means to hear, listen, preserve and guard, and to give heed. Finally, “observe” comes from the Hebrew word ‘asah and means to observe, accomplish, and do. Over the forty years that Moses lived with and led the people of Israel, he taught them about God and they saw His might and power. They gained a first-hand impression of Him. By itself, that should have made them fear and revere the LORD enough that His commands would carry great weight and impel them to love and obey Him.

Moses closed this sub-section of the chapter by impressing on the people one other matter. By assembling and reading/hearing the Law of God at these two festivals/feasts, they would make sure later generations heard and knew God, His actions, power, and laws. They would obey them and not go astray. Moses said it in verse thirteen, “Their children, who have not known, will hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live on the land, which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.” Moses gave a very similar statement to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 11:19. He told them, “You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” The parents had the responsibility for training their children to know and obey the LORD God. In this sub-section, Moses made the priests and elders responsible for ensuring the people of Israel heard and understood the Law of God at these two festivals/feasts either yearly or every seven years. So, for this section, Moses told his age, of Joshua becoming the leader of the Israelites, and the requirement for the priests and elders to recite the Law and teach Israel.

God Speaks

Section two of this chapter encompasses verses fourteen through twenty-three. God commanded Moses and Joshua to go to the tent of meeting. He foretold to them of the Israelites’ forsaking Him and breaking His covenant. God explained what His reaction would be. He commanded Moses to write a song about this for the Israelites as a testimony and witness against them when they sin. At the end of this section, God chose and commissioned Joshua as the new leader of the Israelites.

Obedience and Affirmation.

The first verse of this section, verse fourteen, is significant. It says, “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 went and presented themselves at the Tent of Meeting.” The first thing we note is the LORD told Moses his death was imminent. Moses realized he would not enter the Promised Land. This statement explained it would happen soon.

In the second sentence of this verse, God gave a command to Moses and Joshua. For Moses, obeying that command began his descent from leadership and inaugurated Joshua’s rise to Moses’ position. God prepared Joshua for the leadership position and now He would commission him.

The third important fact of this section is their obedience to God’s command. They did not linger where they were, but went at once to the Tent of Meeting. When God gives a command, a person should obey it right then. We should recognize one other important fact. By being at the Tent of Meeting, the Israelites would be around and would see and overhear God’s commission of Joshua and decommissioning of Moses. They would hear the LORD’s voice for themselves. Moses could have explained what occurred after the fact, but God wanted them to listen to and see Him. It became an affirmation by God of Joshua’s commissioning and Moses’ descent from leadership. It confirmed what Moses said to Joshua and the Israelites.

LORD’s Foretelling.

The second sub-section of this section, verses fifteen through twenty-two, tells us what the LORD said in the doorway of the Tent of Meeting. Remember, by being at the doorway of the Tent of Meeting, the Israelites could listen to the LORD’s voice and apprehend what He said to Moses and Joshua. The LORD appeared as a pillar of cloud, a familiar sight for the Israelites.

In the first part of His speaking, He reiterated what Moses said before to Joshua. The LORD said Moses would soon die (vs. 16). Moses realized he would soon have rest from leading the fickle Israelites and would receive his punishment, which God assigned to him for taking His glory.

The second part of verse sixteen, in the same breath as the first part, revealed the Israelites would soon be unfaithful to God. The biggest part of this section is God’s foretelling of the Israelites’ disobedience to Him and His covenant. God spoke about their unfaithfulness and His resultant actions against them in verses seventeen through twenty-one because of their forsaking Him and breaking His covenant (vs. 16). He expounded on what the Israelites would do when they forsook Him and broke His covenant. The LORD said, “They will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant” (vs. 20). Notice this reflects a progressive turning away from God beginning with turning to other gods to completely separating from the LORD God.

What were the LORD’s reactions and actions because of the Israelites forsaking Him and breaking His covenant? They kindled His anger against them. He said in verses seventeen, eighteen, and twenty-one He would be angry with them. The LORD would forsake them and hide His face from them. Evils and troubles would come upon the Israelites and consume them. The LORD explained why the latter would happen. He said in verse seventeen, “So that they will say in that day, ‘Is it not because our God is not among us that these evils have come upon us?’” God reiterated for emphasis in verse eighteen what He said in verse seventeen. He said, “But I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they will do, for they will turn to other gods.”

The LORD explained the tendency of humans when He explained why the Israelites would forget Him when things were going well. He said in verse twenty when the people had eaten, became satisfied, and became prosperous, they would feel no need for the LORD. They would become lax in their faithfulness to Him and His covenant. That would lead the Israelites to begin turning to other gods. First, they would turn to the other gods, then serve and worship them, spurning the LORD completely. In the end, the Israelites would break His covenant.

In verse nineteen, God commanded Moses to write this in a song – to write about God’s history with the Israelites, their covenant with Him, their falling away and God’s anger, and God’s grace and forgiveness when they returned to Him. He explained why He wanted a song written. God said at the end of verse nineteen, “So that this song may be a witness for Me against the sons of Israel.” The LORD said this again in verse twenty-one, too. He said, “This song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent, which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.” [NASB] In verse twenty-eight, Moses said the words of this song would “call the heavens and earth to witness against them.” The song obediently sung through the generations would remind the Israelites of God and their faithfulness to Him, His anger for unfaithfulness, and forgiveness for repentance. It would be a teaching and reminding tool. In that way, the heavens and earth would witness what the LORD and Moses told them about God and their covenant with Him. The song would teach them of God’s judgment for unfaithfulness, too. No Israelite could say he or she was unacquainted with God, His laws, and His judgments. The song would give a witness against the Israelites for disobedience. Most of all, the song would remind them to be faithful to God. God perceived the intent and weakness of the Israelites’ hearts.

God knows the intent and possibility of humankind to turn their backs on Him when they are prosperous. As we learned in Deuteronomy 30, He is willing to forgive His children who repent of their sins/disobedience. This song reminds people of every age who God is, what He did and will do, what He requires of His children – faithfulness, and what will occur because of faithfulness and unfaithfulness. In his faithfulness to the LORD God, Moses wrote the song and taught it to the Israelites (vs. 22). Deuteronomy 32 is this song. 

God Commissions.

The final sub-section of this section concerns Joshua’s commission. Moses recorded Joshua’s commissioning by God in verse twenty-three. He said, “Then He [God] commissioned Joshua son of Nun, and said, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you.’” [NASB] Each part of this commissioning repeats what Moses told Joshua and the Israelites in verses seven through eight and verses three and six. The LORD commanded and encouraged Joshua – be strong and courageous. Be strong because the LORD is strong. Be strengthened in your mind and heart, the LORD meant, because of who He is and because He was with him and went ahead of him. Joshua had no one and nothing to fear because of the LORD’s presence and might. The LORD would never fail or forsake him. God stated the same thing Moses did in verses six and eight to emphasize and add weight to it.

The Israelites listened to what occurred in the doorway to the Tent of Meeting. It could have encouraged them to stay faithful to the LORD and His covenant. The Israelites received words of encouragement from Moses. They noted the LORD’s words of command and encouragement to Joshua. This may have encouraged them to be faithful to the LORD and His covenant.

Moses’ Commands

The last section of this chapter are verses twenty-four through twenty-nine. Verse thirty is part of Deuteronomy 32. In this last section, Moses finished writing God’s laws in a book. He then gave commands to the priests.

Moses commanded the priests to take the book of laws, place it beside the Ark of the Covenant, and gather the elders and officers of Israel. He said the book of the Law must lay beside the Ark of the Covenant so it would be a witness against the Israelites (vs. 26). They could not say they did not learn the laws of God since Moses and God both told them. Moses wrote them in a book to be a visible testament available to them, too. Moses and the LORD recognized the Israelites were rebellious and stubborn. The priests had the responsibility to teach the Israelites God’s Law. God and Moses held them accountable to this task.

Next, Moses commanded the priests to gather the elders and officers of the tribes of the Israelites. Moses told them the words of the Law. He told these leaders what God foretold about the Israelites, too. By doing this, Moses ensured they heard and knew God’s Law and knew what He expected of the Israelites. In speaking aloud to make sure they caught what he, Moses, said, the heavens and earth bore witness against them should the Israelites forsake God and His covenant. Moses understood the Israelites - their fickleness and stubbornness. He recognized they would “act corruptly and turn from the way” he commanded them (vs. 29). From God, Moses understood when they turned from God evil would fall on them because, in His anger, God allowed it. Moses had been accountable to God for the Israelites the last forty years. Now the elders, officers,  and priests would be accountable to teaching and enforcing God’s Law, too.

Moses ensured the leaders of the Israelites and the tribes of Israelites hearkened to and knew the laws of God. He wrote those laws in a book and had the priests place it next to the Ark of the Covenant. Moses commanded the priests, elders, and officers of the Israelites to teach and enforce the Law because he realized the hearts of the Israelites would forsake God and His covenant. By making the leaders accountable for the obedience of the Israelites, Moses hoped the people would stay faithful and not endure God’s anger after he died. By their faithfulness, God would not allow evil and troubles to befall them. Moses did what he could as a human leader to help keep his people from falling away from God and His laws.

Recap

This chapter began with Moses speaking to the people and Joshua, preparing them for their crossing of the Jordan River, and for the claiming of Canaan as the Promised Land of the LORD. He told the tribes he would die soon and Joshua would take over leadership of the people. Moses commanded the priests read the Law of God at the Feast of Booths every year and at the seventh year remission of debts. These festivals and feasts would regularly remind the Israelites of God and their covenant with Him. The future generations of Israelites would learn, too, of the LORD and His covenant. Moses reminded the priests in verse twelve to read to and teach the people to “hear and learn and fear the LORD [their] God and be careful to observe all the words of this Law.”

With the second section of the chapter, the LORD commanded Moses and Joshua to go to the Tent of Meeting. He appeared as a pillar of cloud at the doorway of the there. The LORD proclaimed that Moses would soon die. Next, God foretold the Israelites forsaking Him and breaking covenant with Him. He explained how His anger would be kindled, he would forsake them, and hide His face from them. When that occurred, evils and troubles would consume the Israelites. They would recognize that the LORD was not with them while they were in the midst of troubles and evil. Because God perceived the intent of the Israelites’ hearts, He commanded Moses to write a song for the Israelites about Him and their relationship with Him. The song would help them remember God and His covenant and would aid them in teaching their children. It would readily be on their lips. The Israelites could not say they did not comprehend because Moses taught them for the previous forty years and the song testified to God and His covenant with them. They were accountable for their obedience to the Law of God. As Moses taught the people the song and as they listened to the LORD foretelling their future (of their stubborn and rebellious hearts), the heavens and earth could witness against the Israelites if they forsook God and disobeyed His laws.

The last part of God’s speaking in the Tent of Meeting was His commissioning of Joshua in front of the Israelites – priests, elders, officers, and tribes. They bore witness to God’s commission of Joshua. As Moses told the Israelites and Joshua at the beginning of this chapter, God told Joshua to be strong and courageous. He would be with Joshua to instruct and lead him as he leads the Israelites. God would bring the Israelites into the land He swore to give them.
The final section of this chapter tells us of Moses completing his writing of God’s laws in a book – the book of Law. He then commanded the priests to place it beside the Ark of the Covenant. Next Moses called the elders and officers to tell them the words of God. He told them this book of the Law and the heavens and earth would be witnesses against them and their people if they forsook the LORD and His covenant. These leaders of Israel were held accountable for the Israelites’ faithfulness to God and His covenant. Moses reminded them that forsaking the LORD meant His anger would be kindled against them and evil would come upon them.

Relevance and Conclusion

In this chapter, a change of leadership and a command to be accountable to the LORD and His covenant occurs. God held the leaders of Israel accountable for teaching and enforcing those laws when Moses gave and told of the book of God’s Law. The leaders understood it was a difficult responsibility to keep the Israelites faithful to the LORD God. They had experienced the people’s disobedience and stubbornness. These leaders had seen God’s anger kindled against the Israelites before and listened to God’s foretelling of their disobedience and His punishment in the future. Because they did not want this to occur, they would teach God’s laws to every generation of Israelite and resident of Israel, out of either faithfulness and reverence or fear and trembling. Before, Moses was the leader and Aaron the priest. They were the only human leaders. After Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, counseled him, he called for other leaders from the different tribes. Upon Moses’ death, other leaders would be accountable for the Israelites’ faithfulness to God and His covenant.

We understand from history the Israelites were not always faithful to God and their covenant with Him. They failed several times, repented to God, and He took them back to Israel. Was the fault due to the leaders – priests, elders, and officers? Were the Israelites at fault for their faithlessness? We could point fingers, but we would miss the point. God held each person accountable for faithfulness to Him and His Law. Individual people can forsake God. When enough did that, the nation fell. The leaders were there to teach God’s laws and encourage faithfulness to Him. When a person became unfaithful, the leader was to help bring that person back to faithfulness and covenant with God. If the person wandered from God too long, his or her failed faith and turning to other gods could lead more people to forsake God. This interweaving of responsibility – leaders and individual - makes and keeps a society strong or weakens it and makes it susceptible to God’s anger and judgment.

We need to ask ourselves if we are falling away from God. Is something becoming more important in our lives than the Lord? What is it and what do we need to do to restore our relationship with Him? On the other side of this, we Christians, as part of the royal priesthood of believers, are accountable to help other Christians grow in their faith so they do not slide and turn away from the Lord. We are not to point fingers and yell “sinner” at them. Out of love and knowledge that God wants them to have the best possible life, life that comes only through Jesus Chris, we teach, guide, and encourage them. So we are each individually accountable to God for our faithfulness and corporately accountable to Him for encouraging, teaching, and nurturing other believers to stay true to the Lord. When we are faithful to the Lord, He is pleased and promises abundant life here on earth as we live in our human bodies. As Christians, we have received the promise of eternal life in heaven. Obedience and faithfulness to God now brings abundant life, not just a trudging, toiling drudgery to which to awake everyday.
We have a choice to make each day –
Stay faithful to God and love Him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength
Or
Walk the road we want not caring if it is in God’s plan.

What do you choose?