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Monday, August 31, 2015

Dedicated to God: Deuteronomy 34

Introduction

Moses ended chapter thirty-three with the proclamation of Israel being unlike any other nation. He blessed the tribes in that chapter, but explained their greatest blessing was the LORD who saved them, was their shield, helper, glorious sword, and refuge, before whom their enemies would cower, and by whom they would depart. Moses spoke these things to the Israelites before his own death to remind them of who God was and had been for them and who He would be for them in the future. It was a way to recall them to remember and reflect on the LORD and to rededicate themselves to Him.

The latter is the reason for Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is a book of revival that calls the people of Israel to remember, reflect, and rededicate themselves to the God and His will. Moses taught the Israelites who God was, how He had acted in their lives on their behalf, and would be for them because of their covenant with Him and He with them. He was the representative of God to the Israelites and the mediator and priest for the Israelites to God. Moses brought to the Israelites the covenant of the LORD and they agreed to abide by it. Obedience or disobedience to it brought consequences – prosperity, life, and possession of the land or poverty, death, and dis-possession of the land. The Israelites agreed to the covenant with the LORD at Mount Sinai and renewed their vows to God before their crossing of the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

With chapter 34, Moses life ends. Yet it is particularly important to understand God’s interaction with Moses in the last moments of his life and immediately after his death. We should consider the LORD’s actions towards Moses in these final moments. Besides that, consideration should be given when we look to the future of the Israelites as they prepare to cross the Jordan River.

Moses and the LORD

The first seven verses of this chapter tell of Moses’ final moments of life on the earth and what occurred upon his death. It tells of his relationship with the LORD – his obedience, God’s righteousness and mercy, God’s favor upon him.

Moses showed the LORD’s faithfulness to His people throughout Deuteronomy. To expect anything less at the end of a person’s life shows a lack of understanding of the character of God. Moses, as God’s chosen spokesman/priest/mediator for the Israelites, worked faithfully for the LORD during the exodus period. When the Israelites disobeyed the LORD and made a golden calf, Moses was angry, but spoke for them to the LORD appealing to the LORD’s desire to be known to the nations around them as a great and loving God. God withheld his judgment of immediate annihilation of the whole of the tribes of Israel, but required the punishment by death of the priests who led the people to build the calf. At other times, God spoke through Moses to protect them from their enemies. Still other times, Moses worked God’s signs and wonders to bring God’s food provisions to the Israelites. God’s favor rested upon Moses. Yet when he sinned by taking God’s glory at the waters of Meribah/Massah, God declared punishment upon Moses and Aaron. The punishment was death.

Though Moses knew of God’s punishment, he did not stop serving the LORD. He realized his time was short and determined to be obedient to the LORD from that time forward. Moses learned his lesson and wanted the favor of the LORD to be upon him again. His obedience included following God’s command in chapter thirty-two verses forty-eight through fifty-two to climb the mountain and face his death. Moses was obedient to death. How many of us could or would have followed God’s command to get to the top of the mountain so He could enact His punishment? Moses was obedient to death.

In the first four verses of Deuteronomy 34, we read of more than Moses’ obedience. We recognize God’s favor and mercy upon Moses. If Yahweh God had been vengeful, He would have killed Moses at the time of his stealing God’s glory. He may have waited and not allowed Moses to see the Promised Land towards which he led the Israelites. Yet in God’s mercy, even though Moses sinned, He allowed Moses to go up to a high vantage point and see the entire land God was giving to the tribes of Israel for their inheritance. From the top of Mount Pisgah, Moses saw the Promised Land - north to south and east to west. The LORD told him, “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’” Even in His enacting punishment on Moses, God’s mercy and favor showed forth. God showed His faithfulness to Moses again. Moses could relax and realize he had brought the people to receive their inheritance and know, at the final moments of his life, God was still faithful to him and the Israelites.

In verses five through seven, we understand the love and care the LORD had for Moses. God allowed Moses to see the fulfillment of His promise to his ancestors and He took care of Moses’ remains after his death. We do not note Moses dying violently. We note God’s care for him by burying him in the valley of Moab at a place where no one knew. The LORD loved Moses enough to care for his body so that animal would not mutilate it, people would not find and worship it heretically, and the Israelites would not be defiled and unclean by its nearness to them. God protected Moses in life and death. He is righteous and was just towards Moses as He is to each of  His children throughout the millennia.

The Israelites and the LORD

The people of Israel realized after Moses spoke to them and climbed the mountain they would not look upon him again. They heard the voice of the LORD at the entrance to the tent of meeting in chapter thirty-two. The Israelites understood the LORD was righteous and learned His righteousness required justice when a person or people disobeyed Him. They realized from Moses’ teachings and God’s pronouncement of judgment on Moses that he would not return from the mountain. Moses had been their leader, shepherd, priest, prophet, and mediator for forty years. They would miss him as a person and as the man of God who spoke God’s words and interceded for them. So when verse eight says the sons of Israel wept for Moses for thirty days, we can understand their pain. We recognize, too, this was another teaching moment for them. God did not forget his judgment on Moses for taking His glory and would not forget His judgment of the Israelites when they sinned.

We read with verse nine, God continued His favor on the Israelites. He did not leave them without a leader. From chapter thirty-two, the Israelites and later readers knew God appointed and Moses anointed Joshua as the next leader of the Israelites. With his anointing, a spirit of wisdom came upon him to enable him to lead the people as they entered and conquered the Promised Land. We read, too, in verse nine, because the people recognized Joshua as their new God-appointed leader, the Israelites listened to him. The word “listened” comes from the Hebrew word shama, of which we have learned means to hear, listen, and obey. This was not something new, but a continuity of what they did under Moses’ leadership. It led them continue to follow the words of Moses as the LORD commanded Moses to teach them – to keep His commandments, statutes, laws, and ordinances. To take over the Promised Land, the Israelites would need to continue to hear, listen, and obey the commands of the LORD. He gave them Joshua as His appointed leader for them.

Epitaph of Moses

The Israelites did not forget Moses. To this day Jews continue to remember him. In the final three verses of this chapter, a second writer (probably Joshua) penned Moses’ epitaph. Three things the writer said of Moses. Moses knew the LORD face to face. He stood in the presence of the LORD first at the burning bush and then on Mount Sinai. No other prophet did this before or after him.

The writer said, too, Moses did signs and wonders. The LORD sent him to do them in Egypt and he went there, believed the LORD, and performed them. No other person of the Israelites’ recall ever did this – was blessed to be so close to the LORD and was given power to do such wondrous things.

At the end, the writer of this last chapter stated no other prophet since that time could perform with “all the mighty power and all the great terror” that Moses performed. Moses, as God’s servant and chosen leader, had at his disposal, given by God, some of the power and might of God so he could do the great things God commanded. Moses was God’s appointed servant to bring the people out of Egypt, perform great miracles and terrible things to help acquire their freedom, and teach them while leading them to God’s Promised Land. Being a leader of God requires being in God’s presence and sometimes wielding His power.

Recap

With the enacting of the judgment of Moses, people would expect an empty leadership position to occur. God appointed another leader before He enacted the punishment of Moses so the Israelites would not be leaderless and turn away from Him. Along with providing a new leader for the Israelites, God continued to show His love and mercy to Moses. He allowed him to see the Promised Land, the goal for which he spent forty years of his life leading a hard-headed people. The same love, mercy, and favor God showed Moses, He showed the Israelites with the appointment of Joshua as their new leader. Even when God requires punishment or discipline, those actions come from His love and mercy. He wants to bring people in line to be faithful to Him so He can bless them.

Throughout Deuteronomy, we read of God’s interaction with the Israelites in both their obedience and disobedience. Through those interactions, we recognize God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness even while disciplining or punishing them. They each were for the purpose of bringing the people back to Him so He could bless them.

Moses wrote Deuteronomy, which means “revival,” to call the people back to the LORD. He called them to remember, reflect, and rededicate themselves to Him. Over the hundreds of years after Moses and Joshua wrote Deuteronomy, prophets and priests used it to remind the people of Israel and Judah to return to Yahweh God and be faithful to Him before and after their conquest by foreign nations.

Relevance and Conclusion

The compilers of the Bible used the requirement that a writing must speak about God to be included into the Bible. Deuteronomy speaks continually about God and the obedience of His children to Him. This book is as applicable today as it was then. It recalls to us to remember the Lord and obey Him.

This book leads us to a point where we must decide to dedicate ourselves to God or walk away from Him. We can choose to do either. That is the free will God gave to humanity when He created Adam and Eve at the beginning. With each person’s decision comes the reward from choosing to follow the LORD or not. If a person chooses not to follow the Lord, he or she chooses to make him or herself his or her own god and, thereby, relegate him or herself to receive the reward of that – death and eternal separation from God. If a person chooses to follow God, the reward he or she receives is abundant life – now on earth and forever with the Lord in heaven. The latter is eternal union with God, not separation.

Each person must choose for him or herself who they will follow – who will be god and guide of his or her life. I urge you – I encourage you – choose life. Choose to give your life to the Lord to save from sin and death and lead to abundant living and joy. Choose life as Moses encouraged the Israelites in Deuteronomy 30. I leave you with this one impassioned statement of Joshua from Joshua 24.
14 Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:14-15 [NASB])
Choose today who you will serve – the LORD God or yourselves.