Deuteronomy 5 is a refresher on the 10 commandments. But there are three key words that Moses uses as he reviews and summarizes the basic commandments:
We are told to listen carefully to God’s direction. We won’t know what to do or how to live if we don’t pay attention and hear God’s voice by reading His Word, praying and seeking His face. We must tune in and hear God and much of what we need to hear has already been given to us in the Bible. We just need to get in the Book and read it. He goes on to challenge the people to learn the commands – to really understand what God wants from us. We have to dig and have clarity in how to live a life that is pleasing to God – to become people that are godly and holy and becoming like Jesus. It doesn’t happen because we listen – that is step one. From there we need to learn, and teach to others, what God’s truth means in our lives. Moses tells the people “don’t ever forget”. If we truly learn, we never will forget. God’s desire for our lives will continually be front and center. Moses also says “don’t veer off to the right or the left. Walk straight down the road God commands”. That is clear direction in how we need to live. God wants us following what we have heard and learned. It is our guide for pleasing Him and experiencing His grace and love. We need to follow it closely and stay on track with His direction. It isn’t good to go off the edge into the weeds away from His direction. God has given us a path, we need to walk there.
He tells us the reason here as well. Check it out: “revere me and always keep my commands….they’d have a good life forever….they and their children”. Bottom line is that God has a perfect plan for us. He has given us direction through His Word, He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit and prayer, He wants us to learn so we can live in a way that pleases Him. When we do it right – obediently following His plan for us – good things happen. Obedience yields blessing. It is fundamental to walking with God. We can’t ignore His direction, plug our ears, do it our way, and then seek Him to bless us the way we desire. It doesn’t work like that. We are blessed when we are walking in obedience with Him. Are you listening? If so, are you learning what God’s truth means in your life? And finally, are you living what He has told you and taught you to be His plan for your life? Listen, learn, live – that is God’s three steps to achieve His “good life” for each of us. Life matters – it determines a whole lot so we need to live it wisely.
Deuteronomy 4 is a powerful lesson in how we need to live. This chapter is filled with direction from Moses in how we need to relate to our God, and what we need to do to succeed in life. Rather than describe it, the list of actions and guidance Moses gives really says it all. Here is at least a partial list of how then we should live:
- Don’t add a word to what I command you
- Don’t remove a word from it
- Keep the commands of GOD
- Hold tight to GOD
- Pay attention: I’m teaching you the rules and regulations
- Live by them
- Keep them
- Practice them
- Be intimate with them the way GOD, our God, is with us
- Stay alert
- Keep close watch over yourselves
- Don’t forget anything of what you’ve seen
- Don’t let your heart wander off
- Stay vigilant as long as you live
- Teach what you’ve seen and heard to your children and grandchildren
- Learn to fear me in holy fear
- Teach these same words to their children
- Carefully guard yourselves
- Don’t turn corrupt and make a form
- Don’t look up into the skies and see the sun and moon and stars…and be seduced into worshiping and serving them
- Don’t for a minute forget the covenant which GOD
- Don’t take up with any carved images
- Seek GOD, your God, you’ll be able to find him
- Come back to GOD
- Listen obediently
- Ask questions
- Find out what has been going on all these years before you were born.
- Obediently live by his rules and commands
What a list of ways we need to live. It isn’t the ten commandments, but this chapter is chock full of ways that God expects us to interact with Him, and careful guidance as to how we can please Him and avoid disaster in our lives. Moses goes on to tell us why it matters. Check out the reasons he gives:
- He’s the only God there is
- He’s it
- He made it possible for you to hear his voice out of Heaven to discipline you
- he showed you the big fire
- you heard his words
- He loved your ancestors
- He chose to work with their children
- He personally and powerfully brought you out of Egypt
- GOD is in Heaven above
- GOD is on Earth below
- He’s the only God there is
Moses makes it pretty darn clear that God is worthy of our obedience and praise. And he gives us very clear direction on how to make Him and keep Him where He belongs. How are you doing in your walk with Him? Is God the focus of your life? He deserves to be. He demands to be. He is worthy. “He’s the only God there is”!
Deuteronomy 3 recaps the taking of the land on the east side of the Jordan that went to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. God gave them the land from Og’s kingdom and they were to settle there. But before they could, the men had to go across the Jordan and help take the Promised Land for their brethren in the other tribes. I imagine there were some who asked “why” since they had what they wanted, but that was the deal Moses gave them. Only thw “wives, children and livestock” could settle until the work of taking the new land was accomplished. Joshua is now stepping up as the leader that will replace Moses and lead the charge into the Promised Land. Moses gives him this truth: “God, your God – he’s fighting for you”. This is a reality we all need to realize continues today. God is on our side. Scripture is clear that He is always loving on us and is for us in every way. We need to realize that the battle is really His, not ours, and we need to follow His lead instead of running ahead and getting into trouble on our own. God is God even today. Sometimes we may tend to forget that. But the truth is still truth. He still is in control and will do far more than we can imagine. We need to learn to trust and obey and let Him be God in our lives just like He was for Moses and the people.
It is interesting that here we see Moses make a plea one last time to be able to enter the Promised Land. “Please, let me in also on the endings, let me cross the river and see the good land over the Jordan, the lush hills, the Lebanon mountains.” But GOD was still angry with me because of you. He wouldn’t listen. He said, “Enough of that. Not another word from you on this”. Moses wants to finish what he started some 40 plus years ago. He led them out of captivity and now wants to lead them into the Promised Land. But God still says no – that the sins of the past would not allow it. Moses hadn’t really passed the torch to Joshua until God puts His foot down and says he will not cross to the new land. It is only then that he acknowledges God’s direction that Joshua “will lead this people across the river”. There is a new leader to finish the task Moses started. He will not be completing the mission. It is important to realize that even though God doesn’t let Moses enter the Promised Land – for the 40 years and beyond they were wandering – God was very close to Moses. He spoke to him continually, he led him daily, they were in deep and close communication. God doesn’t throw away people who miss the mark or are not perfect. God in fact uses us even though we are not all He may desire us to be. People sin – God still uses us. The truth of this is that it will impact some of the outcomes and circumstances. But it doesn’t prevent us from being used by God. Scripture is full of that lesson!
Deuteronomy 2 contains more history of Moses and the people on their way to the Promised Land. Stories of the countries they traveled through, and those they conquered. God sometimes told them to just pass without doing any harm, and in other cases, He handed over the land to them along their path. It is quite a story of God’s direction and His faithfulness to His people. Moses was very tuned in – he listened well and led the people in total obedience. Hard to imagine just passing through when he knew they could take the land – for 40 years he led them that way. I love how God points out truth when He says “you’ve been going around in circles in these hills for long enough” and He sends them on their way. You ever feel like you are wandering around in circles – unsure where to go next? Often we do that when we try and run our life in our own strength and with our own power. We can’t figure out which way to go, so we just go in circles and keep coming back to the same problems and issues over and over again. Certainly gets frustrating, but Moses showed us how to fix it. He sought God and listened. Quietly, continually, persistently – he listened and then obeyed. That is how we get off the circular path we may be on and get onto the straight path that God has for our life. Are you listening? “Be still and know”.
There is another key truth here that applies as well. God says “you haven’t lacked one thing”. Now that is up for debate according to the people because they complained and whined much of their 40 year journey. Not enough water, the food was bad, the trip long and on they went. This is where it gets down to the nitty gritty of wants vs needs. We want a whole lot of things, but God is not in the want business. He is in meeting our needs and actually not giving us all we want. We don’t really even know what is good for us. But He does, and He knows how it will impact our life and what our reaction will be over time. So thankfully He doesn’t give us all we want, just like we as parents don’t give our kids all they want. It isn’t good for anyone. We have to learn that and live that way. We have to realize that God meets needs and we need to pray that way. If we don’t we will fall into the same complain and whine trap the people of Israel did. And we know that God is not pleased with that. He despises the whining and complaining. So focus on needs, not wants, and be grateful that He faithfully meets them every day. We may think we don’t have much, but spend some time in a third world country and recognize just how blessed we are. Probably too blessed. Thank God for His love and faithfulness.
Dueteronomy 1 begins a summary of the things of Moses. This chapter recalls some of the key things that Moses and the People of Israel have experienced. Much of it deals with the travel to the Promised Land, and then the mistake made there when the people became frightened and failed to trust God in taking the land. Moses had led them slowly and steadily to the boundary, and then sent in 12 spies to check it out. You remember the story. They came back and 10 of them said no – too many giants – we can’t do it. Of course they missed the real truth. If God is for us, if it is His plan, then we cannot possibly fail. They missed His Word: “Look, I’ve given you this land. Now go in and take it”. God spoke it, and they “rebelled against God”. It boiled down to this reality: “now that you’re here, you won’t trust God”. The truth is we all face a lot of giants in our lives. The question is – how will we deal with them? Will we let God lead us and be willing to follow Him even when it may seem overwhelming? Or will we listen to that voice that tells us we can’t do it?
There is a great book out called “The Dreamgiver” by Bruce Wilkinson that talks about the stages of life and how we achieve our dreams. The lessons he shares are powerful truths about how we progress from the birth of a dream to overcoming and achieving it. Part of that process is to deal with the giants in life. There will always be some – a mountain that seems too high to climb – a valley that seems too deep to cross – there are roadblocks at every turn it seems. But those things only matter if we are facing them on our own strength and with our own power. The wildcard we have is God. He is not limited by giants or anything for that matter. God is not intimidated by the circumstances. He will overcome. The only question is will we continue on so He can? Or will we stop and turn back because it seems overwhelming. That is what happened to the people of Israel, and God was angry about their lack of faith. They blew it – and it cost an entire generation their promise. “…all these little kids who right now don’t even know right from wrong–they’ll get in. I’ll give it to them” was His response to the grown ups at the time. If you won’t trust me, I will just give it to your kids. What a miss. The bummer is that Moses got punished the same, along with his disobedience in striking the rock rather than speaking to it. We need to pay attention to God’s instruction on what He wants us to “take” for the Kingdom. He has a plan for each of us to do exactly that. We need to be obedient and trust Him as we go!
Numbers 36 wraps up the book with a short chapter on how the land was to be divided but more importantly kept in the tribe over time. You may recall that Manasseh’s tribe had an issue that concerned them in that there were few men to receive inheritance, so some of the land was to go to the daughters. But they came to the realization that when they married, their inheritance might be lost if they married someone from a different clan. So they come and ask Moses to help. He gives all the people this direction: “They are free to marry anyone they choose as long as they marry within their ancestral clan. The inheritance-land of the People of Israel must not get passed around from tribe to tribe. No, keep the tribal inheritance-land in the family”. Is that an oxymoron or what? You are free to marry who you want as long as they are part of your own tribe. That limits the options for sure. Seemed acceptable to these folks as they married “within the families of Manasseh” just as Moses instructed. But can you imagine any kind of directive like that today in our society?
There are certainly days that it would seem to make sense that somehow we change how marriage happens. (not that I ever experienced it with my bride) It certainly doesn’t seem to work the way it happens today. In prior cultures, and certainly still some today, marriage is not treated quite as flippantly as it is by many today. Parents make choices for their kids on who they will spend the rest of their life with. How about that as a responsibility? But my understanding is that it often works and there is no rampant divorce happening. I can’t actually imagine our culture being open to this kind of activity, but it certainly would make sense to add a little experience and wisdom to the process. The “try before you marry” approach that seems to be prevalent isn’t working. That is certainly not God’s way. The big issue is that the foundation for marriage is not what it has to be if two people are going to truly be connected for life. That union has to be about a relationship built spiritually, founded on God, where both are committed to walking in obedience to Him. There are days after the honeymoon, or maybe even on it, when things don’t go well. People are people and there will be days you don’t like each other. If the foundation of marriage is just based on that, it will be a struggle to stay in the relationship, even with the commitment of the marriage vows, which seem to have lost their meaning to many. I certainly don’t have the answer, but I do believe that marriage is not about making me happy. As Gary Thomas writes in his book – marriage just may be intended to make us holy, not happy. If we focus on that attitude and let it teach us how to live, committed to learning all God has to teach us through it, we get through the tough times and the blessings. Moses limits the options for the people. Maybe we need to take a look at what marriage really is from God’s perspective too!
Numbers 35 is a curious chapter that deals with the rules around murder. There is a long litany of laws about what is considered murder punishable by death, and what is accidental. If you use an “iron object….rock…big enough to kill….or wooden club heavy enough to kill” it is instantly to be considered murder. Fits of anger are also murder. But accidental death would mean the person who committed the death could flee to one of six “asylum towns” where they could remain until the High Priest died at which time they would be free to return home. They were safe in these towns from retribution. Sounds like things back in Moses time were sort of like they are today – people do stupid things to each other and cause pain and death. And these were God’s people who are mistreating each other. Oh how human nature doesn’t seem to change.
It is interesting to me that God says “Anyone who kills another may be executed only on the testimony of eyewitnesses. But no one can be executed on the testimony of only one witness”. So we obviously have a little truth issue going on here as well. It is always good to verify what you hear from multiple sources. I have seen far too often where one account often misses some important details that can lead to the wrong results. It is important we make sure we get the whole truth before taking action and passing judgement. God has a high standard for truth. Almost all true doesn’t cut it. So it is critical to make sure we are painstakingly careful to have the whole truth, and nothing but the truth before we take action on things. God tells us the reality of how He expects us to live: “Don’t desecrate the land in which you live. I live here too–I, GOD, live in the same neighborhood with the People of Israel”. He lives with us today just like He did then. He has entrusted things to us to serve as His steward and take care of. We must not desecrate but protect and take good care of all that He has entrusted to us. God isn’t into close when it comes to truth and obedience. He requires 100% all the time. That is the bar He has set. Thankfully Jesus was sent to give us a way to deal with our shortcomings, but the bar never moves. So don’t go kill anyone, and be sure to walk faithfully and totally in His will!
Numbers 34 gets us ever closer to entering the Promised Land. God spoke to Moses and gave him the exact land dimensions for their new homes. The description is detailed and the borders run from sea to sea. It begins at the Jordan River, which they will cross to enter the land, and ends at the Dead Sea. Have you ever considered why the Dead Sea is dead? The reason is probably very detailed, but the simple explanation that was given to me many years ago is that the Dead Sea has only intake and no outlet. Things run into it, but there is no outflow. It is rich with many valuable natural resources, but it lacks life. That can describe us too if we only take in truth and information but never share it with others. We can become a source of knowledge that doesn’t generate life. Life happens when we share, when we live. God assigns two men to be in “charge of distributing the inheritance….Eleazar the priest and Joshua son of Nun”. What an assignment. These guys are to oversee the handing out of a land filled with milk and honey – the culmination of 40 years of waiting and wandering. Now that is a good gig.
God also reminds us that there will only be nine and a half tribes to deal with. Reuben, Gad and half of the tribe of Mannaseh already got their inheritance on the other side of the Jordan. They won’t be coming over to claim land. God’s approach to dealing out the land was to “assign one leader from each tribe to help”. And God was faithful to give Moses the names of the men He wanted leading. I love what it says: “These are the men God commanded to hand out the assignments of land – inheritance to the People”. This is a huge job and God has given them a solution to the overwhelming problem. He has appointed leaders to take charge and make it happen. That is often God’s way – we have seen it numerous times during Moses tenure of leading the people. Select faithful and godly men and let them lead. It was not a one man show and this task could not be either. Since Moses couldn’t go over, it had to be handed off. I am reminded of a book about becoming the kind of man God uses. That ought to be our goal. To work at holiness and godliness so when God has a job that requires someone to step up and lead or serve, He taps us on the shoulder. Are you the kind of person God would call and use? Are you walking with Him in obedience, striving to become godly in every way? God is looking for a few good men and women, to borrow a phrase from the Marines. We need to be ready to serve, trained up spiritually by our daily habits and disciplines, so we can go when He calls. Obedience is the core of that relationship. Are you ready to be used?
Numbers 33 is quite a list. It contains Moses log of all the places he and the people of Israel camped during their trip to the Promised Land. By my count there were 42 of them, but I could be off a few. Can you imagine moving the hundreds of thousands of people, flocks, and stuff that many times. Holy big project. These moves were no piece of cake. But Moses did what God instructed, he followed God’s lead and now they are at the Jordan ready to go across to the Promised Land. God spoke to Moses again about the things they are to do when they go across. “drive out the native population….destroy their carved idols….destroy their cast images…..level their worship mounds….make yourself at home in it”. God has some very specific instructions for the people to take the land. But here is the key: “I’ve given it to you. It’s yours”. Can’t you hear God telling them. They are down to the claiming it. They merely have to go across the river, drive out the people, destroy the false religious stuff, and enjoy God’s blessing. God warns them that if they don’t follow the direction “they’ll give you endless trouble right in your own backyards”. This is serious stuff and they need to follow His direction down to the nitty gritty details.
So what if God wanted to lead you for 40 years moving you at least that many times before you get your promised land? Would you follow Him? Would you stay faithful? How did Moses do it? He stayed in constant open communication with God. We have seen him intercede and get between God and the people. We have read over and over how “God spoke to Moses” and how Moses told God how he felt and what he thought. We have seen Moses follow God almost completely, with the very bad exception of striking the rock to bring forth water rather than speaking to it. Moses has been in touch, daily and constantly, listening but most importantly obeying what God has told him to do. To describe Moses I think of a couple words – trust and obey. He was leading a bunch of people following a cloud and a pillar of fire for 40 years. One would have to wonder. He walked through a sea that had been spread by holding his arms up. He trusted God with his life over and over. And he obeyed every command as well, almost. Moses has set the example and now has the people on the verge of entering the Promised Land. He has served them well. He has done it faithfully. Moses has shown us how to lead God’s way. Are you connected to God? Are you listening to His every Word?
Numbers 32 is an interesting chapter in the way people think. The tribes of Gad and Reuben approach Moses and basically tell him they don’t want to enter the Promised Land. For forty years they have all been wandering in the desert and now, as they are a stones throw away, they decide they want to stay where they are and not take their people across the river to claim what God has promised them. Oh my, why are people like that? Why am I like that? They have endured a rough journey. God has been faithful in every way. He has given them all He has promised and now, on the cusp of getting a home in a land “flowing with milk and honey”, they get cold feet. Moses responds by reminding them that it is behavior like that which caused their 40 year journey. You may remember that when he sent the spies out originally to see about this land, they came back and 10 of them said no go. Only Caleb and Joshua said they should proceed. The rest “took one look and quit”. God was angry and punished all that were alive with the reality that they would never make it to the goal. Moses is not interested in having any more punishment from God for disobedience to his plan.
He does explain why Caleb and Joshua found favor with God. Scripture tells us “they followed me – their hearts were in it”. That describes the kind of relationship God desires from us. Committed….willing to follow Him wherever He sends us…..wholehearted and totally sold out for Him. God is not interested in a half hearted believer. In fact His response to lukewarm believers is not friendly at all. In Revelations scripture says He will “spew them out”. Moses warns Gad and Reuben that “if you won’t follow Him, He’ll do it again” referring to the destruction that happened when they failed to follow Him last time. Moses goes so far as to call that kind of life, not being obedient and sold out to God and His plan, as sin. And he tells them that “your sin will track you down”. I don’t think we really understand just how seriously God takes our life and actions. How we live does matter to Him. How we follow is important. God is paying attention. The tribes of Gad and Reuben did finally get their way by first committing to do all that God expected in helping the people of Israel take the Promised Land as their own. They then still intend to go back to the other side of the Jordan to settle, outside the Promised Land. Makes no sense to me, but comfort seems to be their motivation more than receiving God’s gift. Are you missing what God intends for your life?