On goes Moses, and before he really starts to get into the rules and regulations – again – he pauses to give a collection of statements about God.
Almost the entire length of this chapter is dedicated to the position of God above all else.
Moses starts by pointing out the weakness of other gods.
“You saw with your own eyes what the LORD did at Baal Peor, the LORD your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor.” ~ Deuteronomy 4:3
So they have God, and they have a law that was given to them. Now they have responsibility, too. It is their responsibility, now, to take the law and the decrees that God gave them in the desert, and be an example to the nations around them.
“Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”" ~ Deuteronomy 4:6
But if they forget that, or if they wander away - the next point. If they do, then there’s going to be serious consequences. They’ve already borne witness to the fact t hat there are consequences for turning their backs on God, and it will happen again. This time, they’ll be scattered, they’ll be taken from the land that God gave them.
He won’t forget them, though, and he won’t forget his promise to their fathers.
“But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” ~ Deuteronomy 4:29
He then goes on to conclude by reminding them all, just how great God is. Moses goes into this declaration that points out to the Israelites just how much they’ve witnessed. Why would they even bother wanting to consider following any other gods? God is close to them, he listens to them, he takes care of them, he brought them out of Egypt and into their own land. Moses poses the question, asking what other nations’ gods can do what the God of the Israelites has already done!
“Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?” ~ Deuteronomy 4:33-34
But finally, there’s only one more thing to say. I’ve quoted a lot of this chapter without really saying much else. It’s funny that at the beginning of this chapter, Moses tells the Israelites not to add to the commands or subtract from them; because frankly, this chapter speaks for itself and doesn’t really need anything added to it.
“Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.” ~ Deuteronomy 4:39
That’s the heart of what I see in this chapter in a single line.
There is no other.
Some more of Moses’ recalling the story of how the Israelites came to be at this point. Here they are, ready to enter the Promised Land, and Moses indulges in a speech.
It’s fair enough really. They’ve waited forty years, so it’s not like they can’t spend another hour or so allowing Moses to give them a good speech and farewell. After all, he’s already been told that he won’t be going across the Jordan, and he does actually reveal this to the Israelite community in this chapter – that he won’t be finishing the journey with them.
And it’s that part of this chapter that I really want to look at here. Verses 21 to 29.
Moses starts by commissioning Joshua.
Now probably for obvious reasons, for most of my life I’ve connected to Joshua’s character in the bible. This type of message gets repeated across Joshua’s life during this period, when Moses is saying farewell and Joshua’s about to take over the leadership of the nation. Moses tells him:
“Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you.” ~ Deuteronomy 3:22
Fear can be such a crippling factor in our lives; no matter what it might be of. What we need to remember is the second part of this – God himself fights for us.
I just wanted to touch on that, but what really stood out to me in this chapter was a bit further on. See, after telling Joshua not to be afraid, Moses begs God to allow him to cross the Jordan after all.
But because of you the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me. “That is enough,” the LORD said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter.” ~ Deuteronomy 3:26
Because of you…
I just want to go back to Numbers fora moment. Back in Numbers 20, the Israelites had arrived in the Desert of Zin, where Miriam died. There was no waer, so they’re getting thirsty and slip straight into their go-to move of whining, and saying how they should have just stayed in Egypt, where everything was apparently wonderful and shiny.
Moses and Aaron went out and asked God what was going on, and God gave them this command:
“Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livetock can drink.” ~ Numbers 20:8
So off goes Moses, he takes the staff and with Aaron, he speaks to the Israelites and then bashes the rock with the staff. It cracks open and water starts to pour out of it.
So God fulfils his promise, but that’s not what he told Moses to do. There are consequences.
But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” ~ Numbers 20:12
Now call me crazy, but that sounds pretty clearly that God’s laying the consequence on Moses and Aaron for their actions. This is one thing that the Israelites as a whole can actually shrug off and say it wasn’t their fault; yet Moses tells them that no, he’s not coming across the Jordan into the promised land because of them.
For some reason, we really don’t like taking responsibility for our own actions, do we? It goes right back to day one. Adam and Eve. When God confronted them after they had eaten the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they tried to dodge the blame. Adam pointed the finger at Eve – and even God!
The man said, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” ~ Genesis 3:12
Two key words there: Woman, and you. It was the woman’s fault, and God was the one who put her there, so it was also his fault. Again, it was “because of you“.
I’m not very good at this myself. It’s so hard, isn’t it? To actually take responsibility for our own actions, especially the ones that we know are going to have negative consequences. When it comes to the crunch, its selfish. We’d rather see someone else take the fall than accept it ourselves.
God loves us, nonetheless. No matter what.
Imagine, just imagine what the world might be like if every human adopted two things: Responsibility for ourselves, and grace for others. Just think about that.
More history, more races of people, more nations, more backgrounds and other bits of information to flesh out.
Rephaites, Emites, Horites.
“Horites used to live in Seir, but they were driven out by the descendants of Esau drove them out. They destroyed the Horites from before them and settled in their place, just as Israel did in the land the LORD gave them as their possession. ~ Deuteronomy 2:12
I want to know who these people were, and what their lives were.
As I was reading through Numbers, I’ll confess that I actually felt, at one stage, a bit short changed. The story had the Israelites being told that they weren’t going the the Promised Land yet, and that they were going to wander the desert for a generation. Then suddenly they were at the Jordan waiting to cross and get ready to move into their new home. I couldn’t help wondering where the rest of the story was.
This isn’t much, but it does give a little extra information about where they wandered and so on.
I do admit to being a bit confused – as I was back in Numbers with the discussion about the Midianites and Moabites seducing the Israelites and stuff; I couldn’t quite clarify who they were talking about; but this passage does seem to imply that they cleared through the lands of the Moabites and the Ammonites fairly peacefully.
There’s a bit of a breakdown here about the Moabites and the Ammonites. The Moabites cleared out their region which was previously inhabited by the Emites; the Horites and the Zamzummites, etcetera.
They were a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. The LORD destroyed them before the Ammonites, who drove them out and settled in their place. The LORD had done the same for the descendants fo Esau, who lived in Seir, when he detroyed the Horites from before them. They drove them out and have lived in their place to this day.~ Deuteronomy 2:21-22
These are the descendants of Lot and Esau, fairly prominent sideline figures from back in Genesis. It just goes to show that God kept that part of his promise, too. He made the promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, he promised prosperity and descendants beyond the ability to count. Well, the sideline cast – Lot, Esau and of course Ishmael as well – all got their own land, and it was provided to them by God too.
God might have had a chosen people, but he didn’t forsake everyone else on the planet in the meantime. The same is the situation today, he hasn’t forsaken anyone, and more importantly, he doesn’t only provide his attention to those in his fold. Not being a Christian doesn’t mean God’s turned his back on a person, nor does it mean he doesn’t see what’s going on or want to help and love that person.
So, now comes the final part of the journey.
Well, actually, the journey’s pretty much over. Deuteronomy is Moses stepping up in front of everyone and retelling the story of what happened – at least, a lot of the interesting bits. I wonder – remind me at the end of this book to return to the thought as to whether you could just read Deuteronomy, and then skip Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, because this one has all the important bits anyway.
Chapter one is long, at least in comparison to most of the chapters I’ve read so far, and actually has a lot in it. There are a couple of verses, that I want to draw back into. They don’t really link or relate directly to one another, but they’re just the ones that stood out to me.
1. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” ~ Deuteronomy 1:30-31
Like a father carries his son.
You know, the picture I get here is one that continues from that moment. I have this mental image of God, as a father, carrying his child through the journey that Israel was going through. He wants to help them get from the beginning to end, and he wants to make it as easy for them as possible; so he carries them. The problem is, that the child doesn’t want to be helped, doesn’t want to be carried, and so keeps kicking and swinging and trying to get out until the father eventually has no real choice but to put the child down.
One of my all time favourite poems is the Footprints poem; again, a reference is in there to Jesus carrying us through the difficult times in our lives.
I’d like to ask, though, how often do we kick and scream and wriggle and writhe? When God’s trying to help us, trying to carry us through something, how much do we just refuse that help? Is it pride that keeps us from accepting his assistance?
I think we tend to have a bit of the wrong attitude to God and his assistance these days. We have a tendency to want to do everything on our own, and it’s not until it all collapses around us that we then turn back and face him – usually asking why he didn’t help. To which he can only respond that we didn’t really allow him to do so.
God is, though, a father – he does want to help us and does want to assist us. That’s not to say that he’s going to do it all for us; but he’s right there giving us guidance and directions – all we have to do is listen to him.
I’m going to drift off on that one instead of going to the other points I had in mind. Didn’t expect to go on for so long.
Back in chapter 27, there was the story of this guy, Zelophehad who died after having only daughters. The ramification of his death was that his daughters were to inherit his property and so on.
Now that the Israelites are getting closer to the Promised Land, though, they’re starting to think about the land that people are going to inherit as well.
So God lays down the law – because the lands are going to be allocated by tribe first – basically dividing Israel into states – so there needs to be an assurance that the correct land will stay in the correct tribe. Zelophehad’s daughters can marry who they like, as long as they marry from within their own clan. This is the precedent for these types of situations for the future as well.
As I read this, I got thinking about accumulation and growth of wealth. “Prosperity” as some people would call it.
I’ve already previously written an article on prosperity, but today I was reading another article on the “Prosperity Gospel” also.
What I was got to thinking as I read this chapter, was how once again, what appears on the surface and what can be taken out of the text if you look beyond the superficial don’t necessarily always give the same appearance. On the surface, it almost seems a bit childish, it’s like there’s an attitude of selfishness coming from the people – that they can’t let someone else get hold of their land.
And perhaps there is, but as I look at it from the Heavenly perspective, another point comes out. That this is an element of fairness. The tribes are each going to be given an allotment of the land that they are going into, each tribe is getting as much as they are deserving for their size, capacity, etcetera.
Implementing a law that says these girls have to marry within the clan keeps the land in their own family, it also prevents people from other clans or tribes taking advantage of them. Remembering again that this was a highly patriarchal society and therefore they were likely going to have to marry at some point.
The entire Israelite society, whether it’s something like this that keeps the land held into the same family, or the year of Jubilee – also mentioned in this passage – where any land accumulated over the past fifty years gets handed back to the original owners, debts are canceled, etcetera all seems to be aimed at building a nation equitably and fairly. Prosperity, it would seem, wasn’t meant to be an individual thing. There’s an element in the picture that we see of God’s design for the Israelite society that says he didn’t want them accumulating. There was enough land for everyone, so everyone would have their fair share.
It’s a common mentality, these days, that life is a game and ‘whoever dies with the most toys wins.’
Through this, the idea of ‘Prosperity Doctrine’ promoted heavily by televangelists in particular continues to have people treat God like a vending machine. These people promote a give to get attitude, the more money someone gives to the televangelist’s “ministry” the more money in turn, God will pour out on that person.’
Money, wealth, physical prosperity, though is all a distraction from God. In the words of Jesus, it is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
So it is worth letting go of an attitude that says we need to accumulate and collect the most toys, and instead let our focus be on God. He will provide us with as much land as we need through his inheritance in the promised land. We don’t need more than that.
So, the first thing that I wondered as I read this chapter – I thought that there was a whole heap of these offerings to keep the Levites fed. I miscalculated, I guess. I mean, even if the Israelites were offering enough by way of cows, sheep and other creatures to feed all the Levites, could the altars physically manage to keep up with that amount of meat on a daily basis.
I guess I had a bigger view of things than really was possible.
So even though the Levites weren’t going to get any specific inheritance in the Promised Land, they were given cities. 48 of them in fact. In this occasion, too, it seems like all the Israelites got a piece. The word, when talking about the Cities of Refuge that are to be set up, says that three are to be set up on this side of the Jordan, and three in Canaan. So even if they didn’t get included in the Western Jordan inheritance, the tribes who decided to settle on the East of the Jordan did still get included when it came to the Levites – they were still given people to intercede between them and God.
I find the terminology here interesting. The passage speaks repeatedly about someone who kills another person.
Murder is just plain murder; the person is guilty and under the law – which does say an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth – it is also a life for a life.
The term used is the “Avenger of Blood.” To me it sounds like some kind of superhero, although I don’t know quite for certain whether he’d be a hero or villain.
The point is, though, that a person who sheds blood and takes a life is allowed to be killed by a person avenging them.
There is a recognition, though, that accidents can happen and so here, God provides provision for those situations. He says that they are to set up six Cities of Refuge, where a person who accidentally kills someone can seek salvation.
They are only safe, though, as long as they remain in the walls of that city. If they step outside the land of that city, and are found by the Avenger of Blood, then that person can kill them without further ramification. This is the way until the High Priest dies.
In the Psalms, and in quite a few modern songs, God is called our refuge.
We have all sinned. Perhaps we’re not all murderers, but we’re all guilty and thus deserving of the consequences of our actions – eternal separation from God. Yet we have a refuge – through the death of the High Priest – Jesus – we can seek refuge in God’s own throne room. Through the blood of Jesus, we can seek refuge.
But we too, are only really safe if we remain within the walls of that refuge. If we remain in God, then we are safe, but if we wander out of that place of safety, then we put ourselves in danger once more. We are safe in God; safe in the arms of our refuge and shelter.
You know, even if I can get excited about the genealogies and the previous chapter when it came to details of the Israelites journey, there are some bits and pieces that I do still struggle with. This chapter’s one of them. Reading through, it’s a detailed list of where the boundary of the nation of Israel is meant to be.
There’s been a few different places where God described specifically what the boundaries of the Israelite kingdom were meant to be. As far as I know (I am, of course, happy to be corrected on this) though, never in their entire existence as a nation – even at their greatest under King David – did they attain all of the land that God actually had set out for them.
One other thing that I find interesting is that God doesn’t actually include the land given to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half of Manasseh in these boundaries. He actually still closes the boundaries down in the land that he had intended to give to them.
It is possible to stop before we reach the promised land. It is possible to just lie back on our laurels and rest, satisfied with what we’ve achieved to date and think that we’ve really done enough. The trouble is, that if we stop, God’s not about to move the boundaries of the promised land to suit where we’ve arrived at. He’s not about to just decide that we’ve come far enough, so he’ll extend the promised land to us to ensure that we still get everything that he had planned for us.
When I was looking at Abraham, and particularly the story of Ishmael and how Abraham took his destiny into his own hands, God pointed out to me that even though Abraham screwed up, God was still able to use that. He was able to actually take Abraham’s mistake and still guide him to his destiny. There were consequences, but ultimately, Abraham and Sarah still had their own son.
Abraham wasn’t stopping, though. He was still going, and while he ended up on the wrong path for a while, he was still moving; still growing closer to God.
The problem comes when we stop. If we stop, and just decide that we’ve done enough – that’s when we can’t walk into the fullness of life that God has for us. That’s when we end up on the Eastern side of the Jordan river, gazing across at the promised land – a promised land that Reuben, Gad and Manasseh still helped win – but never move in.
See, as long as we’re moving forward, God can still guide us from our mistakes and lead us into the destiny that he has for us. It may not be ideally like he had planned initially, but we can still get there. What we do when we stop, though, is settle for second best. We settle for a place that ultimately, God didn’t intend for us to be there, but we simply decided to quit the journey and settle, and suddenly we’re on the wrong side of the boundary, outside the promised land.
I’ve mentioned before when there have been lists of genealogies how I’m probably more interested in those lists than the average person; because it gives me more detail. Those genealogy lists allow my mind to wander a little and wonder just who those people were.
Well, here’s another list – this time it’s of all the places where the Israelites camped and travelled over the forty years that they were in the wilderness. It allows me to visualize a map – well, sort of. The maps that I have found look rather interesting, anyway.
What I love about this chapter, though, is the fact that it’s suddenly placing emphasis not on the destination, but on the process of getting there.
It’s a cliche to say that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.
In a way, this isn’t actually true – not in the case of the Israelites and not in our case, as both we and the Israelites journey toward the ‘Promised Land’.
That doesn’t mean the journey is discounted or ignored, though. The journey is always going to be something worth remembering.
It is possible, to sit back in life and just let it go by. Very possible. Truth is, that I think there are a lot of Christians who do this. They’re happy to sit in ‘church’ every week, getting their fill of God, getting their weekly encounter, and that’s how their lives are going to be lived. Sunday to Sunday to Sunday to Sunday to heaven.
But what growth, what development, what enjoyment is there in living a life that’s just stationary? God didn’t create us to stay stationary, and Jesus certainly didn’t call us to stay stationary.
(Google check: Yes, I did get the right stationary. )
If there is one thing that we can take from this chapter, one that would appear, on the surface, to be boring and uninteresting in our modern world, like the genealogy lists that appear throughout the bible, then it’s this: The journey is something to remember, and something to be recorded.
This blog – the Bible Journey – will soon be moving to a new home, but at Midnight Quills, I will be continuing to use the blog here to detail my journey through life. I want to record my journey in God, and I want to be able to remember it.
So we’re getting towards the end of the journey. Here are the Israelites, and they’ve actually managed to defeat most of the Eastern side of the Jordan river; now they just need to cross it and get across to the west side. It has to be admitted, they made a mess of it. Egypt to where Israel isn’t anywhere near as long a journey as the Israelites made it.
Funny, though, how even though it took forty years, God was still in the process of fulfilling his promise. It could have been quite easy for the Israelite to decide that they’d done their jobs. They had, after all, wiped out the Midianites; and had cleared a fair track of land on this side of the Jordan river. They could well have just settled where they were.
And in fact, some of them decided that they wanted to. The tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh all come to Moses at this point and ask if they can just settle where they are instead of going across the Jordan.
And Moses gives them a serve.
He tells them no, they’re not going to just quit here while the rest of the nation continues on and fights the rest of the battle; they are to follow and join in.
To their credit, though, these guys reply by asking Moses to let them build their cities, fence their flocks, and settle their wives and children, and then they’ll be right there.
This – to me – sounds a bit similar to the person who wanted to follow Jesus, but only once he’d buried his father. Jesus said that’s not how it works.
It’s not quite the same, and hence why it does work that way for Reuben, Gad and the eastern half of Manasseh. Moses tells them that they can have their land, build their cities, fence their herds, but once everything’s set, the soldiers are coming with the rest of the Israelites across the Jordan. They agree to this.
There’s a lot to take out of this chapter, I think the main thing I take from it, though, is the concept of settling. I know from personal experience that it’s a lot easier to half finish something, than to actually finish it. Here’s these two and a half tribes, and they’re looking around and realizing that there’s a massive amount of now-vacant land right where they’re standing. They have a promised land across the river, but where they are is already clear, the work’s already been done. Why put any more effort in? How easy is it for us to stand on the Eastern side of the Jordan in our lives and decide that we can’t be bothered doing any more work, we’re happy right where we are. We don’t need the full promise of God; what we’ve got will do.
We can sit back and rest on our laurels, deciding that we’ve done enough. It’s now time to settle down, relax and live out the rest of our lives in peace. That’s not likely what God has for us, though. God doesn’t need stagnant warriors, he needs moving ones. He doesn’t want us on the eastern side of the Jordan, he wants to see us walk completely into the promised land that he has for us.
God has so much more for us, if we just cross the river and keep walking into his promises.