Deuteronomy 31:1-23

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 31:23 (CSB)
23 The Lord commissioned Joshua son of Nun, “Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I swore to them, and I will be with you.”

Reflection/Application:

This pericope begins the transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua. But it does so much more as well!

The passage begins with Moses declaring that he is 120 years old and can no longer lead the Israelites. And he goes on to encourage them, reminding them that God will be with them. In fact, their victory on the other side of the Jordan river is guaranteed because God will be going ahead of them to destroy their enemies. But the Israelites still have work to do, they must drive the peoples out of the land. Thus Moses message is not to fear, but “be strong and courageous.” Advice that we, as believers, should heed today as we go in to a hostile world, already knowing God has secured victory, yet needing to be strong and courageous to carry out the mission he has given us.

In Deut. 31:7-8, Moses calls forth Joshua, and basically gives him the same charge. Isn’t this appropriate though? After all, a leader should be strong and courageous of his own accord, not just through the strength and courage of his subjects. Joshua, as we will see, will absolutely need to find his personal strength in God, rather than the people of the nation he will be leading into the promised land.

We then read that Moses recorded the law, presumably what he had just delivered to the Israelites, and issued an interesting command: every seven years they were to read the law to the entire assembly of Israel. One obvious reason for this is so that the children will learn the law and grow to honor and obey God. It seems to me that it is also a reminder for the adults, and duly so since this reading is to take place in the year in which debts are cancelled. How appropriate that the law, which Israel is commanded to obey out of love for God, is read, and remembered, during the year in which people are set free from their debts, freed from their enslavement.

Through Deut. 31:13, it has been Moses speaking, writing, and commanding. But in v14 things change to God being the narrator. And we initially see him call for Joshua to be commissioned to lead the Israelites. But things take a sort of odd twist.

Before commissioning Joshua, God announces that, along with Moses’ nearing death, the Israelites will break the covenant between them and God. Deut. 31:17-18 outlines what will happen: God will “hide” from Israel. Israel will “eat their fill and prosper,” yet “will turn to other gods and worship them.” What a timely and appropriate warning for us today! And God gives Moses a song (outlined later in Deut. 32) that will serve to testify against the Israelites when they do rebel against God. It seems that the Israelites will be so distant from God that it will only be the remembrance of this sing that will show them their rebellion and wrong ways… what a scary place to be.

Finally, the passage closes with God commissioning Joshua, and giving the same encouragement to “be string and courageous,” along with reminding Joshua that God himself will be with him. How much would Joshua have needed to hear this? Right after he hears of the coming rebellion of Israel against God, and he is to be the leader! But God allows us to be in hard situations, apparently places us in them at times, but he is with us when we remain focused on him.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for going ahead of us, for destroying our enemies, whoever and whatever they may be. I am sorry for taking that for granted at times, and for not following through with what you charge me to. I pray for the same thing you promised Joshua: that you will be with me. Help me to be strong and courageous, and remain in you. Amen.

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Deuteronomy 30:11-20

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 30:14 (CSB)
14 But the message is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may follow it.

Reflection/Application:

Chapter 30 concludes with this climactic summary and appeal, of sorts, by Moses. He begins by laying the clarity and obviousness of the choice before the Israelites, then summarizes the consequences of either choice, and concludes with a summary of what is at stake.

Moses begins in Deut. 30:11-14 by challenging the Israelites to make a choice, no excuses. He dispels any notion that one might avoid a decision, or feign ignorance, by insisting that it all boils down to this single act of obedience. Obedience to the commands of God, but it all starts with the choice to be obedient. And the commands of God are not secret, they do not have to be fetched from some distant land, nor do they need some special interpreter. Moses has provided the commands to them, they are accessible and understandable. Moses even states, “the message is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may follow it,” which harkens back to Deut. 6:6-7.

Deut. 30:15-19 summarizes the two choices, obedience or disobedience, with the results of life or death. Certainly not as nuanced and wordy as the blessings and curses previously outlined, but just as effective. We should note that thousands of years later, the choice, and stakes, have not changed. If we love God, we gain life, if we do not, we perish. Yet somehow our fleeting lusts and passions still manage to trump what we know is the right choice. And for some, we’ve trumped that right choice so much, that we lose sight of it altogether.

Moses concludes with the whole point: God is life. “For he [God] is your life, ” is what he says in Deut. 30:20. It’s a simple message, but one of utmost importance, nothing is more pressing or weightier. What have we chosen?

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the gift of salvation. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to love you. I pray that all would do just that, even though we know that many will not. It is hard to understand why such a clear and simple choice is so hard to make. Our sin blinds us, but I pray that you would help us to see, especially through your word, just as Moses exhorted the Israelites. Amen.

Deuteronomy 30:1-10

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 30:6 (CSB)
6 The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love him with all your heart and all your soul so that you will live.

Reflection/Application:

This pericope flows directly from the preceding, closing verse of chapter 29. As if in response to the mystery of the “hidden things” of God, this passage provides at least a glimpse of what is hinted at.

The passage opens with Moses basically telling the Israelites that they will be disobedient. The “when” here in Deut. 30:1-2, according to multiple commentaries, is not so much of a conditional, but more of a certainty. In other words, Moses says to the Israelites, “You will rebel against God, turn from him, after you’ve experienced the blessings of this covenant, and then you will suffer the curses of the covenant, and then you will snap out of it, and come back to God.”

It is a beautiful picture of God’s grace! If we stop and think about this, we realize there is no “requirement” for God to take the Israelites back after they rebel, even if they do repent and desire to be obedient again: once the covenant is broken, that’s it. But instead, God is merciful and says right here, through Moses, that he will take back his people upon their repentance. In fact, we can see by the phrasing in Deut. 30:8, the reference to the commands being given “today”, present day, before the falling away of Israel that is to come, that it is not some new covenant that is established when Israel repents and returns, but the same one is renewed and in effect.

The pericope closes with what appears, in the CSB at least, to be an almost identical conditional as Deut. 30:1, with the use of the word “when”. But, again according to multiple commentaries, the word “when” here truly is a conditional, not a certainty. The NIV and NET (and probably others) render the Greek here as “if” instead, which probably captures the meaning of the word better. The point being: there is a human responsibility to repent and return. We as people must make a choice to turn to God. And when we do, God is loving and gracious enough to restore us and bless us.

Finally, I find what I selected as the key verse to be a very interesting one. At face value it is a wonderful promise, and no interpretation of it should diminish that aspect. To know that when we repent and return to God, and are obedient to him, our hearts undergo a spiritual circumcision, similar to the symbolic physical circumcision, and we then will love God fully, and live fully, is nothing trivial, and is the great hope of the believer.

But the interesting part of this verse is how one might interpret it. Does it mean that God must circumcise our hearts first, and then we will then be able to fully love him? Or does it mean once we make that choice to repent, take that step towards God, he then, in response, circumcises our hearts and enables true life? In the end, it doesn’t matter if it’s our free will or purely the will of God. But it is interesting, as long as we don’t lose sight of our loving God.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your grace and mercy! Despite my sin, you take me back. Repeatedly. Your love is greater than my sin, and I can only say, “Thank you!” I pray for a repentant heart, to truly turn from my sin, and return to obedience as your child. Amen.

Deuteronomy 29:16-29

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 29:18 (CSB)
18 Be sure there is no man, woman, clan, or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations. Be sure there is no root among you bearing poisonous and bitter fruit.

Reflection/Application:

In this pericope we again see the ramifications of disobeying God, or “abandoning the covenant”. This is not just a regurgitation of the previous passage containing the curses, but instead contains a number of ideas to take special notice of.

  • There is a definite shift to the concern for the individual rather than just the nation of Israel as a whole, although that national concern is obviously still there. In my pick as the key verse, Deut. 29:18, we find individuals, “man” and “woman”, listed alongside, and prior to, “clan” and “tribe” as units that are then compared to a “root” that would bear and spread poison. It seems clear that one individual can cause a family (i.e. clan), tribe, or even a nation to stumble, to disobey, and turn from, God. Deut. 29:19 goes on to say that the single individual does not destroy just his own land, the dry land, but also the watered land, that of the one he leads into sin.
  • Further, we see that punishment is no longer a collective thing, but individual. Deut. 29:20-21 are quite explicit in noting that the individual will be the subject of God’s judgment. This does not mean that the disobedient do not cause harm to others through their sin, as noted already, but it is clear that the judgment of God is reserved for the sinner himself.
  • Deut. 29:29 is a transitional verse, and it almost would seem better included in the next pericope. But, it is a great reminder that God possesses, and keeps for himself, pieces of knowledge that are not intended for us to know. Yet we are blessed greatly by having what he has revealed, especially what he has revealed through his word, recorded in the scriptures, so that we may know all that we need to!

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for giving us all that we need! I am sorry for often times wanting more, for not being satisfied with what you have revealed to me, and for trying to supplement your perfect revelation with my own half-baked schemes and desires. I pray for contentment, discipline, and satisfaction that comes from you, and through your word. Amen.

Deuteronomy 29:1-15

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 29:14-15 (CSB)

14 I am making this covenant and this oath not only with you, 15 but also with those who are standing here with us today in the presence of the LORD our God and with those who are not here today.

Reflection/Application:

All the past chapters conveying the commands of God, the outline and details of the covenant between God and the Israelites, culminates here in the renewal of the covenant. There are three things I noted:

  1. The first thing I noted was what seemed, at first, to be a contradiction. In Deut. 29:2-3 we read Moses statement that the Israelites before him this particular day had “[seen] with [their] own eyes everything the Lord did in Egypt.” But wait, way back in Numbers 14:21-23 didn’t God say, “None of those who have despised me will see it,” in reference to the Israelite men who rebelled against God because they were afraid of the scouting report of the peoples in Canaan, and not being able to “see” Canaan. So what gives? Well, we should recall that what ensued was 40 years of wandering around… so that generation likely had passed away. What remained, and the men who Moses is likely addressing, are the men who were, at the time, boys, not yet soldiers, so they in fact would have been both witness to the great miracles of God, and able to enter Canaan.
  2. This covenant is not just for those in the present, but extends into the past, as well as into the future. It’s obvious that the present Israelites are entering into this covenant. We can see in Deut. 29:1 that this is an extension of the covenant established at Horeb earlier. Likewise, we see in Deut. 29:14-15 that the covenant extends into the future through the reference to “those who are not here today.” The Israelites are renewing this covenant as a people, not just as a group of individuals, or single generation.
  3. There is an immediacy to this covenant. If we look at the setting: the nation of Israel camped at the border of Canaan, standing before Moses, who led them through the wilderness for 40 years, as he exhorts them to look back on what God has done for them, and to renew their covenant with God and be obedient to him, it carries a weight of urgency. Also, we see in this pericope, in the final 6 verses, the word “today” appears five times. All five times it is in reference to the renewal of the covenant in some fashion, three of them explicitly linked to the Israelites making a decision that day.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for loving us, for keeping your part of your covenant, your promises to us, despite our repeated failures, rebellion, and disobedience. And that’s for us as believers! I am sorry for my rebellion, for so often choosing enslavement to my sin rather than freedom in you. Restore, and help, me so that I feel the urgency to chase after you right now, with all of me. Help me to be the obedient child you have designed me to be. Amen.

 

Deuteronomy 28:15-68

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 28:15 (CSB)

15 “But if you do not obey the LORD your God by carefully following all his commands and statutes I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overtake you:”

Reflection/Application:

Just as the previous pericope contained the details of the blessings in store for an obedient Israel, this section outlines the curses for a disobedient Israel. And, just as there were items of note in the previous section, there is plenty to note here as well.

  1. Deut. 28:16-19 is essentially, except for the switching of order of the two inner verses, the opposite response to Deut. 28:3-6. So, we can be sure that these writings really do “go together”. The tone is immediately set that what follows is starkly different than the preceding blessings.
  2. This section is much longer than he blessings section. The previous pericope numbered 14 verses, while the curses passage is 54 verses! What might be the reason for this? We could speculate a number of explanations:
    1. Apparently it was a common practice in the region, at the time, to include a section of curses in treaties, and that section was always longer than any blessings that may have been included. So, since this is the outline of the covenant between God and Israel, it is not much of a stretch to think the same cultural practice was put into effect here.
    2. Perhaps it is a sign of what was to come of Israel. God, being all-knowing, including the knowledge of future events, was perhaps emphasizing the future failure of Israel. Not that it was his desire that Israel would be disobedient, quite the contrary, but a sign, both to look back upon, and for Israel at the time, to warn of their eventual disobedience.
    3. Finally, perhaps it is just to emphasize the severity of disobedience towards God. It is nothing to be taken lately, and it would seem that God, through Moses, was “scaring Israel straight”. Although not as in vogue, there was certainly a time when “fire & brimstone” was quite an effective preaching and evangelical approach. Maybe we could take a page from Moses here, and see just how important knowing the consequences of our disobedience is, not just the blessings for our obedience.
  3. There are a number of interesting phrases, and thoughts, in this text. Here are a few I noted:
    1. Deut. 28:36 says, “you and your king that you have appointed.” Israel did not have a king at this point. Nor had a king been “pointed out” by God for them. There had, of course, been promises of future kings, and even the instruction to appoint one once in the promised land. But this verse here has a bit of a different feel to it. Where everything else has a God-leading vibe, this is a man-leading feel… it feels like a separation, a pointing to a future time when Israel will have abandoned God and taken the reigns.
    2. Deut. 28:52 says, referring to the walls around cities, “that you trust in”. Who do we trust in? Is it in our jobs, our bank accounts, our physical health and strength, our spouse and/or friends, our government? Are we that different than the Israel that would be placing their hope in brick and stone walls over the Creator of the universe?
    3. There is some pretty rough stuff laid out in these curses… just read Deut. 28:53-57 to get a picture of something just as bad, if not worse, than any modern horror film. Yet, in Deut. 28:61, we read that not only are all these horrific curses the result of disobedience, but everything not recorded as well! Sometimes what is not said is more frightening than what is.
    4. I wonder why, in Deut. 28:62, God says he the Israelites will be “left with only a few”? Why not totally destroyed for their disobedience? Is it to show the world the result of disobedience, like a reminder that is still there lest anyone forget? Whatever the reason for leaving a remnant, it is historically a sign of prosperity when a nation grew, so to have the population reduced to a small number would be an obvious sign of God’s curse, not to mention a hardship on survival in general.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for reminding us of the consequences of disobedience and rebellion against you. And thank you for not just the blessings, lest we become complacent, and take them for granted or feel entitled in some way, but showing us that we have a part to play in our relationship with you, and that is loving, trusting, faithful, obedience. I pray that we would turn from our rebellion, and turn back to you. Work on us not through scared fear, but through healthy respect of you and your justice, and, ultimately, bring us closer to you. Amen.

Deuteronomy 28:1-14

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 28:14 (CSB)

14  Do not turn aside to the right or the left from all the things I am commanding you today, and do not follow other gods to worship them.

Reflection/Application:

Chapter 28 contains what I assume are the “details” from the previous chapter. Even if the blessings and curses of chapter 28 are not specifically details of the previous chapter, they still follow from the same vein of thought concerning Israel’s obedience. The chapter begins with, in this pericope, the blessings for an obedient Israel. There are a number of details to note.

  1. The blessings are conditional. This may seem obvious, but it is worth taking note of. Deut. 28:1-2 state that the following list of blessings result only from the obedience of Israel. These are not automatic, they are not guaranteed… Israel must be obedient in order for God to follow through with them. How often do we take for granted the blessings of God?
  2. The blessings do not appear to be something earned. If they were something earned, we might expect some sort of “sliding scale”, or a blessing for this-or-that. But instead, we see a blanket, slew of blessings for the act of obedience. Perhaps we should not equate God’s ability to do with our ability to do.
  3. A few of the specific blessings are interesting in that they are comprised of opposites. Deut. 28:3 and 6 convey a sense of blessing wherever, and in whatever, the Israelites do. And shouldn’t this be what we expect for a people living in obedience to God? We should expect that whether they are in the country or city, or coming in or going out, that their obedience necessitates their doing the will of God… therefore their success and blessing!
  4. Deut. 28:14 also contains an opposite: “right or the left”. Our obedience necessitates our following exactly God’s path and commands. When we start taking side paths, adding our own routes and shortcuts, we fail to follow God, we fail in being obedient. The verse ends with the command to “not follow other gods to worship them.” If we are veering from the path of obedience to God, then aren’t we on a path to some other god? Even if that other god is ourselves.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the promise of blessings as a result of our obedience! It is not that we should be obedient just to “get” the blessings, but we should obey out of our love, and faith, in you. Your blessings are just a bonus, a result of your grace and love. I am sorry for chasing after those other gods, and, all too often, following my own path. I pray for the clarity to know exactly the path, and the discipline and will to not stray to the right or left. Amen.