March 31, 2017
A Table of Lessons for April
Joshua 1, Lk. 15
Josh. 2, Heb. 3
There has been much discussion over the author and date of the book of Joshua, but competent scholars believe the evidence points to the time of Joshua as the date, and Joshua himself as the author. 5:1 shows it was written by someone who participated in the events, and, since Joshua served Moses, who carefully chronicled the events of the Exodus, there is good reason to believe Joshua learned and followed his practice.
The purpose of the book is twofold. First, it is an historical account of the conquest of Canaan. Thus, it fits into the history of Israel, which occupies the books of Genesis through Esther. Second, like the other history books, it is also a theology text book. In this case, its theological purpose is to show the absolute faithfulness of God, in contrast to the vacillating faith, and lapses of it, in the Hebrews. As in the wilderness, the weak and fearful Hebrews must be coaxed and coddled every step of the way, and we often wonder why God bothered with them. The answer is, because He is faithful. He is not like us. He is great and strong, and He is pure and good. He never leaves a promise unfulfilled. And He is kind and merciful. He is patient and loving. In short, He is everything the Hebrews are not, and they are everything He is not. If He is kind and merciful to them, we can also expect Him to be kind and merciful to us. If He keeps His promise to Abraham, even though the Hebrews do not deserve it, we can expect His to keep His promises to us, even though we do not deserve it. In Joshua, we see God faithfully keeping His promise to Abraham, and continuing to work toward His ultimate purpose of bringing all things together under Christ Jesus. When ever we see the falterings and failures of Israel, and the steadfastness of God that never fails or falters, we must always see it in light of God’s purpose, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ” (Eph. 1:10), and “That we should be [exist] to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:12).
Verses 1-9 give God’s charge to Joshua, which my father, The Rev’d. Robert R Campbell, explained as follows.
Be strong and courageous (6). “I will be with thee” (5).
Be careful to obey (7). “I will never leave nor forsake thee” (5).
Meditate upon, and do the law (8). You will prosper and have success (8).
Be not afraid or dismayed (9) “God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (9).
Verses 10- 15 record Joshua’s instructions to the officers of the people. These would be the captains and elders established by Moses. They are to have the people prepare rations for the march (11), and the tribes who have settled the eastern side of the Jordan valley will accompany the others as they march into Canaan (12-15).
In 16-18, the people pledge to follow Joshua as they followed Moses, which they do. Unfortunately, as they didn’t follow Moses very well, their obedience to Joshua will also be far less than perfect.
Chapter two tells the well-known story of the Canaanite Rahab. It has caused much controversy over the generations because Rahab is a harlot and a liar, yet is rewarded. The Canaanite religion had priests and priestesses, and the worship of their gods included sexual relations with them. Rahab was probably sold into that bondage by her family, who would have considered having a priestess in the family a great honour. Thus, the simple words of verse 2, “And they went, and came into an harlot’s house, named Rahab, speaks of a life of sorrow and illustrates the depth of corruption of the Canaanite culture.
Her story also shows the greatness of God’s grace. It transcends national and ethnic boundaries, and forgives the sins of all who seek truly Him. Rahab is saved from the destruction of Jericho (Josh 6:25). More importantly, she converts to the Jewish faith and becomes a partaker of the grace of God. She marries Salmon of the tribe of Judah (Mt. 1:5). They have a son named Boaz, who also marries a Gentile convert to Judaism, and is an ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Josh. 3, Lk. 16
Josh. 4, Heb. 4
We know from chapter 2 verse 6 that it is harvest time, for Rahab has flax drying on her roof in Jericho. There are fords that cross the Jordan near Jericho, used by people for thousands of years. Even our Lord used them on His final journey to Jerusalem and the cross (Mk. 10:1, 46). But, at harvest time, the rains in the mountains north of Galilee flood into the Jordan and make the river overflow its banks (3:15). In other words, it is impossible to cross the river at the fords during harvest time. This fact is firmly impressed upon the minds of the Hebrews during their three-day encampment on its banks. Even the spies of chapter two probably went south along the river and crossed by boat on the still waters of the Dead Sea. Verse 1records Israel’s move to the Jordan. Verse 2 says after being encamped there for three days Joshua begins to prepare the people for the crossing. 3-13 are the Lord’s orders to Joshua and the people about how they will cross. He will send the priests and the Ark into the water, which will miraculously become dry like the Red Sea (23). The rest of the people will follow. There will be walls of water on their northern and southern sides, which would quickly drown them if the Lord should stop holding them back. So the first miracle in Canaan is their safe entrance through the river bed. Joshua 3:14-17 records the crossing.
Verses 1-18 continue the record of the crossing, and belong with 3:14-17. It happens just as God said. “All the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan” (3:17). When the priests carried the Ark to the Canaan side, “the waters of the Jordan returned unto their place, and flowed over all his banks, as they did before” (4:18). What a frightening, thunderous crashing must have accompanied the pent up water’s return to its place. It would have been like the bursting of a huge dam, with all the waters of the lake behind it crashing down the river bed before it. If you have ever stood beside a large dam when its spillways are opened after a time of being closed, you have some idea of the impressive sight Israel is allowed to witness, that they may know what God has done to let them pass safely over Jordan.
It has been a long and difficult journey. It was marked by 400 years of slavery, 40 years in the wilderness, and many hard and terrible lessons. But now, at last Israel is in Canaan.
The chapter closes with pillars placed conspicuously, where future generations will enquire about their origin and meaning (19-24). The answer to their question is given in verses 22-24, and crossing the Jordan will be remembered down through the ages.
Josh. 5, Lk. 17:1-19
Josh. 6:1-11, Heb. 5
Joshua 5 deals with three events. First is the circumcision of those not circumcised in the wilderness. For some reason, in spite of God’s continuing provision and grace, Israel grew lax about this sacrament of the Old Testament. They must return to the full demands and details of the Law, especially since the Passover time had arrived, and only the circumcised could lawfully partake.
Second, in verses 11 and 12, the manna ends. The people will now eat the bounty of the Promised Land (11). They will enjoy the provisions of their new home. From the wilderness to this time, they had miraculously eaten the manna. Form this time onward they eat what their new home gives.
Third (13-15) Joshua meets the Captain of the Lord’s host. Joshua is near Jericho. Some believe he is there to observe the city walls and formulate a plan of attack. Others speculate he is there to pray. Actually, his mission probably comprises much planning and much prayer. The planning probably convinced Joshua of the city’s strength and the necessity of a long, siege, which would cost much time and try the patience of the Hebrew people. But God has other plans. The Captain of the host of the Lord is none other than Christ Himself. He has come to lead His people in the coming battle. Joshua, realising His identity, falls to his face and worships Him, asking, “what saith my Lord unto his servant?”
In the command to remove his shoes, Joshua is given assurance that he is in the Divine presence, just as Moses was assured in his call to deliver the Hebrews. The connection and meaning obviously confirm Joshua’s calling and mission, and promise that God will be with him as He was with Moses.
Our Lord Christ proceeds to give Israel’s orders and battle plan to Joshua (1-5). Jericho is “straitly shut up.” Its massive gates are closed, and its seemingly impenetrable walls surround it. It appears to be completely unassailable.
The Lord’s orders would to make no sense. March around the city and blow trumpets? Hardly the way most armies win wars. That is the point. This battle will not be won by Joshua’s strategy or Israel’s fighting skills. God will win this battle for Israel. In the process, He will strike fear into the hearts of all His enemies in Canaan, and inspire courage and faith in the Hebrews.
It must have been a terrifying parade, for the people of Jericho. A vast column of armed soldiers led it. They were followed by seven priests blowing trumpets of ram’s horns. The Ark of the Covenant followed them, signifying God’s Law and Promises to Israel. There seem to have been seven more trumpeting priests following the Ark, who are, in turn, followed by throngs of the Hebrew people. They march around the city in silence, save for the trumpets’ sound, and when they have circled Jericho, they all return to their camp.
Josh. 6:12-27, Lk. 17:20-37
Josh. 7:1-15, Heb 6
The Hebrews continue to circle Jericho for six days, and it is easy to wonder how the people of Jericho react. Do its warriors and people lose some of their fear each day, and maybe even begin to jeer and taunt the Hebrews? If they do they might find cause for concern when, on the seventh day, Israel circles the city seven times, and instead of returning to the camp, forms a ring around the city and faces it. The trumpets are silent now, and Joshua addresses the people (16,17). He reminds them that the spoils of the city belong to God, and the people are to take nothing for themselves. Now the trumpets sound, and the people shout.
The result is known to most of the world’s population. The city walls crumble, and the Hebrews take the city. Only Rahab and her people are saved from the annihilation. “[S]o the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was noised throughout all the country.”
The Hebrews must be sorely tempted by the sight of the wealth of Jericho. They were told not to take anything for themselves because it all belongs to God. Thus everything is burned except a few things to go in the Tabernacle. But who would know if you took a small gold statue or a few coins? Achan could not stand the temptation. He took something for himself, and his sin will have terrible consequences for him and his people very soon, though, as yet, no one knows about it but him and God.
Joshua sends scouts to Ai (aay eye), near Bethel and about 10 miles west of Jericho (2). Since it was a small town, the scouts recommend only two or three thousand soldiers be sent to take it (3). Three thousand were sent, and expected to return in triumph. Instead they were repulsed and chased by the warriors of Ai, losing thirty-six men in what should have been an easy victory. Why had this happened? For one thing, it was a military blunder. Always send more soldiers than necessary. If you think you need three thousand, send six thousand. In this case, why did not the whole people of Israel go? Second, and the more important, we find that God knows the sin of Achan, and will not give Israel any more victories until he is dealt with (10-13).
Many are surprised at the punishment to be suffered by the guilty man. Few see the several opportunities he is given to repent before he is found out. The Lord will call out the tribe of the guilty man. One family of the tribe will be called out. Then, one household of that family will be called out. Out that household, the people will come forward, man by man. Surely Achan is able to see that the all knowing God is gradually pointing him out as the guilty one. Surely, at every narrowing of the search, he has a chance to confess and beg mercy from the Father of All Mercies. But he does not, therefore, he will die in his sin.
Josh. 7:16- 26, Lk. 18:1-30
Josh. 8:1-31, Heb. 7
We see Joshua calling all the tribes together, then singling out the tribe of Judah. From Judah, he calls out the family of Zarhites. Finally, it comes down to Achan. At this point, the opportunity to repent is gone, nor does it seem to occur to Achan to repent. His confession seems only an admission. His only sorrow seems to be getting caught. He seems to think his admission, and the return of the silver and gold is enough. It is not. Had his confession been sincere and real, God may have had mercy on him. But this new generation must learn, as every generation must, that God’s word is as immutable as He, and that the wages of sin is death. Otherwise, they will fall away from God into cultural and spiritual decay very, very quickly. They are enjoying the benefits of the Covenant: they must also bear its curses. Thus, Achan, his family, and his possessions meet their end (24-26). Let us hope that their arrival at God’s Heavenly throne was a much happier meeting.
God reassures Joshua that He is with him (1). He must have needed that assurance after the grizzly and distasteful affair of Achan. Joshua is told to take all the warriors of Israel (1, 3), rather than a small force, and take Ai.
This time he uses a common military ruse. He fakes a rout, knowing the enemy will pursue. But he has 5,000 warriors waiting in a hidden place near Bethel. It seems another force, of about 30,000 men were also hidden near the city. The main body of the army leads the pursuing Canaanites away from the city. Once the Ai army is away, the ambush force goes into the city and begins to burn it. The men of Ai see the smoke from their burning city, they attempt to fight the Hebrews they have been chasing (20), but the force that entered the city now joins the battle (22) and the Ai army is defeated.
Josh. 8:30-35, Lk 18:31-43
Josh. 9, Heb. 8
Now Israel builds the altar required by God in Deuteronomy 27 and 31, and which, in many ways replicates the ceremony at Sinai. With the mountains of Gerizim and Ebal in the background, the people gather before the altar, with the elders and officers in front facing the altar. The Ark of the Covenant is solemnly carried to its place, and the priests and Levites stand beside it. The sacrifices are offered, and Joshua moves between the Ark and the people to read from the books of Moses. He reads, “all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings” (34). “There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel” (35). This ceremony remembers, and gives thanks for God’s calling care and guidance of Israel from Abraham, through the Exodus and wilderness, the Jordan, and the recent victories. But most of all, it is a pledge of allegiance to God. It is an affirmation of the corporate identity of Israel as the people of God, and a pledge to be and do what God’s people should. It is a pledge to be His Covenant people.
Some of the Canaanites intend to band together to repel the Israelites (2). Rather than join them, the Gibeonites try to make peace with Israel, a league (6). Gibeon is about 30 miles by road from Gilgal, but the Gibeonites pretend to be from “a very far country” (9). “They did work wilily” (4) seems to mean they use witchcraft, as well as deceit, to empower their desires.
Israel makes a tragic mistake. Her leaders do not take counsel at the mouth of the Lord (14). They do not seek God’s guidance, therefore, they believe the Gibeonites’ lies.
The first result of the Israeli/Gibeonite agreement is the damage to the trust the Israelites have in their leaders (18). Unfortunately, everyone makes mistakes. Hopefully, we learn from them, and actually become better for them. But the confidence of others, damaged by our mistakes, often never returns. The second result is the reduction of the Gibeonites to the status of bond servants (23).
Josh 10:1-14, Lk. 19:1-22
Josh 10:15-27, Heb. 9
Joshua 10:1-14 and 15-27
The combined force of the Canaanites mobilses for battle. Rather than attacking Israel, they move against the Gibeonites, intending to force them into their army, or destroy them for siding with Israel. Either way, other Canaanite tribes will be more inclined to join the combined Canaanite force, making a Hebrew conquest of the land humanly impossible.
Receiving a desperate call for help from the Gibeonites, the army of Israel makes a forced night march from Gilgal to defeat the Canaanites at Gibeon. It is during this battle that the famous miracle occurs when “the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day” (Josh 10:13).
Joshua 10:28-43, Lk 19:23-48
Josh 22:1-20, Hebrews 10
After a brief return to Gilgal, Israel advances to the city of Libnah, about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem, conquering Makkeda on the way. After subduing Libnah, they travel south about 6 miles to conquer Lachish. The army of Horam, king of Gezer, who has come to help Lachish is also defeated. Eglon is a few miles southwest of Lachish, on a main road that leads to Gaza.
Hebron is about 20 miles due east of Lachish. But Israel probably took the road northeast to Maresha and went south east from there to Hebron, a journey of about 23 miles. Now the Israelites turn south west again to conquer Debir. As chapter 10 closes, Israel is in control of southern Canaan. It has not conquered every city or area. Gath, future home of the famous warrior, Goliath, still remains a Cannanitie stronghold, and will be a continuous threat to Israel. But it is no exageration for verse 41 to claim Hebrew ownership of the land from Kadesh barnea south of the Dead Sea, to Gibeon, north of Jerusalem, to the Gaza coast on the west.
We come now to the closing chapters of Joshua. The conquest of the Promised Land is almost complete. Small enclaves of Canaanites still exist, and they will become major problems for Israel in the future. But the military/economic power in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean belongs to the people of Israel. The entire nation is gathered at Shiloh, about 20 miles north of Jerusalem. Here plans are laid for the settlement of Canaan by the Hebrews, and the tribes who were granted land east of the Jordan are blessed by Joshua and released to their own lands.
Josh. 22:21-34 , Lk. 20
Josh. 23, Heb. 11
The eastern tribes are moving to their allotted lands on the eastern side of the Jordan. On the way they build an altar. Modern readers are often confused at the reaction to this altar. They are accustomed to people starting and closing churches at will, or changing churches at will, with no theological justification or ecclesiastical oversight. But God has never intended such a system to exist, not in the Old Testament Israel; not in the New Testament Church. The opposition to this altar is based on Deuteronomy 12:1-14. It is very similar to the one in the Tabernacle, and the other tribes are concerned that the builders plan to establish their own Tabernacle and worship system apart from the one God has established. Such a system would be worse than counterfeit. It would be heresy and idolatry, even if its people worship God and keep every other law of the Tabernacle. It would also divide Israel, making it essentially two nations rather than one people.
The eastern tribes assert that they have no intention of doing such evil. They say they are concerned that a division between them and the western tribes would come from the west (24, 25). The altar is a memorial and a testimony to both sides, that, though some dwell on the eastern side of the Jordan, they are one people and one faith with those on the western side.
Chapters 23 conveys the first of Joshua’s two farewell addresses. Joshua, now very advanced in years, calls the tribes together. He then calls for the elders, judges, and officers to come before him. In the presence of all, he addresses the nation through its leaders It is primarily an encouragement to continue to conquer Canaan (5), and to refrain from joining the evil and idolatry of the remaining Canaanites (13). Though Joshua is one hundred and ten years old now, and Israel has had rest from all her enemies for a “long time” (1), there are still Canaanites in the land, and the Israelites seem content to allow them to stay. They are slow to learn. They do not remember Baal Peor. They do not think the remaining Canaanites pose any threat or problem to them. Nor do they believe their lack of total obedience to God will carry any major consequences.
We are very much like them, aren’t we? We think we can offer partial obedience to God without consequences. We think the little bit of disobedience we allow to live within us is harmless, and we will never pay for it. After all, Christ died to forgive us from all sin.
Let Israel serve as our example. We will see in the book of Judges that the Canaanites became snares and traps to the Hebrews. Their wanton indulgence of the flesh, their sexual idolatry, and spiritual adultery enticed Israel like flame draws moths. A little compromise here, led to a bigger compromise there, until there was hardly any Godliness left in Israel.
Thus, Joshua’s words make two important points. First, “keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left” (6). This is also the first point of Hebrew identity and life. It's the most important thing. It is stated differently in verse 8. There, Joshua says, “cleave unto the Lord.” When our Lord was asked what is the great Commandment, He replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” God is first. If we ever get that right everything else will naturally fall into place. If we love God first, we will not follow false gods or false doctrines. If we love God first, we will live in perfect peace and harmony with all people and with God. We will make no idols. We will not take His name in vain. We will remember the Sabbath. We will honor our fathers and our mothers. We will not murder, not commit adultery, not steal, not bear false witness, not covet. It is only because we do not love God first, that we covet and steal and murder. It is because we have made idols of our own will and our own desires that we do these things.
The second point is stated well in verse 16. “When ye have transgressed the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed yourselves to them; then shall the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which he hath given unto you.” This point contains two to sub points. First, it assumes that Israel will not complete the conquest of Canaan. Rather than driving the Canaanites out of the land, Israel will allow them to remain. Second, it assumes the Hebrew people will adopt Canaanite habits, dress, and even religion. Thus, Israel will be drawn into the sins of the Canaanites. As we know, this is exactly what happened to Israel. And as we also know, Israel paid dearly for it.
Josh 24:1-18, Lk.21
Josh 24:19-33, Heb 12
Joshua gathers the tribes a second time and they present themselves before God (1). God, through him, recounts His call and blessing of Israel from Abraham to their present day (2-13). This reminds the people that God has been faithful in the Covenant, and that He has done good unto Israel.
Verse 14 begins to call the Israelites to be faithful also. They are to abhor the gods of the other nations, and serve only the Lord. If this seems evil (burdensome) to them, let them consider those who lived before the flood of Noah.
March 1, 2017
A Table of Lessons for March
Numbers 11:1-23, Mark 10:32-52
Num. 11:24- 35 , Eph. 6
It has been a full year since Israel left Egypt. In the third month of their travels they came to Mount Sinai. They have remained there until now. Moses has been called to the Mountain top several times, but it seems that in Numbers 1:1 and 2 God speaks to Moses in the camp. He commands Moses to “take the sum of the children of Israel.” It is from this counting, or, numbering of the people that our English version names this fourth book of Moses, “Numbers.” The numbering will enable the children of Israel to become more organised for the journey to Canaan. It will facilitate the march, and make it easier to deploy soldiers in case of attack.
Chapter 9 chronicles Israel’s second observance of the Passover. The first Passover happened in Egypt, so in chapter 9 they are obeying the command to observe it annually in remembrance of their mighty deliverance from Egypt, and the great cost of that deliverance. In chapter 10, after months of preparation, the Pillar of cloud and fire leads Israel to depart from Sinai. The march to the Promised Land has begun.
It must be a euphoric day for Israel to leave Sinai and move toward Canaan, but in chapter 11, euphoria soon gives way to murmuring. Verses 1 and 2 show God’s weariness of this complaining. He sends the fire of the Lord to consume the complainers. It is not known whether it came down from Heaven, out of the fire of the altar, or from the Pillar. It is known that it was deadly and thorough.
The “mixt multitude” of verse 4 suggests that other enslaved people came out of Egypt with Israel. They “fell a lusting” meaning they want meat to eat in addition to the manna. They speak longingly of the food they enjoyed in Egypt. Since they were slaves in Egypt, their food was probably much less glorious than they picture it here. Moses is displeased, and the anger of the Lord is kindled greatly.
God promises meat, and Moses fears it will be the flocks and herds of the people. But in verse 31 a wind brings quail from the sea (coast) which land in and around the camp. But God brings a plague again to the camp, and all of those who lusted die. Thus they named the place, Kibroth hattaavah, the graves of greed.
Also in this chapter, a small measure of the prophetic mission of Moses is given to the seventy elders. These men are probably upper level judges appointed at Jethro’s suggestion.
Num. 12, Mk 11
Num. 13, Philippians 1
The sin of Mariam and Aaron is not their rebuke of Moses for marrying an Ethiopian, for polygyny is clearly contrary to the will and intent of God. Moses’ marriage to Zipporah seems to be less than ideal, for she seems to have resisted his calling from the start. But when Moses eventually takes another wife, his sister and brother are angry. How can this man who speaks with God do something so obviously out of character with the heart and soul of God’s Law? Even minsters sin, and such a rebuke would have been fitting.
Their sin is two-fold. First, it is envy of Moses’ position as leader of Israel and prophet of God. Second, it is a desire for power and recognition. After all, doesn’t God speak through Miriam the prophetess and Aaron the priest too? Why should Moses get all the glory? Even their rebuke seems to motivated more by envy than a concern for the Law of God or Moses’ sin. It is this envy which God punishes. God orders them to come to the Tabernacle. How they must tremble in fear as they remember God’s punishment of others for murmuring against God’s prophet. God strikes Mariam with leprosy, making her unable to go into the camp or the Tabernacle. Aaron, who seems to be penitent, receives a fearful rebuke from God. Moses intercedes for Mariam, and God restores her to health, and to the congregation.
God is ready to move Israel again. Hasarath is northeast of Mount Sinai on the Sinai Peninsula. The wilderness of Paran is in eastern Sinai, near the southern shore of the Dead Sea. The spies move into Canaan as far as Hebron, about 25 miles southwest of modern Jerusalem. As we might expect from these murmurers, their report says the Canaanites are unconquerable. Their cities are walled. The people are giants. The land “eateth up the inhabitants thereof.” Only Joshua and Caleb believe Israel can possess the land.
Num 14:1-25, Mk. 12:1-27
Num 14:26-45, Phil. 2
The children of Israel are camped in Paran, about 150 miles north east of Mount Sinai. How long did it take them to get here from Mount Sinai? We can only make a rough estimate. Since they are families with children and flocks and herds, assume they move about 10 miles a day. That means the journey would take at least 15 days. Add two Sabbaths, in which they did not travel, and two weeks for the events at Kibroth hataavah and Hazaroth. Now add forty days for the spies to enter Canaan and return with their report. The total time since leaving Sinai, then, is about 71 days. Why is this important? Because it means that less than three months ago the people heard the promise that God will give them the land of Canaan. They heard the word of God say He will supernaturally give them victory over the Canaanites. “Ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall by the sword” (Lev. 26:7,8). In less than three months, the people went from bold affirmation of God’s word to total unbelief and rejection of it. Rather than going on to Canaan, they actually want to depose Moses, and elect a leader to take them back to Egypt (vs. 4).
God will not allow them to return to Egypt. Nor will He allow them to enter Canaan, now that they have refused. They will dwell in the wilderness forty years, until every person who refused to enter Canaan has died. Hearing this, some decide to try to take Canaan. Moses warns against it, but they charge into the land. The result; Amalekites and Canaanites discomfit (slaughter) them in battle (vs. 45).
Israel’s refusal to enter Canaan is nothing short of deliberate disobedience. Why do they openly and flagrantly disobey God?
One reason is that they do not trust God. Men, like themselves, weak and limited in knowledge and wisdom, told them they cannot defeat the Canaanites. In spite of the mighty and daily miracles of God, the people believe the men instead of God. They simply do not trust God to keep His promise. The very first requirement of God is faith, and the very heart of faith is trust in God. Believe God. Believe Him in morality. Believe Him in doctrine. Believe that obeying His word is good for you. Without faith, obedience is impossible.
A second reason for their sin is that they don’t like what God requires. They would be glad to take the land if it were empty of people and waiting for them to settle it in peace. But they don’t want to have to fight, man to man and hand to hand, or to trust God to bring them through the battles. They also don’t want to have to give up sin to follow God. They don’t really want to live holy and Godly lives as God requires. They want to indulge their whims and fleshly desires. A simple, but relevant, contemporary example is a person who refuses to be an active part of a Biblical church. He cannot make himself sacrifice an hour a week to worship God, in obedience to His will.
Third, they don’t like what God gives. When God gives manna, they want meat. When God gives freedom, they want Egypt. When God gives the opportunity for self-discipline, they want self-indulgence.
Num 16:1-35, Mk. 12:28-44
Num. 16:31-50, Phil. 3
This chapter records a rebellion led by a Levite named Korah, and two other men of the tribe of Reuben. They are joined by 250 princes of Israel, men of renown. The reason for their rebellion is two-fold. First, they claim Moses and Aaron have monopolised the priestly and prophetic offices, which, they believe, should be shared by the whole nation. They want all people, especially them, to be allowed to offer the sacrifices as priests in the services of the Tabernacle, and to speak for God as prophets. Second, they claim Moses’ leadership is a failure because he has not taken Israel into Canaan. This claim probably refers to Moses not going with the men who entered Canaan after being warned not to go (Num. 14:42-45).
The issue at stake here is whether the ministry in the Church of God will be ordered by the directives of God or the innovations of men. This is the same issue found in Leviticus 10:1-3, where God called human innovation “strange fire,” for which the worshipers died. Worship simply is too important to be conducted by human inclinations and preferences, which are warped by sin and imperfect understanding. God directs how He is to be worshiped.
Moses calls the dissenters to come before God with their censers, meaning, they gather at the Tabernacle and perform the service to which God has called and ordained the priests. When this is finished all the people are commanded to go to their own tents, where they are to stand in the door to see what God will do. If God does nothing, their service is accepted. But God does something. He opens the earth in a great and fearful rift which literally swallows the dissenters, along with their families and all their belongings. The sight of the rift and the cries of the dying are so horrendous that everyone who sees and hears them flees in desperate panic. Now the Lord has the priests make the censors of the dead into plates to cover the Altar, and no one dares to add or detract from the directives of God for the Tabernacle.
Still the people murmur, and God again threatens to destroy them all. He causes a plague in which fourteen thousand and seven hundred of them die. As though to further reinforce the lesson, Aaron offers incense in the Tabernacle according to the directives of God. He makes the offering as an intercession for the people according to his priestly function as a mediator between man and God. Now God stays the plague. It is a costly, costly lesson.
Num. 17, Mk. 13
Num. 20, Phil. 4
The blossoming rod of Aaron is yet another confirmation of God’s election of the Levites to serve before His altar. Israel is beginning to understand, but not fully. They fear that anyone who comes near the Tabernacle will be killed. In reality, those who come in faith, serving and worshiping according to God’s directives are received and welcomed by God. The great lessons here are, first, that the worship and services of God are to be done as He directs, not according to human desires and preferences. Second, those who minister in the organised services of God are those who are dully called and ordained to the ministry. Third, no person may come into the Sanctuary, which symbolises the immediate presence of God, except through a mediator who serves as a peacemaker between man and God. The contemporary Church would do well to mark these important points.
The events in chapters 18 and 19 occur during the wilderness wanderings. Chapter 20 finds Israel headed toward Canaan and encamped in Kadesh, less than forty miles from the Dead Sea. Here Miriam, so greatly used by God, dies. She, like all people, was a sinner, and had glaring faults. Yet few among us would claim to be as faithful and obedient as she.
There is no water in the place, and the foolish Hebrews complain to Moses and Aaron that it would have been better for them to die with their brethren in the wilderness. It appears they blame Moses and Aaron for the death of their brethren, instead of blaming their brethren’s sin and accepting their just punishment. But in Kadesh Moses and Aaron are told their sin will keep them out of Canaan. What is it about the actions of Moses and Aaron that is so sinful God tells them they will not enter the Promised Land?
After all they have been through, Moses and Aaron doubt God. God tells Moses to speak to the rock (vs. 8). Instead, Moses strikes the rock with his rod, twice. Why does he strike the rock? According to verse 12, he does not believe God will send out the water if he merely speaks to it. He doubts God. We may think that a very small lapse after nearly forty years of faithful service under extremely trying conditions. But God wants us to know that His directives are meant to be followed to the very smallest detail by everyone, no exceptions. Moses is no exception. I am no exception. You are no exception.
To the immediate east of the Hebrew camp is the kingdom of Edom. Descended from Esau, the Edomites are close relatives of the Hebrews, and Moses, sending messengers to their king, tells them to tell the king they are of “thy brother Israel” (vs. 14). The messengers are to recite a summary of the release from Egypt, and to ask for safe passage through Edom, south and west of the Dead Sea. The request shows that Moses hopes to take Israel up the east side of the Jordan, probably intending to start the invasion of Canaan there. The existence of a large, well kept road which parallels the river will make their travels easy. But the forty years are not over. The Edomites refuse to allow the Hebrews into their land, and God moves Israel to Mount Hor on the northern coast of the Gulf of Aqabah. Here Aaron dies, and Israel is forced to continue her wilderness exile.
Num 21, Mk. 14:1-25
Num. 22, Colossians 1
The presence and movements of the children of Israel in the Sinai desert are known and feared by the Canaanite tribes. When the king of Arad learns the Hebrews are camped in Kadesh, less than sixty miles away, and that they have sent spies into Canaan, he fears they are going to attack him. Like most of the Canaanite tribes, Arad is more of a city state than a kingdom. Its location, about twenty miles south of Hebron and ten miles east of Beersheba on the south western border of Canaan, make it a natural target for an army invading from the desert. But the king does not wait to be invaded. He strikes first, and delivers a very successful defeat to the Hebrew people. The Hebrews are taken by complete surprise and suffer heavy losses. Many of them are even taken prisoner, which means some are tortured to death and others are put into slavery so bitter it made Egypt seem gentle. The king probably thinks the defeat will dishearten Israel, and send her running back to the desert in fear.
It should have. Israel is inexperienced in war, morally weak, and cowardly. Her people are much more inclined toward appeasement than battle. But this time, instead of running, the Hebrews plan a counter-attack, which completely annihilates the kingdom of Arad.
God enables Israel to defeat Arad, This victory opens a way for the Hebrews to move deeper into Canaan and conquer the city states one by one. But the forty years of wandering are not completed yet, so, instead of leading them to easy victories, God sends them back into the desert. Verse 4 finds them encamped at Mount Hor again, by the Gulf of Aqabah.
Israel has just delivered a crushing blow to a formidable enemy. Now she lies at rest beside a scenic sea. Her people have food, water, and everything they need to sustain life. Most of all, they have God, in all His grace and mercy. But the Hebrews are not satisfied. They are unhappy because God did not allow them to pass through Edom and conquer the east bank of the Jordan. So they begin to murmur. Instead of giving thanks for their victory and sustenance, they speak against God and against Moses (vs.5). They loath the manna, which God is still providing for them every day.
Learning to desire what God gives is one of life’s most challenging lessons. Frankly, we want God to give us what we want, instead of what He wants us to have. That is why our prayers have long lists of requests, and short lists of thanksgiving. We need to learn to pray more prayers like the Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter in the 1948 Book of Common Prayer, which asks God to enable us to “love the things which Thou commandest, and desire that which Thou dost promise.”
The result of Israel’s resentment is the well known plague of fiery serpents. The healing for their bite is an image of a serpent placed on a pole and raised up in the camp. All who look upon the serpent are healed. Jesus said He is like that serpent in the sense that when He is raised up on the cross He will heal the sins of all who look upon Him. Let us look to Jesus.
Now Israel is led north again. Moving through the desert, they camp in a desolate place south east of Moab before moving northward to camp on the Moabite border in the Jared Valley. Still skirting Moab, they move to the north side of the Arnon River, which forms the border between Moab and the Ammorites.
Verse 14 hints that God provided a miraculous passage across the Arnon, and verse 15 continues to report Israel’s travels. Consulting a map reveals that they are traveling in a seemingly haphazard way on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, just outside of the territories of the Moabites and the Ammorites. While their travels may appear haphazard, they are learning the territory and finding weak spots in the local defenses.
Like the Moabites, the Amorites do not allow Israel to pass through their land. They even come out in force to fight Israel. God gives Israel the victory, and, this time, He does not lead them back into the desert. This time He allows them to stay in the new land, to possess it as their own. The conquest of Canaan has begun.
The plains of Moab are not located in the land of the Moabites. They are in the area that formerly belonged to the Amorites. Moab is south of them. Jericho is west of them, on the west side of the Jordan River. Learning of Israel’s complete victory over the Amorites, the king of Moab fearfully seeks divine help to protect his land and people from Israel. Since he refused to give Israel safe passage through his land, he is sure Israel will attack him.
Desperate, the king of Moab attempts to get Balaam to curse the Hebrews. Balaam is a puzzle. He is not of the house of Israel, yet he calls the God of Israel, “my God” and fully expects Him to reveal His will to him. At the same time, he is a soothsayer (Josh 13:22), which, by definition is a sorcerer, which the Law of God condemns. Thus, we cannot consider him “saved.” He is like the Magi in the New Testament before they came to Christ: able to recognise the revelation of God, though not a child of God. The curse Balak wants Balaam to place on Israel is a magic spell. It is what Numbers 23:23 calls an enchantment. The point of the chapter is that Balaam, realising God has blessed Israel, does not curse Israel. There is no enchantment to counter the will of God. There is no spell that can bind Him or prevent Him from accomplishing His sovereign will.
Num. 23, Mk. 14:26-72
Num. 24, Col. 2
Commentary, Numbers 23 and 24,
The climax of the story of Balaam is the prophecy given to the Canaanites through him in 24:14-24. The prophecy says a star will come out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel. Both the star and the sceptre refer to a person who will defeat the enemies of Israel.
In its first sense this person is probably Joshua. At this time he is an obscure servant of Moses, but he is destined to lead Israel in a victorious campaign that subdues her enemies and secures the Promised Land. In a second sense this person is David, who extends the borders of Israel and ushers in a golden age of peace and prosperity. Still further in the future the prophecy sees turmoil among the nations; wars and disasters. Yet it points even further into the future. It looks for One who is greater than Joshua or David. It looks for One who will defeat all enemies of God until the whole earth resounds with His praise. It looks for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Balaam, then, instead of cursing the Church of God, curses her enemies, both Old Testament and New Testament, and foretells the One who will bring all enemies to their knees.
Chapter 23 recounts the journey from Egypt. Chapter 24 sets the boundaries of the Promised Land.
Num. 25, Mk. 15
Num 27, Col. 3
The Moabites’ refusal to allow Israel to pass through their land, force Israel to make a wide circle around the borders of Moab. This means a walk of at least two hundred additional miles through wilderness, rather than on the good road through Moab. Therefore, Israel's friendship with the Moabites is surprising. Israel is encamped on the plains of Moab. These plains are not in Moab. They are just north of Moab, on the east bank of the Jordan, across the river from Jericho. Israel has been camped here for some time. During this time hostilities between Israel and Moab decline, and the Hebrews begin to form friendships with the Moabites. Some of the Hebrew men form relationships with Moabite women, and some begin to attend the Moabite religious festivals. These festivals are drunken orgies, which sometimes feature human sacrifices in which infants and children are burned alive to the Canaanite god, Baal. The kings of Moab and Midian, notice the Hebrews participation. On the advice of Balaam, they encourage it as part of a plan to destroy Israel from within. Note the plan well, for the forces of evil still use it, and it is devastatingly effective.
The plan is to divide Israel against itself by seeding vice and idolatry into the people, and fomenting moral and ideological dissent. This will weaken Israel's faith and destroy her national identity. The goal is to make Israel become another Canaanite tribe which will gradually merge into Moab and Midian as friends. If Moab and Midian can accomplish this, Israel will not attack and destroy them as they did Arad in Numbers 21:1-3. The first part of the plan requires ensnaring Israel in sexual sins, and gradually luring them into the religion of Baalism. They believe Israel will gladly forsake the austere God of manna and sexual restraint for the Baal of drunkenness, gluttony, and sexual indulgence. The daughters of Moab in Numbers 25:1 are a major part of this plan.
Balaam urges this plan to the king of Moab (2 Pet. 2:15, Rev. 2:14). The king of Moab conspires with the king of Midian, and the two kingdoms launch a united effort to destroy Israel from within. The tragic events in Shittim are the results of Israel falling for the scheme.
Midianite cooperation is clearly seen. The pagan woman brought into the Israelite camp in Numbers 25:6 was a Midianite. Numbers 25:17 and18 clearly state that the Midianites, “vex you with their wiles, where with they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of a prince of Midian.”
According to verse one, "the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.” This whoredom has a double meaning. First, it is physical fornication. Second, it is spiritual fornication. Israel belongs to God as a husband or wife belongs to his or her spouse. In marriage, a man and a woman take a sacred vow, or covenant, "forsaking all others cleave ye only unto him/her so long as you both shall live.” In the covenant with God, Israel has taken a sacred vow to forsake all idols, all gods, and all religions, and cleave only unto God. In a sense, Israel has become the bride of God. Idolatry, therefore, is spiritual adultery. It is committing whoredom with other gods. For this reason, the Bible often refers to Israel's idolatry as, "playing the harlot.” Verse one is clear that this harlotry with the Moabites is open and continuous among the Hebrews.
Verse three says Israel, "joined himself unto Baal Peor.” This means the people guilty of this sin consciously and intentionally give themselves too Baal as a person gives himself/herself in marriage. It refers to becoming “one flesh,” and it refers to spiritual unity, which we may describe as a habitual self-identity. This is probably a slow, and almost imperceptible process at first. A small compromise here, another there. The Hebrews probably think they are not abandoning God; they are just adopting some harmless Canaanite things, like their food. After decades of manna, the rich feasts of the Canaanites must be severe temptations to the Hebrews. But one compromise leads easily to another, and, soon the Hebrews are acting, worshiping, and thinking just like the pagans. The result, of course; “the anger of the Lord was kindled against them.” Today, too, Christians are adopting the ways and views of the secular world. It is as though they are trying to be as worldly as possible, yet still be Christians. They want the world’s clothes, the world’s music, and the world’s values, and they gladly bring them into their lives, and into the Church. This chapter seems to warn us to be different from the world. “Friendship of the world is enmity with God.”
God’s judgment is swift and certain. This time, instead of sending a plague, He tells the Israelites to punish the evil themselves. There also seems to be the threat of a plague if the Hebrews refuse (vss. 8). The result is the death of “twenty and four thousand,” and the reward of the zeal of Eleazar. Clearly God takes sin very seriously.
Verses 1-11 bring an issue to Moses. Presumably it has come to him as an appeal from the judges appointed over Israel at Jethro's suggestion. It involves the daughters of a man who has recently died without a son. His daughters want to know if what would have been his inheritance in Canaan can go to them. Moses brings this to God in prayer, and God grants their request. It is significant that this occurs in the presence of Eleazar and the princes, or judges, of Israel. This assures widespread knowledge of the matter throughout the judges of Israel. God further defines the law of inheritance in verses 8 through 11.
Now God leads Moses to the top of Mount Abiram. This is the highest point in the plains of Moab and is also known as Mount Pisgah and Mount Nebo. The walled city of Jericho is visible to the north west on the other side of the Jordan River. From here Moses can see well into the Promised Land. But, according to the word of God in Exodus 17:7, Moses will not enter it at this time. This must be a crushing blow to Moses, yet he voices only concern for Israel. “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, which may go out before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd.”
Of course, God has already thought of that. He has been training Joshua for the calling since his spying mission into Canaan. God tells Moses to set Joshua before Eleazar and before all the congregation of Israel. Moses is to charge him with leadership of the Hebrew people. Eleazar, the priest, will counsel Joshua as God speaks to Eleazar.
Moses will enter the promised land. He will go in almost 1,500 years later when our Lord is on the mount of Transfiguration. Until then he will be in a higher and better land than Canaan. He will be with God in Heaven, the true Promised Land.
Num. 30, Mk. 16
Num 31:1-24, Col. 4
God still has much to say to Israel, and this chapter deals primarily making and keeping promises. There are situations in which vows are not allowed, and are, therefore, invalid if made. Aside from them, a promise binds a person. According to this chapter, in Israel a vow is legally and morally binding.
Many wonder why Israel goes to war with the Midianites. If we look back to Numbers 25 we see that Midian and Moab conspired to destroy Israel. How does a weak country conquer a stronger country? From within. Send vice into the country. Foster dissent. Divide the people against themselves in morals and ideology. This is what Midian and Moab intended to do to Israel. Numbers 25:6 says the Midianites “vex” Israel. The Canaanite woman brought into the camp of Israel in Numbers 25:6 was the daughter of a prince of Midian. She was probably sent there to seduce Hebrew men. The war with Midian, then, is a defensive war, a response to Median’s covert war on Israel.
Verse 14 tells us Moses is wroth when the Hebrews return from the war with captives and plunder. Moses has good reason for displeasure. Remembering Israel's seduction by the daughters of Moab, Moses fears the Midianite women will lead the Hebrew men into idolatry again. He also fears that the Midianite boys, who witnessed the destruction of their homeland, might resent their conquerors for the rest of their lives. To allow them to grow up in Israel is to risk raising a large contingent of men who will hate Israel and want revenge. It would be extremely unwise to allow the presence of such a group. He knows the command of God was to vex Midian. This means to destroy the Midianites so they would never be able to entice Israel again. Instead, the soldiers have brought Midian home to Israel. They have invited temptation back into their camp. This is why Moses is displeased. This is why such radical steps are taken to prevent future problems.
One of the points of this chapter is the death of Balaam (vs.16). Much of what has happened to Israel has happened on the advice of Balaam. 2 Peter 2:15 and Revelation 2:14 complete the story telling us the plot against Israel, and resulting events in the plains of Moab were his idea. Here he pays for his sin.
Num. 31:25-54, Luke 1:1-38
Num. 32, 1 Thessalonians 1
Numbers 31:25-54 , see the comments on Numbers 25 and 31:1-24.
The men of Ruben and Gad are herdsmen. They see that the plains of Moab are good ground for flocks and herds. They request to be given the land for their possession. They also request to remain in their land and not go over the Jordan to help conquer the Canaanites. Their request angers Moses. He compares them to the ones who refused to enter Canaan, and died in the wilderness. The other Hebrews fought to win this land. They need to help their brothers win their land. They agree to go with the rest of the Hebrews, and return to this land when Canaan is subdued. Moses agrees, and makes a public proclamation of it.
Num. 35, Lk. 1:39-80
Num. 36, 1 Thes. 2
Chapter 33 recounts the journey from Egypt. Chapter 34 sets the boundaries of the Promised Land. Numbers 35 sets aside cities, and their surrounding land for the Levites. These cities will be scattered among the tribes, ensuring a Levitical presence accessible to all of the Hebrew people. Six of these cities our cities of refuge to which a person involved in the death of another is protected from harm until he is brought before the judges. Verses nine through 34 give laws regarding cities of refuge.
The book of Numbers closes with rules that keep the tribal and family inheritance intact. The land is a heritage from the Lord, and is not permitted to pass out of the family’s possession.
At last the preparations are complete. The people understand the Covenant of God, and the civil and social laws that accompany it. The priesthood is established, and arrangements for its dispersement through out the land are furnished. A council will decide how the land will be allotted, and the rules of inheritance are given. A new leader, Joshua, is prepared to take the people into Canaan. Before they go, Moses wants to address them again. His addresses are recorded in the fifth book of Moses, Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 1:1-18, Lk. 2:1-39
Dt. 1:19-46, 1 Thes. 3
Verses 1-5 give Israel’s location. She is on the plains of Moab, which is part of a great valley stretching to the eastern arm of the Red Sea, known today as the Gulf of Aqabah. The Sea of Galilee, Jordan River, and Dead Sea are all located in this plain. It is not all level ground, of course. Like most valleys, it contains everything from flat land to towering heights. The plains of Moab are on the eastern side of the Jordan River, and Israel is camped several miles south east of Jericho, which is on the other side of the Jordan.
Deuteronomy contains the final addresses of Moses to Israel. The Hebrews have already conquered some of the local peoples, and Ruben and Gad have been granted possession of the area. This chapter begins a review of the events and travels of Israel since leaving Egypt. The review continues to the end of chapter 3. Since most of these events are reiterations of what has already been written in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, readers may want to consult the comments on relevant chapters.
Dt. 2:1-25 Lk. 2 40-52
Dt. 2:26-37 1 Thes. 4
The book of Deuteronomy records three “sermons” preached to Israel by Moses. Since Moses knows he will be taken in death soon, these sermons are the last words of advice from one of the greatest persons to walk the earth. They are given in the ripeness of age, by a man who walked closely with God, who saw and experienced more in life than most people ever dream of, and who speaks and writes for the single purpose of benefiting his hearers and readers. His words merit serious reading on that basis alone. Add to this the fact that Moses writes at the command of God, and that his thoughts and words are guided and given by God as Scripture for our learning, and we have not only the words of Moses, but the Word of God. Here again is another, higher reason why we should give this book our most serious and humble attention.
The first sermon starts in chapter one and continues through chapter 4. It begins with a brief review of Israel’s release from Egypt, and her travels to this point. But Israel’s experience is not the point of the sermon. The grace, guidance, patience, forgiveness, and faithfulness of God is the point. It is actually a review of the grace and guidance of God through the past forty years of Israel’s history. The secondary point is Israel’s constant sin and lack of faith. While God has offered love and grace, the people have murmured, worshiped idols, and conducted themselves like pagans. If we try, we may find parallels in the Church of today, and even in our very own lives.
Dt. 3, Lk. 3
Dt. 4:1-24, 1 Thes. 5
Verses 1-11 continue the account of victories against enemies, especially in the Transjordan (land on the eastern side of the Jordan River). Verse 12 begins to recount the allotment of the Transjordan land to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. Joshua’s installation is retold in verses 23-28.
Verses 23-27 reveal Moses’ heart about his desire to go into Canaan. “I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon” (vs.25). When the books of Moses, often called the Pentateuch, record Moses’ personal desires or thoughts they are usually about his prayers and intercessions for Israel, and his desire for the glory of God to be revealed in them. Here we see Moses longing for something for himself. Yet God does not grant Moses’ request. Moses, like the rest of us, must learn to be content with what God gives, and learn that God’s grace is enough. Moses seems to say he sinned because he was angry with the people. He does not say his anger was sin. He certainly had a right to be angry at the doubting and cowardly Hebrew people. But he allowed his anger to cloud his mind, so that he did not follow the commandment of God, to the letter. Thus, God will not allow him to enter Canaan. But, many whose sins are far more heinous than Moses’ are going into Canaan. Why can’t Moses go? The answer; because God has to show the people of Israel, especially the judges/captains the priests, and Joshua, that absolute obedience to His Word and Laws is required. Anything short of complete obedience is a crime against Israel and against God, and God will punish the offenders. Failure to punish Moses would invite corruption into the civil and religious leadership of Israel. People in such positions would think, “if Moses got away with sin, surely I can, too.” God wants them to know they will not get away with it. Besides, Moses is going to a greater Promised Land, for which Canaan is a mere shadow and symbol. Moses is going to be with God. Had he but known this, he would have gladly forgone a visit to Canaan.
Chapter four concludes the first sermon with an exhortation based on the review of events in chapters one through three. Here Moses makes two main points. The first, in verses 1-22, is easily summarised in verse 3; “Your eyes have seen what the Lord did.” Moses is reminding the people of what they have seen and experienced. Many are old enough to remember the slavery and deliverance. Some remember the battles. All but the infants remember at least part of the wilderness time. So Moses, like the Apostle John is declaring that “which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon” (1 Jn.1:1) As John witnessed, and was personally involved in the events of the life and ministry of Christ, the Hebrews are witnesses of, and are personally involved in, the events which are God’s ministry to them. Moses is recounting Israel’s personal experience. He writes in verse 35, “Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God; there is none else besides him.
Dt. 4:25- 49 Lk 4
Dt. 5:1-21, 2 Thessalonians 1
The second point of Deuteronomy 4 is found in verses 23-49. It is stated in two ways. First, in verse 23, Moses says, “Take heed unto yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which He made with you.” Second, in verse 40, he writes, “Thou shalt keep therefore His statutes.” The application of this sermon to contemporary Christians is easy to see. God has done wonderful things for us in Christ. We have a fuller understanding of God’s grace and plan of salvation. The Tabernacle, priests, and sacrifices were but shadows of the ministry of Christ. Since we have more light, our obedience should be more readily and fully given.
Here begins the second sermon. Still in the plains of Moab, Moses calls the people together again. The Covenant is with you, he tells them. The Covenant is always present in tense. Did our mothers and fathers have a part in it? Yes. God grant that our children, and their children, and their, and theirs and theirs will also. And to each generation the Covenant is present tense. For, to each generation the privileges and obligations are for them. Whether their ancestors were faithful or not, whether their children will be or not, they should and must be.
The Ten Commandments are stated again as the foundation of Israel’s obligation to God. These commandments are the heart of God’s Law. In a very real sense, everything else, all the religious and civil laws found in the Pentateuch are explanations and applications of these basic Laws. This is why our Lord Himself said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; thou shalt love by neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” This is the heart of what God wants for you and from you. We could say the Commandments reveal the heart of God.
Dt. 5:22-33, Lk. 5
Dt. 6, 1 Thes. 2
If the commandments reveal God's heart, the rest of chapter 5 reveals what He would like to see in your heart. “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever” (vs. 29). God wants you to have a heart devoted to Him. He wants you to want to keep His commandments. The desire of God's heart is also our well-being. He wants us to keep His commandments that it might be well with us and with our children forever.
The famous words of Dt. 6:5 were repeated by Christ as the greatest of all Commandments. The rest of Dt. 6 is an explanation of what it means to love God: keep His commandments. The chapter makes it clear that God wants much more than mere mechanical, rote obedience. He wants willing, happy obedience. Perhaps you have worked with surly people who do only what they have to do, and cooperate only as much as they have to, but whose demeanor is rude and uncooperative. This is not what God wants from you. He wants willing and happy obedience out of love for Him.
The result of happy obedience is more happiness, more contentment in God, more fulfillment in life. Many people think the Commandments of God are shackles and chains to keep us from enjoying life. In reality they are the way to enjoy life. They are for our good (vs. 24), and the Lord preserves those who keep them.
Dt. 7, Lk. 6:1-19
Dt. 8, 2 Thes. 3
“Utterly destroy them.” “Make no covenant.” Why would God command such a thing? The answer is given in verse 4: the Canaanites “will turn away thy sons from following me.” We have already seen the results of becoming too friendly with pagan tribes (Num 25 and 31). God wants no repeat of that tragedy.
There is a second reason, too. We read in Genesis 15:13 that Abrams’ descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and whose people will afflict them for four hundred years. The land is Egypt, and the affliction is slavery. Why didn’t God just give the land to Abraham then? Why did He make the Hebrew people endure slavery and affliction? Because He intended to use those four hundred years to mold and shape Israel. Thus, bitter as it was, their affliction worked for good to the Hebrew people (see Rom. 8:28). Also, when God spoke these words to Abram the iniquity of the Ammorites was not yet full (Gen. 15:16). At that time, the Ammorites dominated Canaan, and most of the Canaanite tribes were simply subdivisions of the Ammorites, just as the twelve tribes of Israel were sub groups of the Hebrew people. The Ammorites were a fierce and aggressive people who loved war. Like many others, the Ammorites were polytheistic. Their chief gods and goddesses were called Baals and Ashteroth, and their rites and rituals were intended to convince the gods to enable the crops and herds to reproduce in order that they may have food. Baalism, then, was a fertility religion, and its rites and rituals were essentially drunken orgies. Its temples employed ritual prostitutes, in the belief that sexual relations with them would induce the gods to give fertility to land, animals, and people. Many young Canaanite girls were sold to the temple for that purpose. The gods required other offerings also, and sacrifices of crops and animals were given at various festivals and rituals. One of the most tragic rituals was the offering of infants and children. The children were bound and placed inside a bronze bull. A fire was built under the idol, and the children were slowly roasted alive. For these reasons God wanted the Ammorite religion removed from the face of the earth.
The heart of chapter 8 is the exhortation to remember God when the Hebrews dwell in peace and prosperity in Canaan. They face the danger of making their new prosperity the focus of life. They face the danger of forgetting God. There is a warning in verse 5 that as a man chasteneth his son, “so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee.”
Dt. 9, Lk. 6:20-49
Dt. 10, 1 Tim. 1
Verse 9 reminds Israel that they receive God’s benefits because of His grace, not their righteousness. They are, in fact, not righteous. They are a stifnecked people (vs. 6), like a horse that refuses to turn or stop, and hardens his neck against the rider. They have provoked the Lord “from the day that thou didst depart out of the land of Egypt, until ye came into this place, ye have been rebellious against the Lord.” There is an important point being made here. Israel deserves the same fate as the Ammorites. Israel deserves the same fate as the people they are going to overcome and drive out of the land. All people deserve that fate. The wonder is not that God punishes sinners, but that He saves sinners. The wonder is not that God has wrath; it is that God has mercy.
Moses again recalls the gracious acts of God in giving the Commandments. They are not shackles, they are life. They are not given to harm you; they are given for your good. We see another, wonderful summation of the desire and intent of God in verses 12 and 13. “What doth the Lord thy God require of thee?” He requires only good things. Fear Him in respectful knowledge of His great majesty and power, which He can use against you as well as for you. Walk in His ways by ordering your life according to the letter and spirit of His commandments. Love Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. Do this, and everything else will follow.
Dt. 11, Lk. 7:1-35
Dt. 12, 1 Tim. 3 & 4
Moses now recounts God’s punishment of Egypt and of the rebellious Hebrews in the desert. He reminds them again that “Your eyes have seen all the great acts which He did.” Many who were children in Egypt are now in adulthood. They lived through the deliverance from Egypt and the events of the desert. Let the fact that they have seen these things with their own eyes move them to fervent and grateful obedience to God.
Yet God gives another reason for obedience. Yes, He has done wondrous things for them in the past, but even more are ahead of them. He will drive the Canaanites out of the land before them (23). “Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread shall be yours” (24).
Some of the most significant words in the Bible are found in verses 26 through 28. There is a promise of blessing, and a warning of curse. The blessings are for those who love the Lord, walk in all his ways, and cleave unto him” (22). The curse is for those who obey not, turn aside out of the way, and go after other gods (28).
The chapter ends optimistically: “For ye shall pass over Jordan to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God giveth you, and ye shall possess it, and dwell therein. And ye shall observe to do all the statutes and it judgments which are set before you this day.”
It is easy to imagine people like Cain and Esau attempting to justify themselves by inventing gods of their own liking. But God demands that every remnant of Baalism be destroyed in Israel. The altars, where the children were sacrificed, the pillars of their temples, where they fornicated, even the trees under which they conducted their orgies and sacrifices, are to be completely destroyed. Why? To remove their temptation from Israel.
Especially are they not to be used as places to worship God. God will choose a place for His Name to reside (5). God knows all things, and He knows where that place will be. In His time He will reveal it to His people, but we already know it as Jerusalem. There will also be local places within each tribe’s land where they can bring their offerings and worship God (12). He directs where He will be worshiped, just as He directs how He will be worshiped. He leaves none of this up to human imagination. He counts the worship practices of Baalism, and all human innovation, as strange fire (see Lev. 10:1-3). He also directs how the Levites, who conduct the worship are cared for (18-19).
Dt. 13, Lk. 7:36-50
Dt. 14, 1 Tim. 4
People will arise, who will call themselves prophets of God, but will preach false doctrines to Israel. There will always be people who will try to entice people away from God’s clear teaching with fanciful gimmicks and smooth words. And there will always be sincere, but deceived people who think they know more about God than the Biblical people, including Christ, knew. Old Testament Israel paid dearly for listening to false prophets. New Testament Israel received the Word of God at great cost. Orthodox Christianity has been preserved at the cost of countless faithful lives. Let us not surrender this precious legacy.
The cuttings and baldness between the eyes were practiced by the pagans as part of their religious rites and as body ornamentation. Both are forbidden. The people of God are to glorify God in all things, including our bodies. Just as we do not defile ourselves by giving our bodies to people who are not our spouses, so also we do not give our bodies to those who are not our God. This principle even applies to what we eat. The laws of clean and unclean food are restated, along with the command to care for the Levites. We do not listen to false prophets. We do not dress like those who follow false prophets. We do not abuse our bodies like those who follow false prophets. We do not eat like those who follow false prophets. We do not support false prophets with our money.
We do honour God by devoting ourselves to hearing and keeping His word. We do honour God by dressing and caring for our bodies in ways that identify us as His people. We do honour God by supporting His Church and ministers.
Dt. 15, Lk. 8:1-25
Dt. 16, 1 Tim. 5
The Hebrews are to be content with having enough. Prosperity, not luxurious wealth, is the goal of life in the Promised Land. Therefore, rather than the relentless pursuit of wealth, they are to seek quality of life, which can only come from being right with God and with people. Every seven years, they are to have a year of release, in which the land and businesses rest. They will have saved enough money and resources to see them through the year, giving them time and freedom to spend with family, friends, and, of course, with God.
Reigning over many nations (6) probably refers to the power a lender has over a borrower, “the borrower is servant to the lender” (Prov. 22:7).
As in every nation and community, some will be poor through no fault of their own. Death or disease will make some unable to fully support themselves and families, and some will borrow money to get food and shelter. Such debt is to be forgiven in the year of release.
We should note that the poor are those who are unable to provide for themselves, not those who are unwilling to do so. An able-bodied person who will not work, has no right to expect those who do work, to provide for him. This debt relief does not extend to people outside of Israel (3) or to business and commerce (6). It refers to the poor of Israel.
Verses12-18 require release of indentured servants in the seventh year, with provisions to start a new life. Such servants may choose to remain with their masters (17). 19-23 show that the flock, herds, and means of gaining wealth, are gifts of God, and are to be used in gratitude, in recognition of His generosity, and according to His directions.
Verses 1-12 reiterate God’s law for keeping the Passover. Abib roughly corresponds to parts of March and April. Most of the month is given to preparations for the Passover, and is a time intended to be kept by much prayer and reflection on the Scriptures. Leavening (yeast) symbolises sin, therefore eating unleavened bread symbolises confession of and repentance from sin. As always, God is concerned that confession and repentance be real. Sin is to be gotten out of the heart with the same diligence used to get leaven out of the house. The heart of the Passover is remembering what God has done for them, and, in turn, devoting themselves to being His Covenant people in heart and in name.
The Feast of Tabernacles (13-17) comes seven days after the harvest of corn(wheat) and wine. The feast lasts seven days and is thanksgiving for the harvest. The offering (17) also given at Passover, is given according to the blessing of the Lord, meaning, commensurate with the harvest.
Judges are reminded again that theirs is a solemn task for which they will answer to God (18-20). Respect of persons is to give preference to a person’s position rather than to the letter of the law. thye are fobidden to accept gifts, because they may cause them to favour the givers. They are to do absolute justice according to the letter of the law, without partiality or favouritism, and without injecting their own ideas and views of what they want the law to say and mean into their decisions. They are to follow what is “altogether just” and they are promised they will live if they do. But the words of verse 20 seem to imply that God will punish them if they become crooked or unjust.
Dt. 17, Lk. 8:1-25
Dt. 18, 1 Tim. 6
Purity in worship is taught in verse 1. Just as the sacrifice must be pure and without blemish, so the heart of the worshiper is to be pure and steadfast in worship. Insincerity and half heartedness in worship are abominations to God, who deserves our very highest and best, and a blemished and feeble sacrifice expresses a blemished and feeble faith. Neither are acceptable to God.
Verses 2-7 show the perils of idolatry. The sun, moon, and host of heaven, are created entities. They are not gods, not living beings, they have no power to influence lives or events. Spiritual adultery is not permitted anymore than physical adultery. Both meet the same fate.
The system of judges, established at Sinai, allows for appeals from lower to higher courts. The highest court consists of the Levites and “the judge that shall be in those days” (vs. 9). As Moses preaches this sermon, he is that judge. During the days of conquest Joshua will be the judge. Kings will perform this service in later days. The ultimate Judge is our Lord Jesus Christ, who will come again to judge the quick and the dead.
Old Testament Israel was a theocracy, a people ruled by God. It was a church. More correctly, it was The Church. Every part of it existed to love, serve and worship God. It was not like other nations, whose primary organizations were secular, and were ruled by kings and bureaucracies. But in verse 14 God seems to anticipate Israel’s decline from a theocracy to a monarchy based on religion and secularism. God knows the desire for a king will stem from a desire to be like the other nations, not a desire to more efficiently conduct the business of Israel. Though God will grant Israel's request for a king, He gives sound counsel to all rulers not to allow the power of government to turn their hearts from God, or to use that power to increase their own wealth and pleasure. They shall judge and rule according to the Law of God (vs. 18) to ensure justice and Godliness in their realms.
Verse 1-8 are about the support of the ministry. The tribe of Levi has been called to officiate in the sanctuary and worship of God. Rather than receiving vast tracts of land like the other tribes, they will receive only small towns, in which they will maintain altars for worship, and where they will teach and expound the Law of God. They are not to give themselves to the pursuit of wealth. They are not to engage in business, or anything we might call, “secular work.” They are to be wholly supported by the tithes and offerings of the people, just as the the Tabernacle and local sanctuaries are to be built and maintained by the free offerings of the people they serve.
Three truths are made obvious in this. First, the work of the minister is real work which contributes to the “wealth” and benefit of the community. His work is as important as that of the mother, farmer, soldier, physician, or judge. Therefore, the minister earns his keep. His income is his due wage, not charity. Second, the minister is not to be allowed to exist in poverty or want. Third, the minister is to be content with his wages, not covet the riches of others, or spend his time in the pursuit of wealth.
Verses 9-14 warn against the practices of divination, sorcery, witchcraft, and astrology. Two evils are inherent in these things. First, they seek help from, and give allegiance to idols and demons instead of God. Second, they attempt to know the future and control events rather than bring prayers to God and trust Him to give what He knows is best.
Making sons and daughters pass through the fire (vs. 9) refers to burning children alive as sacrifices to the Baals. This was a common, and reprehensible practice in Baalism, especially in the worship of the idol Moloch.
God has given the Law, the Tabernacle, and the priests, and He promises to be with Israel through these things. But, beginning in verse 15, He also promises to be with His people through the continuation of the ministry of the prophet. Here He refers first to Joshua, who will lead Israel as Moses has led them. He refers also to The Prophet, who is nothing less than our Lord Jesus Christ. The ministry of prophecy is fulfilled in Christ, who has given His full and complete Word, the Holy Bible, to be our guide and voice of God. Therefore, prophets, as found in the Old and New Testaments, have been replaced by the Bible. There is a prophetic function of the New Testament ministry, but that function is to preach and apply the revelation of God in the Bible. It does not give new revelations, nor does it predict future events.
God also warns that some, who are not prophets, will pretend to be prophets. The people of God are warned to measure prophetic teaching by two standards. First, true prophecy must be true to the written Word of God. Those who call people to go against the Word are false prophets. Therefore, pronouncing God’s blessing on acts of idolatry, vice, oppression, or injustice is false prophecy. Second, true prophecy must stand the test of time. In other words, what it says will happen, must happen. False prophets will predict that God will do something He has no intention of doing. Their prophecies will be proven false, and when they are, the prophets will be dealt with as criminals against God and humanity.
Note bene: the real friends of humanity are those who call sin “sin” and urge people to repent and be saved. The enemies are the people who pronounce God’s blessings on things He will actually punish.
Dt. 19, Lk. 9:1-36
Dt. 20, 2 Timothy 1
Moses turns from man’s duties toward God to man’s duties toward man. The moral Laws are incumbent upon all people, but especially to those within the Covenant Community. Our dealings with one another are to be constant in the letter and spirit of the Law. This chapter relates and applies three commandments.
“Thou shalt not kill” is expounded in verses 1-13. Cities of refuge are places, in which a person involved in an accidental death may reside in safety. A person found guilty of intentional murder cannot remain in the refuge. His crime has no pardon, plea bargain, or mercy. The guilt of innocent blood must be put away from Israel (13).
“Thou shalt not steal” is the subject of verse 14. There are many ways to steal. Paying an employee less than a fair day’s pay, or giving an employer less than a fair day’s work are both theft, as is failure to give to the Church and ministry as God has blessed you. There are subtle ways of theft, such moving the boundary markers (ancient landmarks) of a neighbor’s fields or property. A person might move the boundary markers in order to claim his neighbor’s land. This is theft as surely as entering a person’s home and stealing his money.
“Thou shalt not bear false witness” is addressed in verses 15-21. It is possible to use the courts and the government to accomplish theft or murder. False accusations, attested by false testimony through false witnesses, can cause false verdicts in court. It is also possible that judges may rule falsely due to bribes or self interest. All of these actions are in the category of bearing false witness.
If discovered, false witnesses are to have done to them what they intended to do to their victims: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
Verses 1-9 give exemptions from military service in the coming wars with the Canaanites. There are legitimate and illegitimate reasons for not joining the battle. Fear disqualifies a man from serving, but we can only imagine the stigma he will bear for his cowardice.
Cites which are far off (vs. 14) are cities outside of the area promised to Israel. Treaties may be made with them, while treaties with Canaanite cities inside the promised land are not allowed. The reasons for this have been discussed earlier (see Dt. 7 and comments).
Dt. 21, Lk. 9:37-62
Dt. 22, 2 Tim. 2
Human life belongs to God. He values it so highly that payment for an unlawful death must be made, even if the murderer cannot be found. Directions for this payment are found in verses 1-9.
The law allowing taking captured women as wives (10-14) is puzzling because it seems to contradict God's previous directions about dealing with the Canaanites, and His intention that a man should have one wife, and a woman should have one husband. For reasons known only to God, He allows this, but only after the woman is allowed to mourn her father and mother for a full month. Some commentators believe the mourning period was also given to allow the woman to put away her Canaanite religion and ways. Thus, converting to the Hebrew religion, she becomes an eligible wife. If she is found to have not converted, or he decides to lawfully divorce her, the man is to release her into freedom. He is not allowed to treat her as a slave to be sold for profit, or as a Canaanite enemy.
More laws about marriage appear in verses 15-17. Dual marriages may come about through lawful means. A brother is required to marry the wife of a brother who dies childless. Such a union poses almost endless possibilities for conflict between the wives. Other, less altruistic motives may result in a man having more than one wife. Favouritism may cause the man to want the favourite wife’s child to be the inheriting son. God absolutely forbid this. The first born son is the inheritor. Sinful feelings in the husband, and jealousy between the wives cannot alter the law of inheritance.
Just as a son cannot be deprived of his lawful rights, a son who rejects the Covenant and ways of God, loses his rights and inheritance. Such a son, like the Prodigal, will probably leave Israel of his own accord. To remain in Israel, while in rebellion against God is to invite the highest penalty.
Cain asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Verses 1-4 answer with a distinct, “yes.” Even your brother’s property is your responsibility. Look after it with the same care you would like to receive in a similar situation.
Verse 5 tells us to preserve the distinction between the sexes. 6 and 7 teach responsibility and respect for the animals in God’s creation. Verse 8 requires us to provide for the safety of people in our homes.
Verses 9 through 12 sound odd to modern readers. They are apparently given to make a visible distinction between the Hebrews and the Gentiles. Hebrews dress differently (vs. 12). The cloth from which their clothing is made is different (vs. 11). Even the crops they sow and the way they plow their fields are different (vss. 9 and 10) such that a person can easily tell whether a field belongs to a Hebrew or to a Canaanite.
A man is to honor his wife and to preserve her good name in the community. A man who spreads lies and false accusations against his wife, and thereby attempts to divorce her, is severely punished. This is especially true if he accuses her of sexual infidelity. Such a man is to be chastised (publicly beaten), pay a heavy fine, and still provide a proper home and financial support for the wife. If the accusations are true, the penalty for adultery is death. The penalty is here applied to the woman, but the law requires the same penalty for man or woman. Verse 30 forbids marriage to, and all lewd actions toward, your father's wife.
Dt. 23:1-14, Lk. 10:1-24
Dt. 23:15-25, 2 Tim 3
The Lord knows Gentile people will see the Hebrews’ blessings, the beauty and happiness of their lives when lived according to the will of God, and the wondrous majesty of God, and will desire to join themselves to Israel. Generally they will be welcomed, but some are forbidden. Ammonites and Moabites are excluded for ten generations, as are illegitimate children and their progeny. Eunuchs are also excluded. Bible scholars are unsure whether these exclusions mean these people may convert to Judaism but are not allowed into the inner parts of the Tabernacle/Temple, or if they mean the excluded people are not allowed to become members of Israel. We do know that, in the New Testament Israel, these exclusions are no longer in force. In Christ’s Church the grace of God is for whosoever will receive it in true and Biblical faith (Jn. 3:16). In His grace there is no more Jew or Gentile, or male or female, or any other thing to exclude or divide people (Col. 3:11).
Sanitation (vss. 9-14) is not merely a concern for health, though that may be a happy consequence of it. It is a concern for the glory of God, and a demand for physical, as well as spiritual cleanliness before God. Physical filth and squalour are as distasteful to God as the filth and squalour of an unclean soul.
Escaped servants (15-16) are slaves who have escaped from the Gentile nations around Israel. Israel herself is allowed to practice slavery, but it is comparatively gentle, especially when the servants are fellow Israelites. Gentile slavery is often very harsh, and slaves may seek refuge among the Hebrews. They are to be received and protected. The laws regarding dress, morality, and worship will apply to them, just as they do to Hebrews.
Verses 17 and 18 are sufficiently clear. Usury is lending money at interest. Commercial investment is not forbidden, but lending to the legitimate poor to enable them to obtain the necessities of life is not to be done for profit.
Promises of gifts and offerings must be fulfilled, just like all other legitimate promises. But no person is under obligation to make such promises. There is no fault in not making them, only in not keeping those made.
Dt. 24, Lk. 10:25-42
Dt. 25, 2 Tim. 4
Verses 1-5 relate laws of marriage. In our time marriage is often taken very lightly, if at all. God’s repeated references and laws regarding it show that He takes it very, very seriously. Verse 6 forbids taking a person’s means of earning in pledge for a debt. Verse 7 forbids capturing people for enslavement or for selling them to others as slaves.
10 - 22 forbid oppression of fellow servants of God. A poor man’s coat taken as security for a loan, must be returned to him at evening. Servants are to be well treated, and criminals will suffer their own punishment instead of paying others to take it for them. Justice will not be perverted, and the poor are allowed to glean the fields and vineyards after the harvest. All of these laws show that the Law of God applies to every aspect of social interaction, up to, and including the highest level of government. No one is above or beneath it, nor is it merely a thing of private practice and choice.
Chapter 25 gives specific rules to judges regarding punishment of offenses (1-12). Justice is demanded in business as well as in the court (13-16). The attack of the Amalekites (Ex.17) is given as an example of an unjust attack on the weak and undefended civilians of Israel.
Dt. 26, Lk. 11:1-28
Dt. 27, Titus 1
It is interesting that we have both the commandment to honour God with a basket of the first fruits of the harvest, and the very words of the liturgy of presenting the fruit at the altar (1-11). Tithes are also offered and the liturgy for offering them is given in verses 13-15. These liturgies show how the Hebrew Church worshiped God in ancient times, and offer useful guides to worshiping God in the New Testament Church.
Chapters 27-30 give directions for a Covenant ratification service to be observed after Israel crosses the Jordan and enters the Promised Land. At long last the people of Israel will be in the land of milk and honey. Possession will give them more wealth than they ever thought possible, and they will face the continuing danger that their hearts may be turned away from God to the pursuit and enjoyment of wealth. Thus, one of the first things they will do in Canaan is reaffirm their loyalty to God and the Covenant.
The pillars, altar, and liturgy will re-enact the ceremony at Sinai, where the Law of God was given to Israel (Ex. 24:1-8). But the generation that affirmed the Covenant at Sinai has passed away in the desert. A new generation will cross the Jordan, and that generation must decide for itself whether it will keep or break the Covenant. Thus, the same Covenant, with the same ceremony, is to be repeated in Canaan. Israel will build pillars of stone covered with “plaister” (2). The Law of God, meaning the Ten Commandments, will be plainly and clearly written on the altar, and the priests will read again the words Moses spoke to them when he gave the liturgy for the ceremony to them (14-26).
In the desert, the ceremony took place with the Mountain of God n the background. In Canaan it will take place with the Promised Land stretching and open before them. The ceremony reminds Israel that the land and its blessings are secondary. The real treasure is God.
Dt. 28:1-15, Lk. 11:29-54
Dt. 28:15- 68 Titus 2
Chapter 28 continues Moses words to Israel as he instructs the people in the ceremony of the Covenant they are to observe in Canaan. At the time of Moses’ words, Israel is camped on the plains of Moab. To the west they see the Jordan River. Beyond it lies the Promised Land. They are almost there, and almost ready to enter. Before they go, God has more to say to them through the prophet Moses.
His words are a call to love God and keep all the terms of the Covenant. Like all contracts, the Covenant states the benefits and obligations of all parties, and the consequences and penalties for failure to perform all duties. The benefits and obligations to Israel are great. The consequences and penalties of forsaking it are terrible. These words will probably also be read at the ceremony in Canaan.
The blessings of the Covenant are given in verses 1-14. God promises to do certain things for Israel. He, who owes nothing to anyone, obligates Himself to unworthy people.
The curses are given in verses 15-68. If they accept the terms of the Covenant, the people of Israel are obligating themselves to keeping it. It becomes a binding contract, and breaking the contract naturally involves consequences and penalties. Of course, the obedience and love of God required by the Covenant are the same duties owed to God by all people. He is God, after all, and that gives Him certain rights. We are people, and that gives us certain obligations, which He clearly states in the terms of the Covenant. Our failure to keep our obligations relieves God of His obligations. Our failures also give God the right to enforce the penalties and consequences, the curses, of the Covenant upon us. If He does not enforce them, it is only because He desires to have mercy. His mercy endureth forever, but our opportunity to repent does not.
Dt. 29, Lk. 12
Dt. 30, Philemon
The Hebrews are reminded of the grace and provision of God to them in Egypt and throughout their time in the wilderness (1-8). Yet, says Moses, the people have not really understood the scope of God’s grace (4). This is one reason for the book of Deuteronomy. It contains sermons of Moses intended to open the spiritual eyes and ears of Israel, that they may understand their calling, their blessings, and their obligations. As they look into the Promised Land, fresh from victories in the TransJordan, they see only land and wealth that can be theirs at last. After four hundred years of slavery, and forty years in the desert, they long for the stability and prosperity of homes and businesses, and farms. Moses knows, as God knows, their hearts are set on the land and resources, not on God. Thus, he reminds them of the Covenant, with all its blessings, and all its curses.
God promises to be their God (13). He does not promise to be a magic provider and a means of worldly wealth. He will bless them with prosperity in order to allow them to know and worship Him, and to fit into His plan to bring the Saviour into the world. If the Hebrews fail to keep the Covenant, God will bring the curses of it down on them with horrible consequences (20-29).
We know the history of Israel, therefore, we know they failed in their Covenant duties, time after time, after time. God mercifully spared them many times. And they thought it was because He didn’t care about their sins, instead of because He is merciful. Judges shows God visiting His wrath upon their sins by allowing other nations to rule over them, just as He said He would do in this chapter. Later, He will allow the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans to oppress and conquer the Jews.
God promises to save the Jews and return them to Israel from the lands where they will be scattered, if they will return to God (3). He tells the people that they have the choice. They can choose life (19), which is theirs by loving God and obeying His commandments (20). Or, they can choose death (17,18). He urges them, “therefore choose life, that thou and thy seed may live.”
Israel is being asked to remember their life is in God, not land and worldly wealth. The same is true of Christians. Our Lord Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.” The world and its trinkets will fade from our grasp, but Christ is ours forever.
Dt. 31, Lk. 13
Dt. 32, Hebrews 1
Moses is preparing to place the burden of leadership on his successors. Joshua will soon become the chief civil servant; the priests will serve as the spiritual guides. Telling the people of his rapidly approaching death (2), he also reminds them of God’s promise to be with them and give the land to them (3-5). Though Moses will not go with them, God has raised up Joshua to lead them, and God will go before them “to destroy these nations from before thee” (3). “Be strong,” he urges them, meaning strong of spirit, or, “of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, He it is that doth go with thee” (6).
Moses calls out to Joshua. In the sight of all the people, he says to the soon-to-be leader, “Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the Lord hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it” (7). The Hebrews know their experience in war is meagre and their enemies are experienced warriors. Only God can give them the victory, and, Moses says, “He will not fail thee” (8).
Moses now gives this law, meaning, Deuteronomy, to the priests. They already have the other books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, for Moses has carefully chronicled what God has said to the people. He commands them to keep the feast of Tabernacles and to read this law before all Israel in their hearing (11), “that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and to observe to do all the words of this law” (12). In this way, the priests are reminded of their calling to serve at the altar, and to teach the law of God. They are to lead the people to know and keep all of its word. They are to teach it to future generations (13), that their children may “hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.” They are being prepared to take the spiritual leadership of Israel.
Moses and Joshua are called to the Tabernacle, where the Pillar of the Cloud moves to stand over its door (14). The people are also called to the Tabernacle, but not allowed inside. God gives the sad picture of an apostate Israel (16-18) and Joshua will be under no false impression of Israel’s true nature. In spite of all their blessings, future generations will forget their calling and their God. Their culture will decay with their faith, and Moses is told to write a song that will testify against them in those days (19). Moses turns again to Joshua. With words similar to those of the previous charge, he again urges Joshua to be strong, and repeats the promise that God will be with him and will bring Israel into the Promised Land (23). He is told to write the words of the song (19, 22). When they leave the Tabernacle, the civil/military leadership of Israel rests on Joshua.
In verse 24 Moses, still the spiritual leader of the people, calls the priests to the Tabernacle (24). He solemnly commands that the book of Deuteronomy be placed in the Ark of the Covenant, where it abides with the other books of Moses (26), and calls for the people to gather at the entrance of the Tabernacle (28-30) where he speaks (sings) in their ears the song of Moses. When he is finished, the Lord will lead him out of the camp to the peak of Pisgah, and the spiritual leadership of Israel will rest on the very weak shoulders of the priests.
The song of Moses comprises verses 1-43. After a short call to “give ear” (1) and an expression of the great importance of the doctrine in the song (2), Moses is moved to sing of the greatness of God, of and Israel’s unfaithfulness (3-5). God is perfect, without fault or stain, like fine linen. His ways are truth without iniquity. “Just and right is He” (4). Israel is corrupt. She is full of faults and stains, a dirty rag fit only to be cast out. God has invited them to be His children, but they have corrupted themselves, acted as though they are not His children, and are a perverse and crooked generation (5).
Verses 7-14 recall God’s grace to Israel. He will give them the land of Canaan (8,9), has guided them through the wilderness (10) and miraculously provided for them in the desert, as though they sucked honey and oil from the rocks (13). Honey is a valuable luxury to people with no other sweeteners. Oil is a highly valued necessity as a body lotion, for cooking, and as fuel for lamps.
“Jeshurun” means righteous (Keil-Delitzsch) referring to Israel’s intention to follow God as Moses sings this song to the people. But they will become fat enjoying the blessings of the new land, and their hearts will be set on their possessions instead of God (15). Verses 15-18 chronicle their drift away from God.
Their drift is actually an intentional act of breaking the Covenant with God, and, as with any contract, breaking it brings penalties. In this case, the penalties are terrible, and are delineated in verses19-42, in which Israel is actually counted as an enemy of God (42) because of her complete rejection of God and His Covenant.
Yet, the song ends with a hint of God’s mercy (43). He will avenge the blood of His servants. Yes, God will allow Israel to fall to invading Gentiles. At times, they will be small bands of Canaanites as seen in the book of Judges. At other times, they will be the mighty empires of Babylon, Greece, and Rome. But God will never completely forsake His people, though they often completely forsake Him. He will be merciful to the land and to His people.
Moses adds a short exhortation after the song (46-47). He encourages Israel to follow God, and warns them that this is no vain trifle. It is life or death to them individually and collectively. It is the means by which they prolong their days in the new land.
Now God calls Moses to leave the camp and climb Mt. Pisgah, where he will view the promised land and die (48-52). We read of no pleading for prolonged life, or the privilege of setting foot in the new land. Moses is content with the decree of God. He is probably tired of the burden of leadership. He is probably tired of the constant murmuring against him and sin against God. Knowing that it will continue, and that Israel’s light will be far less bright and warm than it should, Moses is probably content not to see it with his own eyes. How we often remove the joy from the lives of those God has given to aid us, making their service heavy and tiresome.
Dt. 33, Lk 14
Dt. 34, Heb. 2
Before he leaves, this faithful man of God and lover of Israel, gives one, final address. It is actually a blessing, very similar to that of Isaac to Jacob (Gen 27:27-29), and Jacob to the sons of Joseph (Gen. 48 and 49) which was a common act of the dying patriarch. Matthew Henry notes that Moses ends his ministry with a sermon, a song, and a benediction. The Pulpit Commentary observes that the hymn is “chiefly on the calamities that were to befall the people because of their apostacy.” The benediction “depicts the benefits that were to be enjoyed by them through the Divine favour.”
He begins with a description of God coming from Sinai to free His people from Egypt (2). He loved the people (3), gave them His law through Moses (4) and was their King (5).
The blessing of the tribes follows in verses 6-25.
He ends with words to the entire nation (26-29) giving, first, the absolute otherness of God (26). There is none like Him. Second, God’s grace toward Israel (27), and the unique place Israel enjoys because of God’s grace (28). Finally, Moses reminds Israel of her uniqueness and blessings again. “Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee.” No other nation enjoys the blessings of God you are given. No other people is as loved and protected by God as you. No other nation has the law of God, the Tabernacle, the priests and the sacrifices. No other nation has the opportunity to know God that you have. All others are outside of His Covenant. They serve idols that are not gods. They live in spiritual darkness. They are lost and under God’s wrath. Israel alone lives in grace.
On Pisgah, Moses is supernaturally enabled to see beyond the limits of normal sight. He sees the whole land God will give to Israel. Dan is about fifty miles north of the Sea of Galilee, and about 160 miles north of Pisgah. Naphtali goes west from the shore of Galilee to the Mediterranean. Manasseh is east of the Jordan and north of Mt. Pisgah. Ephraim and Judah are west of the Jordan, near Jericho. Zoar is on the very southern shore of the Dead Sea, about 80 miles south of Pisgah. It must have been a moving sight for the man who has devoted eighty years of his life getting Israel to the Promised Land. His faithfulness and devotion are noted by the words of verse 10, “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”
He has seen the Hebrew people go from slavery to nationhood; and from near paganism to having the Law of God, Tabernacle, and priesthood. He has seen them go from a fearful refusal to enter the land, to a united nation and the most powerful military force between Egypt and Mesopotamia. Though he will not enter the land, Moses has cause to give thanks for all that God has allowed him to see and do.
But Moses’ work is not yet finished. He is going to a place that is far better than Canaan. He will worship not in a Temple made by hands, but in the very presence of God. Though his eye is not dim nor his natural force abated, he is going to a place where time has no meaning and the body never decays or dies. More than a thousand years later, he will see the Son of God become flesh and accomplish all the things symbolised in the Law, Temple, and sacrifices. He will even come to earth again and speak with the Lord on the mount of transfiguration, thus setting his feet firmly on the soil of the Promised Land.