GOD’S MIGHTY ACTS Deuteronomy 1–4
“These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything” (Deut. 2:7).Moses’ review of the Exodus reminds a new generation that God is faithful despite human failure. But only if they are faithful to Him can God’s people know success.
Moses reviewed each stage of Israel’s journey from Sinai to their present camp just east of the Jordan River (1:1–3:29). Moses applied the lessons of history and challenged the new generation to obey and to worship God (4:1–49).
Understanding the Text
“It takes eleven days” Deut. 1:1–5. The three sermons of Moses that make up the bulk of Deuteronomy were delivered just over the Jordan from the Promised Land. The site was just an 11-day hike from Mount Horeb (Sinai) where God had given His people the Law. But that Law had been given 40 years earlier! What delay disobedience caused. Deuteronomy 1–3 isolates crises that occurred on the journey, to explain Israel’s years of frustrating delay. God is committed to bring us to the place of blessing. But the length of time it takes you and me to arrive still depends on our willingness to obey. “Hear the disputes” Deut. 1:9–18. Moses first mentioned problems, burdens, and disputes. These characterize all of us and reflect normal human weakness. Note that these did not delay Israel. Moses simply appointed judges and laid down guiding principles. We’re all subject to human weakness and to a variety of failings. This need not delay us on our spiritual journey. We are to judge ourselves and move on. God does not demand perfection, but He does expect us to deal honestly with our sins and failures. “You rebelled against the command of the Lord” Deut. 1:19–46. Israel’s tragic delay in arriving at the Promised Land was caused by conscious, willful disobedience of God’s command. Moses identifies fear of the Canaanites as the immediate cause of the disobedience. That fear was rooted in a failure to trust God’s love (v. 27) and His ability to help (v. 32). Conscious disobedience is sure to delay our spiritual progress. However we may rationalize or explain rebellion, disobedience brings discipline and makes us vulnerable to disaster. “He has watched over your journey” Deut. 2:1–15. This is one of the most touching statements in Moses’ review of history. Despite Israel’s rebellion and repeated sins, God “watched over your journey.” The New Testament says, “If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). God’s commitment to us is rooted in His own character, not in anything we may do or fail to do. Even when we rush headlong away from God, He continues to watch over us. But Moses reminded Israel that the nation then wandered for 38 years until the entire rebellious generation perished (Deut. 2:14–15). God will watch over us. But He will also discipline us until tragedy roots out our tendency to rebel. Rugged Mount Sinai (Horeb) is a symbol of the Law that God gave Israel through Moses. Today a monastery stands where Israel once camped. As Deuteronomy shows, despite the thunder that shook the mountain then, God’s Law is rooted in and expresses His love. “Now begin to conquer” Deut. 2:16–3:20. When the old generation died out, God began to give the new generation a taste of success. In a series of increasingly difficult battles God gave Israel increasingly greater victories. When you or I return to the Lord after a time of disobedience, our renewed trust is frequently developed by small, and then greater, spiritual victories. Each step of faith is rewarded as we relearn how to trust God completely. “I pleaded with the Lord” Deut. 3:21–29. Moses is honest in reporting his own personal failure to trust God, though he does not go into detail here. The image of Moses pleading with God to be allowed to go over the Jordan and see the Promised Land is touching. Moses had been a faithful and godly leader. Yet his one act of disobedience was severely punished (cf. Num. 20). Why? Undoubtedly to remind us that no one is immune to divine discipline. No one can sin safely. The text shows that God did, in a sense, grant Moses’ request! The aged leader, then some 120 years old, begged to “go over and see the good land.” Instead God led Moses to the top of Mount Pisgah and gave him a glimpse of Canaan. The sight from this height across the Jordan is impressive. Rising from the fertile plain is a series of hills that gradually flow into an impressive range of mountains. The rich colors and shades reflect the complexity of Palestine, with its wide range of climates and soils which make the land capable of growing every kind of crop. Moses did not “go over” the Jordan. But he did “see the good land” to which he had successfully led God’s people. “Ask now about the former days” Deut. 4:32–40. Now Moses made it very clear why Israel needed to look back as well as to look ahead. In looking back at what God had done, the people would discover how great God is, and who they were to Him. God alone had taken “one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds.” Who God is is defined by His acts in history. Israel is defined by its relationship with God. Israel is a people whom God “loved” and “chose” and “brought . . . out of Egypt . . . to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance.” All this is understood by looking back. Appreciating who God is and seeing Israel’s identity in Him would motivate Israel to obey and would bring God’s people future blessing when taken “to heart.” It’s the same with you and me today. We look back and realize what God has done in Jesus Christ. When we remember that His suffering and subsequent triumph were for us, and we realize how precious we are to God, our awakened love motivates us to serve our Lord.
Guaranteed Spiritual Success (Deut. 4:1–31)
I’m fascinated by those ads in airline magazines that promise salesmen quick and easy success. I’ve known one salesman, Ed, who listened daily to the tapes and regularly attended the seminars such ads market. But Ed wasn’t exactly successful, and I remain suspicious about the promises those ads make. On the other hand, I’m positive that what Moses told Israel in Deuteronomy 4 can guarantee success in anyone’s spiritual life. What would you hear on one of Moses’ tapes, or at one of his seminars? Probably something like this: (1) “Keep the commands of the Lord your God” (v. 2). Absolutely safe guidelines to the good life! (2) “Watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart” (v. 9). Review what God has done for you every day, and you’ll stay motivated! (3) “Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (v. 9). Share what God means to you. It will keep your faith fresh and make God real to your loved ones. (4) “Watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt” (vv. 15–16). Don’t get cocky. Anyone can slip and fall. Never give any idol-whether wealth, pleasure, power, love, or even good works-God’s central place in your life. Of course, I’m not sure Moses’ tapes and seminars would sell. You see, people are always looking for an easy way to succeed. As far as spiritual success is concerned, there isn’t any easy way. So perhaps Moses would add one other step for us moderns. Like, “Work at your relationship with God.” Certainly Moses and the new generation of Israelites would say, with spiritually successful saints through the ages, “It’s worth it!”
What disciplines have you developed to help you achieve spiritual success?