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Notebook: Deuteronomy

J Grant

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The long journey that had commenced with the Passover in Egypt was coming to its end. Due to their disobedience, the wilderness had been the "home" of the Children of Israel for forty years, but they stand now "on this side Jordan in the wilderness" (1.1), on the borders of the Land that had been promised to Abraham and the other patriarchs. They are about to see that God honours His promises despite the conduct of His people.

That their refusal to obey Him had been costly is clear. A generation had died in the wilderness, but Joshua and Caleb, the only two of the spies who had returned from their investigation of the land urging the people to enter without delay, were still with them. Both had a remarkable part to play in the events that lay ahead. It must have been with sadness that these two faithful men viewed the company that gathered to hear the words of Moses. "All Israel" it is stated were present, but due to the large number, over 600,000 men (Num 26.51), it is possible that it was the elders, acting on behalf of the people, who assembled to hear Moses. Nevertheless, the anticipation in the hearts of Caleb and Joshua that at last the Land would be entered, would be tinged with sorrow as they thought of the many who had died during the journey. The lesson to be learned is simple and clear. Sin is never a benefit and always brings sorrow and the loss of enjoyment of the blessings that flow from God.

Too often Deuteronomy is a neglected book. It is regarded as being merely the repetition of what has already been dealt with in Exodus and Numbers. It looks like a long book with "uninteresting" detail. Such a view is born out of ignorance. There is great value in reading this book. Not only does it shed fresh light on past events, it reaffirms the covenant for the Land. What was given them in the wilderness is now filled out to cover "Land" conditions.

As a general comment it must always be remembered that it is not acceptable to determine that any Scripture that has been given to us is not worth reading. There is benefit in reading all of the Scriptures, including Deuteronomy.

The value of the book is dramatically highlighted as it was used by the Lord Jesus on the three recorded occasions when He responded to the temptations placed before Him in the wilderness (Mt 4.1-11; Lk 4.1-13). It was not possible for Him to sin, but He did reply to the Adversary in order to show the false basis of his words. He prefaced each quotation with the words, "It is written", and followed by using Deuteronomy 6.13; 6.16; and 8.3 .

The speaker

The leadership of Moses is about to end. He has occupied that position for forty years. Now the people will hear his farewell message. That, in itself, makes this book worth reading.

The text consists of a number of addresses given by Moses. There is no indication of any time lapse between the end of one address and the beginning of another, although it is most probable that there was. Note the beginning of each new address.

It is noteworthy that there was no sense of complaint or bitterness in the words of Moses. There were three matters that could have caused such bitterness in a lesser man. First, the failure of the people to enter the land thirty-eight years earlier had made it necessary for Moses to endure these years in the wilderness. He had not been able to enjoy Canaan. Second, the behaviour of the people during these years had caused Moses much anguish. Third, and perhaps the most significant, the Lord had told Moses that he would not enter Canaan despite his great desire to do so.

The purpose of the book

The first purpose of the book is to remind Israel of the lessons of the past. The journey through the wilderness must not be forgotten, and the lessons taught them must not be laid aside. The second purpose is to emphasise that the terms of the covenant into which Israel entered at Horeb had not changed. Israel had undertaken to fulfil their side of the covenant and that responsibility had not been lifted from them. The third issue is to renew the covenant for the Land. No longer pilgrims and strangers, but settled in their own land given them by the Lord, there are matters, such as the cities of refuge, that have to be dealt with. One issue with which they are faced is the necessity of ensuring that they do not forsake the Lord and turn to idols. It can be that the blessings of the Lord are taken for granted, appreciation dims, and other "gods" take possession of our hearts. If this is applicable in the present, how much more so was there this danger facing Israel.

The timing of the review

The question may be asked, "Why did Moses, at this stage of the journey, recount the events of the past?". While dealing with the question it must be acknowledged that Deuteronomy consists of more than a recital of historical events. However, when he does this it is to bring to the people an understanding of how God had dealt with them. If they were to enjoy the Land and its blessings they needed to understand how and why God acted as He did. If this was true of Israel in that day, it is also true with Christians today. If we are to enjoy "all spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph 1.3) it will be necessary to have increasing understanding of the ways of God.

It is of more than passing interest to put Moses’ account here of their journey beside that given in the book of Numbers. Compare the two and see what is omitted in Deuteronomy and the little touches that are not found in Numbers.

But why was this review not given to the people on an earlier occasion? Would it not have been of assistance to them as they travelled through the wilderness? There was now, however, a difference of major importance. As they stood on the borders of Canaan they were overcomers. The enemies who had sought to bar their progress had been decisively defeated. Arad, king of the Canaanites (Num 21.1-3), Sihon, king of the Amorites (Num 21.21-32), Og, king of Bashan (Num 21.33-35), the Moabites (Num 25.1-18) had all been overcome. Where no battle was to be fought they had been wise enough to pass on (Num 20.14-21). Now, having known triumph over the enemy, they can be taught more of the dealings of God who had brought them through and enabled them to be victors.

The blessings in the book

The blessings that can be enjoyed by Israel are mentioned forty-five times in the book. These reach their climax in ch.33 where Moses blesses the Children of Israel. Reuben, Judah, Levi, Benjamin, Joseph, Zebulun, Issachar, Gad, Dan, Naphtali and Asher all are blessed. This is followed by a general blessing for Israel: "Happy art thou, O Israel…". This does remind us of the Beatitudes. Wherever there is submission to the will of the Lord, there will be blessing.

How often, today, do we hear the cry, the wish to know the blessing of the Lord? Spiritual blessing, and the spiritual joy and contentment that accompany it, are enjoyed as the result of submission to His will. If Israel had grasped that what a different future they would have enjoyed.

As Deuteronomy opens they stand ready to enter into an opportunity given to no other nation. Believers today have an even greater opportunity. Israel’s future was blighted. May we learn the lessons taught us by their failure! Let us determine to enjoy blessings promised us, by submitting ourselves in obedience to His will.


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