Deuteronomy Summary: As I said last week, we’ll be studying the book of Joshua in Sunday School. Let me give a little background for that.
Originally I thought that studying through the book of Judges would be helpful. I see parallels to the situation today in Christ’s church with what the Israelites experienced under the Judges.
But as I studied and talked with others, I thought it would be best to start with Joshua. You can land in the book of Judges without teaching Joshua but we’d probably miss some things. So, I thought we might as well start with Joshua.
But then I further noticed that the book of Deuteronomy really has bearing on the circumstances we see later in the books of Joshua and Judges – really, even in the books of Ruth and Samuel and Kings.
So I’m going to take this lesson just preparing us for the book of Joshua by studying the book of Deuteronomy.
You might wonder if I might as well start at Genesis. Well, that would be interesting and I’m sure helpful. But we’ll just stick with Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy really stands as a good summary of all that has happened to Israel from Genesis through to the end of Numbers.
So this is where we’ll start. Deuteronomy. The “second (deuteros) Law (nomos)”.
This book is not narrative. I’m not quite sure what kind of writing it is. Some suggest that it’s patterned after legal documents. As if Yahweh is legally renewing his covenant with his chosen people, Israel.
Yet, even though it’s not a narrative, Moses does set the scene for us. Let’s read Deu 1:1-5.
1:1 ¶ These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain over against the Red sea, between Paran, and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Dizahab. 2 (There are eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir unto Kadeshbarnea.) 3 And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spake unto the children of Israel, according unto all that the LORD had given him in commandment unto them; 4 After he had slain Sihon the king of the Amorites, which dwelt in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, which dwelt at Astaroth in Edrei: 5 On this side Jordan, in the land of Moab, began Moses to declare this law, saying…
So, picture Israel. You can look at the map section in your Bible. Its west border is the Mediteranean Sea. Its east boundary is the Jordan River. The Jordan runs north from the Sea of Galilee to the south, emptying into the Dead Sea. Jericho is just a little north of the Dead Sea. Right across the Jordan to the east is the modern-day nation of Jordan. In Old Testament times that was the land of the Amorites. Now, the Jordan valley is flanked to the east and west by hills. But down in the valley is where the sons of Israel were. They hadn’t crossed the Jordan yet. They’re on the east side of the Jordan, in the land they had just captured from the 2 Amorite kings. They can look over the Jordan and see Jericho. They can see the land which God had promised to them and their fathers. They’re so close.
In verse 2 we’re reminded that the way from Horeb (a.k.a. Sinai) to Kadesh-barnea was only 11 days. Kadesh-barnea was where the Israelites were supposed to enter Canaan. But they rebelled. And so instead of entering the land in 11 days, it took them – verse 3 – 40 years! Before they could finally enter the land though they needed to – verse 4 – slay two Amorite kings: Sihon and Og.
They did that. And now finally the people are ready to enter the land. But Moses isn’t going to enter. The Lord was angry at him and wouldn’t allow him to enter. So he just needs to encourage Joshua to lead the people in there. But Moses isn’t going to address Joshua alone. Moses, this godly leader who had led the Israelites these 40 years, he has a number of things on his heart to communicate to his people. Important things. Things God wants him to say. Moses has a message. And we can summarize this message like this: Love God and Be Blessed.
Deuteronomy is a book of 34 chapters. There’s no way I could cover this book chapter-by-chapter in one message. So I’m going to be teaching the content of this book without specifically referencing or even turning to the individual passages. So you can just listen and take notes if that would help you follow the message.
Alright, so Moses’ message is Love God and Be Blessed. But an Israelite may have asked, “why should I love God?” Moses gives a number of reasons, but he starts off by giving a history of God’s gracious dealings with Israel.
He starts off with Israel going down to Egypt and being oppressed. So God granted Israel a miraculous deliverance from Egypt. He brought them through the Red Sea. We’re also reminded that Amalek viciously and mercileslly attacked them after that episode. Remember Haman?? Amalek to Agag to Haman. Anyway, after Amalek, God brought Israel to Sinai – or as Moses calls it in this book, Horeb.
At Horeb, God appeared to Israel on the mountain in fire and darkness and thick gloom with trumpet blasts. It was terrifying. So Israel asked for a mediator. They could not stand to hear God’s voice and see God’s presence. So God commended the people’s reaction and made Moses the mediator. God gave Moses his commands that Moses was then to command Israel. But while God was giving his commands to Moses, Israel got together and made an idol! Unbelievable. So Moses had to leave his mediatorial work and come down from the mountain and deal with his people. In the process he angrily broke the original tablets containing the 10 Commandments. And God himself was so angry at the people that he wanted to destroy Israel and make a new nation out of Moses. But Moses loved God’s people and interceded for them. He even had to intercede for his own brother, Aaron. So the Lord listened to Moses and turned from his desire to destroy Israel.
Eventually God told Israel to leave Horeb and travel north to Kadesh-barnea, which was somewhere along the southern boundary of Canaan. God told Moses that Israel should go up from there and attack the Canaanites. But the people actually approached Moses and asked if they could send some spies to figure out the best way to go up into the land. Moses says that that request pleased him. The question is whether that request pleased God. I’m not sure. That’s just something to think about. But at any rate, the spies go up. They scope out the land. They bring back a report. And in Deuteronomy Moses emphasizes the good report which the 2 spies brought back. The people hear that report but they still rebell and refuse to trust God. So God is angry with them and forbids the unbelieving men from entering Canaan. The people make some effort to confess their sin and obey God, but it’s too late. God has spoken. But the people go up anyway and get turned back by the Canaanites.
The book of Deuteronomy then gives one meager verse to their 40 years of wilderness wanderings. I get the sense that Moses really didn’t want to think very much about that disappointing time in Israel’s history.
But then finally the word comes from the Lord. Go up! Pass northeast through Edom! But don’t attack them. Pass north through Moab! But leave him alone. Pass north through Ammon! But don’t touch his land. OK, now pass through to the Amorite Sihon! Ah, yes, you can attack him. I will give him into your hand. Continue on and attack Og the Amorite! His land is yours.
Yes, the Ammonites and Moabites hire Balaam the false prophet to curse Israel. But God turned it into a blessing. Yes, Baal-peor happens. That was where Balaam advising Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel. Balaam told Balak to tempt the Israelites with foreign women who would commit immorality with the Israelites and lead them astray to follow after false Gods. And God had to deal with the Israelites for that sinful situation.
But now, Israel is on the plains opposite Jericho. God brought them all the way there. He didn’t leave or forsake them. But that’s the past. Israel needs to do right — now and into the future. They need to Love God and Be Blessed. That’s Moses’ message to them as they’re on the verge of entering the land that God promised to them.
So Israel needs to love God. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 – “Hear O Israel…You shall love the Lord your God.” But how would Israel know if they were loving God? Jesus – the very God of the Israelites in the Old Testament says this in the New Testament. “If you love me, … keep my commandments.” Listen. We can’t and Israel couldn’t walk in the disobedience of our hearts, all the while claiming to love God. Throughout the Scripture, loving God is linked to the degree of your obedience to him. Now, don’t get me wrong. Obeying God never brought people into a relationship with him. That’s impossible since our obedience to God is always so imperfect and incomplete. But obedience to God grows our relationship with him. Pastor has mentioned a godly man of old who would say something like “If you want to know God, mind him.” There’s no question that this is the case. Israel needed to love God by obeying him.
Now, we’ve mentioned this matter of having a relationship with God. We New Testament believers enter into this relationship with God through faith. The same actually was true of individual Old Testament saints as well. They came to know God by faith. Romans 4 tells us that this is how Abraham and David understood their relationship with God. But you know, in Deuteronomy we’re told about a momentous event in which the whole nation of Israel was brought into a special relationship with God. It happened at Mount Sinai or Horeb. God mentions this event several times in Deuteronomy. God views this event as a covenantal occasion. He made a special covenant with the nation of Israel. He took them to himself as a special people. And he was to be their one and only God. It was as if God took Israel as his wife. It’s a very special tender relationship that they had. Does this help your understanding of all these Laws that God gives to Israel? God didn’t just come on the scene and start barking out orders to Israel. He brought them out of bondage in Egypt. He took them unto himself and swore that they alone would be his people. These commandments to Israel can really be viewed as something like wedding vows.
And you know, when Israel obeys these reasonable requests from their God, they will experience tremendous blessings. I’d advise you to just read through this book and note the number of times God promises blessing for obedience. Love God and Be Blessed is Moses’ message in this book, after all. How would Israel be blessed for loving God? Israel’s land will yield abundant produce. Their enemies will flee before them. Their animals and wives will not be barren. They will have no diseases. They will have abundant money and livestock and rain. Really, God plainly states that there will be no poor people among them – they’ll all be rich. All the nations around them will marvel at them because they have such a close relationship with God and have such just and wise laws. Blessing…upon…blessing!
Now, as this nation prepares to enter the land of Canaan they have a few commands that stand out above and beyond the rest. One such command is the one that says they need to destroy the nations. Well, not all the nations, actually. Just the 7 nations in the land of Canaan are the ones that need to be destroyed. The other nations they can offer terms of peace to. And if they don’t accept the terms of peace then the Israelites would destroy the men in that nation but leave the others alive. Not so with the 7 nations in Canaan! The Israelites were to utterly destroy man, woman, and child — and anything else that breathed — in those nations.
This might be one of the most difficult commands in the whole Old Testament to come to terms with. God really wanted the Israelites to destroy even innocent women and children? Yeah. God says that if even the ones who seemed most innocent were allowed to live, then they would teach God’s people Israel to follow after other gods and repeat the same sins that these 7 nations committed. These 7 nations were so evil that God had a special plan for their destruction. God says that they do everything – every thing – that he hates. They even sacrificed their children – the ones we don’t want to see die – they sacrifice their own children to demons! This all might be hard to accept. But it is God’s mind on the matter. And we always do well to just believe what God has to say without trying to wiggle out from under its uncomfortable truth.
Now, these 7 nations were stronger and larger than Israel. It wasn’t an easy thing they were setting out to do. But God promised victory. If Israel obeys, God will destroy these nations before them and give to Israel all their stuff – houses filled with good things, cisterns, vineyards, olive groves, everything they could want. That is, if they love God.
Now, you might wonder why God chose Israel over these other nations. Positively, God chose them to keep his promises to their fathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Negatively, God says he certainly didn’t choose them for either of the following reasons – their size (they were smaller than all nations) or for their righteousness (he gives them their history of rebellion as proof).
The second big bold command that comes to our attention multiple times – scores of times – in this book is that Israel needs to worship God alone. This makes sense. God took this nation to himself in a relationship very much reminiscent of the marriage covenant. It makes sense then if God is the husband that Israel — the wife — would be faithful to him alone.
What does this look like? Negatively, they need to stay away from worshipping idols. Again, this is one big reason they need to completely destroy the nations across the Jordan in Canaan. Idolatry is contageous. Israel needs to rid the land of it ASAP. And Moses speaks of this urgent matter constantly in the book of Deuteronomy. The Israelites must not immitate the pagans in any way. They were to be totally holy and separate from the evil that characterized the pagans – especially their idolatry.
You know, even the way that God appeared on Mount Horeb should have taught Israel to not construct idols. Moses says in Deuteronomy that when God appeared to them on Horeb they didn’t see a form at all. They heard a voice from heaven. But God didn’t appear as a man. He didn’t appear as a bird, or a fish, or a lion. This was intentional. He appeared as fire – something that really is quite difficult to make into an idol. And so because God revelaed himself without a form but he did utter his voice – because of that, Israel needed to pay attention to God’s WORDS, not his form. Don’t focus on his FORM, Israel! Focus on what he had to say to you from heaven.
What did he say anyway? What are the words that Israel must obey and thereby be blessed? Well, we mentioned two broad commands. Worship God alone and destroy the 7 nations who are especially sinful and who will influence you to idolatry against the true God of heaven.
But the book of Deuteronomy consists of 34 chapters! There’s a lot more to God’s commands than these two areas – worshipping God only and destroying the nations. I’ll mention a few things. God gives Israel rules about what to do in the case of immorality. He tells Israel what to do when a murder is committed. He gives instructions about what to do with a habitual and hardened disobedient child. He commands them to build a railing on top of their roof to prevent people from falling off. Israel must eat only clean animals. When they find a mother bird with a nest of eggs, they can take the eggs but not the mother. When they eat a young goat they were not to boil it in its mother’s milk. God tells them whom Israel should accept to fight in their battles. He tells them that when they enter the land they will sacrifice ONLY in the place the Lord will chose. God forbids them from cross-dressing. And what I’ve just mentioned now leaves out a number of other commands that he gives Israel.
And you can’t find a flaw in any of these commands. There’s nothing immoral or unrighteous in these laws. Even if we don’t quite understand them or think them a little out-of-step with the way we live our lives – you can’t find a flaw with these commands. And that’s exactly why Moses tells Israel that the nations will be jealous of the nation of Israel. Because they have a God who is so near and who gives them such righteous statutes. That’s right. Moses did not say, “Yeah, I know these laws are a little embarassing and kind of out-of-step with the mainstream thinking of this day. But, you know, just kind of deal with it and it’ll be alright.” No. Moses says with a straight face that these laws are going to cause the nations around them to covet the relationship they have with their God. That is… if Israel actually obeys these laws.
And not only obeys them. But another big theme of Deuteronomy is that Israel needs to constantly teach their children God’s commands. They’re supposed to teach when they’re sitting, standing, walking, and lying down. They need to know God’s commands well enough to teach their children.
(Summary of Obedience) So these laws are righteous. Obeying them doesn’t bring Israel into a relationship with God – God did that at Horeb. But obeying these laws were to help the Israelites maintain their relationship with God. Obeying would show that they Love God. And as they love God by obeying him they would Be Blessed with all the blessings we already mentioned.
But Israel had a choice. They could choose whether or not they were going to obey. We’re going to see those choices played out in the coming weeks and months as we study through Joshua and Judges. We see the foundation begin to chip in Joshua.
For example, one of the Israelites disobeys God and takes something under the ban. In that case Israel did not love God. And as a result Israel was not blessed. She’s defeated right after that by the people of the tiny city of Ai.
Later on, the Gibeonites pretend to be a people far away and they seek to make a treaty with Israel. That wasn’t supposed to happen. And Joshua did not seek the Lord about it. So Israel got into a treaty with some of the inhabitants of Canaan. This was a violation of one of God’s commands to them.
But the worst comes in the book of Judges. Joshua dies and when he does, Israel starts seriously spiraling out of control. They cannot or will not conquer their enemies, as God commanded them. As a result they’re tempted with idolatry like God told them would happen. And so God gives them over to their enemies.
Wait, what?! Gives them over to their enemies? I thought Israel was supposed to be the head and their enemies the tail. I thought Israel would lend but not borrow. The enemies were supposed to come against Israel one way and flee before them seven ways! Yes. But that only happens – those blessings – only happen when they Love God.
And you know what? Even in the book of Deuteronomy, God knows that Israel is going to disobey. He holds out blessings for obedience. And yet in the next or even the same chapter that he gives promises of blessings for obedience, he also tells them that he knows they’re going to disobey.
God points to their track record of disobedience. From the day Moses brought the people out of the land of Egypt they’ve been stiff-knecked and hard-hearted. They provoked God to anger to such an extent at Horeb that he would have utterly destroyed the whole nation, including Aaron. Remember the rebellion they commited at Kadesh-Barnea? And that generation – just read through the books of Exodus and Numbers – they’re complaining all the time and acting as if God hates them and isn’t powerful or loving. They’re completely faithless. And without faith it’s impossible to please God. And so God was not pleased with that generation. He let them die in the wilderness.
So that’s the previous generation. But what about the current generation? The generation that was about to enter the land? Moses makes this statement in Deuteronomy 31:27 – He says to the generation about to enter the land of Canaan – “For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the LORD; and how much more after my death?” Even that generation had been rebellious against God. And Moses fears what they will do when he’s gone.
And the consequences for not loving God are so severe. Just like the blessings for obeying God were numerous and beyond your wildest imagination, so too are the curses for disobedying and not loving God.
Israel would be defeated before their enemy. Their property ripped from their hands. Their wives violated by other men. They would experience life-threatening diseases. They would experience pestilence and mildew and terror. Their children would be taken from them while they can only look on as its happening. They’d be driven mad with these sights and experiences.
And you know, this was not what God wanted for his people… My family reads the Scripture at night before bedtime – about a chapter a night. We just read through the book of Revelation at the request of one of our children. You can guess which one – the one that can talk. And so now we just started in the book of Genesis. As we were reading Genesis 1, I was struck by this simple fact. God’s default mode – if you will – is to bless. God blessed man in the beginning. God blessed the Sabbath Day. He enjoys blessing people and things. He is a good and blessing God. And yet sin brings to light a whole new side of God. Sin is completely anti-thetical to God. He can’t bless sin. He can only punish and destroy it. And so, in Deuteronoy God warns Israel that this will happen – that he needs to punish sin. He even gives Moses a song to teach the people so that when they do turn from God they will have this song as a testimony against them.
And the ultimate consequence for Israel’s disobedience, even stated here in Deuteronomy, was that God would have to cast Israel out of the land. They will get to the place where they’re practicing the abominations of the nations they were supposed to utterly destroy. And just like God had to drive out those nations, he would have to drive out his worldly people who acted like those nations.
So, that’s bleak. And yet God gives a ray of hope, even here in this book. He says that when Israel sins against him to the extent he needs to drive them to other lands where they’ll worship idols — he says that after that happens he will bring them back to their land eventually. And that’s actually what we saw in Ezra and Nehemiah – the Jews came back to their land.
So, Israel is standing on the plains. They see the Jordan over which they will soon cross. They see Jericho, which they’ll attack and conquer in just a few days or weeks. And Moses is reminding them of the blessings that await them if they only love God and obey him. He also warns them sternly about failing to love God. Moses and God himself want Israel to live long in that land. The only way to receive this blessing of long life in God’s land is to love God.
We’re a lot like Israel. We don’t enter into a relationship with God through Law. We do so through a covenant. We have the New Covenant, whereby our sins are forgiven. While Israel had the Old Covenant given at Sinai. And God desires for us now to love him – to obey him in what he’s commanded us. The commands for us are different than for Israel in some ways. The blessings are different. But God still desires us – his New Testament people – to love him. Being free from the Law doesn’t mean we’re free to not love God. Jesus tells us that we must abide in him. And — as Jesus says — this is the only way we’ll be blessed and bear much fruit.
So, may the Lord help us to Love God and Be Blessed.