Deuteronomy 34

We will not see his like again. The funeral cliche. But of Moses it was true. The amazing leader, the one who spoke face to face with God. Humbly, from the inevitable mountable top, he views the land he will never reach, and it’s buried in a grave that is lost. They morn for 30 days and, with Joshua as leader, move on.

Jesus said the last shall be first in his kingdom. Moses, the rescued baby, the exiled killer, the reluctant spokesman, who pleaded with God for his faithless people over and over in the desert. The most humble the most unlikely, he left no physical memorial to his own greatness, he was all about God.

 

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Deuteronomy 33

Tribes are great, families are better.

Moses’ song in the last chapter had a lot of bleak elements, but his final blessings to each tribe and all of Israel here are affectionate, strong and optimistic.

It starts majestically with Gods coming compared to the dawn reaching the tops of the mountains where they met him. They ascended the holy mountains, God descended to meet them. Israel would sing songs about that as they climbed to the temple.

Moses addresses each tribe like the person they are named for. We learn what God wants for them, what he values in them, and how he will help them.

Judah is the defender, he promises help.  God loves Levi’s single minded dedication, he will help them teach and guide the people.

Benjamin’s blessing recalls that he was a favourite child of Jacob, and anticipates that their land will include the temple. They are protected and protectors.

Joseph is greatly blessed, recalling the dreams he had of sun and moon bowing to him, and will bless greatly.

And so on, the characters of the tribal founders are linked to the land their tribes will inherit, and strength and abundance are wished for them.

Then the strengths and blessings of each are extended to all, the one nation has all the blessings of its parts, like a family. “Who is like you” Moses asks finally “a people saved by the lord?”

We are, Christians are like them.

We spend so much time disagreeing.  It’s not that there is never a good reason to disagree, but it needs to be in context as the smaller part of our relationship.

When I meet another Christian, I should focus on the blessing God has given to them, their blessing is the blessing of us all.

Deuteronomy 32

Moses’ song. Like the book it contains beauty and terror. 

The greatness of God is contrasted with the lousiness of the Israelites. It’s not a sentimental song. 

Their history is one of letting him down. Their future is being given great victories over the enemies God will judge, and then being judged themselves for squandering God’s grace by following other Gods. 

It ends by predicting that God will always stay faithful to a remnant of Israel. 

The song is not really a summary of the law, it’s a picture of God’s judgment and grace. These characteristics of God sit uncomfortably together. But understanding them is vital to get the significance of Jesus. 

Then sadly, Moses climbs a mountain to glimpse the land he will not inhabit because of his own sin. Few biblical characters have more grace, yet his judgment is unblinkingly recorded.

Grace costs. God is not a softy, who papers over evil, he looks at it, and recognises is destructive power. He fixes it, absorbs it, painfully.

Deuteronomy 31

Of course having told the Israelites to choose life in the last chapter, Moses goes straight on to prepare to die.

He writes a book of the law. He creates a public ritual/celebration every 7 years to read the law. He writes a song of the law. I think he wants them to remember the law.

But more than that, he knows they will fail, through bitter experience, and it’s poignant because he loves them. He calls the law a witness to them. It’s so like a parent’s mixed emotions, torn between knowing they must journey on without him, and wanting to protect them forever, leaving only words behind.

He appoints Joshua to follow him, and tells him to be “strong and courageous”.  Courageous is one of my wife Kelly’s favourite words. It is not only a powerful idea, the act of saying the word seems to make it real, to create a space for courage.

Deuteronomy 30

Choose life. 

Moses’ sermon is reaching a climax and that phrase could be a two word summary of the book. 

I love his description of the law not being hard to reach, it is on their lips, in their hearts and in their choices. For me this describes the experience of positive Christian living, what you say and do reflecting your heart and vice versa.

Their consequences are clear, blessings and curses. They are to choose life. 

I’m going to try it out as a phrase to reach for when I need wisdom or guidance. Choose life.

Deuteronomy 29

The responsibility of knowledge. As Jesus died in the cross he said of three Roman soldiers who carried out the execution ” forgive them father they don’t know what they are doing”.

Israel has been given God’s mind and his blessing. They know what he is doing. 

This chapter is about the covenant, the deal between God and his people.  It means so much more if they turn their back on God.

And I, I know so much more again. I have the spirit in me. Jesus said there is only one unforgivable sin, denying the holy spirit. I’ve always understood that as him as saying the unforgivable sin is refusing to be forgiven. 

Or as spiderman night put it, with great knowledge comes great responsibility. I can only pray for wisdom and courage.

Deuteronomy 28

Blessings and curses. If the Israelites stay true to God, they will prosper, and if they don’t they will be cursed.

The nation would know both, they prospered under kings David and Solomon. But they abandoned God every which way, and knew all the curses as well, even the degradation of canabalism, which must have seemed like an absurdly theoretical curse as they came into the promised land, came true during a seize of Jerusalem in kings 2.

In their poetry and philosophy they would increasingly question the connection between blessing and behaviour. A regular refrain in the psalms is “hey God, why are the evil people prospering?”

By the time Jesus pronounces blessings and curses he talks about hypocrisy and arrogance versus sincere and humble seeking of God.

Turns out the rules were never about being good enough to earn God’s favour, they were about understanding God and the nature of his love, and our need for it.

Showing people God’s love at some point means them understanding their need for it.

Deuteronomy 27

New section. We’ve had all the rules now committing to them and the transition of leadership to settle the holy land.

They take a moment of silence and the priests declare them to be God’s people. 

First thing they will do is climb two mountains. Mountains equal meeting God.

One will be for curses, one for blessings.

The curse mountain has all the law written on some of its stones, and an altar for sacrifice also piled up of its uncarved stones.

They’ll do a fellowship offering, ie: one that celebrates God’s presence rather than removing sin. And they will formally declare that rejecting God, being greedy, unfair, uncaring to the vulnerable or sexually immoral will bring God’s curse.

It is a marker, a baseline, a resolution they will be able to look back on and test their society against. When they are deep in an argument about tribal boundaries, they will look back on this moment and remember declaring before God as a nation that they would be cursed if they ever did this.

I don’t remember becoming a Christian, I don’t have a moment of dedication of my life to God. Like the Israelites who would be born in the promised land, I have the choice to accept or forget every day the faith I was handed down by my parents. I pray for my children, and my witness to them. 

Deuteronomy 26

When the Israelites come to the promised land there is to be a year of tithe. 

The harvest after 3 years is the first fruits, 10% is to be collected before anything else and given to God, recognising that the land, their freedom, came from him. 

Then Moses reminds the people to follow all the rules with all their heart and soul to be blessed in high honour by God.

The have been so many rules over the last 10 or so chapters, some are more beautiful than we can manage today, in terms of the way they would demolish the effects of inequality in society. Others seem completly crazy today.

But this message:  acknowledge God as the source of all we have, love him and receive his love. This lives. 

It feels like the moment for an amen.

Deuteronomy 25

Law, marriage, commerce, punishment.

Limits on the number of lashes a judge can impose mean punishment is to be hard, but not destructive.

The marriage laws we’ve seen again and again, and it’s hard to relate to. This telling is illustrated with a dramatic ritual shaming of a brother who will not take on a widowed sister in law. 

The commerce laws are simple rules against cheating.

Then there is a reminder to absolutely mete out God’s judgement and destroy a local nation. As you do.

In the middle is a strikingly weird verse about cutting off the hand of a woman who intervenes in a fight between men by gabbing balls. Commentators are beside themselves to argue that is not literal and all sorts of meanings for it. I’ll wait for heaven to understand that one.

God’s people are fair, punishment fits crimes. There is moderation in the rules between Israelites. But God judgment is absolute.