Reading the beginning of Deuteronomy feels like watching one of those movies where the narrator shows up in the final scene and tells you how all the pieces fit together.
Moses and the Israelites have almost reached the end; he’s about to die and they’re about to enter the promised land. And suddenly he is speaking to the masses, the children of the original cast, reminding them how the story began more than 40 years ago, and recounting the plot twists along the way. He’s tying up loose ends and telling them the lessons they need to hold onto once they (and he) cross over.
These lessons are as relevant today as they were then. They are lessons about walking with God, following him into the exceedingly good places and avoiding losing our way.
Lesson 1 – Stand on the Promises of God.
Moses begins by recounting how God fulfilled all his promises:
- God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:7: “To your offspring I will give this land.” Moses reminds them of God’s words:
“See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”
- God promised relationship, “The whole land of Canaan, where you know reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:8 )
Throughout his speech Moses refers to God as “The LORD our God,” “The LORD your God” and “The LORD, the God of your ancestors” (Deuteronomy 1:6, 10, 11).
- God also promised Abraham: “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky…” Moses reflects the exact language of that important promise saying to Israel:
“The LORD your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky.” (Deuteronomy 1:10)
Lesson 2 – Faith Walks; Fear Stops.
Jesus warned us that “in this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) And he asks us to walk the hard road: “Take up your cross and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Both are scary.
What we learn from the Israelites is that we can either walk in faith or let fear bring us to a standstill. Back in Exodus the Israelites were hemmed in; Pharaoh and his soldiers were closing in behind while the Red Sea posed an immutable obstacle in front of them. Understandably, “they were very frightened.” (Exodus 14:10) In Hebrew the word for “very” is m@`od, which means exceedingly…in other words really, really frightened!
And yet…they didn’t let fear paralyze them. They stepped into the sea…before it parted.
Fast forward 40 years; they are standing on the edge of the promised land. But the enemy this time is in front of their eyes…and BIG…so big that the Israelites lose sight of God.
Moses sees their fear: “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you will fight for you as he did in Egypt, before your very eyes.” (Deuteronomy 1:29-31)
He further encourages them with a beautiful image of God’s love adding, “You saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place. (Deuteronomy 1:31)
But they freeze. As they lean into their fear, they lean away from God…which results in their worst fears being fulfilled:
You rebelled against the Lord’s command and in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country. The Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah.
Lesson 3 – Remember How You Got Here.
Over and over again in the Old Testament God instructs the Israelites to tell their children stories of his faithfulness. In my recent post, Stories of Remembrance, I wrote of how these stories seed our children’s faith.
But such stories help us too; they instruct and remind our hearts that it is not in vain to trust the Lord.
Let’s Get Moving!
Applying these lessons to our own walks with God relies less on our feet and more on the Spirit in our step:
When you are afraid — even really, really afraid — will you allow fear to stop you, or will you step out wholeheartedly, trusting the LORD your God to go before you, confident in the knowledge that he is exceedingly good?
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love and sound judgment.
2 Timothy 1:7