Today we turn our attention to the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is another neglected book of Moses, like Leviticus, because we often perceive the book as merely laws. Worse, we think that the book is simply a restatement of the laws that we already read in Exodus and Leviticus. But our ignoring of the book is tragic and detrimental for a number of reasons.
New Testament importance.
Deuteronomy is established by the New Testament as one of the most important books of the Old Testament. Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy more than any other book and used the book more in his life than any other book. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness he quoted from Deuteronomy all three times in his responses to Satan. Further, New Testament writers quote or allude to Deuteronomy nearly 200 times, making it one of the most referenced volumes of the Hebrew scriptures.
The book of Deuteronomy is far more than a restatement of Mosaic law. Like the book of Numbers, this book has also been poorly named by the Septuagint. Deuteronomy is a systematic presentation of theological truths. It is an exposition of the faith that the generation needed to have. Scholars have called Deuteronomy “the Romans of the Old Testament.” We can see this in Deuteronomy 1:5. “Moses undertook to explain the law, saying….” Moses is not restating the law but teaching the law. Moses is explaining the law that was given to the first generation. To state this another way, Moses preaches a sermon here. Moses is not going to enter the promised land. So before the people go into the land, Moses gives a final sermon to the people, expounding on God’s law so that they will be successful as they enter. This also is exciting as we read the book because we are now allowed to hear Moses speak. Moses has been with these people for decades. We have seen his act as a mediator and prophet to the people. Now we get to hear him preach God’s law to the people.
We have noticed in our studies of the first five books that these books were showing what God was going to do for the people in the future. The Exodus showed God would come and rescue his people from slavery because he is a merciful and gracious God. Numbers showed us that God would be with his people in the wilderness on the way to the promised land, even with all the sins and failures that happen along the way. Finally, we come to Deuteronomy. What is the message for us in this book? The book is teaching the people how they move from the wilderness to the promised rest. As the people leave the wilderness and cross the border into the land, we will see that it is a move from grace to faith, from deliverance to obedience, from gospel to response, from theology to ethics. How do they get across the border? How do they move from the wilderness to a promised rest? The answer as Deuteronomy gives it is that they move across through the power and instruction of God. It is a call to respond to God’s grace with unreserved loyalty and love. Israel was crossing the border into a hostile land with a hostile culture and live as God’s holy people. To cross the border from the wilderness to the promised land will require unwavering faith.
Where We Are (1:1-5)
It is easy to quickly pass over the first few verses of the first chapter of Deuteronomy. But these verses introduce the book in a very important way. Verse 1 tells us that Israel has returned to the border of Canaan. It is the very end of their time in the wilderness. Verse 3 reveals that it is the 11th month of the 40th year. But look at verse 2. It was only an 11 day journey from Mount Sinai (Horeb) to Kadesh-barnea. What should have taken 11 days has taken 40 years! Forty years has been wasted because of disobedience. Disobedience to God has caused life to take a much more difficult path. This is what we do to ourselves as we disobey the Lord. Moses stands up and explains the law because Israel will cross the border into the promised land in two months (cf. Joshua 4:19).
How Did We Get Here? (1:6-46)
Moses will recount how all of this started and why they are where they are in chapters 1-4. But we should not be bored by this because Moses is not recounting history. Moses is going to tell what happened in a way to teach the people some critical principles about following the Lord. Notice where Moses starts Israel’s history lesson. In verse 6 Moses starts at the mountain of the Lord, Sinai, and not Egypt. Moses does not start with the exodus or the Passover but with the mountain. God comes and tells the people that it is time take the land promised to them (1:8).
Moses then notes that God has been in the process of fulfilling his promises. In verse 10 Moses declares that God had made them as numerous as the stars of heaven, which is what God promised to Abraham in Genesis 15:5. But there is more that lies ahead as Moses prays that God would make them a thousand times as many “as he has promised you.” God’s promise was even bigger than what they were presently experiencing. The promise was that they would be a thousand times more than they were. God is keeping his promises.
Notice the description of the wilderness in 1:19. Moses says that they went through “all that great and terrifying wilderness that you saw.” The wilderness was not a stroll in the park. It is a difficult journey full of tests and trials. There is nothing simple about traveling through the wilderness. But God brought them there and told them to take possession of the land God is giving them (1:20-21). “Do not fear or be dismayed.” God just tells them to take the land because he would give it to them. But look at the response of the people in verse 22. They asked to explore the land first to know which way to go up against the cities. We were not told this in Numbers but the spying of the land was not God’s plan but part of the people’s unbelief. This would turn out to be a disastrous decision. According to Numbers 13:1-2 God told them to go spy out the land but the original desire came from the people.
The spies returned with the news that the land is a good land that God is giving (1:25). Look at verse 26. “Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God.” The people complained in their tents and listen to what they said in verse 27. “Because the Lord hated us….” The Lord hates us and brought us out here to destroy us. This is a stunning rebellion and complaining against the Lord. Further, the people were greater and taller and the cities were great and fortified up to heaven (1:28).
Listen to what Moses says he told them as recorded in 1:29-31. First, do not be afraid of them. Second, the Lord will fight for you like he did for you in Egypt and in the wilderness when he carried you like a man carries his son. There is no reason to fear because God goes with you. He carried you compassionately. But the people did not trust or believe in the Lord (1:32) even though God went before them day and night to show them the way. Notice what the basis of their faith was supposed to be: the people were to see what God had done for them in the past. God fought for you in the past. God carried you through the wilderness. God led you with a cloud and with fire to where you should go. You have seen what God has done. Have faith in the Lord! But they did not believe in the Lord.
Because the people refused to believe in the Lord, the Lord swore that none of the generation would see the good land he was going to give (1:34-35). None of them except Caleb “because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly” (1:36). Caleb is the example of what God wants. Follow the Lord completely. Follow the Lord with all your heart. Caleb believed in the Lord.
Moses points out in verse 37 that even he was not going to go into the land because of them. People can be a stumbling block to others and cause rebellion. The spies were a stumbling block to the nation causing them to rebel. The people were a stumbling block to Moses with all their complaining causing him to rebel. Yet still they are responsible for their own rebellion and were not allowed to enter the land. Joshua will enter the land (1:38) and the children will enter the land (1:39). Moses’ point is that the only reason this generation was going to enter the land is because God made a promise to their parents that this is what he would do.
As an aside, I would like to note that God says that those were under 20 years and did not experience God’s wrath in the wilderness was because they did not have a knowledge of good or evil. I do not want to make a big case out of this. But what I want to state is that we need to slow down and reconsider the baptism of children that is going on. We need to really think about what we are doing with our kids when they are not yet even teenagers. God does not state an absolute age of accountability. But we should take note of how God perceived those who were under 20 years old and why they did not perish in the wilderness.
Verses 41-44 describe the rebellion of the people even further. After failing to go up and take the land and God declares they will die in the wilderness, the people rebel against the Lord again by trying to now go up and take the land. This smacks of everything that God hates. The people did not listen to God and the people trusted in their own might to take the land.
So what is Moses doing as he introduces this sermon? The children knew this history. The children knew what happened to their parents. They know why they are in the wilderness. Moses is preparing this people for taking the land. If you are going to possess the land there is a critical characteristic you must have. To leave the wilderness and enjoy the promised land you must have faith. You must have unwavering faith. There are three aspects that Moses hits in this sermon about what unwavering faith looks like.
First, faith does not look to self. Unwavering faith never depends on self. Faith cannot look to self because then it will waver. Failures in faith happen when we look for our own deliverance and look to ourselves for our own hope. Israel failed because they did not look at life with the lens of what God will do for them but what they had to do for themselves. Looking to our own power will always be a spiritual failure. Moses told the people to see what God had already done for them and not consider what they think they can do for themselves. How often we forget all that God has done for us! How often we forget to remember the countless times God has helped us and delivered us through this life? How often we forget to look back at our deliverance at the cross of Jesus to see the love God has for us! Faith looks to God and do not look at self.
Second, faith does not listen to the crowd. Unwavering faith does not listen to what everyone else is saying. The failure of Israel was to listen to the masses rather than pressing forward in their faith. We cannot be so concerned with what other think about the faith we have. Remember the parents of the blind man who Jesus healed. They would not confess Jesus because they were afraid of what the Jews would do to them. Paul says in Romans 2:28 that the true person of God finds his praise from God and not from people. Listening to unspiritual people brings spiritual disaster. Following the worldly crowd will keep us out of the promised land. Why is Caleb designated as different from the rest of that generation? He is different because he followed the Lord with all his heart, not others. His whole life was concerned with God. The will of God is what moved every decision he made. God praises him for that heart because that heart develops unwavering faith.
Finally, faith does not freeze under the fear from what lies ahead. Unwavering faith does not dissolve under fear of the future. This is the essence of true faith. It is not faith if we do not believe that God is going to carry us through whatever circumstance we face. We may say we have faith but we do not believe what God will do. You see that Israel was afraid of the future because they did not believe God would act for them again. Yes, God did all these wonderful acts for us in the past. Yet they did not believe God will continue to lead them and give them what he had promised. Listen to the words of Deuteronomy 1:31 again. “You have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.” We have also seen the same in our lives.
Allow me to end with the warning that is seen in this first chapter. Wavering faith encourages others to waver in their faith. Israel fell in the wilderness under the wavering faith of the spies. Moses fell under the wavering faith of the people. Our rebellion encourages others to rebellion. We must think about how our faith or our lack of faith causes changes for the good or for the bad in the lives of others. Unwavering faith always looks to God no matter what is being experienced in life. Our lack of faith brings a lot of unnecessary pains and hurts to our lives.