Sermon by Tony Hobbs – 29th April 2018
The nature of the book of Deuteronomy
Its setting is the end of the Israelites’ time in the Wilderness, as they are about to enter the Promised Land.
The book of Deuteronomy is about looking back and looking forward.
Moses makes the people look back at two things in particular: their disobedience and God’s faithfulness.
Moses encourages them to look forward: learning from their past mistakes and continuing to trust God’s faithfulness – even when things get tough.
In Deuteronomy we discover the people are given reminders of God’s Law and the blessings that come from walking in His ways.
Some of the reminders are for the whole nation.
Some are for families.
Some are for individuals.
The point is that the people are encouraged to keep the Lord and His ways the centre of their attention; their daily priority.
The people are also given motivations to follow the Lord, as well of warnings of the consequences if they’d don’t.
A spectacular symbol of all this is essentially a piece of theatre: 6 of the tribes on Mt. Gerizim symbolising blessings, and 6 tribes on Mt. Ebal symbolising curses.
These mountains are presumably chosen because they are at the centre of the Promised Land, and form a natural amphitheatre.
God wants His people to remember the importance of making good choices!
INTO A NEW SITUATION WITH THE LORD
The historical setting of Deuteronomy
The setting of the book of Deuteronomy is at the end of the Israelites’ time in the Wilderness and on the eve of their entry into the Promised Land.
40 years after their redemption from Egypt, when God entered into a formal covenant with them, including giving them the Law and Mount Sinai …
… Moses reminds them of what they’ve been through: how God has been with them, both in their times of obedience and disobedience …
… Moses repeats and interprets the Law, helping them to understand it. Especially with regard to the new situation into which God is leading them.
The essence of the message
Deuteronomy contains quite a lot of material that can be hard work to understand! Especially how if applies to us today. But the core message of Deuteronomy is easy enough to grasp:
If the people listen to God, obey what He says, walk in His ways, then they will experience blessings beyond their wildest dreams!
But if they do not obey God, then life will get tougher and tougher, and they will experience the things of their nightmares.
This isn’t so much reward and punishment, but the principle that true blessings are found only in following the Lord.
Principles and specifics
It is important that we don’t try and apply the content of such passages to our situation in a simplistic or unthinking manner.
The PRINCIPLES of the passages are unchanging and do apply to us directly.
But the OUTWORKINGS of these types of passage isn’t always so clear. They are specifics about the children of Israel in the Promised Land under the old covenant, so may not apply to us in the same way.
Whereas the outworkings for the Israelites were physical, under the new covenant the blessings are more often spiritual.
We remember that Jesus totally obeyed the Father but became cursed for our sake (Galatians 3:13).
So we focus on 3 principles
1. THAT EVERYONE IS GIVEN A CLEAR CHOICE: LIFE AND BLESSINGS OR DEATH AND DESTRUCTION.
This may seem like a ‘no-brainer!’! But the point is that the choice of life and blessings needs to be a deliberate choice to commit to loving God and following Him.
Failure to commit to following God is to choose, by default, death and destruction.
True life and blessings and to be found only in active relationship with God.
We remember here Jesus’ words: I am the way, the truth and life.’
2. WHAT IT MEANS TO BE IN AN ACTIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD IS EASY TO UNDERSTAND. IT IS NOTHING MORE COMPLEX THAN PAYING ATTENTION TO WHAT HE SAYS AND DOING IT.
We may be called to do difficult things, but that’s about following Him once we have the relationship. The relationship is not founded on such things. And we have God’s power and strength to take us through the difficulties – as the Israelites had learnt, and would learn again.
Paul quotes from this passage in Romans 10, using it to show that entering into relationship with Jesus is easy – even if following Him can sometimes be tough!
3. THAT TO EXPERIENCE THE PRIMARY BLESSINGS THAT GOD HAS FOR US WE MUST BE IN ACTIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM.
It is true that people who do not know the Lord may still benefit from aspects of God’s provision –
– but the Lord’s desire is for all people to experience the blessing of being in an eternal relationship with Him.
This requires choice.
Changing times – but the most important factor remains the same
At a time of new challenges and new responsibilities it may seem tough that the Israelites have to deal with major change in their corporate and individual lives.
But they need to learn that their ultimate trust must be in God, and that He does not change.
Fulfillment of promise but change ahead
The entry into the Promised Land is the fulfillment of God’s promise, and thus a time of blessing, but it will also involve responsibilities and major change.
For 40 years God has provided food, water and met the Israelites’ material needs in special, miraculous, ways.
God will still provide, but differently. The change will be radical.
For as long as anyone can remember Moses has been the leader. That will change and the Israelites will go into a new situation under new leadership.
As they seek to meet the responsibilities God has given them, they have to do so while dealing with these major changes.
Despite these clear warnings, the Israelites often got distracted from following the Lord and drifted to wrong and sinful practices. God kept trying to encourage them to repent and return to following Him.
Going into new situations is a time of spiritual opportunity and risk.
For example, we have the opportunity of discovering more of the Lord as we deal with change.
But it’s also a danger time for regret, and moaning about things having changed.
One of the dangerous idols lurking, is the idol of familiarity.
There is no promise that choosing life – following the One who is LIFE – is to choose an easy and carefree way of living!
We must learn to recognise what God defines as blessings, not what we think of as blessings.
One aspect of choosing life is to look forward and embrace the new that the Lord has for us, not regretting the loss of the old.
As we learn to crush the idol of the familiar we’ll discover more of the One who, when talking about ultimate change, says: Behold! I am making all things new. (Revelation 21:5.)