Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. I’m not coming with you, but I’ll be with you when you get there. That’s the sentiment I believe Moses feels when he tells the Israelites he won’t make it to the Promised Land. Obedient faith is his hope for the Israelites as he reminds them of the Ten Commandments. He reminds them of the Decalogue and the faithfulness of God. They have wandered in the wilderness for forty years. The old generation has died out and the new generation is poised to invade the land of Canaan. In this text Moses writes about the same events studied last week but from a different perspective. This text is forty years later with the Israelites poised east of the Jordan River. Moses knows he won’t make it into the Promised Land. Soon Moses also would be dead. At this point in Moses’ life he shares with the Israelites his most valuable possession – he reiterates the statutes and ordinances God had given him. Moses gives them the culmination of his life’s work, the very best he has – the word of God. As he looks back on his life he stresses once again how important it is for the Israelites to obey the commands of God. He reminds them of the 24,000 Israelites who died because of unfaithfulness and they know for themselves that their parents and forbears all died in the wilderness. Moses wants them to live and occupy the land. He knows that faithfulness and obedience is the key. As we continue in the theme of responding to God’s faithfulness, this week I focus on faithful Moses preparing the Israelites for obedient faith. Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:
Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Pentateuch. Moses is credited as its author although it’s ending chapter writes about the death of Moses. Since Moses couldn’t have written about his own death scholars believe his lieutenant, Joshua penned the final chapter. The Israelites have wandered in the desert for forty years and they are now awaiting the invasion of the Promised Land of Canaan. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that the name Deuteronomy is the Greek translation of the Hebrew words used in Deuteronomy 17:18 for “a second law” or a “copy of the law” given to Israel at Mount Sinai, called Mount Horeb in Deuteronomy”. So the first law to which Deuteronomy will refer is the Ten Commandments which are also known as the Decalogue.
Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that “the New Testament quotes Deuteronomy more than eighty times. Jesus often quoted Deuteronomy and when asked to name the most important law, Jesus responded with “you shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all you soul, and with all you mind”” which comes from Deuteronomy 6:5.
The NISB notes that “the central themes of Deuteronomy focus on the nature and unique status of Israel as a nation. One nation, living under one law, and settled on one land are its major goals. Undergirding the one nation, one law, and one land theme is the realization that there is “only one God who has chosen Israel to be a special people” with which God makes a covenant.
Chapters one and two tell us that forty years have passed since Moses led Israel as an enslaved group of Hebrews out of Egypt and recount the story of Israel’s refusal to enter the Promised Land. They recount the penalty for Israel’s rebellion, the desert years, and Moses’ view of Canaan from Mount Pisgah after God gives Moses a blistering rebuke declaring that he would never enter the Promised Land.
Among the events Deuteronomy records is this reiteration of the account of the Israelites just before they invade The Promised Land. Deuteronomy retells this story from a perspective that is forty years later. They have traveled through the wilderness all this time and in our text today Moses recounts the instructions God has given them and reminds them of the importance of keeping the commandments. They should readily understand that importance given that all of their parents and forbears died in the desert because of unfaithfulness and disobedience. At this point, Moses reminds them again, so that as the take the land they will not become complacent and forget where the one true God has brought them from. Moses knows that he will not enter the Promised Land with them. He also knows they will face temptation from other gods once they enter the Promised Land. So Moses warns them not to make the mistakes of the past but to go forward and be better than they have been in the past.
Some important words to consider from this text include:
Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week
Last week’s lesson opened at Numbers 14:10 saying; “Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites”. I noted how the Glory of God is defined as “the divine essence of God as absolutely resplendent and ultimately great”. In other words, God is manifested at the tabernacle or the tent of meeting in a way that all the Israelites recognize as God.
In verse eleven the LORD spoke to Moses. The LORD questioned “how long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them”? God was angry with the Israelites. They demonstrated that they despised God and refused to believe in God despite God delivering them from the Egyptians, despite God allowing them to cross the Red Sea, despite God giving them water to drink and bread and meat to eat. Despite all of this the Israelites were faithless and God had had enough.
Verse twelve showed just how angry God was. God said “I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they”. I noted that to disinherit is to completely walk away from. It brings to mind the idea that you don’t even want to see them anymore. God was ready to disinherit the people whom he promised Abraham would become a great nation and would number as many as the sand of the sea. I also noted that at this point you get the idea that God wants nothing more to do with this unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people. God was fed up with the Israelites. In the same way God promised Abraham to make of him a great nation, now God tells Moses that God will make a great nation of him.
In verse thirteen Moses skillfully began his advocacy for the Israelites. Moses like a skillful lawyer defending a client pleads his case with God. He begins by telling God the Egyptians will hear of it. God had taken great care to deliver the descendants of Abraham from the Egyptians.
In verse fourteen Moses continued defending the Israelites telling God the Egyptians will tell the people of Canaan that their God was in the midst of them, seen face to face by them, and was with them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Moses was making the point to God that God has been present in their deliverance and that if they are abandoned or destroyed now it will be seen as if God could not keep them. The point Moses was making was that these were God’s people. If the rest of the world sees them as defeated and wiped out it would reflect on God.
In verses fifteen and sixteen Moses pressed his point to God. He told God “if you kill this people all at once the nations who have heard about you will say it’s because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them”. I noted that Moses was playing hard-ball with God. He pulled no punches. Moses was going to defend the Israelites with everything at his disposal. You need to get somebody like Moses on your side. Moses went to bat for those unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people with all of their faults and all of their failures.
In verses seventeen and eighteen Moses went as far as to remind God of what God said to him in the past. Moses quotes back to God what God said in Exodus 34:1-9. Moses reminded God that God should be slow to anger and abounding in love. He reminded God that God does not clear the guilty but visits upon them the iniquity of the parents upon the children for the third and fourth generations.
In verses nineteen and twenty Moses asked God to forgive the iniquity of the Israelites because of the greatness of God’s love. After hearing this passionate plea from Moses God relented. God changed God’s mind and said “I do forgive, just as you have asked”. It was the passionate plea of Moses that changed God’s mind. Where God was ready to completely wipe out this nation, God was now ready to forgive only because Moses pleaded on their behalf. I noted that it would be great if we all had a Moses to plead on our behalf. Because the good news is that we do. Jesus is seated at the right hand of God making intercession for us even now. Standard, Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson Obedient Faith. The scripture text comes from Deuteronomy 4:1-8, 12-13.
What Takes Place in This Passage
This week’s lesson covers the same events of last week but from a different perspective. It was now forty years later. The focus is to understand that God expected Israel’s obedience. Moses knows that he will not enter the Promised Land. There will be new leadership and he is now driving home the importance of obeying God. The old generation has died out. The new generation is about to see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.
In verse one, Moses opens with an admonition to heed the statutes and ordinances that he was teaching. He says “so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God your ancestors, is giving you”. Moses knows and all of Israel should know that the old generation died in the wilderness because they were not faithful and obedient to God. Moses reminds them “so that you may live”.
In verse two Moses warns the Israelites not to add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it. This same idea is echoed in Revelations 22:18-19. The NISB notes that “the comprehensive nature of God’s law did not rule out additions to its written text. See Deuteronomy 1:5 where Moses expounds on earlier laws. The written law could receive clarification and revision but its fundamental truth as God’s covenant law would remain unchanged”.
In verse three Moses reminds them of what God did to those who followed the Baal of Peor. Baal is another name for a god. The Baal of Peor mentioned here “involved sexual relations with the women of Moab (numbers 25:1-5) that were encouraged by the worship of the god Baal at the local sanctuary. False worship led to betrayal of family ties, and the actions are seen as bringing about the evil consequences and plague that followed” (NISB). Townsend Commentary notes that 24,000 Israelites died because of unfaithfulness.
In verse four Moses makes the stark contrast between faithfulness and unfaithfulness. He tells them “those of you who held fast to the LORD your God are all alive today. This is a reminder that unfaithfulness leads to death. Their parents and forbears have died because of unfaithfulness.
In verse five Moses tells the Israelites he is following instruction from God. He is teaching them to observe statutes and ordinances to observe in the land. Moses knows they will face temptation to stray away from God just as their parents and forebears did in the wilderness.
In verse six he presses the point to follow them diligently. Then he adds that following these statutes and ordinances diligently will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples who when they hear them will say “surely this is a great nation of wise and discerning people”. Moses expects the neighboring nations to admire the Israelites. However the Israelites will show soon enough that Moses’ faith in the people was often misplaced.
Verses seven and eight show how much hope and trust Moses placed in the Israelites. Moses imagines other nations saying “what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him”? Moses knows he won’t enter the Promised Land. He knows things will soon be out of his control. These laws, these statutes and ordinances that God had given him are his greatest possession. These are the statutes and ordinances that he has worked on across the years. Theses statutes and ordinances, these laws are his most valuable possession and the very best he has to offer to a people who will soon stray from the very God who Moses has so diligently served.
In verses twelve and thirteen Moses reminds the Israelites of the power, majesty, and grandeur of the God of their covenant. He reminds them how God spoke to them out of the fire. And he reminds them that it wasn’t just him coming up with these laws all on his own. These laws came from God. They weren’t just laws to follow but more so they were the covenant between them and God. In these Ten Commandments they would understand their “duties and responsibilities toward God and their fellow human beings” (NISB). These Ten Commandments may have been written 3,400 years ago but they are still relevant today. In them we begin to understand how to relate to God and each other.
There will be consequences and repercussions. That’s what happened to the Israelites because of their unfaithfulness and rebellion. Consequences are the effect, result, or outcome of something occurring earlier. In this case what occurred earlier was the rebellion of the Israelites in the wilderness. The consequence was a severe penalty. The old generation died in the wilderness and would never see the Promised Land.
There are consequences and repercussion in our lives as well. You reap what you sow. If you are sowing love, grace, and righteousness you will reap the same. Those are the consequences and repercussion I want in my life.
Key Characters in the text:
Moses – The first great leader of the Hebrew people, regarded by some as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament. Moses is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for his daring leadership and diplomacy as well as his promulgation of the divine law (Townsend).
Decalogue – The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), which express the will and law of God and deal with relations between humans and God as well as of humans with each other.
Covenant – A formal agreement or treaty between two parties that establish a relationship and in which obligations and mutual responsibilities may be enacted. Many biblical covenants are found, some providing only divine promises while others entail obligations.
Faithfulness – The characteristic of being steadfastly loyal to a person or to promises. Theologically, it is a basic description of God who is perfectly faithful to all that God promises, in contrast to sinful humans who are unfaithful in their relationships and actions.
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:
1. Faithful until the end (Moses).
2. I’m not coming with you, but I’ll see you when you get there.
1. The Israelites worshiped Baal of Peor and the resulting plague killed 24,000. Why did the Israelites so easily fall into worshiping other gods?
2. Are there ways in which we worship other gods today?
Moses is approaching the end of his life. I suppose the equivalent of his last will and testament would be the statutes and ordinances God had given him across the years. As he prepares the Israelites for new leadership he passes on the very best he has and I believe his most valuable possession. Some people might argue otherwise but for many our most valuable possession is a life lived well in obedience to God.
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:
Next week’s lesson remains in the Old Testament moving to the book of 1 Kings. I discuss how a widow in a terrible situation is about to prepare her last meal for her and her son, and as she said, to eat it and die. The man of God asks her to feed him first. She follows the instructions of Elijah and God blesses her for her faithfulness. As we continue in the theme of responses to God’s faithfulness I show next week how God moved in miraculous ways. Next week’s lesson is titled “Blessed for Faithfulness”.