February 28, 2021 Deuteronomy 31-34
Moses has finished his farewell address to the Israelites. Soon he will die...or as scripture tells us, he will be gathered up to his people. After that Joshua will lead the Israelites into the promised land. But Moses had a couple of things left to say. God gave Moses another message, one that brings Moses a measure of sadness and perhaps a bit of anger. We read this in 31:16. The Israelites will indeed cross over into the promised land and shortly thereafter they will prostitute themselves to foreign gods and idols. What we see a prediction of is spiritual adultery and physical immorality. Israel will become entangled in the worship of the Canaanite gods Baal and Asherah. Moses has done all he can to steer the Israelites on the right path and in the right direction. But Israel has a propensity to turn away from the Lord. Despite all they have seen and experienced they are not well grounded in the Lord. Moses even gathered the elders and warned them. He had commissioned Joshua as the Lord had commanded him. He had read the book of the law to the people. He even wrote and sang for them a song of warning; one they were to learn and sing. And it is a long song. Even Martin Luther, who wrote some long songs didn't write one this long! Within this song we see praise and adoration for the Lord. There is history, a reminder of God's provision for His people, and a reminder of the blessings the Lord had given to them. But we also see in this song rejection, consequences, and mention of the evil one along with God's wrath and judgement. There is a flash of vengeance, a reminder that God is sovereign and victory for those who return to the Lord.
Moses encouraged the Israelites to learn the song and teach it to future generations. Verse 47 is a stark reminder of just how serious God is about obedience. Listen to these words. Picture yourself standing in the crowd as Moses and Joshua sing the song. “These are not just words for you...they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” These words are your life! The Word of God is the life of God's people, just as God is our life. God's Word communicates to us the truth about God and His blessings. To receive and obey the Word is to share in the life of God. Jesus reminded us of this when He said, “It is written man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4. And He was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3.
We have come to the end of an era. The time has come for Moses to leave the camp for the last time. He will go alone, no Joshua or Aaron. Only the Lord will go with him. But before he goes, he will bless the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses took on the role of the patriarch of the family, blessing each of his sons. The song Moses sang to the Israelites was a lesson in theology, history, personal and corporate obedience, and some strong warnings. But here, the blessings are filled with mercy and grace. We have already seen the “blessings” Jacob gave to his twelve sons. His blessings revealed their hidden character and exposed sins. Moses begins and ends his blessings with bookends that once again praise the Lord for all he is worth. Moses cannot help himself when he is extolling the greatness of the Lord. He named every tribe in the blessings but Simeon. They would become a part of Judah.
Moses is to be remembered for his faithfulness despite his failure. Scripture describes him as a servant of the Lord, a friend of God, and a man of God. Let's take a quick look at this blessing Moses leaves for the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses begins with a string of verbs that describe God's revelation to the Israelites. We see His awe and glory on full display. God came down to Israel and revealed His covenant to them at Mount Sinai. They saw His pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire every night, a sign that God was always with them. God continued to reveal Himself throughout their wilderness journey. And what made Israel unique and different was their receiving of God's law, meditated through Moses. God had come through a myriad of angels in heaven to meet with sinful Israel simply because He loved His people.
Moses doesn't have much to say about Reuben. They would have a future, but it would not be glorious. They settled to the east of the Jordan and eventually would isolate themselves from the other tribes. For Judah, Moses prayed God would give them adequate strength and military leadership that would give them success in battle. Judah was both a royal tribe...think David and ultimately Jesus...and they were a military tribe. They marched at the front of the army when Israel moved out. Moses prayed for God's guidance to rest upon the Levites who were responsible for judging cases. The Urim and Thummim were God's appointed instruments for deciding guilt or innocence and for guiding His people. The Levites had passed the test when the other tribes failed to believe in the Lord's ability to provide and care for His people. They were loyal to God's Word and covenant. They were to be responsible to teach the people and lead them in worship.
Benjamin was the beloved son of Jacob. The Lord would give him peace and safety and provide him with His own personal protection...the dwelling between His shoulders. It is a beautiful picture. Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh would receive prowess in battle and victory in warfare. Like oxen they would push their enemies away from them. But in keeping with Jacob's blessing the younger son Ephraim would be exalted over the older, hence the numbers for Ephraim being 10,000 vs. Manasseh’s thousand. The tribe of Zebulun would be located by the seas. The sea and its shore would bring prosperity to this tribe. Moses compared Gad’s military role to the power of a ravenous lion. He predicted they would readily join the other tribes in the conquest of Canaan. The tribe of Dan was small...a lion's whelp. Their territory would be close to Judah by the coastal plains, but they would not be able to keep their inheritance because of the hostility of the Philistines. There would come a day when they would migrate to the region of Bashan, south of Mount Hermon.
Moses' blessing on Naphtali reveals they would enjoy God's blessings of abundance. They would inherit the land south and west of the Sea of Galilee. Dipping your foot in oil means the tribe of Asher would receive some of God's richest blessings. The name Asher means blessed. Moses asked that the Lord bless the tribe with many children, the favor of his brothers and great prosperity. Using precious olive oil on your feet would be a mark of wealth and Asher’s territory was blessed with many olive groves.
These are the last word of Moses and they focus on the happiness of God's people because of His blessings. No doubt Moses could picture these people and the many blessings God would give them. Their God is not some idol made of wood or stone or metal. He is the one true LIVING God. He would make His dwelling with them. He would be their God and they would be his people. If only they would be obedient. Moab was where Moses had given Israel an explanation of the law. He led them in the covenant renewal ceremony. The emphasis here isn't so much in Moses' death as it is on the fact that God would not allow Moses into the promised land. He and Aaron had sinned at Kadesh when they did not speak to the rock to get water. Instead, they beat the rock, no doubt out of frustration. But in doing so they were disobedient. Their actions were generated out of the flesh and not the Spirit and they glorified Moses and Aaron instead of God. Moses did not honor God with his actions and for that he was kept out of the promised land. He got close, standing on Mount Nebo. It is about six miles from the border of the promised land. God allowed Moses to see the whole land, north to south, east to west. But he could not enter it.
There were times Moses wanted to quit. The load of the Israelites was too much. But look at what is written about him at the end of this book. There has never been anyone close to being like Moses. The Lord knew him face to face. Normally seeing the Lord was a death sentence but Moses had a unique relationship to the Lord. Moses began his ministry among the Israelites in Egypt with signs and wonders. Jesus began His ministry performing signs and wonders. (Matthew 4:23-25, John 5:46) The mighty works Moses was able to perform came directly from the Lord. And it is with that acknowledgment Deuteronomy comes to a close. Israel is poised to enter the Land God was giving them. They would follow Joshua. His journey as a leader begins tomorrow.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.
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