Through the Bible, February 23

Reading: Deuteronomy 5-8

Summary: So much about today’s reading demands our attention:

The Ten Commandments are repeated (chapter 5) as would be expected in the giving of the “second law”. The “Greatest Command” is found in 6:4-5. The three passages Jesus used to combat the temptations of Satan in the wilderness are found in this reading (6:13, 16; 8:3).

The weight of importance of Moses’ task in calling these people–whom he will soon see no longer–to faithfulness is nowhere any more evident.

Devotional Thought:

God’s Offer

I want what God has to offer.

Is that a bad thing?  Is it selfish or wrong to think that way?

Surely we don’t think so.  God has gone to great lengths to make available His blessings to me and you.  It is accessible to the exclusion of no one.

But how and why might I expect to receive it?

Moses’ words to Israel as they readied themselves to receive what God had to offer them (the promised land) are helpful to us.

We should not expect it because we are deserving of it.

Moses wanted to be sure Israel understood this (see Deut. 7:7-8).  God did not love them because they were so deserving or lovable.  Rather it was because of who He was.

We are the recipients of God’s love due to no merit of our own, and especially not in response to our love for Him (1 John 4:10).  As a matter of fact, His love is shown to the evil and ungrateful, to His very enemies (Luke 6:35; Rom. 5:8, 10).  Make no mistake; that is us in sin.

We should expect that God anticipates our submission to His will, that is, our obedience.

Back to Moses again:

“Oh that hey had such a mind as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might to well with them” (Deut. 5:29). “And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you” (Deut. 6:18). “And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful t do all this commandment before the lord our God” (Deut. 6:25). “Know therefore that the Lord you God is God, the faithful God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (Deut. 7:9).

Not that our obedience ever puts God at any obligation to bless us in any way.  Read the previous sentence again; and again, if necessary.  Rather, we obey because of what God has done for us and what He does offer.

Our salvation is not ever deserved, that’s what makes it grace.  But that grace does not make obedience unnecessary, as a matter of fact its the very thing that moves us to obey.

“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).

I want what God has to offer.

Through the Bible, February 22

Reading: Deuteronomy 1:1-2:25; 3:23-4:40

Summary: Moses begins by recounting the events since leaving Mt. Sinai (note that he here refers to it as “Horeb”), the failure at Kadesh-Barnea, and forty years wandering. He marks the “official” end of the punishment of wandering as their crossing the boarder into Moab at Ar (Deut. 2:16-18).

The account tells the victory over two kings of this region–Sihon and Og–which we will not read (2:26-3:22).

Deuteronomy 4 has to stand out as one of the great chapters of the Bible.  Among many other things, God is shown to us as both “a consuming fire” and “a compassionate God” (vv. 24, 31).  This chapter is worthy not only of our reading, but much thought, study, and meditation.

Devotional Thought:

Carried

Have you ever carried a child?  Probably. Why do that?

The reasons could be many.  The child cannot walk and is unable to effectively move from one place to another.  That’s common.

Maybe the child just isn’t strong enough to walk very far or fast enough to keep up.  That happens too.

It may be for safety purposes in a crowded, busy location or maybe where at least a potential for some harm exists.  We hold the child to protect them.

But, sometimes children are held simply for the desire for closeness.  It’s a bonding time.  Physical nearness helps develop emotional ties.

Those are all good, legitimate reasons to carry a child.

With that in mind, think about how Moses describes God’s actions with Israel in the wilderness: “…and in the wilderness, where 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” (Deut. 1:31).

What a picture.  Can you see yourself in it?

God carries us.  He does so for all the very same reasons we would carry a child; when we cannot walk or are not strong enough to “keep up,” to protect us from danger and harm, and be near to us, because He loves and cares so much for us.

Though the picture is slightly changed, the lovely notion is not: “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom” (Isa. 40:11).

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1).

Through the Bible, Week 4 Introduction

Week 4: Preparations to Enter Canaan

February 22-28

            Forty years of wilderness wandering are over. The time from Egypt to this place has been long, but the distance is not.  It took three months to get from Egypt to Sinai and less than that from Sinai to Kadesh, with a year’s stop at the holy mountain.  That’s less than one and half years.  But it has been over 40 years.

These are now a different people than had been at Sinai and received the Law from Moses.  Those had all died in the wilderness.  These had all been under 20 years of age at Sinai or born since then.

They needed to hear again the statutes, conditions, commands and requirements of the Law.  That’s what the book of Deuteronomy is all about.  That’s even what the name means: “second law”.  Not an additional one, but a restatement of the same one–yet far from a mechanical repetition of the same information.

The book is actually organized around three speeches given by Moses beginning in 1:5; 5:1; and 29:1.

One of the greatest values of Deuteronomy is to consider it as the message of Moses preparing these people to inherit the long awaited promised land, in light of the experiences of the past 40 years.  As one might imagine Moses’ appeals are impassioned, especially since he knows he won’t be accompanying them across the Jordan.

Our readings this week will not include the portions that repeat specific laws and regulations, the bulk of which are found in chapters 13-26.  Some of the readings, though (particularly on the 22nd to the 24th), are a bit longer than typical.

Through the Bible, February 21

Reading: No scheduled reading

Thought and Reflection: Today is the catch up day for the week of February 15-21 so no reading is scheduled.  Below, though, are some thoughts prompted by this past week’s reading.

  1. When Paul warned the Corinthian church against spiritually harmful behaviors (1 Cor. 10), he appealed to Israel’s wilderness experience to show Christians what not to do. He specifically mentions the events recorded in Numbers 21 and 25, as well as others (1 Cor. 10:7-10).  That discussion closes with the reassuring promise, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may endure it” (v. 13).
  2. Sin carries guilt and sin carries consequences. Those aren’t always the same thing.  When the people sinned at Kadesh in following the 10 unfaithful spies, Moses interceded for the people, asking God to forgive.  And God did forgive (Num. 14:20).  Still, they must suffer the consequences for that sin, which God determined would be that they would not enter the Promised Land.  We may be forgiven of sin and still suffer its consequences.
  3. Not included in our reading this week, but rather interesting, is Numbers 33. In it is listed every place the Israelites camped in the wilderness from leaving Egypt to the plains of Moab next to Jordan just prior to crossing into Canaan.

Devotional Thought:

It’s Not Enough

Do you attend worship services regularly?  Good.

Do you read your Bible and pray with any frequency at all?  That’s good.

Are you part of a fellowship of Christians, a church family, where you have encouraging friendships and associations with people of like faith?  I do hope so.

Do you live among people who, though they may have differing religious views, still have respect for God, Jesus as His Son, and the Bible as His word?   What a blessing.

Do you have a family that supports and encourages and perhaps even shares your faith?   That’s a plus.

We may feel–and it may well be true–that we have a wonderful support network, a safety net if you will, that helps to hold us up spiritually and to catch us if we might fall.

But…

The Bible warns us not to get too comfortable in all of that.

As a warning Scripture uses the experiences of the children of Israel in the wilderness.  They were afforded great and numerous spiritual blessings and advantages (see 1 Cor. 10:1-4).  “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (v. 5).

After recounting several of these events (vv. 6-11; most of which we’ve read this past week), Paul says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (v. 12).

Christian family and friends, a church family and fellowship, spiritual practices and habits are all good, admirable and enviable even.  But they are no guarantee.  And certainly they can never be made the foundation of our faith.  They serve well to support and encourage, but the bedrock of it all is our relationship with God through Jesus.  It’s my trust and confidence that lies solely with Him.

Nurture, guard, protect, feed, foster, cultivate, strengthen and stimulate that relationship.  Nothing can substitute for that.

Through the Bible, February 20

Reading: Numbers 26:1-4, 63-65; 27:15-23; 32

Summary: Wandering Officially Ends

Previously at Mt. Sinai God had Moses conduct a census of the people. It counted males 20 years old and over of all the tribes (except Levi).  Now after the plague at Peor, God instructs a second census to be taken.  This census confirmed that all of the unfaithful generation who had sinned at Kadesh had indeed died in the wilderness.  The punishment was complete.

Several events begin to play out that look toward the entrance into the Promised Land.  These include the selection of Joshua as Moses’ successor and a special request from two of the tribes.

Devotional Thought:

Outlive Yourself

That’s a nifty little trick, isn’t it? It isn’t living longer than you could or should, but making sure your influence and that to which you have dedicated yourself outlives you.

So how does that work?

Two ways: First, by dedicating yourself to something bigger than you.  If your life is all about getting what you want, satisfying self, and aligning all of life’s circumstance to your liking then you’ve set your sights way too low.  As a matter of fact, a more unworthy pursuit of life would be hard to find.

Here’s the best advice I can offer–and it’s not even mine: “But above all pursue his kingdom  and righteousness” (Matt. 6:33; NET).  No bigger, better, or higher pursuit could be found for anyone’s life.

Second, help someone else along that same path.  Some people call it mentoring.  Call it what you will, it’s about doing what you can to make sure there is at least one person who will continue pursuing the purpose and goal of your life.  And so, you outlive yourself.

Moses’ concern, knowing that his time was limited, was that the Lord’s people “not be as sheep that have no shepherd” (Num. 27:17).  The needs of the Lord’s people would outlive him.

God’s answer was Joshua.  He would immediately be designated as a leader like Moses.  He would receive the Lord’s commands and would himself lead them out and bring them in.

This principle is not only applicable to designated, recognized, “out-front” leaders.  In what capacities do you specifically serve God as you pursue his kingdom and righteousness?  Bible class teacher, parent, friend, ministry leader, business man or woman, community volunteer, a specific professional career?

That list is virtually endless, but it’s important to identify what you are doing.  And then, ask, “Who is my Joshua?”  If you don’t have one, find one.

Through the Bible, February 19

Read: Numbers 22-25

Summary: Balaam

No more curious figure and odd events are found in the Bible than those related in connection with Balaam.  Here was a man not even from among the Israelites, yet in communication with God, hired by a scared king to bring calamity on this massive horde of people traveling toward his home, who carries on a conversation with his donkey, and who fails miserably in his stated intention to die a righteous man.

It’s not until later that we learn of Balaam’s role in Israel’s sin at Peor and his death by the sword of Israel (Num. 31:8, 16).

Devotional Thought:

Balaam’s Cat

The options are numerous relative to removing a feline’s hide.  In other words, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

King Balak preferred the direct approach.

His problem was an imposing and approaching mass of Israelites (headed for their promised land) who had already defeated the kingdoms of Arad, Amor, and Bashan (Num. 21).  He did not want Moab to be next.

Seeing these other king’s failures on the battlefield, he decided on a spiritual approach.  He hired the services of the one man whose reputation was that of being a man of great spiritual capacity and influence (Num. 22:6).  This man, he believed, could influence Israel’s God to curse them.

But no, he could not, and Balaam knew that.

But the king had offered such an enticing ransom that he determined to find a way to accomplish Balak’s desire but not by doing it Balak’s way.

Somehow, by “Balaam’s advice” Israel “began to whore with the daughters of Moab” and offer sacrifices to their gods (Num. 31:16; 25:1-2).  This grave sin brought God’s wrath on Israel (see Num. 25:3-9).  Balak’s objective was reached (even though Moab was not saved) though Balaam found a different way to skin that cat.

The direct approach doesn’t always works.

Satan knows that and he also knows we tend to think that as long as we don’t renounce God, then all is good.  Satan prefers a more subtle, indirect method of removing this feline’s hide.

He well knows that friendship with the world is enough to make us God’s enemy (Jas. 4:4).  Consequently his efforts are directed at fostering that relationship in us, a much more likely prospect than our renouncing God.  But in the end the results are same result.

Through the Bible, February 18

Read: Numbers 20-21

Summary: Wandering Nears Its End

Relatively few details are given concerning the events of the 40 years of wandering.  Remember that punishment didn’t begin until following the incident with the twelve spies (Num. 13-14).   Though few in number, some important things do happen: Moses’ sin that will prevent his entrance into the promised land, the fiery serpents (to which the New Testament twice refers–1 Cor. 10:9; John 3:14), and the deaths of Moses’ siblings, Miriam and Aaron.

Devotional Thought:

Don’t Be Angry

Moses led Israel to the promised land, just not into the promised land.  That might seem too harsh a punishment for his brief indiscretion at Meribah (Num. 20:2-13).

Regardless of how we might feel about it, God thought otherwise.

God appears to be making an emphatic point.  Moses’ big mistake at Meribah, according to God, was that he did not “treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel” (Num. 20:12; NASB).  That sounds very similar to God’s words to Aaron after his sons, Nadab and Abihu, were consumed by fire from the Lord while acting as priests.  “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored” (Lev. 10:3; NASB).

In both instances failure to carefully follow God’s will by leaders was a failure to show God to be holy.  That, God will not tolerate.

Further, Moses’ actions were prompted when the people “aroused his temper, and he spoke rashly” (Psalm 106:33; NET).

Our anger rarely serves God’s purpose.  “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be…slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:19-20).

“Anger issues” are more than an emotional blip or a social faux pas.  Our anger runs counter to the righteousness of God.  Moses paid an awful price when he failed to control his own spirit at Meribah.  Whatever price our anger might exact, will be too much.

Through the Bible; February 17

Read: Numbers 16-17

Summary: Korah’s Rebellion

Has there ever been a greater leader of people among men than Moses?  Yet, his leadership was challenged.  The incident with Korah demonstrates how great leaders are not necessarily popular. Their focus is on what is right and what is needed, not just what people want.

This rebellion and its aftermath show that not only is Moses God’s choice of leader, but how challenging it is for people–even His own people–to do His will and follow Him.

Devotional Thought:

Parenting Tips From Moses

Being well liked, and being a good leader rarely mix.

The gap between being popular and doing what is right and best from a leadership position can be miles wide; many miles.

Being well liked usually is achieved by providing for others what they want.  Many political positions are filled solely on the basis of promises to do just that.  That’s why our government suffers a persistent leadership crisis.  We could sure use some unpopular leaders.

We need look no further than Moses for proof of this fact.

Look closely at the incident with Korah.  He was not a rabble-rousing ne’r-do-well.  He and those with him were respectable and respected men. Their sympathizers were many.  Even after God acted dramatically and definitively–the earth opening up and swallowing these men, their families, and all their possessions–the people still grumbled against Moses’ leadership (Num. 16:41-42).

Being a good leader does not necessarily equate with being well liked.

Parents please take note.  Being a parent is being a leader for your children.  To make being liked by your child a priority in your relationship with them is a mistake, a huge mistake.  And fearing that you may not be liked for a decision your make on their behalf is about the worst possible motivation.

That is not to say you cannot have a close and loving relationship with them.  Far from it.  But to believe that child is going to know what is really best and is always going to like and appreciate the decisions you make is utter foolishness.  So why let their wishes and desires and wants be the final say in what happens?

Be the leader.  Be the parent.  Be willing to be unpopular.

Had Moses been motivated by the desire to be popular and well liked, he would never, ever have become an admired, loved and respected leader.

Parents, please take not.

Through the Bible, February 17

Read: Numbers 13-14

Summary: The Twelve Spies

Along with the sin of the golden calf at Mt. Sinai, failure to take the land as God commanded and being persuaded by the ten unfaithful spies are the two signature failures of the people in the wilderness.  On both of these occasions God considered exterminating the whole nation and raising up another after Moses (Ex. 32:10; Num. 14:12).

Amazing isn’t it?  They were prepared, after all they had experienced and witnessed, to select a leader other than Moses who would take them back to Egypt!  Nowhere else is Moses’ role as mediator demanded more than now as God’s wrath burns against unfaithful Israel.  He does forgive them, but their punishment is severe.

Devotional Thought:

To Know, or Not

To know, or not to know?

Yes, Shakespeare has Hamlet asserting that “being” or “not being” is the question. Perhaps.  Sometimes, though, it is whether to know or not know.

Have you ever wondered why God told Moses to send men to spy out the land of Canaan (Num. 13:1-2)?  It certainly wasn’t for God’s benefit.  And what good did it do for them to know how strong and numerous these natives were?  Would not knowing have been better?

The knowledge gained by this dozen agents of espionage proved damning in the hands of 83% of them.

Four decades later, the children and grandchildren of these same people also stood on the brink of this land promised to Abraham’s heirs, but they did what their parents would not do.

Why the difference?  Is it because now the current occupants are no longer strong, entrenched and menacing?  No, they are still “nations greater and mightier than yourselves” (Deut. 4:38).  The information about them has not changed.

God says He did what He did with the people in the wilderness in order to test them and learn what was in their heart (Deut. 8:2).   That’s why the spies were sent.  The knowledge they gleaned provided the test for what was in their heart.  They failed.

So: to know or not to know?   What is in our hearts is far more important than what is in our heads.

Two people faced with the same set of circumstances will not respond in the same way.  One may cower in fear while the other rises boldly to meet the challenge.  One may complain of their misfortune while the other thrills at the challenge, knowing they can only become stronger and better with God to help them overcome.

Really, knowing or not knowing is not the question.  Neither is being or not being (sorry, Hamlet). The question is trusting or not trusting.

Through the Bible, February 15

Read: Numbers 9:15-23; 10:11-12:16

Summary: From Mt. Sinai to Kadesh

A lot can happen in a year.  That’s just about how long it’s been since the people of Israel arrived at Mt. Sinai from Egypt–eleven months actually.

Much has been written about their time at Sinai; Exodus 19-40, Leviticus 1-27, and Numbers 1-9.  They are leaving the mountain as a different people than had left Egypt; they now have a law, a religious system complete with priesthood, tabernacle, sacrifices and feasts, and they have a covenant relationship with God.

Finally, it’s time to leave and begin the trek toward the land Jacob and his sons left over 400 years earlier to go down into Egypt.  But, as when they had left Egypt, it doesn’t take long for the problems to commence.

Devotional Thought:

Do You Have It?

To what do you aspire spiritually?

I’m not speaking here about heaven as your ultimate goal.  I pray it is, but I have something else in mind.  What words would you want to be used to describe you?

Think about it.  Be specific.  List them in your mind or even on paper.  I’ve got time–I’ll wait while you think of what those words might be.

Now, does “meek” appear on your list?  If it does, how quickly did it come to mind?  Was it a while after you started and all other “obvious” words were exhausted?

The truth is meekness is not a high priority for us.  It’s almost like an added feature on a new vehicle.  It would be nice to have, but far from necessary, and easily discarded especially if the finances aren’t there.

That’s not God’s way of looking at it.   Being a quality of Christ (2 Cor. 10:1), it is that which evokes God’s blessing (Matt. 5:5), is a necessary requisite to even “receive” God’s word that can save our souls (Jas. 1:21), and stands shoulder to shoulder with readily desirable attributes like compassion, kindness, humility, forgiveness, and even love (Col. 3:12).

And think about Moses.  Here is a man with no equals as a leader, in faithfulness, and in terms of the nearness of his relationship with God (Num. 12:7-8).

And just what is it about Moses that is singled out as that quality he possessed which  exceeded every other person on the face of the earth?  Meekness (Num. 12:3).

Do we need to return to our list of spiritual aspirations and perhaps make an adjustment?