It’s said that all generalizations are bad, but no one wants to live a life of adequacy. We all want to live a life that means something and leave behind a legacy. But we all face the daily grind. How can you do something great when you have to spend 40+ hours a week being average?
We hear almost daily it seems that we mean nothing. If you think about the science that rules the day, it says everything that came about in this universe is an accident. Beginning with the Big Bang turning nothing into something (and they still can’t explain how that works), to life coming from lifeless compounds, to organisms evolving to become better suited to their environment, it’s all an accident. What does this tell us about life?
It tells us we have no purpose or calling. We might as well live for today because tomorrow doesn’t care. Go ahead, but even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat. That is Satan’s play for us; to make us question what God has done and waste our time thinking we don’t matter.
Moses faced a similar situation. He had started on a trajectory that would have landed him on the moon, but he messed up and spent the middle third of his life quietly watching sheep. I imagine the hours he spent looking up at the stars, wondering why he had thrown everything away in slaying that Egyptian. One moment of anger turned his life upside down. He had been sitting pretty! A member of Egypt’s royal family, imagine what he could have done for the people. But he messed up and spent forty years a wanted man.
When God called him to go back to Egypt, he went. Not willingly at first, but he obeyed. He then spent forty years leading the people from Egypt to the Promised Land because of their lack of faith. A journey of a few months at best turned into a decades-long ordeal.
Near the end of that time, another moment of anger prevented him from entering the Promised Land. However, he learned a hard lesson. Trust God’s purpose. In his final addresses to the people, he begins by making this point.
Turn to Deuteronomy 1. Deuteronomy is unlike any other book of the Bible. Most books have a unified classification for the biggest part. Yet, Deuteronomy is not just wisdom literature. It’s not just history. It’s not just prophecy. It encompasses all these things with Moses looking back and giving the people his last advice before turning things over completely to Joshua.
Deuteronomy is the last book of Moses and covers the shortest amount of time. Genesis covers thousands of years. Exodus focuses on 80 years (and summarizes a few centuries in the first chapter). Leviticus is months while God gives instructions on holiness. Numbers covers their 40 years in the wilderness. Deuteronomy; however, a few days. Moses gives three speeches, two poems, and a sermon before handing things over to Joshua and dying.
Remember the Past
We’ll be looking at various passages in Deuteronomy 1-4 today, but our reading will be:
Deuteronomy 1:1-8 These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel and Laban and Hazeroth and Dizahab. 2 It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea. 3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the children of Israel, according to all that the LORD had commanded him to give to them, 4 after he had defeated Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth and Edrei. 5 Across the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this law, saying, 6 “The LORD our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. 7 ‘Turn and set your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites, and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negev and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. 8 ‘See, I have placed the land before you; go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to them and their descendants after them.’
These are not the people who failed with the spies earlier. That was the prior generation, the one which came out of Egypt. These people had never known Egypt, so they never complained about how good they used to have it back there. That first generation quickly forgot how they were slaves and focused only on how at least they had variety in their diet. Yeah, but they were whipped for missing the work quota and male children were killed by the Egyptians in one period. That’s humanity, always looking to the good ole days.
When Moses recounts their history here, he will be selective. He won’t talk about every event, only the ones that have the most to teach the people. He doesn’t talk about God giving them the covenant here because he will talk about that in the second speech. There eight events he speaks of are: the naming of the judges, the spies (which he spends the most time on), going around Edom, going through Moab, battling king Sihon and then Og, assigning land to the eastern tribes, and Moses’ final request to enter the land with God saying no.
Except the first and last, these events deal with Israel’s interactions with other nations. How they should deal with the cities across the Jordan was illustrated in how they had already dealt with other nations. Those nations which recognized God’s hand on them survived. Those which chose to fight, lost.
Also, just like Pharaoh, God hardened the heart of Sihon so that the Heshbonites would be destroyed. Do not stand in God’s way. Doing so will leave your legacy as a warning for others.
Two incidents deal with Moses’ burden of the people being lifted. At the beginning, when he appointed judges from among the tribes, leaders of tens, fifties, hundreds, thousands, and tribal leaders. That was the first incident. The last incident was Moses handing off leadership to Joshua so that the people would not be sheep without a shepherd. They needed a firm hand.
This relates directly to purpose. Maybe while leading the people who behaved like sheep through the wilderness, Moses understood the pieces of his life. He, who had started in the royal household had been trained in everything Egypt considered important for leadership. He knew the trade languages and how to negotiate and make treaties. He knew the land routes of the area and history. He had been trained to lead and all of those studies came into play while leading.
However, those years as a shepherd also came into play. Leading a settled nation requires different skills than leading a rowdy bunch of rebellious people. In his father-in-laws house, Moses learned about that, too. He learned how to care for the injured and sick. He learned that his best intentions weren’t understood by the flock and they needed a firm hand. Every part of Moses’ life worked together to equip him for a forty year journey that should have been completed in a few months.
Now, Moses hands off to Joshua as leader. Born in slavery, Joshua did not have all the benefits of growing up in a royal house. He has been at Moses’ side for the entire journey, though. Tradition tells us that when Moses arrived at the tent each morning to begin teaching the people God’s law, Joshua was already there. When Moses dismissed them each evening, Joshua was the last to leave. In the battles the people fought through the wilderness, Joshua has led squads and tribes. Taking the Promised Land will require military experience, which he now has in spades.
Another interesting part of the reminders is how God gave land to Edom and Moab. This information must have turned the people’s heads. They weren’t the only ones whom God loved. More importantly, it showed that God is lord over all the earth. We know this and think of it often. However, for a people who constantly battled idolatry, the thought of a god sovereign beyond his nation’s borders was unheard of.
Moses tells the people they have a purpose because God did not pull them from slavery just to die in the desert. The events they faced prepared them for the trials ahead.
Moses prepares them for the future by recounting God’s help in the past.
Encouragement for the Future
Deuteronomy 4:1-9 “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. 3 “Your eyes have seen what the LORD has done in the case of Baal-peor, for all the men who followed Baal-peor, the LORD your God has destroyed them from among you. 4 “But you who held fast to the LORD your God are alive today, every one of you. 5 “See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. 6 “So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? 8 “Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today? 9 “Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.
For the future, Moses has gone on about what God did for them in the past. How they will operate in the future depends on how much they embrace God’s law. Moses encourages the people. They can do this. God has promised them. They have a purpose. They didn’t die in the desert because they held fast to the Lord’s commands.
Remember this is the second generation of Israelites out of Egypt. The first generation died in the wilderness for the sin of unbelief. This one saw that. Those born after the spies heard about God’s judgment and remembered the warning. They saw their parents and uncles die. They were determined not to repeat. And so far they had not. In the first part of Numbers, when the generation freed from Egypt is in command, the people lose several key battles. Once the second generation takes over, they win every one.
That first generation loses their people to God’s judgment by the thousands. God never sends judgment like that upon the second generation.
Do not think the second generation is perfect. Some of them fail and cost the others major battles during the conquest. Aichan took spoil from Jericho, and the people lost the battle of Ai. Joshua himself would fail to inquire of the Lord regarding a proposed treaty and sign it, to the people’s detriment.
Moses has two concerns for the people. The first is that they remember God’s law and pass it on to the next generation. Each generation has to learn the ways of God for themselves but from the prior generation. You cannot just toss the children out and see who survives.
For every person, passing on the baton is part of their purpose.
The second concern is idolatry. They must stay away from idols. Idols will be a major threat to them from now until the return from exile, about 900 years.
I want you to listen to Moses’ warning: Deuteronomy 4:16-19 so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth. 19 “And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.
The order that Moses warns them against idolatry is the reverse order of Genesis 1. The last thing created, male and female, is the first thing warned against. The last thing warned against was at the first of the things listed to be created, the sun, moon, and stars.
When God formed the earth, heaven, and all that in them is, He took what was disorganized and organized it. He brought order to chaos. Moses is warning them that idolatry reverses the natural order.
In all of these things, Moses wants the people to learn from prehistory, history, and their personal experience.
Warnings about the Future
Even with all that encouragement, Moses gives warnings. If they fail, God may exile them from the Promised Land. Except for the times of David and Solomon, all of Israel lived in the shadow of mightier neighbors. Conquest could come at any time. With conquest, occupation and exile. From the time before Moses, empires would move their conquered enemies from their home lands to far away places in an attempt to demoralize the foe.
Moses reminds the people that God is a consuming fire with no equal. He is jealous yet just. If they continue to love and obey Him, they will find a long life in the Land.
Another thing he reminds them is that God is merciful. Even though the people will forget God and commit idolatry, God will not forget them and will still accept them.
Christianity came from Judaism, it is the flower of the Old Testament’s roots. Like the Israelites, our faith is based on historical events. God made the Heavens and Earth, the sea and all that in them is. Jesus really lived, died, and rose again. The Holy Spirit poured out on the 120 on the day of Pentecost. You cannot take away the events and have the same faith. Likewise, Christianity is more than a code of ethics. You cannot take God out of the equation and still have the same faith.
The purpose of that second generation was to enter the Promised Land and take it. The purpose of the church on Pentecost was to begin the spreading of the Gospel. Your purpose continues that holy legacy.
Where are you in your life? It doesn’t matter how far along in it you are or if you have listened to Satan’s attempts to derail you. God has a purpose if you are still breathing. You can make an impact on someone’s life. In what we read today, Moses used his last days to give the people an entire book of the Bible. By showing them God’s presence in the past, he assured them that God’s promises would be fulfilled.
You aren’t here because of random chance in making the universe. You aren’t alive because some chemicals were struck by lightning. And you certainly aren’t present because random mutations made some animals better suited until some chimps started to talk and make tools. You are here because God put you on this earth with a glorious purpose.
Look back at the times God has been with you, both good and bad to see where He will take you tomorrow. Pray that you know that purpose and fulfill it.
This sermon also appears at: postcardsfromtheageofreason.com/2022/06/12/gods-purpose-for-our-past