July 27, 2013 David Balzer

Deuteronomy 1-3: The God of Power

Ashfield is a very different suburb than it was even ten years ago.

The 2011 census figures for Ashfield show that since 2001 the major religion of Catholicism fell from 37% of the population to 31%. No religion – the SECOND most popular response – INCREASED from 17% to 26%.

In another ten years, NO RELIGION looks like being the top response.

And Hinduism jumped from being outside the top 5 in 2001 to being fourth most popular at 5.9%. Just behind Anglican at 7.8%

Ashfield 2001 census 2011 census
Catholicism 37% 31%
No religion 17% 26%
Hinduism <4% 5.9%

Christianity is under threat. Fewer people see any relevance for the church today. Sunday is a day for washing the car or shopping or playing sport. But not for attending church.

Ashfield Presbyterian may have a prominent position on the street. But it’s not prominent in INFLUENCE in Ashfield. Most people just walk right on by, and don’t give us a second thought.

I wonder if you’re feeling just a little bit THREATENED? Afraid? As Jesus commands us to head out and conquer the world with nothing but the message of the gospel, are you feeling a little DOUBTFUL about whether the gospel can really change ANYTHING?

Maybe you’re feeling like you’re up against GIANTS? That you’re SMALL on persuasiveness and significance and effectiveness.

Well, that’s exactly how ISRAEL felt. As they stood at the entrance to the Promised Land. Up against giants. And they’re not sure they’re UP to it. And Deuteronomy is Moses’ attempt to get them ready for what they were about to face.

Second chances

Deuteronomy literally means SECOND LAW. Moses has already passed on the law ONCE. When Israel were at Mt Sinai, or Mt Horeb, in the desert.

And here in v1, we see he’s teaching it all again.

And straight away we get a hint about WHY. Because this is the SECOND TIME Israel’s been at this point. At the doorway to the promised land.

In v2, we’re told it takes 11 days to walk from Mt Horeb to Kadesh Barnea . And that’s about how long it took THE FIRST TIME.

But v3 tells us it’s FORTY YEARS LATER. And the people are back for a SECOND CHANCE.

That little comment in v2 might seem insignificant. But it’s a sly nod to a hugely significant period of history for Israel.

40 yrs before, God had led them out of Egypt. Miraculously rescuing them from the hand of Pharaoh. He’d led them through the desert, providing food and water for them. And then at Mt Horeb, or Sinai, he’d revealed himself to them. And given them his law. The Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. How to live as his people.

Moses takes up the story in v6. Reminding them of their history. And how they’ve ended up back at the door to the Promised Land for a second chance.

From Horeb, God led them to Kadesh Barnea. And told them that he’d given them the land. V8 All they needed to do was to go and take possession of it.

V22. They sent some spies in to check things out. The spies come back and report that it’s a GOOD land. Flowing with milk and honey.

But the people were SCARED (v26). And they grumbled that God HATED them. Look at what they say (v28)

“Our brothers (the spies) have made us lose heart. They say, ‘The people are STRONGER AND TALLER THAN WE ARE; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the ANAKITES there.'”

Now, apparently Anakites were HUGE. They had a reputation for being giants, and fearsome fighters. And the people thought they were NO CHANCE of defeating them.

But they’d forgotten that GOD was fighting for them. Forgotten what God had ALREADY DONE for them in bringing them out of Egypt. In leading them and looking after them in the desert.

V29 Moses begins the chorus he’s going to repeat again and again over the next few chapters. It’s the lesson this CURRENT generation need to learn from the FIRST generation. Here’s what he said the FIRST time. V29.

29 Then I said to you, “DO NOT BE TERRIFIED; DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THEM. 30 The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight FOR you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, 31 and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God CARRIED you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

Don’t be scared. God will work FOR you.

But they didn’t trust God. They refused to go in and fight. And so, v34, God was angry and he delivered judgment. No one from that evil generation would see the land. Only their descendents.

So, v40, God told them to turn around and head back out into the desert.

And that’s where they wandered for the next forty years. Until the entire generation of fighting men had died. All the ones who were afraid, and who’d doubted that God could bring them victory.

And now, finally, God’s brought them back to the entrance to the land. And they’ve got a second chance to get it right.

And over that time God’s been teaching Moses some lessons. Lessons he wants to pass on. And that’s the SETTING for Deuteronomy. Moses’ sermons. An old man’s reflections on a lifetime of experiencing God, and of how to live trusting him. Look back there in Ch 1 v5.

5 East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to expound this law, saying:

He’s had FORTY YEARS to think about where Israel went wrong. And how they can make sure they get it right THIS TIME. And Deuteronomy is the FRUIT of that thinking.

History Lessons from desert wanderings

And, so, in the first three chapters we’re going to focus on THREE HISTORY LESSONS. Three lessons Israel needed to hear as they conquered the land. And lessons WE need to hear TOO as we face up to OUR scary giants.

First history lesson. God is trustworthy.

Second history lesson. Don’t be afraid of giants.

Third history lesson. Make sure you enter your rest.

  1. God is trustworthy

So, first lesson. God is TRUSTWORTHY. He’s RELIABLE. He can be DEPENDED on. If he SAYS he’ll do something, you can TRUST it. It’s a point Moses hammers home in these first few chapters.

1:10-11 The God who keeps his promise

We see it first in v10. He’s the God who keeps his promise.

10 The LORD your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as many as the stars in the sky.

Just like he promised Abraham. He’s done THAT bit. Made you into a great nation. In fact, he did it WHILE YOU WERE SLAVES IN EGYPT. So you can trust him to keep his OTHER promises.

Like, V21. His promise to Abraham about giving them LAND. He’s GIVEN it to you. Just go up and TAKE it.

He’s done the FIRST part. So trust him for THE SECOND.

1:31 The God who carries you

But not only is God trustworthy because he’s KEPT HIS PROMISE. But because he’s the God who CARRIES you. Through all the struggles and wanderings, it’s GOD who’s looked after you. He’s looked after you IN THE PAST, so trust him to look after you IN THE FUTURE. V31.

“The LORD your God CARRIED you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place”.

That’s a metaphor. But we see the sorts of things that means PRACTICALLY, too.

V30. He FOUGHT for them. Back in Egypt. Delivered plagues on Egypt. Killed their first born. Parted the sea. Drowned Pharaoh’s army.

Or V33. He went BEFORE them. Guiding them by fire and a cloud. Showing when and where to go. He searched out places for them to camp.

Or over into Ch 2, v7. All through the desert, he BLESSED THE WORK OF THEIR HANDS. He’s watched over them. Provided everything they needed. They LACKED NOTHING.

And now, as the forty years draws to a close, Moses brings the history lesson up to date. Because God had fought for the PRESENT GENERATION. As they’d got ready to take the land A SECOND TIME.

He’d brought them victory over some of the surrounding nations. We see Moses reminding the people of that over in Ch 2 v24. God gave Sihon, king of the Amorites into their hand.

Or into Ch 3, Og, King of Bashan falls as well. Because God was bringing the victory. V3.

God’s ALREADY DONE IT. So you can trust him to DO IT AGAIN.

That’s lesson number one. God is TRUSTWORTHY. Because he keeps his promises. And he CARRIES you.

And that’s JUST AS TRUE for US TODAY. The Bible is one long record of God keeping his promises. And if he’s proved reliable in the PAST, then we can trust him with TOMORROW’S questions.

  1. Will my kids be alright?
  2. Can I pay the rent this month?
  3. Has God really forgiven me for that sin?
  4. What if no one likes me?
  5. What if I can’t get a job? Or don’t pass the test? Or make it into Uni?
  6. What if they laugh when I speak about Jesus?

When those questions raise their ugly heads, and we’re tempted to WORRY, or FEAR, or DOUBT. We need to remember God promises to CARRY US, TOO.[1]

Lesson number one. God is TRUSTWORTHY. Because he keeps his promises. And he CARRIES you.

2. Do not be afraid of giants

Lesson number two. Don’t be afraid of giants. Remember what the people had been afraid of the FIRST time. That the land was filled with Anakites. Even though God said he’d go before them, and bring them victory.

And Moses wants to point out a few things he’s learned in the last 40 years about DEFEATING GIANTS.

They’re finally on their way back from their desert wanderings. And they’re travelling along the desert road of Moab. God tells Moses (Ch 2 v9), not to pick a fight with the Moabites as they travelled through their land. And look at the reason. Because “I have GIVEN Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession.”

God wasn’t just blessing Abraham’s descendants. He was doing it for his relative LOT, TOO.

And here’s why it’s relevant. Look at what Moses says next. 2:10.

10(The Emites used to live there–a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites.

Do you remember the Anakites? They’re the ones who’d scared off Israel the FIRST time they’d come to the promised land. (1:28). Giants too powerful to defeat.

But God had managed to defeat EMITES when he gave Lot’s descendants their land. He’d helped the MOABITES fight against giants. So why would Israel doubt he’d do the same FOR THEM?

And just in case Israel didn’t get the point, Moses repeats it down in v20. The Ammonites’ land wasn’t to be touched either. V20.

20(That too was considered a land of the Rephaites, who used to live there; but the Ammonites called them Zamzummites. 21 They were a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. The LORD destroyed THEM from before the Ammonites, who drove them out and settled in their place. 22 The LORD had done the same for the descendants of Esau, who lived in Seir, when he destroyed the Horites from before them. They drove them out and have lived in their place to this day. 23 And as for the Avvites who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorites coming out from Caphtor destroyed them and settled in their place.)

A whole history lesson about God driving out giants. And settling OTHER nations in their place. And here we’ve got God’s OWN PEOPLE who are too scared of giants to trust God to do the same for them!

And then God even began to use ISRAEL to defeat nations. 2:24. Sihon, king of Heshbon and his country fall to God and his people. v33 of Ch 2.

33 the LORD our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army. 34 At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them–men, women and children. We left no survivors.

Or into Ch 3. Og, King of Bashan. Don’t be afraid! He’s no match for God, who’s fighting for his people. v3

3 So the LORD our God also gave into our hands Og king of Bashan and all his army. We struck them down, leaving no survivors.

And notice the significant bit of information about their king. V11.

11(Only Og king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the REPHAITES. His bed was made of iron and was more than thirteen feet long and six feet wide.

Og was a giant TOO! And God defeated him. In fact, he’d even given his lands to the tribe of Manessah. On the east of the Jordan. V13.

13 The rest of Gilead and also all of Bashan, the kingdom of Og, I gave to the half tribe of Manasseh. (The whole region of Argob in Bashan used to be known as a land of the Rephaites.

It was “Giant CITY”! And Manessah was already LIVING there!

History lesson over, 3:18, Moses commands the people to go in and take possession of the land. God had GIVEN it to them. Then he has a word for Joshua. The new leader. V21.

“You have seen with your own eyes all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings. The LORD will do the same to all the kingdoms over there where you are going. 22 DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THEM; the LORD your God himself will fight for you.”

Don’t be afraid of giants. Trust God. He’ll fight FOR you.

It’s the same message FOR US. With the battles WE fight. The battle, as a church, to make the name of Jesus known in Ashfield. To build bridges with our neighbours and the people we meet. To be willing to step out of our comfort zones for the sake of the gospel. To risk rejection and ridicule.

The battle, as parents, to keep Christian things a priority in our family. To get the kids to church when they want to sleep in. Or to read the Bible and pray after dinner when the kids are restless and misbehave.

The battle to live a consistent Christian life among your friends or family who make fun of your faith.

The battle to be honest at work. To tell the truth, and to work hard. To stick to your word, when it would be far easier to bend the truth, or not rock the boat. The battle to have integrity and to be consistent, when everyone else bends whichever way the wind blows, or whatever the boss

God WANTS to build his church, and to make his name known, and for his people to walk in holiness and humility and justice, and for your friends and family to respond to the gospel. He will fight FOR you in those battles. No matter HOW big the giants seem to be.

So trust him, and don’t be afraid.

3. Make sure you enter God’s rest, unlike our fathers

That plea from Moses, to not be afraid, it’s not just advice you can take or leave. It’s LIFE OR DEATH.

That’s the way it worked for Moses and Israel. That first generation had all died in the desert. Because they were afraid. Because they’d refused to trust God’s promises.

And even Moses HIMSELF had missed out. That’s there at the end of Ch 3.

And that’s the THIRD lesson we can learn from history. To make sure WE enter God’s rest.

That’s something the writer to the Hebrews points out. Over in Hebrews 3. In v7, he describes Israel who hardened their hearts. And who never entered their rest, because God punished them.

And then, in v12, he draws the history lesson for US. What we should LEARN from their example.

12 See to it, brothers, that none of YOU has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of YOU may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly TILL THE END the confidence we had at first.

He’s writing to PEOPLE SITTING IN CHURCH. With all sorts of external marks of following Jesus. And he warns them that it’s not enough to just HANG AROUND God’s people. It’s not enough to know the right phrases to use. To attend the meetings. To sing the songs. To know the way things work.

And it’s not enough to just START well. You’ve got to keep trusting day after day. Year after year.

That’s the key. TRUST. See it there in v12? Make sure no one has a sinful UNBELIEVING heart. What counts is confidence in God that stands solid for the long haul. When the giants are huge, and it looks like there’s no way around them. When the threats and the discouragements and the struggles just keep coming for year after year, and it looks like there’s no end in sight.

Don’t be like Israel. Hold firmly to the END the confidence you had at first.

That first generation of Israel had ALL THE BENEFITS. But they didn’t combine them WITH FAITH. When the crucial moment came – when giants threatened – they chose THEIR strength, rather than God’s. THEIR wisdom, rather than God’s wisdom. THEIR way, rather than God’s way.

And they perished in the desert. They missed out on resting in the promised land.

And the writer of Hebrews want us to learn the lesson from them. Into Ch 4, he says.

4:1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of YOU be found to have fallen short of it.

MAKE SURE you enter your rest.

And there’s TWO PARTS to that rest. There’s our ETERNAL REST. We’re to make sure we make it through the journey of THIS life, and make it into ETERNITY. Which will be the ULTIMATE rest.

But there’s also rest we experience NOW. Jesus invited people, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST.” And Hebrews 4:3 says “We who have believed ENTER THAT REST.” Something we do NOW.

And they’re both to do with TRUST. Faith. What Israel DIDN’T show. They missed out on rest because of a sinful UNBELIEVING heart (3:12). Or in 4:2, they heard the message, but didn’t COMBINE IT WITH FAITH.

On the other hand, we’re encouraged to BELIEVE so we enter rest. (Whether that’s rest in ETERNITY. Or the rest we experience IN THIS LIFE). Trust is the key for BOTH.

It’s by FIRST trusting God that we’re SAVED. Trusting his forgiveness by GRACE ALONE. To make us righteous. Trusting the work of Jesus on our behalf. Trust that doesn’t try to bring anything of our OWN to sweeten the deal. Trust that comes in humility and child-like dependence.

And it’s THAT faith that SAVES us. That ensures our entrance into ETERNAL rest.

And that’s a trust we need to KEEP showing. Child-like dependence. Because we’re naturally PROUD, and we don’t like to depend on ANYTHING. We like to earn our way.

It doesn’t come NATURALLY. So we need to keep REMINDING each other. Reminding each other of THE GOSPEL. Of our sin. Of God’s greatness and our dependence. We need to confess our sin together. We need to keep singing wonderful gospel truths to each other. As Hebrews 3:13 says, we need to encourage each other DAILY, so none may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

(pause) But we also need to trust God when it comes to the DAILY EXPERIENCE of rest. As Christians we KNOW that God is in control. That he works all things for good.

But often we WORRY. We STRIVE and STRESS to fix things on our own. We suffer performance anxiety. Whether we’ve done enough.

We look at the clock, and worry about time-frames. We want things to happen more quickly. Or more slowly.

The stress that the grass is greener on the OTHER side of the fence, rather than on OUR side.

Or if it’s not trusting our OWN performance instead of God. It’s trusting OTHER things as more solid and reliable than God. It’s the deceitfulness of SIN. It’s trusting financial security – trusting plans and banks and real estate prices and investment portfolios and reliable cars, instead of God’s promises.

It’s trusting the reliability of other things to make us HAPPY, rather than God himself. It’s striving after the approval of others, or influence and power, or promotion, or material comforts.

That’s a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.

And that’s not REST! That’s not trusting God’s word and his promises.

For many of us, our attitude to life is often no different from the non-Christian.

Learn the less from Moses and Israel. Trust God. Don’t fall short of entering your rest. He’s more powerful than the greatest giant. His promises are reliable. And his plans always come to pass.

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