Deuteronomy is the fourth book of the Bible, and one that opened my eyes to the choice I must make if I wanted to call myself a Christian.
I had spent years “being a good person” and going to church. But one day, while reading through Deuteronomy, I suddenly saw myself in the Israelites story and realized following God required more than just an intellectual acknowledgment and good behavior.
Over the years, I find myself returning to Deuteronomy over and over again but always seems to come back to three specific lessons in this book.
Lesson 1: Mankind has to choose to follow God
Deuteronomy begins with the call to the Israelites to enter the Promised Land. Over and over again, when the people chose to follow God, they participate in his blessing. But when they choose to follow their own desires, there are consequences and destruction. The first time we read about this in Deuteronomy is in chapter 1 when the people are too scared to enter the land God has promised them. Moses states “But you were not willing to go up. You rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You grumbled in your tents…you did not trust the Lord your God.” God had led them, spoken to them, given them laws, guided them to be His people, but at the end of the day, the choice to follow was up to them.
They did not get the blessing of a life with God without making the choice to follow God.
We see Moses plead with his people to understand this principle later in Deuteronomy when he reminds them, “today I set before you a blessing and a curse: there will be a blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God…and a curse if you do not obey the commands of the Lord your God…” In these verses, Moses shows the people they have a responsibility in their relationship with God. God has shown favor to them and rescued them, but they must respond with obedience and follow him in order to have a relationship with God.
We also need to understand it is not enough to simply acknowledge that God exists.
Following God requires you to “deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow” Christ. Following Christ does not just happen. Deuteronomy shows us over and over God will reveal his plan and the people must choose to trust him, follow what he asks, and obey even when it is hard.
Lesson 2: God shows us mercy, even in our unfaithfulness
Throughout chapter 1 of Deuteronomy, Moses is recounting the Israelites’ unfaithfulness towards God in their journey through the wilderness. As the Israelites begin to turn away from God, there are consequences to their actions. For example, when they refuse to go into the Promised Land, then confess their sin and try to make up for it by going in to fight on their own, the result is destruction. The Amorites defeated the Israelites and the people of God are left weeping before the Lord.
However, the Lord does not abandon them. We see immediately in chapter 2 that the Lord, in his mercy, continued to lead his people through the wilderness until it was time to give them another chance to enter the land he had promised. Moses reminds the people of God’s faithfulness by stating, “ He has watched over your journey through this immense wilderness. The Lord your God has been with you this past forty years, and you have lacked nothing.”
The people had to suffer the consequence of their choice, but God never left him.
His mercy in the midst of their unfaithfulness sustained them and brought them to the point where the next generation could now enter the Promised Land and fulfill the covenant God had given to Abraham.
The people still have the tendency to fall back into worship of the gods in the nations surrounding them. Moses tells them clearly, “Know that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps his gracious covenant loyalty for a thousand generations…” The Israelites need to know their God, the one true God, isn’t fickle like the gods of the surrounding nations. Their God is faithful to his promises. God’s promises aren’t dependent on man’s faithfulness.
We need to realize God’s mercy and faithfulness even when we choose rebellion and unfaithfulness.
Oftentimes, we let sin and shame weigh us down and make us feel distant from God. When in reality, 1 John 1:9 tells us “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The tendency to believe the lie that God is mad at you and far from you goes directly against what we see displayed in Deuteronomy. While consequences for sin do exist, God never deserts us. Rather, in his mercy, he stays faithful to his children. Once you have accepted Christ as Lord of your life and become a child of God, “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” Once you are a child of God, your life is hidden in him and God will not turn his back on you. Even when you are unfaithful, he still shows mercy towards you.
Lesson 3: The Lord is your provider
As Moses begins to prepare the people to enter the Promised Land, he reminds them all things have come from God. His warning states, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land….a land with large and beautiful cities that you did not build, houses full of every good thing that you did not fill them with, cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant…be careful not to forget the Lord.” Moses knows the people are about to enter a land full of the comforts of life they had never before possessed. He also knows once the people are comfortable, they tend to forget God is their provider. Once they forget who has provided everything, they will be tempted to worship other gods.
Remembering God is the one who provides everything is extremely important if they are to continue to follow God.
Just a few chapters later, we see Moses again reminding the people, “The heavens, indeed the highest heavens, belong to the Lord your God, as does the earth and everything in it….therefore circumcise your hearts.” Moses is hoping that once the people understand God is their provider and in control, they will willingly humble themselves and worship him alone.
Believers in today’s society need to hear the same message.
Currently, the political environment has shown a vast majority of Christians put their trust in the government to provide all they need. The right government means provision and the wrong government means oppression. While the government is important, it is not God. Deuteronomy clearly shows us the only provider is God. God crushed several strong governments in order to obtain the land for the Israelites. Romans 13:1 reminds us there is no authority except God. God is the one who will provide all our needs according to his “riches in glory.”
When we forget it is God who is our provider, fear and control begin to set in. Once we start making decisions based on fear and wanting control, we stop listening to God. The Israelites demonstrated this cycle numerous times throughout Deuteronomy. We would do well to learn the lesson that God is our provider from reading their story.
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