Deuteronomy 9:1-10:22 Not Because of my righteousness

“Understand, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Deuteronomy 9:6

The passage today is a hard one to read. It’s also a hard one to understand. God says he is going to go before the Israelites like a devouring fire, and utterly destroy the people in the land, because of their wickedness. God’s judgement is a fearful thing. He is not a tame God, as CS Lewis writes in the Chronicles of Narnia.

To some degree I can understand the justice of God in judging nations that were as wicked as the ones in Canaan. People who don’t know the particular circumstances of what is going on in these nations are always appalled when they find out.

The Amalekites, who are specifically named for destruction in the passage, offered their babies on a specially designed altar as burnt offerings to the god Molech while they were still alive. They also practised torture as a public entertainment, and engaged in all manner of perverse sexual acts as part of their worship to their gods. I might seem extreme to us for God to wipe out every man, woman, and even child in his judgement of them. What we see, though, when Israel fails to utterly destroy the people in the land as God had commanded them to in Deuteronomy 6, is that they become a constant thorn in Israel’s flesh throughout subsequent history, and lead the people into idolatry, and away from God.

What I am more offended by, and yet incredibly grateful for, is that God doesn’t treat his own people with the same kind of judgement when they sin. God tells his people that it is not because of their righteousness that He is giving them the promised land, but because of the wickedness of the nations who live there currently. In fact, Moses tells them that they are a stiff necked people, and just as worthy of God’s judgement rather than his favour, because of their own wicked and sinful actions. He reminds them of how, when he was up the mountain with the Lord, getting the 10 commandments, they too burned sacrifices to an idol which they had made with their own hands, and that at that time, God had wanted to destroy them too! The only reason He hadn’t, Moses says, was because he had interceded for them. Even after that, they disobeyed God, and because of this, that entire generation (including Moses himself), with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, were not allowed to enter the promised land, and died in the wilderness.

I’m offended by this because God chooses to forgive the Israelites while they are still sinners, not because He chooses to judge the Amelekites and Canaanites while they are still sinners.

I’m also grateful for it, because He forgives me while I am still a sinner. This doesn’t offend me at all!

So what is the difference between the Amelekites and Canaanites and the Israelites? It’s the fact that Moses interceded for them. He expressed remorse on their behalf, and pleaded with God for their forgiveness.

Could or would God have done this had the Amelekites repented? That’s a difficult question to answer, but consider another nation that God was going to wipe out for their sin as you consider it.

In the book of Jonah, we read that God tells the Ninevites that in 3 days He is going to utterly destroy them. He doesn’t give them a repentance clause (“If you repent, then I won’t wipe you out”) like he does over and over again to the Israelites. He simply sends Jonah to them to tell them that in three days, He will utterly wipe them out. The Ninevites respond by putting on sackcloth and ashes, totally repenting of their sins, and so God relents and forgives them. (This, incidentally, offends Jonah big time!)

I think that had the Amelekites and Canaanites repented, God would have worked out his plan for His people differently. God’s plans are not thwarted by human actions. God loves a genuinely repentant and contrite heart, no matter whether it beats in a Babylonian breast, a Canaanite breast, or and Israelite one. He desires reconciliation with all of His children, and the story of the prodigal son teaches us that He waits with a Father’s love for us to return to Him.

My take away and challenge from these verses today is found in chapter 10:12-13:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good”

Four Hundred and Twenty Six Days

“I didn’t just fall off the wagon, I let the wagon fall on me.” – Oprah Winfrey

The last time I posted on this blog was June 18th, 2019. According to my Alexa that’s four hundred and twenty six days ago. I fell off the Wagon with this blog, and in my systematic Bible reading. Have you ever tried to read the whole Bible, and had a similar experience?

I remember when I started it how determined I was that every day for the next however long it took I was going to do a daily blog of my Bible readings. That was a good goal. I was full of determintation, and looked forward with pride (!) to the day it would be finished, and I would have put down my first thoughts for every single passage and chapter in the Bible. I would go back and read it, and then start all over again, and see what new things I continued to learn. Like many of us, I got derailed in Deuteronomy.

Actually, I finished Deuteronomy 9-28 in one day, and meant to blog that night. I even started the post, but then realized it was a HUGE section, and instead of just writing what I had for the day, I wanted to explore it in a little more depth, and… got overwhelmed and gave up. I didn’t stop reading the Bible, I just stopped reading it systematically, and blogging my thoughts.

So… I want to take up where I left off in my journey, and, just for me, record my thoughts. If you enjoy reading them, great! If you don’t, that’s ok too – I’m writing this mainly for me, and hopefully to encourage you, if you’re reading along too.

Deuteronomy 5:1-8:20 Remember The Lord In The Land

The passage today is the beginning of the second “sermon” of Moses to the new generation of Israelites as they camp at the Jordan preparing to enter the promised Land.

It starts with Moses reminding the people of the 10 commandments, which were utterly central to their relationship with the Lord. In them, He anticipates and gives guidance for them to protect their relationship with Him in the promised land when they entered.

So often the old testament law has been viewed as the restrictive covenant the Lord made with the people, and which is read and viewed by the modern person as almost a bondage upon the people – a yoke that was unyielding and heavy. Indeed, by the time of the New Testament, this is what it had become, due to the many extra layers that had been added to it by successive rabbi’s and teachers in their zeal to ensure that they did not break the law “inadvertently” and end up in exile again.

However, right at this point in their history, God was setting it up not as the burdensome requirements of an overbearing deity who required their unquestioning obedience, but as a loving Father who knows what temptations and obstacles they will face in the land, and wants to protect their relationship with Him through the laws He establishes. Even the ones that seen most peculiar are there to enhance their relationship with the Lord, and just seem strange to the modern reader because we don’t have enough cultural background and understanding to see how they accomplish this.

My take away for today:

” So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. 33 Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess. “ Dt 5:32-33

Heavenly Father, when I am struggling with the reality of walking out life in a fallen world, or when I don’t see what you are doing, or understand why you are doing it in my life, please help me to remember these verses, and the fact that you love me, and want to protect my relationship with you more than you want my happiness and more than I may see in the moment. Open my eyes to see you before me and behind me as you lead me in the paths you have for me. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

Deuteronomy 1:1-4:49 – The Importance of Remembering

Deuteronomy means “Second Law” – from the Greek words “deuteros” (second) and “nomos” (law). The book is divided into three sermons that Moses gave to the new generation of Israelites as they camped on the banks of the Jordan River, just before they entered the promised land.

At this point, only Moses, Joshua, and Caleb survive out of all the people who left the promised land 40 years before, and who wandered in the wilderness until they perished as a result of their lack of faith in God’s promise to give them the promised land when 10 of the spies reported the giants and the difficulties facing them when they were about to enter the promised land the first time.

Now, the new generation is getting ready to enter the promised land, and Moses addresses them in these first four chapters and reminds them of the journey the Israelites have made thus far, including their failures and God’s triumphs. He also reminds them of how they received the law, and why they were to follow it.

Sometimes, as in the case of the people about to enter the promised land, we need to be reminded of what God has done for us in the past, to give us something to hold on to when we face the challenges that lie ahead of us. In the case of the Israelites, it is vitally important as they enter the land that they remember the failures of their parents and grandparents, in order to make sure that they do not repeat these failures themselves. Moses starts by reminding them of the faithfulness of God in spite of the lack of trust of their ancestors.

What amused me as I read the passage through today was how many times Moses blames the people for why God was angry with him. As incredible a leader as Moses was, we see here (in my opinion) one of his weaknesses – not taking proper ownership of his own failures, and the reason he was not entering the promised land. Yes, the people precipitated Moses’s anger in Numbers 20 (the events which lead to God telling Moses he would not enter the promised land), but ultimately, it was his reaction to the people’s complaining that lead to his missing out on the promise. I do the same thing as Moses all the time! It is so easy to blame our reaction on what other people have done to us, but ultimately, responsibility for how we react is always ours.

My Take Away

As I face the challenges that lie before me, I need to always remind myself of the way God has worked in my life, and been faithful to me, throughout my life. I need to keep a record of what He says to me, and how He blesses, protects, and leads me, as well as how He has disciplined me, so that when I face giants and mountains that I need to conquer, I can fortify my faith by reminding myself what God has done in the past, what He has promised, and know that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and will work the same way with me in future, as he has in the past.

I also always need to take ownership of, and responsibility for, how I behave and respond / react to what other people do. I cannot justify my poor response by anyone else’s behavior.

Numbers 32:1-36:13 Journeys

The Israelites are right on the threshold of entering the promised land.

Having gone through plagues when they looked back to Egypt, facing earthquakes and snakes as judgement for complaining against the Lord and Moses, and wandering in the wilderness for their lack of faith when the spies reported giants in the land, two tribes completely stumble just before the finish line.

I’ve often found my walk with God to be like that – just before an amazing promise is fulfilled, I’ve wanted to give up. Sometimes, the journey is hard. Sometimes, it’s easy. No matter which it is, the journey is where God shapes and molds us to become ready for the next step – whether that be crossing the red sea to escape the Egyptians, or crossing the Jordan to take posession of the promised land.

In today’s reading, the tribe of Reuben and the tribe of Gad approach Moses and tell him they don’t want their share in the promised land – they are happy with the land just outside it. Moses is furious, and tells them they can have it, but only if they come and fight with the rest of the tribes to help them take possession of the land. The crazy thing is that they accept this! Imagine that – they will have to fight for the promised land, but forfeit their place in it. They agree to this, and most of the rest of the book of Numbers is a fairly straightforward account of the journey to the Jordan (with Aaron dying along the route).

The highlight of the reading for me today was the stark contrast of the daughters of Zelophehad to the Reubenites and Gadites. Rather than forfeit the land that was promised to them, they fight to ensure that they retain their Father’s inheritance in the land, and marry within the tribe to maintain it.

My Take Away

Don’t give up just when the promised land lies ahead! It may be that the time immediately preceding the breakthrough that God has for me is hard, and I may feel like I want to give up – but this is the time to press in and stick it out!

Lord, please help me to have the resilience I need to hold on to the promises you have given me, and to take possession of my own “promised land”.

Numbers 31:1-54 A Perplexing War

The war described in today’s reading between the Israelites and the Midianites is perplexing – not because it happened, but because of the outcome.

The Israelites were commanded by the Lord to take vengeance against the Midianites for the seduction and idolatry they lead Israel into in Chapter 25, which lead to a plague. Through the empowering of the Lord, they easily overcame the Midianites, and killed all the males, but allowed the women to live.

This is a recurring problem moving forwards throughout the history of Israel, because being from a patriarchal society, they continually underestimate the power of the women in the tribes they conquer to shape their thinking and actions in a way that undermines their society and culture as Israelites, and their relationship with the Lord.

In Chapter 25, it wasn’t the male Midianites who caused their destruction and the judgement of the plague that God sent on them, it was the women. Yet now, when they conquer the Midianites, they kill the men, but leave the women alive. Moses clearly recognizes this, and is very angry with them (verse 14-15). He orders them to kill all the boys they had captured, and all the women who were not virgins. However – even Moses doesn’t utterly destroy them, and thus underestimates the power of these young women to affect Israelite society and their relationship with the Lord.

My Take Away

There are many ways I only partially obey the Lord, or justify my partial disobedience. I need to remember that all of these partial disobediences can have unforeseen consequences that affect my relationship with the Lord, and potentially my family and my life. God knows everything, and when He speaks to me, I need to listen and fully obey.

Heavenly Father, you know my struggles and my selfishness. You know when I have not completely obeyed you, or have deliberately disobeyed you. Please forgive me, and give me the wisdom and strength to follow completely what you tell me to do. In Jesus name I ask this. Amen.

Numbers 21:1-29:40 Conflict, Complaints, Curses, Conquests and Celebrations

Today’s reading is filled with conflict, as the Israelites move away from Mount
Sinai and encounter the various tribes of Canaanites.

I was particularly struck with some new details I hadn’t previously noted in the story of Balaam and Balak.

Firstly, Balak was king of the Moabites – remember them from Genesis 19:36-38? They were descendants of Moab, the child born from the incestuous union of Lot and his eldest daughter, after their escape from Sodom and Gomorrah. In other words, they were distant cousins of the Israelites. (Looking forwards, they are also ancestors of Jesus through the line of Ruth, who was a Moabite woman).

Balak, king of the Moabites is terrified of being conquered by the growing Israelite army on the borders of his lands. He decides to hire someone who was a known diviner and prophet to pronounce a curse on Israel. It seems from outside sources that Balaam was not an Israelite, but is clear from the passage that the source of his divine inspiration is the God of the Israelites.

The story unfolds in what is to my mind a rather peculiar way.

Balaam’s messengers arrive, and Balaam says they should stay the night while he seeks the Lord (Yhwh) about what He wants Balaam to do.

God appears to Balaam and warns him not to return with the messengers to Balak, or to curse the Israelites, because they are blessed (by God). Balaam sends the messengers back, saying “Go back to your own country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.”

When the message gets to Balak, he doesn’t give up, but sends further messengers “even more distinguished” and promises to pay whatever Balaam asks for. Balaam responds by saying he can only do what the Lord says, and then seeks the Lord again. They Lord says he can go with the messengers, but not to do anything except what the Lord tells him to.

Balaam gets on his donkey, and goes with them. The donkey sees an angel that Balaam misses, and tries to avoid it several times, eventually lying down under Balaam. Balaam beats the donkey each time until God opens the donkey’s mouth and uses it to speak to Balaam. The long and the short of the story is that Balaam repents for beating the donkey, and the Lord tells him the same thing he did originally when he left: “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.”

When he arrives, he warns Balak that he can only speak what the Lord tells him to. Balak takes him to a place where he can see the Israelite camp, and after building altars and making sacrifices, Balaam pronounces a blessing not a curse. This (understandably!) upsets Balak, who had hired Balaam to curse them.

Balak takes Balam to another place to try again (he’s a bit of a slow learner), where he again blesses them.

Balak takes him to a third place to try again.

I want to take a moment to interject here about the historical and cultural context at the time, which may help this make sense. At the time, the prevailing world view was that each place had it’s own god that was in charge of a certain region (we’ll see more about this in Deuteronomy). Balak wasn’t just moving Balak around for a different view of the Israelites, and hoping against hope for him to suddenly change his mind and pronounce a curse, he was trying to find a place where the local god was more powerful than the God of the Israelites, who was blocking Balaam from pronouncing his curse, so that Balaam would be free to curse the Israelites.

By allowing Balaam to go with Balak to each area, God was not only stopping him from cursing the Israelites, He was proving His superiority over the local gods to Balak. This would have had the effect of making Balak even more terrified, since they believed that the strongest God in the area would give victory and show favor to the person who sacrificed the most to them in that area. God was showing that He alone was the all powerful God, and His favour rested on the Israelites. To Balak, this would have clearly showed his inevitable defeat, because not only were the armies of Israel stronger than the armies of Moab, but the God of Israel was more powerful than the gods of Moab.

Eventually, Balaam goes home, and Balak goes on his way…

… but…

It seems that if he couldn’t defeat the Israelites militarily, Balak had a backup plan in place, and in the next chapter (25), we see it unfolding…

Balak and the Moabites launched what in modern politics is known as a “charm offensive”, with some success. The text breads as follows:

While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.

If Balak can’t beat them with his own armies and his local gods, he’ll get them with his beautiful local woman, and the wrath of the Israelites own God. Rather cunning!

When the women seduce the Israelites, they lead them into idolatry by convincing them to bow down before the local Gods. As a result, all the people who fall into this trap die in a plague. (25:5, 9)

There is then another story of a Midianite woman who seduced a leader of a Simeonite family. When Phineas kills the man and woman, the plague against the Israelites ends.

The next 2 chapters are a census and list of the people that survive the plague.

The section ends with a story of female emancipation (God has women on his heart, and revolutionizes their rights and place in Israelite society in spite of living in a patriarchal culture) in 27:1-11. This was a hugely significant event in the legal and cultural life of the Israelite – something I would like to come back to and explore more later.

As well as this story, there is the transition of leadership from Moses, to Joshua son of Nun.

Finally, the last 2 chapters are about sacrifices, offerings and feasts.

All in all – this was full of interesting details I had overlooked on my previous readings.

My take away

Pray, like Balaam, about what to say and how to say it.

Numbers 16:1 – 20:29 Rebellion and Wrath

Today’s reading is a never ending series of grumbling and complaining. I have never spent quite as much time in these chapters before – usually just skimming through to the more familiar passages – but boy do I understand why God kept this generation wandering in the wilderness! To be fair – I probably deserve no less myself, with the amount I constantly grumble and complain at the Lord.

Although God does judge the people, it’s never as harshly as He first says He will – He always relents. Even His judgement in these passages is a demonstration of His mercy.

Thank you Father that you show me mercy when I complain, and deserve your wrath. Please remind me when I am tempted to complain of how much I have been blessed.

Numers 11:1-14:45 Grumbling and Complaining

There are some days as a parent where no matter what you do, your kids will just grumble and complain about everything. It can be really frustrating. When you make their dinner, they don’t like it (even though they have loved it previously). They complain about their chores if they have them and being bored if they don’t, their food, the noise, the silence, they’re tired, they don’t want to go to bed. When that kind of mood takes them, there is really nothing that we as parents can do to help them – and it’s really hard to be patient with them!

The passage today is full of grumbling and complaints. The people grumble about their lives out of Egypt, and their food. Moses complains about being their leader. Joshua complains when the other leaders start to prophesy. Aaron and Miriam complain about Moses’s wife, and living in Moses’s shadow. The spies complain about the land the Lord is giving them to live in, and the giants they will have to fight there. The people complain about Moses and Aaron bringing them to the land.

As I was reading this passage, and mentally judging the people for complaining, I was challenged to think about myself, and how I complain all the time to God. I complain about the government (like the Israelites were doing), not having enough money for “stuff” (when I have so much more than so many!), feeling homesick when I’m in the place I prayed so hard for Him to bring me to, and the tiny giants I face in the land He has brought me to.

I’m no different than the Israelites. My eyes get focused on completely the wrong things, and I wallow in self pity, and look with rose colored glasses at the past and complain about the present.

My Take Away

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (Num 13:30)

Lord, I pray that you help me to see with eyes like Caleb – to believe that you will give me all I need to overcome the giants I see before me. Forgive me when I grumble and complain, and continue to remind me of all the blessings you give me. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

Numbers 5:1 – 10:36 Faithfulness, Fasts and Feasts

Picture by Ivette Angelova

This section of Numbers was a mixture for me to listen to. At times, I was laughing out loud (The Law of Jealousy), and at other times, I was struggling to get through it (the vessels).

Chapter 5 starts out with something I kind of knew, but never thought about in quite the way it puts it:

Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty…

It’s interesting that when they wrong another person it also means that they are being unfaithful to the Lord. It’s also interesting that the restitution they must make is two fold:

[They] must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged.

  1. Confession of their sin – this is such an important part of making restitution. For myself, and certainly everyone in my family, the most important part of making right with one another is that the perpetrator confesses their sin (Oops! I just accidentally typed “win” instead of “sin”. Gloating, sadly, is the usual response in my house!!). It’s very important to the person who has been wronged that the perpetrator of the wrong acknowledges their wrongdoing. It might just be my family that is like this, but from what I read here, and have experienced in other contexts, most people feel the same way.
  2. Making full restitution – this is something I learned as a child, and have taught my children. Sorry is important, but it’s not enough on it’s own. When I wrong someone, as far is as possible, I should make restitution to them. According to this passage in Numbers, they were to add an extra 20% to their recompense.

The chapter then goes on to describe something that made me laugh out loud in my car while listening to it – the “Law of Jealousy”. It’s a serious passage, with some pretty dire aspects both in the nature of the sin it deals with, and the manner in which it deals with it, but that name – the law of jealousy – had me crying with laughter. It’s in 5:11-31 – go read it.

Chapter 6 is all about the Nazirite vow. A Nazirite vow was a special vow of dedication of oneself to the Lord for a set period of time, during which you would not eat or drink anything from the grape vine (wine, grape juice, raisins, etc ), or cut your hair, or touch a dead body. If you have ever read the story of Samson (Judges 13-16), understanding what a Nazirite vow is is important to understanding why he lost his strength when his hair was cut.

In Judges 13:3-5 an angel appears to Samson’s mom, who had been unable to conceive, and tells her she will become pregnant to a son, and that

… (his) head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines

Progressively through his life, he comes to break each of the elements of a Nazerite vow – touching the dead body of a lion (14:8), the jawbone of an ass (15:15), drank wine (14:10 – the Hebrew word “misteh” refers to a wine drinking feast), and finally had his hair cut (this was usually done at the end of your Nazirite vow). Only when all 3 elements of the vow had been violated did the Lord remove His Spirit from Samson.

Chapter 7 is a list of the leaders, and their gifts for the dedication of the altar – a tremendously significant occasion for the community, as it was pivotal for their sacrifice based worship system.

Chapter 8 deals with the consecration and dedication of the priests – the people who would administer the sacrifices of the rest of the people to the Lord, and interceded on their behalf.

Chapter 9 celebrates the passover, and tells of how the Lord visibly manifested in the midst of His people and lead them, either as a cloud by day, or a pillar of fire by night.

Chapter 10 concludes today’s reading with an explanation of how the Israelites would know when it was time to assemble and move on, and then with them leaving the Sinai, where God had given them the laws their community would be bound by.

My take away

I felt powerfully that the words of Numbers 6:24-26 were a blessing from the Lord for me today. I pray for you too, if you are reading this, the blessing that is pronounced:

“‘“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”