As we start this new book, here is a head’s up that we’ll be going back to our normal six chapters per week rhythm as we read through Deuteronomy. Sundays will go back to being a rest (or catch-up) day.
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No matter how old we get, sometimes we need to be told something more than once. We all need to be reminded of what’s true and what’s good. In a nutshell, the entire book of Deuteronomy is Moses reminding the Israelites of the Law that had been given to them. This wasn’t, however, merely a carbon copy of the instructions given to the Israelites in Exodus and Leviticus. Instead it’s a restatement and retelling of the Law for a whole new generation of Israelites.
As a reminder, the Israelites had been wandering in the wilderness for some 40 years at this point. They were on the verge of entering the land that had been promised to them generations before. This was a huge moment in the life of the Israelites! But before they could settle the Promised Land, God wanted to reiterate his Covenant with them. They needed to be reminded of what the expectations were. Unlike the Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis (which was unconditional), the Mosaic Covenant was conditional: God would keep His promise to bless the Israelites if they remained faithful to Him. As Moses explains all of this to the next generation of Israelites, they have a choice to make: Will they wander away from God’s Law or remain faithful to it?
So, what can we learn by reading Deuteronomy? Any time we open up God’s Word, we can learn from it because God’s Word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11). The stories in Deuteronomy can help deepen our theology and shape what we believe to be true about God. Second, like the Israelites, we need constant reminders of what is true. We wander from what God has called us to be, so we need to be reminded over and over what is true (and what isn’t). Finally, Moses sums up the choice to pursue the things of God in this sermon found in Deuteronomy 30:19-20:
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life,and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
As Christians reading the book of Deuteronomy, we’re reminded that choosing to follow Jesus means choosing life. By listening to His voice and holding fast to Him, we can live the life that God has intended for each one of us. As we read Deuteronomy together, take great notes, highlight the things that stick out to you along the way, and make connections to the New Testament. Above all, ask God each day what He wants you to learn and apply from this book.
Read Deuteronomy 1
The Command to Leave Horeb
1 These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan—that is, in the Arabah—opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab. 2 (It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.)
3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded him concerning them. 4 This was after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and at Edrei had defeated Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth.
5 East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to expound this law, saying:
6 The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. 7 Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. 8 See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lordswore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”
The Appointment of Leaders
9 At that time I said to you, “You are too heavy a burden for me to carry alone. 10 The Lord your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky. 11 May the Lord, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times and bless you as he has promised!12 But how can I bear your problems and your burdens and your disputes all by myself? 13 Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.”
14 You answered me, “What you propose to do is good.”
15 So I took the leading men of your tribes, wise and respected men, and appointed them to have authority over you—as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens and as tribal officials. 16 And I charged your judges at that time, “Hear the disputes between your people and judgefairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you. 17 Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.” 18 And at that time I told you everything you were to do.
Spies Sent Out
19 Then, as the Lord our God commanded us, we set out from Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites through all that vast and dreadful wilderness that you have seen, and so we reached Kadesh Barnea.20 Then I said to you, “You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. 21 See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
22 Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.”
23 The idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you, one man from each tribe. 24 They left and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshkol and explored it. 25 Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they brought it down to us and reported, “It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.”
Rebellion Against the Lord
26 But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. 27 You grumbled in your tents and said, “The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. 28 Where can we go? Our brothers have made our hearts melt in fear. 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.’”
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 wilderness. 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.”
32 In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God, 33 who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.
34 When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore:35 “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, 36 except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.”
37 Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, “You shall not enter it, either. 38 But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it. 39 And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet knowgood from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it. 40 But as for you, turn around and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.”
41 Then you replied, “We have sinned against the Lord. We will go up and fight, as the Lord our God commanded us.” So every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country.
42 But the Lord said to me, “Tell them, ‘Do not go up and fight, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by your enemies.’”
43 So I told you, but you would not listen. You rebelled against the Lord’s command and in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country. 44 The Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah. 45 You came back and wept before the Lord, but he paid no attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you. 46 And so you stayed in Kadesh many days—all the time you spent there.
One fun aspect of reading a book like Deuteronomy is that we’re able to picture the setting in our minds as the narrative plays out. The book of Deuteronomy (which means “second law”) takes place around 1406 BC, just to the east of the Jordan River. The Israelites, after about forty years of wandering because of the previous generation’s disobedience, are on the verge of entering the Promised Land. But there’s a catch: their leader wouldn’t be going with them. Moses, who had led the Israelites for decades, wouldn’t be allowed to enter the Promised Land due to his own disobedience (see Numbers 20:1-13). With the Israelites all gathered around, Moses has one final chance to address his people before he would pass away.
What unfolds over the next 34 chapters is a mashup of sermons, history lessons, a review of the Law, and a final motivational speech to remind the Israelites to remain faithful to the Covenant they had established with God. The word “remember” is scattered throughout the pages of Deuteronomy fifteen different times. It is evident Moses wanted to make something clear to this new generation: it’s important to learn from the mistakes (and faithfulness!) of those who came before you. As he begins the recounting of history, he reminds them of how they ended up near the Promised Land (v. 6-8), the appointment of leaders over smaller groups of Israelites (v. 9-18), and the sending out of the spies (v. 19-25), and ultimately, the rebellion of Israel and Moses (v. 26-46). He points them to these past failures as a way to remind them to move forward into the Promised Land abiding in the Lord and following His commands.
As we read this chapter (and book) through the lens of twenty-first century Christ followers, we have an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the Israelites. Each time they rebelled, it strained their covenant with God. While we’re under the New Covenant because of Jesus, we still have a tendency to forget God’s faithfulness to us in our own lives. In the same way Moses wanted the Israelites to stop and remember, it would benefit us to do the same. Remember the times that God has shown you grace. Remember the times God blessed you abundantly. Remember those seminal moments in your life when you knew without a shadow of a doubt that God was on the move. God designed our brains to remember. We’re all standing on the shoulders of those whose faith came before us and, much like the Israelites, we need to stop and remember His faithfulness today.
- What stuck out to you in this chapter? Were there any stories Moses told the Israelites that were new to you or that you had forgotten?
- Why does Moses begin Deuteronomy with a history lesson for the Israelites?
- As you take time to remember God’s hand on your life, what are 2-3 moments that stick out most to you? It could be times that you saw God move, times you repented and were shown grace, etc.
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