I hope you’ve been enjoying the readings this week as we have read the words Moses has chosen to leave Israel with as they prepare themselves to enter the promised land. I imagine it must have been a trying experience for Moses and his role as a leader of the people. He has to deliver words to people who will be entering a land that he will not be able to see. Moses also must pass on warnings and remind them of the promises of God, knowing that the people will never cease to turn toward false gods and false worship (as we still do today). He urges them to faithful to a God who has always been faithful to us, even though we do not deserve it, nor do the people deserve the land they are about to inhabit.
Next week we’ll finally transfer our attention from Moses, whom we met back in Exodus, as Joshua will take over.
In Acts we continue to see just how the Spirit is building up this church and doing so by spreading the boundaries out far and wide. Disciples are voyaging around the Mediterranean, going to both Jews and Gentiles. We read about the council where it was decided more clearly how to bring the Gentiles into the fold and what was (and really what wasn’t) required of them. This good news is brought to the churches and Paul puts himself in harms way to do such work, getting himself arrested.
Deuteronomy is the fifth and final book the Pentateuch, so well done at making it this far. As you begin reading it, I thought I’d give you a bit of background.
Deuteronomy tells us in the opening line of its author, Moses. These first books are commonly called the Law of Moses and are attributed to him (eg. Matthew 19:7-8, Acts 3:22-23), but there is debate as to what exactly this includes. Due to some of the literary formatting and content such as an account of Moses’ own death, it is thought there is additional help from editors or authors to take the words of Moses and fit them into a greater narrative.
The book begins where the previous left off, and ends there as well, on the plains of Moab (Dt. 34). It is a time for Israel to prepare itself for what will come in Joshua, the delayed conquest of the land that God had promised them, and for Moses to transfer leadership and give his parting words. We find in Deuteronomy another instance of the Ten Commandments and a renewal of the covenant with God.
Think about the overall story we’ve seen so far. God has made a world for us to live in and it was good. But we sinned. We disobeyed and turned from God, bringing sin into creation. Having been cast out of the garden, you’d think the people would be alone. Yet God does not forget humanity. He chooses for himself a people and calls Abraham out to be the father of many nations. As we read, it isn’t because he was a perfect man–nor was Isaac or Jacob, or the other so-called patriarchs. God chose us and he remains perfectly faithful as we are too often faithless.
God promises a land to his people, but there is an interlude in Egypt during which the Israelites are slaves. By God’s strong hand he delivers them from bondage, showing his might to Israel’s enemies. He guides them out of oppression toward a promise of a land to call their own. All along the way the people grumble and complain, looking back favorably on Egypt. Working through his servant, Moses, God disciplines his people, but never leaves us. He gives us laws to guide us and sets up camp right in the midst of the people.
He actively guides them to the doorstep of the promised land, a land the scouts see is full of milk and honey, but also of formidable enemies. So even though God has been with them from the time of Abraham and literally camps with them in the tabernacle, their fear overwhelms them and they reject God’s will. So the promised land remains for God’s people a promise, but for a new generation. They wander one year for every day the scouts were in Canaan. For forty years they continue in the wilderness until, at the end of Numbers, their great numbers camp again at the doorstep.
Moses knows he will not enter with them, only Joshua and Caleb have that privilege from the generation that disobeyed. Deuteronomy is the book that further sets the scene for the final transition that began with Abraham and will come to fruition with Joshua. Israel are a people of the promise. God told Abraham to leave the land he knew and follow, and the people have been following with the hope of a land to call their own. And now in Deuteronomy, they are almost there.
We finally come to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, a codified law for God’s people. To many, the law characterizes the Old Testament and the old covenant, and given its prominence not only here, but throughout the many books of the Old Testament, it isn’t hard to understand that view. But do not forget the preceding chapters and stories in Exodus and Genesis.
God graciously created this world and placed us in it. God has provided for a people that he chose for himself, not based on their superiority as a people, but because of his grace. God called Abraham out to be the father of many nations, made a covenant with him, and while Abraham struggles in his faith, God remains ever faithful. He protects his people, provides for them, and in Exodus we see how God set them free from the oppression in Egypt.
God did not come to Moses and deliver two tablets of stone and say, “Moses, deliver these to the people. Gather all the elders and proclaim this law to them, and let it be known that whoever keeps it perfectly will be rewarded. In five years, I’ll be back, and if you were good, I’ll have a chat with Pharaoh about letting you go.”
Instead God hears the cries of his people and frees them from Egypt. He sets them free, parts waters, gives manna from Heaven, and also as an act of grace, he then gives them this law. Grace precedes the law. The Israelites were never a people who earned or deserved God’s favor. They did not merit it. God chose them for himself, and in his grace saves them. The law follows as a way to live as God’s people, and a way to live well.
Be careful when simplistically dividing the Old and New Testaments as though one were law and the other grace, as though grace were absent in the beginning. The Bible is a book that reveals to us who our God is, and we see he is and always has been a God of grace.
This week we made it through some of the most monumental events in the history of God’s people: their captivity in Egypt, the Passover, and the Exodus. It was a lot to cover in only sixteen chapters. In Luke we see the birth of Jesus and John foretold, people recognize Jesus’ for who he is, whether it is Simeon or shepherds, and Jesus initiates his public ministry with fasting and teaching in the synagogue. We also read the first four of the psalms.
Like in the beginning of the Gospel of John, John the Baptist plays a large part in the opening chapters of Luke. What I love about him is his amazing humility. The people around him see his boldness and how he speaks with authority, and his followers don’t want anyone to detract from his notoriety, but John recognizes that he is only to prepare a way for Jesus. He is unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. John’s job, and a job he is delighted to do, is to point others away from himself and to Jesus.
It’s a humility that recognizes that we shouldn’t seek out glory for ourselves or try to claim credit for work that only God can do. God is the center of this whole story.
We see God as the main player in our Old Testament readings. Looking back to Joseph, we saw how only God could bring him from slavery into the courts of Pharaoh, and only God is able to do it again with Moses. Because of the persecution of the people of Israel, when he is just a baby, Moses is set adrift and found in a river. It is the daughter of Pharaoh who finds him, has him cared for, and makes him her son. Joseph and Moses have two very different ways to be brought into Pharaoh’s courts, but God is there in both.
When Moses is called by God to return to Pharaoh’s courts, to the very person who had sought to kill him, again it is only achieved because God is with him. God gives him words, God reveals his name to Moses, he promises he’ll work signs and wonders through Moses, and he even provides Aaron. Moses is a great character from our history, but like John the Baptist, his greatness is only in that he points others to God. There is no way Moses is taking credit for parting the Red Sea. His job is to make sure the world knows that it is our God who has done such a marvelous work.
That is our job as well. We don’t broadcast how great we are or what great things we have done. We just point others to our God and give him credit for all the good things that he has done.
As I read this week this verse just jumped out to me:
“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
Moses is to lead God’s people out from slavery and Egypt, and here he explains the two roles in this plan. God’s role is to provide their salvation. What is left for the people to do? What must they do to aid in their exodus? What is their role?
“You have only to be silent.”
What a picture of grace. What have we to do? God has provided all we need in Jesus Christ. What is left for us? The faith we have is in a way an absence of our work. It is a recognition that our works cannot do it and our faith is complete trust in the work of God. We fully rely on what God has done for us to be enough.
When it comes to who we are and what we can do, we can only be silent. If anyone dares break the silence, if anyone believes they have something to say, they can only speak God’s Word, Jesus Christ. Therefore as it is written, if anyone boasts, boast in the Lord.