Tonight, we begin our study of the book of Deuteronomy. This book is essentially Moses' "farewell address" at the end of the Exodus. The people of Israel are about to enter into the Promised Land, and Moses is going to review their history, then remind them of the Law - the reasons it was given, the rules it imposes, and the ramifications of following it or not.
The Israelites are in the Ar-aw-BAW, which is the huge rift that runs from the south end of the Dead Sea all the way down to the Gulf of Aqabah (AWK-ah-bah). Today, it is the border between Israel and Jordan.
After describing where they are, it is pointed out to us when this took place - the 40th year after they'd come out of Egypt. It was the 40th year, but notice that the sentence right it before made a poignant point: it's only an 11-day journey from Kho-RABE, which is Mt. Sinai, to Kaw-DASHE Bar-NAY-ah, the place from which the 12 spies were sent into the Promised Land.
Why did the journey take so much longer than it was supposed to? Because of unbelief. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6), and they infuriated God with their lack of trust in Him. We will be reminded of those exact circumstances a bit later in the chapter.
Moses reviews their history, beginning with when the people were at the foot of Mt. Sinai (Kho-RABE). After giving them the Law, God told them to move - to go in and possess the land which He'd been promising to their ancestors for so long.
Back in Genesis 15, the Lord had made a covenant with Abraham.
Gen. 15:13-16 ..."Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete."
Gen. 15:18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates"
God outlined the land which would be the nation of Israel: From the Nile River in Egypt to the Euphrates River in Iraq.
Why didn't the Lord have Abraham go in and possess the land back then? Because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet complete. God was proving that He is merciful, but the Bible shows us that there is a limit to mercy. After mercy expires, justice must be served.
Mercy expires when someone's iniquity is complete or, put another way, filling up...
1Th. 2:16 ...the measure of their sins...
At the full measure of sins, the completion of iniquity, God would no longer be just if He did not then judge sin.
And so God was being merciful to the Amorites, giving them over 400 years to repent, but they did not. Now, He is commanding the Israelites to go into the land of the Amorites and take it away from them. Their sin is about to be judged.
In addition to God's promise to give the descendants of Abraham the land of Canaan, He'd also promised to increase their number greatly.
Gen. 22:17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.
By Moses' day, this had certainly happened. What had begun with only a man and woman, both senior citizens beyond the child-bearing years, had resulted in approximately three million people camped at the foot of Mount Sinai.
But with larger numbers also comes larger responsibility. There were too many people for Moses to lead, guide, and direct individually.
Ex. 18:13-18 It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening. Now when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, "What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?" Moses said to his father-in-law, "Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws." Moses' father-in-law said to him, "The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone."
Moses was facing "wear out." That term is "naw-BALE" in Hebrew, and it means "to wither and fall, sinking into senseless foolishness." This is what we call burnout - doing the work of so many people that you're going to end up in the funny farm.
Moses knew that what his father-in-law had said was right. And so he told the people that they needed more judges. The people were to choose men that were known to be wise, discerning, and experienced, and Moses would appoint them.
This was the same process followed when the disciples formed a group of deacons to wait tables for the widows, and later when leadership was appointed in churches. In every case, they were selected from those with good reputations, and then appointed by the leadership.
Acts 6:3 "Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task."
They were to consider the reputations, and the disciples would put them in charge. Timothy was told that the men he appointed as elders must be above reproach and have a good reputation (1Tim. 3:2-7).
You see, if a person doesn't have a good reputation within the community, he's not going to be an effective leader. And yet, if the people are the ones who've appointed him, then he won't have the authority to bring necessary discipline, or the respect to bring godly instruction.
Notice too that the leaders were over groups of different sizes. Some would be leaders of thousands, some of hundreds, some of fifties, and some of tens. This teaches us that not every leader is supposed to lead the same size group.
We see it in the church, and we see it in the world. Some people are great home fellowship leaders, but turn out to be terrible pastors. Some people succeed wonderfully when given a single department to supervise, but then fail miserably when promoted to Vice President of the company.
When leaders accept that not every pastor is destined to have a church of thousands, and not every manager is destined to lead the whole corporation, they'll learn to be content with where God has them.
The Israelites traveled from Mt. Sinai to Kaw-DASHE Bar-NAY-ah. Moses told them, "God's given it to us - let's go in!" But the people said, "Well, you know, Moses, faith is fine, but we also need a plan. God did give us brains and common sense, after all. Let's send in spies to figure out the best way for us to go in, and the cities which would make the most sense for us to inhabit."
Unfortunately, Moses didn't say, "So the thing was prayed about." Instead, he said, "So the thing pleased me." It pleased Moses, but did it please the Lord? As it turned out, it was a horrible mistake, a complete failure that undermined the whole plan.
You see, the thing not prayed about, no matter how "common sense" it may be, will usually fail. When we listen to men's reason, but we don't listen for God's direction, we get tripped up.
And Moses, in setting this unfortunate example for his leaders, caused them to fall into the same trap. Joshua, Moses' successor, made the same mistake when a group of men approached him saying, "We're from a long ways away. Make a covenant with us." "How do we know you're not from around here, and are trying to trick us?" was the response. "Well, look at our stale bread, our torn wineskins, and worn-out clothes and sandals. Common sense will tell you we've travelled a long distance."
Josh. 9:14-15 So the men of Israel took some of their provisions, and did not ask for the counsel of the LORD. Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live; and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them.
They relied on sight and common sense instead of prayer. Of course, as it turned out, they were deceiving neighbors - Gibeonites. But it was too late - Joshua had sworn an oath.
Moses had set the example, years before. Saints, what kind of example are we setting for our next generation? Is it one of prayer and being led by the Lord? Or is it one of hypocrisy - of hearing in church about the necessity of prayer, but never really practicing it?
As God had promised, the land was amazing, a land flowing with milk and honey.
Num. 13:23 Then they came to the valley of Esh-KOLE and from there cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes; and they carried it on a pole between two men, with some of the pomegranates and the figs.
The fruit was awe-inspiring, but the report was terrifying. You see, of the twelve spies sent in, ten of them said,
Num. 13:27-28 ..."We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there."
Num. 13:31-33 ..."We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us." So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, "The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight."
When they got the bad report, they grumbled in their tents. That word "grumbled" is "Raw-GAN," which means, "to murmur, whisper, and backbite." They said, "The Lord hates us. That's been His plan the whole time - to give us false hope by leading us out of Egypt, but then having the Amorites kill us!" But even though the Israelites whispered quietly in their tents, the Lord heard.
The Israelites continued complaining, saying, "Those spies made our hearts melt with what they said." You know what? They melted their own hearts. They had a choice - listen to the spies and melt their hearts, or listen to Moses and not be shocked or fearful.
God had certainly proven through His faithfulness in the past that He would be faithful in the future. He continued to guide them miraculously:
Ex. 13:21 The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.
He'd rained down bread from heaven continuously (Exo. 16), and provided water for them miraculously (Exo. 17). But they didn't trust God.
When the congregation grumbled in their tents, they started a revolt.
Num. 14:4 So they said to one another, "Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt."
When Joshua and Caleb heard this, they tore their clothes and told the people, "Look everyone, if God is pleased with us, He'll bring us into the land and give it to us." Then they implored,
Num. 14:9 "Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them."
And so now, 38 years later, Caleb and Joshua were the only guys over 60 entering the promised land. They were the only ones who remained alive of that generation, because they followed the Lord fully (Num. 32:12).
Part of the people's grumblings had been,
Num. 14:3 "Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?"
God heard that, and told them that their children would be the ones to enter into the land. But in the midst of that statement is something fascinating to me. God says that they "have no knowledge of good or evil." Remember, it was those twenty years old and upward who'd been judged (Num. 14:29).
When the Israelites realized that they were about to be judged and lose the land, they suddenly had a change of mind. They decided that the best thing to do would be to go in and fight. But it wasn't the best thing. Moses warned them that God wasn't going to go with them.
Num. 14:44 But they went up heedlessly to the ridge of the hill country; neither the ark of the covenant of the LORD nor Moses left the camp.
Moses is letting us know, "Hey, I didn't go. I didn't want anything to do with that!"
How many times have we seen things like this in the Word and in life? Whether it's Balaam riding the donkey right towards the angel of the Lord who would have killed him with his sword (Num. 22), or Samson saying,
Judg. 16:20 ..."I will go out as at other times and shake myself free." But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him.
I've seen people in sin try to "step out in faith," and it's always a disaster.
Moses reminds them that after the defeat, the Israelites wept before the Lord. But God wouldn't listen to them. Why not? Because their sorrow was not over their sin, but over their defeat.
2Cor. 7:10 ...the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.
The lesson that God was waiting for them to learn was obedience and trust.