As Israel prepares to cross the Jordan River into the promised land, Moses has finished reviewing the Law, and is now exhorting the people to keep it.
I don't usually like to give the story away, but the fact is that Moses is going to die. You'll notice that in preparation for that fact, it is not just Moses who is charging the people to keep the commandments. The elders are also being used to speak with the people. Then, in verse nine, we'll see the Levitical priests also speaking to the people with Moses.
When they crossed over into the Promised Land, the people were to find some large stones and coat them with lime.
Lime is calcium oxide, which was used to make whitewash, mortar, and plaster. The stones would be made coated with lime, making them white, and the Law written on them "very distinctly." This term is actually two verbs in Hebrew, "Yaw-TAB baw-AR," meaning "done well and made clear."
I believe that there is something to learn from this passage. You see, to get lime, you can either burn limestone or burn bones. Burning two tons of limestone will give you about a ton of lime. Cremating a human body will produce about 4lbs. of lime dust. It would seem more productive to burn the limestone, yet in the Bible, the only other times lime shows up in the Bible is in the context of people's bones being burned to lime (Isa. 33:12; Amos 2:1).
This tells me that If I want the Word of God to be well done in my life, I'm going to have to be "well done!" In other words, if the Word of God is going to be made clear to others, I have to be destroyed. I must decrease, my flesh must be burned away. It is only then that people will see the Word "done well and made clear" in my life.
The Israelites were to take these stones to Mount Ay-BAWL, and build an altar there. The stones of the altar were not to be cut. As the Lord said in Exodus,
Ex. 20:25 "If you make an altar of stone for Me, you shall not build it of cut stones, for if you wield your tool on it, you will profane it."
There was a time I believed because of this law that church buildings should be simple and even somewhat ugly. However, I had not realized that this command in Deuteronomy was given after God had commissioned Moses to build the very ornate and impressive tabernacle. The people of Israel have an ornate tabernacle, and yet God is having them build another altar, a simple one made of earth, without cut stones. How then do we process these things into our own application?
My understanding at the moment is that there is nothing wrong with an impressive and ornate tabernacle that gives glory to God through craftsmanship.
However, the altar on which we sacrifice must not be distorted or bring distraction through the works of our hands. What is the altar? The writer of Hebrews said,
Heb. 13:10 We have an altar...
And the sacrifice on that altar is the praise of - and thanksgiving to - God on our lips. It is doing good and sharing. This, then, is where we offer the purity of an earthen altar, one which has none of our fleshly addition to it. We must not try to make the altar of our lives - on which we offer praise, thanksgiving, and good works - visually impressive with our great ability.
Moses had told them back in chapter 11,
Deut. 11:29 "It shall come about, when the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, that you shall place the blessing on Mount Gher-ee-ZEEM and the curse on Mount Ay-BAWL."
Now, he is giving them much more detail about this task. When the enter the land, they are to act out a ceremony - the curse represented on one side, the blessing on the other. Six tribes of Israel will stand in front of one mountain, six in front of the other, with the Levites in the middle.
The two mountains will be Mount Gher-ee-ZEEM and Mount Ay-BAWL. Both are about the same height, and very similar in shape. However, Gher-ee-ZEEM is lush with trees, gardens, and springs, while Ay-BAWL is barren and desolate, with only gray rocks. A perfect personification of blessings and curses.
They will do this in Joshua chapter eight:
Josh. 8:33-35 All Israel with their elders and officers and their judges were standing on both sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, the stranger as well as the native. Half of them stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had given command at first to bless the people of Israel. Then afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel with the women and the little ones and the strangers who were living among them.
The Levites would then shout out the various laws that brought cursings upon sinners, and the people on each side would say "amen." What does "aw-MAEN" mean? "Verily, truly, so be it."
They would hear these things, agree with them, and acknowledge the benefits of following them, as well as the consequences for disobeying them.
It is interesting to me that both groups acknowledged it in the ceremony, regardless of whether they were on the blessing side or the curse side. This reminds me that someday, a similar things will happen:
Phil. 2:10-11 ...at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Regardless of which side each person chose, they will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord.
If the people obeyed the Word of God, there would be huge blessings. As a nation, they would be unbeatable. In farming, ranching, and family-building they would be prosperous. They just had to stay on the straight and narrow path.
I think verse two uses a wonderful description, that the blessings would "overtake" them. So many people are always running around trying to find, capture, and overtake the blessings. But here we see that if we would just be obedient to the Word, then the blessings will overtake us.
If, however, the people did not obey the Word of God, then God would consider that as them having forsaken Him. In that case, the opposite of the blessings would take place. They would be continually defeated as a nation. Their farming, ranching, and attempts at raising a family would all fail. They would be sick, confused, enslaved, and destroyed.
It is important to notice that verse 47 says the curses will come upon you...
Deut. 28:47 "Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things"
It is so vitally important to serve with joy. We sing this song quite a bit around here:
Psa. 100:1-5 Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth. Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.
I pray that as we sing it, we will be saying truthfully that it is a joy and a privilege to serve the Lord, not a bummer of a burden.
The Israelites had seen so many things that God had done for them during the last forty years. The plagues on Egypt, the pillar of cloud and fire, the parting of the Red Sea, water from the rock, manna from heaven, and victories in battle. And yet, although they saw, they did not get it. Why? Because faith doesn't come from seeing miracles - it is a gift from God.
Many people ask for miracles so that faith will be produced. But that is so unbiblical, because faith and sight are opposite things. The fact is, miracles don't produce faith. Remember that the psalmist wrote,
Psa. 106:7 Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders; They did not remember Your abundant kindnesses, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
All of Israel was accountable for this covenant, even the future generations who were not yet born.
I have talked with many people over the years who have made a sinful decision, heard the preaching of the word defining it as sin, and yet still justified their actions, saying, "You know, I have peace about that decision. I feel like God's given me peace about this. I finally have peace for the first time in years."
Listen: Our emotions and opinions count for nothing in determining sin and righteousness. It is the Word of God which defines sin, not our feelings. If the Word of God says I'm in sin, then it doesn't matter if I feel like I've got peace. I'm deceived. Just because I feel peace doesn't mean that I'm not bringing the curses of God down upon my life. And even though I think I have peace, I can not expect that my stubbornness to continue in sin will lead to anything but the Lord not forgiving me.
There are a lot of things that God has not revealed in His Word which people are curious about. "Why does God do this? How does that work? When did this take place? What if this other thing were to happen?" Maybe I'm too simple, but I'm frankly not interested in hypothesizing about things God hasn't told us. The secret things belong to Him, and I need to be busy with the things He has told me.
Moses knew that the Israelites would rebel and incur the curses of God. But he also reassures them that when they return to God, God will return them to the land. And the Lord has proven this time and again in both ancient and recent history.
Some people like to think that they are an instrument of God's judgment. That they are harsh and brutal because they're defending righteousness and God is using them as a tool to bring about His curses on others.
But don't let this escape your notice: When God uses people as a tool to influct judgment upon His people, they themselves always end up judged. God has promised to inflict these curses upon those who persecute His people, even though that persecution was accomplishing His will. The Lord has claimed that vengeance is His. I'm happy to let Him do it without me.
Life and death, blessing or curse. It is a simple choice. It is not too difficult to walk in God's ways. As the writer of Hebrews said,
Heb. 12:4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin
Saints, God wants us to choose life, to choose real life, a life of walking righteously with Him.