Introduction: The name “Deuteronomy” is the English translation of a Greek phrase in the Septuagint “Deuteronomion.” It means “repetition of the law” or “copy of the law.” (Dt. 17:18). Excluding three sermons at the beginning, middle, and end, the vast majority of the book either repeats or expounds upon God’s Law set forth in the first four books of the Torah or Pentateuch. The Deuteronomic code is the heart of the book (Chapters 5 through 26). It was God’s covenant with His people. The word “covenant” appears 27 times in the text. Yet, the book is more than just a restatement of the covenant. It was a covenant of renewal. For a nation that had rebelled and spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness, they were in desperate need of renewal. The Deuteronomic code was the path to repentance and renewal. Before they could be renewed and find God’s mercy and grace, they needed to know their sins (Ro. 3:20). As a prologue to this covenant of renewal, Moses begins with three chapters summarizing portions of their time in the wilderness. The three chapters discuss the importance of faith, trust, God’s mercy and grace, and being a Spirit-led leader.
The dangers of legalism. When studying the Law, it is important to note what the Law will not do. It is not a route to salvation. If that were the case, Jesus’ death was not necessary: “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” (Gal. 2:21). Long before Jesus ever came, God condemned the Jewish religious leaders who had turned the Law and the festivals into a set of ritualistic obligations. People did what they were told, but their hearts were not in it. “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.” (Amos 5:21; same Is. 66:3). Jesus’ greatest condemnations were therefore directed at religious leaders who turned the Law into a set of legalistic rituals (e.g., Matt. 23:24). We must be careful not to do the same in studying the Law. Jesus came to fulfill the Law (Matt. 5:17). By faith in His atoning death, we are no longer judged under the Law as a condition of our salvation: “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Ro. 7:6; 8:3). “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal. 5:18). But if our salvation is not based upon complying with the Law, why then should we read or study the book of Deuteronomy? Are we simply yoking ourselves to rituals and obligations that we are now free to ignore?
Seven reasons God’s Law remains relevant today. In some areas, the Law has a different application than it did when Moses gave it. For example, instead of offering physical animal, dietary, or clothing sacrifices we are called upon today to make “spiritual sacrifices.” (1 Pet. 2:5). Likewise, for certain civic laws, we look to the principle behind the law in applying it to modern society. In other areas like the laws of morality, sexual purity, and the Ten Commandments, the application of the Law to our lives as a standard to aspire to has not changed. Although the application may differ based upon the kind of law and modern facts and circumstances, the study of God’s Law in this book is vital today for at least several reasons.
Through the study of the Law our sins become known to us (Ro. 3:20; 7:7). Once we then repent of them, our covenant can be renewed. If the Law did not apply, there would be no sins for God to reveal to us. If we believe that we are without sin, the truth is not within us (1 Jo. 1:8).
Jesus says that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jo. 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6). “[I]f you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matt. 19:17). He is the great “I AM” who gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Jo. 8:58; Ex. 3:14). As a Jew, He further would not have casually mixed the term “commandments” with “sayings” as some might do in English. The Jews had a reverent hierarchy between the Ten Commandments, the interpretive statutes, and the interpretive ordinances. This was also a distinction that God made to Isaac: “because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.” (Gen. 26:5). Yet, Jesus came to correct people’s motives in following the Ten Commandments. He wants your obedience to be motivated by love and not obligation. He therefore summarized the Ten Commandments as something that comes naturally once a person loves the Lord and his or her neighbor (Matt. 22:35-38; Lk. 10:27; Dt. 6:5). Moses taught us to live obediently as it is written. Jesus taught us to love obediently as it is written. Whether we keep the Ten Commandments out of love (and not obligation) is also the test regarding whether we “know” Jesus: “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 Jo. 2:3). Some will come to Jesus boasting of their works or compliance with the Law. Yet, if their works or their compliance with the Law was not motivated by a love for Him, He may respond “I never knew you.” (Matt. 7:23).
If we obey the Law for the right reasons, we become slaves to righteousness. If we do not obey the Law, we become slaves to sin: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Ro. 6:16). “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”’ (Jo. 8:34). “Therefore, do not let sin rule your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires.” (Rom. 6:12). “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Gen. 4:7). If we freely embrace sin, God may eventually hand us over to the lusts of the flesh (Rom. 1:24-28; Eph. 4:19; Ps. 81:12). Thus, He commands that “each of you know how to possess his own vessel [body] in sanctification and honor.” (1 Th. 4:4). Have you become a slave to righteousness? Or, are you leading a double life?
We are commanded to be Holy. “You shall be holy, For I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:16; Lev. 11:44). When we are holy through moral conduct and a loving heart, we become a light to others (Dt. 4:5-6; Matt. 5:14). Conversely, we dishonor God and repel others when we break the Law: “You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles because of you,’ just as it is written.” (Ro. 2:23-24).
God’s love is unconditional and not tied to how close you come to following the Ten Commandments. Christ died at the cross out of love for sinners (Jo. 3:16). Moreover, the Ten Commandments represent a standard of moral conduct that none can expect to consistently pass (Ro. 3:20). Yet, this does not mean that we should ignore them. They are still the standard of righteousness that believers should aspire to meet out of devotion (and not obligation) toward Christ: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” (2 Tim. 3:16). Without a standard to aspire to, people will do whatever feels right in their own eyes. During the time of the Judges, the people rejected God’s standard of righteousness and adopted Canaanite practices when it suited them. “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jdgs. 21:25; 17:6). For most of the Church’s history, it has been understood that the Ten Commandments still apply as a goal for moral conduct, but not as a test for salvation. In the past, the Church also used its influence to make these Ten Commandments part of civil law. Although the Sabbath was never understood as a test for salvation (Col. 2:16-17), the Church ensured that every state in America set up “blue laws” that limited business hours and the sale of alcohol on Sundays. Yet, in the modern era, some fear that teaching the Ten Commandments as a standard or righteousness will become a slippery slope to making them a test for salvation. As a result, in many churches, the Ten Commandments are not taught at all. Yet, without any standard to aspire to out of devotion, many believers feel comfortable doing whatever feels right in their own eyes. Yet, God warns against doing what feels right in our own eyes. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25; 12:15).
In addition to being a standard to aspire to, the study of the Law also brings wisdom and understanding to us: “So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”’ (Dt. 4:5-6; see also, Ps. 119:98-105). Only “fools” reject the wisdom of God’s Law (Prov. 1:7).
Finally, Moses promises certain “blessings” (not salvation) for those who follow the Law (Dt. 28). Some blessings are unconditional. For example, the blessing of salvation is not conditioned on obedience (Gal. 2:21). But there are other conditional blessings in the Bible. One example is in the area of health: “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer.” (Ex. 15:26; Lev. 26:3-13; Dt. 28:2-14). Another example of this is in the area of prayer. When you follow the Law out of devotion (not obligation), He can clearly hear your prayers (Jam. 5:16). Conversely, when you openly rebel against Him, your prayers may be “hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7; Jo. 9:31; Ps. 66:18; Prov. 28:9; Isa. 1:15). The reason for this is that sin cannot be in His presence, and He “cannot look on wickedness.” (Hab. 1:13). When you act righteously, your prayers are a sweet aroma (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:3). Yet, when you are in open rebellion, your prayers are putrid. We can take comfort that, no matter what we do, God will never leave or forsake a saved believer (Heb. 13:5; Dt. 31:6). Yet, He is not obligated to act upon our prayers if we are not in fellowship with Him. Separately, in the area of curses, the Bible is clear that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-- for it is written, ‘cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’” (Gal. 3:13). Yet, for a nation, these “curses” may still apply when a nation rebels against God (Lev. 26:14-37; Dt. 27:15-26; 28:15-68). A curse can also be thought of as a form of discipline. God disciplines those who He loves (Heb. 12:6). The curse or discipline can be lifted once a nation repents. This is exactly what happened after the people of Nineveh repented in response to Jonah’s warning (Jonah 3:1-10). Some might find it hard for some to accept the Bible’s statements about curses and blessings. Chapter one therefore begins with a question of faith. Will you believe the book contains the “Words” of Moses, inspired by the Holy Spirit?
Moses’ claim of authorship. The book begins with an unambiguous claim as to its source. Moses (guided by the Spirit) claims to have spoken the words contained in the book while the Jews were preparing to enter the Promised Land: “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel and Laban and Hazeroth and Dizahab.” (Dt. 1:1). The Jews took Moses’ words very seriously. They called the book “élleh haddebarim” for “these are words.” By shorthand, it is called “debarim” or “words.” Moses repeated his claims of authorship on several other occasions (Dt. 1:5-6, 9; 5:1; 27:1, 9; 29:2; 31:1, 9, 22, 24, 30; 33:1). He later made clear that he not only spoke these words, he recorded them from beginning to end: “Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi . . . After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, he gave his command to the Levites . . . ‘Take this book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. There it will remain as a witness against you.” (Dt. 31:9, 24-26).
Moses begins his final speech
The Documentary Hypothesis. For thousands of years, few questioned these claims. Not until the early nineteenth century did some writers suggest that the Torah or Pentateuch might have had more than one author. During this time, German scholar Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette (1780 - 1849) claimed to have discovered something that the rabbis for centuries got wrong - - that Moses did not write the book of Deuteronomy (Gleason Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago Moody Press 1994), 91). He felt troubled by the fact that Moses made inconsistent references in the Torah. For example, he refers to the mountain where he received the Ten Commandments as “Sinai” in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers (Ex. 19:2, 20; 34:2; Lev. 7:38; Nu. 33:15). Yet, in Deuteronomy, he refers to the same mountain as both “Horeb” and “Sinai” (Dt. 1:6; 33:2). The style of writing in the book was different. Some were also troubled that Moses would have referenced the Jews being “scattered” by God’s judgment hundreds of years before it happened (Dt. 4:27; 28:64). Rather than accepting the supernatural and the possibility that Moses would have recorded a prophecy that was fulfilled by the Babylonian captivity, critics scoff that the book must have been written hundreds of years later after the Jews were taken into Babylonian captivity. Some argue that the Deuteronomic code (chapters 5 through 26) was not drafted until the 7th Century B.C. during King Josiah’s reign (641-609 B.C.).
King Josiah’s alleged conspiracy. King Josiah recorded that he discovered the Law during the last days of his reign (2 Kgs. 22:8-13). Some now claim – without any evidence -- that Deuteronomy must have been written just before that. Others believed that King Josiah conspired to write the Deuteronomic code and then falsely claimed to have found it. Under either scenario, the authors falsely claimed in the book that Moses wrote it (Dt. 31:9, 24-26). Why would they do this? At the time, Judah at this time was a vassal of Assyria. Yet, during King Josiah’s reign, Assyria began to decline in power. Sometime around 622 B.C., King Josiah launched religious reforms. Following the format of vassal state covenants of the day, he or others allegedly wrote the Deuteromic code as a covenant between the kingdom of Judah and Yahweh. The theory was that this would create a sense of nationalism amongst the Jews and allow King Josiah to consolidate religious worship (and therefore) power in Jerusalem (See, Dt. 12:5-7). If this were true, the book of Deuteronomy was allegedly not written until hundreds of years after Moses’ death, sometime between 1735 and 1480 B.C. Other critics later claimed that the first three chapters at the beginning and the chapters at the end did not appear until the end of the Babylonian exile in the late 6th Century B.C. Yet, to accomplish this, the writers in different centuries needed to conspire together to falsely claim that Moses authored the book. Moreover, rather than trying to cover up alleged inconsistencies in places, names, and styles, the authors were sloppy in their fraud by keeping the alleged inconsistencies in the five books.
The authentication of the prophets. The prophets apparently never knew about this conspiracy. They claimed that Moses authored this book (1 Kgs. 2:3; 8:53; 2 Kgs. 14:6; 18:12). For the documentary hypothesis to be true, these prophets were blind men who were duped into believing and accepting Moses’ claims of authorship. Only the more enlightened men of the nineteenth century would learn the truth.
Paul’s verification of Moses’ authorship. Paul was “educated at the feet of Gamaliel in the strict ways of our ancestral law.” (Acts 22:3). Thus, he was trained by one of the best rabbis at the time. Yet, he and his peers were also apparently not aware of the conspiracy. Based upon Jewish tradition at that time, he was clear that it was Moses who physically wrote the law contained in Deuteronomy: “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness.” (Ro. 10:5). God cannot lie: “It is impossible for God to lie.” (Heb. 6:18; Tit. 1:2; Nu. 23:19). Thus, God could not have told Paul to write false things in the Bible about who penned the Law in Deuteronomy. Paul’s claim to have received the Word by divine revelation would then also be suspect. Half of the New Testament would then be suspect.
Jesus’ verification of Moses’ authorship. Jesus also repeatedly referenced Moses as the drafter of the Law. He also pointed out that those who doubt Moses’ authorship will also likely have trouble believing His Word: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (Jo. 5:46-47; Matt. 19:3-9 (Dt. 24:1-4); Mk. 10:3-5). Why of course would Jesus refer to Moses as the drafter of the Law if He knew all along as God that Moses did not draft it? During His encounter with Satan in the wilderness in a weakened state, He further quoted from Deuteronomy three times to rebuke Satan (Matt. 4:1-10; quoting Dt. 8:3; 6:16; 5:7-9). After hearing these words, Satan fled (Matt. 4:11). For the documentary hypothesis to be true, both Jesus and Satan had to have been unaware of the book's fraudulent authorship. Jesus also could not be God if He were perpetuating a lie regarding Moses’ authorship (Heb. 5:18). Satan would also have little reason to flee something penned hundreds of years after Moses under false authorship. If the documentary hypothesis were true, more enlightened men in the nineteenth century would have been able to figure out a fraud that had escaped the prophets, Paul, and even Jesus. The mere thought of this line of reasoning should be enough to make even the most casual Christian recoil.
The use of the documentary hypothesis in seminary schools. Sadly, the documentary hypothesis is now taught as required reading in most seminaries and Catholic schools. Many feel the Spirit quenched under this teaching. Seminary schools are therefore sometimes referred to as “cemetery” schools. If we cannot accept that the words of the book belong to God’s appointed Law giver, then there is no reason to accept the book’s claims as true. Neither the certain conditional blessings for obedience nor the curses for disobedience can be accepted as authoritative. As you read and study this book, it is for you to decide whether to accept in faith that this is the “Word” of God spoken through Moses or simply the conjured thoughts of leaders hundreds of years later who were trying to manipulate the masses.
The Jews could have reached the Promised Land in 11 days. The remainder of chapters 1 through chapter 3 is a prologue to the Law. Moses begins by reminding the Jews of the consequences of their prior disobedience. Sadly, their journey to the Promised Land suffered a major detour. Their journey from Mount Horeb should have lasted only 11 days: “It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.” (Dt. 1:2). Yet, they failed to believe God’s promises and rebelled against His directive to enter the Promised Land. As a result, they spent 38 additional years wandering in the wilderness. A life without faith cannot please God (Heb. 11:6). A life without faith will result in disobedience, suffering, and sorrow.
Disobedience to God’s Law can cause you to wander in the wilderness. Maybe you find yourself wandering in a wilderness. You may find yourself living without joy. You may find yourself filled with sorrow or bitterness. There may be many reasons for this. Yet, if this applies to you, you must first ask if you have rebelled against God’s will. If so, God may have brought you to the wilderness to get your attention. If you are unsure, you must first ask if you truly know God’s Word. It is only through the study of the Law that your sins and your rebellions against God can become known to you. “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (Ro. 3:20; 7:7).
Disobedience to God’s Law can cause a nation to wander in the wilderness. The story of the Jews’ time in the wilderness shows that an entire nation can suffer when it rejects God’s Law. This of course confronts the modern notion that God’s standards of morality should have no part in our nation’s laws. America began to vigorously expunge God from its laws and schools in the 1960s. We must ask how the moral fiber of the nation has fared since then. Have families improved? Are children doing better than before? Does it appear that our nation is wandering in a wilderness of decline? If Christians say nothing as God is removed from all public discourse, how will our nation find its way out of the wilderness?
We must first study and then act upon God’s Law out of devotion. Moses began his address by first restating God’s faithfulness and then expanding upon the Law that God gave him at Mount Horeb: “In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the children of Israel, according to all that the Lord had commanded him to give to them, after he had defeated Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth and Edrei. Across the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this law, saying, ‘The Lord our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain.’” (Dt. 1:3-6). The Jews waited at Mount Horeb for almost a year before they began their journey. They arrived at Mount Horeb at the start of the third month of the first year of their journey (Ex. 19:1). They left on the 20th day of the second month of the second year (Nu. 10:11). They spent an entire year receiving the instructions for the Tabernacle, the Ten Commandments, God’s civil law, the rules for sacrifices, the rules for the priesthood, and the rules for the festivals. God, however, did not want them to remain there forever. He created the Jews to be a light to the world: “It is too small a thing that you should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make you a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Is. 49:6). We are likewise commanded to be doers of God’s Word: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (Jam 1:22). “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk. 6:46). God did not call us to live in a monastery, isolated from the world. We are instead to be a light to others (Matt. 5:14). We were also created to do good works in the world (Eph. 2:10). Have you been studying God’s Word without acting upon it?
Don’t forget God’s Word or you may also wander in the wilderness. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses was forced to repeat and expound upon the Law (Dt. 1:6). It was only because the Jews forgot what God did for them and His Law that they were forced to wander. Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, Moses uses the word “remember” at least 15 times. We also need repetition in studying the Law. We also need to learn from the Jews’ mistakes. If we don’t learn from their mistakes, we are likely to repeat them: “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction.” (1 Cor. 10:10-11). How much time do you spend studying God’s Law?
God promised a land that extended to the Euphrates, but the Jews lacked the faith to claim it. God promised a land that extended through southern Lebanon all the way to the Euphrates in Iraq: “‘Turn and set your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites, and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negev and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. ‘See, I have placed the land before you; go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to them and their descendants after them.’” (Dt. 1:7-8; 11:24). He offered this land to Abraham (Gen. 15:18-21). He again offered this land to Joshua (Josh. 1:4). The Jews simply lacked the faith to fully claim the land that He had promised them. Although it may seem that the Jews will never fulfill His promise, all things are possible for those who love God who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). During the Millennial Reign, Jesus will establish the nation of Israel as a beacon for all the nations with boundaries that extend all the way to the Euphrates. Has God made any callings in your life that you have not acted upon?
God’s miraculous growth of Abraham’s descendants. The Jews had no reason to lack faith in God’s promises. He had proved Himself faithful to multiple descendants of Abraham: “‘The LORD your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are this day like the stars of heaven in number.” (Dt. 1:10). Approximately 400 years earlier, He promised Abraham that his descendants would be like either the sands of the Earth or the stars visible in the sky. ‘“Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.”’ (Gen. 15:5). “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.” (Gen. 22:17). The Jews left Israel to live in Egypt as a clan of only 70 men (Gen. 46:27). They spent approximately 400 years in captivity (Gen. 15:13- “400”; Ex. 12:40-“430”). After spending two years in the wilderness, God told Moses to assemble and count the men of fighting age who would invade the Promised Land (Nu. 1:1). At that time, the men of fighting age totaled 603,550 (Nu. 1:46). The actual population including women and children would have been many times greater than this. This shows that God is faithful to keep His promises. When was the last time you reflected on all His blessings in your life?
God’s promises of growth are conditional on our obedience. Although the Jews grew miraculously while in captivity, the nation stagnated after they rebelled at the edge of the Promised Land. As one of His last commands in the book of Leviticus before the Jews marched toward the Promised Land, God warned that His blessings of growth were conditional upon the Jews’ faith-led obedience: “If you walk in my statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out . . . So I will turn toward you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will confirm my covenant with you.” (Lev. 26:3, 9). Here, Moses repeated this conditional blessing: “‘May the LORD, the God of your fathers, increase you a thousand-fold more than you are and bless you, just as He has promised you!” (Dt. 1:11). While the Jews set out from Mount Horeb with 603,550 fighting men, by the end of their journey, the number of men of fighting age dropped to 601,730 (Nu. 26:51). This was a decrease of 1,820 or .30%. Although salvation is not conditioned on obedience, this shows that God’s promise of growth is conditional on faith-led obedience. Have you stagnated in your spiritual growth? If so, is there any area of your life where you have not been obedient or where you have lacked faith?
God does not want us to fight for Him alone. Even Moses could not lead God’s nation on his own: “I spoke to you at that time, saying, ‘I am not able to bear the burden of you alone.” (Dt. 1:9). “‘How can I alone bear the load and burden of you and your strife?” (Dt. 1:12). We are also not called to journey to the Promised Land alone. We are commanded to be in fellowship with others and to bear their burdens: “[Do] not forsake assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:25). Have you engaged in true fellowship with other believers where you share your burdens and help others with their burdens?
God is looking for organized volunteers to fight in His army. God has called every leader of the faith to select others to help lead His army. A leader who tries to do things alone is not acting according to God’s calling: “‘Choose wise and discerning and experienced men from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.’” (Dt. 1:13). Moses responded: “You answered me and said, ‘The thing which you have said to do is good.’ ‘So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men, and appointed them heads over you, leaders of thousands and of hundreds, of fifties and of tens, and officers for your tribes.”’ (Dt. 1:14-15; Ex. 18:21-25). Many large churches have flocks of people that float in and out of church like wildebeests in search of water. These churches should pause and reflect hard on these words. God’s church is highly organized. Each person in His army belonged to an accountability group. Each group had a “wise and discerning and experienced” man to oversee it. Each leader in turn reported to a leader higher up. A system of discipleship, discipline, and accountability existed. This may suggest that such leadership structures will exist both during the Millennial reign and in heaven. God needs many volunteers for His army. But His army is organized. Are you part of an accountability group?
A leader must be a person of integrity. A highly organized army or nation is worthless unless its leaders have integrity. A Spirit-led leader should fear God, be fair to all, and hate dishonest gain: “Then I charged your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him. ‘You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.’” (Dt. 1:16-17; 16:18-19; 24:17; Ex. 23:3-8; Lev. 19:15). “These also are sayings of the wise. To show partiality in judgment is not good.” (Prov. 24:23). Today, God places even tougher tests for someone seeking to be one of His Spirit-led leaders (1 Tim. 3:2-7). Leaders today ignore the laws of morality and fairness at their own peril: “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the Torah as transgressors.” (Jam. 2:9). Do you treat all people the same regardless of whether they are rich, poor, successful, unemployed, or unattractive?
When you walk with God, you never need to fear evil1
A leader must also obey the Word of God. A leader cannot lead with God’s blessings if he or she is disobedient: “I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do.” (Dt. 1:18). When the Jews followed the Word, they were blessed. When the rebelled, they stagnated or were forced into exile. If our nation strips all references to God from its public discourse and refuses to follow His Word, should it expect His blessings?
God is faithful to keep His promises. After their 11-day hike in the wilderness from Mount Horeb, the Jews came to Kadesh-barnea. At that time, Moses reminded the people that this was the land “which the LORD our God is about to give us.” “Then we set out from Horeb, and went through all that great and terrible wilderness which you saw on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, just as the Lord our God had commanded us; and we came to Kadesh-barnea. I said to you, ‘You have come to the hill country of the Amorites which the Lord our God is about to give us.” (Dt. 1:19-20). Ten times previously, God had promised that He would give the Jews this land (Gen. 12:6-7; 13:14-15; 15:7; 17:8; 26:4; 28:13-15; 50:24; Ex. 12:25; 23:20-31; 33:1-3). Thus, Moses exhorted the people: “See, the Lord your God has placed the land before you; go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Dt. 1:21). The people had no reason to fear. God had crushed Pharaoh’s army before their eyes at the Red Sea. He also fed them manna in the wilderness for a year. He further led them by a pillar of light. He also promised to send an angel before them (Ex. 23:23). And He promised to “completely destroy” “the Amorites, Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites.” (Ex. 23:23). As He once told Abraham: “Is there anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14). But the people instead wanted to test His promises: “Then all of you approached me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may search out the land for us, and bring back to us word of the way by which we should go up and the cities which we shall enter.’” (Dt. 1:22). In response to their demand, God handed them over to their desires of the flesh (Rom. 1:28). Moses said “The thing pleased me.” He had no problem showing that God’s promises were true. So he sent one spy from each of the 12 tribes to scout out the Promised Land. “The thing pleased me and I took twelve of your men, one man for each tribe. They turned and went up into the hill country, and came to the valley of Eshcol and spied it out.” (Dt. 1:23-24; Nu. 13:1-2). God had promised a land of milk and honey, and the spies brought back fruit proving that He spoke true about the land being fertile. “Then they took some of the fruit of the land in their hands and brought it down to us; and they brought us back a report and said, ‘It is a good land which the Lord our God is about to give us.’” (Dt. 1:25). Thus, God showed that His promises are true. Besides the promise of eternal salvation, how many other promises of His can you name? If you cannot name them, how much faith can you have in God to fulfill them?
A lack of faith brings fear and paranoia. Sadly, neither God’s provision and protection in the wilderness nor the confirmation of the fruit in the land was enough to placate the people. “Yet you were not willing to go up, but rebelled against the command of the LORD your God.” (Dt. 1:26). The fear then turned to paranoia. The people went so far as to believe that God “hated” the people, even after He unleashed 10 plagues in Egypt to free them from captivity: “and you grumbled in your tents and said, ‘Because the LORD hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us in. Where can we go up? Our brethren have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are bigger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified to heaven. And besides, we saw the sons of the Anakim there to the hand of the Amorites to destroy us.”’ (Dt. 1:27-28). Moses’ efforts to calm them were of no use. “Then I said to you, ‘Do not be shocked, nor fear them. The LORD your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place.’ But for all this, you did not trust the LORD your God, who goes before you on your way, to seek out a place for you to encamp, in fire by night and cloud by day, to show you the way in which you should go.” (Dt. 1:29-33). “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into land to fall by the sword?” (Nu. 14:2(b)-3(a)). They even tried to select a leader to head back to Egypt: “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” (Nu. 14:4). To have true peace “Shalom” you must trust God and have Spirit-led obedience (Lev. 26:6). To those who have faith and obey, God promises the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). With faith and obedience, He also promises victory over our enemies (Lev. 26:7-8; Ex. 23:22; Nu 10:9, 35; Isa. 54:17). By contrast, if we fail to trust God and if we are disobedient, He may bring upon us fear and paranoia (Lev. 26:14-17). We may also long for our prior bondage. Are you afraid of anything besides God? If so, how much trust do you have in Him to protect you?
Let God fight your battles for you2
Fear is false evidence appearing real. The Lord is the only thing that we are to fear (Prov. 1:7). And the fear of the Lord is hating evil (Prov. 8:12). “The fear of man brings a snare. But he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” (Prov. 29:25). The last time you felt fear, did you take your eyes off the Lord? Are you trusting in yourself or fearing others?
Remember that God tests us to build up our faith. The 12 spies were gone for a total of 40 days (Nu. 13:25). The number 40 in the Bible symbolizes testing. Moses lived in the wilderness for 40 years (Ex. 2:16-25). The Jews later wandered in the wilderness for 40 years (Nu. 14:34; Dt. 8:2). Jesus was likewise in the wilderness for 40 days (Matt. 4:1-4). The spies were shown the mighty Amalekite warrior peoples (Dt. 9:2). They were powerful nomads from the southern deserts south of Negev. The Hittites were a strong nation from Asia minor. The Amorites came to Canaan from modern day Iraq. To the Jews, they seemed like the Nephilim. These were the giants that came from an unnatural union between spirits and man (Gen. 6:1-4). God revealed to the 10 men that they doubted His promises by fearing their enemies (Prov. 29:25). Have you encouraged others from your mistakes?
Remember that God promises victory “little by little.” The size of their enemies caused 10 of the men to feel like grasshoppers (Nu. 13:33). They knew that they could not dislodge the “giants” all at once. But God did not promise to instantaneously remove the Canaanites from the land. He instead promised to drive them out “little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land.” (Ex. 23:30). If the spies knew God’s promises, would they have felt the need to conquer everything at once? Will you find victory with God if He rewards you “little by little?” Or, do you expect Him to give you everything at once?
Remember that God promises us victory, but not without struggle. God has not promised us a pain free life. We live in a cursed world where we must toil to support ourselves (Gen. 3:17). Thus, Christ warns that we will experience tribulation in the world (Jo. 16:33). But God promises us that He will provide for us (Matt. 6:25-34). He also promises us the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). This means that we will find peace in the midst of struggle. Have you imposed upon God a requirement that He free you of all struggles to be happy? Or, are you seeking His peace in the midst of struggle? Are there any limits to what we can do through God when we are doing His will? (Phil. 4:13).
Remember that some of God’s blessings are conditional upon our faith. We do not earn our salvation by our works. But many blessings or curses on Earth turn upon our faith and Spirit-led obedience. An “unbelieving heart” will cause a person to fall away from God (Heb. 3:12). God warned Abraham to obey His angel: “Be on your guard before him [God’s angel] and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him and obey his voice . . But if you obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.” (Ex. 23:21-22; see also Lev. 26:7-8; Nu 10:9, 35; Isa. 54:17). This was therefore a conditional promise. Abraham had to obey in faith to receive the blessing. The Jews were later barred from entering the Promised Land because of their unbelief and disobedience (Heb. 3:19; 4:6, 11). God also warned that He would vomit the Jews out of the promised land if they did not keep His statutes (Lev. 20:22). Are you living a carnal life? If so, should it be any mystery why you live without peace and without God’s blessings? Or, do you live by faith and keep His Ten Commandments out of devotion?
Fear comes when we take our minds off the Lord. The 12 men told Moses that they had returned from the land “to which you sent us.” (Nu. 13:27). They made no mention of the Lord. Their faith failed because they took their minds off the Lord. Likewise, Peter began to walk on water when the Lord called him (Matt. 14:29). “But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, Lord save me.” (Matt. 14:30). After saving him, Jesus responded: “You of little faith, why did you doubt.” (Matt. 14:31). J. Vernon McGee observed that: “when you are afraid and you have lost your faith, difficulties and problems are magnified. They become greater than they really are.” (Thru the Bible Commentary Series, Numbers p. 90). Paul reveals that it is the “spirit of slavery” which “lead[s] to fear.” (Rom 8:15). The last time you felt fear, were you looking at the violent storms [or giants] around you? Did you take your eyes off Jesus?
Fear also comes when we act on our own accord as opposed to God’s. When the mighty Philistine army taunted Saul, he and his troops were afraid (1 Sam. 17:11). But David showed no fear when he approached the Philistine army. He said that they approached with swords and spears. But he approached in “the name of the Lord” (1 Sam. 17:45). Although David was the smallest man in his family, he feared no evil or any enemy. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?. . . Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear; though war arises against me, in spite of this I shall be confident.” (Ps. 27:1-3). “I fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Ps. 23:4). “How blessed in the man that fears the Lord . . . He will not fear evil tidings.” (Ps. 112:7). “Say to the anxious heart, ‘take courage, fear not.” (Is. 34:4). The last time you felt afraid, were you acting of your own accord or in God’s name?
Who are the giants in your path? We all have giants in our paths. To our human eyes, we seem like grasshoppers to them. But these giants are not physical enemies. For our enemies are spiritual and our weapons are spiritual (Eph. 6:10-20). Has your job situation caused you to become filled with fear? Are you afraid for your children? Are you afraid for your family or your marriage? Are you afraid for your health? If you are filled with fear about things of this world, is your sin any worse than the 10 men who saw the giants in the land and felt like grasshoppers? Is your faith as strong as a giant?
God’s Word – the antidote to fear. Where do we find our faith when it is lacking? “[F]aith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Ro. 10:17). The next time you fear, recite His promises: “Do not fear for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand . . . Do not fear, I will help you.” (Is. 41:10, 13). “For I know the plans I have for you . . . plans for welfare and not calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11). “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7).
Perfect love casts out all fear. Christ warns that we will experience tribulation in the world (Jo. 16:33). The reason for this is that the world is cursed (Gen. 3:17; Rom. 8:20-22). As stated above, Jesus offers we can overcome this tribulation with the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). But this peace only exists when we are in fellowship with God. For it is “impossible” to please God when we lack faith (Heb. 11:6). If the Jews knew God’s love for them, they would not have feared. There is nothing “able to separate us from the love of God.” (Rom. 8:38). Knowing this, “perfect love casts out fear. . . ” (1 Jo. 4:18). The next time you fear, pray for God to cast out your fear.
To have faith, don’t rely upon your senses. God promised the Jews that He would send an angel before them on their journey (Ex. 23:23). Unlike God’s pillar of light, they would not see His angel. They would need to trust God. Before Jesus left, He promised that He would leave us with “a helper” – the Holy Spirit – to teach us His will (Jo. 14:26). But we cannot see Him directly. We need to trust God and know that He is there. Jesus explained that many see without seeing and hear without hearing (Matt. 13:13; Mk. 4:12; Lk. 8:10). The Jews had seen God’s miracles many times. But that was not enough for them to trust Him. We have all seen miracles in our lives. Has that been enough for you to trust God when you have faced hardships? (Jo. 1:5; 3:19).
The Jews’ lack of faith barred them from the Promised Land. “Then the LORD heard the sound of your words, and He was angry and took an oath, saying, ‘Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and to his sons I will give the land on which he has set foot, because he has followed the LORD fully.’ The LORD was angry with me also on your account, saying, ‘Not even you shall enter there. ‘Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter there; encourage him, for he will cause Israel to inherit it. ‘Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it. ‘But as for you, turn around and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.’” (Dt. 1:34-40). Faith is defined as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1). If we act only upon what we can see and not by faith, it is not possible to please God with our actions (Heb. 11:6).
Don’t make the sin of presumption. The Jews came to their senses when it was too late. When faced with their punishment in the desert, they were again afraid (Nu. 14:41). But Moses warned them that to try to enter Israel at that point would be to directly disobey God (Nu. 14:41). Moses warned that, if they went up, God would not be amongst them (Nu. 14:42-43). The Jews again ignored God’s warning, and many were slaughtered because God had lifted His protection (Nu. 14:45). “So I spoke to you, but you would not listen. Instead you rebelled against the command of the LORD, and acted presumptuously and went up into the hill country. “The Amorites who lived in that hill country came out against you and chased you as bees do, and crushed you from Seir to Hormah. Then you returned and wept before the LORD; but the LORD did not listen to your voice nor give ear to you. “So you remained in Kadesh many days, the days that you spent there.” (Dt. 1:41-46). If you are in open sin, do you think God will not protect you when you are under attack.
The foreshadow of the destruction of the Second Temple. The day of the Jews’ defeat, the ninth day of the fifth month, later became known as the “fast of Av.” (“Tisha B’Av”) (Zech. 7:3). It was the same day that the Romans burned the temple in 70 A.D. Even Josephus, the famous Jewish historian who wrote about Christ, noted the amazing coincidence of this day. This is a day for which we should still fast. Our fast should be for all those who have rebelled against the Messiah. Unless they repent and believe in faith, their lack of faith will bar them from the eternal Promised Land. When was the last time you fasted?
A nation that refuses to follow God may also lose His hedge of protection. God once promised Abraham: “I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.” But this was conditional and only would be true “if you obey his voice [The Holy Spirit] and do all that I say.” (Ex. 23:21-22; see also Lev. 26:7-8; Nu 10:9, 35; Isa. 54:17). We live in a country that now tries to deny its Judeo-Christian heritage. And many call the good of the Bible evil (Is. 5:20). If we persist in our rebellion, what type of protection should we expect from God against enemies and natural disasters?