DEUTERONOMY 3 and 4
Moses continues to remind the Children of Israel that God had then given them a great victory over the other Amorite king, Og, who ruled over the northern end of the Transjordan region, up as far as Mount Herman in what is today the Golan Heights. Og was the smallest possible name for the largest possible man; his bed was 14 feet long by 6 feet wide – imagine finding a duvet to fit that! Sixty cities were taken, and the entire population destroyed. So now Israel occupied a large swathe of territory east of the Jordan, which Moses then allocated (from North to South) to the half tribe of Manasseh (land of Bashan and half of Gilead), to the tribe of Gad (half of Gilead and some of the land to the south), and to the tribe of Reuben (the plateau to the NE of the Dead Sea, extending to halfway down the Dead Sea). If you find yourself a good biblical map, all this becomes much clearer and more meaningful.
The Lord gave the land to these tribes partly to demonstrate that with Him on their side, Israel was invincible in battle and should press on together to take their true inheritance. “Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.” – was Moses’ command in 3:22. But it was equally vital that Israel fought together as a united army and did not disperse too quickly to their own territories, thinking prematurely that the job was done. The fighting men of the Transjordan tribes had to be first across the Jordan and the last to leave to go home too, ensuring that all Israel then fought through to a period of peaceful settlement in their inheritance. Moses called this ‘being given rest by God’. This is a vital lesson for the church today, which is rightly being called to intense local missional activity: it is crucial that we still nevertheless stick together, obeying the leadership and launch co-ordinated attacks upon the enemy; localised, parochial guerrilla-style warfare will not accomplish the task to which we are called! Deuteronomy 3:18, 20 are key verses.
Moses then asks the Lord – just once more – if he could be allowed to enter the Land. “No”, God replied, “and don’t pester me any more with that question”. A new vision, in any case, required new leadership – rather in the same way that Solomon built the Temple, rather than David, and Paul became the main apostolic spearhead to the Gentiles, rather than Peter. “Appoint Joshua and get out of his way” was the God’s follow-up command!
Then Moses returns to his favourite topic, the Law. Do not add to it (by tradition) or subtract from it (by disobedience) but simply obey it, teach it publicly and target this in particular at the next generation. The result will be that Israel will enjoy the benefits of the Covenant and will live long in the land that God has given them. This promise is the same as in Commandment Five (‘Honour your father and mother’) and, in a sense, is the same action applied to our Heavenly Father. The Ten Commandments were the strict terms of the Old Covenant (and stored in the Ark), but many other laws and regulations supplemented these, of course. The nations surrounding Israel would be amazed at the wisdom and power of such laws and would glorify the God of Israel. Does the world today know that we find much of our wisdom from the Scriptures?
Finally, there is a strong reminder to avoid idolatry, since (a) the Lord is a jealous God who will stand no rival; and (b) all other spiritual beings – sometimes called ‘gods’ in scripture – are either inferior to God or are evil and are certainly unworthy of mankind’s worship. There is an added danger of using images to worship the Lord, which is that they have a strong tendency to deflect our focus onto the image and into superstition. Israel never saw the Lord; therefore we shouldn’t use images to worship him. Today, we need to learn to worship him in Spirit and in truth (John 4) and not to use manmade objects as ‘aids’ to this – because they are not helpful.
Chapter 4:27-30 shows the mercy of God in rescuing us when we have slipped from his standards of behaviour and allowed our allegiance to fade away. Wherever we are, we can call upon him and he will hear us and rescue us, restore us, and re-home us. Our repentance must be whole-hearted and made in faith. Some of us today need to call out to him right now!