We Have Sinned Against the LORD
Deuteronomy 1:1–46 – Deuteronomy: Then You Shall Live
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost / Reformation Day (Observed) – October 27, 2019 (am)
“We Have Sinned Against the Lord”
Alternate: “Today, If You Hear His Voice, Do Not Harden Your Hearts”
There are fears that every one of us has about our relationship with God. Some are still asking if there’s even a God out there to have a relationship with. And if there is, do they want to enter into a relationship with Him. Others are confident there’s a God, and want to have relationship with Him, but have a hard time feeling like they really know what He expects of them, and an even harder time feeling like they can meet those expectations. When you can’t see God, and hear Him speak, can you really know whether you’re doing what He wants, whether you really are in good relationship with Him?
We can get some genuine help in addressing this question as we look into the first chapter of Deu. We can read Israel’s story about their relationship with God, and how it kept going wrong, and that can magnify our fears about our own relationship with Him. But I think we’ll find that our confidence can actually be strengthened this morning as we discover how to let Israel’s story inform our story.
We’re told where this book of Deu. is headed in its opening sentence. 1 These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness…, as they were finally ready to enter the promise land. The rest of v.1 just specifies the place more accurately. But v.2 lets us know that they arrived at Kadesh-barnea on the southern border of the land, which was just eleven days journey from Horeb (Mount Sinai) by the way of Mount Seir. But this was now the eleventh month of the fortieth year of their journey! (3) And Moses is about to remind them of why it had taken so long for them to get to this place—part one of [explaining] this law (5) of God to them before they cross the Jordan. Let’s find out by taking a journey in three parts.
Part 1, Israel’s Story: Tragic Unbelief – Deuteronomy 1:5-46
Israel’s story is the one we just read together in c.1. You can see that the section ESV headings provide a good summary of Moses’ flow of thought here at the beginning of his first speech. Israel had already defeated Sihon and Og (4 [Num.21:21-32]), two Amorite kings east of the Jordan, and they were now in the land of Moab (5), just across the river from Jericho, and ready to go. As Moses began to talk, he took them back forty years to the time when the Lord moved them on from [Sinai], eleven days journey to Kadesh-barnea there on southern border. This was an historic journey. It didn’t just mark the final stage of their deliverance from Egypt, but the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise of land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (8). This was a big day, a grand victory them!
During their four centuries in Egypt, this family grew too big to be governed effectively by one man. So, the Lord (Num.11:16-17) commanded Moses to appoint heads over Israel (9-18) from among their recognized leaders—wise, understanding, and experienced men to serve as commanders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens (14) and to judge righteously between them, to hear the cases and decide disputes among them (16). This would take a load off of Moses’ shoulders, but it would also set up Israel well to live under a theocracy once they spread out through the land. Moses tells these guys to 16 … judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him—even the immigrants got just treatment under OT law. 17 You shall not be partial in judgment. … And [y]ou shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. God will be enabling you! And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it. This is reassuring both to these sub-leaders and to the people. But as this story unfolded back in Num.11:16 … the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men… whom you know to be… elders… and bring them to the tent of meeting…. 17 And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you…. These folks were ready for life in the land, even without Moses present!
So, 19 [they] set out from [Sinai] and went through all that great and terrifying wilderness… on the way to the hill country of the Amorites… and [eventually] to Kadesh-barnea. Three times in Deu. (8:15; 32:10) the wilderness is described as grueling (Thompson 101) and harrowing. This is the first. And here I believe Moses was setting them up to remember what a foolish decision it was to fear entering the land. Did they really want to return to this great and terrifying wilderness? But we know what happened. They sent spies into the land. And here it again sounds like it was the people’s idea (22 Then all of you came near me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us…). But we read in Num.13 that 1 [t]he Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. … And the whole purpose of this expedition was 18 [to] see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, 19 and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, 20 and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land,” Moses said. [And] the time was the season of the first ripe grapes. It’s almost like Moses was saying: You guys go in there, then come tell us the quality of the land we’ll be inheriting and the strength of the people we’ll be defeating. Just get a load of the power of this God we serve, and of His goodness to us, and His provision for us! Just go in and see! But their report caused the people to say: 27 [It’s b]ecause the Lord hated us that he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. 28 … Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen [giants] there”—like the God who parted the Red Sea wouldn’t be able to handle some over-grown Canaanites. 30 The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, 31 and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ If the Lord has an assignment for you, He’ll provide the resources to do it! If He has a battle for you to fight, He’ll ensure the victory! 32 Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God.
So (34-46), judgment fell: 34 … the Lord heard your words and was angered, and he swore, 35 “Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, 36 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and … 38 Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. … 40 But as for you, turn, and journey into the wilderness, back in the direction of the Red Sea.” You’re going right back to that great and terrifying wilderness (19). You can almost hear Israel still saying: Noooo! So, they thought they’d take matters into their own hands. Against the Lord’s direct warning (42), they decided to try to defeat the Canaanites on their own! (43-44) Can you believe that? They were too fearful to do it with Him, but now they’re going to do it without Him! If that’s not a lesson for us, I don’t know what is! Well, after this failed attempt, Moses records that they 45 … returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord did not listen to [their] voice or give ear to [them]. 46 So [they] remained at Kadesh many days…. Fearful.
This is Israel’s story, an account of the tragic consequences of unbelief, and it plays on those very fears many of us feel in our relationship with God. If Israel, God’s chosen people through whom He promised to bless all the families of the earth (Gen.12:3), could get to the border of his promised land then falter in their faith, what’s to say that we won’t do the same?
Part 2, Our Story: Belief or Unbelief – Hebrews 3:7-4:7
So, what does Israel’s story have to say to us. How does their story inform into our story? How do we discern what we can responsibly learn and apply from Deu.1?
We just hosted our bi-annual biblical exposition workshop again a couple weeks ago. We were studying 2Ti. One of the exercises we do toward discerning the Main Idea and Intended Response of a passage is labeled Biblical Theology. We fit that passage into the big picture story of the Bible [which finds] its focus and fulfillment in Christ. The central aim is to make sure that we’re [interpreting each smaller part] of the Bible in light of the whole (42). One way to discover the Intended Response of a passage like Deu.1—to discover how to hear Israel’s story and responsibly apply it to us today—is to ask the question: what difference does it make that Christ has come, gone to the cross, and risen from the dead?
It’s not always the case that the NT picks up a particular story from the OT and answers this question for us. But it surely is the case here? Let’s turn to 1002Heb.3.
The author has just compared the ministries of Moses and of Jesus (1-6) and drawn the bottom line: 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. We’re part of Jesus’ family, His legacy, if we stand firm in our faith and hope in Him. This introduces the passage I want us to consider here in order to help us draw application from Israel’s story (Deu.1).
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, and the author quotes Psa. 95:7-11: “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest, my land.’” Then the author issues a warning. 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart like there was in Israel, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. We’re united with Christ only if we endure in our faith in Him. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? Wasn’t it those Moses was talking about in Deu.1? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness, those who refused to trust God and enter the land? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. There’s the cause! They didn’t believe God, that He would deliver on His promise to give them the land they were ready to enter. 4:1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. The writer just made the transition for us from OT to NT. The same sort of promise stands before us as stood before Israel, and the same sort of obstacle can impede us from trusting it. Now he’s about to tell us what difference it makes that Christ has come, gone to the cross, and risen from the dead? 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. Some believed God. Others didn’t. That’s the difference! 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” Do you hear this? There’s a promise of rest expressed by David in Psa.95 that’s still available today according to the writer of Heb.! It’s an eternal expression of the Sabbath rest that God Himself modeled on the seventh day of creation week (3b-4; cf. Gen. 2:1-3), the same rest that was denied in temporal form to a whole generation-minus-two in OT Israel because of their unbelief (5). 6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter [this rest], and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” this day, our day, until Christ returns, saying through David, even so long [after both his and Moses’ day], in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” There is God’s Word for us today, we who stand at the threshold of His promised rest in a new covenant expression of the same old covenant promise Israel was called to believe and obey.
The difference between Israel and us is that we have an advantage during our travels through this great and terrifying wilderness (19). We have an advantage as we wait to enter into the ultimate expression of God’s rest. We can still be been united by faith with those who listened and believed God. We can be established as members in God’s family by faith in Jesus Christ. God’s penalty for our rebellion and unbelief can be paid in-full by Jesus Who has come, and died on the cross in the place of all who believe, then walked out of His tomb in victory over sin and death, removing that penalty for all who will put their trust in Him. Our relationship with God, our entry into His rest today, is based not on the strength of our faith to trust God in our wilderness trials, but in the strength of the object of our faith, Jesus Christ Himself.
Part 3, What Is Your Choice Today?
The book of Deu. put a choice of life and death before Israel as they were about to enter the land (30:11-20). Then Moses wrote a song (32:1-43) in which he reflected on the fact that he knew they wouldn’t choose life! He knew they were wholly dependent on the grace of God because it was hopeless that they would actually live in perfect conformity to His covenant requirements. They just weren’t capable of it.
And neither are we. But what sets us apart from them such that we can have a settled and growing confidence that we’re in right relationship with God, that we’re ready to enter His rest when Christ returns, is that Christ has already come! And if we’ve placed our faith in Him, our entry into God’s rest is now based on His qualifications, not ours!
And once we’ve done that, instead of just wandering around in this wilderness of a world waiting for death, we spread out all through it and share this same message of deliverance and life with all who will [listen] and all who will hear!
So, in the most important ways that Moses in Deu. puts the choice of life and death before Israel, that same choice is put before us today: life or death—life by faith in Christ, or death in rejection of Him. If you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior and Lord, I invite you to do so. Heb.4:7 … Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. And for you who know Christ, I will issue the same charge. We hear his voice through the clarity of His written Word. We hear it through the inner promptings of His Holy Spirit Who has restored our dead hearts to life and has taken up residence within us, giving us spiritual ears to hear his voice. And as we begin to obey the instruction of His Word, trusting that it is true and reliable, and as we respond to the promptings of His Spirit, we’re strengthened every day in our confidence that, when we’re finished with this life, we will hear: Mat.25:21 … Well done, good and faithful servant…. Enter into the joy of your master.
What is your choice today?