How God’s mercy changes the future [How God feels about our fear – Deuteronomy 31-34, part 3]

20 Feb
Photo by Valeriy Andrushko on Unsplash

Do you feel stuck? Maybe you see some light breaking through the darkness, but there is a wall, a forest that seems like it is blocking the way. Maybe it feels like you will never get past the difficult situation you face. When we are in the middle of pain, we can wonder if God has locked our future, and we have no hope. But is that how God works?

In this series of posts on Deuteronomy 31-34, we have been looking at Moses’ last words to the people of Israel, as he is about to pass on, and Joshua will be their new leader. Before Moses addresses the whole nation, first, in Deuteronomy 31:14-23, God has a private meeting with just Moses and Joshua, at the Tent of Meeting.  There God appears in a pillar of cloud, and he has a very strange conversation with Moses and Joshua. 

It’s like God gives them a glimpse inside his heart.  What we see is that God’s is a broken heart, broken because of Israel’s rebellion.  Look at verses 16-18 in particular.  It’s like God is opening a crack in the space-time continuum, and he allow Moses and Joshua to see the future. He says to them, “the people will break covenant with me.  They will prostitute themselves to other false gods.”  As a result, he says, he will leave them.  God’s protection will be gone, and Israel will be destroyed.  Woah.

Imagine being Moses and Joshua hearing that.  If you’re Moses, you could be thinking, “And I just spent the productive years of my life on this people? And it will all be for naught?” Then think about how Joshua might have felt! “I’m getting myself into a total train wreck…it will be pointless for me to lead these people.”

I have to ask, though: did they hear God’s words as an absolute future, as if it had no chance of changing?  I don’t think so.  Here’s why: Moses had been in this situation before.  Remember the Golden Calf episode that happened not long after the people were originally freed from slavery in Egypt?  They had been out of Egypt maybe a month and a half or so, and Moses had gone up on Mt. Sinai to meet with God, and there God gave him the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments.  But what was happening at the same time down below?  The people started getting antsy, feeling like Moses was gone too long, and they gave up.  They created an idol in the shape of a golden calf and started worshiping it.  God tells Moses, “You better get down there because the people are losing it.”  Moses is angry with the people, of course, and he breaks the stone tablets, but God is angrier yet.  He tells Moses that he is going to eliminate the people, and start over again with Moses.  But what happens?  Does Moses say, “Ok. Fine.” As if it was a set future, with no opportunity for a change?

Nope. Moses puts on his lawyer hat (if there is such a thing…) and starts advocating on behalf of the people, and shockingly, God changes his mind.  He is a gracious and loving God.  So this vision of the future in Deuteronomy 31:18 is not set in stone, even though God is using words like “certainly” and “I will do this and that.” We know the forgiving, merciful heart of God because we have seen it time and time again.  God is not given Moses and Joshua a picture of the unchangeable future.  This is, however, another warning, a strong caution that the people need to obey God.  To live a life of following God’s ways is far and away what is best for them, and thus we can see this passage as God loving them in the midst of warning. 

Next in verse 19, God tells Moses to get out a pen and paper and write down a song.  This is a very rare occurrence in the Bible.  God writes a song!  In chapter 32, we will get to read the song.  Before that happens, though, God has a word for Joshua, and it is the same command that Moses gave Joshua.  Compare verses 7-8 with verse 23.   See that is it nearly identical. As I said in part 2 we’ll come back to that. 

Before we get to God’s song in chapter 32, the final verses in chapter 31 talk about the Book of the Law.  We read this in verse 9, and now again in verse 24, that Moses wrote down the Law, gave it to the Levites, who were the priestly tribe, and had them place it beside the Ark of the Covenant. 

But look at verse 26.  That law, Moses says, is a witness against them, which sounds very negative, right?  Then in verse 27-29, Moses pretty much says to the Levites what God had just said to him and Joshua, that Israel will rebel.  Nice final words, Moses.  He sure sounds bitter, mentioning how difficult the people were. Then he asks the Levites to assemble all the people together because he wants to address them, and give them a piece of his mind. When the people are together, we read in verse 30, that Moses recites the song to Israel, and we will find out what the song is all about next in part 4…and it is a strange song.

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