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Grim last words from a beloved leader? [How God feels about our fear – Deuteronomy 31-34, part 2]

19 Feb

Photo by Carlos Arthur M.R on Unsplash

Have you felt the sting of words that make you want to hide your face? Words have great power to wound, and power to heal. Last words are particularly meaningful and impactful. Maybe you’ve heard someone give their last words before death. More than likely you still remember them. What do you want your last words to be?

Remember that Deuteronomy has been a last word of sorts from Moses to the people of Israel.  They have been on a long journey, starting about 40 years prior.  40 years before this moment, 40 years before the events of Deuteronomy 31-34, the people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt, and it was as horrible slavery, a persecution, in which they had no hope.  A prince of Egypt named Moses, though, came to them and revealed that he was actually a Hebrew like them. In a strange twist of events, he kills an Egyptian who was mistreating a Hebrew slave, flees into the desert, is away for awhile, and then returns from the desert saying that God had spoken to him and given him a mission to confront the Egyptian king, the Pharaoh, to let Israel go free. 

The story of Israel’s exodus or leaving from Egypt is one of high drama, involving astounding acts of God’s mighty power.  But through it all, Moses emerges as an imperfect but effective leader of the people.  They do leave Egypt and head out on a long journey to a new land.  As they follow God to this Promised Land, both the people and Moses commit grave mistakes and have moments of astounding faithfulness along the way.  Through it all Moses grows in stature and reputation.  But now the time of Moses’ death is at hand. 

As I mentioned yesterday, this is our final blog series studying Deuteronomy, and it focuses on chapters 31-34. That’s a lot of material, I know, but as you follow post by post, I think you’ll see why I grouped it together.  To get some context, my opinion is that it is best to start at the very end, Deuteronomy 34:10-12.

There we learn the preeminence of Moses in the eyes of the people.  He was a George Washington type in that he was a founder of the nation who led them through a difficult trial. But Moses was far more than Washington, as Moses spoke with God face to face. Did you notice how the writer of these verses describes the power of God that was resident in him?

We also need to remember what was said of Moses in Numbers 12:3.  He was a very humble man, the most humble on the earth. 

It is true that David was Israel’s greatest King, and David’s son Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, leading Israel to heights of wealth and influence.  But there is no one in the history of the nation of Israel that is as important as Moses.

Not only did Moses lead the nation from slavery, but Moses was also the one to whom God gave the Law.  Yes, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Joseph, along with his brothers are the historical patriarchs of nation.  Jacob was renamed Israel, which is where the nation got its name.  The twelve tribes of Israel, therefore, are named after Jacobs 12 sons.  But even those important factors pale in comparison the position that Moses has in the hearts and minds of the people. 

And now he is passing on. 

What we see, then, in chapters 31-33 are Moses’ actual last words.  Sure, the whole book of Deuteronomy is Moses giving the people a retelling of the covenant.  But here in chapters 31-33, we get his final words. 

Now turn back to the beginning of chapter 31.  In verses 1-8 Moses tells the people that his time is up.  Their invasion of the Promised Land of Canaan is about to begin in a short matter of time.  But Moses will not be joining them.  Instead he turns leadership over to Joshua. And he has some special words for the people and Joshua: He tells them that the Lord will be with them and will go before them, so they should be strong and courageous, they should not be afraid or discouraged.  These are powerful last words that we will return to in future posts in this series.

Next in verses 9-13, Moses one last time commands them to remain familiar with God’s Law.  He tells them to make a practice every 7th year in which they come together as a nation to read the Law of God out loud, so that they, their children, and even the non-Israelites among them can remember to obey God.

These last words of Moses are so encouraging thus far. But starting in chapter 31:14 and continuing most of the way through chapter 32:52, things get grim again.  Remember the curses we studied in chapters 27-28?  Chapters 29-30, the renewal of the covenant, also include strong cautions about disobedience.  Once again, scan through chapters 31-32 and once again God is warning the people about disobedience. Are Moses’ last words going to be a smackdown? Check back in to part 3 to find out.