Tag Archives: promised land

A biblical murder mystery? [Crime & Punishment – Deuteronomy 21, part 1]

14 Jan
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Do you like crime dramas? Last year I watched a Netflix documentary called Making A Murderer.  It was gripping, often feeling like an extended episode of the TV show, Law & Order.  There were many interesting characters and plot twists, but in this documentary, all of it was real.  No actors.  Real interviews. Courtroom and TV news footage.  Making A Murderer follows the story of one family over the course of many years, as a police department investigates a murder, as the justice department builds a case, and eventually as suspects are convicted and thrown in prison.  But they appeal, and the appeal process takes time, and there are more court room scenes.  Surprisingly there is an acquittal.  Then there is another murder seemingly involving the same family, which leads to another investigation, court case, imprisonment and appeals.  The process is messy and expensive and time-consuming, and you never know what really happened.  I was glued to the screen.

In this series of posts in our study through Deuteronomy, we have three illustrations of crime and punishment, and the first one looks a lot like a murder mystery. 

If you’d like, see for yourself by reading Deuteronomy 21. What we are seeking is to learn more about God’s heart through his teaching to Israel about crime and punishment.

Look at verse 1, our first crime. As you can see, the text gives us a couple clues that this an unsolved murder case.  The first clue is the word “slain” at the beginning of the verse.  This is a vivid word in the Hebrew, better translated by our English word “pierced.”  It gives us the image of body that has been pierced by a sharp object, like a knife or sword.  The second clue that this is a murder is the phrase, “and it is not known who killed him,” at the end of the verse.  So we have a body that has been pierced and is dead, but we don’t know who did it. 

My mind immediately thinks: murder mystery!  I want to know more about this body and who did killed the person, and why.  But interestingly, the circumstances surrounding this death are barely in view in this passage.  There is no mention of tracking down the perpetrator, or anything like that.  It simply says, “it is not known who killed him,” which is vague.  We have no idea how much they investigated.  Was the body just found that day?  Have they been working this case for weeks?  We don’t get any details.  You might be thinking, but those are important details!  Shouldn’t God care about justice for the victim?  Absolutely, he does.  In fact he already dealt with that, as we will see below. 

God has another reason, however, for bringing up unsolved murders here in chapter 21.  Look at the middle of verse 1.  The body is found lying in a field, and yet notice how he describes the field.  It is “in the land the Lord their God is giving them to possess.”  That should sound familiar, because throughout our study of Deuteronomy we have heard a lot about the land. 

The land they are about to possess is the Promised Land, Canaan, the land of their forefathers, the land flowing with milk and honey.  God references the land 178 times in the book of Deuteronomy, and in all but three chapters.  I don’t know that it would be possible to overstate how important the land was to God and to the people.  For a people without land of their own, it is incredibly emotional when they obtain land.  Think about how you felt when you rented your first apartment or purchased your first house?  Overjoyed!  You had a space of your own.

So jump back with me to chapter 19, verse 10, as there is a mention of the land that connects to what God is talking about here in chapter 21.  In chapter 19, you might remember, God gives his people instructions for creating cities of refuge in the land.  People can flee to these cities if they have accidentally killed someone.  In those cities, they will be protected from any family members of the deceased who might want to take revenge on them.  And why?  Chapter 19, verse 10 tells us: “Do this so that innocent blood will not be shed in your land, which the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance and so that you will not be guilty of bloodshed.”

In another place, Numbers 35:33-34, God teaches Israel something similar: “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.”

Teachings like these, and many others we have seen throughout Deuteronomy, illustrate how deeply God wanted purity in the land and in his people.  He not only wanted the physical land, the dirt, the earth, to be pure, but he also wanted the same for his people.  The Canaanites who were living in the land, though, did evil in God’s eyes.  They practiced the sacrificing of babies in worship, they were ruthless and murderous.  God wanted Israel to be different, to be holy and just, as he was.  So he is particular about purity.  There must be no innocent bloodshed.  When blood was shed, Numbers 35 tells us, the murderer must pay the blood guilt with his own blood (death penalty), and then God declares that the land will be pure again.  But what if the murderer can’t be found, or is unknown?  How will the blood guilt on the land be dealt with?  In other words, they still need to deal with the body!  So God gives them a method to deal with the blood guilt in the land when an unsolved murder happens Deuteronomy chapter 21, verses 2-9.

In part 2, we’ll examine what turns out to be a very strange ritual.

The difficulties of holy war passages in the Old Testament [Christians & War – Deuteronomy 20, part 3]

9 Jan
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In part 1 and part 2 of this series on Deuteronomy 20, we learned that Israel’s priests and army officers are to address the army before battle. Now God gives them some instructions about how to carry out battle. If you aren’t aware of these passages of Scripture, brace yourselves, as they can be shocking.

In verses 10-18, God refers to two kinds of enemies.  Those that are far away, and those nearby.  Israel was to handle them very differently.

First, in verses 10-15, when Israel goes to war against nations far away, make them an offer of peace, and if they accept, all the enemy’s people will be subject to forced labor and work for Israel.  Is God condoning slavery?

But if the people in the faraway nation refuse Israel’s offer of peace, and they engage Israel in battle, God says Israel is to lay siege to the city.  When God delivers the city to Israel, he says they should kill all the men, but keep everything else for themselves: women, children, animals, and possessions.  Do you feel like it is hard to read a passage like this where God is approving such devastation?  I really struggle with it.  But it is about to get worse.

Next in verses 16-18, God moves his focus from the nations far away, and now directs Israel’s attention to those enemies nearby. He is referring to the nations who currently lived in the Promised Land of Canaan that they were about to enter. About those nations, God says, kill them all, total destruction, period.  He also tells them why they are to take this severe action.  “To keep yourselves from worshiping their gods and sinning against God.”

Whew. Enslavement of people.  Total decimation in war.  This is isn’t the first time we encountered this concept.  It came up in 2017 when we studied Deuteronomy chapters 2, 3, and 7.  I remember thinking, at the time, how often should a pastor preach about Old Testament holy war?  I have wondered numerous times throughout this Deuteronomy series if I made a mistake choosing to preach through it.

I’m not going to rehash it here.   If you want you can read the post here in which I discuss options for interpreting these passages.  As you’ll read there, I don’t feel there is any satisfying way to understand these instances where God commands holy war leading to total decimation of foreign peoples. I do want to say this, though: war is always devastating.  Our nation has fought wars like our Civil War where we slaughtered each other.  And we’ve slaughtered other nations, including civilians in other nations, such as dropping atomic bombs on Japan.  I say that simply to bring up the reality that war is always awful. We need to remember that when we consider the question I’m going to ask now: how should Christians approach the concept of war? 

Can we find anything in Deuteronomy 20 that will help us? Take note that in Deuteronomy 20, Israel is making war.  They are going out and starting war.  They are about to enter into someone else’s land and try to capture it.  Is that right?  Why would God do that at all? 

Let’s quickly go back to Egypt 40 years before. At the time Israel was a nation of slaves.  God rescued them out of slavery in Egypt and when we hear that, we are cheering God.  Freedom for the enslaved.  Yes!  But that raises a huge logistical question: where would this nation go once they have been freed?  We’re talking about a nation that is likely a couple million people.  That’s enough people to fill a large city.   That many people need a land that can sustain them, so they can’t just go into the desert.  But the fertile land nearby, land that could provide for them, is already occupied.  Who is going to say, “2 million people, here you can have our land.  It’s all yours now, and we will just leave and say goodbye”?  Not going to happen.  It’s like the Syrian refugee migration in Europe.  It’s a massive logistical situation.

So what does God do?  God gives Israel a land that had been in their family history, the land of Canaan, the land where their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived.  He calls it the Promised Land.  God is essentially saying, “Israel, I am returning land to you that was previously yours.”  But they lived in that land over 400 years before.  In 400 years time, when they were in Egypt, things had changed.  New peoples and towns and cities and nations lived in that land now.  So Israel wasn’t going to be able to walk back in and say, “Alright people, we’re back!  You can go away now.”  Nope.  It was going to be a fight.  Here’s the question, though.  Was that a just cause?  I don’t know that I can answer that.  Some say yes, and some say no.  Some might say, “Yes, that was their land originally, and they have every right to want it back, and to fight for it.”  Others might say, “No, that was 400 years ago.  I’m glad they are not slaves any longer, but they chose to leave Canaan looking for food in Egypt, and they have no right to now go back to Canaan and claim it as their own.”  Still another might remind us that God is involved, giving the land to them.  The whole earth is the Lord’s so he can give it to whomever he desires.  Still we have to ask: Is it right for God to have Israel totally decimate the people in the land so God can give it to them?  Is that just?  What kind of God would do that?  So we are back to that difficult issue. How should Christians think about war?

Frankly, I don’t find any material in Deuteronomy 20 that is helpful to Christians who are seeking to form a distinctly Christian viewpoint on war. Instead Christians must head over to the New Testament, and that is where we are going next, in part 4.

How to grow your love for God, part 3 (dealing with our fears)

17 Oct
Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash

What do you fear?  Even if you are the kind of person who is not afraid of hardly anything, do you have concerns?  What bothers you?  Maybe your personality really struggles with fears.  I’ve talked in a previous post about my own struggles with anxiety. I’ve come to realize I have triggers: health and financial concerns, home repairs, and difficult relational situations can all intensify my struggle with fear and anxiety.  I’ve learned that it can be hard to love God in the midst of fear.  As we continue this series studying Deuteronomy 11, we’ve seen in the previous two posts that Moses is encouraging the people to grow their love for God.  If you haven’t read them, you might consider doing so, as they set the context for what we are going to study in this post.  Moses addresses a significant concern about loving God in the midst of fear. 

It seems that Deuteronomy 11 has 7 sections, and in the first three, Moses has been very positive.  But that positive tone changes in Section 4.  Look at verses 16-17.

The thing he wants them to do? In verse 16, he says, “do not to turn away from God or worship other gods.”  Warning! Red flag.

And why does he not want them to turn away from God? Moses is pretty clear.  In verse 17, he warns them, “then God will be angry and will not send rain, and you will not have food, and worse, you will perish from the Land.”

Yikes. Things just got negative.  But notice that this is the shortest section.  Moses doesn’t dwell on it.  He emphasizes the blessings, the positives, as he was a good leader like that.  No scare tactics here.  No heaping guilt.  But he does have to make them aware of the truth.  They need to be informed of what will happen if they turn away.  If they turn away from God, it will be disastrous for them.  This is some needed accountability.

But Moses doesn’t hammer on this.  Instead, he wants them to love and obey God, so he fills their hearts and minds with the many good reasons for following God’s way.  Thus, quickly, he returns to another positive section.

The fifth section is found in verses 18-21.

What is the thing he wants them to do? In verse 18, he has some practical advice about the commands of God.  He says, “fix these words in your hearts and minds.”

Why does he want them to do this?  He explains his reasoning in verses 19-21, “Teach them to your children…so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land.”

While this is the only section in which he doesn’t mention the word “commands”, that is what he wants them to fix to their hearts and minds.  When he uses the word “fix”, he is not referring to fixing something that is broken.  He is using “fix” in the sense of affixing something, putting something securely in place.  Those commands of God, and the ideas of loving God, serving him with all your heart and soul, those things should be fixed securely in place in your lives.  When you do that, he says, as he has said numerous times, the people will be fixed securely in the land for a long, long time.  Remember the axiom we talked about at the beginning of this series?  “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  Do you see how what Moses is saying in this section might relate to that?  Before we go any further making that connection, we have a few more sections of Deuteronomy 11 to work through.  Keep following these posts, as we’ll discuss “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” soon!  For now, let’s take a look at Section 6.

If you’ve been tracking along with the previous 5 sections, there should be no surprise what we will find in Section 6, which is verses 22-25.

Guess the thing he wants them to do? Yeah, there it is again in verse 22: observe these commands, love the Lord, walk in his ways, hold fast to him. Sound familiar? 

And why does he want them to love God and observe his commands?  Think he can find any new reasons by now?  Well, he does.  In verse 23, he says God will drive out the nations before them.  In verse 24, God will enlarge their territory. And in verse 25, no one will be able to stand against them.  God is speaking to the fear in their hearts.  They had people in their camp who did not think it was a good idea to enter the Promised Land because the nations already there were so powerful.  There were some in Israel who were afraid, thinking this Promised Land idea was actually a suicide mission.  So here is God saying, “Yeah, there are nations larger and stronger than you. But they aren’t large enough or strong enough to deal with me.”  This directly relates to verses 8-9.  Remember that interesting “so that” phrase in verse 8?  There God says, “Observe my commands, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land.”  Here in verses 22-25 he is saying something very similar.  “Observe my commands, and I will give you victory.”  God will be their strength!

How do we grow our love for God in the midst of our fear?  We stay true to him, securely establishing his ways in our lives, and in the lives of the next generation. When we are faithful to him, when we follow his ways, he addresses our fear by saying that he will be with us and strengthen us.  God is not promising to make life perfect, but he is saying that in the middle of our fear and struggle, we can trust in him.  As we learned recently in the 1 Peter series, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”   I’m not saying that casting our anxiety on God is easy.  I still struggle with it.  But what we clearly see in these teachings from both the Old and New Testament is that we can depend on him in the middle of our fear.  I suspect that it will take effort, including some failures, but as we keep striving to trust in him, we will grow in our ability to know what to do and how to do it.  Keep striving!

For me, one practice that has been so helpful in striving to cast my anxiety on God is the habit of contemplative prayer.  If you are not familiar with contemplative prayer, I would recommend a guide.  For me, that guide has been in the form of books and phone apps.  Here are some recommendations:

First of all two books I would recommend are:

  • Into The Silent Land: The Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird
  • Be Silent. Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace With God Through Contemplative Prayer by Ed Czyewski

Also good are:

  • The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. McHugh
  • Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God by Dallas Willard
  • The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
  • Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom
  • Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggeman

As said above, I have noticed that I cannot just say internally, “I will practice contemplative prayer.”   I need a guide.  And for me, Czyewski’s suggestions of finding smartphone apps proved quite good. Here are the apps I use:

Calm.  A mentor recommended this. It attempts a non-sectarian approach to meditation, breathing, etc.  But you will hear from time to time, in the guided meditations, references to eastern religious thinkers.  I never found it to be anti-Christian, though.  I also found that I could adapt it to focus on Christ as needed.  The free version limits access.  One year I paid for a subscription and that was great.  If possible, I recommend that.  I think the recommendations about breathing are excellent, but rather than a Buddhist emptying of the mind approach to meditation, I simply replaced that a biblical filling of the mind kind of meditation on God’s word. See the Centering Prayer app below.  The 7 Days of Calm is a great place to start.

Sacred Space. This is a guided prayer app that combines meditation on Scripture and thoughtful questions about encountering the presence of God, based on the practice of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  I’ve been impressed.  But I’ve also found it is easy to skim through it super-fast.

Reimagining the Examen. This is another guided prayer app, specifically based on Ignatius’ Prayer of Examen.  It is topical, so each day a bit different, and yet always focuses on accountability for our thoughts and our relationship with the Lord.  More in depth than Sacred Space, I’ve found.  Maybe a good way to end the day.

Prayer Mate. A supplication app.  Great for organizing prayer requests.

Centering Prayer. Very simple app for connecting with the presence of God and listening for him.  Based on Centering Prayer, which I know some Christians find controversial.  Tim Keller, for example, in his book, Prayer, is really hesitant.  But I think his concerns are out of line.  As I have learned about contemplative prayer, I have started using this app daily and Calm less and less.

 

How to grow your love for God, part 2

16 Oct
Photo by Kate Remmer on Unsplash

Yesterday I referred to the axiom, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” but I didn’t talk about how it matters.  This week we are looking at Deuteronomy 11, and how to grow love for God, and I promise that I’ll eventually explain how the axiom about the apple tree relates to this. But today, we look at more ways to grow our love for God.  If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, you can do so here.

Yesterday we looked at the first of seven sections in Deuteronomy 11, verses 1-7, where Moses tells the people of Israel that they can grow their love for God by remembering what he did in their lives.  That brings us to the next section, which covers verses 8-12.

In this second section, the thing he wants them to do is found in verse 8: observe all God’s commands.  Sounds similar to the first section, doesn’t it?

But this time, Moses’ rationale changes.  Why does he want them to observe all God’s commands?  Do you see he uses two “so that” statements?  Observe the commands…so that…what?  The first is in verse 8: “so that you may have strength to go in and take over the land.”  That is really interesting to me.  Observing God’s commands, Moses says, gives them strength. 

The second “so that” is in verse 9.  “Observe all the commands, so that you may live long in the land.”  Observing God’s commands, then, will give them strength and longevity in the Promised Land.  Then Moses reminds them that the Promised Land is amazing, so they will definitely want to be there.   In verse 10, he says the land is not like Egypt, which they had to work hard to irrigate.  In verses 11-12, he says the land across the Jordan will be irrigated from heaven by the Lord.  If they obey God’s commands, then, it will be like they get a bonus farmer with super farming powers that will be working along with them.

Once again, God is prominent in Moses’ rationale.  In the first section, God was their savior.  In this second section, he is their provider.  But they have to obey his commands to access his blessing.

That brings us to Section 3, which covers verses 13-15.  Go ahead and read those verses for yourself.  Are you starting to see the pattern?  Let’s take a closer look.

What is the thing he wants them to do? Yup, there it is again in verse 13: “faithfully obey the commands, love God, serve him with all your heart and soul.”  Seems familiar!

And what will the result be?  In verse 14, if they obey and love God, then God will send rain and they will have a wonderful harvest.  Likewise, in verse 15, God will provide grass for cattle.  The conclusion?  If they obey and love him, they will have food!  That’s pretty important in the days before supermarkets, especially considering the people he is talking to here.  What have they just been through…for 40 years…in the food department?  Nothing but manna and quail and a struggle to get clean water in the wilderness.  We can’t imagine what that must have been like.  It must have been glorious for these Israelites to have their minds filled with visions of a variety of tasty vegetables, fruits, grains, meats and drinks in the Promised Land.  God is saying, “people, if you obey my commands and love me and serve me with all your heart, it will be a buffet every day for you.”

What have we seen so far?  The people have loads of good reasons to love and obey God.  His work saving them in the past, and the dream of their own land, and a bountiful one at that, in their future.  Blessings abound for those who obey the Lord, Moses says.  How, then, can we grow our love for God?  By looking to him as our provider!  God will strengthen, sustain and supply.

How will you look to God as your provider?  One practical way is to obey his command to be generous.  When we practice generosity in our lives, we are saying, “God, I will gratefully, joyfully, give back to you from the blessing you have poured out on me.”  Some ways to practice generosity is through giving to your church family, or giving to local charitable organizations serving those in need in your community and around the world.  Giving generously might require you to live more simply, to spend less on your selfish, so that you have more disposable income to give away.  Will you take a step of faith and give generously, showing that you love God and depend on him as your provider?

Another way to depend on God as your provider is to follow him in ways that are difficult for you.  Maybe it is working with a person or group that irritate you or rub you the wrong way.  Maybe it is a ministry in your church that needs help, and you would much rather do something else, but you choose to lend your time and talent to that ministry anyway.  By the way, in almost any church family, children’s ministry needs people to serve.  Spend a Sunday per month in the nursery.  Teach in a children’s class.  You just might find that you learn more preparing to teach than realize!  Or maybe there is a family in your neighborhood that needs help with yard work or cleaning.  You have a lot of yard work and cleaning of your own to do, and you really don’t have time to help others, but you could choose to do so anyway.  Are there any people from different ethnicities or cultures, or those who speak a different language, and they seem disconnected from your community? How could you help them connect?

How will you show your dependence on God, who is your provider?

Why we need a wilderness mindset, even when we live in the promised land

30 Nov

Image result for have a wilderness mindset even while in the promised landHow can we remain faithful to God when life is good?  How do we remain faithful in the Promised Land?  When we are in the wilderness, we feel like we are going to die, and we need God to rescue us, we know that there is nothing we can do, and God has to intervene.  At those moments we are desperate and we know that we cannot save ourselves.  And when we make it through the wilderness with God’s help, we are quick to give God the credit, and we thank and praise him because he stepped in and provided.

But in the Promised Land, we are working, and we see the fruits of our labor.  It really seems like it was we ourselves who produced our success.  As a result we can have a hard time seeing how we need God.

In Deuteronomy 8:18, Moses reminds the people that it is God who gives us the ability to produce wealth.  So how can we let that truth sink in to our lives deeply?  God is the source of our wealth.  How can we keep that in the forefront of our minds no matter if we are in the wilderness or if we are in the Promised Land?

I believe at least part of the answer to that question is found in a thread that Moses sews through his teaching in this chapter.  Go back and read Deuteronomy 8, and see if you can notice the thread. After I name the thread, I think you’ll see it over and over in this chapter. Here it is: God wants to show his father heart for his people.

Let’s scan through Deuteronomy 8, and see if we can see the father heart of God.

  • Verse 1 – he wants them to live and increase, he keeps his promise.
  • Verse 2 – he led them, he wants to know their hearts, to have a close relationship.
  • Verse 3 – he fed them, taught them.
  • Verse 4 – he provided for their physical well-being.
  • Verse 5 – he disciplines them (and the intent of this word is loving discipline).
  • Verses 7-10 – he is bringing them to a bountiful land.
  • Verse 14 – he brought them out of slavery.
  • Verse 15-16 – he led them through the dangerous wilderness.
  • Verse 18 – he gives them the ability to produce wealth.

Look at all those ways God is a loving Father to them!

I know that not everyone had a good example of a loving father in your earthly father.  Because of that I believe those who say that it can be hard for them to view God as father.  That is legit.

I encourage you to take a look at a chapter like Deuteronomy 8, and soak up the picture of your heavenly father. It may be something you need to return to many times to learn the true heart of the father.

When we do that, what kind of father’s heart do we see in God in Deuteronomy 8?  We see a Father God who watches out for us, who sees the potential for trouble we can get into.  We do that as parents and grandparents!  We want to warn them, say “beware”, and sometimes our kids and grand-kids respond, “No way, that will never happen. You are wrong.”  And the kids don’t listen.  Sometimes they do get into trouble.  We can be like that with God, too.   Therefore, let us know the father’s heart of love for us, whether we are in the wilderness or in the promised land.

So you who are in the Wilderness:

  1. Look at it as a privilege.
  2. See the beauty of being in the wilderness.
  3. Be careful not to be addicted to the desire for the Promised Land.

So you who are in the Promised Land:

  1. Know that the Promised Land is not better than the wilderness.
  2. Know that God gives you the ability to produce wealth.
  3. Commit acts of sacrifice that show that you are not depending on our own wealth and abilities.
  4. Willingly re-enter the wilderness.

In other words, like I said yesterday, see the Promised Land through the lens of the wilderness.  Have a wilderness mindset, even when you are in the Promised Land.

We can become negative about the wilderness, so hateful of the pain and suffering that we get addicted to the Promised Land, fixated with ease and comfort of the Promised Land.  The Promised Land can become an idolatrous fixation.

The wilderness, Moses says, is God’s classroom. A time of teaching and training.  A time to learn and grow.  God intends, therefore, for us to see the wilderness as a positive thing.

Has God ever allowed a wilderness discipline in your life?  How did it change you?  What is your wilderness?  It seems we all go through a wilderness at some time, that God allows it.

But maybe you are not in the wilderness.  Maybe you are in the land of bounty.  How will you be faithful in the Promised Land?

The surprising danger of the promised land

29 Nov

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The Promised Land is a dangerous place.  Dangerous? Really?

In yesterday’s post, I asked whether you are living in your own personal wilderness, or are you experiencing a promised land?  In Deuteronomy 8 Moses is talking to the people of Israel who have just journeyed for decades through the wilderness and are set to enter the Promised Land.  You’d think Moses would be celebrating, but instead he has a dire warning.

He sets before the people the images of wilderness and promised land.  Here is a quick walk through the chapter:

First, Moses reminds them of the Wilderness in verses 1-5. Moses encourages them to follow the commands of God, and remember how God provided manna in the desert to teach them some important lessons, lessons of humility, of depending on him.

Next, he turns their attention to the Promised Land in verses 6-14.  Again he encourages them to observe the commands of God. God is bringing them into a bountiful land.  Moses says that they should walk in God’s ways and fear him. Why? Because they can become satisfied with that bountiful promised land and forget the Lord and fail to do his commands.

So in verses 15-16 he returns to the Wilderness.  He once again wants the people to remember God’s provision (manna & water) in the desert.

Finally in 17-20 he brings them back to the Promised Land, warning them to not be fooled into thinking that they created their Promised Land wealth of their own ability.  It is God who gives the ability to produce wealth.

In other words, he is saying to Israel, “See the Promised Land through the lens of the Wilderness.”

Wilderness and Promised Land.  Both are very important.  Both are a part of our lives.  What does it mean, therefore, to see our own promised land through the lens of our wilderness?

To attempt to answer that question, let’s go back to how Moses warns Israel.  He is saying to them, “People, when you get settled in the Promised Land, you are going to eat your fill.  No more manna and quail every day.  It is going to be Shady Maple.  But watch out.  Because if you eat at Shady Maple every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you are in danger of forgetting the Lord.  And you will become proud, and you will be tempted to think you don’t need to obey the Lord, even though he brought you out of slavery and cared for you in the wilderness.  And what’s worse, you will start to deceive yourself, and you will think that you did this. You will think ‘Self, I have made it. I am so smart and capable and strong…and I know how to get wealthy’.”

That’s the danger of the Promised Land, isn’t it?  That life will be so good, so abundant, and we will feel so satisfied, that we will start to think that we did this.  And when we start to think that we did it, we have already gone down the road of forgetting that it was actually God who did it.

This is so applicable to us Americans.  We live in the Promised Land.  Literally.  I know it can be very hard for us to see it when the bill collectors are calling, when our credit card debt is rising fast, when our jobs are not paying enough.  This is why I highly, highly recommend that you go on trips outside your own culture.  When you travel to other cultures, it can help you open your eyes to who you really are.  When you are in inner city Philly, for example, you can see hopefully a bit more clearly how Lancaster is the Promised Land.

We Americans, and in particular we Lancastrians, are in danger of deceiving ourselves into becoming so satisfied with our comfortable lives that we can believe we did this.  Let me repeat, that is the danger of the Promised Land, forgetting God, forgetting how he got us through the wilderness, and how we need to depend on him, live for him, even in the Promised Land.

Do you feel like you’re walking through a wilderness? Or living it up in the Promised Land?

28 Nov

Recently our high school Booster club had the Harlem Wizards at the school for a fundraiser event.  A selection of teachers from the district played a game versus the Wizards.  It was a great mixture of comedy and trick shot basketball, including a bunch of amazing acrobatic slam dunks.  At the end of the game, they called all the kids out onto the floor, grade by grade starting with the youngest first and this happened:

It was so much fun.  As we drove home, my daughter Meagan said to me “I wish every day could be like that.”  It was two hours of life in the Promised Land, when everything was laughter and fun and games.

I know what Meagan means.  I remember thinking at my sister’s wedding day and reception, “I don’t want this to end.”  There have been many such experiences in my life.  Our close friend Becka lived with us for 6-7 months, and during that time she and Derek got engaged.  I’ll never forget when they arrived back our house to drop Becka off.  We knew that Derek was taking her to Philly to propose, but we didn’t know what time they would be back, so we went to bed.  We texted Derek saying “feel free to wake us”, and when we heard that knock on our bedroom door?  We were up in a flash, excited as could be.  Then soon after that we had an engagement party for them and then months later their wedding day…oh my…why can’t life be like that every day?  The unstoppable joy, and the dancing.

Promised Land.

The reality is that life also has wilderness.  The bleak times.  When our bodies break down and don’t work like they are supposed to.  When our cars and computers and cell phones break down and don’t work like they are supposed to.  First world problems?  Sure.  But there are also relationship breakdowns, job loss, financial crises.  You name it.  Sometimes the wilderness is inside our hearts and minds.  We feel dry, distant from God, depressed, anxious, stressed out.  Cold.

School can be like that.

Work can be like that.

Wilderness.

If we had to count them up and classify each day of our lives as Wilderness days or Promised Land days, I suspect many of us would be lopsided on the Wilderness category.  I told Meg, that’s what makes the great days, the special days, so good, because they are in contrast to the normal, right? You party every day and the partying loses its appeal.

You know that song “Working for the Weekend”?  It conveys the idea that we just need to get through the week so we can enjoy the weekend.  We just need to get through the wilderness so we can get to the Promised Land.  That seems pretty normal, right?  Deal with the junk of like so that one day you can enjoy life. But is that the way it is supposed to be?

As we continue into Deuteronomy chapter 8, Moses sets before the people of Israel these two visions.  Wilderness and Promised Land. They have just wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, and now they are beginning to taste the Promised Land.  Finally!

Surprisingly, Moses is very, very concerned.

In our next post, we find out why.