Thoroughly Equipped: Blessings and Curses

Today’s reading includes Deuteronomy 26:1-27:26, Luke 10:38-11:13, Psalm 76:1-12, Proverbs 12:15-17.

In our reading today, we come across a seemingly strange activity God’s people were called to do after the crossed the Jordan into the Promise land.  They were to divide the whole of the people into two groups.  The tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin were to stand on Mount Gerizim and the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulum, Dan, and Naphtali were to stand on Mount Ebal.  Six on one mountain, six on the other, facing each other.  The first group were to loudly proclaim a blessing over the people and the other group were to proclaim a curse.  The tribes on the side of blessing were from the birth children of the free women, Rachel and Leah.  The other six who proclaimed the curses were from their concubines, sons of Zilpah and Bilhah, as well as Zebulun, the youngest of Leah’s sons, and Reuben, the oldest.

The idea was that the blessings of following God and His instructions would be shouted and echoed across the Promise land in declaration that this was their belief and it was right.

In the same way, the curses were to be shouted across the land.  These curses were related to the consequences of disobedience to God and His instructions and would only be seen if the people did not follow and obey God.

The priests stood in the valley between the two and shouted more curses (or declaration of consequences) of what would happen if the people disobeyed God.  To these curses, all the people would shout Amen, which means “so be it” or “I agree” or “it is true”.

The fact that the priests shouted curses and consequences was in contrast to what the Lord had told them to do on a daily basis, and that was to proclaim blessing on the people, as we read in Numbers 6.

2The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,

24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

                                                            Numbers 6:22-26

So, why was this important for them to do, just after they entered the Promise land?  First of all, it was a way to take back the land.  As they first entered the land, it was still occupied by groups who did not follow God or His ways.  They were declaring that things were about to change.  It was also a declaration that God’s people were not to fall into the patterns of the people around them.  And as the blessings and curses were declared between the two mountains, and their agreement with them, the truth of it echoed across the land.

This time of shouting from one mountain top to the other was also symbolic of what was to come.  Where were the priests?  They were in the middle between the blessing and cursing.  Who is the greatest High Priest?  Jesus of course.  As the people shouted the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience, and their agreement of these truths, surely they were also prophetically acknowledging that only through Jesus, the High Priest, could the curse of sin cross over to the blessing of salvation. Only, Jesus, the bridge between a sinful people to a holy God could connect the two and bridge the gap between the mountain of curses to the mountain of blessing.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”[d] 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit[e] through faith.

                                                                                    Galatians 3:10-14

Thoroughly Equipped: Don’t Mess With It

Today’s reading includes Deuteronomy 18:1-20:20, Luke 9:28-50, Psalm 73:1-28, Proverbs 12:10.

In today’s reading we find a passage that may seem innocuous to us, but it is one we should pay attention to, nonetheless.  Here is what I am thinking about:

“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, be very careful not to imitate the detestable customs of the nations living there. 10 For example, never sacrifice your son or daughter as a burnt offering.[a] And do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft,11 or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord. It is because the other nations have done these detestable things that the Lord your God will drive them out ahead of you. 13 But you must be blameless before the Lord your God.14 The nations you are about to displace consult sorcerers and fortune-tellers, but the Lord your God forbids you to do such things.”

Of course, none of us would consider offering our children as a burnt offering.  But what about the second part of this passage? It may feel innocent to read your horoscope or phone a psychic hotline just for the fun of it.  Or what about those slumber party games as a child?  Or what about all the children’s programs and games that have an innocent-looking witch casting spells?

First, let me say:  Take these things to Lord and ask Him what of those are dishonoring to Him.  Are they really so innocent if God forbids His people to do them?  And why would He forbid them?  Because the source of the inquiry is not of the Lord.  And if it’s not of the Lord, I really don’t want another spirit-being’s opinion.  Yes, there is a spiritual realm, and no, it is not always beautiful or holy.

10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we[d] are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.[e] 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.[f] 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

                                                                                    Ephesians 6:10-17

Recently, I asked one of my older kids what they learned growing up in our home.  One of the first responses was, “I learned that evil is real and you don’t need to mess with it.”  I believe that is good advice.

Thoroughly Equipped: He Is Our King

Today’s reading is Deuteronomy 16:1-17:20, Luke 9:7-27, Psalm 72: 1-20, Proverbs 12:8-9.

Today’s passage refers to the guidelines for a king.  At this time, Israel had no king.  Moses was the leader and spokesperson, but not their king.  In fact, God Himself served as their King.  And He still is today for us—King of all kings.

But God knew their hearts.  He knew they would look around them and want what the other nations had.  In fact, many scholars believe these were prophet words.  At the least, they were warnings of what very likely could happen if they did not guard their hearts.  Let’s look at the details.

First, he said, “When you take it over and settle there, you may think, ‘We should select a king to rule over us like the other nations around us.’

And that is exactly what happened.  In 1 Samuel 8 we see these prophetic words come true.

Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.”

6Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the LORD for guidance. 7“Do everything they say to you,” the LORD replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. 8Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. 9Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.”

19But the people refused to listen to Samuel’s warning. “Even so, we still want a king,” they said. 20“We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.”

Even though the Lord gave them what they wanted, the people didn’t really need one.  They had a King already.  This is what set them apart and made them unique and special.   But they didn’t want that.  They wanted to look and act like everyone else.  They wanted an earthly king.  And the very things that He warned about came to fruition.

16 “The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the Lord has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ 17 The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.

As we continue reading through the scriptures, we see that the very things He warned about became a stumbling block to even the most anointed kings.  David, the man after God’s own heart, had a season of sin, due to the fact his heart was turned toward another wife.  David was humble enough to acknowledge his sin and repent.  And Solomon, too, was a wise and godly king—until he later took many wives and accumulated large amounts of wealth for himself.

In Solomon’s old age, they (his many wives) turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the LORD his God

                                                            1 Kings 11:4

But at the end of this passage God provided a way out for them.

18 “When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. 19 He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees.20 This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.

God’s Word will keep us humble.  His Word will keep us close to the path of righteousness.  His Word will be a measure of protection for our future generations.  We, just like the kings of Israel, would do well to daily read God’s Word as long as we live.  And remember, we have a King already.

Thoroughly Equipped: Faithful and Generous

Today’s reading includes Deuteronomy 13:1-15:23, Luke 8:40-9:6, Psalm 71:1-24, Proverbs 12:5-7.

As I read through the text today, what stood out to me was that God has laid out a plan and command for two character traits to develop in the attitudes and actions of His people.  I am one of His people because I have been grafted into the vine of His beloved, chosen ones.  And you are too, if you have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.  And because we are His people, we can glean wisdom from His instructions, even though they were originally written for the Israelites.

And today’s instructions can be summed up in two commands. Be faithful to God and be generous to others.  First, let’s look at the character trait of faithfulness.  What does it mean to be faithful?  Webster’s dictionary includes the following as a definition of faithfulness:  steadfast in affection or allegiance, firm in adherence to promises or in observance of duty, given with strong, binding assurance, and true to the facts and to a standard.  Read over that description again and ask yourself, “Am I faithful to God?”

Can He trust me to choose Him with every decision, every detail of my life?

Many verses in the passage today as well as in previous chapters, talk about idolatry.  When we think of idolatry, we often think of worshipping a golden calf.  Of course, we would not bow down to a golden calf.  But would we bow down to golden coins?  Would be bow down to other’s opinions of ourselves?  Would we bow down to the idol of our children, their sports, or even their well-being?  I must confess, I am stepping on my own toes here.  I have committed the sin of idolatry in each of those ways at times.  But as I read through today’s passage, I am convicted of the seriousness of those offenses.  I am convicted that I must closely guard my heart, my mind, and my motivations.

“Suppose someone secretly entices you—even your brother, your son or daughter, your beloved wife, or your closest friend—and says, ‘Let us go worship other gods’—gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known. They might suggest that you worship the gods of peoples who live nearby or who come from the ends of the earth. But do not give in or listen. Have no pity, and do not spare or protect them.

                                                                                    Deuteronomy 13:6-8

We are to put God above our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters.  We are to put God above our beloved spouse and our closest friend.  Our God is a jealous God and wants and desires first place in our hearts.  But after 25 years of marriage and 7 children, I am convinced that if I love God first, I will love my family better.

The next characteristic that we see instructed is that of generosity.  We must be generous to God in our tithes and offerings, which is a lot like when my littlest children wrap up a gift that I gave them.  I paid for it, it is technically mine, but when those little cuties hand it back to me as a gift, it is a great gift indeed. I love it, not because I need it, but because they gave it to me in love.  And as we are generous first to the Lord, He multiplies that generosity to overflow to others.  Today’s passage talks of forgiving debts, loaning to others, and helping the poor.  One of the verses stopped me in my tracks.

“There should be no poor among you, for the Lord your God will greatly bless you in the land he is giving you as a special possession.

                                                                        Deuteronomy 15:4

There should be no poor among you?  Really?  Even Jesus said there will always be poor among us.  But, the reality is that in our sphere of influence, as far as it depends on us, the poverty problem should be greatly reduced.  Why?  Because our God will greatly bless us.  We are blessed to be a blessing.  Blessings are a tricky thing.  God is generous with us and expects us to be generous with others.  But we can easily fall into the sin of idolatry when it comes to our blessings.  What is the cure?  The cure is the first quality we have discussed today.  Faithfulness to God.  If we are faithful to Him, if we put Him first, above all else, we will be more likely to have the quality of generosity.  One will precede the other.

Today, let’s commit first to faithfulness to God.  Let’s ask Him to point out any areas of idolatry in our lives.  Then, let’s be open to His work in our lives, transforming and increasing the characteristic of generosity in our hearts.

Thoroughly Equipped: Copies and Shadows

Today’s reading includes Deuteronomy 9:1-10:22, Luke 8:4-21, Psalm 69:19-36, Proverbs 12:2-3.

In today’s reading we find Moses not only recounting their 40 year journey, but also providing plenty of warning to the people, along with the assurance of the promises and capabilities of God.

Hear, Israel: You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky. The people are strong and tall—Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: “Who can stand up against the Anakites?” But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the Lord has promised you.

                                                                                                Deuteronomy 9:1-3

Moses does not sugar-coat the challenges that lie ahead of them, but he also reminds them from where their strength and victory come.  God is the one who goes ahead of them preparing the way.  God is the one who will destroy their enemies on their behalf.  God is the one to fulfill His promises, every one.  And it will not be because of who the people are, it will be because of Who God is.  In fact, if the strength for the victory came from a measureable amount of righteousness, the people would indeed fail.

Though the Lord takes away our sin and our shame, we should not forget the lessons learned by our failure.  The memory of our failures should not continue to bring us shame—Jesus took that shame away.  But we should remember in Whose righteousness comes the victory—and it is not in ours.  The same was true of the God’s chosen people.

It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

                                                                                                Deuteronomy 9:5

Our covenant God keeps His promises even when we do not.  And for that, I am very grateful.

Moses continues in his review of the previous years, recounting the big episodes of unfaithfulness and failure, reminding them how he had to intercede on their behalf.  Look at the following accounts and see what is the repetitive cycle in each.

18 Then once again I fell prostrate before the Lord for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the Lord’s sight and so arousing his anger.

                                                                                    Deuteronomy 9:18

23 And when the Lord sent you out from Kadesh Barnea, he said, “Go up and take possession of the land I have given you.” But you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You did not trust him or obey him. 24 You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you.

25 I lay prostrate before the Lord those forty days and forty nights because the Lord had said he would destroy you. 

                                                                                    Deuteronomy 9:23-25

10 Now I had stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights, as I did the first time, and the Lord listened to me at this time also. It was not his will to destroy you. 11 “Go,” the Lord said to me, “and lead the people on their way, so that they may enter and possess the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.”

                                                                                    Deuteronomy 10:10-11

Each time, Moses acted as a mediator between the sinful people and a holy God.  Each time, he went before the Lord for forty days and forty nights.  This holy number, forty, represents a time of cleansing and preparing, as well as a probationary time period or a time of testing or trial.  In these cases, it is a time of cleansing and preparation.  But it is not Moses who needs cleansing.  The cleansing is needed for the people, and Moses serves as a savior symbol—a reflection of the Savior to come, who goes before the Father on our behalf and pleads our case.  Our plea is guilty, of course, but also with a “paid in full” sign placed on us by the blood of Jesus.

Think about other times God used the number 40 for cleansing and preparation.

Noah was in the ark for 40 days and 40 nights.

Moses was in Egypt for 40 years, then in the desert for 40 more.

He spent 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai on two separate occasions.

The spies went to scout out the Promise land for 40 days.

The people wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.

This preparation time, Moses’ last work, lasted 40 days.

The prophet, Jonah, preached to the sinners of Ninevah for 40 days, and                    thwarted its destruction.

Ezekiel laid on his right side for 40 days to symbolize Judah’s sin.

Elijah went for 40 days without food or water at Mount Horeb.

And Jesus, the One who is reflected in all of the above accounts, went into the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days in preparation for the great work He would do on our behalf.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see brave, righteous men go before God as a mediator between a sinful people and a holy God.  But these are only copies and shadows of the Only One who could truly make things right.

Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.

…there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.

                                                                      Hebrews 8:1-5

What a humbling thing to know that Someone is willing to stand in the gap for us,  for without that sacrifice we would perish.  So, what is our response to this glorious truth?

12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the one you praise; he is your God…

                                                                   Deuteronomy 10: 12, 13, 20, 21