Wednesday, 19 March 2014

(79) March 20: Deuteronomy 33-34 & Luke 1:24-56

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read note what Israel learn about her future.

To ponder:
Between the instruction and then activity of Moses climbing Mount Nebo, we have his blessings (32v48-52, 34v1-8). Once more with poetry we’re reminded of God coming with his angels and in love to Israel. They are pictured as humbly receiving God’s law with Moses acting like a king. This is the ideal for God’s people.
Reuben is blessed with life and multiplication, and Judah with help against foes. But the focus is on Levi. Although not recorded, it is implied that the tribe didn’t share in the grumbling at Massah and Meribah. And they proved their qualification to watch over God’s word and guard his covenant when they put him first by executing his judgement even on their relatives (Exodus 17). It seems this is why the decision-making of the Thummim and Urim are entrusted to them. Their other tasks are to teach the law, and co-ordinate Israel’s worship. And Moses prays for them to be blessed and protected in this. Within the church too, it is those who have proved themselves who are to be given the greater responsibility (1 Tim 3:2-4, 10).
            Benjamin is blessed with security stemming from God’s love, and Joseph (comprising the two half-tribes) with the best of the land as “prince among his brothers.” This reflects the prominence of Ephraim in particular within the future northern kingdom of Israel. Indeed, reflecting Joseph’s blessing, Moses blesses Ephraim with more descendents than Manasseh. Zebulun and Issachar are blessed with prosperity from sea and sand, that leads to offering sacrifices, probably of thanksgiving. Gad is blessed with the good land he chose east of the Jordan, which is his because of his willingness to carry out God’s will by going ahead of Israel in taking the land. The future strength of a lion is promised Dan, and God’s favour and blessing are granted Naphtali. Finally Asher is promised special favour, living amongst olive trees (the oil) and in great strength and security.
            These blessings are those we’ve come to expect: increase, strength, security, abundance, wealth, and favour. And there is no doubt where they come from. They are Israel’s because there is “no-one” like her God, whose power and readiness to bless is seen in him being a king, riding on the clouds of the heavens “to help.” He is her “shield and helper” and her “glorious sword.” We can apply this wonderful language to ourselves as God’s people now. He effectively “rode” to help us in Christ, who will return on a horse named “faithful and true,” to defeat all God’s enemies (Rev 19v11). God’s love makes him swift to act for us.
            The book ends with Moses climbing Mount Nebo. In granting him a view of the land, God is portrayed as acting kindly so Moses would see what he had worked so hard to achieve. But, it is also stressed that his death is not due to ill health (34v7). It was the penalty for his lack of faith in Numbers 20v6-12, which kept God’s holiness from being honoured for his gift of water (32v51).
            Moses’ role has however passed to Joshua, marked by his being “filled” with the “spirit of wisdom” through the laying on of hands. This provides some background to the practice of laying on hands for the giving of the Spirit in the NT. The writer is however clear that despite Joshua’s leadership, since then the promised “prophet like Moses” (Deut 18v15) has not yet come. The book therefore ends looking later generations to a prophet and King (33v5) like Moses, who will speak God’s word and administer his will. Whoever else would rise to lead the nation, it is this man she really needs. And now he has come!

Praying it home:
Thank God for the coming so readily to our help in Christ. Reflect on the key lessons you’ve learnt from Deuteronomy and pray them home.

Thinking further:
Congratulations. We have now completed the Pentateuch, ie. the first five books of the Bible. This is sometimes known by the Jews as the “Torah,” which means “instruction;” although this term can also refer to wider Jewish teaching too. You may have noticed that these books are foundational to all else. They reveal God’s uniqueness, power and nature. They set out the redemptive framework for his wider interaction with human beings. And in what follows, the history books essentially recount the working out of his covenant blessing and curses on Israel, whilst much of the prophetic books are a record of their sermons in which the covenant and its terms were preached and applied to the situations in their day.

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