Deuteronomy 31–34

Moses arrives at the end of his long life; at 120 years old he says, “I am no longer able to get about” – what an understatement! Moses first forty years were spent as a Prince of Egypt, being instructed in the accumulated knowledge of the world and enjoying the privileges of the ruling class. The next forty years were spent as a shepherd in the desert, humbly living with those who live off the land, his circumstances greatly reduced until one day when the LORD of Heaven calls to him from the middle of a burning bush. The last forty years of his life God commissions Moses to lead the Israelites from slavery in Egypt; to become a nation of Laws, common worship and to take possession of the land that God promised their ancestors. What a life!

These last chapters of Deuteronomy contain Moses’ final words and arrangements before Israel enters into the Canaan. Joshua is chosen by God to be the supreme commander of the Israelite army ready on the eastern side of the Jordan River across from Jericho. Moses’ final charge to Joshua and the people is very clear, “Be strong and courageous! Do not fear or tremble before them, for the LORD your God is the one who is going with you. He will not fail you or abandon you!” Israel was to be a nation led by God, a theocratic community with the LORD Almighty as their King, and His covenant as their constitution.

Moses writes down his final instructions reminding the Israelites what he has already taught them, now he is ready to be “gathered to his ancestors”, his work is finished. His final words are prophetic; God has revealed to Moses what will become of the Israelites after his death. The Israelites will chase after foreign gods, and prostitute themselves; they will reject the LORD and break His covenant. God’s anger will burn against Israel, and He will abandon them to their sins. So Moses writes a song, a poem, for the Israelites to memorize and recite so they will remember this song will serve as a witness against the Israelites. Then when the disasters overcome them they will remember what God did for them in Egypt and in the desert. Moses commands the priests to preserve the words of God spoken through Moses.

Moses proclaims that God is faithful, He is the Rock, reliable, just and fair; “His work is perfect, for all his ways are just”. God has made the Israelites his special possession; He found him, guarded him and continually protected him. God provided for all their needs with abundance, of all the nations of the earth Israel has experienced the greatest blessings. We too can sing with Moses – there is no one like the LORD; He alone is the ruler of the universe. He will provide everlasting safety and refuge; He will destroy evil in His time. We can rest in His assurances, He will provide for all my true needs so that I might live in JOY! I am a child of God, delivered by the LORD, He is my defender, my protection – I have nothing to fear!

Nevertheless when Israel becomes fat and lazy, they desert the God who made them and treat the Rock with contempt. They have forgotten the Rock who fathered them and put out of mind the God who gave them birth. The LORD took note, He does not ignore sin; The LORD rejects them, He has turned His face and blessings away from them. However, Israel’s unfaithfulness will not stop the purposes of God; God will use other nations to discipline His people with famine, plague and war. At the right time, “a root from Jesse will stand like a signal flag for the nations. Nations will look to him for guidance, and his residence will be majestic. At that time the sovereign master will again lift his hand to reclaim the remnant of his people from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and the seacoasts. He will lift a signal flag for the nations; he will gather Israel’s dispersed people and assemble Judah’s scattered people from the four corners of the earth”. (Isaiah 11)

Moses proclaimed, “Keep in mind all the words today; carefully observe this law. For this is no idle word for you – it is your life!” Finally Moses blesses the Israelites, speaking to each tribe by name and pronouncing prophetic blessings. In the ancient Near East, a dying father’s final blessings spoken to his sons were an irrevocable legal testament, accepted as decisive evidence in court disputes.

Then Moses climbs up Mt Nebo, in Moab and looks across at the land of Canaan, he will see the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God said, , ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it, but you will not cross over there. A final tribute is recorded after Moses’ death, “No prophet ever again arose in Israel like Moses, who knew the LORD face to face. He did all the signs and wonders the LORD had sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, all his servants, and the whole land, and he displayed great power and awesome might in view of all Israel.”

Numbers 25-35 and Deuteronomy

After God’s demonstration of His dominion over all creatures even speaking donkeys and compelling Balaam to bless Israel. Balaam prophetically speaks of the coming victories of Israel then conspires to defeat Israel from within with sexual immorality and pagan worship. The leaders of Moab sent women to commit sexual immorality with the men of Israel and entice them to join them in pagan worship of Baal. In response Moses sends judges to execute the men who joined in the pagan rituals; Phinehas the grandson of Aaron distinguishes himself in righteous zeal for the LORD and is honored with a permanent covenant of peace with God. Then the LORD commands the destruction of the Midianites for this treachery.

Another Census is taken, once again the fighting men are numbered, the Levites are counted as well and this counting will supply the foundation for the distribution of the land once it is conquered. After 40 years of wandering, the number of Israelites is about the same, all those who participated in the rebellion have died; the new army is ready to enter the Promise Land and take possession of their inheritance from God.

Since the distribution of land will be determined by the Census of fighting men, the daughters of Zelophedad come to Moses with a plea to be allotted land, in their father’s lineage. Moses goes before the LORD and issues the ruling: daughters will inherit the land if there are no brothers, but they must marry within their tribe so the land will not transfer out of the tribe.

Moses pleads for the daughters and God supplies their needs, but when he pleads for himself God does not relent, Moses will suffer the consequences of his sins, he will not enter the Promised Land. God directs Moses to go up the mountains and see the good land that God has given but there he will die. Moses intervenes with the LORD one last time for Israel, he asks God to appoint a leader to replace him so his people will not be without a shepherd to lead them. God directs Moses to delegate his authority to Joshua, to commission him in front of the whole community so there will be no uncertainty. Joshua will be the supreme commander of the Israelite army and people.

Numbers 28-30 records Moses last instructions for the Israelites, they are reminders of all he has taught them about living in the land, daily sacrifices, festivals of the LORD and keeping their promises. Numbers 31 records Moses last conquest, the vengeance against the Midianites. With 12,000 armed men led by Phinehas and the ark, they kill every male, the five Kings of Moab and Balaam the prophet. Balaam advised the Kings of Moab how to destroy the Israelites with sexual immorality and pagan ritual. This battle is a holy war, against the evils of pagan worship that has corrupted the both people and the land. Everything taken in battle needed to be purified by fire or water; only unmarried girls who have never had sexual intercourse with a man were allowed to live.

Following the success of this battle, Moses is approached by the sons of Rueben and Gad about settling in the land east of the Jordan River and relinquishing their rights within the Promised Land boundaries. The tension in the story is intense, is this another failure, an unwillingness to battle and enter into the land again? Moses confronts the leaders of the tribes, they assure him that they will secure this land and then will continue with the Israelites army until the Promised Land is subdued “before the LORD”.

Numbers 33-35, the boundaries of the Promised Land are listed, the Israelites are to drive out all the inhabitants of the land before them and they are to destroy all their carved images and demolished their high places of worship. Then divide the land according to your ancestral tribes and live in the land. They are to establish towns for the Levites spread out among the tribes and set up cities of refuge where a person unjustly accused of a capital crime can flee for safety.

Deuteronomy is a repetition of the Law, a second copy but not a different or competing law. It is a series of strong sermons given to the wandering people with a much more personal tone. The date is established, it is now 40 years after the Israelites rebelled and fail to enter into the Promised Land. Moses records that it was an eleven-day journey from Mt. Sinai to Kadesh Barnea, the launching point for the conquest of the Promised Land but it has taken the Israelites 40 years of God’s discipline. Moses gives his final instructions reminding the Israelites to pay attention to the statues and ordinances from God and of all the times they rebelled and were quickly punished; they are encouraged to learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of their fathers. “Be careful, therefore, to do exactly what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn right or left! Walk just as he has commanded you so that you may live, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land you are going to possess.” They are to teach them to their children and your grandchildren; pay attention and be careful to do just as the LORD commands and you will have a land flowing with milk and honey.

Do you want to be successful exactly where God has placed you? Follow the instructions from Moses, meditate on the commands of the LORD and keep them in your heart, this will allow you to understand the Law and apply it correctly. “For this is the love of God: that we keep his commandments. And his commandments do not weigh us down, because everyone who has been fathered by God conquers the world”. 1 John 5:3