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Monday, August 31, 2015

Dedicated to God: Deuteronomy 34

Introduction

Moses ended chapter thirty-three with the proclamation of Israel being unlike any other nation. He blessed the tribes in that chapter, but explained their greatest blessing was the LORD who saved them, was their shield, helper, glorious sword, and refuge, before whom their enemies would cower, and by whom they would depart. Moses spoke these things to the Israelites before his own death to remind them of who God was and had been for them and who He would be for them in the future. It was a way to recall them to remember and reflect on the LORD and to rededicate themselves to Him.

The latter is the reason for Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is a book of revival that calls the people of Israel to remember, reflect, and rededicate themselves to the God and His will. Moses taught the Israelites who God was, how He had acted in their lives on their behalf, and would be for them because of their covenant with Him and He with them. He was the representative of God to the Israelites and the mediator and priest for the Israelites to God. Moses brought to the Israelites the covenant of the LORD and they agreed to abide by it. Obedience or disobedience to it brought consequences – prosperity, life, and possession of the land or poverty, death, and dis-possession of the land. The Israelites agreed to the covenant with the LORD at Mount Sinai and renewed their vows to God before their crossing of the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

With chapter 34, Moses life ends. Yet it is particularly important to understand God’s interaction with Moses in the last moments of his life and immediately after his death. We should consider the LORD’s actions towards Moses in these final moments. Besides that, consideration should be given when we look to the future of the Israelites as they prepare to cross the Jordan River.

Moses and the LORD

The first seven verses of this chapter tell of Moses’ final moments of life on the earth and what occurred upon his death. It tells of his relationship with the LORD – his obedience, God’s righteousness and mercy, God’s favor upon him.

Moses showed the LORD’s faithfulness to His people throughout Deuteronomy. To expect anything less at the end of a person’s life shows a lack of understanding of the character of God. Moses, as God’s chosen spokesman/priest/mediator for the Israelites, worked faithfully for the LORD during the exodus period. When the Israelites disobeyed the LORD and made a golden calf, Moses was angry, but spoke for them to the LORD appealing to the LORD’s desire to be known to the nations around them as a great and loving God. God withheld his judgment of immediate annihilation of the whole of the tribes of Israel, but required the punishment by death of the priests who led the people to build the calf. At other times, God spoke through Moses to protect them from their enemies. Still other times, Moses worked God’s signs and wonders to bring God’s food provisions to the Israelites. God’s favor rested upon Moses. Yet when he sinned by taking God’s glory at the waters of Meribah/Massah, God declared punishment upon Moses and Aaron. The punishment was death.

Though Moses knew of God’s punishment, he did not stop serving the LORD. He realized his time was short and determined to be obedient to the LORD from that time forward. Moses learned his lesson and wanted the favor of the LORD to be upon him again. His obedience included following God’s command in chapter thirty-two verses forty-eight through fifty-two to climb the mountain and face his death. Moses was obedient to death. How many of us could or would have followed God’s command to get to the top of the mountain so He could enact His punishment? Moses was obedient to death.

In the first four verses of Deuteronomy 34, we read of more than Moses’ obedience. We recognize God’s favor and mercy upon Moses. If Yahweh God had been vengeful, He would have killed Moses at the time of his stealing God’s glory. He may have waited and not allowed Moses to see the Promised Land towards which he led the Israelites. Yet in God’s mercy, even though Moses sinned, He allowed Moses to go up to a high vantage point and see the entire land God was giving to the tribes of Israel for their inheritance. From the top of Mount Pisgah, Moses saw the Promised Land - north to south and east to west. The LORD told him, “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’” Even in His enacting punishment on Moses, God’s mercy and favor showed forth. God showed His faithfulness to Moses again. Moses could relax and realize he had brought the people to receive their inheritance and know, at the final moments of his life, God was still faithful to him and the Israelites.

In verses five through seven, we understand the love and care the LORD had for Moses. God allowed Moses to see the fulfillment of His promise to his ancestors and He took care of Moses’ remains after his death. We do not note Moses dying violently. We note God’s care for him by burying him in the valley of Moab at a place where no one knew. The LORD loved Moses enough to care for his body so that animal would not mutilate it, people would not find and worship it heretically, and the Israelites would not be defiled and unclean by its nearness to them. God protected Moses in life and death. He is righteous and was just towards Moses as He is to each of  His children throughout the millennia.

The Israelites and the LORD

The people of Israel realized after Moses spoke to them and climbed the mountain they would not look upon him again. They heard the voice of the LORD at the entrance to the tent of meeting in chapter thirty-two. The Israelites understood the LORD was righteous and learned His righteousness required justice when a person or people disobeyed Him. They realized from Moses’ teachings and God’s pronouncement of judgment on Moses that he would not return from the mountain. Moses had been their leader, shepherd, priest, prophet, and mediator for forty years. They would miss him as a person and as the man of God who spoke God’s words and interceded for them. So when verse eight says the sons of Israel wept for Moses for thirty days, we can understand their pain. We recognize, too, this was another teaching moment for them. God did not forget his judgment on Moses for taking His glory and would not forget His judgment of the Israelites when they sinned.

We read with verse nine, God continued His favor on the Israelites. He did not leave them without a leader. From chapter thirty-two, the Israelites and later readers knew God appointed and Moses anointed Joshua as the next leader of the Israelites. With his anointing, a spirit of wisdom came upon him to enable him to lead the people as they entered and conquered the Promised Land. We read, too, in verse nine, because the people recognized Joshua as their new God-appointed leader, the Israelites listened to him. The word “listened” comes from the Hebrew word shama, of which we have learned means to hear, listen, and obey. This was not something new, but a continuity of what they did under Moses’ leadership. It led them continue to follow the words of Moses as the LORD commanded Moses to teach them – to keep His commandments, statutes, laws, and ordinances. To take over the Promised Land, the Israelites would need to continue to hear, listen, and obey the commands of the LORD. He gave them Joshua as His appointed leader for them.

Epitaph of Moses

The Israelites did not forget Moses. To this day Jews continue to remember him. In the final three verses of this chapter, a second writer (probably Joshua) penned Moses’ epitaph. Three things the writer said of Moses. Moses knew the LORD face to face. He stood in the presence of the LORD first at the burning bush and then on Mount Sinai. No other prophet did this before or after him.

The writer said, too, Moses did signs and wonders. The LORD sent him to do them in Egypt and he went there, believed the LORD, and performed them. No other person of the Israelites’ recall ever did this – was blessed to be so close to the LORD and was given power to do such wondrous things.

At the end, the writer of this last chapter stated no other prophet since that time could perform with “all the mighty power and all the great terror” that Moses performed. Moses, as God’s servant and chosen leader, had at his disposal, given by God, some of the power and might of God so he could do the great things God commanded. Moses was God’s appointed servant to bring the people out of Egypt, perform great miracles and terrible things to help acquire their freedom, and teach them while leading them to God’s Promised Land. Being a leader of God requires being in God’s presence and sometimes wielding His power.

Recap

With the enacting of the judgment of Moses, people would expect an empty leadership position to occur. God appointed another leader before He enacted the punishment of Moses so the Israelites would not be leaderless and turn away from Him. Along with providing a new leader for the Israelites, God continued to show His love and mercy to Moses. He allowed him to see the Promised Land, the goal for which he spent forty years of his life leading a hard-headed people. The same love, mercy, and favor God showed Moses, He showed the Israelites with the appointment of Joshua as their new leader. Even when God requires punishment or discipline, those actions come from His love and mercy. He wants to bring people in line to be faithful to Him so He can bless them.

Throughout Deuteronomy, we read of God’s interaction with the Israelites in both their obedience and disobedience. Through those interactions, we recognize God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness even while disciplining or punishing them. They each were for the purpose of bringing the people back to Him so He could bless them.

Moses wrote Deuteronomy, which means “revival,” to call the people back to the LORD. He called them to remember, reflect, and rededicate themselves to Him. Over the hundreds of years after Moses and Joshua wrote Deuteronomy, prophets and priests used it to remind the people of Israel and Judah to return to Yahweh God and be faithful to Him before and after their conquest by foreign nations.

Relevance and Conclusion

The compilers of the Bible used the requirement that a writing must speak about God to be included into the Bible. Deuteronomy speaks continually about God and the obedience of His children to Him. This book is as applicable today as it was then. It recalls to us to remember the Lord and obey Him.

This book leads us to a point where we must decide to dedicate ourselves to God or walk away from Him. We can choose to do either. That is the free will God gave to humanity when He created Adam and Eve at the beginning. With each person’s decision comes the reward from choosing to follow the LORD or not. If a person chooses not to follow the Lord, he or she chooses to make him or herself his or her own god and, thereby, relegate him or herself to receive the reward of that – death and eternal separation from God. If a person chooses to follow God, the reward he or she receives is abundant life – now on earth and forever with the Lord in heaven. The latter is eternal union with God, not separation.

Each person must choose for him or herself who they will follow – who will be god and guide of his or her life. I urge you – I encourage you – choose life. Choose to give your life to the Lord to save from sin and death and lead to abundant living and joy. Choose life as Moses encouraged the Israelites in Deuteronomy 30. I leave you with this one impassioned statement of Joshua from Joshua 24.
14 Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:14-15 [NASB])
Choose today who you will serve – the LORD God or yourselves.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Heart for God - God's Leader

2 Samuel 7
What do we need to hear from this about the prophet, Nathan?
1. Nathan was David's accountability to God. David sought Nathan to determine if what he had in his heart, to build a fine temple for the LORD, was good.
2. We must seek God's will to make sure our idea is iin line with God's best interest. Nathan previously told David to do what was in his heart and build the temple for the LORD. After hearing from God, Nathan spoke for Him to David of God's direct intentions about the temple. God's idea is best to our good ideas. God's plan was the way to go, though David had a good heart and wanted to provide God a temple since he himself had a grand palace made of cedar.
3. We must not assume that a leader God has chosen is always right in what they say. Nathan and David both had a heart for God. God spoke to Nathan later and told him His exact plans. We must always check with God and His Word to know God's plans for certain. Nathan was obedient to tell David exactly what God wanted. David was obedient to listen and he praised God from verses 18-29.
Oh that we would be willing to hear God's heart at all times, even when it is different from what we want or deem best. And, then to proclaim God's greatness!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Sanctification: What is it?

Sanctification, hagiosmos[1], comes from the Greek root word hagias[2], which means holy, hallow, sanctify, consecrate, dedicate, or set apart. Hagiosmos means to make holy. Sanctifying comes from the Greek word, hagiazo and means to render, acknowledge, or be holy; to separate from profane things and dedicate to God[3]. Sanctification and sanctifying are actions. Sanctified is a status and a point of becoming. It comes from the Old Testament word qadash[4], which means to make sacred, holy, or to set apart. We read of this word in Genesis 2:3 when God set aside the seventh day of the week to be holy. Qadash is a point to which believers attain as Paul told believers in Ephesians 1. From these words, we realize holiness, sacredness, and being set apart are actions done by one who is holy in being towards things or people who are not holy. Remember, for an action to occur, like making something or someone holy, a being must exist to do the action. Only one who is holy can make or bestow the status of holiness upon someone or something.
In the Old Testament, we read in many places about God being holy. God called Himself holy in Leviticus 19:2 and 20:26. Isaiah said it in Isaiah 6:3-5. Peter reiterated it in 1 Peter 1:15-16. Jesus taught the disciples in the Lord’s Prayer that God was hallow – holy (Matthew 6:9, Luke 11:2). Qadowsh[5] is the word used in these passages and means holy, sacred, Holy One, saint, and set apart.
Let’s understand this better now. For anyone to make something or someone holy, holiness must be a part of the being bestowing the status of holy. The Old Testament records God as being holy. No other being in the Bible has this attribute as part their being. That being said, only God can make or declare something or someone holy, just as Jesus said in John 10:36. So sanctifying work originates with Holy God. To put it another way, God is the only one who can make someone or something holy, sacred, or set apart for Himself.
The question now arises: How does the impartation of holiness occur? In the Old Testament, God declared the people of Jacob His people and that made them a set-apart people, holy to Him (Leviticus 19:2 & 20:26, et al.). God’s speaking brought the different elements into being in Genesis. He declared them very good. God’s choosing and setting apart the people of Jacob made them holy to Himself. He gave the Israelites and the Sabbath day the status of holiness.
Along with the Old Testament, in the New Testament we read about God’s action that brought about the sanctification of people. That action was the incarnation and crucifixion of His only Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ crucifixion provided the perfect sacrifice for the sins of humankind. No sacrifice humans can provide for their sins is sufficient to remove the stain of sin permanently and to give release from the power of sin and death. Nothing else was perfect – without sin. We read about God’s sanctification occurring this way in the New Testament. Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:2, “They have been sanctified in Christ Jesus.” The writer of Hebrews stated many times God’s sanctifying action occurred through the blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:11, 9:13-14, 10:10, 10:14, 10:29, and 13:12). As Jesus is just and is the justifier in the last lesson, He is holy and provides holiness (sanctification) in this lesson.
Is that all there is to sanctification? Is it a once-off action by God alone? Sanctification is a continuing process. The journey of being a Christian in this world is a journey to perfection – toward holiness/complete sanctification. Paul wrote in Romans 6:19, “So now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” Later in 2 Corinthians 7:1, Paul said, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, 2 Timothy 2:21, Hebrews 12:14, Ephesians 1:4, and 1 Peter 3:15, we note actions and attitudes by Holy God sanctified a person and additional actions by the person led by the Spirit are required for continuing sanctification. Sanctification then has more than one part. The first part is when you receive the gift from God of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ given on the cross as mentioned in the last paragraph. The second part is the growing more like Christ - taking on the mind of Christ - and following God in obedience to Him through the power of the Holy Spirit. Doing righteous works because of growing to be more like Christ is the process of sanctification, being made perfect through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in every believer. Faith at work in the life of the believer is part of the process of sanctification - part of the journey of growing more like Christ, putting on His mind.
Sanctification comprises justification (the static point in time when a person accepts God’s gift of salvation and believes in Jesus Christ), which is purity before God. Without justification, there cannot be sanctification. Sanctification includes righteousness, purity before the law of God. This is our acting out the right acts inspired in us by the Holy Spirit. Paul and Peter wrote that sanctification was of the Spirit in Romans 15:16, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Ephesians 4:30, 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, and 1 Peter 1:2. Besides these, sanctification includes blamelessness, purity before the world. Paul spoke of these three parts of holiness/sanctification in 1 Thessalonians 2:10 when he said, “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.” Sanctification begins with God actions purifying humans through the perfect sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. It continues as these believers live in the world following the Holy Spirit to be more like Jesus in their interactions with God and with the world each day. God sets believers apart to be holy for Him. They live out that holiness growing more sanctified with the help of the Holy Spirit. “Sanctification is the will of God. It is an active living out of righteousness according to God[6].”
Sanctification goes on until perfection as Paul mentioned in Colossians 3:14 and 2 Corinthians 7:1. Jesus called His disciples to perfection in Matthew 5:48 when he said, “You are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfection – complete holiness – is the goal of Christians. Paul expressed he was not perfect but pressed on toward the higher calling – sanctification/perfection - not thinking it would be accomplished in this life. Whenever we sin, we show we are not perfect. We do not perfectly reflect/have the mind of Christ who was perfect. By this, we know we are not sanctified completely. John spoke of this continuing growth into perfection/sanctification in 1 John 1:7-2:2.
Justification occurs when we are made just or right with God through the sacrificial blood of God’s Holy and perfect Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ blood was the sacrifice. Being perfect, He could remove the stain of sin and remove the power of sin and death. Justification is the first part of sanctification. It is the point in time God began His work in the believer to make him or her holy just as Jesus Christ is holy. The working out of the salvation He gave us is obedience to God and becoming more Christlike, which comes from our love and reverence of God. By living out the love of God in the world, we become daily more like Christ, more perfect and holy. We become more righteous and blameless. Sanctification is not a one-step occurrence, but a journey of Christian faithfulness to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. This journey is the taking on the mind of Christ and being re-made into His image. Perfection will not be complete until we reach heaven where temptation and sin have no power. Paul said this in Acts 20:32 and 26:18. He said those who are Christians are given an inheritance among all who are sanctified by the blood of Jesus Christ, the saints. Christ is the “wisdom from God, and the righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Sanctification is for everyone who believes. Jesus Christ came to the world to be the Light leading people to relationship with God. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world not to judge the world, but that the world might be saved from their sins and rebellion and return to Him (John 3:17). He did this because He loves the world and wants no person to die, and be permanently and eternally separated from Him (John 3:16).
If you have never accepted the gift of God’s love, now is your chance. Today accept that Jesus is the Son of God who came to provide forgiveness for your sin so you could have a relationship with God and live with Him forever. Confess your sins to Him and He promises to forgive you. When you do this, God sanctifies you and calls you His own. He sets you apart for Himself and makes you holy for Him. Begin the journey of sanctification and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.
If you are already a Christian, are you continuing your journey toward sanctification, towards perfection through Jesus Christ. God, being holy, gave you the status of being holy (set apart) to Him. Now you must choose to walk in His ways becoming more like Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit.
What is keeping you from being sanctified – being made complete and perfect?




[1] www.iblestudytools.com. New Testament Lexicon based on Thayer’s and Smith’s New Testament Lexicon and keyed to Kittel’s Theological Dictionary and the “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.”
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6]Walter Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2001).

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Justification: What is It?

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
(Romans 3:21-26 [NASB])

Justification is one of the words heard used by church people. It is not a word commonly used. What does it mean? Can it be used outside of church in any way? Does it reflect upon me? Am I justified?

Let’s begin our study with a simple definition of the word. Justification means to be made right, complete, or as one ought to be. When we consider God’s creation, after He made each part of the world, He stopped and proclaimed it good. That means when God created Adam and Eve He proclaimed them good (Genesis 1:31). Besides this, we are told in Genesis that God created them in His image (Genesis 1:27). Since that is the case, they were just, right, and as they ought to be.
The question remains though: just and right based upon what standard?  Since they Adam and Eve were made in God’s image and God created all we see, the standard is God. God is the definition for righteousness, goodness, love, justice, mercy, grace and other words we use daily. For our purposes here, Adam and Eve were right and as they ought to be based upon God’s standard; they did not have sin, but were pure.
Most of us know what happened next. Satan tempted and convinced Adam and Eve to seek knowledge and greatness like God – to be their own gods. Sin entered the world upon their succumbing to temptation. God created humankind with the gift of free will. He did not mandate Adam and Eve be in a relationship with Him, but wanted them to come to Him of their own free will. God wanted them to choose Him. In the garden when they bowed to temptation, they did not choose God. Adam and Eve exercised their free will and sin (turning away from God) entered the world.
Over the millennia, God appeared to humankind through creation, dreams and visions, voices, burning bushes, pillars of fire and clouds, signs and wonders, prophets and priests, and His Law, which He gave to the Israelites. The intent of the Law was to lead people to God. In Galatians 3:24, Paul said, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
You can see then, before Jesus Christ’s death, God spent millennia striving to reconnect with His creation, humankind, to have a relationship with them. He is not a dictator and does not command humankind be in a relationship with Him. Because of God’s love – the love that caused Him to create us and want a relationship with us – He kept trying to draw us near to Him. Free will and sin kept taking us further away from Him, building blocks higher each day so that a great wall rose between humankind and Himself.
When God gave the Law to the Israelites, they covenanted to worship and obey Him. Yet, their sinful ways kept them from absolute obedience even though they knew God from their ancestor’s past with Him. They knew of His might, majesty, power, and love. They understood to remain His children, He required obedience. Still the Israelites were unfaithful.
God in His love was not thwarted. From the beginning of the world, He planned for the redemption of humankind from sin and death. God’s plan required a pure sacrifice, one not polluted with sin. His plan for this redemption was the offering of His only Son, Jesus Christ, as the sin sacrifice for the death penalty that covered each human.
Sin causes separation from God because God cannot be in the presence of sin due to His holiness. This separation extended even to the time after life on earth ended for each person. Separation from God is death – on earth and eternally. God provided Jesus Christ to pay the sin penalty of death with His death. That is redemption. Jesus Christ paid His life to redeem us from death forever and the power of sin now.
 When a person believes by faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died to provide salvation from death and sin, his or her sins are wiped from their slate. God will no longer avenge wrath upon the person for his or her sin against Him (Romans 5:9). The sin of the person is removed from them. His or her slate is clean.
That is justification. Because Jesus Christ is just – pure and righteous – and gave Himself as our sin sacrifice, by substitution, we, too, become just, pure, and righteous through Him. Jesus is just and justifier (Romans 3:26). Justification is the being made right, pure, and righteous before God by belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who takes away the sin of people. Justification comes from nothing we do or say. It comes through belief in Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ’s righteousness imparted to us when we believe that declares our sin penalty – death – fulfilled by Him.
Have you been justified by Jesus Christ? Have you accepted God’s gift of salvation/redemption from sin and death? You can do nothing to earn it or acquire it. It comes by belief in Jesus Christ. If you accepted God’s gift of salvation and justification, are you living it out in the world? Does your life reflect the righteousness Jesus paid His life to give you? James wrote in James 2:14 & 17-18,
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? Even so faith, if it has now works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works and I will show you my faith by my works.” [NASB]
Later in this chapter, James added, “Faith without works is dead.”
We each have to decide if we will believe in Jesus Christ. Then, we each have to decide if we will live as Jesus Christ lived – will we follow Him daily. Let me encourage you with these final words form Paul in Romans 5:1. He said,
Therefore, since we have been justified (made pure, perfect, complete, and righteous) through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. [NASB]

Are you experiencing that joy? Have you received that hope? Today is not too late to accept God’s free gift and be justified. Today is not too late to act out your faith. Will you make those choices?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Glory: What is it and to Whom? - A Matthew 5:13-16 Devotional

13“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
This passage caught my attention yesterday. I have read it many times and heard sermons throughout my life upon it. This time, though, a part of it struck a new chord with me. Perhaps that new chord came because of the studies I have done on the book of Deuteronomy.
In Deuteronomy, Moses told the Israelites several times the LORD chose them as His people because He loved them (Deut 7:6-8, 10:15). He said other nations would call the Israelites wise and understanding (Deut 4:5-7). They were called wise and understanding if they kept the LORD’s statutes. With the LORD’s actions for the Israelites, other nations feared the Israelites and began to consider Yahweh God more powerful than their man-made gods (Deut 28:9-10). The Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon and after staying with him, she declared, “Blessed be the LORD your God.” (1 Kings 10:9 [NASB])
In the Matthew passage of today’s study, Jesus said the people of Israel were a light to the world and a city set on a hill. Geographically, the temple of God resided upon the highest hill in Judah’s territory within Jerusalem, also called Zion. Yet the problem became that the Jews did not lead people to want to know and follow God. Their light did not burn bright like a beacon. The Jews had the geographical advantage of being a beacon. They, too, had the spiritual advantage in that God chose them to receive His love and to share about Him to the neighboring people. Instead, they absorbed beliefs and lifestyles of their neighbors, which meant the light of God did not shine as brightly and did not draw as many people to Him.
Jesus applied this to his followers in this Sermon on the Mount, too. He told His disciples and other believers to be the salt and light to the world. Keep growing and applying the Word and love of God to the world as they lived. Keep shining brightly the love God put in them when they became believers. Geography is not the factor because no matter where a believer lives God’s light, the Gospel, can shine from a person in their words, actions, and attitudes.
The most important part of this verse, though, the part that captured my attention is at the end of verse sixteen. Jesus said in this verse, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus did not mean we are to do good works to gain praise for ourselves. Rather, we do good works out of the promptings of the Holy Spirit who lives in each believer, because of God. Our works should reflect God’s love and the glory for the good works, words, and attitudes should reflect back onto God and give Him the glory.
What is “giving glory” or “glorifying the Father?” The word “glorify” comes from the Greek word doxazo and means to cause glory – to cause recognition, honor, acclaim, and reverence to go to God[1]. When a believer in Jesus Christ says or does a loving and good thing, the glory should reflect back to God, to His honor. When we do this, we and other people recognize God’s majesty and righteousness and give Him the glory.
When believers let the light that is in them shine to the world around them, they show God’s love for the world. Christians can shine through kind, gentle, compassionate, and loving words and actions. The purpose for is to show God’s love as modeled by Jesus Christ. When people respond with gratitude and praise, believers have two options, to reflect the glory to God or to keep it to one’s self. The first is what Jesus taught His followers. To do the latter makes a person’s pride build and shows self-reliance instead of reliance upon God. It builds up a person’s ego and leads the person to forget the Lord and walk in his or her own way – to walk away from God.
We must understand the love and good deeds or words that came from that love came from God, what He imparted into us through the Holy Spirit of Jesus. No good deed comes from our selves, but from the Spirit as a gift. When we begin to accept and keep the glory we should reflect to God, we begin to consider ourselves as the ones who gave the gift of loving actions or words. We negate the effect of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Jesus did not teach this. He taught His followers their good deeds, words, and attitudes came from the Father and glory was due back to Him for His grace and love. Jesus meant this above in verse sixteen. We do good deeds, speak kind words, and live with good attitudes – each coming from purity, which humans are not – out of love for the Lord. We obey the promptings of His Holy Spirit out of obedience and with the resources He supplies into our hearts and hands.
Rightness and love do not come from human nature because people are sinful. Paul said everyone is sinful and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). God is the one who forgives the sin of humankind upon each person’s faith in Jesus Christ because of His love and mercy (Romans 6:23). Only by God’s grace do we have love and the other gifts of the Spirit within each believer. So, any praise and honor we receive for good and kind works and words should reflect back to God. He empowers us to do these things through His Holy Spirit. Only God is due the glory!
Today we must decide, as we must every day, if we will give all glory back to God. We can be the living witness for God just as He wanted the Israelites to be and as Jesus called His followers to be in Matthew 28:18-20. Each of us makes this decision for ourselves.
Each day, when you awake, make the decision and pray for the strength to reflect the glory back to God.
Give Him the recognition, praise, honor, and reverence He is due.




[1] Walter Elwell. “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology,” Baker Academic Publisher: Grand Rapids, 2001.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Trust in the LORD: A Psalm 115 Devotional

Focal verses: 1, 9-11, & 18
1Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory because of Your loving-kindness, because of Your truth.
O Israel, trust in the Lord;
He is their help and their shield.
10 O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord;
He is their help and their shield.
11 You who fear the LORD trust in the Lord;
He is their help and their shield.
18But as for us, we will bless the Lord
From this time forth and forever.
Praise the Lord!

David wrote saying the LORD alone was to receive all glory. He then went on to show to the readers and hearers of this Psalm that other so-called gods are not gods. They can offer no help to their worshippers.
Those supposed gods are made by the hands of man. They have no mouths, eyes, ears, noses, hands, feet, or voice. David added than any person who follows these man-made gods will become like these gods, even the ones who make them.
David said these gods are ineffective and cannot help anyone. The LORD God is unlike the man-made gods. He can hear, see, speak, smell, touch, and walk/run. The LORD can and does help. The Israelites knew that and could rely upon Him.
Because of the LORD being alive, the nation of Israel and every individual Israelite could know and trust that the LORD is their help and shield. He will provide them with every form of provision they need, including protection with His shield.
The LORD’s priests, the Levites, and their families know Him and can trust in Him. He is their help and shield. They have experience with Him and can continue to rely upon the LORD.
People who have come to know the LORD God, though they are not descendants from Abraham, can have faith and trust in Him as their help and shield. These are the people who come to have faith in Him, fear and are in awe of Him, who worship and dutifully follow Him. Even the people who are not from the seed of Abraham can become children of God because their faith made them righteous, just as God declared Abraham’s faith as righteousness (Genesis 15:1-21).
Every person, whether the nation of Israel, individual Israelites, Levites and their families, or those who have come by faith to believe in God, can trust in the Lord’s help and shield. We can each know the Lord will provide everything we need for our daily living. As a people, the children of God have reason to proclaim the glory of the Lord. As verse 18 says, “But as for us, we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forever. Praise the Lord!
No matter what the circumstances we find ourselves in today, we can trust and know the Lord’s help and shield are already at work for us. We who are His children are cherished, loved, and protected. God gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, as the ultimate and only sufficient sacrifice for our sins.
That is the greatest show of His love. How much easier it is for the Lord to help and provide for us in our daily needs. Whether great or small, our needs are not beyond the Lord and His love is greater than we can anything we can think or imagine.
Trust in the Lord and his help and strength.
Give glory to the Lord

for who He is, what He has done, and what He will do.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

THE SHIELD AND SWORD – DEUTERONOMY 33

Introduction

Moses taught the Israelites the song the LORD commanded he write in Deuteronomy 32. The song reminded them of who the LORD is, what He had done for them, their covenant with Him, and what the LORD required of them. This current chapter, Deuteronomy 33, tells the reader Moses blessed the tribes of Israel. You will notice, though, if you study the chapter, Moses wrote, too, about the LORD – His characteristics and actions toward the people of Israel. It would be easy to believe the entire chapter is about Moses’ blessings of the tribes of Israel. If we did that, we would leave out the most important part – the LORD.
 
As we begin this study, we must notice the chapter begins and ends with Moses speaking about the LORD. When writing any document, the most important part is the beginning and the end. So when we look at this chapter and just call it the chapter in which Moses blessed the tribes, we remove God from the text as being important. In everything Moses wrote and did, he reminded the Israelites first of all Who God is, has been for them, and will be for them in the future. Everything he teaches and tells them he couched in this format with God as the beginning, end, and middle. We must recognize this and study this chapter accordingly, recognizing the LORD primarily and Moses’ blessing of the tribes secondarily.

A few other notes need to be made before we begin this study. If you list the tribes Moses blessed, you will realize he did not mention the tribe of Simeon. Many scholars and rabbis noticed this, too. From the study of this chapter, these scholars determined verse eleven does not represent the tribe of Levi. The tribe of Judah, their history, and their blessing from Moses is most like verse eleven. Added to this, the history of the tribe of Simeon shows they often go to battle with Judah of fighting against the people who arose against Israel. These scholars believe the blessing of Judah in verses seven and eleven are for Simeon, too. Besides this, the land Joshua gave to the tribe of Simeon was in the midst of Judah’s borders. For these reasons, scholars reckon Moses blessed the tribe of Simeon within Judah’s blessing.

Blessings

The Greatest Part - God.

Verse one of this chapter tells the reader the next words are Moses’ blessings on the sons of Israel. It notes the blessings that came from Moses’ mouth and his reminder of their greatest blessing – the LORD God. Moses made sure the Israelites knew God was, is, and would be their greatest blessings. He did that by beginning and ending this writing with statements about the power, majesty, greatness, and might of the LORD.

Verses two through five remind the Israelites of who the LORD is and was and that He was with and for them. Moses reminded the Israelites in verse two God was with them while they wandered in the exodus. He reminded them God came to them at Mount Sinai, was with them in the dawn over Mount Seir in Edom, and shone over them in presence and power at Mount Paran. The Israelites knew the LORD was with them at Mount Sinai and Moses reminded them that in the majesty and power of the rising sun in Seir and Paran, He was with them, too. In addition to this, Moses taught and reminded them from where the LORD came – from the midst of ten thousand angels. He reminded them of God’s might and majesty when he said He came with flashing lightning from His right hand for them. In the Bible, “right” is a synonym for goodness and brightness. “Right” is often associated with God’s majesty. In Hebrew, “flashing lightning” is ‘eshdath and means fiery law. The LORD revealed His laws came from His hand. These laws showed His power and revealed His righteousness and justice. They showed His power and majesty by their visible presentation. Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s presence, power, and majesty in this verse. These were a blessing to the Israelites, too. Moses expressed that in the final two words of verse two. He said these blessings were for them. God was there blessing. He chose them and, therefore, He used His might and power for them.

Moses reminded the Israelites of this fact in verse three. He said the LORD loves the people. He keeps His holy ones in His hand and they receive His words, which they follow. Moses reminded the Israelites the LORD blessed them by choosing them, protecting them, and giving them His words by which to live. With His choosing of them, they became a holy people. Moses explained further the words of the LORD he charged the Israelites to keep and make their possession – take as their own. As long as they kept them as being from the LORD and lived by/and obeyed them, they would be God’s possession, remain righteous and holy.

By obeying and living by the LORD’s words, His laws and commandments, the Israelites would remain righteous just as the LORD is righteous. Because God called them righteous since they followed Him, Moses called Him the king of Jeshurun. “Jeshurun” comes from the Hebrew word yeshuruwn and means “upright one.” It describes the ideal character of Israel as long as they obeyed the LORD. When Israel followed the LORD God, He made them righteous like He is righteous.

These are the blessings of the Israelites because they made the LORD God their God. Moses expressed them in these four verses. He said they had the presence, power, and majesty in their midst and for them. God declared the Israelite people His and, because they were His, He made them righteous and holy. The LORD God was their King. What greater blessings could a person have or need?

Tribal Blessings.

Reuben - 

Moses began his blessing of the tribes of Israel with the firstborn son of Jacob. We need to remember Reuben lost his birthright to inherit as the first son of Jacob when he slept with Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine (Genesis 35:22). [Reuben was the first son of Leah, Jacob’s first wife.] On his death bed, Jacob prophesied Reuben would be pre-eminent in dignity and power, but would not have pre-eminence among his people because he defiled his father’s bed (Genesis 49:3-4). [Remember, too, God declared sleeping with a father’s wife or concubine abominable and declared it punishable by death (Leviticus 20:11, Deuteronomy 22:30 & 27:20).] Jacob’s disinheriting Reuben came about before God gave His laws to the Israelites, yet Jacob knew it was wrong and removed Reuben’s birthright from him as punishment.

Knowing these things makes Moses’ blessing of Reuben understandable. Moses said the tribe of Reuben would live and not die, nor would his men be few. Reuben’s tribe would not die out, but continue to thrive and grow. The punishment of death for defiling his father’s bed did not have weight over Moses’ blessing of Reuben’s tribe. Moses’ blessing of Reuben was life, growth, and prosperity.

Judah (and Simeon) -

As stated in the introduction of this Bible study, scholars believe the blessing of Judah by Moses included the tribe of Simeon, too. The reasons for this stance I noted there, too. Because of this, we will presume the blessing of Judah encompasses Simeon in verse seven. As noted in the introduction, too, we will presume the scholars are correct about verse eleven not being like the work of Levites, but, like Judah, based on their history, and so include verse eleven with verse seven as Moses’ blessing of Judah and Simeon.

Verse seven records Moses’ blessing of Judah by asking for Judah’s safe return to his people after he goes to battle for his tribe and all Israel. He asked for the LORD’s help against Judah’s (the tribe’s) enemies. In this verse we notice Judah prayed to the LORD regularly and Moses asked Him to hear and respond to the his prayers. Besides this, Moses noted Judah worked with his hands, especially in battle against the enemies of Israel. He asked the tribe be kept in a close relationship with the LORD and continue to work for Him and His people.

In verse eleven, Moses asked the LORD’s blessing to provide everything the tribe of Judah needed. He asked the LORD’s blessing on Judah’s substance. The Hebrew word for “substance” is chayil and means strength, might, army, ability, and wealth. Moses asked God to provide all Judah’s physical needs even the need to be strong and mighty against their enemies. Besides this, Moses asked the LORD to accept the work of the tribes’ hands. Bless their hands as they farm, live, and battle their enemies. Moses asked specifically for God to shatter their enemies so they would not rise again against them. This verse speaks precisely to the works of Judah’s hands and God’s blessing on them.

The tribe of Judah was devout and fervent for the LORD, which meant fervently being against the LORD’s enemies. Jacob’s prophesy over Judah foretold of the work of their hands in battle, their supremacy among the tribes, and the future kingdom’s reign being in their lands. Moses’ blessing of them agreed with Jacob’s prophecy of Judah and his descendents.

Levi -

When Moses blessed the tribe of Levi in verses eight through ten, he spoke of their past and their future. In verse eight, he asked the LORD to keep this tribe as His priests. Moses said, “Let Your thummim and Your urim belong to Your godly man. You proved him at Massah; You contended with him at the waters of Meribah.” The thummim were the stones God provided for them along with the urim stones. By these, God revealed His will to His priests. The high priest kept them in a pouch on his breastplate. Moses’ blessing reminded the Levites and the LORD of the proving the Levites had at the waters of Massah and Meribah. At that place, God’s chosen men, Moses and Aaron, sons of Levites, struck a rock to make water gush out for the Israelites to drink. They did not give the glory to God for providing the water (Exodus 17:7, Number 20:13, and Deuteronomy 6:16). Because of taking God’s glory from Him, Moses and Aaron received the punishment of not entering the Promised Land. From this, the Levites learned at all times to give the glory back to the LORD. By stating this as part of his blessing of Levi, Moses reminded them to stay loyal to the LORD and reminded the LORD He had already tested the tribe and they were stronger because of it. The tribe of Levi would give God all the glory in the future, Moses implied, so please bless them.

With verse nine, Moses continued to remind the Levites of their devotion to the LORD. At Mount Sinai, they did not regard (give preference to) their own families, but obeyed the LORD’s decree that everyone who worshipped the calf at Mount Sinai be killed. Moses reminded the LORD, too, and told Him the Levites “observed Your word, and kept Your covenant.” They heard, listened, and obeyed God’s covenant, laws, ordinances, and statutes with them. Malachi said they revered God and stood in awe of His name in Malachi 2:5. For these, Moses asked the LORD’s blessing to allow the Levites to be His priests.

In verse ten, Moses explained what the Levites would do as the LORD’s priests. He said, “They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob and Your law to Israel. They shall put incense before You and whole burnt offerings on Your altar.” The Levites would teach and lead God’s people, Israel, to obey God’s ordinances (mishpat – judgments and justice) and His law (towrah – instructions and laws) to Jacob’s descendents. They would serve the LORD by teaching and leading Israel, as well as, serving before His altar placing righteous sacrifices, pleasing aromas, and burnt offerings before Him as thanks and sin offerings in obedience to Him (Leviticus 16:12-13).

Moses asked for God’s blessing on the Levites. He asked the LORD allow them to serve Him as His priests to teach and lead the Israelites to obey Him and to offer pleasing sacrifices and aromas to Him. Moses asked the LORD be honored with them and accept them as His priests despite Jacob’s prophecy of them. Jacob did not want to have his honor associated with them because of their self-will and anger. From the Levites’ history, we know God honored them by making them His priests before the people. He forgave their sin against Jacob and restored them within His nation, Israel.

Benjamin –

Benjamin was the twelfth son of Jacob by Rachel. After she gave birth to Benjamin, she died. Jacob named this son Ben-jamin, “son of the right hand,” perhaps in honor of Rachel because she was his favorite wife. As the youngest son of many sons, Benjamin was perhaps the most spoiled or most overlooked. We find, though, Benjamin’s family did not overlook him, but looked after him. Reuben protected him when Joseph asked that Benjamin stay in Egypt while they returned to their home to bring Jacob to him. Reuben and the other sons recognized Benjamin’s cherished position with their father because he was the baby and the last son of his most loved wife.

Moses recognized this cherishing when he said in verse twelve, “May the beloved of the LORD dwell in security by Him Who shields him all the day and he dwells between His shoulders.” He asked the LORD to protect the youngest son of Jacob. This protection is the same security spoken of in Deuteronomy 4:37f and 12:10. With the people of Israel obeying their covenant with the LORD, they would receive His security and protection. Moses reiterated this for the beloved, cherished, and youngest child of Jacob.

In the last part of this blessing, Moses asked for God’s blessing to allow Benjamin to dwell between His shoulders. This appears to be an odd request, but it alludes to Deuteronomy 32:11 where Moses used the analogy of the LORD being like an eagle who hovers over her young, spreading her wings and catching them when they fall, and carrying them on her wings. When the eagle carried her young on her wings, she carried them between her shoulders. Moses asked this protection of God for the tribe of Benjamin. Theologians such as Adam Clarke, John Gill, and John Calvin see this part of verse twelve as alluding to Benjamin’s portion of the Promised Land given to him by Joshua.[i] They lived within Jerusalem where Solomon built the LORD’s temple. The tribe of Benjamin lived between Mount Zion (where David built his palace) and Mount Moriah (the mount upon which Solomon built the LORD’s temple). These theologians consider these two mountains the two shoulders of God between which Benjamin lived. Whether or not you agree with these men who think the two mountains poetically represent God’s shoulders, Moses asked the LORD to protect and shield Benjamin, His and Jacob’s cherished son.

Joseph –

The blessing of the tribe of Joseph is the longest, five verses. Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob because he was Rachel’s first son by him. Yet when looking at the land given to the tribes of Israel, it appears Joshua did not give any land to Joseph. We must look to whom he did give land. When we do that, we realize two of Jacob’s grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, received tribal lands in the Promised Land. Joseph, in essence, received a double blessing. Manasseh and Ephraim each became his own tribe and received part of the most fertile land in Canaan. The house of Joseph became one of the most dominant groups in the kingdom of Israel.

In verses thirteen through seventeen, Moses asked God to bless Joseph’s land with the choice things of heaven like dew, rain, sun, and running waters. He asked for blessings on the ancient mountains and hills, the earth, his animals, and his people wherever they lived. Moses asked for favor of God to come on Joseph’s head and as head of his tribe. He asked blessings of distinguishment and for power, leadership, and service to God and Israel. These blessings remind us of the blessings in Deuteronomy 28:1-14 for those who were faithful to the LORD.

Verse thirteen asked for the LORD’s blessing on the land. Moses asked particularly for the choice (meged – excellence) things of heaven, those things only God can give. He asked for dew and waters that ran underground like springs and rivers.

Moses’ blessing in verse fourteen asked for God’s “choice” (meged – excellence) yield of the sun and produce. He asked for the best things of the ancient mountains that had been there from before their time and which the LORD God Himself created (vs. 15). Moses asked the same for the “everlasting hills.” The Israelites learned terrace farming from their eastern neighbors so they could produce crops from hills and mountains. They planted fruit trees, too, in their mountains. With verse sixteen, Moses concluded his blessings on the lands of Joseph by asking for the choice (excellence) things of the earth and its fullness (all the things that fill the earth).

In the second part of verse sixteen, Moses asked “the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush to come to the crown of the head of Joseph.” This alluded to the burning bush in Exodus 3:2-4 when God made His presence known to Moses. God favored Moses personally and as His spokesman and leader of the tribe of Israel. He asked that God bless Joseph and his tribe as they led the people of Israel. Moses meant the leadership role when he spoke of the distinguished crown among his brothers. This could refer to Joseph as the distinguished Prince of Egypt and as a future leader in Israel. Moses asked that the brothers recognize God’s favor upon Joseph so they recognize his distinguishment and listen to his leadership.

Verse seventeen seems to go in the same vein as verses thirteen through the first part of sixteen, but we need to understand the comparisons, too. Moses likened Joseph to an ox. Oxen in the Bible pulled plows, turned mills, and did heavy work. They were powerful. When a person stole an ox, he or she stole a person’s livelihood. The ox contributed greatly to a person’s service, production, and increase in wealth. It was used in service to God and man. The ox’s strength was used in production. Men used the ox horns for oil flasks or instruments. God commanded the Israelites use the ox as a burnt sacrifice for their sins. When Moses compared Joseph to an ox, he meant he was strong in his trials. Moses asked for God’s continued blessing of strength for Joseph. Just as the ox pushes great weight, so Moses asked God to give Joseph and his tribe strength to support and push his nation Israel to be faithful to the end of time and to grow and continue to be faithful to God wherever they went.

The “peoples” Moses spoke of in verse seventeen were the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. These were Jacob’s grandsons. Manasseh was Joseph’s first son and Ephraim was his second son. Jacob chose to bless Ephraim before Manasseh. By doing that, he denoted that Ephraim would be a greater tribe than Manasseh (Genesis 48:5-21). Both Ephraim and Manasseh failed to completely destroy or drive out the Canaanites who lived in their land. God considered that disobedience. Because of that, they continued to have trouble from those Canaanites who lived among them.

Moses blessed the people of Joseph. He asked God’s blessings on their land, animals, people, and leadership. Joseph’s tribes disobeyed the LORD’s command to remove the Canaanites from the land (Exodus 23:23-25) and had to live with those people every day. Yet, God still blessed them with produce, wealth, and leadership. God faithfulness to His covenant with them was evident over the centuries. He blessed them and forgave them when they asked for forgiveness.

Zebulun and Issachar –

Zebulun was Jacob’s tenth son and the sixth son of Leah. His name means “exalted.” Leah named him this thinking that since she gave Jacob six sons, he would hold her in higher esteem than her sister, Rachel. Issachar was Jacob’s ninth son and Leah’s fifth son. His name means “he will bring a reward.” Of these two sons, Moses said, “Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going forth and Issachar in your tents. They will call peoples to the mountain. They will offer righteous sacrifices, for they will draw out the abundance of the seas and the hidden treasures of the sand.”

Knowing the tribe of Zubulun’s history helps understand this blessing by Moses. Both Zebulun and Isaachar did as other tribes; they did not drive out/kill the Canaanites who lived in their land. Zebulun received territory that would later be a part of Galilee. It was mineral-rich land and gave abundant produce and fruit. Even though Zebulun did not give complete obedience to the LORD, he returned to God and helped the priesttess Deborah and Barak in battle (Judges 4:6 and 5:18). He joined David, too, at Hebron when the kingdom transferred from Saul to David. Zebulun took more men than any other tribe to David’s aid there. He arrived with 50,000 men (1 Chronicles 12:23-33). Besides these, when King Hezekiah invited Israel to keep the Passover in the Lord’s house after the years his father, Ahaz, desecrated the temple, Zebulun went to Jerusalem, destroyed the idols, and kept the feast of unleavened bread (2 Chronicles 30:10-23). These actions by the tribe of Zebulun help us understand Moses’ blessing them with rejoicing in going forth. They rejoiced when they could go help the LORD. The tribe of Zebulun helped call people to the mountain of God to worship. They offered righteous sacrifices at Passover.

Being part of the area later called Galilee, God provided abundantly for Zebulun and Issachar from the land and from the Sea of Galilee. Even within the sand and ground, God’s hidden treasures provided for these tribes. Issachar went to David’s aid during his struggle against Saul in 1 Chronicles 12:32. People later considered these two tribes wise and faithful. Moses asked a blessing for Issachar that they would rejoice in their tents because of what the LORD provided from the ground and sea and because of their reward for faithfulness to Him. Moses blessed both tribes to rejoice because of the LORD’s goodness and abundance for them.

Gad –

Gad was the seventh son of Jacob and the first son of Zilpah, Leah’s servant. His name means “troop” because Leah said, “A troop comes” (Genesis 30:11). Gad was one of the most faithful tribes of Israel. Joshua gave Gad the best of the new land on the east side of the Jordan River along with Reuben and the half tribe of Manasseh. He made Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh promise they would fight to win the rest of the Promised Land for the other tribes of Israel then they could return to settle their land (Joshua 12:6 & 13:8-13). Moses, in Numbers 32:18, noted specially Gad’s dedication in the fight for the Promised Land when Gad said, “We will not return to our homes until everyone of the sons of Israel has possessed his inheritance.” Gad’s example teaches that people should not focus only on their needs and wants, but focus on the big picture, God’s plan.

Moses’ blessing on Gad said, “Blessed is the one who enlarges Gad. He lies down as a lion and tears the arm, also the crown of the head.” The theologian, John Gill, said “the one” Moses spoke of at the beginning of the verse refers to God. God enlarged Gad, laid down like a lion, and tore the arm and crown of the head. Other theologians believe this blessing speaks solely of Gad. Gad, because of his obedience to God by battling to gain the rest of Canaan for the Israelites, became the lion. He helped enlarge the territory of the Israelites. The removal of the arm is a symbol of removing political and military strength. The removal of the crown of the head symbolizes removing their leadership. Gad helped remove the political and military strength of the Canaanites and removed their leadership so they weakened and fell to the Israelites.

Because of Gad’s faithfulness, God grew the tribe of Gad and made them prosperous. We do not know for sure who “the one” refers to, but we can understand from Gad’s history they were the ones who tore the arm and crown.
After the Gadites fulfilled their obligation to battle with the other Israelites for the Promised Land, they returned to the first part, the part they chose and Joshua distributed to them. The tribe of Gad received the first portion and part of the best land, which Joshua reserved for them because of their obedience to God’s will. Gad and his leaders executed justice (sedeqah – the righteousness of God) and His ordinances/orders with Israel against the Canaanites.

Moses’ blessing bore fruit in their lives. Gad helped the other Israelites battle the Canaanites for the Promised Land and helped enlarge it. Moses compared their actions to a lion. God blesses those who are faithful to Him. Joshua commended the Gadites, Reubenites, and the half tribe of Manasseh for doing what he commanded and not forsaking their kinsmen on the other side of the Jordan River (Joshua 22:1-3). God fulfilled Moses’ request for His blessing on Gad.

Dan –

Dan was the fifth son of Jacob and the first son of Bilhah, Rachel’s servant. His name means “judge.” Of Dan, Moses blessed them in verse twenty-two and said they were like the lion’s cub that leaps from Bashan. Dan received land on the Mediterranean Sea on the northern border of Judah, on the western border of Ephraim and Benjamin, and on the southern border of Manasseh (Joshua 19:40-48).

Before Joshua gave them their inheritance, they were restless to receive their own land, so they sent men to search out for land (Judges 18). They entered Laish in the north at the upper boundary of the Promised Land between Naphtali and Manasseh in the territory of the mountain, Bashan. The Danites seized the land and named it after their forefather, Dan. This action was like the leaping of a lion to capture its prey. Moses’ blessing on Dan came occurred. The unfortunate part of this story is that the Danites worshipped idols in addition to the LORD God (Judges 18:30).

Naphtali –

Naphtali was the sixth son of Jacob and the second son of Bilhah. His name means “wrestling” or “my struggle.” Rachel said, “With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and indeed I have prevailed” (Genesis 30:6). In verse twenty-three, Moses blessed Naphtali saying, “O Naphtali, satisfied with favor and full of the blessing of the LORD, take possession of the sea and the south.” Naphtali’s land was in the northern kingdom bounded by Asher, Dan, Manasseh, Zebulun, Issachar, and the sea of Chinnereth/Galilee.

Jacob’s prophecy over Naphtali when he said Naphtali gives beautiful words shows people considered Naphtali an eloquent speaker. Jacob knew this by the time of his death and realized Naptali was well respected. Moses must have recognized and agreed with this when he said, “Naphtali was satisfied with the favor of the LORD and is full of His blessing.” Remember, the LORD required obedience to Him to receive His favor. So Naphtali must have been obedient to the LORD to have received the LORD’s favor.

Even though Moses told the Israelites the LORD commanded they remove all Canaanites from the land, Naphtali was a tribe who did not do this. His tribe was not completely obedient to the LORD. They made the people of Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath become forced labor for them (Judges 1:33). Not all Naphtalites were disobedient. Barak was a Naphtalite and he obeyed the command by God’s priestess Deborah to battle against King Jabin of the Canaanites (Judges 4:6-9, 17-22). Other Naphtali responded to Gideon’s call to repel the Midianites, Amalekites and other people from their encampment in Jezreel (Judges 6:35 & 7:23). When David asked for troops to help him take over the reign as king, Naphtali sent 38,000 men to help (1 Chronicles 12:34, 40).

The Naphtali, like every person, fail God at times. Yet Moses asked for God’s favor to be found with Naphtali and fill them with His blessings. People can return to God and He will forgive a contrite heart. Naphtali still found favor with God because of that.

Asher –

The final tribe upon whom Moses offered his blessing and asked for God’s blessing was Asher. Asher was Jacob’s eighth son and Zilpah’s second son. His name meant “happy.” Jacob prophesied over Asher, “His food shall be rich and he will yield royal dainties” (Genesis 49:20). Moses’ blessing of Asher was similar. He said in verses twenty-four and twenty-five, “More blessed than sons is Asher. May he be favored by his brothers and may he dip his foot in oil. Your locks will be iron and bronze, and according to your days, so will your leisurely walk be.”

If we read Moses’ blessing of Asher literally, we would see Asher’s brothers would look favorably upon him and he would have much oil from his land. Besides this, Asher’s tribe would have strong locks of iron and bronze, with an easy life. Scholars have considered this passage over the years. The first part of the blessing appears simple enough. Asher’s tribe will produce much oil. They will have an abundance of it. If we look behind this to Jewish thought, oil signifies wisdom. Moses blessed Asher with wisdom, not just oil. What do feet and locks of iron and bronze mean? Feet are the lowest part of a person and suggest something basic according to www.chabad.org.[ii] According to this Jewish website, “The feet represent the basic sense of commitment of the person, his or her direction in life. The clear and tangible sense of commitment is ‘anointed’ and enriched by wisdom.”[iii] We must realize that wisdom does not always lead to commitment, but commitment is enriched by wisdom. So with this understanding, Moses blessed Asher’s tribe with richness of oil, wisdom, and commitment. This coincides with what he taught the Israelites in Deuteronomy 4:40 and 32:47.

The next question about the iron and bronze locks needs consideration. The direct translation of the Hebrew for “locks” is man’al, which means shoe. “Iron” comes from the Hebrew word barsel and means iron, strength, oppression, or harshness. “Bronze” comes from the Hebrew word nechosheth and means bronze, fetters, value, lust, or harlotry. Its definition is still mostly uncertain. One scholar hypothesized people made special shoes to stomp olives to get the oil from them. For grapes, people could stomp on them with their feet, but for olives metal shoes had to be worn to protect the foot and to separate the different parts of the olive better. This interpretation seems to go best with the literal interpretation of God providing the Asherites with prosperity with olive oil. How does it fit with the Jewish understanding? Does the wisdom (represented by the oil) bring less chance for oppression by the enemies of the Israelites? Does their wisdom give them strength against their external enemies (other nations) and their internal enemies (temptation to sin such as lust and harlotry)? This portion of Scripture is not fully understood.

What we know comes from the history of the Asherites. This tribe failed to drive out the Canaanites from their land (Judges 1:21-32). They did not help Deborah and Barak (Judges 5:17). The Asherites gave a negative example of how to be obedient to the LORD even though He richly blessed them with oil. Yet on top of these failings they responded to Gideon’s call to repel the Midianites and Amalekites (Judges 6:35). The Asherites joined Hezekiah at the Passover in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 30:11). They, like the other tribes, had people who disobeyed God, but repented and returned to Him over their centuries. They received the LORD’s blessings and He expected them to obey His commands. Moses’ blessing on them occurred and God heeded it. The Asherites were not always faithful to their covenant with God and, thus, they were unwise at times, like most of the other tribes.

The Greatest Part – God (reprise).

At the end of this chapter, Moses returned to the greatest blessing – the LORD God. For the final four verses, he reminded the Israelites of their blessing of being God’s chosen people whom He made righteous by choosing them. The first words Moses used in this section in verse twenty-six were words he used at the end of the first section in verse five with a slight change from “King of Jeshurun” to “God of Jeshurun.” Moses declared the LORD to be the God of the “upright one,” Israel, who received their righteousness because He chose them. Moses said no one is like the God of Jeshurun. He declared the LORD’s supremacy, power, might, and majesty with this statement. Moses said similar things in Exodus 15:11 and Deuteronomy 4:35. The Israelites heard these words before and he reiterated them now, reminding them the LORD is God almighty.

Moses then explained who God is by what He does. In verse twenty-six, he said, “Who [God] rides the heavens to your help and through the skies in His majesty.” God is so mighty He rides the uncontainable – the heavens - because He created them. He rides the skies (shadaq – dust and clouds), because He directs them where to go. The LORD is in control of the uncontrollable and uncontainable. He is that majestic and powerful. Moses said in Deuteronomy 10:14 God owns the heavens and earth. David said He rides, thunders, and has majesty over Israel (Psalm 68:33-34). He said, too, the clouds are God’s chariots (Psalm 104:3).

With verse twenty-seven, Moses told the Israelites their blessing of having the one and only eternal God as their God and King meant they could run to Him anytime. He was their dwelling place and refuge and His power has been from before the beginning of time and lasts forever. The LORD God is eternal - beginning to end of time – and their refuge and dwelling place. He was the one who drove out their enemy (Exodus 34:11 & Joshua 24:18). They saw it. This LORD God gave the enemies of the Israelites into their hands and commanded their destruction (Deuteronomy 7:2). He is that great. Because of this, Moses said in verse twenty-eight, “Israel dwells in security, the fountain of Jacob secluded, in a land of grain and new wine.” The LORD God has been, is, and will shelter His children in His unending, powerful, protective arms. Even the descendents of Jacob (the fountain of Jacob) will be secluded and protected. The LORD would always provide for their physical needs. He gave them a land of grain and new wine. The LORD gave dew from His heavens, which He commands and controls, to provide moisture for the plants.

“Blessed are you, O Israel!” Moses said. “What other people have so great, powerful, majestic, and everlasting God. He is your blessing! He is your God! This great LORD God chose you to be His people and has made you righteous.” In verse twenty-nine, Moses continued, “Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD.” The Israelites’ choosing by the LORD made them righteous and saved, redeemed, and delivered them. “Who is like you, Israelites?!” Moses said. He continued, “Who is the shield of your help and the sword of your majesty!” Moses reminded them who did these things for them. He said they were not the ones who brought God to themselves, but He chose them in His love and by His power and majesty to love, provide for, and protect them. Even their enemies knew of their God. Moses added because of this, “your enemies cringe before you and you will tread upon their high places.” The Israelites’ enemies ran in fear because of the LORD God - their power and strength. Because of Him, the Israelites could march upon their enemies’ towns and cities, and their places of worship. The gods of their enemies were no gods. Only their God is eternal, all-powerful, majestic, redeemer, and chooser of them to be His people.

“This is the blessing,” Moses pointed out to the Israelites. When Moses announced blessings over each tribe, he called upon God to bless them. He himself had no power with which to bless the Israelites other than to proclaim the LORD God as the most powerful and only God who alone is worthy to be worshipped and obeyed. The LORD God was the Israelites’ blessing. He is our blessing.

Recap

Moses, before he climbed Mount Nebo opposite the Promised Land, offered his blessings on each of the twelve tribes of Israel. By blessing the tribes, Moses asked the LORD God to bless them individually and corporately. We know from this side of history the Israelites were not always faithful to the LORD or to their covenant with Him. Yet God chose to bless them at different times during their history. He punished and disciplined them during this time, too. What Moses most wanted the Israelites to know was that the LORD God was their blessing. He was their redeemer, deliverer, protector, provider, refuge, strength, sword, and shield. That was Moses’ main point and he stated it twice – verses two through five and verses twenty-six through twenty-nine.

Relevance and Conclusion

Today we need to realize the LORD God is still here. He is eternal and still in control. God wants a relationship with every person. He created us to be in a relationship with Him because of His love. In addition to this, God provided a way for us to be in a relationship with Him even though we are sinners and unrighteous while He is righteous. God provided that way through the crucifixion of His Son, Jesus Christ, as the sufficient and final sacrifice for the death penalty due because of our sins. Jesus died on the cross so you would not have to die for your sins. He took your place…and my place. When we accept that God loves us that much and accept this gift of love He gave for us, we can be His children and live in His blessing.

God is the blessing. He provides the blessings. Jesus Christ is God’s greatest blessing. By His death we are free from sin and death. What do we have to do? What do you have to do? Accept Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died for your sins? Believe in him as your Lord and your Savior from sins. Confess your sins to God. He said He would forgive you of your sins. God is faithful like that. He loves you.

Will you make the choice to accept God’s greatest blessing –
His love shown through Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection?
The choice is yours. What will you choose?



[i] http://www.biblestudytools.com.
[ii] http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/344329/jewish/Knowledge-and-Direction.htm.
[iii] Ibid.