YOU HAVE STAYED LONG ENOUGH AT THS MOUNTAIN… Around 1500 BC, God Almighty announced through Moses that the Israelites had to move forward away from their comfort zone in order to follow Him. “In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the LORD had commanded him concerning them…The LORD our God said to us at Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance…” Deuteronomy1:3,6
As we delve deeper into God's Word, not only do we find that the appointed 1st day of His 11th month began January 25th at sunset on our 2020 Gregorian calendar, it is also right on target for us Christians who have put our trust in Jesus to deliver us from bondage and lead us to our Promised Land.
Yet, for many of us, Moses’ opening words in Deuteronomy 1:1-2 will be reckoned as totally irrelevant. “These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan—that is, in the Arabah —opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab . (It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.)"
If you don’t get anything else from today's lesson, please remember the scripture in parentheses. “It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.” That is a brief summary of the entire 40-year wilderness trek of the Israelites, and according to God’s word, that journey should have been completed in just 11 days!
If the route God planned for His chosen people to the Promised Land could have been accomplished in only 11 days, it staggers the mind to comprehend why it took the Israelites over 40 long years to get to the place He promised them! And it is absolutely heartbreaking to be reminded that not only did they waste decades wandering in an arid and lifeless desert, they had stood in the very place God had appointed for their deliverance just a little over a year after they left Egypt!
And that’s exactly what Moses reminded them of over and over through the entire book of Deuteronomy, except for the final 34th chapter. Sadly, the closing chapter was written by someone else and recounted the death of Moses himself somewhere on the very same plains of Moab where he delivered his final proclamation to God’s chosen people.
Moses began his 33-chapter oration by simply repeating God’s word as given to them less than a year after their deliverance from their bondage of sin. “The LORD our God said to us at Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers--to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob--and to their descendants after them.’” Deuteronomy 1: 6-8.
“You have stayed long enough at this mountain.” Though this is one of the most profound statements in the entire Old Testament, many of us Christians will speed-read right over it. We have “arrived” in our American Christianity and are now content to gather and pontificate about how great God is, gathering all His blessings close, refusing to share with “the least of these”. We ignore God’s Word which in contemporary English plainly says "Whenever you failed to help any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do it for me.” Matthew 25:45. As puffy wisps slowly envelope our revered heights, we identify them as glory-clouds straight from heaven. We are unwilling to consider that they’re probably noxious death-vapors spiraling upward, intent on sucking the very life of God from us all.
Too strong? Maybe it's not strong enough. Moses didn't t mince words when he recounted the disobedience of the Israelites and the dire consequences for their refusal to follow God’s leading.
"Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.' In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God, who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go. When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: 'No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.''" Deuteronomy 1: 29-36
If all this sounds like history might be repeating itself, you’re beginning to understand the scope of today’s lesson. Indeed, if you went back and asked both generations of Israelites what-in-the-world they were doing all that time, their answer would most assuredly be “worshipping and following God.” It is certainly not surprising to hear the same excuse used in this generation for our wanderings in and out of religious dogma and works designed to deliver “mountain-top” worship experiences to each and every “believer”.
Little has changed. It's in our fallen nature to acknowledge our Maker, and then set about developing our own ways of interpreting just exactly what He is saying to us. The problem is that we usually begin with a prejudiced mindset, and rarely even consider that our understanding may be nowhere near what the original Word of God intended. A prime example can be found in the very scripture we are studying today. Deuteronomy is the first book of the Bible to speak of loving God. The beginning verses 4-5 are so important they are given the ancient title “Shema” which means “Listen!”
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." Deuteronomy 6:4-8
If we view the intended meaning through the lens of those who wrote it down, we find that the Hebrew translation of “heart” is technically correct, but the function referred to is not the emotions, but the intellect, where conscious decisions are made and actions are contemplated. The soul or “nephesh”, is the very essence of life itself, as recorded in Genesis when the Holy Spirit breathed life into Adam, making him human and yet also in God’s image. The translation of “strength” does not point to physicality, but to very great effort through conscious thought and determination.
This commandment is so important that Jesus repeats it again to the early Christians in Matthew, Mark and Luke as the first of two commandments upon which all the law and the Prophets hinge upon. “The most important one…is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31
Love is the verb action called for in both these Great Commandments. John 13:34 expands upon the second commandment. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
And how did Jesus love His neighbor? "...with all His heart, with all His soul, and with all His might." He stood in our place and paid the penalty for our sins with His life. We 21st century Christians have wandered so far for so long, that many of us now think the Words of Jesus are negotiable, or worse still, totally inapplicable to us in the world in which we live. The basis of all idolatry is self-centered, rebellious people refusing to worship God as He teaches. So we shouldn’t be surprised when we wake up one morning and realize that overnight, American Christianity has become an unbelievable nightmare instead of the joy-filled day that the Lord has made. He didn’t make this mess. We did, with idols of our own making.
Hebrews 3:7-14 delivers an impassioned plea that sums up today’s lesson perfectly. “So it is just as the Holy Spirit says: “If you hear God’s voice today, don’t be stubborn as you were in the past, when you turned against God. That was the day you tested God in the desert. For 40 years in the desert, your people saw what I did. But they tested me and my patience. So I was angry with them. I said, ‘Their thoughts are always wrong. They have never understood my ways. So I was angry and made a promise: ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”
“So, brothers and sisters, be careful that none of you has the evil thoughts that cause so much doubt that you stop following the living God. But encourage each other every day, while you still have something called “today.” Help each other so that none of you will be fooled by sin and become too hard to change. We have the honor of sharing in all that Christ has if we continue until the end to have the sure faith we had in the beginning. That’s why the Spirit said, “If you hear God’s voice today, don’t be stubborn as in the past when you turned against God.”
"YOU HAVE STAYED LONG ENOUGH AT THIS MOUNTAIN. BREAK CAMP AND ADVANCE..."