Friday, November 25, 2011

Deuteronomy 32 Exegesis

This lesson is the fourth in a study on Moses' life in Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  Moses is an incredibly interesting character in the Bible.  Moses often gives speeches to the congregation of Israel.  We are looking at his last speech, and particularly a prophetic song that he gives at the end of the speech.  These are some of his last words.  I have often thought that Moses was kind of negative to the children of Israel.  Right before this song he says to them,

Deu 31:29  For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands."

But on the other hand Moses had no reason to think the people of Israel would continue obedience.  If he had said, like we would today, "Hey, I know you are going to continue to love and obey the LORD God and he will bless you continually," he would't have been realistic, and two things would have happened:  They would have assumed God's blessings was all their doing, and it would have taken the focus off of God's goodness and put it on their own obedience. 

In other words, this psalm is about God's goodness and hesed and grace, not about their great virtue. 

Verse 31:30 says Then Moses spoke the words of this song until they were finished, in the ears of all the assembly of Israel:

Verses 1-3:  This song is about God and praising him..  You know, in Heaven this is one of the main things we will do, and that means God is going to be praised for eternity, and there is plenty to praise him for.  We will praise him for a long time for his character, and then his works, and then his blessings, and then more. 

We've been through thanksgiving and we are, ideally, supposed to spend it thanking God and being mindful of thankfulness, which is really I think the foundational principle of the Christian life, but how long can we focus our minds on thankfulness?  What would happen to our thinking if everything that comes in our path we are thankful for, including every interruption?  I always think that interruptions might be a way of keeping us safe, missing an accident up the road, even. 

Practicing thankfulness rather than overlooking goodness and rather than seeing negatives.  There is plenty to feel negative about but that is an excuse for not being thankful, grateful, appreciative.  My husband is mentally ill with depression and stays home most of the time and it's been hard.  I am not thankful for the mental illness because it's a sign of the fall and some of the bad things he went through as a child and younger man.  However, one of the most wonderful acts of God is how he bring great blessing out of bad.  Over and over in my life I have seen that, and I sit in amazement.  I am not thankful for my husband's depression but I am thankful for the good it has brought.  But I have learned a lot about life, and myself, and in some ways it is less stressful on me because he takes care of the house and he is very tolerant of my life and pursuits. 

I recently was at a conference and heard a man speak who has terminal brain cancer.  Medical science can do nothing about it.  He is a Baptist pastor in Alabama.  He said he wouldn’t go back and change what would happen.  I believe him, but that is not something I can say yet.  That man is thankful even for his cancer because of what he has seen God do through his suffering.  As I said, I am not thankful for bad things, but I am thankful that God brings blessings out of bad things.  Maybe some day I will grow enough to be thankful for the bad as well.

In verses 1-3 Moses prays that his words, his teaching, be like rain, one of the most precious things in their arid landscape.  In Chattanooga we complain a lot about the rain until there is a drought!  We have one of the dampest climates around; I looked it up on the Internet! 

verse 4:  The Rock.  There is a great Bible study in here about God as the Rock.  When I think about this I don't think about a big rock in my yard, I think about the outcroppings of Rock on Lookout Mountain.  Seven times in this song Moses makes reference to the rock or a rock. 

Let's look at Rock in Old Testament:
The first reference is to the fact that Moses was commanded to get water out of the rock  One time he struck it twice (Ex), another time he was supposed to speak to it (Numbers) but struck it out of anger.  But rock was the source of sustenance and water in these stories. Psl. 61:2  from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,

1Sa 2:2  "There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.
Psa 78:16  He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers.

Rocks are often referenced as hiding places; Moses hid in the cleft of the rock, David hid from Saul in the rock. 
In II Sam 22, David sings a song whose theme is that the LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer.  Repeated in Psalm 18:2.  Therefore rocks are places of protection and refuge.  Psa 27:5  For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.

Rocks are places of foundation for faith.  Psa 62:2  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
Psa 62:6  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
Psa 62:7  On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Isa 26:4  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

From a physical sense, the only person who can control rocks is God.  We can move them only by destroying them with bombs, or chipping away at them.  And when we do, we usually hurt the environment some way and cause other problems.  But we don't create them.. 

What about the New Testament?  Mat 7:24  "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

In the New Testament, Rock emphasizes the foundation, the cornerstone, what Christ did and who he is and the beginning, the initiator of what is to come in the church age.
Mat 16:18  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Rom 9:33  as it is written, "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."
1Co 10:4  and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

In Deut. 32:4, the meaning that Moses wants to communicate is one more meaning to Rock.  "His work is perfect, ....just and upright is he."  A rock is firm, it's not going to change, it is faithful in that sense, and as for God he is going to be as just and upright today and tomorrow as he ever was. 

Now, this is probably the sense of Rock that Moses is going to use the most, although the others as sustenance, protection, and foundation for faith are also there in the text.  His emphasis is that God is faithful, and will be, despite what the Jews are going to do after Moses dies--they will be as corrupt and unsteady as God is perfect and steady, but thankfully the universe depends on God's perfection, firmness, steadiness, love, and grace, not them. 

Another thing we must remember with this text is that Moses is not speaking to the people who came out of Egypt, but their children and grandchildren.  This is the situation Moses addresses in vs. 5-7. 

The Jews have to be reminded that they are God's special people.  God sovereignly created people groups who live in certain parts of the world.  I have always wondered why people live in certain areas that do not seem desirable.  Why do the Eskimos live near the Arctic?  Why do some people live in remote jungles?  Why do some people live in areas with little water, and yet all these people love where they live and are willing to protect it?  And they find ways to live and flourish there!  Part of it is human ingenuity, which the Bible attests to, but here we see that it's not just up to humankind. 

All people are under God's providential care, but the Jews are special because of their ancestors and because they will bring the Messiah, and because God made a covenant with them.

I read an interesting story this week about Thanksgiving.  Squanto is a name I heard all my life as the name of the Indian who helped the Pilgrims to have the first Thanksgiving.  But that is only part of the story.  What really happened was that Squanto was kidnapped by slavers and taken to Spain.  He was bought by Catholic monks who taught him about Christianity and he eventually learned English.  He was freed and came back to New England and was able to speak English and teach the Pilgrims how to grow food in that climate.  Now, how did it happen that an English speaking Indian just happened to be in the same place that the Pilgrims were? 
We think "wow, what a coincidence," but there are none. 

A couple of weeks ago I was in Walmart and got in line behind a woman I know.  She is a Christian social worker who has affiliations with this church.  She was having trouble with her bank card.  I paid her bill for her groceries and she sent me the money the next day.  But she would have been up a creek if the Lord hadn't put me there, and I don't think it was an accident.  

My point is we want to think we have everything to do with where we are but God has other plans!

In the next twenty verses or so, Moses talks about the possible future for Israel--except it's not just a possibility, but a certainty, so this is a kind of prophecy.  He basically tells them that despite all God has done for them and will continue to do, they will turn away, and God will have to use foreign enemies who do not worship Him to punish the Israelites.  This is a common theme in the Old Testament.  Then the foreign enemies will think that the victories over Israel are their own doing, and they will have to be set right. 

So that brings up to v. 36:   Deu 32:36  For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free.
Deu 32:37  Then he will say, 'Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge,
Deu 32:38  who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise up and help you; let them be your protection!
Deu 32:39  "'See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

God's punishment of Israel is always remedial, to heal and bring them back, not to utterly destroy them.  But he has a bigger plan than Israel alone. 

Deu 32:43  "Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all gods, for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people's land."

The next verse says that this is the end of Moses song, and after that God takes Moses up to mountain Nebo so he can see the land that he won't be able to enter.  Of course, Moses is very old at this time anyway, but the reason is that Moses fell short of the perfect way God wanted him to walk as the leader. 

However, Moses did see the land.  In Matthew 17 we read of the transfiguration and Moses is there, he is in the land.  I think that is significant.  Jesus was there in the land then, and the perfect had come.  Jesus Christ makes what is impossible under the law possible under grace.   As you remember, Peter's response was "let's make three booths in honor of the  figures Moses, the lawgiver, Elijah, the great prophet, and Jesus,”  putting them all on the same level, and therefore missing the point.  A voice from Heaven told them to heed and worship Jesus, not the two figures, who then disappeared.  Jesus said, "Do not speak of this until after the resurrection," and Peter does in his epistles.  Interestingly, it is not until the Holy Spirit comes to indwell at Pentecost that Peter, who is privy to so many miraculous happenings, is able to stand and deliver, as much as he wants to!

Moses had something reserved for him that was better than walking around in Israel at the age of 120.  As much as I would like to travel to Israel, we will get to see it without terrorists and fear. 

We are not Israel, and I resist making direct parallels about Old Testament narratives to our lives today as 21st century Christians.  But this is what I take away from this text for my life:

1.  God uses everything and everyone to achieve his purposes.
2.  He is our Rock, which means sustenance, protection, foundation, and standard of perfect judgment.  He does no wrong, despite what we see on a temporal basis.  Not letting Moses see Israel seems harsh, but there was something better.
3.  Jesus is above all and makes what seems harsh under the law make sense because he heals, he redeems, he perfects, he makes right.   Jesus brings so much that is far better, as Hebrews teaches.

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