Moses: Going Home
The book of Deuteronomy has dual themes: (1) the last messages of Moses as he prepared to “go home” to be with the Lord and (2) his last instructions to Israel to prepare the nation to “go home” to the promised land shortly after his death. As he delivered these urgent messages to the people he would soon be leaving, his voice must have quivered more than once as he contemplated the land he would not be permitted to enter.
His messages must have burned hot on his heart as he faced this new generation of Israelites. Racing through his mind and burdening his soul was the question of how they would fare in the land. Stretching out before him was the curving, twisting, seemingly endless Jordan River. Only Joshua and Caleb had been on the other side. So much was unknown. Would this generation, soon to be guided by Joshua, fail as their fathers had? Would they refuse to trust the Lord when they faced the “giants” in battle? Would they be afraid as their predecessors, the ten spies, had been? Many thoughts must have coursed through Moses’ mind as he spoke to his beloved people for the final time.
Moses’ deepest desire was to impress upon the hearts of the people the importance of the Word of God. Their future depended on their obedience to the commands of God Almighty. Their future victories and possession of the land would hang on their obedience to the Word of the Lord.
Three messages delivered by Moses comprise the majority of the Book of Deuteronomy. As we touch on the highlights of these messages, we will emphasize the major thrust of God’s directives to His people through Moses, who uniquely covered a great bulk of God’s truth in a few chapters.
Sermon 1 (Dr. 1:5—4:43)
The Failure of Israel to Go Into the Land
The journey from Egypt to Canaan should have been completed in less than one month; instead, it took forty years. When the people came to Kadesh-barnea, they failed to move in and possess the land, as the Lord instructed. They sent twelve spies into the land, ten of whom returned with a negative report. The nation chose to believe their report and failed to trust the Lord, a failure which doomed their generation to death in the wilderness.
The Faithfulness of God
In spite of the unbelief that kept Israel from the Promised Land, God never abandoned them while they were in the wilderness. He fed them and supplied their needs for nearly forty years. He guided and protected the people when they were embattled by their enemies. He fought for them (Dt. 3:2) and enabled them to possess the land east of the Jordan River (Dt. 3:3, 8). “And I commanded you at that time, saying, The Lᴏʀᴅ your God hath given you this land to possess it” (Dt. 3:18).
The Failure of Moses
Moses openly admitted his sin to the people. He told them that he had lost his own possession due to his sin. He would die without crossing over into the Promised Land (Dt. 4:21–22). The nation should have learned a great lesson from this, but they did not. We too should learn from Moses’ example, but many times we do not.
The Futility of Idolatry
Moses used the illustration of his own sin (Dt. 4:21–22) to plead with the people not to go into idolatry: “Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, which he made with you, and make you a carved image, or the likeness of anything, which the Lᴏʀᴅ thy God hath forbidden thee” (Dt. 4:23). He had previously challenged them to obey the Lord lest they corrupt themselves with the worship of idols (Dt. 4:14–20), and now he issued the same challenge.
The Future Dispersion
In spite of these warnings, the Lord informed Moses that His people would soon turn from the living God to serve idols: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over the Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed. And the Lᴏʀᴅ shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the nations, where the Lᴏʀᴅ shall lead you” (Dt. 4:26–27). Not only would they turn from the Lord, but they would lose the Promised Land before they had an opportunity to possess it.
Moses pleaded with Israel to remain true to the Lord. His utmost desire was to see God bless His people. If we, today, would heed the lessons Moses taught, we could experience God’s blessing in our walk with Him.
Sermon 2 (Dt. 4:44—26:19)
Shortly after Moses completed his first message, he called the Israelites together to deliver another sermon, one which would give them more details concerning how they should live when they entered the Promised Land.
The Repetition of the Law
If Israel were to prosper, nationally and individually, they had to obey the Law and the commands of God. Moses quickly reiterated the Ten Commandments given at Mount Sinai. He then enumerated the commands of the Lord, given so that Israel might survive as a theocratic national entity. Much of this message was a repetition of the covenant previously given.
In Deuteronomy 5, Moses clearly restated the Decalogue and followed it with statutes and commandments. The Israelites were instructed to love the Lord with all their heart and diligently teach their children to do the same, lest they too lose the blessing of God. They were also told to separate themselves from the Canaanites inhabiting the land by utterly destroying them. God knew that if this were not done, idolatry would soon follow. On the other hand, obedience would bring victory by the miraculous hand of the Lord God Almighty. Over and over in chapters 7 through 11, clear warnings were given to the nation if they failed to obey God’s commands. Blessings to be bestowed in the Promised Land were also unfolded (Dt. 12).
The Regulatory Commands
The remaining portion of Moses’ second sermon dealt with various regulatory commands for the nation. They were told how to determine if a man were a true prophet or not. Various dietary laws and the feasts of Israel were explained in detail, and the sabbatical year was outlined. Various ordinances concerning marriage, divorce, judges, and kings were set forth.
The Raising of a Prophet
In the middle of this second message, given east of the Jordan River, Moses made one of the most important statements of his entire life: “The Lᴏʀᴅ thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken…I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him” (Dt. 18:15, 18).
Moses prophesied a prophet who would have the very words of God in His mouth and who would be greater than himself. He was not speaking of just another great prophet but of the great Prophet to Israel, her Messiah Jesus. The New Testament makes this clear in Acts 3:20–23. Stephen, in his appeal to the Sanhedrin before his stoning, also stated that this Prophet was Jesus.
Moses reached the pinnacle of his prophetic utterances in this second sermon to Israel just prior to his death, as he clearly prophesied the coming of Jesus, the Messiah.
Sermon 3 (Dt. 27:1—29:1)
In his second sermon, Moses set before the people a blessing and a curse. They would be blessed if they obeyed the commandments of the Lord and cursed if they did not. He commanded the children of Israel to put the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal when they entered the Promised Land (Dt. 11:29).
The Cursings and Blessings
To clearly portray the cursings and blessings of God, Moses commanded that when Israel entered the land, six tribes were to climb to the top of Mount Ebal and six to the top of Mount Gerizim. The priests were to set up the ceremony. Blessings were to be shouted from Mount Gerizim, where were placed six of the tribes descended from Jacob’s wives Rachel and Leah. The cursings were to be called down from Mount Ebal, where four of the six tribes stationed were descended from Jacob’s concubines. The other two tribes on Mount Ebal were Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn who had forfeited his birthright through incest, and Zebulun, Leah’s youngest son.
For visitors to Israel, the sight of these mountains is most amazing. Ebal, the mount of cursing, is totally barren with huge rocks showing, while Gerizim is a lovely tree-covered mountain. Only a few miles separate their peaks. The city of Shechem, where Abraham built his first altar to the Lord (Gen. 12:6–7), is at the base of these mountains. The ritual to be performed there would surely direct the attention of the people to the faithfulness of God. This ritual, commanded by Moses, was carried out in the days of Joshua (Josh. 8:30–35).
The Covenant of the Land
This is often called the Palestinian Covenant because it deals with the land. It relates that although Israel would depart from the Lord and be scattered among the nations, one day she would return to the Lord and once again possess the land. Then, and only then, would she love the Lord with her whole heart. The land would be hers forever, even though she would be removed from it for many years. Although Israel did turn away from the Lord, there is a yet-future day when she will return to the Lord and finally obey all His commandments. At that time she will possess all that God initially promised to her, but not until then.
The Conclusion of His Sermons
Moses gave one final warning to his people. “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore, choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live, That thou mayest love the Lᴏʀᴅ thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him; for he is thy life, and the length of thy days; that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lᴏʀᴅ swore unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (Dt. 30:19–20).
And with this plea, Moses concluded his public ministry. His last cry to his people offered a choice between life or death. The same choice echoes throughout the Word of God. Our choice today is Heaven or Hell, and the decision is determined by what we do with Christ.
Moses’ Challenge to Joshua
After his final public ministry, Moses called to his side his successor Joshua for some final words of advice. “Be strong and of good courage; for thou must go with this people unto the land which the Lᴏʀᴅ hath sworn unto their fathers to give them, and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. And the Lᴏʀᴅ, he it is who doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee; fear not, neither be dismayed” (Dt. 31:7–8).
What a challenge! What an encouragement to this new leader. He couldn’t go wrong because the Lord would be with him all the way.
It was common for many of the biblical writers, whose hearts were stirred by God, to break into beautiful poetry of praise. David did so frequently and Moses on a few occasions. Some of his poetry is included in the Psalms, and just before his death he wrote one last bit of poetry which is recorded in Deuteronomy 32. His voice rose in praise to the greatness of his God as he reminded the people how God chose them and carefully watched over them, even when they failed Him. Moses implored the people to remember the Lord always.
Moses’ Blessings on the Tribes
According to Jewish tradition, it was customary for a father, prior to his death, to pronounce a blessing on his offspring (see Gen. 49). Moses, as the leader of the Israelites, pronounced a blessing on each tribe (Simeon was omitted because of his crime against Shechem). A magnificent study can be made by comparing Deuteronomy 33 with Genesis 49.
“And the Lᴏʀᴅ spoke unto Moses that very same day, saying, Get thee up into this mountain of Abarim, unto Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab that is over against Jericho, and behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession; And die in the mount where thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people” (Dt. 32:48-50a).
Moses – the leader, the giant, the writer, the prophet – was strong; his eyesight was good; no doubt he could have lived much longer. However, God was ready to move Israel into the land, and Moses would not be permitted to enter with them. And so, in God’s perfect timing, Moses died in the land of Moab.
The saga of a great man ended. Israel wept, but time could not stop. Life had to go on. Joshua was prepared to take over, and Moses’ job was completed. With this account, we say farewell to one of the finest and ablest men to ever live. Although Moses never entered Canaan, through his faith in the Prophet he promised, Israel’s Messiah Jesus, he will one day meet Him face to face. What a blessed hope – for Moses and all who put their faith and trust in the Lord!