In the 4th book of the Bible, Numbers, is a shocking story. A story that Hollywood would have trouble matching in its drama.
Three men in Israel rose up to oppose Moses, the Lord’s prophet. They accused Moses and his brother Aaron of arrogance.
And ironically, they in their arrogance want to usurp Moses.
Humbly, Moses went to prayer first. Apparently under God’s direction, Moses then told Korah, Dathan, and Abiram that in the morning the Lord will show through a miraculous sign whom he chooses to lead the people.
Who was right? Who was the Lord’s spokesman? Whom did the Lord approve?
The next morning the rebellion of the three men came to a head. Korah had so deceived Israel that he had some of the congregation of Israel on his side.
The Lord was angry toward the three men and all who supported them, so he told Moses he was ready to wipe out all of Israel.
But Moses prayed to intervene, and the Lord relented. Partially.
So the story unfolds like this:
Numbers 16:23–35 ESV
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Say to the congregation, Get away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.”
Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him.
And he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins.” So they got away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.
And Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the door of their tents, together with their wives, their sons, and their little ones.
And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. 29 If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.”
And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.
And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!”
If that story doesn’t shock you or alarm you, you’re not paying attention. God opened up the earth to swallow these rebels, and they fell in to their doom.
The judgment of God is severe.
This story, while shocking, is really just one of a number of shocking stories during a 40-year period.
That 40 year period began in Egypt with 10 Plagues and deliverance through the Red Sea.
God revealed his love, holiness, and power to his covenant people, Israel, over and over again.
Yet Israel revealed their stubbornness over and over again.
We are in Week 9 of a series going through the 5th book of the Bible: Deuteronomy.
Now at the end of this 40-year period of judgment, Israel was finally ready to receive their long-awaited promise of a beautiful, bountiful land.
Would they respond in Faith and in Love for the Lord? Or would they rebel like their fathers?
Israel was at a CROSSROADS with two choices: the glorious or the inglorious.
The good and beautiful and holy and wonderful. Blessings.
OR, the bad and ugly and shameful and destructive. Curses
And their story has some remarkable parallels and applications for us today.
In your bulletin is an insert. An overview of the entire Pentateuch. The five books of Moses.
It’s the same insert from 8 weeks ago when we began this series.
I hope it’s a helpful reminder of the big picture, how Deuteronomy fits into the Scriptures.
I won’t refer to it today. It’s simply for your reading pleasure.
Deuteronomy 9-10a Review
Matt’s sermon last week stimulated my thinking these past 7 days. And it flows into our passage today.
Let me briefly review of some highlights.
1. Israel will cross the Jordan and drive out greater and mightier nations.
God will do this.
2. Why? Not because of your righteousness, but because of their wickedness.
Israel has no inherent goodness. They were not naturally or morally superior.
3. You have provoked the Lord since being delivered from Egypt.
Even at Mt. Sinai. Golden calf. Idolatry. Couldn’t make it even 40 days. Just over a month!
4. The Lord was ready to wipe the entire nation out.
Moses intervened on their behalf, and they were spared.
This is a discouraging section.
My first reaction is, “That’s depressing. Why doesn’t Moses write some happy thoughts. “Be more positive, Moses!”
It’s like Moses skipped class in his Leadership 101 Course on the day they talked about positive leadership.
Why does the Lord have Moses focus on this rebellious past? WHY?
1. It’s the truth.
You can’t sugar coat this. You can’t slap a smiley face emoji on this.
It simply is true. Israel has a terrible track record in their faith. For 40 years, their history is full of darkness, not much light.
2. To tell them (AGAIN) that God is merciful.
Israel should be dead at this point, but God has repeatedly shown them mercy.
The wages of sin is death.
So Israel (and we) should be amazed at God’s mercy towards them.
3. Israel is thus both called and warned.
They are called to the glorious….because God is gracious and generous.
They are warned against the inglorious….because God is holy and just.
This latter point is where we are headed today in the rest of chapters 10 and 11.
Our passage today is about that:
The calling to the glorious. The beautiful and good.
The warning of the inglorious. The shameful and disgraceful.
Live for the glorious.
Reject the inglorious.
Live wholeheartedly for God.
Reject rebellion against him.
We are going to find that Moses really DID NOT skip class that day in his Leadership 101 Course.
He is positive that God is very good. That he longs to be gracious to his people.
He is positive how Israel can and should find life. Life in God.
He is positive that Israel will miss out on what is good and glorious if they don’t pay attention.
Look at the first two verses of our passage today:
Deuteronomy 10:12–13 ESV “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?”
He says, “Hey, Israel, do you get this? In light of God’s goodness, his many promises of blessing….. And in the face of your sad history of being spiritual adulterers towards God…. And considering how God has shown mercy to you many times, far more than you deserve…. Here’s how you should live.”
Here is God’s will for Israel:
Fear the Lord
Walk in his ways
Serve him with all your heart
Keep his commands
…all of this is FOR THEIR GOOD!!
Every one of these five separate commands are repeated two to four times in chapters 10 and 11!
Do you think the Lord is trying to get a point across?
In my opinion, these two verses are one of the best summaries of the entire book of Deuteronomy!!
And maybe of the entire Old Testament. And really, the language of the NT is virtually the same! So for us today, this list of God’s will is essentially the same. And Moses’ words here, “for your good” are crucial. The question of God’s goodness—his nature of goodness and his desire for good—is one of the more fundamental questions of faith. Israel wrestled….. and WE often wrestle in faith, “Is God good?”
Not only is God’s goodness shown in his mercy to rescue Israel from cruel slavery in Egypt, his goodness is shown in his commandments.
The commands of God are not a burden. They are not oppressive. They are not selfishly inspired by God.
God gives every command for the good of his people. He loves them. He chose them. He watches over them. He longs to bring good to them, if only they would follow him.
Now Moses moves from a beautiful command to a wonderful declaration: A declaration of who God really is.
Who is this God whom Israel is to fear, love, serve, and obey??
Deuteronomy 10:14–15 ESV “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.”
Now we are beginning what I will say is a back and forth exhortation.
Vs. 12-13 he expresses God’s will for them. How the Lord wants Israel to live.
Now here he tells them who their God really is.
In the rest of this chapter and on into chapter 11, there is a back-and-forth on this:
The TRUTH of who the Lord is, and
The WILL of God for his people.
Who God is.
What God wants.
In a way, this is what the whole Bible is about.
So who is the Lord?
Moses says, “He is the OWNER of the heavens. They belong to him.” The earth belongs to him.
One of my favorite verses over the years that I often think of is this:
Psalm 24:1 NIV “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it…”
As Creator, the Lord is the OWNER. Heaven and earth belong to him.
Annette and I flew to North Carolina 2 weeks ago for my daughter’s wedding. As always happens to me, I was amazed by the size of this earth. One square mile of farmland is the size of a postage stamp. Highways are thin strings. Houses are a dot on the surface. Almost imperceptible.
I was humbled by that once again. I thought, “I am just a dot on the surface of the earth. And I am seeing only a tiny portion of the earth. And the earth is just a miniscule dot in the solar system. And our solar system is just a dot in our galaxy. And our galaxy is just a dot….”
You get the idea.
Moses says in Deuteronomy, “To the Lord your God belong heaven and earth.”
God is the Creator and Owner of everything.
Moses wants to humble Israel.
Then in vs. 15 he says, “Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
What is his point here?
He is contrasting God’s greatness and power and might to create the heavens and the earth….with his kind heart towards a miniscule creature named Abraham.
Such power and kindness together are startling. Israel ought to be humbled. And amazed. And honestly, speechless.
A passage I often recount when I am praying and worshiping the Lord in the morning:
Psalm 8:3–4 ESV “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
David considered the vastness of the universe, and he was humbled.
Who am I that God would even care for me?
If you’ve never been humbled like that, pray that the Lord would open your eyes to see his greatness and magnificence.
This is what Moses is trying to point out to Israel.
Now Moses goes back to God’s will for the people.
Deuteronomy 10:16 ESV “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.”
After declaring that the Lord is the Mighty Creator of all things, Moses moves back into God’s will: Stop being so stubborn!
Yield. Surrender. Admit that God is your Lord. Submit to him.
Israel has had a 40-year history of stubbornness. Rebellion. Complaining. Unbelief.
Is your stubbornness really going to help you? And honestly, in light of who the Lord is and how small you are, it’s just pure stupidity and foolishness to fight against God. You cannot win against the Almighty Creator God.
Now Moses flips back to the TRUTH of who the Lord is.
Deuteronomy 10:17–18 ESV “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”
I find this remarkable. God is so great. Mighty. The Ultimate Ruler of all rulers. Yet he is the defender of the fatherless and the widow. He provides for those who are sojourners. Refugees.
God is and has always been a protector of the oppressed. The forgotten.
Throughout history, societies are known for their oppression of various people groups.
They oppress. They ignore. They mistreat.
Today we can think of all kinds of applications of this.
• Parentless children.
• People subjected to mistreatment in racism.
• The poor.
• The unborn.
The very nature of God brings him to defend and protect the defenseless and persecuted.
And when you recognize he is the God of all gods, the Ruler of every nation, the Mighty God, we ought to tremble to ever mistreat anyone.
Israel should have said, and we ought to say, “How dare we EVER mistreat anyone, when the Mighty God is the Defender of the defenseless.” We should tremble.
Now Moses goes back to revealing God’s will for the people.
Deuteronomy 10:19–20 ESV “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.”
This is reiterating much of vs. 12-13.
Now Moses flips back to the TRUTH of who the Lord is.
Deuteronomy 10:21–22 ESV “He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. 22 Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.”
He is your praise. He is the OBJECT of your praise and your worship. He is the one you should celebrate and bow down to.
He is your God who has done great and terrifying things:
• He brought 10 plagues on the nation of Egypt, bringing them to ruin for their cruelty and hard-heartedness.
• He parted the Red Sea.
• He destroyed the entire Egyptian army.
Israel ought to tremble and worship.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, this reminds me of the Gospel account of Jesus and his disciples out on the lake in a boat when a huge storm arose. Jesus stood up and with just a few words commanded the storm to cease. And it did. Great and terrifying things. All the disciples could say is, “Who is this, who commands wind and waves to stop?”
Ought not such deeds of God cause Israel to respond in faith? To reject their stubbornness? To humble themselves?
We don’t have enough time to read the entire chapter, unfortunately.
Moses continues to go back and forth: the TRUTH of who the Lord is; and the WILL of the Lord for his people.
Blessings and curses
Deuteronomy 11:26–28 ESV “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.”
Blessing and curse. The glorious and the inglorious. The good, beautiful, and satisfying. Vs. the bad, broken, and destructive.
This is the essence of the Covenant the Lord made with Israel. God is calling them to GOOD. To walk with the Lord in covenant love, like a husband would say to his BRIDE: “Marry me. Walk with me. Be faithful to me….as I will be with you.”
Lessons for Us Today: Consider and Respond
What are some lessons for us today. We are under the New Covenant of Christ, YET like Israel:
We are called to CONSIDER the TRUTH of God. Who he is.
Then we are called to RESPOND to the WILL of God. What he wants.
We first begin with who God is.
The Lord revealed in Deuteronomy is the same Lord today.
• He owns heaven and earth.
• He created all things.
• He set his heart in love on us.
• He is the God of gods and Lord of lords.
• He is the great, mighty, and awesome God.
• He is my praise and my God.
• He has done great and terrifying things.
• And, HE IS GOOD. Even his commands are for our good…
…He longs to bring great BLESSING on his children.
God has not changed. The God of the NT is the same as in the OT. His nature is the same. His heart is the same. His holiness. His love. His power.
So really, we begin in the same place Israel did. We are confronted with God, and we must decide what we will do with him.
I showed you this quote four weeks ago from author A.W. Tozer:
“All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him.”
We must all reckon with God for who he really is.
And as we understand him and then BELIEVE in him, we will change. We will not remain the same.
We will be like Israel, and we will find ourselves responding like in Deuteronomy 10:12-13…
…to FEAR the Lord. To love him. To serve him wholeheartedly.
….to obey his commands, which are for our good.
So the place we must begin is with God. We search to know him.
We go out in the evening, and gaze at the sky like David did in Psalm 8. We consider the stars and the moon. The vastness of the cosmos, and we worship, saying, “What am I that you would consider me and love me?” We are HUMBLED.
Here is my question for us this morning:
Are we on a quest to know him…to really know him? Or are we simply content to participate in religious activities with little, active thought about who God really is?
Examples of Knowing the Lord
David, King of Israel, is one of the better examples.
And he wrote nearly ½ of the Book of Psalms to show us.
He wrote this in the wilderness.
Psalm 63:1–4 ESV
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.”
David hungered and thirsted to KNOW the Lord. To know his power and his glory. To be persuaded of the Lord’s love, which is better than life itself. And as he grasped the nature and the Person of God, he could not help but praise and worship.
The Apostle Paul is also one of the better examples of someone who knew the Lord.
Last week, I was reading in Philippians in my morning Bible reading, and I landed on this verse.
Philippians 1:8 ESV “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
First, I was impressed with Paul’s love for this church in Philippi. But then I realized the source of Paul’s love: Christ. Paul said, “I long for you with the affection OF CHRIST.” With the affection that Christ has for me and for you. The Greek word here for affection is fascinating: Literally the word means, “Intestines.” It’s an expression, like we refer to our GUT or our HEART. “I know in my gut.” “I love in my heart.” Jesus Christ has a gut-level affection for Paul and the Philippians. Jesus’ love for us shown at the Cross is not some cold, intellectual fact. It is passionate. Deep. So Paul says, “I have that same kind of longing and affection for you that Christ has.”
Israel never went very deep on this. But Moses did.
Psalm 103:7 ESV “He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.”
God revealed his WAYS to Moses. Moses got the Lord. Israel could only see the DEEDS. They could see what God DID. But generally they simply didn’t GET God.
And this is why Moses responded much differently to the Lord than Israel generally did. There was a vast difference in how well they knew the Lord.
How can we know him better?
How can we know the Lord?
How do we move from knowing ABOUT God….knowing facts about him…. to actually KNOWING him?
One way: Don’t waste your trials.
What do I mean? I mean, your trials—small or large, short or long—are your best and beautiful opportunity to know the Lord better.
Your trials become your moments of hunger and desperation when you realize, “I need more. I am incomplete. Insufficient. Small. Frail.”
When we are enduring a FIERY trial, and we realize you need God somehow, do we truly seek to know him better and to cling to him?
Or are we merely content to get a Bible verse that helps you feel better, and then move on?
A few days ago, my wife and I were talking about trials. She said for her it’s tempting at times during a trial to pull a “HAPPY FACE” out of her pocket and slap it on. For Christians are supposed to be happy, aren’t they? They’re not supposed to admit they are suffering, are they?
Perhaps many of us are tempted similarly. We can even run to the Bible to find a good verse that sort of eases some of the pain. Like slapping a happy face on ourselves.
But are we seeking after God himself? Are we searching to know him? To trust him? To love him? To find comfort in him?
You see, to know his commands is quite easy. We can read his commands in a few minutes. We can put them on a bulleted list. And to know FACTS about God is easy.
But to truly know him and trust him and love him…..well, THAT is different. That is deeper. That is richer.
That true knowledge of him cannot be discovered cheaply. Flippantly. Lazily.
We must not waste the moments in our trials. Our trials provide the perfect moment to seek the Lord and to find him.
So in our trials, we need to stop WHINING and grumbling, and start LISTENING.
Listen. Listen to the Lord. Search for him. HUNGER for him.
• Open your Bible. Look for God there.
• Sing a spiritual song.
• Fellowship with your Life Group.
• Attend Sunday services. Listen to him. Listen for him. Listen to the SONGS we sing.
Instead of complaining to yourself and your friends, take your complaint to the Lord.
Obedience to God
The more we know the Lord as he truly is—and TRUST him— the more we will obey him.
Obedience is simply the natural outflow of KNOWLEDGE of and FAITH in him.
That’s why Moses spent all that time in Deuteronomy 10 and 11 telling them who the Lord is.
• He owns heaven and earth.
• He set his heart in love on them.
• He is the God of gods and Lord of lords.
• He is the great, mighty, and awesome God.
• He is their praise and their God.
• He has done great and terrifying things.
• And, HE IS GOOD. Even his commands were for their good…
As Moses called Israel, so we are called:
CONSIDER this TRUTH about God.
RESPOND to his WILL for your life.
Live for the Glorious. For the GOOD and beautiful and right.