Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Numerous People

As we continue to look at texts in the Bible that would have immediately had a deeper meaning to the people of Israel, who intimately understood their own history, we turn next to the beginning of Deuteronomy. 

Deuteronomy is often regarded as the "final sermon" of Moses, his recounting of the journey that Israel has been on since he first spoke to Pharaoh on behalf of the Hebrews and God led them out into the wilderness, on their way toward the Promised Land. God has already told him that he will not inherit the land with them, and God has already called him to the mountain where he will die. So on the edge of Canaan, this is Moses's last chance to remind Israel of all they have been through, all that God has done for them, and all that He has promised them.

He begins with this: The Lord your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude. Other translations say more clearly, you are now as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Right away, this sounds familiar. This is the promise that God made to Abram/Abraham, even when the man was old and childless and beyond child-bearing years. God always said that He would make Abraham's descendants as "numerous as the stars in the sky" and even that they would be so many that they could not be counted.

There's a bit of an odd juxtaposition here, as Deuteronomy comes right on the heels of Numbers, a book in which Moses spends an inordinate amount of time actually counting the descendants of Israel and putting actual numbers to their population. To here be saying that they are living the fulfillment of God's promise - this specific promise - is a bit odd, to say the least.

But it's incredibly important.

It is important because Israel is standing again on the edge of the Promised Land, a place they have been before. The last time they were here, they had sent spies into the land to see if it was everything that God said that it was. It was everything, and more than they had even imagined from God's description, but they were captivated by their own fear and were too scared to enter into it. They spent the next 40 years wandering in the wilderness until every scared man passed away and the next generation grew up. 

Forty years later, here they are again. The land has not changed; it is still good. The challenges have not changed; there are still other peoples in it. The resolve of Israel at this point is likely wavering, as they know that their leader - Moses - is about to leave them, and at just this very moment when all things could be what they were intended to be, it's easy to not be sure any more. 

And this is no time for not being sure.

So in his final sermon, in his last chance to remind Israel of who they are, where they've been, and where they're going, Moses, who literally just numbered the people, calls to their minds the promise of being so numerous they could not be numbered and tells them they are already living the promise. They're there. This is what God said He was going to do, and He did it - they are as numerous as the stars in the sky. 

It's a confidence booster for a people who now have to believe in another promise. It's an encouragement to them. It's a reason for them to believe in one more thing, right there on the edge of Canaan. We are, they can conclude, God's promised people. Look at us! And this is God's Promised Land.

All of a sudden, here's the resolve. Here's the obedience. Here's the fierceness of Israel. Let's go get it.

It's nothing short of a great speech by Moses, but it's so much more than that. It's exactly what the people needed, and it took nothing more than for Moses to make this one brief, you'd-almost-miss-it-if-it-wasn't-woven-into-your-heart reference to God's promise...on the edge of God's promise. For if God is faithful, then He is faithful, and behold, He is faithful. 

No comments:

Post a Comment