Moses took time to warn them
of certain dangers they must avoid.
In Deuteronomy 8,
he cautioned them about the perils of prosperity and self-satisfaction that they would face in their new home: “Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Deuteronomy 8:11–14).
The word translated “forget”
in this passage comes from a verb in the original Hebrew that means “to stop remembering, ignore, dismiss from the mind, abandon, neglect, or cease to care about.” This kind of forgetting involves putting the Lord out of one’s consciousness.
Moses knew that, if the people were not careful, they would forget the forty years of God’s care in the wilderness when He had given them food to eat, clothing to wear, and sheltered them. In their comfortable, complacent, and prosperous state in the “land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8), they would be tempted to dismiss from their minds God’s miraculous parting of the Red Sea and deliverance from slavery in Egypt, His supply of manna in the desert when there was no food, His drawing water from the rock when they were thirsty, His guiding presence, His protection, and even His chastening hand when they had transgressed. As time went by, it would be all too easy for them to let the memory of God’s past goodness fade. They would become self-satisfied and think they had achieved success all on their own.
Moses explained, “He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’
Remember the LORD your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath. But I assure you of this: If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods, worshiping and bowing down to them, you will certainly be destroyed” (Deuteronomy 8:17–19, NLT).
Forgetting the Lord would get the Israelites into trouble,
leading them into the sin of idolatry and
Moses cautioned that, if Israel neglected the lessons learned in the wilderness, failed to depend entirely on God, abandoned their worship of Him, and neglected His Word, disaster would obliterate the abundant blessings that remembering God brings.
Do not forget the Lord means consciously and consistently thinking about what God has shown us in the past, including His miracles of deliverance and provision, His abiding presence, His tender care, and His loving discipline.
It also means obeying the “commands, laws, and decrees” in God’s Word. When Moses said, “Do not forget the Lord,”
he meant for God’s people to keep
the truth of Scripture and the real-life experiences
of the living God ever at the forefront of their minds.
Are we not just like the ancient Israelites? When things are going well, don’t we quickly dismiss the truths we have learned in the past? Don’t we forget how we clung to God in the trials and heartaches, utterly dependent on Him for every breath?
The warning for Israel is the same for us today:
Do not forget the Lord.
Let these words challenge us to always give God’s dealings in our past a significant place in our present. May we honor and obey His Word and not take His blessings for granted. May we thank God for His goodness, mindful that He is the Giver of every good and perfect gift we enjoy (James 1:17). Similarly, let us constantly remember that our success depends solely on the Lord’s power and grace in our lives.
Deuteronomy & Exile Predicted
The Promised Land Becomes Israel’s to Lose
Those reading through the final chapters of Deuteronomy might find themselves feeling a little unfulfilled.
Nearly all of the plot tensions that have developed from the earliest chapters in Genesis through the entire Torah narrative remain unresolved!
Abraham’s family is really big now, but they’re still not in the Promised Land. All the nations have not yet discovered God’s blessing.
To make it more complicated, the Israelites keep rebelling and bringing disaster on themselves. After forty years of putting up with these grumbling road-trippers, and after God gives Moses a spoiler-alert, Moses concludes his long speech by predicting how Israel’s story is going to unfold.
Then the Lord appeared at the tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the tent. And the Lord said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your ancestors, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them.
Divine Strategy at Work
The Torah concludes by preparing you for a long history of failure in the Promised Land. This is intentional. It’s part of the strategy of the overall narrative to help you see the good news in the midst of failure. This dismal past generates hope for the future.
Think of how many times in the Torah we’ve watched a character receive some kind of command or guidance from God, respond with fear, unbelief, or straight up disobedience,
then face the tragic consequences.
God places Adam and Eve in the garden as divine image bearers of God, empowered with choice, freedom, and authority in this temple garden.
They choose to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and define right and wrong for themselves
God warns Cain that “sin is crouching at the door, it desires to have you”
Cain does not heed the warning, kills his brother Abel (Gen 4:8
Genesis 4:8), and is banished from the Lord’s presence (Gen 4:16
God tells Israel not to make idols or worship other gods (Ex 20:1-6
They make a golden calf and worship it
One of the most common, repeated themes in the biblical narrative is how people constantly evade God and his wise commands. We had hoped that after being redeemed in the Exodus, this “kingdom of priests” would respond differently. Surely witnessing the 10 plagues and walking through the sea would compel them to love God and each other and fulfill God’s promise to become a blessing to the nations.
Old Habits Die Hard
However, it quickly becomes clear that this is not going to happen.
The Israelites are humans after all. We know what humans are like, both from personal experience and from Genesis 1-11
. So at the end of Deuteronomy, Moses merges the story of Israel up to this point with the story of humanity’s rebellion in the garden.
See, I set before you today life and good, death, and evil. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will have life and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But, if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
If Moses was a coach giving this speech to a team of players about to run onto the field, he would get fired. This is not the way to inspire people, telling them that their failure is certain! As we mentioned earlier, Moses knows all about Israel’s rebellious hearts. The Lord goes a step further and actually predicts Israel’s continued rebellion and the resulting exile from the Promised Land. But Moses has hope and so should you.
Hope in the Future
If the fulfillment of God’s promises depended solely on human ability, then hopelessness would be an appropriate response. But it doesn’t! God has been the faithful one in this story, and it’s his covenant promises that are carrying the day. God is committed to having a covenant people who will love him, love each other, and who will become the vehicle of his divine blessing for all nations. This story is showing us that this will never happen unless God accomplishes a deep level of transformation in the human heart. The laws were given to Israel to point out the way for them to love God and others, but paradoxically they only pointed out how broken and selfish the Israelites actually are. Now we discover that the consequences of breaking these covenant laws will bring disaster upon Israel. In a twist however, amidst this darkness of the human condition, Moses discovers a glimmer of hope:
Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you can love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.
Israel is going to fail, just like the rest of humanity. But after their failure, God will transform their hearts so that they can become what God has called them to be. The Old Testament prophets following the exile picked up these promises and developed them. The New Testament apostles believed that this new reality of the transformed heart was taking place through Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The Prophet Ezekiel:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
Ezekiel 36:26The Prophet Jeremiah:
“I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.”
Jeremiah 24:7The Apostle Paul:
“No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.”
Read more about Paul’s theology of the Spirit in Romans 8:1-17
The prophets and apostles present Israel’s Messiah as the one who truly obeyed the law and loved God and neighbor. Jesus was the kind of human and the kind of Israelite, that God made us to be, but that we perpetually fail to be. He did this on our behalf so that faithless people might receive life and blessing instead of death. This is ultimately what Moses was hoping for, a day when God transforms the hearts of his people so that they can love God and others.
The conclusion of the Torah is kind of a downer and Moses’ speech is somber and his prediction is grave. However, the whole point of this story is that humans can not achieve the new creation on their own.
We are in desperate need of help in the deepest way, which is precisely what Jesus came to offer when he did for us what we could never do for ourselves.
The Ten Commandments, all the laws of the Torah, Israel’s failure and rebellion,
it all points to the future new covenant of
God transforming the hearts of his people.
This is the only way that our old humanity
and this broken creation
will be ushered into a new future.
Psalm 33:12 says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!” The psalmist is speaking of the nation of Israel. God chose Israel as the nation through which He would bring His promised Messiah (Deuteronomy 18:15; Malachi 4:5–6; Isaiah 7:14–16). He promised to provide, bless, and protect the Israelites if they followed Him.
But the Old Testament gives us heartbreaking details of what happened when they turned away from Him (Ezekiel 5; 20:8; Isaiah 1). Israel’s history shows us some of the consequences that can befall a nation when its people turn away from God.
No other nation on earth will ever have the position that Israel has in God’s grand plan. It would be a mistake to “claim” many of the specific promises that God made to Israel, because they were
for a specific time and purpose.
For example, nations today are not promised bumper crops and healthy livestock if they obey the Mosaic Law (see Deuteronomy 28:4); that promise was for Israel under the Old Covenant in the Promised Land—the blessing was specifically tied to the land of Israel (verse 11). But many of the general principles found in Scripture are applicable to everyone. We can learn from Israel’s history what generally to expect when nations honor the Lord and what generally to expect when they rebel against His commands.
When the Israelites refused to enter the Promised Land after hearing the report of the ten faithless spies in Numbers 13:31–33, they wanted to choose new leaders to take them back to Egypt (Numbers 14:1–4). At this rebellion, God was going to strike the entire nation down and start a new nation through Moses (Numbers 14:5–12). It was only through Moses’ pleading with the LORD for mercy that the Israelites were not destroyed (Numbers 14:13–20).
While Moses’ entreaty saved the Israelites from total destruction, it did not save them from judgment. In Numbers 14:21–23, the LORD declares, “But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it” (ESV, emphasis added).
No adult Israelites who departed Egypt in the exodus would be allowed to enter the Promised Land. At first glance, this seems like a particularly harsh punishment. However, the LORD was not judging the Israelites only for lacking the faith to enter the Promised Land. The Israelites had previously “tested” the LORD on ten separate occasions. It was the cumulative effect of all those incidents that led the LORD to pronounce this judgment on the Israelites.
What were the ten times the Israelites tested the LORD?
(1) Lacking faith before the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:11–12)
(2) Complaining over the bitter water at Marah (Exodus 15:24)
(3) Complaining in the Desert of Sin (Exodus 16:3)
(4) Collecting more manna than they were supposed to (Exodus 16:20)
(5) Attempting to collect manna on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:27–29)
(6) Complaining over the lack of water at Rephidim (Exodus 17:2–3)
(7) Engaging in idolatry in the golden calf incident (Exodus 32:7–10)
(8) Complaining at Taberah (Numbers 11:1–2)
(9) Complaining over the lack of food (Numbers 11:4)
(10) Failing to trust God and enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:1–4)
Truly the LORD is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression,” just as Moses said (Numbers 14:18). Were it not for the LORD’s patience and mercy, judgment would have occurred earlier. God’s mercy toward Israel is a powerful illustration of 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is . . . patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
As long as the Israelites honored the Lord, destroyed idol temples, and kept God’s commandments, the Lord was actively involved in their defense when other nations fought against them. Exodus 14 is the first example of the Lord as Defender for the newly formed nation of Israel. As Moses led the people out of Egypt, Pharaoh and his armies raced after them. The people were terrified and began to doubt whether Moses knew what he was doing. But then “Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still’” (Exodus 14:13–14). What followed was the miraculous parting of the Red Sea (verses 21–22).
In contrast to this miraculous intervention, the Bible gives us examples of God refusing to intervene when destruction came upon Israel. Second Kings, beginning in chapter 24, details the end of God’s blessing on Israel. God’s chosen people had defied the Lord, built idol temples, and filled their lives with fornication, murder, and adultery. They had desecrated the temple and ignored the Law for generations. God sent prophets to call them to repentance, but they would not listen and often killed those messengers (Luke 11:27–28). The Lord had warned them repeatedly, and, when they refused to listen, He sent judgment in the form of invaders who took them captive and destroyed their cities (2 Kings 24:12–14). The once-great nation had been brought low and lost the blessings God desired to give it. The general principle we learn from this is that sin brings negative consequences. Galatians 6:7 is God’s warning to individuals and to nations that He will not be mocked. We reap what we sow.
Many nations of antiquity are nonexistent now, having brought God’s judgment upon themselves for their sin. Edom (Jeremiah 49:17–22), Assyria (Zephaniah 2:13–15), Sodom (Genesis 18:20), and Babylon (Jeremiah 51) were all wiped out, according to the biblical prophets, for their evil before the Lord. There remain no representatives of the Hittites (Exodus 23:23), Moabites (Zephaniah 2:8–10), or Philistines (Zephaniah 2:5) due to their stubborn rebellion against the Lord.
God blessed Israel in prospering them when the people honored Him. God had brought them into a land that was “flowing with milk and honey” (Numbers 14:8). When they obeyed Him, He promised to provide all they needed and to protect their lives (Exodus 23:25–26). He cared that they lived peacefully and happily (1 Kings 4:25; Psalm 29:11; Proverbs 19:23). He commanded them to honor His Sabbaths so that they would have rest (Leviticus 19:30). But, when Israel followed wicked kings into idolatry and harlotry, God sent famines and pestilence on the land that He loved (Ezekiel 5:17). We learn from this that the Lord delights in prospering His loyal servants (Psalm 25:12–13; Proverbs 13:21). Material wealth is not proof that God is blessing a nation, since evil kings and countries prosper too. But, when we honor the Lord and obey His commands, we reap the benefits of living honorably, morally, and honestly. A nation that honors God’s laws reaps that benefit as well. History shows that those that do not are often destroyed from within.
God gives us His laws for our own good. He created us to fellowship with Him and walk in righteousness. When we do that, we are living within the healthy boundaries He established and are protected from much of the heartache and catastrophe Satan devises. But, when a nation turns away from the true God and becomes its own god, the Lord removes His protective hand and allows that nation to experience the world it has demanded. Romans 1:18–32 shows us the progression of people and nations that have defied God and redefined morality. Homosexuality, unbridled lust, and idolatry are all part of God’s judgment on a nation that has turned away from Him.
The good news is that God knows those who are His and promises to reward them, even when all others have turned away. Malachi 3:13–18 contains one of the most comforting passages in the Old Testament. It reminds us that God is watching, He knows all, and He will judge righteously. Even when a nation turns away from God, individuals within that nation can still follow Him and know that their names are written in God’s book of remembrance.