The Lord was going to fight for the Israelites against the formidably tall Anakites. However, this was not because of the righteousness of the Israelites; it was because their enemies were wickedly evil. Similarly, Jesus did not die for us because of any righteousness on our behalf for we are also ‘a stiff-necked, disobedient people’ (v.6). Jesus died to destroy the works of the devil. He died to conquer the wicked kingdom that had taken up residence in the world. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners and gave us righteousness by his death on the cross. He redeemed us with the sacrifice of his perfect blood.
Moses recalled how the Lord wanted to destroy the Israelites after they had made an idol to worship – the Golden Calf. He had left them for forty days and forty nights while he received the two tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments, ‘inscribed with the finger of God’ (v.10). Moses went through real physical hardships. He hadn’t eaten bread or drunk water for forty days before he was horrified by the idol worship of the Israelites. He immediately started another fast. He didn’t eat or drink anything for eighty days, forty of which were spent prostrated before the Lord. He must have been supernaturally sustained by the presence of God. Moses gives a great example of the benefit of fasting. By fasting for so long, he persuaded God not to kill his brother, Aaron, and the rest of the Israelite nation. If we want God to answer a specific prayer, fasting is a tried and tested way of bringing us closer to God. It is hugely beneficial to fast just one day a week – just drinking water. Consult with a doctor beforehand if you have any underlying medical conditions. Fasting regularly for 24-36 hours also sharpens our minds, brings us closer to suffering people in the world and delivers some real health benefits – normalising our sugar metabolism and fighting off type 2 diabetes.
It must have been heart breaking for Moses to come down from the blazing mountain, full of positivity, hope and faith to find his people had so quickly gone astray. He deliberately smashed the stone tablets that been inscribed by God. He probably didn’t think his fellow Israelites deserved them. The same shock happened to Peter, James and John when they come down the mountain after the Transfiguration. They had briefly experienced the glory of God but, as soon as they got back to society, they are exposed to failure, with the other disciples failing to exorcise a demon (Luke 9:37-40).
Moses gave an example of how to dispose of a cursed object – in this case, the Golden Calf. He crushed it, ground it to powder and threw the dust into a stream (v.21). Exorcists recommend that if we have to dispose of cursed objects, they must be burnt outside (preferably after being sprinkled with holy water) while we pray intently for protection and then the ashes must be thrown into running water.
The Israelites were repeat offenders at making God really angry with them at: Horeb, ‘Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah’ (v.22). They repeatedly rebelled and didn’t trust or obey God. Moses successfully interceded for them by reminding God of the promises he had made to the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and pointing out that God’s reputation would be damaged if he killed them all. God listened to Moses. God loves a difficult challenge. It would have been too easy to conquer the Promised Land with an obedient and trusting people. He showed his greatness by helping wicked, stubborn and sinful people to do it.
God wrote the Ten Commandments on a second set of stone tablets to keep in the ark of the covenant. I always thought the Ten Commandments were written on rather dull grey stones with rounded tops. It turns out, according to ancient Jewish tradition, that they were rectangular and written on blue sapphire. Blue is God’s favourite colour. The original sapphire tablets may have been from God’s throne and the second set that Moses chiselled out came from a convenient sapphire mine that God told Moses was under his tent. The writing was engraved through the stones, visible on both sides but miraculously legible right to left on both sides. https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1114513/jewish/What-Did-the-Tablets-Look-Like.htm
The tribe of Levi had been set apart to: ‘carry the ark of the covenant’, to ‘stand before the Lord to minister‘ and to ‘pronounce blessings in his name’ (10:8).
Moses gave us a perfect summary of the nature of God: ‘For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing’ (v.17-18).
We are called on to be hospitable and generous to migrants and refugees. We are encouraged to never neglect orphans and widows and prioritise them over empty religious practices: ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world’ (James 1:27).
Notice that Moses acknowledges that there are other gods and other lords. Ancient peoples did not make up all the demonic entities that they tried to appease with blood sacrifices. There were dozens of demonic minor gods around the world with preternatural powers. However, our Lord God is ruler of all of them as he originally created all the other pretenders to his throne – before they rebelled. God loves everything he created – even the demons. However, they still face justice and have chosen eternal separation from him. God loves them so much He respects their free will to have chosen their own final destiny.
Moses acknowledged that the normal type of circumcision is not producing obedient people who love God. He called on the Israelites to ‘circumcise your hearts‘ and not to be ‘stiff-necked any longer‘. There are billions of stiff-necked unbelievers in the world today, even though God has written his rules on our hearts. We need to pray for him to soften our hearts of stone and make us realise we have a heart of flesh.
God had been good to the Israelites. There were now over two million of them about to enter the promised land ‘as numerous as the stars in the sky’ (v.22), they had prospered and exceedingly multiplied from their seventy forefathers who had gone down into Egypt.
Jesus was so popular that people in the massive crowd trampled on one another. He warned us against hypocrisy (v.1) and predicted today’s tabloid press that loves to dig up the dirt on celebrities, particularly those that have an ‘holier than thou’ attitude, ‘there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known (V.2).
It is always best to be careful about what we say as the devil will remember our unkind words and use them to prosecute us. The devil can’t read bad thoughts going through our minds – only God can do that – but as soon as we verbalise something, it can be used in evidence against us. Best to vocally praise God as much as we can throughout the day.
Jesus told us to fear God not men, ‘Fear him who, after the killing of the body has power to throw you into hell’ (v.5). Humans are the pride of his creation. He has tattooed our name on the palm of his hand and numbered all the hairs on our head. We are ‘worth more than many sparrows (v.7).
We must always be proud to acknowledge Jesus in front of men (v.8). Jesus gave a very worrying warning about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. It can never be forgotten. If we count ourselves as a Christian we are in the clear, we haven’t committed this sin. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is defined as ‘final impenitence’: ”blasphemy’ does not properly consist in offending against the Holy Spirit in words; it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the the cross” https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/unforgivable-sin-1164. Demons can never be forgiven, because even though they knew God face to face, they rejected him and persisted in impenitence.
Jesus told us not to worry when facing synagogues as the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say (v.12). I had prepared some notes when I stood in front of 5,000 people at a union conference to say it would be wrong to condone abortion. However, the chair person just turned my microphone off. So much for freedom of speech.
Jesus refuted the prosperity gospel with a clear warning against greed, ‘“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist on the abundance of his possessions”’ (12:15). God will give us what we need, not always what we want. Greed is responsible for most of the mess we have made of this planet: wars, famines, pollution and destitution. There are enough resources for everybody. Economists are wrong to think only a few can prosper at the expense of the poor. The antidote to greed is generosity. We must learn to be cheerful givers. ‘Sell your possessions and give to the poor’ (v.33). I have spent some time during lockdown emptying items from the loft (‘where the moth destroys’ (v.33)). It’s amazing how dusty, dirty and shabby stored items are when they are dragged back out into the light. The items in our loft possessed my family, rather than us possessing them. They were stopping us from moving and downsizing to a smaller house, they were taking up our time and energy as we shuffled them around and they were a fire hazard. I am completely sold on minimalism. The fewer items I possess, the more time I have to spend on projects such as this one.
The parable of the rich fool (v.14-21) inspired me to give up my secular job. I worked out that I had stored exactly enough money to give me a pension, through the grace of God. No more, no less. I could have stayed in my well-paid job and built bigger financial barns but I could have died the very next week and then ‘who will get what you have prepared for yourself?‘(v.20). I should have left earlier and relied on God to supply my daily bread. However, I am still relying on him to prevent the stock market from crashing too badly, which would evaporate my pension. I can now spend every day building barns of knowledge within me, reading the rich word of God. Halleluiah.
It’s very difficult not to worry about our lives and how to provide for our families. Looking back, I can see that God provided everything I needed at exactly the time I needed it and so, I must assume he will continue to do this. We can’t add a single hour to our life by worrying (v.25). In fact, worry and stress is likely to take years off our lives. Praying in Tongues can help massively by building us up internally and distracting us from our issues. Hand over control of your mouth to the Holy Spirit, whenever you are in a stressful situation. You will feel the benefit.
We need to seek the kingdom of our Father first and He will then look after all our practical, daily needs. ‘Our Father, give us our daily bread’. This great prayer doesn’t say, ‘Give me a year’s worth of bread, so I can store it in the freezer’. It encourages us to come daily to the Father and ask for our needs.
As we receive our Father’s generosity from his inexhaustible supply in heaven, it encourages us to reach out in generosity to others, particularly orphans and the widows.
Jesus told us not to worry. Cue a great song to practice one’s whistling to.
King David is still having issues, ‘my soul is downcast within me’ (v.6b).
We respond to people’s testimonies when we see that God’s love and care has touched someone emotionally deep inside them themselves: ‘Deep calls to deep’, (v.7).
He acknowledges that God is still his rock (v.9) even when he feels forgotten.
David speaks to his own soul and encourages it to hope in God.
David has full confidence, ‘for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God’ (v.11).
This reminds me of ‘doubting’ Thomas’ exclamation to the risen Jesus, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:28).