June 5, 2021
Deuteronomy 1:34 – 40 (NASB)
Clergy, Cameron/Ross Camp Ground UMC
34 “Then the Lord heard the sound of your words, and He was angry and swore an oath, saying, 35 ‘Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give your fathers, 36 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him I will give the land on which he has set foot, and to his sons, because he has followed the Lord fully.’ 37 The Lord was angry with me also on your account, saying, ‘Not even you shall enter there. 38 Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, shall himself enter there; encourage him, for he will give it to Israel as an inheritance. 39 Moreover, your little ones who, you said, would become plunder, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good and evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall take possession of it. 40 But as for you, turn around and set out for the wilderness by the way of the [a]Red Sea.’
Deuteronomy 1:34 – 40 (NASB)
DevotionThis revelation is harsh – demonstrating the anger and the wrath of God. Many have pointed to this and similar portions of scripture to justify not believing the Bible and rejecting salvation in Jesus Christ. I have often heard persons say, “Who wants to believe in that kind of vengeful God? He could get mad and wipe me off the face of the earth!” Others will say, “That’s why I reject Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. Give me Jesus, who is kind and loving and will lead me like a shepherd, instead.”
Such statements are made by persons who do not realize that the same Yahweh who demonstrates wrath and judgment also offers love and compassion. What makes the difference, and why does it matter? Some will question the choice of this text for an inspirational devotion. One of my heroes as a child was John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States. In his famous speech at Rice Stadium on September 12, 1962, he challenged America and the world to reach for the moon and the stars with these immortal words:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. (https://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/ricetalk.htm, accessed 05/14/2021).
Texts like this can be difficult to understand and to fit into our conception of God. And yet we find it important to read and wrestle with these texts. Anger and wrath are as much a part of God’s nature as they are part of ours. If we are to know and understand the God we love and serve, we must strive to know all of Him, even the features that leave us uncertain and uncomfortable.
We must ask, “Why is God angry? What is the reason behind this?” The reason, as stated in Deuteronomy 1:32, is that after Moses recounted the journey from Egypt to Sinai, the people “did not trust the Lord [their] God.” After everything God had done for them in bringing them out of captivity in Egypt: providing food and water in the desert; giving constant direction through the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night; demonstrating corrective discipline for mistrust and disobedience. After all this, they still did not trust God to overcome the difficulties and to give them a safe place to raise their children.
This sounds so much like us, doesn’t it? We say we trust God, but when difficulty arises, we try to work the situation out ourselves. We “give everything over to God” in faith, but then turn right around and take it back when we hit a bump in the road. We live in exceedingly difficult times. We are faced with situations beyond our control: injustice, poverty, homelessness, helplessness,
human trafficking and other ills on hand every day. These factors and others drive our attention away from God and challenge the Christian worldview of a loving and powerful God who is in control.
And yet, there is hope. There is a way out. Read again verse 39: “Moreover, your little ones WHO YOU SAID would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it.” In later passages, the Bible tells us that all the children 20 years and younger were led into the land of God’s promise by Joshua and Caleb, the two persons who believed God and saw the possibility in the land.
One of the remarkable truths of the Christian life is that we are continually offered the freedom of choice in our situation. Will we choose to be like the unbelieving, untrusting rabble that die in the wilderness? Or will we be like the uncertain, untrained children who will allow ourselves to be led by others who know the way better than we? If we choose the latter course, as children of faith, some things will die along the way. Not every one of our hopes and dreams are suited for life with God. Some of the possessions that seem so valuable may become too weighty and will need to fall by the wayside. Some acquaintances and friends, even some family members, may choose other avenues and leave off following with us.
Remember JFK’s speech: we walk with God, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” Sometimes this road is difficult and dangerous, but it is the only road that leads to eternity. Life in Christ with God is the only true life. This truth is what Jesus was getting at when He said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing,” and “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 15:5 and John 14:6). Every other so-called “way” is false and doomed to failure. The life of God is the only true and eternal life, even if it is sometimes difficult and frightening. Ultimately this path is all the more satisfying and meaningful as a result of the difficulty.
God, let us love you, love life, and love those who travel with us down this road that can seem both familiar and uncertain at one and the same time. May we all come to trust and love you, God, and cherish you as much as you cherish us, and may you help us to build unity and order from the chaos around us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.