Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents an eight-part series of messages exploring the book of Deuteronomy. This week, Part 2: “Don’t Forget Him”.
Part 2: “Don’t Forget Him”
Our loving Father, we remember this morning that we don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from your mouth. And we pray that these words would feed us and strengthen us in our knowledge and love of you. And we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Now, friends, we’re spending eight Sunday mornings in the book of Deuteronomy, a very wonderful book. The book which Jesus quoted when he was faced with the tempter. And one of the other reasons that Deuteronomy is such a wonderful book is because it is Moses preaching, Moses preaching to Israel. And he’s preaching to them on the brink of their entry into the Promised Land. Those of you who remember and love John Chapman will remember that he used to say that there is nothing as good as good preaching. Because when you sit under good preaching and you get a vision of God and your hopes lift, there’s nothing to match it. And he also said there’s nothing as bad as bad preaching. But this is, from Moses, great preaching.
And last week we looked at the first sermon in the book, which is basically chapters one to four, where Moses reminded the Israelites of their journey, including their 40 years in the wilderness for their unbelief. Then he told the people, as we saw last week, to heed God’s word, to put away idols when they get into the land, and to greatly value the God who’s chosen them. That was the thrust of last Sunday.
It was a very important introduction last Sunday. And if you missed it, I hope you will listen online if you can. Someone who was here last week, that is my wife’s husband, said that he thought that it was a very important sermon. The father of my children thought it was a very important sermon. And my mother’s oldest, thought that it was a very important sermon. So you might like to take note of it if you can.
Today we’re going to begin the second sermon. We’re going to actually spend six Sundays on the second sermon, because it goes from chapters 5 to 28. And if Deuteronomy is set out like a treaty as I mentioned last week, and it is, what we saw last week is the king with his people basically giving them an introduction to the treaty. And now we come to what he expects of his people. And it begins, as you would see if you looked at Deuteronomy 5, with the Ten Commandments. This is where you’d expect the treaty of expectations to begin. Then the rest of the sermon, from 6 to 28, goes on to kind of unpack the commandments in very practical ways.
You Were a Slave and the Lord Redeemed You
Now one of the reasons why we should love Deuteronomy is because there are sentences in the book that are really precious, sentences which should be seen and written on a card or placed on the wall or put near your desk. John Newton had one of the verses of Deuteronomy printed and placed above his mantelpiece, and it was a text that said, “You are to remember that you were a slave and the Lord your God redeemed you.” And he thought this was such an important text that he put it in the middle of his living room.
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And I want to give you one example of this. In Chapter 5:29 the people have been given the commandments and the Lord has waited for their response and their response is, “This is good. We will do the commandments.” And in Chapter 5:29 the Lord says, “If only their hearts were inclined with their words.” It’s a very, very interesting sentence, “Oh, that their hearts were in their words.” And that is one of those sentences that’s worth remembering, because in our best moments we do want keen hearts and the Lord wants keen hearts. And in his kindness and power He’s able to give us keen hearts.
Now the aim in the series is not to dwell on some of these great sentences, because there’s too many to really do business with. Our aim in the series is to get the lay of the land of Deuteronomy, and we’ll stop on some key sentences every now and again.
This morning what I want to do is I want to take a few minutes on Chapter 5, and I want you to notice God’s call to be covenant people. Then we’re going to look at Chapter 6 where God calls them to be consistent in all the different aspects of their life. And then in Chapter 7 we’re going to look at how God calls them to combat. There is a fight to be fought.
One Israelite Was Faithful to God
And just before we dive into the text, I want to say to you now the most important thing that I’m going to say in the whole series of Deuteronomy. And I may find different ways of saying this every Sunday. And I hope that you’ll listen to this and get it, because at the earlier service some people found this particularly important. And you need to know this if you’re to have any joy in your Christian life, or peace or reality or hope. And that is this: that we’re not reading the text of Deuteronomy and saying to ourselves, “They failed, we must do better.” That would be a great, great mistake. It’s no good us reading the book of Deuteronomy and saying, “Well, God told them to be very careful with idols, and they were not. But we will try to do better. No. Israel failed, God remained faithful, and one Israelite finally appeared who was faithful. If you trace down the Bible line, one Israelite finally appeared who was faithful and did everything that God’s word demanded, and he did it from the heart, and he did it consistently, and he did it perfectly, and his name is Jesus Christ. And when our hope is in him, he catches us up in his victory.
So don’t read Deuteronomy as God’s instruction and then just jump over to yourself in the pew. That is just moralizing, that’s to forget Christ, that’s not Christianity. We need to see what God said to His people in Deuteronomy, remembering that they failed. We need to trace the line forward to Jesus who did not fail; we need to put our confidence in Jesus. And then he, as it were, clothes us in his righteousness and he begins to produce in us a new life which by grace is able to live more faithfully.
So every demand of Deuteronomy was met by Jesus, and that’s why he’s our hope, that’s why we sing hymns. That’s why we are people of confidence in him, that’s why we have a gospel to tell people. So let’s think about these three chapters together quite quickly.
God’s Call to Covenant
First of all Deuteronomy 5 is what I would call God’s call to covenant. You’ll see, if you look at the first few verses, that Moses is speaking to Israel. They’ve got Sinai behind them where they got the Ten Commandments 40 years ago, they’ve got the Promised Land in front of them, it’s just a matter of days before they move in. And then there is this very striking language where Moses says to Israel, “The covenant is with us.” It’s us. Don’t think of that as ancient history. “It’s for you,” says Moses.
And then comes this crucial sentence. Look at Chapter 5, verse 6, where the Lord says, “I’ve rescued you.” Now that’s a very important sentence to hear, “I’ve rescued you.” Because He’s now going to on and talk about how God’s rescued people how to live with the Ten Commandments.
So the Ten Commandments you see are not a ladder that you climb up to get to God as if you do your best to keep the commandments and do your best to save yourself. No, God says, “I save you.” Then you begin to live faithfully. And the Lord says, “I chose you because I wanted to choose you.” It’s got nothing to do with your performance; it’s got nothing to do with your potential. “I chose you, you belong to me. And, therefore, this is the first commandment that you need to know, this is how my people are to live: one God.”
Then commandment number two, “Don’t try and replace me, don’t try and reinvent me.” Then commandment number three, “Don’t dishonour me in the way you speak or live.” And then commandment number four, “Find your rest in me.” Then five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
So these commandments tell us a lot about God because they tell us He’s holy, wonderful, wise and he’s good. These commandments tell us a lot about Israel because if they were able to keep the commandments and they did keep the commandments, they would be a very, very peaceful and blessed people with a very big impact on the nations around them. But we know that Israel failed to keep the commandments, and even the Lord knew that their heart was not in the commandments. And it would take the sinless Saviour to come into the world, the obedient and the perfect Jesus Christ. And he would come and keep God’s law, and he would die for law breakers, and he would give to us as a gift his righteousness and begin a new life in our hearts. So that’s Chapter 5, the call to be the covenant people of God.
You notice that the Israelites are informed, but they’re needing to be transformed. And I just want to say in passing that it’s not difficult to walk into a building like this and be informed, but what you need is to be transformed by faith in Christ and his new life in you.
God’s Call to Consistency
The second chapter, 6, is what I’ve called God’s call to consistency. And you’ll notice in verse one that Moses says, “These are the laws that you are to keep so that,” verse two, “your families may fear me.” What an interesting sequence. He says, “These are the laws. And if you put them into practice, you’ll grow in your fear of me, your healthy fear of me.” You would expect it to say, “I want you to fear me so that you’ll keep the laws and the statutes.” But he says, “Keeps the laws and your statutes, and your family will grow in their healthy fear.”
You remember fear of God is not a cowering fear, but a referential fear, the sort of fear that we have when we face the ocean. In fact, in Jeremiah 5 the Lord says, “Do you not yet fear me? I’m the one who puts the beaches in place and prevents the ocean from basically taking over.” So he likens himself in Jeremiah 5 to the sea.
And then in Chapter 6, verse 4, comes this very, very famous text, what is often called the Shema. The “Shema” is the Hebrew word “hear” or “listen,” “Listen up, listen carefully.” Which says, “The Lord is one, there is one God. And, therefore,” Chapter 6, verse 4 and 5, “you’re to give your whole heart to Him.” This is the verse that Jesus quoted when he was asked what is the greatest commandment. And it’s a very wise commandment and it’s a very powerful commandment because if there were two gods, well, you’d have to split your heart.
Imagine there was Yahweh and there was Baal. Well, you’d have to split yourself fifty-fifty. But because there is only one God, we are to give him our heart, our strength and our soul. And then we become integrated, so he’s honoured and we are blessed. And the integrity of this heart devotion is to flow into everything.
So that’s why we read in Chapter 6, verse 7, “Wherever you go with your family”…when you get back in the cars after this meeting and you’re driving home and you’ve got an opportunity to reinforce in your children the grace of God, well, Moses says take up that opportunity. Whether you’re sitting or walking, when you’re on holidays, when you’re getting ready for bed. There are great opportunities, says Moses, to teach and reteach for your children.
Was it literal that they were to stick texts on their foreheads or put texts on their door posts? Probably it was metaphorical. But you know that the Jews did this literally. And you still see today some who’ve got the laws hanging on the sides of their heads, and you’ll often see the Mezuzah little symbol on the outside of a Jewish home. But the principle behind this is that Moses is saying on behalf of the Lord, “I want you to remember the Lord wherever you go.” From, we might say, breakfast to bedtime. Help your children see the Lord’s hand everywhere.
And there are life lessons to be taught everywhere. I was just talking to somebody this morning and they were saying they’d had a bit of holiday in the country and how easy it is to see the Lord’s hand when you’re in the country. It’s not quite so easy when you’re in the city. You’ve got to take special thought and care as to how to draw lessons for your little ones from the city life which remind us of God and His sovereign position, His kingship.
The Jews were very good at this. They had their festivals, they had their feasts, they had their meals, they had their symbols, they had their senses and their incense. They had lots of ways of reminding people of the reality of God. And we need to think together about how to build into our life those reminders of God so that He’s not seen as somebody who lives in a box on a Sunday for one hour.
We are very forgetful. We forget not so much the facts, but we forget the significance. And no wonder Jesus has built into our gathering as we’ve celebrated already this morning the bread and the wine so that we’ll not forget the most significant event in the all of human history, which is the death of Christ and the way back into fellowship with God.
Don’t Forget God
So could we forget God when things are prosperous? The answer is from Deuteronomy 6, look at verse 10, we could. “When you get into the Land,” says Moses, “And you suddenly find there are towns there that have been vacated, and there are vineyards that somebody else has fixed, and there are wells that someone else has dug. And you’re tempted to say, ‘This is great, we don’t even need God anymore.’ That’s the time,” says Moses, “where you’re not to forget Him.” Prosperity is a dangerous time for me; it’s a dangerous time for most.
Could we forgot God and turn to idols? Chapter 6, verse 13: yes, we could. And all of us have the idol or two that lingers and waits and tempts. And Moses says in 6:13, “If you toy with God, if you use other gods, then He will bring you to your senses. He’ll rise up in jealousy; He’ll bring you back to Himself.” Maybe He’ll bring you back the hard way.
Could we forget God in adversity? Look at 6:16. Yes, we could. Because the Israelites, when they got to Massah where there was no water, began to doubt God and they began to grumble. And something I’ve not realized until this week, I’d always assumed that they tested God by grumbling. I thought they tested His patience. But they tested God because they said, “If God was with us, then He would be giving us everything that we need when we want it.” And that was the test. And God was dishonoured because they were basically saying, “We’ll believe He’s with us when He does what we want.” And they were forgetting that he had promised to be with them, full stop. So they tested Him.
You see, therefore, how searching this is for Israel. God is calling them through Moses to love Him with their heart, their mind and their strength. Which means that we make decisions that consider Him, we make choices that consider Him, we use our enthusiasm for him and we don’t give Him the leftovers of our lives. And we’re not to forget Him in the good times, and we’re not to forget Him in the bad times. And we’re to help our children to remember Him. And if all this sounds too much, look at Chapter 6:20, “When your son turns around and says, ‘Dad, why are we doing all this?’ Well,” says Moses, “you’re to tell your children, ‘We used to be slaves. And the Lord has rescued us and made us His people. He loved us and, therefore, we seek to love him back.'”
Well, was Israel consistent? No, they were not. Sadly they were not. But there was one Israelite who was consistent. In the prosperity, faced with idolatry, faced with adversity, the Lord Jesus was utterly, utterly faithful. And we look to him for our forgiveness, and we look to him for our security, and we look to him for a new heart. I can’t keep this word, which is here in Deuteronomy 6. And I certainly can’t win God over by my performance. But when I take myself to Jesus Christ, and I took myself to Jesus Christ a few decades ago, he welcomes, adopts, forgives, secures, renews, transforms. And so we have new strength to live consistently.
God’s Call to Combat
The third and the last chapter is Deuteronomy 7, which is God’s call to combat. And in Deuteronomy 7 at the beginning there’s a very confronting command, and that is that God’s people are to go in and take over the land. And the land is occupied.
Now given that our news reports at the moment are filled with tension regarding religious violence, we need to be very clear on Deuteronomy 7. Deuteronomy 7 is a one-off Promised Land takeover. One writer calls this “a never to be repeated type of war.” And the reason that God’s people are to take over this land…there are a number of reasons. One is that He’s planned it for them. But another reason is that the occupants are idolaters, ruthless, rebellious, resistant and have been for centuries. And now God, in His judgement, is going to use His people as an instrument to bring His judgement to the land.
And this opposition which the nations have exercised towards God is going to be replaced by a people who are to take God seriously. There’s to be no plunder as the Israelites move in, there’s to be no boasting, no bragging. And the reason that the land is to be decimated is so that God’s people can live in the world without compromise or contamination.
Now given that there’s been a number of letters recently in the papers saying that it would be a good thing if we removed all religions because all religions breed aggression, let’s be very clear on Deuteronomy 7. Do not assume that Deuteronomy 7 is repeated in the Old Testament. Do not assume that it is a theme of the Old Testament. Do not assume that it’s tolerated in the New Testament, that kind of aggression. But also don’t apologize for Deuteronomy 7, because it is not as if God has demeaned himself by taking the Promised Land. This chapter teaches the glory of God, this chapter teaches that He’s a God who removes evil, which is exactly what is needed. And He’s a God who loves mercy and extends it globally, which is exactly what is needed.
And the supreme example of God doing this, of course, is the very first Good Friday. Where there’s no doubt in the world that God deals with evil, because He causes His own son to be executed and exiled for sin. And at the same time He offers, in a global way mercy, forgiveness and pardon to all who will turn and take.
So in Deuteronomy 7 God is setting forth this special takeover of the Promised Land with good reason. And He reminds them of their weakness as they go into the land. Look at Chapter 7, verse 7. He says…and these are some of the loveliest verses in the whole of the scriptures. He says, “I want to remind you that you’re weak in numbers. I didn’t choose you because you’re the most numerous. I didn’t look down,” says God, “from heaven and say, ‘Well, this is a big task. I better find the biggest nation I can.’ No,” the Lord says, “I looked down and I chose you. And I didn’t choose you because you’re the biggest nation. You’re not the biggest nation, and you started out very small. I chose you,” says the Lord. And you wait for Him to say something about their greatness, and He says, “I chose you because of my greatness.”
“I set my love on you,” Deuteronomy 7:7 and 8. “I set my love on you because I set my love on you. There is nothing in you that magnetized my love from heaven to Earth. It came by grace to you, that’s why I loved you.” And so the success of Israel is going to be the Lord’s doing. He’s the one who’s going to give them victory and He’s also going to give them plenty of children, crops, flocks and health. So He says, “I’m doing this in your weakness.”
And the other weakness for the Israelites is in verse 17, they’re weak in muscle. He says, “You’ll look at the other nations and you’ll say, ‘They’re much stronger than we are.’ And they are much stronger and they’re settled.” But the lord says, “You’re not going to win the victory, I’m going to drive the nations out for you. I’m going to do it,” verse 22, verse 23, “slowly, but surely.” And then He says to them, “And when the success comes your way and silver and gold is lying all around the place, don’t give your heart to the silver and gold because it will lead you astray.” Be very careful.
Now once again, as so often in the scripture, God, you see, takes the weak things to win victory in His strength. This is why He chose Abraham and Sarah when they were ancient. This is He chose Moses when he was cowardly and unwilling. This is why He chose Israel when they were small and weak. This is why He chose Gideon, the youngest of the family, and David, the youngest of the family. And this is why He is pleased to save people when they understand Christ crucified. Weakness. But there in the cross is the wisdom of God and the power of God.
So, dear friends, we read these chapters this morning. You see we read God’s call to covenant, fellowship, and we read God’s call to consistency. And we read God’s call to combat. And the proper response to these chapters is to say we’ve not responded to His call to fellowship, to consistency or to combat to fight the good fight. But how thankful we are that there is one who was utterly and perfectly faithful in the call of God to walk with Him. Consistent in all his conduct, faithful in battle right to the end. And having put our confidence in him, we find our security. And his new life in us begins to produce in us a new desire to walk in fellowship with him, in covenant fellowship. A new desire to be consistent in all the areas of life, not a select number. And to be faithful to him in the combat of fighting the good fight of the gospel and of godliness to his glory.