"Deuteronomy: Israel's Chance

To Follow Christ Completely,"

With Some Follow-up in Joshua,

By Ronald Ginther

Deuteronomy chronicles a great watershed time in Israel's pilgrimage to the Promised Land. Moses is about to hand over the reins of leadership to his carefully mentored assistant, Joshua. But he will not lay down his responsibilities and anointing until he has faithfully reminded Israel of her duties toward God, among which the foremost is to love and worship Jehovah above all gods, indeed, love him exclusively, for Jehovah is a jealous God, and will not allow the idols of men a place in the hearts of his Chosen People (Deut. 4:24 and Deut. 6:5).

The people have grievously fallen time and again into rebellion and harlotry (religious as well) during their forty year wanderings in the wilderness. Is this new generation that has arisen (for the older generation that left Egypt have all died off except for Moses, Caleb, and Joshua) up to the great challenge? Will they obey God and worship Him alone? Will they do what the Lord has commanded through Moses his servant these many years regarding the Tabernacle and keeping holy as even Jehovah is holy? Or will they again, after many protestations of fidelity toward God and His commandments, fall back into idolatry and gross immorality? It remains to be seen what they will do.

This is the momentous valley of decision for Israel. Moses knows it right well. God has brought them to the edge of entering the land. They are in tantalizing sight of it, in fact, having conquered some bordering kingdoms of Sihon and Og who had attacked them. Having divided up the newly conquered territories of Moab and Bashan on the east bank of the Jordan for the tribes of Gad and Reuben and half the tribe of Manasseh (Deut. 3:12, 13), Moses now turns his full attention to the final testament of his burden for Israel--his recapitulation of all that God has gone, all He has led them through, all He expects them to obey in the laws He has given them, and also all He is commanding them to do in the near future--a near future that looms before them as they gaze down from the mountains of Moab into the heart of Canaan, the Promised Land.

What is there so Messianic about this fifth book of Moses it might be asked at this point. Everything! Joshua has the name of Jesus (they are the same); he has been chosen and anointed to lead the people into the Promised Land just as Jesus would lead the people to salvation and the kingdom of God some thousand years after Joshua. This is a taking in the natural, in a figure of holy conquest, what Jesus will accomplish in the spiritual, when he comes to destroy the works of Satan and set free the souls of men from darkness of sin and death and the devil.

Moses is beyond question Messianic. Like the shepherd he really is, he has led the people faithfully to this very point, from which they will be launched into the Promised Land. But he has proven himself an erring man and failed in honoring God in every act, and at Meribah he struck the rock instead of speaking to it to produce water as God had commanded. For this dishonoring of God, he will not be permitted to enter in. He will die in Moab on Mt. Nebo, and Joshua instead will take the people in. (See Deut. 3: 23-28). Thus the Messianic authority and leadership and anointing are passed from Moses to Joshua, without a break or spiritual interregnum (Deut. 34:9).

No other nation has been so exalted as Israel to be led by Almighty God in this fashion (Deut. 4:32, 33, 34; Deut. 4:34). Almighty God has promised to send his Angel before them, and this Angel can only be Christ in person. No figure, no type, it is the Second Person of the Godhead. As related in the book of Joshua, Joshua, going out one day in the field, sees a strange man, and challenges him as a military man would do, asking if he were with him or against him, and the man replies,"No," meaning it is the wrong question to ask his Commander-in-chief. Realizing he is standing on holy ground before His Maker and Christ, Joshua falls to the ground in homage.

But before the military operation begins, Deuteronomy through the lips of Moses the teacher and lawgiver and commander and prophet sets forth the conditions God has set for everything that pertains to the life and well-being and obedience of the nation. He is careful to leave nothing out. Every part is vital, for the tests that will undoubtedly come ahead on the road. Jesus, responding to Satan's temptations, will one day gaze straight back toward this time and the events of it. Matt. 4:4 links with Deut. 8:3, and Matt. 4:7 likewise is paired with Deut. 6:16, and Matt. 4:10 likewise joins with Deut. 6:13. Just as Moses commissioned his successor, Joshua, in the office of prophet, he also reveals that a greater Prophet is coming (Deut. 18:18).

Moses makes it as plain as it can be made, that God expects the people to do everything that God has commanded through his servant Moses. If they are faithful to obey His holy commandments, only then will they please him and be blessed with victory and favor in the Promised Land (Deut. 8:18, 11:13, 14, 15, 22-25).

This is a most serious charge that Moses relays to the people in his own last testament and final wrapping up of all his words regarding their affairs. They will be cursed, he makes it absolutely clear, if they turn aside and forsake God's commandments, but they will be blessed if they love and obey the Lord Jehovah. It is that simple. Obey God, and you are blessed. Disobey God, and you will be cursed. We see this in the scriptures, particularly in Deut. 28 and Deut. 30:15-20.

Deuteronomy blazes with the magnificence and the glorious inauguration of the Old Covenant, as the type of Christ, Moses and then Joshua in turn, lead the flock of Israel forth to a new life and possession in the Promised Kingdom. It will be a passing possession, a passing and incomplete fulfilment, we already know from scripture; for these things and events are, as Hebrews has said over and over, merely a shadow of the things of Jesus Christ to come. Moreover, the people will falter and sin, and they will not obey the Lord in all ways, and the land will not be theirs fully as God has intended; failing to destroy and drive out the hopelessly depraved Canaanites and six other nations in the land who have fallen under divine judgment (Deut. 7:1), they will share the Promised Land with rank idolators, and these will subvert and pervert the people of God, besides rising up in armed might with hosts of well-equipped, trained fighting men and thousands of chariots to oppress Israel sorely time after time in the future.

Nevertheless, though God knows all that will happen (Deut. 11:26-28; Deut. 28), He instructs Moses to finish his words, setting curses or blessings before them as they are given the conditions for victory or failure, possession or enslavement, joy or despair, obedience or disobedience. The people will not be able to claim that they fell away from God out of ignorance or a lack of godly instruction. They will knowingly depart from the way of God and bring disaster upon themselves, for the words of Moses are carefully written down Deut. 30:24-26) so that there is an enduring record, which loss of memory and forgetfulness of man cannot erase or cloud.

Deuteronomy is, thus, a great summing-up, a detailed recollection, and also an optimistic, forward-going book. It stands at a wonderful and fearful juncture, the most critical point, where the people are made to stand in the valley of decision before the Lord their God (Deut. 30:15-20). Life or death? What will they choose? Later, repeating this same challenge, Joshua speaks out his decision clearly and loudly, that as for him and his house, he will serve the Lord! The people will echo this, but they are rebuked by Joshua. Even before, while Moses is issuing this first challenge, he makes it clear that God knows full well that their hearts are not right at the core, and they will eventually fall into idolatry and disobey and reject God when the chance offers itself (Deut. 29:20-28; 31:14-29).

Moses dies, his death recorded at the end of the book. The book of Joshua, then is a sequel as Eerdman's Commentary states, for it continues the account where it leaves off with Moses's death. Joshua takes over, and it is now time for him to lead. He does so, and they go down the mountain and come to Jericho, which commands the whole region round about and the Jordan as well, for the strong, fortified city lies at the southern entrance to the Promised Land. A new era has dawned. At the beginning the people, with Moses's words still burning their ears, are careful to obey implicitly, and great victory is given them over Jericho. The city walls, which are to be feared as impregnable, fall flat at the mere shouting of the people when they shout as commanded by Joshua. It is God who gains them the great victory by destroying the walls with his mighty power (Deut. 9:3,4,5, 6), for the people well know the voices could never knock walls flat! They rush, each man straight ahead as commanded, into the city and take it for the Lord. The city is the Lord's, lock, stock, and barrel, but here the first sin is committed stealthily. Joshua only finds it out to his shock and horror when afterwards his fighting men are defeated at a much weaker city, Ai. Joshua implores the Lord why this calamity has befallen Israel, as he lies on the ground in despair and sorrow, and the Lord relies, "There is sin in your camp, that's why!

Instructed to single out each tribe and clan and family, Joshua causes the whole nation of tribes to pass before him, until finally the guilty man, Achan, is found out. He has taken a Babylonian garment and precious treasure from Jericho and hidden them under the floor of his tent. This the grevious sin that has brought shame and defeat upon Israel at Ai. To rectify it, Achan is led out into the wilderness with his family and they are stoned. Only when they are dead and their sin punished and covered by a small mountain of stones is God's wrath averted and the people can go on in the task God has given them.

But in saying this much, we have crossed into the book of Joshua. It is time to let go of the narrative, which is stunning and powerful at this time, and turn our attention back to Deuteronomy. What was accomplished? What was not? What commands were given? What were to be disobeyed or neglected? What all did God expect? How did Israel really regard the law of God? Joshua was, despite his great, Messianic anointing, still a mere man. Moses was the same. What could they possibly accomplish of an enduring nature if the people they led refused to follow and obey God's laws and commands? It was, to be sure, a vain, hopeless endeavor, with no possible good forthcoming, if the people did not purpose undividedly in their hearts to obey God. Had they? Would they? Was Achan only an isolated incident? Or did he simply dare to do what a mass of Israelites hankered to do, desired secretly to do in their hearts but hadn't the courage yet to carry out in action?

Let the book of Joshua, then Judges, answer such questions, for they surely do give us the answers, as we shall soon see.

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