Moses is preparing the people to enter the Promised Land, the land which the Lord swore to Abraham to give to his descendants after him. And having rescued Abraham’s descendants from slavery in Egypt, and having brought them through the wilderness, God is about to lead them across the River Jordan and into the Promised Land, which was an Eden-like land, full of good things for them to eat and to enjoy, a land where they would have all that they needed, and where they could enjoy the presence of God in their midst. Indeed, it was a land which was a foretaste of the new heaven and earth, where all of God’s people will live securely in the presence of the Lord forever and forever.
But before they entered the land, Moses spoke to them in order to prepare them for life in the new land. In chapter 1 he reminded them of the rebellion of the previous generation, who doubted the word of the Lord and who died in the wilderness. In chapters 2 and 3 he reminded them of how the Lord enabled them to defeat their enemies and to take possession of some of the land on the eastern side of the River Jordan. In chapters 4 and 5 Moses reminded them of the law of the Lord, including the Ten Commandments, which the people were required to keep. In chapter 6, Moses warned the people not to forget the Lord, but to love him with all their heart and soul and mind and strength; and to teach their children to love and serve the Lord only.
And in chapter 7, Moses commanded them not to make peace with the nations in the land of Canaan. Don’t make a treaty with them and don’t intermarry with them, because the pagan nations will only lead you astray. And in chapter 7 Moses also reminded them of God’s electing love, because the Lord set his love on them and chose them to be his people. There was nothing special about them; nothing that made them stand out. They did not deserve anything from him. And yet the Lord loved them and chose them. It was entirely due to his grace, his kindness to undeserving sinners. The Lord chose them to be his special people.
And every Christian can say the same thing: because there was nothing in us which made us stand out as better than anyone else in the world; and we did nothing to deserve or merit salvation. We don’t deserve to receive God’s forgiveness or the hope of everlasting life in his presence. But the Bible teaches us that God chose his people before the creation of the world. And because of the greatness of his love, he sent his Son to save his people. Like everyone else, Christians deserve to be condemned forever, because we’re sinners, just like everyone else; and there’s nothing that we can do for God or give to him to earn his favour. But despite our sins and shortcomings, he graciously set his love on us and chose us to be his people and to be with him forever and ever in glory. And so, Christians should be humble people, because we know we are sinners like everyone else and deserve to be condemned like everyone else. But Christians should also be thankful people, giving thanks to the Lord our God who has delivered us from our sin and misery by his Son, Jesus Christ.
We come to chapter 8 which can be divided into three main parts: verses 2 to 5; verses 6 to 10; and verses 11 to 20. The first part begins in verse 2 with a command:
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years. What are they to remember? Their affliction in the wilderness. The second part begins in verse 6 with another command:
Observe the commands of the Lord your God. They’re to observe his commands, because he’s bringing them to a good land. The third part begins in verse 11 with yet another command:
Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God. When they come into the Promised Land, don’t forget the Lord who rescued them from slavery and brought them through the wilderness. So, remember and observe and don’t forget.
But before we get to those three main parts, there’s verse 1.
And in verse 1, Moses says to the people:
Be careful to follow every command that I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your forefathers.
Once again it’s important that I remind you of the priority of grace. I’ve been doing this again and again, but it’s important that we remember the priority of grace, otherwise we’ll misunderstand what Moses is saying.
The book of Deuteronomy contains lots of law and commandments, which the people were required to keep. And sure enough, in verse 1, Moses tells them people to be careful to follow God’s commands. Follow the commands, obey the laws, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land. When you read that, it may seem that they were to earn life in the Promised Land by their obedience. However, I’ve been making the point repeatedly that life in the Promised Land was God’s gracious gift to the people, which they did not deserve or merit in any way. They did not earn the right to the Promised Land by keeping the law or by their good deeds. God gave it to them as a gracious gift.
So, if that’s the case, what should we make of verse 1 which seems to imply that life in the Promised Land depended on their obedience? What are we to make of this verse?
Let me draw your attention to the end of the verse, where Moses describes the land as the land that the Lord promised on oath to their forefathers. God promised Abraham and Isaac and Jacob to give them and their descendants the land to live in and to enjoy. He promised to give it to them as his gift to them. He was under no obligation to give it to them, but he freely promised it to their descendants.
So, the land was God’s gracious gift to them. They did not earn it or deserve it. He graciously gave it to them. And let’s remember as well that God freely chose them to be his people. They did nothing to deserve it, but God set his love on them and chose them to be his people.
He graciously and freely chose them to be his people; and he graciously and freely gave them the Promised Land. There’s the priority of grace: God’s grace comes first. But then, having freely and graciously chosen his people, and having freely and graciously given them the Promised Land to live in and to enjoy, he now commands them to walk in his ways and to do his will. As I’ve said before, the law was not the means to life in the Promised Land, but it was to be the rule for life in the Promised Land. So, yes, they were to obey the Lord in the land. But the land was his gift to them, which he graciously and freely gave to them.
Verses 2 to 5
And so, we come to verses 2 to 5 and the first main part of this chapter. And it begins with the command:
And in particular, they were to remember how the Lord afflicted them in the wilderness by letting them go hungry.
I’m sure many of you remember what happened. We read in the book of Exodus how the food they’d brought with them from Egypt soon ran out. And, of course, the wilderness was a wilderness. It was a desert. Nothing grew there. And all around them there were rocky mountains and dry, dusty soil. The sun burned down on them throughout the day. Every day. And water was scarce. And soon the people began to grumble; and to complain, because they had nothing to eat. And many of them began to wish they were back in Egypt where they had plenty of things to eat. At one point they talked about their meat pots and their bread in the land of Egypt. Another time they remembered the fish they ate in Egypt and the cucumbers and melons and leeks and onions and the garlic. But, in the wilderness, they had none of those things.
What would they do? Well, the Lord was good to them, and he sent them manna to eat, that special bread which appeared in the night while they slept; and which was ready for them in the morning. They didn’t have to work for it or grow it; all the had to do was collect it and cook it.
But do you remember the Lord’s instructions at that time about the manna? He commanded them not to store any of it overnight. There was no need to store it overnight, because the Lord would ensure there would be more the next day. But some of them doubted the Lord and disobeyed his command; and they tried to keep it. But whatever they kept was filled with maggots and it began to smell. The Lord also commanded them to store some of it on the sixth day to be used on seventh day, the Sabbath Day. Since the Sabbath was to be a day of rest, the Lord would not send manna on that day, but they could eat whatever was collected on the previous day; and this time, it would not go bad. But again, some of them doubted the Lord and disobeyed his command; and they went looking for manna on the Sabbath Day.
What was the point of all of this? It was to teach the people to rely, not so much on the special bread, but to rely on the Lord and on his word. Trust and obey what God says, because he loves his people and will provide them with what they need. They weren’t to rely on the manna, that special bread. They were to rely on the Lord and on the promises and commands which come from his mouth.
And the Lord was good to them in the wilderness; and he continued to provide for them during the forty years they were in the desert. There was manna every day. And he led them to water; and, on other occasions, he brought water from the rock for them. And when they said they wanted meat to eat, he sent quail into the camp. And — as Moses reminded them in verse 4 — during the forty years in the wilderness, their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell. The wilderness was an inhospitable place, full of trials and dangers. But the Lord helped them and sustained them and provided for them.
But by means of the trials and dangers which they encountered, the Lord humbled them, revealing to them their own powerlessness and weakness and need for help. But by sending them help, the Lord was teaching them to rely on him: to trust in his promises and to obey his commands. As Moses says in verse 5, the Lord was their Heavenly Father, who was disciplining them, training them, for their good. He was using these afflictions to refine them, so that they would trust the Lord more and more and obey him more and more.
Verses 6 to 10
The second main part — verses 6 to 10 — begins with another command:
They’re to observe the commands of the Lord their God. And the reason they’re to observe his commands is because the Lord is bringing them into a good land. And in verses 7 to 9, Moses describes what the land will be like. And it sounds wonderful — doesn’t it? — and especially in comparison to the wilderness. In the wilderness, water was scarce. But in the Promised Land, there’s going to be an abundance of pools and rivers. In the wilderness, nothing grew. But in the Promised Land, there will be wheat and barley and vines and fig trees and pomegranates and olive oil and honey. In the wilderness, the ground was a desert and good for nothing. But in the Promised Land, there will be iron and copper in the hills: metals which were highly valued in those days. It’s going to be a wonderful place for God’s people to live in and to enjoy. It was going to be an Eden-like land, full of good things, flowing with milk and honey.
And so, the people were to observe all the commands of the Lord, because the Lord was giving them a good land. Obedience to the Lord was one way to demonstrate their gratitude to him. And then, as verse 10 says, when they have eaten and are satisfied, they should praise the Lord their God for the good land he has given them. In view of his kindness to them, they were to observe his commands and they were to praise his name.
Verses 11 to 20
And so, in the first part, Moses commanded the people to remember how the Lord afflicted them in the wilderness to humble them and to teach them to rely on his word: to trust his promises and to obey his commands. In the second part, Moses commanded the people to obey the Lord and to praise him for the good land he was giving them. And in the third part — verses 11 to 20 — Moses commands them to be careful not to forget the Lord who rescued them from slavery and brought them through the wilderness.
And Moses makes clear in verse 11 what forgetting the Lord means. Forgetting the Lord means failing to observe his commands and laws and decrees. So, be careful that you don’t forget him and start disobeying him. And in verses 12 to 17 Moses imagines a time when they’re in the Promised Land and they have everything they need and desire. They’ve eaten and are satisfied. They’ve built fine houses and have settled into them. Their herds and flocks have grown large. Their silver and gold has increased. They themselves have multiplied, so that their families are large and they have many children and grandchildren.
So, Moses imagines a time when they’re well-fed and they’re living in luxury; and their fields are full; and their bank account is full; and their homes are full of children. But then he also imagines how their hearts become proud and they forget the Lord their God, who brought them of of slavery in Egypt, and who led them through the wilderness and who brought them water and manna and humbled and tested and trained them for their good. Moses imagines a time when they will forget the Lord; and they will become proud and say to themselves:
My power and the strength of my hands have provided this wealth for me!
Instead of giving God the glory and instead of praising him for rescuing them and for leading them and for providing for them and for blessing them, they themselves take the credit for all their successes; and they boast in themselves and not in the Lord. Moses imagines a time when they will forget the Lord.
And so, in verse 18, he warns them. He says to them:
But remember the Lord your God.
Don’t forget him and don’t become proud. But remember the Lord. Remember the Lord, because whatever wealth and prosperity you may enjoy in the Promised Land did not come to you because of your own power and strength. No, whatever you may enjoy in the Promised Land will come to you from the hand of the Lord. He gives you the ability to produce wealth in accordance with his covenant and all the promises which he freely and graciously made to your forefathers. And so, whatever you enjoy in the land comes to you from him, because he chose you to be his people and his treasured possession and to take care of you always. So, don’t forget him, but give him the honour and the glory and the praise and seek to do his will.
And the chapter ends in verses 19 and 20 with a final warning. And it’s a serious warning, isn’t it? If they forget the Lord and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, Moses says they will surely be destroyed. In other words, if they give up their allegiance to the Lord, and turn to other gods — if they become like the pagan nations who do not know or love or serve the Lord — then the Lord will treat them like the pagan nations. And so, they will suffer the wrath of God for not obeying the word of the Lord.
And so, there you are: they’re to remember the Lord who afflicted them in the wilderness in order to humble them and to teach them to rely on every word that comes from God’s mouth. So, trust his promises and obey his commands. And they’re to observe the commands of the Lord, because he’s bringing them into a good land where they will have everything they need and desire. But they’re to be careful not to forget the Lord and to become like the pagan nations.
As we begin to think about the lessons we can learn from this chapter, we need to notice first of all the source of adversity in our lives. According to Moses, when the people were in the wilderness, it was the Lord who made them hunger. And he made them hunger in order to humble them and to discipline them. He wanted to train them so that they would learn that life depends, not on bread alone, not on material and physical things, but on the word of God, which means his promises and his commands.
And so, think of the troubles and trials you face. Think of the adversity you encounter and the afflictions you suffer. The natural person who does not believe will think that these things happen by chance. The natural person who does not believe in the Sovereign Lord thinks that we live in a random world where anything can happen: good or bad. But whatever happens to us, the natural person says, happens by chance. And yet the Bible makes clear that these things don’t happen by chance, but they come to us by the hand of God. And the God who controls all things and sends adversity into your life is your Heavenly Father, who sends it into your life, not because he hates you and wants to destroy you, but because he loves you and wants to train you to trust in him more and more and to obey him more and more. The Lord caused the Israelites to hunger, not in order to destroy them in the wilderness, but in order to discipline them, so that they would continue to trust and obey his word and eventually enter the Promised Land.
In Proverbs we read:
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
The writer of Hebrews quotes those words from Proverbs, and adds:
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
If you trust in Christ, then you are God’s child. And because you’re his child, he trains you and he disciplines you. And he does so to humble you, so that you won’t rely on yourself, but on the Lord your God and on his promises to encourage you and on his commands to direct you. And you know that your Heavenly Father has wonderful things in store for all his believing people. And so, when he sends adversity into your life, you should receive it as an obedient and teachable child, instead of as obstinate and hard-hearted stranger who despises his correction and who wants to overthrow his authority.
And we should also learn from this passage the danger of prosperity and success. The Lord was leading his people to a good land, an Eden-like land, where they would have all they needed and desired. There would be an abundance of water and the land would be fertile; they would have plenty of food and they would find metal in the hills. But Moses anticipated a time when the people were prosperous and they would forget to thank the Lord or to give him the credit for all that he had given them. He anticipated a time when they would boast about themselves and forget that it was the Lord who gave them the ability to produce wealth. And so, their prosperity, their success, would be a snare for them.
And isn’t it the case that when you’re struggling you turn to the Lord with great fervency and you cast yourself on his mercy and you plead with him for his help? When you’re struggling, when you’re in need, you seek the Lord and his help. But how many times — when he heard and answered your prayers, and sent you the help you needed, and when he blessed you and filled your life with good things — how many times afterwards did your zeal and your fervency and your prayerfulness diminish? How many times did your zeal diminish, when, in fact, your zeal ought to be even greater, because he heard and answered your prayers?
And once we realise that prosperity and success are often a snare, and once we realise that it’s possible for someone to gain the whole world and to lose his soul, and once we realise that it’s possible for someone to empty his heart of love for God because it’s become full of love for the world, once we realise how easy it is to forget the Lord, that’s when we’ll see the wisdom of the Lord in sending us adversity by which he corrects and disciplines us and keeps us on the narrow way.
And finally, let’s learn from this passage the importance of obedience. Moses told the people to observe God’s commands, because he was bringing them into a good land. And the Lord has promised to bring you into a good land, a better land than the land of Canaan. He’s promised to bring you to a heavenly land, the new heaven and earth, where you’ll dwell in the presence of the Lord forever. And Christ the Saviour has done all things necessary to bring you there, because he died for our sins and he was raised to give us life. The Lord is bringing you into a good land, a land where there will be no more sorrow or sadness or troubles and trials, no more disease and death, but perfect peace and rest and safety and security. He has promised it to you and you receive life in the Promised Land by trusting in Christ the Saviour.
But since he’s bringing you into that good land, you ought to be careful now — while you go on living in this world — to observe the commands of your God. You ought to obey him in your daily life and to walk in his ways, because this is his will for you. This is why he’s given you his laws. This is why he’s given you his Spirit to renew your heart and to help you to obey him. It’s his will for you to love and serve him in your daily life and to obey his laws and commandments, while you wait for the day to come when he will bring you at last to your eternal home.