Last week we read how Moses taught the people a song which was designed by God to testify against the people whenever they turned away from him in years to come and went after other gods. In years to come, they would forget the Lord. But they would not forget the words of the song; and the song would testify against them about their sin and rebellion. And who knows? The song might cause them to repent of their sin and rebellion and to return to the Lord, who — at the end of the song — promised to make atonement for the land and the people, by washing away their guilt. And so, even as the song bore witness to their guilt, it also held out the hope of atonement and forgiveness.
And we too are sinners, who sin against the Lord our God in thought and word and deed. Everyday we sin against him and we fall short of doing his will. We deserve to be condemned and we deserve to be sent out of his presence forever. But because of his great love for us, God sent his Son into the world to make atonement for us by laying down his life on the cross as the ransom to set us free from condemnation; and he shed his blood to cleanse us from our guilt. And whoever trusts in him as the only Saviour of the world is ransomed and cleansed and receives the hope of everlasting life in the presence of God.
According to verse 45 of chapter 32, when Moses finished reciting the words of the song to all of Israel — the men and the women and the children and the aliens among them — he said to them:
Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law.
When he refers to ‘all the words’ he has declared to them, he could be referring to the words of the song. However, it’s perhaps more likely that he’s referring to everything he has taught them and which is contained in the book of Deuteronomy. They are to take to heart — or they are to set in their heart — everything that Moses has taught them. So, God’s word — spoken to them by Moses — was to reside in their hearts. It was to dwell in their inner being. It was to be at the centre of their lives so that it would guide and direct their thoughts and words and actions. They were to be a people shaped by God’s word and instructed by God’s word, whose behaviour was controlled by God’s word. And they were to teach God’s word to their children so that their children will be careful to obey God’s law. After all, these words which Moses taught them were not idle words. In other words, they weren’t worthless words.
People give us advice all the time; and sometimes their advice is useful, but other times their advice is worthless. That’s the way it is with our words. But God’s word is never worthless. As Moses says here, God’s word is not idle, because it is your life. By believing and obeying the words of God’s law, the people of Israel would live long in the land which they were going to possess, because, in the law, God revealed to them the sacrifices they were to offer in order to receive his forgiveness for their sins; and in the law, God revealed to them the things they were to do as his people. If they kept the words of the law — offering the right sacrifices and walking in the ways of the Lord — they would live in the land which the Lord was giving to them. But if they did not keep the words of the law — if they did not offer the right sacrifices and if they went astray — they would be taken from the land and sent into exile. So, God’s word is not idle or empty, but by believing it and by obeying it — by offering the right sacrifices and by doing God’s will — they would remain in the land.
And, of course, this applies to us today and to believers in every generation, because God’s word is not idle. It’s not empty or worthless. God’s word is true and we are duty bound to receive it and to believe it and to obey it, because it is God’s word. And in his word, God has revealed to us how his Son offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins so that whoever believes in him is set free from condemnation and is cleansed from all their guilt and reconciled to God. And in his word, he has revealed to us his will and how he wants us to live as his people. And so, in his word he has revealed the gospel which we’re to believe and his laws which we’re to do. And, of course, we’re not to be hearers of the word only, but we’re to be doers of the word. And by means of God’s word, God teaches us and rebukes us and corrects us and trains us in righteousness. And then, just as the Israelites were commanded to teach God’s word to their children, so we are commanded to bring up our children in the training and instruction of the Lord so that they will be careful to obey all the words of his law.
God has given us his word to show us what we’re to believe and what we’re to do. We’re to believe in his Son who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins. And we’re to do what God has commanded. Therefore God’s word is to reside in our hearts. It’s to dwell in our inner being. It’s to be at the centre of our lives so that it guides and directs our thoughts and words and actions. We’re to be a people shaped by God’s word and instructed by God’s word; and our behaviour should be controlled by God’s word. And — as Moses has made clear throughout the book of Deuteronomy — God chastises and disciplines his people whenever we disregard his word, but he graciously and freely blesses us whenever we obey his word. We can never earn or merit his blessings, because when we obey the Lord, we’re only doing our duty and we’re only doing what is required of us. But nevertheless, the Lord graciously and freely promises to bless his people when we are careful to walk in his ways.
And so, what about you? Does God’s word reside in your heart so that is controls all you do and say? Or has God’s word slipped from being at the centre of your life? Has something else taken its place as the controlling force in your life? Friends often take that place, don’t they? The unbelieving world around us often takes that place in the lives of believers. Instead of being transformed by a mind which is shaped by God’s word, we’re transformed by a mind which is shaped by what our friends say and do and by what the world says and does. And so, if that’s the case, will you do as Moses told the Israelites to do and will you once again take to heart the word of God? Will you set his word in your heart so that your thoughts and words and actions are controlled by God’s word? His word is not idle. It’s your life, because in his word he shows you how to have eternal life and in his word he shows you how to live your life.
Let’s move on now to verses 48 to 52 where we read that on that same day, the Lord told Moses to climb up the mountain and to view the land of Canaan. And there on the mountain, Moses will die. He will die and be gathered to his people just as his brother Aaron died on another mountain and was gathered to his people. Both Aaron and Moses were kept from entering the Promised Land, because — as it says in verse 51 — they broke faith with God in the presence of the people and they did not uphold God’s holiness among the people.
Do you remember the story of their disobedience? It’s recorded for us in Numbers 20. There was no water for the people to drink. And the people did what they often did when they were in the wilderness: they gathered before Moses and Aaron and complained and quarrelled with them. Moses and Aaron fell down before the Lord and the Lord instructed Moses to speak to the rock and water will come from it. But Moses spoke harshly to the people; and instead of speaking to the rock, he struck the rock with his staff. Furthermore, instead of giving glory to the Lord, who alone can perform miracles, Moses dishonoured the Lord by claiming that he and Aaron were the ones who would bring water from the rock.
Now, when he struck the rock, water still came from it. The Lord graciously gave the people the water they needed. But the Lord was angry with Moses and Aaron because they did not trust the Lord and they did not honour the Lord by obeying him. And so, the Lord said that neither of them would bring the people into the Promised Land. And so, first Aaron died. And now it was time for Moses to die. Moses was allowed to see the land, but he was prevented from entering it.
Moses was a great leader, wasn’t he? Adopted as a child by the daughter of Pharaoh, and guaranteed a life of luxury, he gave it all up when he chose to side with the Lord’s people and not with the Egyptians. And then, after forty years in obscurity as a shepherd, the Lord chose him to set his people free from captivity and to bring them to the Promised Land. And so, for another forty years, he led the people through the wilderness. He spoke to the Lord face to face and he revealed to the people the word of the Lord. When the people sinned, he interceded for them and pleaded with the Lord not to destroy them. When they were in need, he prayed to the Lord on their behalf. And even though he would not enter the Promised Land himself, he did everything he could to prepare the people for life in the land. He was a great leader.
However, Moses was a sinner. Like the Israelites, he was a sinner who did not obey the Lord perfectly and who, because of his sins, forfeited the right to enter the Promised Land of Canaan.
And every other human leader is the same, because every single human — but one — is a sinner. Joshua who succeeded Moses was a sinner who needed to rely on God’s grace. Kind David was a sinner who needed to rely on God’s grace. All the other kings of Israel and Judah were sinners who needed to rely on God’s grace, as were the prophets, as were Ezra and Nehemiah who led the people after the exile. And the Lord’s apostles were sinners too, who had to rely on God’s grace for forgiveness.
But in Jesus Christ we have a perfect leader, a perfect prophet, priest and king, who never once sinned against his Father in heaven, but who was obedient to his Father in all things, even to the point of death on the cross. And by his death on the cross, he has made atonement for our sins, setting us free from condemnation and cleansing us from our guilt. And having obeyed his Father in all things, he has now gone before us into heaven, where he appears before the Father on our behalf, interceding for us at God’s right hand. And having gone before us, he’s now preparing a place for all his people, getting all things ready until the time is right, when he will return in glory to gather his people together to bring us into the true Promised Land which is the new heavens and earth.
Moses was unable to enter the Promised Land of Canaan; and someone else was appointed to replace him and to lead the people onwards. But the Lord Jesus is perfect in every way and by his life of perfect obedience and by his death on the cross, he has earned for us the right to enter God’s presence forever. By ourselves, we too would be shut out of the Promised Land of Heaven, because like Moses, we are sinners who fall short of obeying God’s commands. But by relying on Christ and his perfect obedience and death on the cross, we receive forgiveness and the free gift of eternal life. And since the Lord Jesus has gone before us into heaven, he’s able to lead us and all who trust in him into the glory to come.
And so, we ought to give thanks to the Lord, because he has provided us with a perfect Saviour, who did all things necessary to save us; and who has gone before us and who is even now preparing a place for us and for all his people. And so, we ought to give thanks to the Lord for his kindness to us and for providing us with a perfect Saviour.
And, of course, through faith in the Saviour, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing. That’s what the apostle Paul teaches us in Ephesians 1; and that helps us to see the significance of Deuteronomy 33 where Moses blessed the people of Israel. So, look with me briefly at chapter 33.
Before he died, Moses spoke to the people and reminded them of how the Lord came from Sinai and dawned on the people from Seir and shone forth on them from Mount Paran. These were places where the Lord appeared to them and revealed his glory. And he appeared, says Moses, with myriads of holy ones. The holy ones may well be angels. In that case, Moses is describing how the Lord is a mighty warrior, leading an angelic army in order to rescue and to protect his people Israel. However, it’s possible that the holy ones are the people of Israel, whom God chose and set apart as his own special people. And that’s perhaps the more likely interpretation, because he goes on in the next verse to refer to the holy ones as his beloved people. In that case, Moses is referring here to God’s presence with his people and his love for them. And when God appeared to them, the Lord’s people bowed down before him and they received instruction from him. He is their king, the ruler over Jeshurun. That’s in verse 5 and Jeshurun was another name for the Israelites. So God is their king and he appeared before them in the wilderness to instruct them and to give them his law.
And now, Moses blesses God’s people. The blessings here recall the end of the book of Genesis, where Jacob pronounced blessings on his sons. And so, at the end of the book of Deuteronomy, we have Moses pronouncing a blessing on the tribes of Israel.
He begins with Reuben. Reuben was the firstborn son of Jacob and Moses’s blessing on the Reubenites is very brief:
Let Reuben live and not die; nor his men be few.
In other words:
May the tribe of Reuben continue to exist.
It’s not a very fulsome blessing, is it? And if you’ve got an NIV Bible, you’ll see a footnote beside the word ‘nor’. The footnote states that the word ‘nor’ can also be translated ‘but let’. So, ‘Let Reuben live … but let his men be few’. That’s perhaps the more likely translation, because when Jacob blessed Reuben in Genesis 49, he announced that even though Reuben was the firstborn, he and his tribe would no longer excel because Reuben had sinned against his father. And so, it’s more likely that Moses is saying that while the tribe of Reuben will continue to exist, it will remain a small tribe within Israel.
Moses then blesses the tribe of Judah. He anticipates that Judah will have to fight to defend his cause. And so, he prays for the Lord to help Judah against their foes.
Moses’s blessing on the tribe of Levi comes next. The priests who served in the tabernacle and temple were from the tribe of Levi; and the rest of the Levites helped them. Moses calls for the Thummim and Urim to remain in their possession. The Thummim and Urim were used in those days to discern the will of the Lord. Moses also mentions Massah and Meribah. These were places in the wilderness where the people rebelled against the Lord. However, while everyone else rebelled, the Levites remained faithful and continued to keep the covenant of the Lord. Now, according to verse 10, they have been chosen by God to teach the people and to offer incense and burnt offerings to the Lord. And so, Moses asked the Lord to bless their skills and to be pleased with their work and to strike down any who oppose them.
Next come Benjamin and Joseph. Moses refers to the tribe of Benjamin as ‘the beloved of the Lord’ and the blessing he asks for them is protection. Think of a child, sitting on the shoulders of her parent, safe and secure. In the same way, Benjamin will be carried and protected by the Lord. And Moses blesses the tribe of Joseph with agricultural blessings. The sun will shine on their land, the rain and dew will water it, and so their land will be fruitful and they will enjoy the best gifts of the earth. And Moses also mentions Ephraim and Manasseh, the two half-tribes which came from Joseph and which, with the Lord’s blessing, will multiply greatly.
After Joseph, Moses blesses Zebulun and Issachar and Gad. May Zebulun and Issachar go out and come in with joy. In other words, may they find joy in whatever they do. And Moses then refers to the way the people of Gad — when they saw how good the land was on the west side of the Jordan — asked to have it for themselves. So, they chose the best land for themselves. However, the people of Gad also promised that they would continue to do the Lord’s will and would go with the rest of the tribes to help them take possession of the Promised Land. And so, Moses blesses the Gadites.
And finally we have the tribes of Dan, Naphtali and Asher. Dan is compared to a lion cub, springing out of its lair. So, it’s going to be a powerful and agressive tribe. Naphtali will be abound with the Lord’s favour and it will be full of his blessing. And Asher is describes as ‘most blessed’. His feet will bathe in oil, Moses says. So, their olive trees will be so fruitful and the harvest will be so abundant, that they’ll be able to bathe in olive oil. And Asher will be secure, because their gates will be bolted with iron and bronze. And they will remain strong and powerful always.
And so, Moses blesses each of the tribes of Israel. However, there is one tribe which is not mentioned. Moses doesn’t refer to the tribe of Simeon. It’s not clear why not. However, in Genesis 49, Jacob said that both Simeon and Levi will be scattered and dispersed in Israel. Levi was dispersed in the sense that they received no land of their own, but they lived in cities throughout the Promised Land. And according to Joshua 19, the land of Simeon lay within the territory of Judah. In other words, they were absorbed into the tribe of Judah. That’s perhaps why they weren’t mentioned by Moses in this chapter.
And having blessed the people, Moses praises the Lord. There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, because he alone rides on the heavens and the clouds and he comes to help his people. He is the eternal God, without beginning and without end. And he is a refuge for his people. He was their refuge in the past, when they were in Egypt. He was their refuge in the wilderness. And he will be their refuge in days to come, so that at all times, his arms are underneath them, holding them up and sustaining them day by day. He’ll protect them from their enemies and with his help, they will drive out the enemy nations so that they will take possession of the land. And so, Israel will live in safety, without enemies to harass them. Their springs of water will be secure and the Lord will bless them with good things including grain and new wine. So, blessed be all of Israel, because the Lord has chosen them and the Lord has saved them. He is their shield and their helper and their glorious sword, because he fights on their behalf and delivers them from their enemies. Their enemies will cower before Israel and Israel will trample them down, because the Lord their God is with them.
Moses blessed the people right before they entered the Promised Land. And, according to the New Testament, God our Father has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. The Israelites were blessed in the land of Canaan, because that is the land they were entering. But through faith in Christ, we have been raised to heaven, which is where we now belong by faith. We no longer belong to this present, evil age, but we belong to heaven above. And so, we have been blessed, not in an earthly realm like Canaan, but in the heavenly realms.
And we’ve been blessed with spiritual blessings. And so, through faith in Christ, we’ve been blessed with justification, so that our sins have been pardoned and we’ve been accepted as righteous in God’s sight for the sake of Christ’s righteousness. And through faith in Christ, we’ve been blessed with adoption, because we’re been brought into God’s family and may call him ‘Father’; and we can always count on our loving heavenly Father to help us. And through faith in Christ, we’ve been blessed with sanctification, so that God the Holy Spirit is at work in us to renew us in God’s image and to make us more and more obedient. And through faith in Christ, we’ve been blessed with an assurance of God’s love and with peace of conscience and with joy in the Holy Spirit and with growth in grace and with perseverance to enable us to keep trusting in Christ right to the end of our lives. And through faith in Christ we will be blessed when we die by being made perfect and by being brought into the presence of God in glory. And through faith in Christ, we will be blessed when Christ comes again by having our bodies raised from the dead and to be reunited with our souls so that we will be with the Lord in body and in soul in the new world to come.
Through Christ, God has poured out on us one spiritual blessing after another. We did not earn or merit any of these blessing. We did not deserve any of them. But God gives them to us and we receive them by faith in Christ as his gracious and free gift which Christ has earned on our behalf. And so, in Christ, and for his sake, we have been blessed. And throughout all of your life, you should remember and believe that the eternal God is your refuge and his everlasting arms are underneath you. He is your shield and your helper and your glorious sword to help and protect you and to enable you, in all things, to conquer.
And while you go on, living on the earth, remember to set in your heart the word of God. Let God’s word renew your mind and transform your life. Let his word reside in your heart and dwell in your inner being. Let his word guide and direct your thoughts and your words and your actions, so that in all things you will honour the Lord your God who has blessed you in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.