Deuteronomy means “second law” and the Book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ recounting of God’s Law to the people of Israel at the end of their wilderness wanderings and entry into the Promised Land. It is his swan song to the people of Israel. It is his final sermon to them as he prepares to die. They are going into the Promised Land and he is not. As Moses brings to the memory of the people the key events in their journey he says some absolutely remarkable comments to them in the section given below. Read the following very closely.
Deuteronomy 9:13 “Furthermore, the Lord said to me, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stubborn people. 14 Let me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.’ 15 So I turned and came down from the mountain, and the mountain was burning with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. 16 And I looked, and behold, you had sinned against the Lord your God. You had made yourselves a golden calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the Lord had commanded you. 17 So I took hold of the two tablets and threw them out of my two hands and broke them before your eyes. 18 Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin that you had committed, in doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to anger. 19 For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure that the Lord bore against you, so that he was ready to destroy you. But the Lord listened to me that time also. 20 And the Lord was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him. And I prayed for Aaron also at the same time. 21 Then I took the sinful thing, the calf that you had made, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it very small, until it was as fine as dust. And I threw the dust of it into the brook that ran down from the mountain.
22 “At Taberah also, and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the Lord to wrath. 23 And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and take possession of the land that I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God and did not believe him or obey his voice. 24 You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.
25 “So I lay prostrate before the Lord for these forty days and forty nights, because the Lord had said he would destroy you. 26 And I prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord God, do not destroy your people and your heritage, whom you have redeemed through your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 27 Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin, 28 lest the land from which you brought us say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.” 29 For they are your people and your heritage, whom you brought out by your great power and by your outstretched arm.’
The people of Israel had sinned greatly. While Moses was at the top of Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments the people below were crafting an idol out of their jewellery and cookware so they could have something to worship. At Massah they grumble so much that God destroyed many of them with fire from heaven (Numbers 11:1-3). At Kadesh Barnea they refuse to believe that they can take the land (Numbers 32:8-9). God gets so angry with the people for their repeated rebellion and griping, that He tells Moses that He is going to wipe out the whole nation and keep His covenant through him. If you were Moses getting that message from God, what would you do?
Here is what Moses does. He fasts for forty days and nights pleading with God not to do it. There is a great deal being said these days about leadership in the church. Have any of us who lead ever fasted and pleaded with God that He show mercy to them because of their sin? What kind of heart did Moses have for his people that he would fast from both food and water for forty days, in the Sinai dessert of all places, so that God would give the people he was leading the justice that they deserved? This is the same man who said to the Lord about these people:
“Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.” (Numbers 11:11-14)
Moses was tired, exasperated, angry at God, himself and the people he was trying to lead. But he had them in his heart through it all. He loved his people. He would petition God fervently for mercy for them because He knew God was gracious. They did not deserve one day of fasting and prayer on their behalf and Moses knew they didn’t. But he also knew that he was a murderer and didn’t deserve it either. He knew that if God struck them dead as He threatened, that the mass bulk of his problems in life would die with them. He knew that he would go down in history as the father of a great nation. And he knew above all else that he knew, that God is loving and full of undeserved mercy. So he pleaded with God for them. That is real leadership. It is not leadership that will make the Christian news. Such leadership could never supplant the headlines of mega churches turning the world upside down, of accounts of thousands gathered at the most recent Gospel fest of some sort, of conferences that attracted their tens of thousands.
Or maybe, perhaps, possibly it would. Here is a man who has not eaten or drunk since early last month because he wants God to show mercy on the people he has been called to lead.
Do you lead people? Have you been taught about Nehemiah’s organizational skills and Timothy’s call to preach, encourage, correct and rebuke? Have you been taken through Jesus’ ability to make disciples out of complete losers? These are all good things to learn of course. But I know I have never been taught that my love for my people should get me to the place where I would near starve myself to death because I was so broken over their sin and so desirous for God to show mercy instead of the deserved judgement that they are inviting.
And even if you do not lead churches or groups in churches you are a leader. You are to lead people to Christ. People who do not love the Gospel, who are rebellious, and arrogant and think they are fine just the way they are thank you very much. People who do not believe that Jesus is God’s Son or the only way to God and some who even think that He never existed. People who just want to mind their own business and want you to do the same. People who abort babies, blaspheme God, call evil good and good evil. People who are turning sexual ethics on its head. People who have no use for biblical truth. How should we respond to the people of our culture and world? A lesson from Moses wouldn’t hurt us at all. It is easy to condemn. It is easy to say and do nothing. It is easy to huddle with people who believe as we do and just be thankful that we are not like them. It is easy to do so much that we should not.
And all this is about is this: maybe we could react to the hardness of heart in some Christians and non-Christians the way that Moses reacted to the people He was leading. Fast and pray that God show mercy. Undeserved, unwanted, uncalled for mercy. It’s what we received and it is what God still lavishes on people. And He tells us to give the Gospel. And people do not want it. How badly do we want them to get it? Giving the Gospel and loving the people who need the Gospel starts on our knees. Moses still has a lot to teach us. Perhaps the first prayer should be that we get the heart of Moses. It is the heart that Jesus shows in Matthew 9: 36-38. And just look at what He told His disciples to do in view of the vast number of people who needed Him.
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Plead with God for such a heart. Plead with God for people who need Jesus. He loves to give good things to those who ask. This is a very good thing.