Truth for When the Future Looks Tough
The day was Monday, January 23rd. We had a trip to Sea World planned for the day. I awoke before 7am and walked to the bathroom. The first thing I do every morning is flip on the shower, and this time there is nothing. It’s not that it was running cold–there was not a drop of water flowing out of the tap.
I move from sleepy to instantly awake. I walk around the house and confirm that the issue is not confined to my bathroom. I look outside and there is no flood in the yard. But then I see this… The sun had not yet risen, but a 50-foot-tall tree was laying sideways in my yard.
After another 5 to 10 minutes, I discovered that it had taken out a water line in my backyard. It happened in the middle of the night, during one of the wind storms we had this winter. A kind soul had graciously turned off my water at the street, saving me hundreds of dollars in water bills. But we’d just moved in and I had no idea where any irrigation shut off valves were.
So we did what any reasonable family would do–we toweled off with wet wipes and went to Sea World. Coming home that evening, I was reminded that I still had no water–and this began a four-day drought within our house.
I’ll spare you the details, but this was a time when we began to question our life choices. What had led us to this point where we were living without the ability to shower, to run laundry, to clean dishes, or most importantly–to flush.
We’ve struggled with infertility, had a miscarriage, and I’ve had cancer. Early in life, I’ve been fired. Later, I’ve quit work for conscience sake. At no time can I remember Beth and I reconsidering our life choices as much as those days without water. I don’t know what hardships you’ve been through, but given enough time, I think each of us hits something that makes you question the choices you’ve made.
The future doesn’t always seem bright. Sometimes it feels cloudy and sometimes perilous. And as we’re working our way through the story of the Old Testament, that is where we now find Israel. After the days of the flood, Noah and his sons begin to spread out and repopulate the earth. Genesis 10 records how the descendants of Noah’s sons gradually became the fathers of various nations.
From the tribe of Shem, God selects and chooses Abram to be the father of a new nation, whom God would make great. The Lord makes a unilateral covenant with Abram to make his descendants into a great nation, give them a land, and to bless the whole world through them. And as Abram believed the promise of God, he was credited with righteousness. The remainder of the book of Genesis is about the fulfillment of that promise by God. Abram would come to be known as Abraham. And his descendants would be called Israelites and then Jews.
Where we pick up today is after the Exodus and after their wandering in the desert for 40 years. They are now camped on the very edge of the Promised Land. While the Bible describes it as a valley, they are on a high bluff situated between even larger mountains. On the screen, you’ll see an easy-to-read topo map of Israel, and I put a red star where they are during the book of Deuteronomy. They are perched up with an ability to see far into the Promised Land.
A few of you may remember hearing about the Golan Heights, which is in an elevated position, from which Syria used to lob rockets into Israel. It is a large fertile plain on which many Israeli farms are now located, and it serves as an overlook into much of the country of Israel. That is the spot where Moses and the nation are gathered. They are getting ready to conquer the Promised Land and have already secured the area around them. And this is where the book of Deuteronomy takes place.
The book itself accounts for the last weeks in Moses’ life. And here he delivers three sermons to Israel before he dies. In the first sermon (chapters 1 to 4), Moses looks back at God’s faithfulness to them so far. In the second sermon (chapters 5 to 28), Moses calls them to obey God in their new life. In the third sermon (chapters 29 to 30), he lays out the blessings and curses that await them in the future, depending on how they choose to live.
His hearers are entirely under the age of 60. All of those who’d been enslaved in Egypt had now died in the wilderness–as a result of their disobedience, God had cursed them to wander the land for forty years. Only Moses, Joshua and Caleb remain from that generation.
Moses is speaking to a young people–a nation of wanderers. They are on the precipice of invasion. Their wandering is about to end. The manna no longer came and fed them. The column of fire had departed. The past has been hard and the future . . . Well, the future looks tough.
I want to bring you into the end of the last sermon. In your Bible, open up to Deuteronomy 4 (the end of the fifth book, the last one by Moses). We are going to begin at verse 20–so with your Bible in hand, would you stand and listen as I read the next eleven verses to you?
Deuteronomy 4:20 to 31, “’But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be a people for His own possession, as today. 21Now the Lord was angry with me on your account, and swore that I would not cross the Jordan, and that I would not enter the good land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. 22For I will die in this land, I shall not cross the Jordan, but you shall cross and take possession of this good land. 23So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the Lord your God has commanded you. 24For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
25“When you become the father of children and children’s children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord your God so as to provoke Him to anger, 26I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord drives you. 28There you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. 29But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.
30“When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice. 31For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.’”
Israel will enter, Moses will die, God is not to be trifled with. Moses promises–God will hold true to His promises. He will judge you, and He will remember you. And at this point, the 40 years of wandering might have seemed pretty good. The future looks a little more perilous. The things promised by Moses lack an “if”–they seem certain. You WILL perish, you WILL be destroyed, you WILL be scattered.
Moses is calling them to obedience and warning them that the future is tougher than it may even appear. And in the section we’re going to focus on today, he concludes with Three Truths You Must Remember When the Future Looks Tough. Verses 32 to 40 are the conclusion of his first sermon. This is Moses’ greatest declaration about the character and works of God.
The man who stood before the burning bush, who saw the tail end of God’s glory, who saw the Ten Commandments etched in stone, and who met with God regularly as with a friend–he wants Israel to do well. He knows that God is a jealous God. He knows the bents of man to turn from Him. He knows the road for Israel will be tough. So he calls them to know and live by these truths–especially when the times ahead seem difficult.
1. Our God is Utterly Unique Verses 32 to 35
Deuteronomy 4:32 to 35, “’Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it? 33Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? 34Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him.’”
Moses begins by asking them four questions about the former days. He asks them to consider recorded history. There are people who believe that Deuteronomy and this history of Israel is mythical–they reject the Bible’s account of history, which makes it a bit more ironic that Moses here is pushing Israel to think about the history they all know as an evidence of their God’s uniqueness.
Moses asks Israel to look back, to think on all that they know of in the world and see if there’s anything similar that has happened to another nation? From the time of the flood, the descendants of Noah’s sons populated the earth. And in Genesis 12, with no reason given, the spotlight shines onto Abram. He is a descendent of Shem, who was a son of Noah. He is living among the Chaldeans and God speaks to him. There is no explanation why–we simply know that God chose him and promised to make a nation from him.
From that point, the story of the Bible begins to follow Abraham and his descendants. From Abraham, we learn of Ishmael who would become the father of the Arab nations and Isaac who would become the father of the Jews. Isaac then would become the father of Jacob and Jacob would have twelve sons, who would father what became the twelve tribes of Israel.
Those tribes are preserved by God’s sovereign work and led into Egypt, where they flourish from a family to a nation. Eventually, their numbers alarm the rulers of Egypt and they are subjugated and enslaved. Despite that, they continue to grow more numerous and it’s into that environment that Moses is born. As the old Dreamworks film shows, Moses was raised in Pharoah’s house as a Prince of Egypt, though a Jew–and it’s only once he’s run away that he hears the voice of God calling to him.
It’s been hundreds of years since God spoke to a man, but He appears in a burning bush to Moses. And so he returns and pleads for the release of Israel from Egypt. After many signs and plagues, Pharoah relents and allows the nation of Israel to depart. He then hardens his heart and leads his army to recapture the slaves who’ve left.
With the army in pursuit, the waters of a sea are supernaturally parted and Israel escapes while the army is engulfed. After resting and thanking God, a column of smoke by day and fire by night leads the nation towards the Promised Land. The people are prone to grumbling and easily discontent, but God holds true to His Word. They arrive at the Promised Land and send spies in–and as they spy out the land, they grow scared. There are many people here, and many walled cities, and some massive warriors. And though there are 600,000 fighting men, their weapons are crude and they are complainers. Only Joshua and Caleb believe that God will give the land into their hand. The rest want to kill Moses, appoint a new leader and go back to Egypt.
At this point, the glory of God fills the Tabernacle and He pronounces judgment upon the nation. As Moses intercedes, God declares that everyone age 20 and older would die before the nation would be permitted to enter the Promised Land. And so commences 40 years of wandering, with more than fifty dying every single day of their travels. This is a short version of their long history, which Moses calls to their mind. He asks them . . . Do they know of a God who sustained a million people in a hostile land for 40 years without a city of their own? Do they know of a God who would lead people to victory without any weapons of their own?
1) Have they even heard of this happening anywhere?
2) Are there stories of such things that have been told to them by others?
That’s the first two questions in verse 32. Then he asks, do you know anyone who’s heard the voice of God (verse 33)? Do you know any gods who have rescued a nation from within another nation (verse 34)? All of these expect the answer, “No”. Verse 35 is the crux–this is the truth those questions are driving at. “To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him” (Deuteronomy 4:35). These things happened so that you would know that the Lord is like no other god–He is utterly unique. There is no other beside Him.
In the Promised Land, Israel would see many false gods and be invited to worship them in new ways. Israel needed to be fully convinced that their God was utterly unique and unlike the gods of Canaan. He is powerful, active and engaged in a way that is without compare. The only way to stand firm is to affirm the utter uniqueness of the Lord. He will not suffer competitors. There is no other like Him. He alone can be trusted. He has proven Himself time and again.
This is the first truth that Moses calls Israel to fix in their hearts–and it is one that we need to remember as well. It is easy to look at the world around us and feel pretty hopeless. Our government is a trainwreck. Our culture affirms evil and hates good. We are surrounded by people who worship other gods–whether it’s pluralism, technology, comfort, money, sexuality or self.
You may have your heart ensnared by one of those false gods right now. Many of us carry iPhones in our pockets and bags. If you’ve read the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, you know that the maker of the iPhone looked back at life regretting his decisions. He declared that his kids were “10,000 times better than anything I’ve done,” regretting his excessive focus on work that came at the cost of relationships and family. Many people only realize their idol as they approach eternity. They only realize then that their false god wasn’t worthy of their time and would never provide the things promised.
Our God is utterly unique–He alone is God. There is no other. There is no other worthy of your worship. There is no other who can satisfy you. There is no one else who can truly provide for your needs. There is no one else with real power to act and change things. There is no one else who loves you the way He does. There is no other willing to die for you. There is no other who wants a real relationship with you. Our God is utterly unique and this truth will ground you when the future looks hard.
2. Our God is Completely in Charge Verses 36 to 38
Deuteronomy 4:36 to 38, “’Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. 37Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, 38driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today.’”
After four questions designed to show Israel the uniqueness of their God, Moses now gives five descriptions that show the absolute sovereignty of God in all of Israel’s history. To men who are about to go take possession of many cities and farms, Moses wants them to remember that God is always 100% in control. In every part of their history as a nation, God has been the one acting. He is completely in charge of all their lives and He is entirely committed to them.
The future will not always be easy for them. They will be tempted while they live in the land. Moses has declared that they will eventually slide into disobedience and be enslaved again. But God remains committed to them. He will be their God, no matter what. Moses reminds them of five ways that God already showed His love to them.
The first two are in verse 36—1) He let you hear His voice to discipline you. And 2) He let you see His great fire. These are both looking back at the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19 to 20. Exodus 19:18, “Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently.”
As you read Exodus 20, you’ll see that Moses and Aaron go to meet God, but the people are terrified. They hear thunder and trumpets and see fire and smoke across a massive mountain. They know God is there and the text says they are trembling and keeping distance. They recognize that they need a mediator and ask Moses to stand between them and God, and be God’s voice to them.
Moses responds in Exodus 20:20, “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.’” This is the discipline that Deuteronomy 4 refers to–a loving father’s correction to his child, that is given to discourage sin.
Moses then moves further back in Israel’s history and reminds them of two more ways that God had shown His love and power to them. Look at Deuteronomy 4:37 and you are going to see one of the earliest and most clear Old Testament passages there is on the doctrine of election. “Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them” (Deuteronomy 4:37).
God will remain faithful to Israel because He set His love upon them. Deuteronomy 7:7 expands this and says there was nothing attractive about the nation. They were small and weak, but God chose them and loved them. His love was not because of what they did, but by His choice alone. They were not His people because He rescued them from Egypt. They were not His people because they had followed Him in the wilderness. The Law did not make them His people. They were His people because they were descendants of Abraham whom He had chosen to love. God was committed to them out of a personal love for them.
Whenever I perform a wedding, there is a time when I ask the bride and groom to exchange vows. And whether they use traditional vows or write their own, they say something to the effect of, “I love you and am committed to you for the rest of your life.” It might sound fancy—”Do you pledge yourself in all love and honor, in duty and service, in faith and tenderness to live with and cherish them for all the days of your life?”
Maybe you promised “to be a faithful and loving spouse in plenty and want, in sickness and in health, for as long as you both shall live.” Whatever you said, it was an expression of commitment. Vows are volitional–they are decisions/commitments to love and stay married. Some days it happens easily. Sometimes it’s an act of the will.
But that is how the Bible describes God’s choosing to save us. His love is the result of His choice. Ephesians 1:4 to 5, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” From before the foundation of the world, God has been in charge of everything. He is working all things together for His glory. He is completely in control of everything.
This is the truth you need when you don’t know how many more months you have. This is what you need when you are unsure of where money will come from next. This what you must cling to when you see loved ones destroying their own lives. This truth allows us to face the future with strength and confidence. God is completely in control.
Moses ends this section by reminding them that their escape from Egypt, the victories already achieved, and the coming conquest were all due to God’s personal involvement–that’s verse 38. He says, “You stand here, right now, entirely because God is in charge. Not by what you’ve done, but by God’s work.” This whole passage is this amazing declaration that God is in control, and He is committed to Israel. He will make sure that they have a future.
To us, as Christians, the Word says something similar. Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Because God is completely in charge and has chosen us, then the safest choice we can make is to entrust ourselves to Him. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He is entirely committed to His children.
Now look at your Bibles–the one truth at the center of all this is found in verse 35 and again in verse 39. The utter uniqueness of God is found in the first three verses (32 to 34). The complete control of God is found in the second set of three (verses 36 to 38). And the presupposition/the core message of it all is found in verse 35 and again in verse 39.
3. Our God is God Alone Verses 39 to 40
Deuteronomy 4:39 to 40, “’Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other. 40So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the Lord your God is giving you for all time.’”
The one major command in all this is to know that the Lord, He is God. Our God is God alone. He is God in Heaven above. He is transcendent. He exists apart from and above the world. He is not part of the universe, but higher and greater. He rules over all, including those in the spirit realm. He is God in Heaven above. He is God on Earth below. He is imminent. He is present and active within nature and history.
He is not a clockmaker who wound up creation and walked off, but is intimately involved in everything–knowing the number of hairs on your head and the needs that every person has. There is nothing that can be hidden from Him. And He sustains all of life here. He is God on Earth below. This is the truth that Moses calls Israel to take to heart. This is the truth that I believe God wants you to take to heart–our God is God alone.
There are a million false gods available, each promising to make you happy. You can buy the new Apple Vision Pro and escape into VR. You can get a car that promises to drive you hands-free. You can fill your bank account with more money than your kids can spend. You can spend your days on alcohol or your nights on porn. All of those things promise to satisfy you, to make you happy, to give you what you need. But there is no other god–our God is God alone.
Moses knew this–he’d known God in a way that few men ever have. And this is the truth that he wants embedded in the hearts of every Israelite. Know today, and take it to heart. The Lord is God and there is no other. And if this is true, then verse 40 says you should keep His commands.
First John 5:3, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” A heart that knows and loves God will want to obey His Word. Sin is rooted in unbelief. Whenever you choose to disobey God, you have ceased to believe (at least in that moment) that the God of the Bible is truly in charge. You believe instead that venting your anger is the only way to see change happen. You believe that pleasing or pleasuring yourself is the only path to happiness. Obedience to God’s Word is intimately connected to knowing and loving God.
I heard a pastor recently contrast Moses and Jesus. He said that Moses gave us the Law, about giving sacrifices for God. And Jesus brought the truth, that God sacrifices for us. A lot that he said in that message was wrong, and this one stood out to me. You see, the promise that Moses makes here is that obedience will be a blessing. Deuteronomy 4:40, “Keep His statutes … that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long in the land which the Lord your God is giving you for all time.” Moses taught that obedience brought blessing. Life goes well when you obey God’s decreed will. The promise to Israel is that life would go well and they would live long in the land.
Now I know we’re near the end and this is an aside, but did you notice what he says at the very end of verse 40? You are going to “live long in the land” (not forever, but long). And the Lord is giving you this land for “all time”.
It’s not the time or sermon to talk about amillennial and postmillennial views, but this is one of many reasons we are premillennial as a church. We believe that the land God promised to Israel is still to be granted. That though they conquered and lived on it for a time, they never possessed all that they were promised. And so there is a future fulfillment of that promise–that even Moses here anticipates. So cool!
Okay–back to the main point. Moses’ desire is that God’s people would obey their King. Sacrifices were only needed when people failed to believe that “He is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). The need for sacrifice began with Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden and God’s initiation of animal sacrifice to cover their disobedience. God took the initiative then and He took the initiative again in sending His Son to die for our sins on the cross.
The truth of God’s existence is written into our psyche. The knowledge of right and wrong is written into our conscience. And we have each failed to keep His commands many, many, many times. That is universally true and it explains why so much of the world feels broken all the time. The good news is that God sent His Son Jesus to live the perfect life you never could, one that was perfectly pleasing to the Father.
And He permitted His Son to be put to death on a cross. And while on that cross, the Father placed the full weight of His wrath onto His Son for the sins of all who would believe. And the sinless Son willingly accepted that substitution, granting to us who would believe His righteousness and removing our condemnation. That is what the first sacrifice in the garden looked forward to. And it’s why so many bulls and goats were sacrificed under the Law–so that we would understand that when we fail to obey God, atonement is possible and reconciliation is possible by putting our faith in Jesus Christ.
While our hearts are made for worship, we are just as prone to Israel to wandering from God. The way to stand firm when the future looks tough is to remember your God, to remember that He is utterly unique, alone in His ways, thoughts and actions. He is completely in control, active in history and life, permitting only and everything which He allows to happen. He alone is God. There is no other who has ever been able to help us. And for those who’ve put their faith in Jesus, He has set His love upon you.
As you go home, whether on your own or with others at lunch, would you take a few minutes to reflect on these three questions.
1) In what ways have you seen God prove Himself to you? (verses 32 to 35)
2) What acts of grace/mercy have God shown to you? (verses 36 to 38)
3) Will you take it to heart? (verse 39)