December 20, 2014.
“These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Dizahab. It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea. In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that the Lord had given him in commandment to them, after he had defeated Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth and in Edrei. Beyond the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to explain this law, saying, “The Lord our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negeb and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them.’”
In many cases, it is difficult for Christians today to go through a straight reading of the five books of the law. This is understandable as we don’t have a deep understanding of Jewish culture in this time period which makes some of the material difficult to understand and we might find it difficult to draw application to our lives. However, the word of God is very powerful and beneficial to our spiritual lives, even when the passages are difficult to understand and/or apply. I love it when I am able to take a passage and draw a broader application from it.
I started reading through Deuteronomy last night and I realized that the first few chapters are Moses retelling the recent history of the children of Israel from the time that the Lord brought them out of the bondage of Egypt to the present time, reminding them of the up ands downs that they had experienced along the way. It seems to me that this way of reminder was a popular way to teach in the Old Testament and even in the New (this is what Steven did in Acts 8, basically telling the history of the Jews and ending with Jesus). This retelling of history was beneficial for the children of Israel throughout the scriptures for different reasons, and I believe we could still benefit from it today. I have three ways that talking about your history can help us in our spiritual lives, though I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list. I hope you enjoy and consider going through your own history to remember all the highs and lows so that you can better direct your future as well.
1. Remembering who you are.
In the first few chapters of the book of Deuteronomy starting with the passage above, Moses addresses the people with a rather detailed history of what had happened to the over the past 40 years. I would imagine that most of the people he was addressing knew their history either from experience (though the adults that were around when they lost the privilege to enter in the promised land were likely scarce) or from the stories of their parents. So why did Moses bother with telling the people something they were well aware of?
I think this is the first benefit to discussing the past- it is a reminder of who you are, who you were and who you want to be. The children of Israel had been in bondage to Egypt for 400 years, and their prayers had been heard by God, who through Moses lead them out of Egypt through signs and wonders, displaying the mighty hand of God. This was something that was made known far and wide, as stories about how the God of Israel had sent the plagues on the Egyptians had made it to distant lands. The children of Israel needed to be reminded that they were a special people to God, as He had chosen them to be His people.
But this was not all that they needed to remember. They also needed to remember how they had rebelled against the Lord, and how they had been punished accordingly, being made to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until all the adults who were 20 years old and above died from the congregation, for they were not allowed to enter the promised land. A retelling of history was not to only hit the highlights, but also the lows as a way of reminder. It is said that those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it. This reminder was so that they could recognize and avoid the consequences of sin.
In the same way, a remembering of our history can both encourage us to move forward and avoid the mistakes of the past. Sometimes we like to forget the mistakes that we have made in the past because they are not pleasant to think about. But doing so would be detrimental to our walk. If we forget about what we did, what’s to stop us from doing it again? I’m sure it was very uncomfortable in the congregation as Moses reminded them of the sin that had tainted them in the past, but this did not stop Moses from speaking about it. We make mistakes. We sin. It happens. We need to learn from it.
Sometimes we just need a reminder to remember who we are so that we can refocus our direction for the future. The congregation were getting ready to enter into the promised land once more. This address was like in preparation to make sure they didn’t make the same mistake as last time.
2. Teaching your children.
As we noticed before, most of the adults that had lost the privilege of entering into the promised land 40 years before had likely died before this address. Though I’m sure these parents had taught their children what had happened before they died, another benefit to this address was to teach the children and those who had not witnessed the great and wonderful signs that the Lord had preformed when He took them out of the land of Egypt. One of the coolest things in scripture to me is the use of memorials that are set up for the specific reason to teach children their history and heritage when they ask about the memorial. There is an example of this in the book of Joshua.
“When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”
A retelling of history is beneficial to our children and any who have not experienced the things that we have. It keeps our stories and heritage alive, and it can even reignite the spirit of our people in times of need. Our history is important to know so that we do not loose the vision and purpose of our movement.
3. Public reading of scripture.
“And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.”
I know the passages are pretty long today, but I think the full text is needed to convey the full picture of what is going on. The word of the Lord is powerful, and in the bible there is much attention given to the public reading of scripture. This instance from the book of Nehemiah comes after a group of Israel who had been exiled into other lands had returned to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. The story of the rebuilding of the wall is fascinating in and of itself, but for our purposes I have focused on what happens after the wall was rebuilt. After completion, Ezra the priest took the law of Moses (the Pentateuch, or Genesis-Deuteronomy) and read it in the presence of the people. Can you imagine reading through the first five books of the bible in one sitting? I am not sure he read all of it in its entirety, but it would not surprise me if he did. And the people wept. It was a very emotional day.
We seem to have shortened any public scripture reading to very short portions of passages, usually before the preacher gets up to speak. I don’t know if this is due to our lack of attention or a sign that we view the word of God as tedious and boring, but I think we would do well to change this aspect of our worship. Moses did not think the history of the Exodus from Egypt to be too repetitive or boring to address the people with, nor did Ezra find these same words along with the rest of the books of Moses to be too long to read after the completion of the wall. Would we have a problem with it today? Or would it touch us so deeply that we would be moved to tears as the people were under Ezra?
There is a lot of history in scripture, and the retelling of history of both the Old Testament and the story of Christ and the early church would heavily involve simply reading the word of God. I think we would do well today if we gave more time and attention to the public reading of scripture, just as Paul instructed Timothy to do (ref. I Tim. 4:13).
So, are these the only reasons that a retelling and remembering of our history is important? Of course not. But I do think these are a good start. Think about your life now and where you have been in the past. Think about the struggles that you have gotten through and the triumphs that you have been given. Think about the highs and the lows, and then perhaps you will be able to use these memories to refocus and rededicate your life to the cause of Christ. Just as it was to the children on Israel, our history is important in propelling us forward to further glorify our Father in heaven.
Suggested Daily Reading: Deuteronomy 1-4.
The Lord guide you.