Sermon preached on Deuteronomy 32:48-34:12 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/26/2010 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Novato, Marin County, CA
“Happy Are You… A People Saved by the LORD”
Moses was an instrumental figure in the Bible. This passage calls us to consider the life and legacy, and even the death of Moses. Many commentators see this passage as a sort of “Last Will and Testament” of Moses. And so this morning we’ll get a chance to consider Moses’ life and legacy. In the process we’ll consider our own life and legacy. And even more so, we’ll see how this passage’s discussion of Moses draws us to find Christ. It draws us to see how our life and legacy is wrapped up in our relationship with Christ.
You see, Israel’s life up to this point had been intimately connected with Moses. They were there, blessed, and on the verge of more blessings, because of Moses. Yes, it was God who ultimately blessed. And yet he gave Israel so many of those blessings through the agency of Moses. In Moses, and through his leadership, they found many blessings. Their connection with God through Moses, meant blessing. And yet this ministry of Moses looked forward to the greater blessings that would come through connection to God through Jesus Christ. And so, let’s dig into this passage and begin to consider the life and legacy of Moses.
Despite the sin that marred his record, Moses still dies leaving a wonderful spiritual legacy. Yes, his sin is mentioned here, right at the end of his life. That’s chapter 32, verse 51. It’s why he won’t himself finish the job God had him start. He won’t lead the people into the Promised Land. He’ll only get to see it from afar. And yet even though that reminder of sin is right here, it’s not what chiefly characterizes the life of Moses. Yes, that sin marred his record, and yet as Moses dies here, he’s remembered for so much more. Just notice right away the subtle little labels used of Moses in this passage. Chapter 33, verse 1, calls him the “man of God.” Chapter 34, verse 5, calls him the “servant of the LORD.” These are the labels that characterize Moses on his deathbed. He had lived his life for the Lord. He had fought the good fight. He was about to finish the race, and take hold of that crown of eternal life, reserved in heaven for him.
And so consider the legacy of Moses. Let’s briefly survey his life. You have the Exodus. God used him to lead the people out of Egypt. Read the book of Exodus to learn about that. Moses then received the law of God at Mount Sinai. This established what we call the Mosaic covenant. You see that referenced in chapter 33, verse 4, crediting that “Moses commanded a law” for them. I mean think about that. Our Bibles are divided up into two parts; old and new testaments. Those testaments are basically referring to the covenants. In the Old Testament, there are actually a number of covenants. And yet when we talk about the old covenant in the Old Testament, we’re talking about this one that Moses established. We’re talking about the Mosaic covenant with the law God gave at Sinai. That’s part of Moses’ legacy.
Moses’ legacy also included leading the people through the wilderness wandering. You note in chapter 34, verse 7, that Moses was 120 years old when he died. Well, the last 40 of those years, he spent leading a stiff-necked people through the wilderness. He dealt with those wayward Israelites almost perfectly during those grueling wilderness years. He had led them safely through that time. God used Moses to care for the people both spiritually and physically. Now they had made it through that time in the wilderness, and they’d cross over finally into the Promised Land. That leadership in the wilderness is a large part of Moses’ spiritual legacy. Just read the book of Numbers to learn more about that.
This passage records the mighty ministry that Moses had performed during all these years. Look at chapter 34, verses 10-12, for a snapshot of this. It says it was a ministry of tremendous power. He performed signs and wonders. He showed forth mighty power and worked great terror. There we see in verse 11 the Exodus specifically referenced. It’s referring especially to all the plagues that he executed on Egypt. You can also remember the signs he performed before Pharaoh too, turning a rod into a snake, and back again; and turning his hand leprous, and back again. Certainly Moses did many more miracles during the wilderness wandering too, providing water from rocks, for example. Don’t forget all the terror that took the people at Mount Sinai too. Back in chapter 5 we saw how when God spoke from the mountain burning with fire, the people came to Moses and begged him to be their mediator. To speak to God for them. And that’s what he did. He went up to the mountain and spoke “face to face” with God. He would also regularly speak face to face with God in the tabernacle. When Moses went into the tabernacle during those times, it says in Exodus 33:9 that the pillar of cloud above the tabernacle would descend down over the entrance.
Of course, that’s also what’s referenced about Moses’ ministry in verse 10 of chapter 34. As wonderful as it was that Moses ministry had supernatural power associated with it, it was even more wonderful that Moses had such close communion with God. For Moses to speak face to face with God, meant that he got to directly communicate with him. Like you and I might talk to one another. That’s a pretty amazing privilege and blessing Moses had.
As Moses dies here, we’re left with a note of yet another blessing. Even in his old age, he was, physically speaking, still going strong. That’s verse 7 in chapter 34. Now we have to keep in mind that Moses had said back in chapter 31 that he was now old and not able to come in and out like he was before. So he was definitely slowing down. But there’s a difference between not being physically able to go out into military battle in your old age, and being completely handicapped in your old age. Though Moses’ age limited his physical abilities, he was evidently still blessed with good vigor up until the time of his death.
After his death, we see a testimony to his legacy. Chapter 34, verse 8. The people honored with a 30 day memorial. They had done the same for his brother Aaron. Commentators like to point out that this is a typical period of mourning. Well, yes, that’s true. For example, earlier in Deuteronomy it talked about a daughter mourning for her parents for a month under certain circumstances. And yet people didn’t normally mourn for everyone who died. You mourn when your close loved ones die. Moses was not their parent. And yet, he was a sort of parent to them, wasn’t he? And so the fact that the whole country mourned for him, is obviously representative of his significant influence he had in their lives.
The last aspect of Moses’ legacy that I’d like to mention today is the blessing which he leaves to Israel here. We’ll consider this in a little more detail. Following up on what I said a moment ago, leaving a blessing like this is typically the role of a father. Jacob, for example, back in Genesis 49, blesses each of his twelve sons before he dies. This blessing by Moses in chapter 33 is very similar to that. And so part of Moses last will and testament here is that he bequeaths a blessing on the tribes of Israel. He gives a blessing to them as their spiritual father. That’s part of his legacy too – he places a blessing upon them for the generations to come.
Let’s make some observations about this blessing. Notice that he goes through the list, blessing the different tribes. By the way, interestingly the tribe of Simeon is not included in this list. Earlier it had been predicted that they’d become scattered among Israel, and essentially that’s what happens. They essentially become dispersed throughout the tribe of Judah. But notice that Moses blesses the tribes in different ways. They don’t all get the same sorts of blessings. One blessing that’s pretty common in many of these, is different aspects of military strength. That general focus makes sense in light of the military conquest that stood imminently before them. The Levites blessings especially focuses on their priestly ministry among the people. Joseph, as the tribe bearing the official right of the firstborn, receives the longest blessing, full of much material promises. And so there are different sorts of blessings given to all the tribes. Together, however, they complement each other. As a side note of application, we can think about this in light of our situation in the church. In the church, we have God-given blessings in each member of the church. Each of us have different spiritual gifts from God. We don’t all have the same talents and abilities; each of us can prosper in different ways. And yet together, we make up one body in Jesus Christ. Together, our different blessings, are to be used to bless the entire body. We all need one another. Likewise, Israel would need all the tribes to use their specific blessings to the benefit the whole nation.
And yet, even though these blessings are given by the mouth of Moses, realize that they ultimately come from God. That’s very clear in this passage, just looking at the structure of the blessings. When we look at how chapter 33 is structured, something clear comes out. The foundation of Israel’s blessing, would be God’s presence among them. It would be “Immanuel” – God with them. The blessing given by Moses here is not just addressing each tribe. Before and after the specific blessings to each tribe is a description of God’s blessing the people as a whole. That’s verses 2-5 and 26-29. These bracket the blessings to the tribe. This structure is seen by two unique references to Jeshurun in verses 5 and 26. The label Jeshurun is an endearing term for Israel, but it’s not a very common term. It appears twice here, tying together the introduction and the conclusion. God is said here to be the God of Jeshurun, and the King of Jeshurun.
And when you look at this introduction and conclusion, the focus is on God being with the people to give them victory over their enemies. Specifically, it is an advent theme. It’s the God of the heavens coming to them, and giving them victory. Verse 2. The LORD came from Sinai. Verse 26, the Lord rides the heavens to help you. God comes from the heavens down to earth to help Israel. That’s the source of their blessings here. Moses again is the voice of God among the people. Moses gives the blessings, but they really represent divine blessings. God had come to the people in the Exodus and at Sinai. It was God’s presence that led them through the wilderness. And it would be God with them, Immanuel, who would go before them into the Promised Land and give them military victory. And so these are from God, given through Moses. Moses is essentially just a mediator here of these blessings. The blessings are in some sense coming here in Moses, but really they are from God. It’s not ultimately about Moses here anymore. It’s about God.
In our Thursday Bible study a few weeks ago, we looked at the hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and we pointed out how God had been with the people in the Old Testament times. That can be rightly called “Emmanuel.” And we said that this rightly looked forward to the fullness of what Christ represented. Christ was in the fullness, “God with us.” That’s what we just celebrated at Christmas. We celebrated God with us. We celebrated the advent of God to his people, with the birth of Christ.
This being the case, then let me remind you that we should understand this in a typological fashion. The blessings given her through Moses are typological. Israel was being blessed here with a land. That was a large focus of these blessings; that God would give them victory to take hold of the Promised Land. It’s that Land which Moses got to peer out over in this passage. But, with the light of the New Testament we see that this land was typological. It was a physical representation of a God-given inheritance. And yet that inheritance was only foreshadowing the real inheritance to come. That inheritance would be heavenly, eternal life, in a new creation. This inheritance of land, and the blessings here associated with that land, are typological. They are typological of the blessings that would come in Christ, and of the inheritance that would come in Christ.
As we think about the legacy of Moses, I’d like to consider for a few moments verse 10 of chapter 34. It says, “But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses.” That’s really the closing point of this book. The book ends with the legacy of Moses, and it ends with his death. It also ends by noting his replacement – Joshua. And yet even though Joshua was the new leader, he doesn’t really fill the shoes of Moses. Deuteronomy 18 had given a promise. It recorded that God would one day rise up another prophet like Moses. Chapter 18 gave great hope that one like Moses would follow after him. And yet as the book of Deuteronomy closes, we’re told that this hope had not been yet realized. That means, if nothing else, that Joshua was not that promised prophet.
And so as we end out this book, that’s what they were still looking for. Moses had done so much. God would continue to do great things among Israel. That would include using Joshua in the conquest. And yet even after the conquest, they’d still be looking for another leader like Moses. And as you turn the pages in the Old Testament, you see that oh how they needed good leadership! Time and again, Israel’s problems started in their leaders. Even though they had many good prophets, even ones like Elijah who also had a powerful ministry, the promised prophet still hadn’t come. So when you get to the New Testament, you find that they are still waiting. That’s what they ask John the Baptist – are you the Prophet? What they are waiting for here at the end of the Deuteronomy, is what they are still waiting for at the start of the New Testament. None who came after Moses had both the same powerful ministry and the same intimacy with God, as Moses had. That was Moses’ legacy. And yet it was a legacy that looked forward. It looked forward to one who would come like Moses and continue in the footsteps of this great legacy.
Finally, that prophet came. It was Jesus, the Christ. As a prophet, his ministry was certainly like Moses’. His ministry came in power, with signs and wonders. He healed the sick and cast out demons. He came prophetically, bring the Word of the Lord teaching God’s laws to the people. He had intimacy with God like Moses had, and even more so.
Of course, that’s the exciting thing we realize. Jesus is not just like Moses. He is better than Moses. I mentioned some of this when we studied chapter 18, so I won’t go into too great of detail again. But let me make the needed point here. Hebrews 3 tells us that Jesus is greater than Moses, just as the son of the house, is greater than the servant of the house. Moses was faithful as a servant; Jesus as a son. That’s because Jesus was the eternal Son of God who took on flesh, and became man. Again, that’s what we celebrate at Christmas. Jesus is God come to man in the greatest sense. He’s the perfect expression of Emmanuel! Jesus is not just a man used by God. He is God in man. He is God in the flesh!
Jesus then is better than Moses in his authority as well. He doesn’t just say, “Thus says the Lord.” Jesus spoke out of his own authority as the Son of God. Jesus is better than Moses with regards to his death as well. Moses dies here. Jesus died on the cross, and rose again, overcoming death, that all God’s people could have resurrection life. Jesus is better than Moses, as Jesus is without sin. This passage instead reminds us of Moses’ sin.
Moses’ work was with the typological kingdom. God used him to bring freedom from Egyptian slavery. But that typologically looked forward to freedom from sin, and Satan, and death. The conquest of the Promised Land, as we said was typological as well – it looked forward to taking hold of a heavenly inheritance. And yet, Moses couldn’t complete the job in bringing the people into the land. As wonderful of his legacy is here, that’s ever so clear. Moses couldn’t finish the job. He left a wonderful legacy, but that one blotch on his record kept him from finishing the work. Sin disqualified Moses, even from being the leader in the typological kingdom; Sin kept him from being the mediator of the old covenant that he ought to be. Even on a typological level, Moses couldn’t finish the work, because of sin. But Jesus did what Moses could not do. And not just on a typological level, but in the fullness of God’s plan of redemption. Jesus brought us salvation from sin and death. He leads us into eternal life, conquering the devil, our enemy.
As we study today the legacy of Moses, I would call you to see the legacy of Christ. As you read about the legacy of Moses today, we know we are called to believe it. This record of Moses is the record of the Word of God. And yet Moses’ legacy now so clearly draws us to believe in the legacy of Christ. God painted a shadowy picture ahead of time in the Old Testament to begin to show what he would do in Christ. Moses’ imperfect legacy kept us all waiting. It kept us waiting for the promised one. The promised prophet. The promised seed of the woman. The promised king. The promised Messiah. The Savior who would be God come to us. This is Jesus, and he has come. Believe in him, and be saved. Believe in him, and you will have eternal life. Believe in him, and you will have every spiritual blessing. Blessings of God that come in Christ. Through faith in him. The blessings here, the Promised Land here, and Moses himself, point us forward to Christ and his great reward.
Verse 29 of chapter 33 then applies to us as Christian in the fullest sense. “Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord?” The word translated “happy” here can also be translated as blessed, or fortunate. God’s work in the old covenant could be described this way. Israel’s victory over their enemies could be described this way. But I hope you see how this looks forward to the greater salvation that comes in Christ. That means verse 29 is ultimately for us. We should see it in light of the salvation that we have in Jesus. Happy are you, oh Church of Christ! How blessed and fortunate are you, oh Body of Christ! We are the saved of the Lord! Who is like us? We have been loved with the unending love of God. If you believe in Jesus, then this is for you. This love has saved us from our sins and has adopted as sons of God. Again, saints of God, I declare to you, happy and blessed are you, o Church of Christ!
As we look ahead to 2011, I think this passage is very timely for us. Here Moses gets to peer out over the Promised Land. He peers out over the future for his spiritual children. On the one hand, his looking out over the land is a reminder of his sin. That he’s not going with Israel. On the other hand, it’s a chance for him to consider the future. It’s a chance for him to consider how God will use all the fruit of his labors. It’s a chance for him to have a vision of how his legacy will affect the generations to come as they move into their new home. Moses has this sweet time at the end of his life on the top of Mount Nebo. He had a time to look back on his legacy, while looking forward to the future for his children.
There are times to look ahead to the future, to think about what God has in store for you. To think about how you are living so as to leave a spiritual legacy as well. Sometimes that involves recognizing that you may not accomplish all that you want to do in your life. Sin and our physical frailties will limit us. Moses had to come to grips with that too.
And yet I thank God for even how we see God’s grace in that. Moses was told he couldn’t enter the Promised Land. And at this point, he doesn’t. Yet he didn’t just die without hope. And yet we know that Moses went on his death to be with the Lord. And as we turn to the New Testament, we find that Moses did finally get to enter even into the earthly Promised Land. You might recall when Jesus was transfigured there on the mountain. There on that Mount of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus. Well, of course, that was a mountain in the Promised Land. That was a mount Moses would have seen in the distance as he peered out over the Promised Land from Mount Nebo. And yet when Moses was standing there finally in the Promised Land, his focus wasn’t on the Land. No, it says he was there talking with Jesus. I’m sure Moses after his death came to fully appreciate what his real legacy really was. He helped pave the way for the Messiah. His ministry was ultimately to serve Christ, that Christ could come and bring us into the ultimate land of promise.
And yet, in Christ, Moses got to experience a blessing he didn’t deserve. He hadn’t deserved to enter into that earthly Promised Land. But through Christ, even that was overcome as he later stood on that mountain in the land with Jesus. My point then is that this is the perspective we need to have all throughout our life. We make plans, we serve, we look to live for Christ, and we keep trusting and relying on his grace that does amazing things and uses us in ways we don’t deserve.
As we start out 2011, let’s keep looking ahead at what God will do in our lives. Let’s look to live so as to leave behind a spiritual legacy. One of chief ways you can do that this year in 2011 is through discipleship. Invest this year in discipleship. Invest this year in growing as a disciple of Christ. Really set that as your passion this year, and into the future. To take your faith and godly living more and more seriously. To learn more and more what it means to follow Christ and serve him. To take discipleship seriously. If you are a Christian, then you are meant to be a disciple. A disciple is constantly learning. And if you are growing as a disciple, then God will use you more and more to help in the discipleship of others. Just as Moses blessed each tribe differently, so God has given you specific gifts to use in his church. As you grow as a disciple this year, look how you can be a blessing to others as well. And may we all keep peering ahead with our eyes of faith to that heavenly home to which Christ is leading us. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2010 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.