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Deuteronomy 8:10-11, 17-18
Dear Friends in Christ
Israel was camped across the Jordan from Jericho, ready to finally enter the Promised Land. God had told Moses that he was not going to be the one to lead Israel across the river into the Promised Land because he had been angry with Israel and made it sound like he was the one who would give them water from the rock. He didn’t give all the glory to God. So, Moses gathered Israel to give them some final instructions before he died, and Joshua would lead them into the land.
Think about their situation. They had wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Yes, God had taken care of them. Their clothes and shoes didn’t wear out. But they lived in tents, and they were getting very tired of eating the same thing day after day, year after year. They tested God’s patience by calling manna “miserable food.” But, as much as they might have detested it, the manna had kept them healthy and strong all the while they were in the wilderness.
How eager they must have been to enter the Promised land! Forty years earlier the spies had told them how fertile it was, a land flowing with milk and honey just as God had promised. To prove it to them the spies had brought back a cluster of grapes that was so big it had to be carried on a pole between two strong men. Moses says, the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land– a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. You won’t live in tents anymore, but in houses that you didn’t even have to build or pay for.
Things were about to change. They were about to get a whole lot better. How thankful this generation of Israelites, the generation that only knew life in the wilderness, how thankful they must have been when they entered the land, the manna stopped, and they ate some of that wonderful real food that they had been dreaming about! I imagine that they must have felt like those who have traveled in third world countries, or who have been held captive overseas. They must have felt like falling down and kissing the ground, while rejoicing and giving thanks to God.
Considering what they had been through, this first Generation would find it easy to give thanks to God. It would be easy for them to remember what God had done for them, that God is the one who gave them everything. They would remember seeing God knock down the walls of Jericho. They would remember the many times that he gave them victory over armies they never could have defeated on their own. It reminds me of the generation that lived through the great depression, who experienced food and gas rationing. As the nation grew and prospered it was easy for them to recognize their blessings because they knew what it was like to live without them. Many from that generation, like the first generation of Israelites in the Promised Land, praised the LORD their God for the good land that he had given them. A great many of that generation remembered the Lord their God, but times have changed.
Think about how great your blessings are by comparison to previous generations. Your standard of living is much higher. You have bigger houses, and so much stuff you don’t know where to put it. You have running hot and cold water and indoor plumbing – most of you don’t know what it is like to live without those things. Think about all the things you have that weren’t even invented a generation ago! What would you do without your cell phone? What would you do if you still had to pick corn by hand! God has showered us with more physical blessings than any other people who have ever lived on earth.
Israel would receive wonderful blessings as they entered the Promised Land, but they would also face a great challenge. It’s a challenge we face too. It’s a temptation that always comes when God richly blesses us. Moses warned about it. He said, when God showers you with blessings, be very careful so that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and ordinances and his statutes that I am commanding you today.
Because of our sinful nature the temptation is very great that as our blessings increase, we set our hearts on them instead of God. When things are going well it’s easy to forget where your blessings come from. And, when you forget the Lord your God you also forget about his commands and begin to do your own thing. When your blessings increase it’s easy for your heart to become proud, to think, my ability and the power of my hand have earned this wealth for me.
It’s understandable that you think that way, after all, you worked hard to bring in the harvest. Maybe you did better than others because you did better planning and worked harder to understand the markets. You put in extra hours at work. You studied and took advantage of some extra classes. You sacrificed to put money away for retirement when others were spending everything they earned. You are doing well because of your wisdom and your hard work, right?
Well, God does say that if you refuse to work you shouldn’t expect to eat. He does expect us to make the best use of the gifts and abilities we have. But, remember that the LORD your God is the one who gives you the ability to produce wealth. He’s the one that has given you your mind and all your abilities. He is the one who has seen to it that you have had the opportunity to use them. He is the one who has kept you from suffering from a natural disaster. He is the one who has granted you whatever health you have. Everything comes from him. It’s all about Him, not about you.
How refreshing it is when a gifted athlete is interviewed, and they give praise and thanks to God. Did they work hard and train for years to get where they are? Yes. But they realize it’s not about them, it’s all about God. He is the one who gave them the ability and the opportunity to do what they are doing. They are fighting the temptation to let their hearts become proud. They remember the Lord their God.
Sometime during this busy week take the time to read the next chapter of Deuteronomy. In chapter 9, Moses reminds Israel why their hearts have no reason to be proud. He reminds them that the reason for all their blessings in the Promised Land is not their righteousness or integrity. It wasn’t that they were such great people. They had proven that many times over, from the Golden Calf incident, to the many times they grumbled and complained about food, or water, or the leadership God provided, or you name it. Moses reminds them of how stubborn and hard-hearted they have been. God was not giving them the Land because of their righteousness, but because of the wickedness of those who lived in it. Israel was God’s instrument of judgment on them. He was giving them the Land because he promised Abraham that he would give it to his descendants once the iniquity of the Canaanites was full. Again, it wasn’t about them or anything they had done. If it had been about them, they would have perished in the wilderness long before this. It was all about God and his gracious promise that ultimately led to the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world.
Remember this as you contemplate your many blessings. You don’t have them because of your righteousness or integrity. You don’t have them because you are better, or smarter, or work harder than others. The moment you think that, you have become totally unrighteous in God’s eyes, and instead of showering you with blessings he should shower you with fire and brimstone. If God gave you what you deserve, what you have earned from him, you would not only be physically destitute, you would be suffering in the eternal fires of Hell.
Like Israel, the only reason we have what we have is God’s grace. As Luther taught us to confess, ‘All this God does only because he is my good and merciful Father in Heaven, not because I have earned or deserved it.’ Like Israel, we are his instruments through whom he wants to bless those around us as we share the good news that he kept his promise and sent Jesus to be their savior, and as we share our physical blessings with them as well. If the good news about Jesus is rejected, we become an instrument of God’s judgment as God’s word testifies against them.
Like Israel, we have the blessing of knowing about God’s promise of a Savior. By God’s grace we have the blessing of knowing that because he kept his promise and sent Jesus, the son of Abraham, to live and die in our place, whether we have much or little on earth, we have the greatest blessing possible. We have a home in the Promised Land of heaven. As we travel there, he is graciously providing for our physical and spiritual needs, and he is defeating our enemies who are stronger than we are for us. Our home in the Promised Land of Heaven is one we didn’t build or pay for. It was purchased for us by Jesus and he is getting it ready for us to live in for all eternity.
Heed the warning God gave through Moses. As you review all your blessings it’s easy to forget where they come from and why. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God who rescued you from the slavery of sin and Satan, and is bringing you to the Promised Land of heaven.
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