he descendants of Abraham left home and went to Egypt looking for food in a time of famine. There were likely less than one hundred of them. Soon thereafter they wound up enslaved to the same Egyptians who fed them. About 400 years later, God chose to display His glory so Abraham’s descendants, now about two million strong, walked out of Egypt loaded down with gold and silver freely given to them by their former masters. Can anyone shout, “God provides!” He knew that gold and silver was not all they needed. They had an inheritance of land waiting, but they needed a great deal of training before they would be able to receive it. God kept them in His classroom in the wilderness for forty years.
The book of Numbers covers the vast majority of this 40 year class. It records the Israelites being made “able to go to war.” They learned that Yahweh and Yahweh alone was God. They must trust Him, take orders only from Him. God was preparing them to enter the land He promised to their ancestors and to them. It truly was a land flowing with milk and honey. It was also a land inhabited by people engaged in the vilest types of sinful behavior. These enemies lived in fortified cities. Giants lived there also. It would be of the utmost importance that the Israelites would fully trust God, immediately obey Him, and completely eradicate sin. Anything less would invite disaster.
The book of Deuteronomy gives an account of the last five weeks of this 40 year class in the wilderness. I find it interesting that immediately after the baptism that marked the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry; the Holy Spirit took Jesus to the wilderness. There the devil tempted Jesus. Jesus answered each of these temptations from the devil by quoting from the book of Deuteronomy. That is a story for another time, but it does indicate that there are certainly some valuable lessons that can be learned in this classroom in the wilderness.
The name Deuteronomy is a Greek word meaning a repeating of the law or a second copy of the law. Moses is traditionally regarded as the human author. He records again the law given to him by God Himself at Mt. Sinai. Absolute obedience to God and His law is the clear theme of this book. The key verses being verses 26-28 of chapter eleven, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God”. (NASU)
God beautifully illustrated the significance of this choice between being blessed or cursed by commanding that upon entering The Promised Land, they were to build an altar in a certain valley and inscribe the law on it. Six tribes were to ascend one mountain; the other six tribes were to ascend another mountain directly across the valley. The priests were to remain in the valley. The priests would read a list of blessings for obedience. At the pronouncement of each blessing, the six tribes on Mt. Gerizim would respond in unison with “Amen.” At the pronouncement of each curse for disobedience, the six tribes on Mt. Ebal would respond in unison with “Amen.” What an awesome way to burn this truth into the minds of the people! The unified voices of three large groups echoing over and over again across the still, crisp, clear, mountain air of the wilderness. God really is the master teacher. It’s my choice, it’s your choice; obedience or disobedience, blessings or curses.
STEVE ELLISON is director of Ouachita Baptist Camp in Arkansas. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.