“Is It Love?” – Deuteronomy 1:41-46

February 5th, 2017

Dt 1:41-46 (Num 14:39-45)

“Is It Love?”

Call to Worship: Psa 127:1-2

Aux. text: Daniel 9:4-49


Service Orientation: Love is doing what is best for the Beloved.   Selfishness is doing what is best for me.  God is love and all that He does is loving.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:   If you love me, you will obey what I command. — John 14:15


Background Information:

  • The whole section, 1:26-46, is a litany of disaster, punctuated by the sad refrain of the people’s attitudes and actions. The sequence of verbs is poignant, climactic, and sobering.  It stands as a warning to every generation of God’s people to avoid such a chain reaction:  you were unwilling. . . you rebelled. . . you grumbled. . . you were afraid. . . you saw but. . . you did not trust. . . you thought it easy. . . you would not listen. . . you rebelled. . . you came back. . . you wept. . . you stayed.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 32)
  • (v. 46) we, we will go up. Another emphatic pronoun:  “we, not the next generation.”  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 183)
  • (v. 46) Moses’ observation that they milled around in circles for many days in the vicinity of Seir represents a classic understatement, for those days turned out to be 13,880 days. During these thirty-eight years (cf. v. 14) the Israelites made no progress whatsoever toward the fulfillment of the mission on which they had embarked when they came out of Egypt.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 75)
  • The three verbs–in Nm 14:44 (“they went up”), here in v. 41 (“we will go up”), and in v. 43 (“marched up”)–all suggest audacity, foolhardiness, presumption, rashness, and arrogance. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 28)


The question to be answered is . . . Why would the Israelites suddenly have a change of heart and be willing to do what previously they chose not to do?


Answer: Because they saw that disobedience was less advantageous for them than obedience.  They finally agreed to obey God out of selfishness, not love.


If you want to be somebody, if you want to go somewhere, you’d better wake up and pay attention.  —Sister Act II


The Word for the Day is . . . Love


What should we learn from this passage?:

I-  Delayed obedience is obedience on your own terms which is in fact no obedience at all.  (Dt 1:41-43; see also: Lv 10:1-2; Nm 14:39-45; Josh 7:15-26; 1 Sm 13:13; ch 15; 28:10; 1 Kgs ch 13)


True obedience is on God’s terms, not ours.


Delayed obedience is disobedience.  The test of obedience is a willingness to do what God requires at the time He requires it and not when it is convenient for us.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 52)


Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is; delayed obedience is disobedience.  Whoever strives to withdraw from obedience, withdraws from Grace.  —Thomas a Kempis.


On the surface, their confession looked like a serious response to Yahweh’s sworn decree.  But they failed to recognize that with the intervening events, everything had changed.  What had previously been called for as an act of faith now became an act of rebellion.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 74)


Even the right decision is the wrong decision if it is made too late.  —Lee Iacocca


If you obey only when you understand or agree with what is being asked, you are not obeying, you are only agreeing or affirming what is being commanded.  When you really obey, you do what you are told whether you agree or understand.  —Tim Keller


Important lessons are given by this alternation of the two ideas of faith and unbelief, obedience and disobedience.  Disobedience is the root of unbelief.  Unbelief is the mother of further disobedience.  Faith is voluntary submission within a person’s own power.  If faith is not exercised, the true cause lies deeper than all intellectual reasons.  It lies in the moral aversion of human will and in the pride of independence, which says, “who is Lord over us?  Why should we have to depend on Jesus Christ?”  As faith is obedience and submission, so faith breeds obedience, but unbelief leads on to higher-handed rebellion.  With dreadful reciprocity of influence, the less one trusts, the more he disobeys; the more he disobeys, the less he trusts.  —Alexander Maclaren.


If you have any conditions to your obedience to Jesus then Jesus is not your King and you are not in the Kingdom.  Because the thing that is the basis of your “if” or “when” of your obedience is your salvation and King.  You cannot say “I’ll follow you Jesus if . . . or “I’ll follow you Jesus when . . .” because the thing that is the “if” or “when” is your king and Lord . . . not Jesus.  —paraphrase of Tim Keller


Rebellion turns to presumption.  Mortified by God’s response, the people decide to “have a go” and in the process turn their delayed obedience to God’s earlier command into direct disobedience to the latest instruction (vv. 40-46).  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 31)


Why are the rebellion and disobedience like the sin of the divination?  Divination is seeking to know what to do in a way that ignores the word and counsel of God.  It discounts the guidance and revelation of God, or regards them as wrong or insufficient.  And that is exactly what disobedience is based on.  God says one thing, and we say, “I think that I will consult another source of wisdom.”  In the case of divination the added source of wisdom is a medium of some sort.  But most often in the case of disobedience the added source of wisdom is simply oneself!  Disobedience of God’s word puts my own wisdom in the place of wisdom.  What does it say about your doctor if he writes the prescription for three pills a day and you decide to take the one a day? It says that you put yourself above your doctor.  You distrust his skill and competence and good will.  It is a great insult, and he could not take pleasure in that—and you won’t get well.  (John Piper; The Pleasures of God, 247)


Obedience is the test of love, and it is rewarded by deepening intimacy.  Nothing is said about emotional reactions–only simple obedience.  The key question is not, “How do you feel?” but, “have you obeyed?”  Love is expressed through the will.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Enjoying Intimacy with God, 100)


The Israelites discovered that the land “flowing with milk and honey” also produced stinging bees, which swarmed around them, chased them off, and struck them down at Hormah in Seir.  The spiritual consequences of this event were more tragic than the physical.  Having swung emotionally from despair to self-confidence, the people returned to the base came and wept before Yahweh.  But Yahweh’s ears were stopped; he refused to listen.  God demanded obedience, not tears.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 74)


Without suffering—obedience is meaningless.  Obedience is measured and defined in the presence of suffering.  —Steve Brown


Biblical authority must never depend on human verification for it is the unquestionable Word of God.

The problem with much of the popular tactics used by many defenders of the faith today may be summed up as a problem of authority.  The apologist must see clearly that the nonChristian is in need of forsaking his commitment to independence and should turn in faith to the authority of Christ.  If however, trust in Christ is founded on logical consistency, historical evidence, scientific arguments, etc., then Christ is yet to be received as the ultimate authority.  The various foundations are more authoritative than Christ himself. . . . if beliefs in Christian truth comes only after the claims of Christ are run through the verification machine of independent human judgment, then human judgment is still thought to be the ultimate authority. (Richard L. Pratt, Jr.; Every Thought Captive A Study manual for the Defense of Christian Truth, 79-80)


This, then, is the essence of sin; man’s rebellion against recognizing his dependence on God in everything and the assumption of his ability to be independent of God. (Richard L. Pratt, Jr.; Every Thought Captive A Study manual for the Defense of Christian Truth, pgs. 29)


In order to form the minds of children, the first thing to be done is to conquer the will, and bring them into an obedient temper.  To inform the understanding is a work of time, and must with children proceed by slow degrees as they are able to bear it; but the subjecting of the will is a thing which must be done at once, and the sooner the better!

     For by neglecting timely correction, they will contract a stubbornness and obstinancy which is hardly ever after conquered, and never without using such severity as would be painful to me as to the children.  In the esteem of the world, those who withhold timely correction would pass for kind and indulgent parents, whom I call cruel parents, who permit their children to get habits which they know must afterward be broken.  Nay, some are so stupidly fond as in sport to teach their children to do things which in the after while, they must severely beat them for doing.

Whenever a child is corrected, it must be conquered; and this will be no hard matter to do, if it be not grown headstrong by too much indulgence.  And, if the will of a child is totally subdued, and if it be brought to revere and stand in awe of the parents, then a great many childish follies and inadvertencies may be passed by.  Some should be overlooked and taken no notice of, and others mildly reproved.  But no willful transgressions ought ever to be forgiven children, without chastisement, more or less as the nature and circumstances of the offense shall require.

I cannot dismiss this subject.  As self-will is the root of all sin and misery, so whatever cherishes this in children insures their after wretchedness and faithlessness, whatever checks and mortifies, promotes their future happiness and piety.  This is still more evident if we further consider that Christianity is nothing less than doing the will of God, and not our own; that the one grand impediment to our temporal and eternal happiness being this self-will.  No indulgence of it can be trivial, no denial unprofitable. (Dr. James C. Dobson; Parenting Isn’t for Cowards, 89-90)


II-  Doing something out of selfish motives with disregard for the Beloved is not love.  (Dt 1:43; see also: Num 14:39-45; Jn 14:15; 15:10; 1 Cor 13; 1 Jn 5:3-4)  


A confession and attempt to right the wrong is recorded also in Nm 14:39-40.  The people, however, are still in rebellion, despite the words about fighting now “according to all that Yahweh our God commanded us.”  Yahweh’s command is to return to the wilderness.  The confession can also be judged shallow in light of what is said here about the people thinking the war could be fought easily.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 182-3)


It looked like obedience, but in God’s sight it was “arrogance” (NIV).  That is how God regards the bypassing of discipline through doing what we would call Christian service.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 82)


“If someone says to me, “I don’t get anything out of reading Scripture,” my knee-jerk response is, “I will show you how to read it so that you can get something out of it.”   The operative word is “get”.   I will help you be a better consumer.  By this time the process is so far advanced that it is nearly irreversible.  We have agreed, my parishioners and I, to treat the Bible as something useful for what they can use out of it.  I, a pastor shaped by their expectations, help them to do it.   At some point I cross over the line and am doing it myself—looking for an arresting text for a sermon, looking for the psychologically right reading in a hospital room, looking for evidence of the truth of the Trinity.  The verb looking has taken over.  I am no longer listening to a voice, not listening to the God to whom I will give a response in obedience and faith, becoming the person he is calling into existence.  I am looking for something that I can use to do a better job, for which people will give me a raise if I do it conspicuously well enough.”  (Eugene Peterson; Working the Angles, 99)


When people arrogantly bypass discipline they are prime candidates for bigger traps of Satan than the original trap that triggered the discipline.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 82)


Weeping when we face the consequences of our sin is not the same as repentance.  People can cry with what seems to be deep sorrow over sin without a willingness to change their ways.  God will never be deaf to the cry of sinners who are willing to change their ways.  What the Israelites needed now, more than weeping, was a sincere desire to obey.  And because they did not have that, God would not even listen to their prayers.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 83)


thought it easy to go up:  What formerly had seemed a terribly fearful thing was now by a quick emotional shift looked upon lightly.  God was not impressed by such a shallow and untrustworthy burst of emotional feeling.  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol II, 340)


. . . the devil causes many to believe in vain visions and false prophecies; and strives to make them presume that God and the saints are speaking with them; and they often trust their own fancy.  And the devil is also accustomed, in this state, to fill them with presumption and pride, so that they become attracted by vanity and arrogance, and allow themselves to be seen engaging in outward acts which appear holy, such as raptures and other manifestations.  Thus they become bold with God, and lose holy fear, which is the key and the custodian of all the virtues; and in some of these souls so many are the falsehoods and deceits which tend to multiply, and so inveterate do they grow, that it is very doubtful if such souls will return to the pure road of virtue and true spirituality. (St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, 94-5)


III-  True love listens.  (Dt 1:43a; see also: Ex 7:4, 13, 16, 22; 8:15, 19; 9:12; 15:26; Lv 26:18-19, 27; Nm 14:39-45; Dt 7:12; 18:19; Jdg 2:19-20; 6:10; 2 Kgs 17:14, 40; 2 Chr 24:19; Neh ch 9; Ps 81:11-12; Prv 4:1, 20; 5:1; 7:24; Isa 28:23; 46:12; 65:12; Jer 7:13-16, 24-27; 11:8-14; 13:11, 15; 17:23; 19:15; 22:21; 25:3-4; 29:19; 32:33; 34:14; 35:17; 44:5, 16; Zech 1:4; 1 Jn 4:6)  


The word “listen” appears 64 times in the book of Jeremiah alone.


If what you have to say to someone is very important, you will require their undivided attention.  With few exceptions, so also the Holy Spirit does not speak to us until we slow down, tune out the static, and give Him our heart in focused attention.  To walk in true discernment, we must be quiet before God.  We must learn how to listen.   (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 79)


Their weeping did little to change things, except to give vent to their grief.  They refused to listen to Yahweh (v. 43), and now Yahweh will not listen to them.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 184)


Seek first to understand and then to be understood.  Most people do not listen with the intent to understand: they listen with the intent to reply.  They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives.  —Stephen R. Covey


One of the greatest expressions of love is simply to notice people and to pay attention to them. (Henri Nouwen, Leadership, Winter 1997, 115)


Jesus alerted his hearers to the fact that they might not be using their ears simply for hearing but for other purposes as well–such as to filter and manage the message so it fits better their own lives and purposes:  “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you.  For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” (Mk 4:23-25).  Listening is an active process that may select or omit from, as well as reshape, the message intended by the speaker.  Both listening and our other ways of perceiving turn out to be fundamental displays of our character, our freedom and our bondages.  (Dallas Willard, Hearing God, 257)


God’s agenda for his people takes center stage, reorders our priorities, and directs us in the course that most honors him.  The Lord himself proclaimed, “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27).  Listening to the voice of Jesus as it is heard in his Word is critical to following him.  (Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member?, 20)


IV-  God loves you enough to discipline you by allowing you to see the effects of your selfishness.  (Dt 1:42, 44-46; see also: 1 Sm ch 4; 15:23; 2 Chr 30:8; Isa 1:1-15; Jer 6:19; 7:16; 11:8-16; 12:17; 14:12; 19:15; 25:7-13; 26:4-6; 36:31; Ez 8:18; 20:8; Zech 7:11-13; Mal 2:2; Acts 3:17-23)  


What then could be more monstrous than that, in opposition to God’s will, and when the hope of His assistance was withdrawn, they should engage in what they had just before obstinately refused to attempt under His auspices, and by His command, and with the sure promise of success?  And yet, so does hypocrisy blind men’s minds, that they imagined they were correcting and compensating for the evil which they doubled.  Moses then relates how they received the reward which they deserved; as much as to say, that, although they might be slow to learn, still they were made acquainted, by the reverse which they experienced, how fatal a thing it is not to obey God:  for fools never learn wisdom except beneath the rod.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. IV, 91)


God’s Law and the revelation of His character reveals to us our sinfulness, selfishness and pride.  It reveals just how unlovable we really are.   By seeing how unlovable we are we discover anew just how great is God’s love is that endures forever.  — Pastor Keith


Defying their divine Commander (cf. Nm 14:44) and without any assurance of divine protection, they attacked those whom they had feared only a short time ago.  Adding the sin of presumption to rebellion, they forgot that God is not obligated to those who do not take him seriously.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 74)


The most serious flaw in the whole enterprise was that God had said, “I will not be with you.”  The last time Israel had heard such dreadful words was after the terrible golden calf apostasy at Mt. Sinai (Ex 33:1-3).  On that occasion Moses had realized only too clearly the implications of such an absence of God in their midst and told God that he would prefer to stay put in the wilderness rather than move forward without the presence of God (Ex 33:15f.).  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 31)


Presumably this expedition did not differ in physical strength, military resources, or the number of fighting men from the expedition God had originally commanded.  The only difference was the lack of God’s presence; but then, that was the only difference that mattered.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 31-2)


It is possible for the same action in the same circumstances to be an act of obedience or an act of disobedience, depending on the word of God in relation to it.  It is possible for it to succeed or fail, depending on the presence or absence of God in the enterprise.  Israel later learned through equally humiliating events (the loss of the ark to the Philistines) that the presence of God could not be physically or magically dragooned into the service of a disobedient people either (1 Sm 4).  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 32)


This is typical of people who are trying to find security from their activity after they have sinned!  They get themselves into a frenzy of activity to try and silence the voice of God who wants to do a deep working of healing in their lives.  They do not want to sit still, so that the Divine Surgeon can remove the sinful flesh in their body.  They want to avoid the humiliation of having to acknowledge their wrongdoing before others by submitting to the discipline.  So they get busy.  They may even be doing “God’s work,” but that work is an expression of disobedience to God.  Not everything that passes off as Christian service meets God’s approval!  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 82)


The verb is used only once (in the Hiphil, Dt 1:41).  Here it means to “consider it easy,” “think lightly of,” possibly to “dare.”  It is used to characterize the Israelites’ attempt to conquer Canaan after God had told them that they must wait.  P. C. Craigie comments here:  “There was a fine balance in the nature of the covenant that they constantly failed to grasp.  First, they could not really trust in the Lord, who would fight for them and protect them.  Then, when they rose to shallow confidence in the Lord, they forgot the seriousness of their task” (The Book of Dt, Eerdmans 1965, 106).  (R. Laird Harris, Theological Wordbook of the OT, Vol. 1, 213)


Yahweh instructed Moses to tell them not to go, for he would not be with them and they would be hard hit by the enemy.  Besides, Yahweh had just now commanded them to return to the wilderness.  Moses told the people what Yahweh had said, but they would not listen and went up into the hill country anyway.  They were roundly defeated.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 186)


When we are under discipline there may be great needs around us that we may have the ability to meet.  But we cannot do so because it would break the conditions of the discipline.  A brilliant worship leader may have to go through the agony of being at the service when someone who can’t sing in tune leads worship.  God’s work always faces a setback when God’s people sin.  And sometimes things will have to be left undone even though we know we can do them.  Let’s be careful about talking about the urgent task ahead when it is God’s time to deal with us.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 81)


Three crucial passages about discipline in the NT describe how discipline helps people along the path to obedience.  Paul told the Corinthians that the person guilty of serious sexual sin must be delivered to Satan, that is, deprived of the blessings of belonging to God’s covenant community, “for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5:5).  A similar action is recommended for Hymenaeus and Alexander, “that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tm 1:20).  Heb 12:11 says discipline is “painful,” but “it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  Note how the last two references speak of the learning that takes place as a result of the discipline.  Painful discipline helps direct people to healthy living.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 82)


Today people break discipline by not following the terms of the disciplinary procedure set out for them.  Some move to another church or group.  And, sadly, there are Christian groups who will welcome such people, especially if they are gifted and useful to their program.  Some modify the constraints placed on them.  For example, if they are asked not to preach for six months, they start preaching after three months.  If they have been asked to go for regular counseling for a period of three months, they stop after one month.

I have found that many who do not fulfill the terms of the discipline commit the same sin again after a time.  The sin revealed a weakness in their lives.  The discipline was aimed at healing the weakness.  When they encountered a similar situation to what led to the fall the last time, they didn’t have the strength to overcome it.  If they had followed the discipline, when the temptation came they would have remembered the severe pain that the discipline caused them.  That would have acted as a check that helped them overcome the temptation.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 83)


Worship Point:  God is love.  Everything God does is loving.  Worship God Who alone can show you what true love is.


There is no subtler perversion of the Christian Faith than to treat it as a mere means to a worldly end, however admirable that end in itself may be.  The Christian Faith is important because it is true.  What it happens to achieve, in ourselves or in others, is another and, strictly speaking, secondary matter.  For the Christian Faith will remain true whether we who profess it turn into heroic saints or into even more miserable sinners.  We must insist that we worship God because he is God, not because we want something out of him.  What a mean blasphemy it would be, to go through magnificent acts of public worship always with the dominant intention at the back of the mind—“This is really going to make a better chap of me!”  What arrogance and presumption, to treat eternal God, throned in glory, as a visual aid to moral self-improvement.  (Harry Blamires; The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think?, 110)


Gospel Application: God loved you enough to send you the very best:  His Son.  We enjoy God’s presence and blessings ONLY because of Jesus.  Repent and accept Jesus!


Remorse for sin does have a place in the Christian life, but we should be very sure what function it serves.  Guilt should drive us to the cross, but grace must lead us from it.  Guilt makes us seek Christ, but gratitude should make us serve him.  Guilt should lead to confession, but without a response of love as the motive of renewed obedience, true repentance never matures.  (Bryan Chapell; Holiness by Grace, 192)


Remorse isn’t always easy to distinguish from repentance, till they lead to action. Judas also was seized with remorse after he betrayed his master (Mt 27:3), but remorse can become as self-willed as the action from which it arose.  True repentance leads to a renewed resolve to obey.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 30)


Spiritual Challenge: Learn what love is by looking to Jesus.  Learn to love by repenting of your current understanding of love.  Learn you are empowered to love by being “in Christ.”  (1 Jn 3:16-20; 4:7-12, 16-21)


If you are a follower of Christ, then you must have within you a deep desire to want to love and obey God’s Word because that is what drove Jesus.  Constantly, Jesus refers to his actions as being what His father told him to do or Jesus does what he does so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.  How can you say you follow Christ and contradict the very principle upon which his life was based . . .  To fulfill the Scriptures.  You cannot call yourself a Christian and do less than read, obey and love God’s Word.  Otherwise, to call yourself a Christian and to live contrary to what we have just said, is to make a mockery of Jesus.  –Tim Keller


Some think they can’t do it; others refuse to change or grow.  They simply lack the faith to step out and do something.  “Where is your faith?” I wish to admonish them (and many times I do).  “Don’t you believe that God will enable you to obey Him?”

The churches that mature in health and effect lasting change are the ones that come to God in brokenness and humility and beg Him to produce the obedience of faith in them.  (Donald J. MacNair; The Practices of a Healthy Church, 231)


Samuel Bolton explains the radical changes the Spirit effects in our affections:

This, then is the reason why a godly man conducts himself well in duty, not merely because it is commanded but because he has the nature which truly and rightly responds to the command.  The law of God which is in the book is transcribed into his heart; it is his nature, his new nature.  So that he acts his own nature renewed as he acts obedience.  The eye needs no command to see, nor the ear to hear; it is their nature to see and hear…So far as the heart is renewed, it is as natural for it to obey as for the eye to see or the ear to hear…So far as the law of God is its nature, so far does it find delight in obedience.  (Bryan Chapell; Holiness by Grace, 152)


It happens all the time, often for good reasons.  We think that there has to be more discipline, more obedience, more holiness and more sanctification . . . and all of that is true.  It is just that those things don’t come from effort, they come from being free and loved.  (Steve Brown; Living Free, 171-2)


So What?:  You can never really love until you’ve been loved and only then to the extent you have been loved can you love another.   You can only really have great love by looking to Jesus:  by being in His presence.


You can’t love until you’ve been loved and then you can only love to the degree to which you have been loved.  —Steve Brown




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