“Failed Love. . . or Not?” – Deuteronomy 32:48-52

May 27th, 2018

Dt. 32:48-52

“Failed Love . . . or Not?”

Aux.Text: Hebrews 11:13-16

Call to Worship: from Psalm 106


Service Orientation: Our sin keeps us from enjoying all that God desires for us here on earth.  But, God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and love allows us to enjoy everything in heaven; as well as so much more than we could ever dream or imagine.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him — 1 Corinthians 2:9b


Background Information:

  • By modern Western standards, this speech is strange. The tone of the first part seems matter-of-fact, if not calloused.  Instead of expressing gratitude for the work Moses has done for Yahweh’s people during the past forty years, Yahweh’s tone is accusatory, reminding him of his infidelity at Meribah Kadesh and reiterating that he will not enter the land.  The negative nature of this speech becomes even more apparent when it is compared with Nm 27:12-14, which the narrator seems to have adapted here.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 777)
  • (v. 48) There was no lapse of time. On the very same day that the song was recited, the Lord’s directives were received.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 217)
  • (v. 49) The Lord’s command to Moses to ascend Mount Nebo, look over the land, and then die there also appears in Nm 27:12-14, with some slight variations.  Mount Nebo is in the Abarim Mountains, a range running in a general north and south direction about ten miles east of the most northern part of the Dead Sea, rising to about 4,000 feet above the Dead Sea, which would be about 2,700 feet above the Mediterranean (sea level).  Nebo is 2,631 feet above sea level.  From Nebo Moses could see Canaan in the north beyond Lake Galilee, on the west the mountains of Judea, and toward the south as far as the area south of the Dead Sea (Zoar).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 217)
  • (v. 51) “To break faith with” is used to describe a wife’s unfaithfulness to her husband (Nm 5:12), the treachery of Israel when she forsook the Lord (Lv 26:40), and Achan’s “breaking faith” with the Lord (Josh 22:16, 20). (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 218)
  • By inserting the benedictions of chapter 33 in an otherwise coherent narrative, the narrator has ensured that readers close the book with a positive image of the man in their minds. Insofar as Moses is refused entry into the Promised Land, he shares the fate of his people.  However, as we will see in 34:6, his ultimate demise is quite different.  He does not die in the desert with the generation who refuses to enter the land.  He dies alone on Mount Nebo, but in his burial he is honored more than any human in history:  he is “gathered to the fathers” by Yahweh himself.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 781)
  • We now come to the last thing that Moses, the great leader, did as a leader. He has handed over the leadership to Joshua, and he has taught the people a song that is aimed at helping them be faithful to God and to return to God when they have been unfaithful.  His last act as a leader is to bless the people he had led for over forty years.  There will be separate blessings for each tribe.  Before that, however, Moses is reminded again that he cannot go to the promised land.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 671)


The question to be answered is . . . What are we to learn from God’s decision to keep Moses out of the Promised Land?


Answer: There are consequences for our sin.  God always holds leaders to a higher standard.  God loves to give greater fulfilment and reality in the midst of the death of your dreams or vision.  In light of God’s mercy, forgiveness, grace, and love those who trust in Christ are never without hope.


The speeches have been made, the sermon has been preached, the song has been sung.  All that remains is for Moses to bid farewell and leave the stage, which he does in typical fashion (typical of him, and typical in another sense of his great successor), by climbing a mountain.  Just before the final ascent, however, comes his parting blessing on the tribes of Israel.  There is something beautiful in the fact that after all the dark chapters of curses, challenge, warning, and melancholic prediction, these last words are so rich in warmth, hope, and comfort.  More than this monumental exposition of covenantal realities, that its final words acclaim the God who eternally loves God’s people and a people eternally saved by their God (33:27-29).  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 308)


The Word for the Day is . . . Hope


What are we to learn from God’s decision to keep Moses out of the Promised Land?:

I-  There are consequences for our sin.  (Dt 32:50-52; see also: Gn 3:1-24; 6:5-7; Dt 31:17-18; Josh 7:12; 2 Chr 24:20; Job 4:8; Psa 5:4-6; 78:59; 94:23; 141:10; Prv 1:31; 5:22-23; 11:5-7; 12:13-14, 21; 22:8; 29:6; Isa 59:1-2; 64:7; Jer 5:25; Hos 10:13; Amos 3:2; Mt 7:23; 25:41; Lk 13:27; Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 5:19-21; 6:7-8)


God had commanded Moses to speak to a rock in order to bring forth water for the people who were grumbling against him and Aaron.  Moses disobeyed the Lord by hitting the rock twice instead of speaking to it (Nm 20:11).  He also arrogantly suggested that he and Aaron, not the Lord, had brought forth the water (20:10).  For this act of unbelief and haughtiness, Moses forfeited his right to lead the people into the land which flowed with milk and honey.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 317)


Moses’ forty-year investment in Yahweh’s mission did not exempt him from the fate that inevitably strikes all.  He too must submit to the one and only God, who kills and gives life (v. 39).  778)


To Yahweh, striking the rock reflected a cavalier disposition toward him, as though Moses could adapt Yahweh’s commands as he wanted.  Moreover, in relating directly to the rock rather than the Rock, he had committed an idolatrous act.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 779)


The depth of the pain and disappointment that the divine refusal caused Moses can be seen in the number of times he refers to it.  (1:37; 3:26; 4:21; cf. 31:2; 32:48-52; 34:4).  So even if he stopped talking to God about it (Dt 3:26 suggests he had been making a persistent request), he didn’t stop reminding the Israelites of it:  because of you the LORD was angry with me!  The exclusion of Moses from entering the promised land figures so largely here, and was probably as much a surprise to the original readers as it is to us, that it invites some theological reflection.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 41)


We as Christians cannot regain tomorrow what we have lost through a brief moment of spiritual insanity or inattention today.  We have to face each spiritual choice with alertness and spiritual vigor, for in that choice may be our lives.  In the words of John Greenleaf Whittier, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been!’”  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 363)


Many people have had to share Moses’ sorrow from atop Mount Nebo, wistfully contemplating how things might have turned out differently.  Moses forfeited the experience of entering the promised land because of a brief moment of anger.  He let down his guard, and sin robbed him of an experience that might have been his.

It is far better to recognize that all of life is sacred.  Now is the defining moment in every life.  Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi used to prepare his players for a game by telling them, “Every play is the football game.  One missed tackle, one missed block, one dropped pass, and we never know how things might have turned out differently.  You have to give effort on every play as though this one in particular will make all the difference.”  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 363)


II-  God always holds leaders to a higher standard.  (Dt 32:51; see also: Mt; Mk; Jam 3:1; 1 Tm 3:1-13; Ti 1:6-9)  


32:51-52 Moses would suffer this fate because he and his brother Aaron broke faith with God in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh (cp. Nm 20).  Their offense was not a wholesale rebellion but an act of impatience.  Still, because spiritual leaders incur a stricter judgment (cp. Jas 3:1), Moses would see the land only from a distance.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 362)


Leaders must take the lead in showing people that they can indeed be obedient in this world.  But in order to be obedient they must believe that God will look after them.  The leaders were supposed to demonstrate that in their lives.  But Moses’ action did not demonstrate that.  That is very serious, because the responsibility of leaders is to lead the way in encouraging the people to trust God.  When leaders do not trust God, the faith of many people is affected.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 672)


The reason for the prohibition against Moses’ entrance into the Promised Land is more explicit here than that given for Aaron in Nm 20:24, where it is simply stated that Moses and Aaron had rebelled against the Lord’s command at the waters of Meribah.  Here it is said that they “broke faith” with the Lord in Israel’s presence and did not uphold his holiness among the Israelites (v. 51).  Moses and Aaron were culpable because they had not properly conveyed the Lord’s message or followed the way the Lord intended to supply water to the thirsty Israelites at Meribah Kadesh.  Instead of speaking to the rock, they called the people rebels and struck the rock twice.  The Lord denounced this action on the spot as a failure to trust him enough to honor him as holy.  Because of this they would not be permitted to bring Israel into the land (Nm 20:7-12; Ps 106:32-33).  Moses was to see the land only “from a distance” (v. 52).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 218)


Even men and women of great faith may fail.  Seasoned leaders, who’ve “seen it all before,” must especially remember that each new generation of God’s people needs leaders who’ll take them gently along the pathway of faith through life.  Called spiritual leaders in the church especially need to take to heart this incident from Moses’ life, and the lesson it teaches.  The lesson to be learned from Moses’ exclusion from the land is that we need to be careful that we accurately represent Jesus Christ, his word, and his will to those around us.  God doesn’t want to deal with his people primarily in terms of commandments and threats, but primarily in terms of grace and promise.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 322-3)


Paul warned Timothy about being too hasty in ordaining anyone to church leadership because of the grave responsibilities which went with it (1 Tm 5:22).  Judgment at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) will be on the principle that if the greater the influence, the greater the responsibility.  If every person will give account on the day of judgment for every careless word spoken (Mt 12:36), how much more for the teacher, whose implement of trade is the tongue (cf. Heb 13:17)!  (Vernon Doerksen, James, 75)


James’ point is that no believer should begin any form of teaching God’s Word without a deep sense of the seriousness of this responsibility.  To sin with the tongue when alone or with one or two other persons is bad enough; but to sin with the tongue in public, especially while acting as a speaker for God, is immeasurably worse.  Speaking for God carries with it great implications, both for good and ill.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 148)


Usually, teachers reproduce themselves in the lives of their students.  A false teacher could do great harm by creating mediocrity in the lives of the people of God and by actually leading them astray.  Much is written in the NT as a warning against false teachers, including the epistles of Jude and 2 Peter.

A false teacher or an inept teacher would be “tearing down” the lives of the believers.  A teacher who is called of God and gifted of God and who is properly equipped will have the joyous privilege of building the lives of God’s people and of building the Body of Christ.  The Biblical model for this style of teaching leadership is found in Eph 4:11-13.  Such an act of teaching results in the Body of Christ being built up, becoming unified in faith, having the knowledge of Christ, and ultimately growing to become more and more like Jesus.  (Paul A. Cedar, The Communicator’s Commentary: James, 68)


While modern interpreters take offense at the harshness of Yahweh’s treatment of Moses, the punishment was fair and fitting.  If the people were sentenced to die in the desert because they had rebelled against (Dt 1:26) and refused to trust Yahweh (1:32; Nm 14:11, 23), this should also apply to their leader.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 779)


The language the Scriptures associate with Moses’ actions with respect to the rock is telling:  not trusting in Yahweh (Nm 20:12), treachery or breaking faith (Dt 32:51), speaking rash words (Ps 106:33), but particularly a refusal to defend the holiness of Yahweh before the people (Nm 20:12; Dt 32:51).  When the people accused Moses of engaging in a diabolical plot to destroy them in the desert (Nm 20:3-5), in his self-absorption and his absorption with his own staff (vv. 8-9), he shirked his pastoral duty.  Instead of defending the sanctity of Yahweh and demonstrating the power of the divine word (cf. v. 8), he taunted the people (v. 10) and presumptuously flaunted his own power by striking the rock.

In so doing Moses illustrates the dangers of pastoral ministry.  Instead of being concerned about the reputation of God and the health of his people, we are often tempted to respond to criticism with idolatrous acts of independence.  This always shames the name of the Lord and jeopardizes the success of our efforts within the mission of God.  Within the history of that mission those who are called to carry the burden often prove the biggest hindrances.  However, we can take heart knowing that ultimately no one is indispensable; God’s cosmic mission will be fulfilled by a Leader who is flawless:  Jesus Christ, the perfectly righteous one.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 782)


Always in the history of Sri Lanka people in power have broken the law.  But they did it inconspicuously.  They hid their wrongdoing because they knew that what they did was wrong.  However, there have been times in the history of Sri Lanka when national leaders openly broke the laws, acted contrary to the constitution for all to see, and got away with it.  I felt this was one of the most serious threats to the welfare of our country.  The message is communicated that the constitution is not practical, that acting against it is acceptable.  A similar thing happens when Christian leaders disobey God in front of the people.  They bring down the standard of God’s holiness by communicating the idea that it is acceptable to disobey God.  Such actions need to be severely condemned in order to restore the dignity of God before people.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 672-3)


III-  God loves to give greater fulfilment and reality through the death of your dreams or vision.  (Dt 32:48-49, 52; see also regarding  heaven: Mt 6:20; Lk 12:33; 23:43; Rom 8:18-25; 2 Cor 4:8-5:10; 12:2-4; Eph 1:18; Heb 11:10-16; 2 Pt 3:13; Rv 7:14-17; 21:1-5, 11-27; 22:1-5; see also regarding Moses: Mt 17:1-7; Mk 9:2-13; Lk 9:28-36 see also regarding David: Mt 1:1-20; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9-15; 22:42-45; Mk 11:10; 12:35-37; Lk 1:27, 32; 2:4, 11; 18:38-39; Jn 7:42; Acts 13:34-36; Rom 1:3; 2 Tm 2:8; Rv 3:7; 5:5; 22:16)


Why is God asking Moses to view the Promised Land only from afar?  Is God taunting Moses?  Or is there something bigger, greater, more glorious going on? — Pastor Keith


He entered into the suffering of his people and of the God of his people in a way that, like so much else in his life, foreshadowed that future servant of Yahweh who would indeed offer a blameless life for the sins of us all (Isa 53:4-6).  Would it have eased Moses’ pain and disappointment, we might wonder, if he could have known that one day he would stand in the land on another mountaintop and have a conversation with that very servant about the sacrifice (indeed, the “exodus,” Lk 9:31) he was about to accomplish?  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 42)


Great leaders make mistakes and have to face the consequences of those mistakes.  But the merciful God uses their work to leave behind a legacy of blessing on earth.  The most severe example of this was David after whose adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah life tuned very sour.  Nevertheless, he is viewed as Israel’s greatest king, and it is from his line that the Messiah came.  Even after the event, he is referred to as “a man after [God’s] heart” in the NT (Acts 13:22).  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 673)


There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.  —Clare Boothe Luce


We will soon be in eternity, and then we will see how all the affairs of this world are such little things and how little it matters whether they turn out or not…When we were little children, with what eagerness did we put together little bits of tile, wood, and mud, to make houses and small buildings!  And if someone destroyed them, we were very grieved and tearful at it; but now we know well that it all mattered very little.  One day it will be the same with us in heaven, when we will see that our concerns in this world were truly only child’s play.

This is not to suggest, Francis hastened to add, that these “affairs of this world” have no value at all:  “I do not want to take away the care that we must have regarding these little trifles, because God has entrusted them to us in this world for exercise; but I would indeed like to take away the passion and anxiety of this care.”  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 253)


Yahweh invites Moses to view the Promised Land (v. 49b).  Technically, the verb “view” is an imperative, though here it also functions as an invitation to Moses to receive his consolation prize, namely, to see the Promised Land (cf. 3:27).  This is obviously small consolation, for while it would concretize for him the completion of his mission, it would also concretize his loss, as he gazes on what might have been.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 778)


Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.  (Hymn, “Come, Ye Disconsolate”)


A man’s reach must exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for.  (Robert Browning Andrea del Sarto , line 98)


From the perspective of heaven, this life on earth is nothing more than one night in a bad motel.  —Teresa of Avilla


Suffering is a wedge forcing us to choose between hope and despair.


IV-  In light of God’s mercy, forgiveness, compassion, grace, and love believers are never without hope.  (Bk of Jn; Jn 3:16; Rom 8:18-25; 1 Cor 2:9; 2 Cor 1:20; 4:8-5:10; Jam 1:2-4; 1 Pt 1:3-9; 1 Jn 4:8, 16)


A hopeless Christian is a contradiction in terms.


Though Moses did not have the joy of leading the people to the promised land, this was only a chastisement that did not negate the opinion of the Bible that he was a great person and the great eternal rewards he would receive.  Actually the frequent mention of this is itself a sign of Moses’ greatness.  He was so eager for the people to be obedient that he was willing to use his failures and the consequences of them as a motivation to be obedient.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 673)


Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all…As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength. (G.K. Chesterton, Signs of the Times, April 1993, 6)


“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God”; “Joy is not the absence of suffering, but the presence of God”; and “Joy is the flag that is flown o’er the castle of our hearts when the King is in residence there.”  All three sentences stress the same point:  because God is with us, we can continually rejoice.  His presence makes possible our hope–hope for how he will create good from even the negative elements in our lives (Rom 8:28) and hope for how we will discover that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the fulfillment of God’s promises as they will be revealed to us (8:18).  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 193)


Worship Point: Worship the God of the Universe Whose power, wisdom and love are so great that those who trust in Him are never without hope.


Gospel Application: We only have access to this hope because of the work of Jesus though His life and death.  All those who trust in Jesus are children of God and co-heirs with Christ.


Imagine you are on a high cliff and you lose your footing and begin to fall. Just beside you is a branch sticking out of the edge of the cliff.  It is your only hope and seems more than strong enough.  How can it save you?

If you’re certain the branch can support you, but you don’t actually reach out and grab it, you are lost. If instead your mind is filled with doubts and uncertainty that the branch can hold you, but you reach out and grab it anyway, you will be saved. Why?

It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch.  (Tim Keller; The Reason For God, 234)


All your life you’ve been rewarded according to your performance.  You get grades according to your study.  You get commendations according to your success.  You get money in response to your work.

That’s why the rich young ruler thought heaven was just a payment away.  It only made sense.  You work hard, you pay your dues, and “zap”–your account is credited as paid in full.  Jesus says, “No way.”  What you want costs far more than what you can pay.  You don’t need a system, you need a Savior.  You don’t need a resume, you need a Redeemer.  For “what is impossible with men is possible with God.”  (Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, 28)


Please let me repeat over and over again that the good news is NOT that if you are good you will get to heaven.  In fact, the good news is that you can never be good enough to get to heaven.  Which doesn’t sound like good news until you see the cross.  It is at the cross that God deals with our badness, ugliness and rebellion against Him, and gives us His goodness, beauty and purity–in the greatest and best swap of all time.  (David Robertson, Magnificent Obsession–Why Jesus Is Great, 84-85)


The cross is the absolute assurance that hope cannot disappoint.  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 191)


Spiritual Challenge:  Live like you really believe in the promises of God:  without fear, without anxiety, but with hope, confidence, security and love.


Why don’t people ask us about our hope?  The answer is probably that we look as if we hope in the same things they do.  Our lives don’t look like they are on the Calvary road, stripped down for sacrificial love, serving others with the sweet assurance that we don’t need to be rewarded in this life.  (John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, 109)


So What?:  Do I really have to explain why the life of a believer is superior to any existence one might have apart from Christ?  Really?  Think!?!?!







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