Deuteronomy: Listening to People Who’ve Been There.


We don’t take advice well.  Yet, people who love us keep giving it.

They’ve learned from their experiences – both the successes and the failures.  And they want us to learn, too, without having to go through the anguish they suffered.  Trouble is, we don’t want someone else telling us what to do.  Besides, the advice of others often sounds like someone else’s history – not relevant to us.

Moses loved the Israelites.  And as he prepared to die, he did the loving thing and gave them all advice.   And this new generation of Israelites needed it.  They had not been around to experience the life in slavery, the escape from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, or the miracles in the desert.  They didn’t stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai and make the agreement with God to obey him in return for protection and blessing.  And they didn’t witness the disasters that took place with their parents disobeyed God.

So Moses told them the story.  Then came the advice, based on solid and timeless experience:  Obey God’s laws “and he will bless you in many ways” (Deuteronomy 28:2), disobey and “you won’t last long, and you may even meet with disaster” (Deuteronomy 28:20).

At first, Israel chose option one, and a strong nation was born.  Later generations ended up choosing option two, and the nation crumbled.

Background Notes:


As the first verse says, “These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the desert east of the Jordan in the territory of Moab.”  The final chapter of Deuteronomy, about the death of Moses, may have been added by Joshua or a priest who witnessed the death and helped bury him.


Moses delivered these last words to his people shortly before his death and Israel’s invasion of the promised land.   The date may have been around 1400 B.C., although many scholars say it took place in the 1200s B.C.


The Israelites are camped near the eastern banks of the Jordan River, on the plains of Moab in what is now Jordan.

Bottom-Line Summary:

Just before the Israelites cross the Jordan River into Canaan, Moses calls them together.  He won’t be going with them because he’s about to die.  But he wants to give his people some important advice.  Nearly all the Israelite adults who had witnessed the miraculous escape from Egypt are dead.  So the people before Moses are a new generation who didn’t stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai and make an agreement with God to follow His laws in return for His blessing.  So Moses gives them all a sacred history lesson, and then urges them to honour their nation’s agreement with God.  That’s why the book is called Deuteronomy, which is from a Greek phrase that means “repeated law.”

“Today I am giving you a choice,” Moses says.  “You can choose life and success or death and disaster… Choose life!  Be completely faithful to the Lord your God, love him, and do whatever he tells you…  and he will let you live a long time in the land that he promised to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”  (Deuteronomy 30:15 and 19-20).

Moses commissions Joshua to lead the nation into Canaan.  Then, in his final act, he climbs a mountain and looks across the fertile Jordan River valley into the promised land.  And there, on the mountain, Moses dies.

Influential People:


Moses is a Hebrew who leads his emerging nation out of Egypt and through the desert.  Now he leads them once more in a service of remembering the past and trusting God for the future.  His tremendous faith in God inspires the closing words of Deuteronomy:  “No one else has ever had the power to do such great things as Moses did for everyone to see.”


Joshua is a scout and warrior who showed his confidence in God by trying to convince the Israelites to enter Canaan 40 years earlier.  For his faith, God selects him to lead Israel into the promised land.

Miscellaneous Ideas:

  • Remember your history with God.  When you read or hear about the great acts of God throughout history, and when you reflect on how He has worked in your life, it changes you.  It makes you bolder and more devoted to Him.  Moses reminded the second generation of Israelites about what God did 40 years earlier to free their parents from slavery.  And the new generation had already witnessed recent military victories on their trek to Canaan.  They had a history with God.  So do we.  The Israelites, with confidence based on their history, marched into Canaan – in spite of the giants and heavily fortified cities ahead.  Remembering our history helps us overcome our obstacles, too.
  • Why did God order the Israelites to kill all the Canaanites – men, women, and children?  “If you allow them to live,” Moses explained to the Israelites, “they will persuade you to worship their gods and follow their detestable ways, and you will be unfaithful to the Lord” (Deut. 20:18).  And in fact, the Israelites didn’t kill all the Canaanites.  And what Moses said would happen, did happen.  In the years that followed, the Israelites started worshipping Canaanite gods.
  •    Why did God choose Israel for special attention over other nations?  As Moses told the Israelites, “The Lord did not choose you and lavish his love on you because you were larger or greater than other nations, for you were the smallest of nations!  It was simply because the Lord loves you, and because he was keeping His oath he had sworn to your ancestors” (Deut. 7:7-8).  Actually, it was Abraham that God chose.  For Abraham’s faithfulness, god promised to make his descendants into a large and enduring nation.   God was rewarding Abraham’s faithfulness.

Interesting Facts:

An Israelite man wasn’t to leave home for war or extended trips during his first year of marriage.  He was to stay home and “be happy with his wife” (Deut. 24:5).

Because Deuteronomy is such a complete summary of the agreement between Israel and God – a contract calling for Israel to obey God’s law – rabbis in ancient Israel called the book “five-fifths of the law.”

One Final Quote:

“Love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, and strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).  Jesus quoted this verse when asked to identify the most important commandment in the Bible.


That’s all for this week!
Paul S.





Numbers: When God Has Had It Up To Here!


This is a Bible book for complainers.  The message is this: there’s a point when complaining becomes just plain offensive and wrong, when your incessant grumblings offers proof positive the you’ve lost all trust in God.

For a nation of newly-freed slaves headed to the land of milk and honey, the Israelites complained a lot.  First it was the food.  They missed their fish from the Nile and fresh veggies.  Then they complained about Moses, figuring they needed a leader other than God’s man.  The complaint that broke the camel’s back was when they refused to go into Canaan after some of their scouts reported there were giants in the land.

God suggested cleansing the gene pool.  “How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?  I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them , but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they” (Numbers 14:11-12).

Moses asked God to spare the Israelites – as Moses had done before.  And God honoured the request – again. But God insisted that this complaining generation should get their wish and never set foot on the promised land.  By rejecting God, the Israelites rejected the milk and honey that was waiting for them.  They paid the price.  And so did their children who had to grow up in the desert over for a total of 40 years.

Background Notes:


Though the writer isn’t identified, ancient Jewish tradition says Moses wrote Numbers (along with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy).  Numbers 33:2 says he kept a log of the places the Israelites camped. So he may have written at least that section.  Others may have contributed to the book by writing down stories that have been passed along by word of mouth for generations.  It seems unlikely, for example, that Moses wrote this: “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).


These stories take place during the 40 years the Israelites stayed in the desert after fleeing slavery in Egypt.  Many scholars place that time from roughly 1440 B.C. to 1400 B.C.


Numbers is set in the barren stretch of rocky desert between Egypt in the southwest and present-day Israel in the northeast.  The Israelites break camp at the foot of Mt. Sinai, possibly somewhere in the southern Sinai peninsula, and then migrate north toward Canaan.  They likely spend most of their 40 years in the desert at the oasis of Kadesh Barnea, near Canaan’s southern border.

Bottom-Line Summary:

After nearly a year camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where God gives Moses the hundreds of laws that will establish and govern the nation, God orders Moses to take a census of the people and then lead them to the promised land of Canaan (now Israel).  The book of Numbers gets its name from two census reports, one before the people leave Mt. Sinai, and another one about 40 years later, as they prepare to finally enter Canaan.

Traveling through the desert from mid-spring to late summer, they run low on water and food.  Rather than ask help from God who freed them from Egypt and performed many miracles to protect them, they bitterly complain to Moses and say they wish they were back in Egypt.  Their complaints reach an all-time high when they arrive on Canaan’s southern border.  Scouts sent into Canaan return with a horrifying report that giants live in the land and the cities are massively fortified with high walls.

God or no God, the Israelites refuse to go any further.  “We’d be better off in Egypt,” they say.  “Let’s choose our own leader and go back”(condensed from Numbers 14:3-4). Because of their lack of confidence in God’s power – in spite of all the miracles they’ve witnessed in the last couple of years – God banishes this faithless and whining generation to the desert.  A new and braver generation (not conditioned by slavery) will reclaim the promised land.

After the Israelites are finished serving their sentence, a new generation sets out for Canaan and arrives at the region that becomes the staging area for their invasion : pastures east of the Jordan River, and what is now Jordan.

Influential People:


Moses leads the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and to the very edge of the promised land.  But an act of disobedience by him keeps him from crossing into Canaan himself – a reminder that even spiritual leaders can make tragic blunders.


Aaron is the high priest of Israel and brother of Moses.  He seeks equal power with Moses, and becomes a reminder that even those who are envied can get jealous.


Joshua is a scout who shows his confidence in God by urging the Israelites to enter Canaan even though the land is heavily defended.  When Moses dies, Joshua will become the new leader and a symbol of how God rewards faithfulness.


Miriam is the sister of Moses who unfairly criticizes him (for marrying someone who is not a Hebrew) and seeks equal power with him.  God strikes her with leprosy, and she becomes a prime example of what God thinks of envy and criticism.


Balaam is a seer hired by the king of Moab to put a curse on the Israelites.  He is convinced by an angel to bless Israel instead… showing that God can choose to use just about anybody to help his people.

Fascinating Facts:

  • “Slow as Moses” is a phrase that comes from the fact that it took the Israelites 40 years to cover the 400 miles between Egypt and Canaan – an average speed of less than a mile a month.  Take 60 steps and call it a day.  Actually, the Israelites were camped just about all of those 40 years because God ordered them to stay in the desert.
  • Israel’s national symbol, the Star of David, comes from Balaam’s prophecy about a king of Israel who “will appear like a star” (Numbers 24:17) and conquer the desert nations.
  • Balaam’s name has actually turned up on a seventh century B.C. plaster inscription found in non-Israelite ruins in Jordan – the region where a desert king asked him to come and curse the invading Israelites.  The inscription calls Balaam a “seer of the gods” who received a divine message about a coming disaster.


That’s all for tonight.

Paul S.



Leviticus: A Holiness How-To Manual



We’re made in God’s image — which means we’re like him in many ways.  Because of this it’s natural that we want to spend time with him.

But there’s something that gets in our way: sin.  That’s one big difference between God and us.  God is the definition of goodness.  He has never sinned  (that we know of), and never will.  But we have sinned in days past, and probably will again.

So how can sinful people and a holy God develop a relationship?  Sin and holiness are opposites that don’t attract.  They’re more like matter and anti-matter, which can’t exist together.  Leviticus is a manual to teach the Israelites how to live in the presence of a holy God.

Leviticus condensed is this: sinful people develop a relationship with a holy God by becoming holy themselves.  We do this by seeking God’s forgiveness when we sin and by devoting ourselves to him.

We tend to think of priests as holy men, or men of God, because they devote their lives to God.  Israel, however, was to be a nation of priests.  God told them, “You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), representing God before the world.  Leviticus showed the Israelites how to find cleansing for sin and how to develop a lifestyle pleasing to God.

Some of the guidelines in Leviticus are obsolete now because they deal with sacrifices and rituals in the ancient worship centre, which doesn’t exist anymore. Yet this law code is one of the important steps God took in his plan to save humanity from sin.  So Leviticus precedes the new manual coming from Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

Background Notes


The unnamed writer is probably Moses, who according to ancient Jewish tradition wrote each of the first five books of the Bible (although there are valid reasons to doubt this). Most of the book of Leviticus is a collection of quotes from God to Moses, in which God gives detailed instructions about how the people are to conduct themselves in everyday life and worship.


God delivers the laws that make up most of Leviticus during the nearly one year that the Israelites are camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai.  This first year after their miraculous escape from Egypt becomes a time to rest, recover, and begin organizing themselves into a nation.  The date is roughly 1440 B.C. according to some scholars, or in the 1200s B.C. according to others.

It’s unclear when Moses lived and the Exodus took place.  The scholars who say the Exodus happened during the 1400s B.C. base this on 1 Kings 6:1, which says Solomon dedicated his temple 480 years after the Exodus.  Since the temple was dedicated in about 960 B.C., that means the Exodus began about 1440 B.C.

The scholars who say Moses lived during the 1200s B.C. base this on Exodus 1:11, which says the Hebrews built cities such as Rameses. Archaeological evidence suggests the pharaohs Rameses 1 ruled from about 1293 – 1291 B.C.  His grandson, Rameses ll (1279 – 1212 B.C.), was especially famous for his massive building projects, and may have been the stubborn ruler Moses was forced to deal with.

Archaeologists haven’t found any Egyptian reference to the Exodus.  But the Egyptians generally reported only success stories, since the pharaohs at that time ruled as gods.    A later pharaoh, Merneptah (1212 – 1202 B.C.), tells of invading and defeating the Israelites – perhaps during the time of the judges, if the 1440 B.C. date of the Exodus is correct.  His report, preserved as an inscription: “Israel is laid waste, his seed is not.”


The setting for this book is at the foot of Mt. Sinai.  It’s unclear exactly where this is.  The Israelites fled east out of Egypt, and into the rugged and barren Sinai Peninsula — a region that looks like a cross between a desert and rocky badlands.

Near the southern tip of the peninsula is a 7,500 foot-high rock mountain that has been identified as Mt. Sinai since ancient times.  It’s called Jebel Musa, an Arabic name that means ‘mountain of Moses.”  In the fourth century A.D., Christians built a monastery there to commemorate the place where God met Moses at the burning bush, and later gave him the Ten Commandments.  A nearby oasis may have provided the Israelites with water and a comfortable resting place.

Bottom-Line Summary:

After fleeing Egypt and escaping the chariot corps that Pharaoh sent to bring them back, the Israelites camp at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the same mountain where Moses first met God at the burning bush.

They stay there for nearly a year, while God gives Moses the Ten Commandments and more than 600 other laws — many of which are preserved in Leviticus.  A lot of these laws are religious and deal with how to worship God in the newly-built tent worship centre, called the tabernacle.  Other laws deal with civil issues, such as how to help the poor and how to punish people for their crimes.

With this wide array of laws, God was teaching the Israelites (and us today) that he was their Lord not just when they worshiped, but in every moment of their lives.

The main players – Moses and Aaron:

Moses receives and puts into place the detailed laws God gives him to establish Israel as a nation devoted to the Lord.  In so doing, he shows his devotion to God, leading by his actions as well as his words.

Aaron, the older brother of Moses, is appointed by God as the chief priest, responsible for overseeing the sacrifices and other sacred rituals that God set up.  As such, he is Israel’s worship leader — this man who earlier led the Israelites in worshiping a golden calf.  Aaron is a model of God’s mercy (at times) and willingness to give people a second chance.

Fascinating Facts:

Leviticus gives us the word “scapegoat,” which describes a person who takes the blame for someone else.  On Israel’s annual day of repentance, known in Hebrew as Yom Kippur, the high priest lays his hands on a goat to symbolize the nation’s sins being transferred to the sacrificial animal.  The animal is then driven in to the desert to die.  Its departure represents the nation’s sins leaving as well.

Leviticus was once called the Priest’s Manual because the book is full of detailed instructions about worship, which is led by priests.  The name Leviticus came later, and means “about the Levites,” the family descended from Jacob’s son Levi, who produced Israel’s priests.

To-Do List:

“Love others as much as you love yourself” (19:18).  Jesus later calls this his second-most important commandment, after loving God with all your heart (Matthew 22:39).

“Show respect for older people” (20:32).

“If any of your people become poor and unable to support themselves, you must help them” (25:35)


See you all next week!

Paul Strathdee



How important is it that we believe in Jesus’ resurrection?

Jesus Ressurection

How important is it that we believe in Jesus’ resurrection?

“And if Christ has not been raised (to life),” the apostle Paul said, “our preaching (message) is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

If Jesus had died and stayed dead, there would be no compelling reason to believe he was God’s Son.  The miracles he did were much like those other prophets had performed.  Moses didn’t walk on water like Jesus did, but God used him to part the Red Sea.  Elijah raised a widow’s dead son to life (1 Kings 17:17-22).  Elisha cured a solder of leprosy (2 Kings 4:1-19).

Only Jesus came back from the dead, as he promised he would do.  Only he gave us reason to believe in life after death.


What kind of body did Jesus have after the resurrection?

His body had physical features, yet with abilities beyond what physical bodies can do.  It was also immortal — like our bodies will supposedly be in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:42).

Jesus’ resurrected body wasn’t merely a restored physical body, like lazarus had after Jesus raised him from the dead.  Yet it was physical — though Jesus had to prove it to his terrified disicples.

“Why are you so frightened?” Jesus asked.  “Look at my hands and my feet and see who I am!  Touch me and find out for yourselves.  Ghosts dont’ have flesh and bones as you see I have”  (Luke 24:38-39).  Jesus even ate some cooked fish to convince them he wasn’t a disembodied spirit.

Unlike a purely physical body, Jesus’ new body was able to suddenly appear in locked rooms, disappear as quickly, and ascend into the sky.  He also appeared able to disguise his looks, since two believers on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize him until a moment before he disappeared (Luke 24:31).

Years later, the apostle Paul described the enhanced bodies of heaven as “spiritual” (1 Corinthians 15:44).  Yet by “spiritual” he didn’t mean something invisible and untouchable.  He said our spiritual body would be every bit as real as a physical body — but a lot better.


Why did Jesus have to die?

The Bible doesn’t say why God’s plan to save humanity required the death of Jesus.  But Bible scholars speculate on possible answers:

1)      As far as the Jews of Jesus’ day were concerned, only a sacrifice could erase a person’s sins.   The Old Testament teaches that the punishment for sin is death. “Life is in the blood,” God told Moses, “and I have given you the blood of animals to sacrifice in place of your own” (Leviticus 17:11).   Jesus, however, rendered the sacrificial system obsolete: “By this one sacrifice,” a New Testament writer explains, “he (Jesus) has forever set free from sin the people he brings to God” (Hebrews 10:14 and also Hebrews 8:10-13).

2)       Christ’s death shows how much he loves us.

3)       Christ’s willingness to die shows that he was completely devoted to his Father —  as we should be.  Though we may not be called upon to die for our religious beliefs, we may have to make sacrifices.

4)       Christ’s death gave way to the resurrection and ascension into heaven, which gave the disciples solid proof of life after death.  This eyewitness proof filled the disciples with courage to spread Jesus’ teachings even under the threat of death.  In fact, most of the disciples are believed to have died as martyrs.


A To-Do List from the Gospel of Luke:

  •       “Love your enemies, and be good to everyone who hates you” (Luke 6:27).
  •       “Don’t be hard on others, and God won’t be hard on you.  Forgive others, and God will forgive you” (Luke 6:37).
  •       “Sell what you have and give the money to the poor” (Luke 12:33).  This is not necessarily a call to give away everything, but certainly a call to  give away something — enough to be considered generous.
  •       “To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given”  (Luke 19:26, New Living Translation).
  •       “Eat this as a way of remembering me”  (Luke 22:19).  This was Jesus’ instruction to his disciples at the Last Supper, when they ate bread representing Christ’s body, and drank wine representing his blood.
  •       “With my authority, take this message of repentance to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me’ ” (Luke 24:47, New Living Translation).



That’s all I’ve got for this week.   Thanks for tuning in.

Paul Strathdee