Have you ever been on a journey that you couldn’t wait to see the back of? I can recall casually joining my wife for a 5k run a few years ago. I had never run 5k prior to this. And sure enough close to having started, each one of my limbs began to wave the white flag in rejection of the idea. As the run progressed I appeared to have lost all care for personal dignity, reflected in my loud panting, sweat drenched appearance, and the constant use of hands and clothing as facial wipes. “Are we there yet?” was the repetitive focus of my thoughts. Notwithstanding, I held onto the hope of stepping across that finishing line, and of course never running the 5k again (I’ve actually stuck to this!).
Today we come to the book of Deuteronomy which happens to be the book of the Old Testament that was most quoted by Jesus in the gospels, so there’s much for us to glean from it. Deuteronomy means “Second Law.” That said, a second Law was not actually given but rather the book recounts Moses’s retelling of the Law given by God at Mount Sinai to all Israel. We can sometimes cringe when hearing the L word, Law, however, the Law was never bad but good. It served as a teacher concerning God’s holiness and being holy. Though it’s true the Law sided with justice alone, grace covered the Israelites from their small beginnings right through to their being a great nation. And in Deuteronomy we get to see God’s grace through the series of preaches that Moses gives.
At this point, the Israelites are on the brink of entering the promised land after 40 long years wandering in the desert; a journey that should have taken 11 days! The Israelites certainly yearned to see the back of this journey; one they never wanted to get back on. However, as Moses explains, it was their whinging attitude and distrust of God that made a less than two week journey to the Promised land stretch out to 40 years. Moreover, God swore that due to their grumbling and lack of faith none of the adults apart from Joshua and Caleb would enter the Promised land.
Perhaps there’s something in us that rallies to shout “Foolish Israelites,” yet if we take a closer inspection of our daily experience we’ll likely uncover comparable moments or patterns of whinging and fearfulness. What are the usual candidates for you? According to the Independent Newspaper’s 2018 survey, bad customer service, being too cold, sitting in traffic, slow WIFI connectivity, and ironically being too hot all feature in the top ten of things Brits love to moan about. Paul the Apostle writes, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15). God still sees grumbling as dysfunctional and sinful today. It robs him of the glory due to his name. And though it’s often portrayed in our culture as comical, even expected, we’re to be different. We’re to be godly and as such we light the way for others to experience the goodness of God.
Moses highlights God’s graciousness to Israel as seen in their staggering growth, provision of leaders, conquest over the Amorites, escape from slavery in Egypt, God’s guidance and presence by cloud and fire in the desert, and the promised land. They never earnt any of this. Astoundingly, God’s grace was over Israel despite his foreknowledge of their grumbling and distrust.
Let’s make God’s graciousness toward us high priority in our thinking on a daily basis. It was a lack of this that left the Israelites vulnerable to moaning and distrusting God.
Lord God, thank you for your steadfast love and grace over us. Please help us to fight for you as our first love, fixing our gaze on you and choosing gratitude over grumbling. Where we get it wrong, help us, as your loved children, to be quick to come close to you in repentance, that we may continually live in your light. For you alone are worthy of all praise and glory, amen.