DEUTERONOMY 1-4: WHAT WOULD MOSES SAY TO THE YOUTH GROUP?
I told our youth minister, Nate Donley, that Deuteronomy is a great youth group book. He gave me a sideways look. How curious! Why would that be? Deuteronomy means literally second law, but the first words are the basis of the Jewish title. "The fifth book of the Pentateuch, called in Hebrew 'Debarim' (Words), from the opening phrase 'Eleh ha-debarim'; in Rabbinical Hebrew it is known also as 'Mishneh Torah.'" (Source: Jewish Encyclopedia) Most of the book contains speeches Moses gives to the Israelites before they enter the promised land. The younger generation needed to hear the whole story again, receive the law as their mothers and fathers received at Horeb.
So Deuteronomy 1-4 is the first speech of Moses to the youth group. Here is how I imagine Moses speaking to the next generation and his speech outline below in the voice of Moses (with some humor and farce intended).
MY FIRST SPEECH TO THE YOUTH GROUP OF ISRAEL (DEUTERONOMY 1-4)
I learned leaving slavery, or leading people out of slavery, was one thing but entering the land of freedom was quite another! And what did we all learn? We learned in those forty wilderness years that the big thing is not our own courage -- yes, we were told by the Lord not to fear, but that wasn't enough. We had to learn to take one very important next step: to trust God (Deuteronomy 1:29-33). And by the way, I didn't love the manna everyday either, but we did not starve, and now you can enter the land and enjoy olives, grapes, leeks, and melons again.
We learned how to let God fight for us (Deuteronomy 3:21-22) and accept the outcome is some combination of what God desires and our own choices and consequences. Sometimes we think what's happening is only because God wants it, but God is also responding to our choices with necessary consequences for our actions. My consequence of getting too cocky and taking actions I thought were mine and not God's is to not enter the land and only see it from Mt. Pisgah.
- You are the future of God's people! This will be preached at youth camps 2,800 years from now, so I'm giving these texts here today so youth ministers will have something to say. I got to look over the land at Mt. Pisgah, and it's beautiful, and it's up to you now, because I asked the Lord one more time if I could go in with you, and the Lord's response was that I couldn't bring it up anymore. It was for your sake that the Lord said he's done with me (Deuteronomy 3:23-29). People in the future will use this text to say "you are the future of the church," though I don't know what the word church means nor why followers of the Lord in the future will use it to replace Israel.
- There is much to learn about God, and you will find the Lord if you seek with all your heart and soul (Deuteronomy 4:29). God is a devouring fire (Deuteronomy 4:24). God is jealous (Deuteronomy 4:24). The Lord is a merciful God (Deuteronomy 4:31). He will not abandon the covenant made with us (Deuteronomy 4:31). I'm still in awe of God after all these years. I've walked with God as friends walk and talk together, and I still can't believe I got to do all this side-by-side with God and with all of you.
- Now, below is your memory verse homework. Don't ever forget. Learn these words and the rest of the words I'm going to say in my next speeches that sometime later people will call Deuteronomy but I prefer to call "The Words of Moses."
NOTE FROM GREG: below (Deuteronomy 4:32-40) is one of my favorite quotes from the Torah, and at one time I'd memorized this powerful text.
For ask now about former ages, long before your own, ever since the day that God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of heaven to the other: has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of? Has any people ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and lived? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?
To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, while you heard his words coming out of the fire. And because he loved your ancestors, he chose their descendants after them. He brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, driving out before you nations greater and mightier than yourselves, to bring you in, giving you their land for a possession, as it is still today.
So acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Keep his statutes and his commandments, which I am commanding you today for your own well-being and that of your descendants after you, so that you may long remain in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time (Deuteronomy 4:32-40 NRSV).
The Lord bless you and protect you. --Mosheh
NOTE ABOUT VIOLENCE IN THESE TEXTS
Moses recounts destroying Kings Sihon of Heshbon and Og of Bashan and all men, women, and children, but they kept livestock as spoil (2:31-35; 3:4-7). We should not use these texts of conquest to justify killing others. Jesus has taught us a way of peacemaking and non-violence. These texts of violence are difficult to read, and we ought to be disturbed by them, we should not ignore them, not sweep them under the rug, but we should certainly not emulate or use them for our own violent purposes. See my previous blog post about violence.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.