SynopsisOver and over again, in the last few passages, the LORD has either hinted, or openly said, that the Israelites are going to abandon Him. This is another such passage, but much more explicit than the ones that have come before.
The passage starts with the LORD telling Moses to bring Joshua. Moses and Joshua are to present themselves at the Tent of Meeting, where the LORD will commission Joshua to succeed Moses. They do, and the LORD appears in a pillar of cloud, which stands over the entrance to the tent.
The LORD tells Moses that he is going to “rest with [his] fathers,” and that the people are soon going to abandon the LORD, and “prostitute” themselves to other gods (verse 16). When that happens, God is going to become angry with them, and “hide [His] face from them” (verse 17).
God then gives Moses a song to sing, so that they won’t forget about all of these things. (We’ll get to the song in the next passage.) After God has brought them into the Promised Land, a land “flowing with milk and honey” (verse 20), and they’ve begun to thrive, they will abandon Him, and start worshipping other gods. But this song will be remembered by their descendents, so when God punishes them for their disobedience, it will “testify against them” (verse 21). So Moses writes down the song, and teaches it to the Israelites.
The LORD then instructs Joshua—again—to be courageous, because He is going to bring Joshua and the Israelites into the Promised Land, and be with them.
Moses then finishes writing the law into a book, and gives it to the Levites. He tells them to take it and place it beside the ark, asa “witness” against them (verse 26). Why a witness against them?
For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the LORD while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die! (verse 27)
So Moses has the has all of the elders and officials summoned, so that he can read the law to them. (Verse 28 actually says “so that I can speak these words in their hearing,” but I think that means reading the law to them.) Moses knows that the people are going to turn away from the LORD, and that He will punish them because their rebellion will provoke Him to anger.
ThoughtsThis is obviously a very negative passage; it’s no longer just “if you disobey God, He will punish you,” it’s a full-out prophecy that they are going to abandon Him, and He is going to punish them. Later on, in the Old Testament, prophets will come to the Israelites, and will tell them that they’re about to be punished by God; when that happens, they should be remembering passages like this—but, to the great surprise of nobody, they will not. Human nature is human nature; once they start thinking of themselves as God’s chosen people, the idea of being abandoned by Him (the way that they abandoned Him) will be completely foreign to them.
There are some expressions used in this chapter that are used a lot in the Old Testament, and that I just love, for their descriptiveness:
- Often, when God is talking about the Israelites abandoning Him for other gods, He calls it “prostituting themselves.” Worship of God is not just something that they’re commanded to do; they are to treat their relationship with Him as if it’s a marriage, and they are to be fully committed to Him. When they decide to worship some other god, hoping for better crops, or hoping to defeat some enemy in battle, it’s like they’re selling themselves to that god, hoping for these favours in place of money.
In other places, God also calls it “adultery” when the Israelites abandon Him, and I find that these two expressions go together: they already have Him, and He can provide them whatever they need, just as a husband should provide for his wife, so why would they go and sell themselves to some other god?
- Often, when God talks about taking His favour away from the Israelites, He describes it as “hiding His face” from them. It’s not just that He’s not blessing them, it’s like He’s pretending He’s not even there.
- The LORD often describes the Promised Land as “a land flowing with milk and honey.” I simply love this description; when I hear it, it makes me want to live there.