Text: Deuteronomy 10-12
In his distress at witnessing the people of Israel worshipping the golden calf, Moses destroyed the first set of stone tablets on which were inscribed the Ten Commandments. Moses concludes a review of Israelite history with the new generation that is about to enter the Promised Land recalling the second chance God gave them as he received a second set of tablets. Moses also reminds of the appointment of Eleazar and the tribe of Levi to administer worship in the temple.
Next Moses lays out the ultimate requirement that God desired from His people: that they fear the Lord, walk in His ways and love Him, serving Him with all their heart and soul—which really is for their own benefit. Moses affirms the majesty and power of the Lord their God and reminds the people that out of all nations, this loving and merciful God chose them. He rescued them from slavery and made them His own people. Moses therefore commands the people “do not be stiff-necked any longer”.
Moses sets before the people both a blessing and a curse:
If the people obey the commands and love God with all their heart and soul, the land they are entering will be secure for them and will be blessed by God. If they forsake the Lord and embrace other gods, the consequence and curse is that God will take away His security and blessing on the land, causing them to perish.
The Lord specifically highlights through Moses the dangers of worshipping the gods in the land the people are entering. Therefore, he commands Israel completely destroy all the places of worship to false gods. He gives the people instructions for worship in only one place, which He will show them when they arrive in the land.
Let’s look at the word translated in Deut 10:16 as “stiff-necked”. In Hebrew the word is “oreph” (Strong’s #6203) and is used descriptively for the neck or back. But it is also used for its figurative meaning denoting stubbornness. This word is used in Exodus 23:27 when God tells Moses that He will send terror ahead of Israel and He will make all their enemies “turn their backs and run”. This is also the word we find God chose repeatedly to describe Israel, originally and specifically in reference to the time they set up the golden calf idol and worshipped it. (Ex 32:9; 33:3, 5,9; Deut 9:6, 13)
Here in today’s passage, we hear Moses’ plea to the people that they stop being “stiff-necked”. Essentially, it’s a command for the people not to turn their backs on the God of gods, the Lord of lords, and specifically, that they don’t reject God by falling again into idol worship.
Remember the priestly blessing God gave for Aaron to bless the people? “…the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you…” (Num 6:24-27). There is a sense that God desperately wants to be in face-to-face relationship with His people. The ultimate rejection of God’s heart was when Israel fell into idol worship by making the golden calf. God says that the people turned their backs on Him in that moment. They did not value the relationship He was building with them; it was an act of complete rejection.
Once again, Moses sees the potential for Israel to reject their God as the Promised Land is full of idols worshipped by the residing nations. These idols must be completely destroyed so that the people do not reject their God again. If Moses had not interceded on behalf of the people when they made the golden calf, he knows God would have completely destroyed them. So, Moses, of all people, knows just how deadly it would be for Israel to make the same mistake their parents made by rejecting God in idol worship.
Through Moses, God gives the people some key strategies for success so that they don’t make the same mistake again.
1) One strategy involves teaching their children everything they have learned so far so that each generation that follows will understand the “whys” behind all the laws and rituals they follow.
2) Another strategy is to make physical reminders of the words from God, which are set up in places where they will be seen as reminders many, many times a day. Every time an Israelite person moves from one room to another, every time they leave their home and return, they will be reminded again and again of their special relationship with the Lord their God.
3) Worship of the true God of gods, the Lord of lords happens in only one place, facilitated by the ordained and appointed Levites and priests of God. The people cannot worship wherever and however they please, surely if they did, the traditions and customs of the Canaanites and other nations of the land would infiltrate their practices.
4) Drive out all previous inhabitants of the land, leaving no one to badly influence the Israelites into idolatrous practices. Destroy all the false gods and the places used for idol worship so no opportunities for idolatry remain.
Do we recognize the commands God gives us are strategies to keep us in face-to-face relationship with him? Sometimes following God can be made into a ritualistic system of rule-keeping but that falls drastically short of God’s heart-intention. It’s all about relationship with Him! Anything God asks of us has a direct impact on keeping us close to His heart.
Consider making a practical step to keep close to God’s heart: write out a scripture verse, encouragement, or affirmation and post it on a door frame in your home as a reminder.
Father God, we thank you for choosing us to know you and belong to you through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Help us to trust you by recognizing the direction and commands you give us are meant to keep us close to your heart. Help us to surrender to you the attitudes, thoughts and actions by which we turn our backs toward you. Give us your strategies to be victorious over sin so we can be in close, face-to-face relationship with you and serve as bright and shining lights to those around us. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Draw Me Close To You (Cover by Life Worship)
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.