Israel’s Disobedience Is Remembered
Open Your Bible
Deuteronomy 1:1-46, Deuteronomy 2:1-23, Numbers 14:33-34
BY Jessica Lamb
For a short season my husband and I were foster parents in Colorado. One of our agency requirements was to write and post a list of simple household rules. Then, when three sisters came to live with us, we started our season of life together by giving a tour of our house and reading over those rules.
These girls had just been uprooted from their family. Ours was a brand-new place with brand-new people and expectations, where everything from the food we served to the smell of the shampoo was unfamiliar. Describing with clarity what life would be like as a temporary family wasn’t a replacement for building a relationship—it was an essential part of establishing structure in a season of overwhelming transition.
The book of Deuteronomy is in many ways Moses offering the Israelites similar structure. The law given in these pages is a covenant, or agreement, between Israel and God. It most closely follows the pattern of ancient Near Eastern marriage and adoption covenants, where two previously unconnected groups established themselves as a new family.
Before he explained the laws and structure that would frame their new society, he began by reminding them of their history with God as a people. God brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and brought the ancestors of the generation in Deuteronomy to the edge of the promised land. But they rebelled, refusing to enter the promised land. They let their fear and discouragement take precedent over trusting the Lord.
Yet God remained faithful to the Exodus generation and their children as they wandered in the desert for forty years. And after forty years, this new generation was preparing to put down roots where they had never lived. It was a season of overwhelming transition, a second chance to live as an obedient people in response to a good God who never stopped sustaining His people.
We’ll read many laws and specific instructions to the nation of Israel over the next few weeks. It can be tempting to read these rules from a twenty-first century perspective, raising an eyebrow at what can seem like barbaric or confining commands. But to a people without a criminal justice system or legal code, these instructions were a continuation of God’s provision. God had already chosen and protected His people, through Egypt and the exodus and in the wilderness. The covenant we’ll read about was an invitation into a new kind of life, a way for the Israelites to to demonstrate God’s goodness and love to the entire world as a nation.
As you read, don’t lose sight of the One who makes a family out of these wandering nomads. Remember that though it may look different than the societal structure we’ll read in Deuteronomy, we too are called in Christ to live lives of obedience (John 14:15). Remember that He calls us to follow Him, like the Israelites, not to earn a relationship or in place of knowing Him, but as a daily, all-encompassing response to the freedom and kindness He’s already shown us in calling us His own.