This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life….
I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.
(Deuteronomy 30.19&20; 32.3&4)
I have been listening to the early books of the Old Testament as an audiobook, read by one of Britain’s most respected actors – himself a devout Christian. It has been wonderful to receive the word in this way, and sometimes a phrase has jumped out with particular impact. This time it was those words ‘ for the Lord is your life..’
Moses, as God’s prophet and the one who stood between the inconstant Israelites and their jealous God, is pleading with them in his last days as their leader, to choose life, to choose to faithfulness to God. He has poured out his life in their care, leading them according to God’s guiding word, out of Egypt, through the wilderness, to the brink of Canaan’s promised bounty, and back again into the desert. He will see the land, but not enter it, because the burden of leadership on one occasion was too much even for him, and he dishonoured God. How he must have yearned over them, longing that he might have assurance of their future obedience, even as believing parents long to see their children grow up into true personal faith in Christ.
By this time, Moses could have no illusions about the capacity of this people to forget all that God had done and to choose other paths to follow, other gods to worship. Nonetheless, he obeys God, and sets out before them the terms of the covenant relationship, reminding them of all God’s wonderful provision for their race, of all the promises of blessing which were to come. And he reminds them of the consequences of breaking the covenant, in the most horrific details.
God would not hold Moses responsible for the future disobedience of this people, because Moses had been a faithful servant, proclaiming God’s message, living out for them the words he spoke. Moses’ exclusion from Canaan was for his own particular failure, not the repeated disobedience of the people he led. There is some comfort here for those in leadership – whether parents in a family, or individuals in a church family – as we are reminded that a person’s destiny is ultimately a matter between themselves and God. As leaders, we must proclaim truth, we are not held accountable for what others do with our message.
But the way in which we tell the message will have an impact. We can be sure that Moses’ words were heard with greater weight because everyone who heard them knew the story of his dedication to their people and his life of service. And this service had not been merely with his mind and body, but with his heart. He had been passionately committed to seeing them through many trials, allowing his heart to be wrung over and over again. Moses had not only led the people, he had loved the people, and surely it is that love which made his final words to them hit home so powerfully.
Do I allow myself to love those to whom I am called to bring the word of God’s love, his offer of salvation, his equally certain promise of judgement to come? Does my life demonstrate the commitment to their well-being which Moses showed to the people he led? I wonder if this is, in part at least, what the apostle Paul meant when he said that the gifts of oratory, or wisdom and prophecy, of faith and sacrificial giving are worth nothing if there is no love.
If, after loving and serving them, weeping and rejoicing with them, I tell people of the faith I have, and of the promise which is for them too, then are they not more likely to listen as I plead with them to choose life? To choose the Lord, who alone is life and hope and health for our souls?
May I be given strength and courage to love, so that when I speak, I may be heard, and God’s word will bear fruit in other lives – to their blessing and his glory!