The Commonwealth Games were on a few weeks ago. And we got to hear different national anthems. And the aim of the national anthem is to REFLECT SOMETHING OF THE NATIONAL IDENTITY. To describe what a country is like. Or at least what it WANTS to be.
So, for example, Advance Australia Fair describes a country that’s young and free, a country with plenty of opportunities – golden soil and wealth for toil. A land abounding in nature’s gifts.
And don’t forget the SECOND verse. “For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve BOUNDLESS PLAINS TO SHARE.” (Our government may have forgotten that LAST part in the way it’s treating refugees and asylum seekers.) But nevertheless, it’s a song that’s quite accurate at reflecting our national character.
But it’s what it DOESN’T say that’s significant. There’s no mention of GOD. Unlike the English or the Canadian anthems.
Or my FAVOURITE of ALL – the New Zealand national anthem. Apart from having a great tune, the words are FANTASTIC! It’s a PRAYER of DEPENDENCE, not a BOLD DECLARATION. The Maori FIRST verse translates as: O Lord, God of all people, listen to us. Cherish us. May good flourish, May your blessings flow. Defend Aotearoa
Then there’s FIVE verses in English that say things like:
God of Nations at Thy feet, In the bonds of love we meet, Hear our voices, we entreat, God defend our free land.
2 Men of every creed and race, Gather here before Thy face, Asking Thee to bless this place, God defend our free land.
From dissension, envy, hate, And corruption guard our state, Make our country good and great, God defend New Zealand.
Lord of battles in Thy might, Put our enemies to flight, Let our cause be just and right, God defend New Zealand.
- Let our love for Thee increase, May Thy blessings never cease, Give us plenty, give us peace, God defend our free land. Guide her in the nations’ van, Preaching love and truth to man, Working out Thy glorious plan, God defend New Zealand.
Wow! Imagine if New Zealand actually reflected THAT! What a country it’d be!
And there’s ANOTHER national anthem to sing. Here in this last part of Deuteronomy. Ch 32. And the composer is GOD HIMSELF, who gives it to Moses. And it’s going to be ISRAEL’S national anthem. Because it’s going to describe her NATIONAL IDENTITY.
As one generation dies and another replaces it, the song itself will live on, describing what Israel is like. TEACHING her. REMINDING her who she’s meant to be, and who God is.
Disposed to evil
But there’s nothing FLATTERING about this description. There’s no “golden soil”. No “preaching love and truth to man, working out thy glorious plan.” Because God knows EXACTLY what Israel’s like. See there, from v20 of Ch 31?
20 When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their forefathers, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will TURN TO OTHER GODS AND WORSHIP THEM, REJECTING ME AND BREAKING MY COVENANT.
That’s their FUTURE. And it’s never been any different. From Egypt, all the way through the desert. Their INCLINATION, their NATURAL STATE, is to wander away from the God who saved them. See there at the end of v21? God says
I KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DISPOSED TO DO, even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath.”
I know what direction they naturally head in. Like a car that’s crashed into a gutter, and damaged the steering. Now, every time you hold the wheel straight, the car keeps drifting to one side. The steering alignment is out. And so it drifts off course. It’s naturally crooked.
And that’s Israel. Always veers off course. Always following OTHER gods. FALSE, POWERLESS gods. It’s just NOT NATURAL for them to be grateful to the GOD WHO SAVED THEM.
We saw LAST week in Ch 29 how it was a problem with THEIR HEARTS. Their CORE IDENTITY. V18. Naturally turned away from God. A root that produced bitter poison.
And that’s US, TOO. It’s a steering alignment problem shared by the WHOLE HUMAN RACE. We’ve got a talent for turning good into bad. Every time.
Some people want to convince you that humanity is basically GOOD. But it’s JUST NOT TRUE. The natural human disposition is toward godless, selfish, rebellion.
And we know it’s true. Not just when we read our BIBLES. But when we read our NEWSPAPERS.
And not just world events, and local crimes. But when we read our own HEARTS. Our own motivations and secret thoughts. We NATURALLY want to put OURSELVES FIRST. Our STUBBORN, INDEPENDENT STREAK comes NATURALLY. We’re BORN with it. Brand new babies have it, and so do 100 year old grandmothers. From the cradle to the grave.
“I know what they are DISPOSED to do,” says God.
A song of faithfulness and unfaithfulness
And so, for Israel, God gives them a song that’s going to be A WITNESS. A TESTIMONY. You can see God’s purpose there in v19 of ch 31. “Teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, SO THAT IT MAY BE A WITNESS FOR ME against them.”
In the future, when they DO veer away from the TRUE God, and head off course, and follow other gods. And when God brings all the punishments and curses he’s promised. Then God knows they’re going to COMPLAIN. (v17 of Ch 31), “This has all happened because God’s ABANDONED us!”
And so they need A SONG. A song that testifies to God’s RELIABILITY. Not his ABANDONMENT. A song that’s his “I told you so”. There in v21 of Ch 31.
21 And when many disasters and difficulties come upon them, this song will TESTIFY AGAINST THEM, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants.
And if you read through the song/ that’s EXACTLY what it DOES. Describes God’s FAITHFULNESS, and Israel’s UNFAITHFULNESS.
Like from v3 of Ch 32. “Praise the greatness of our God.”
4 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.
That’s GOD. THEY think he’s UNFAITHFUL. But, NO! His judgments are FAITHFUL.
On the OTHER hand, THIS is Israel (v5)
5 They have acted CORRUPTLY toward him; to their shame they are no longer his children, but A WARPED AND CROOKED GENERATION. 6 Is this the way you repay the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?
Then down in v10, more about God’s goodness to Israel.
10 In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, 11 like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions. 12 The LORD alone led him; no foreign god was with him.
But how did Israel RESPOND? V15
15 Jeshurun (that’s Israel) grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior. 16 They made him JEALOUS with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols.
And so God will do EXACTLY what he’s promised – send them into exile, conquered by a foreign nation. V21
21 They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding.
Down to v25.
25 In the street the sword will make them childless; in their homes terror will reign. Young men and young women will perish, infants and gray-haired men. 26 I SAID I would scatter them and blot out their memory from mankind,
It’s a dreadful tale of woe and despair. A sad lament. For those of you who are musical, the tune would be in a MINOR KEY. With long , mournful notes. And the tears would FLOW as people sung it.
What a terrible future!
Who can save us?
And as Moses teaches them the song, you can imagine the people wailing, “No! That’s not what we want! Surely there must be a solution! Who can save us? Who’s the repairer who can correct our nature? Our natural inclination to sin?”
Well, it’s not going to be Moses – as fine a leader as he was, and as far as he’s brought them. Ch 31 begins with Moses delivering the news (v2) “I’m no longer able to lead you. God’s told me I won’t cross the Jordan.
Even Moses had failed. Back in Number Ch 20, there’s the sad story. And the punishment will be that Moses gets right to the door step to the Promised Land. But never goes in. And that’s the way it turns out. Over in Ch 34, Moses gets to climb up Mt Nebo, on the wilderness side of the Jordan, and he gets to look over the whole promised land
Perhaps the people shift their gaze expectantly from Moses across to Joshua. Perhaps the NEW MAN can fix things.
But no, Joshua’s not the Saviour EITHER. Ch 31 v14. God calls Moses and Joshua to the tent of meeting. The old, and the new. It’s handing on the baton. And we expect an encouraging word for Joshua. But instead, v16.
16 And the LORD said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. 17 On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed.
So JOSHUA can’t save them.
Then what about the LEVITES and THE LAW? The ones who look after the Ark of the covenant, and perform the sacrifices? Perhaps THEY can keep the people following God’s law?
In v9 of Ch 31, Moses writes down a copy of his sermon, and gives it to the priests. And he commands them to assemble everyone together, once every seven years, and read out the whole thing. V12.
12 Assemble the people–men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns–so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law.
Perhaps THEY can convince the people to follow God?
But if you jump down to v24. Moses gives the copy of the law to the Levites to put beside the Ark of the Covenant. But look at its PURPOSE. (the end of v26)
There it will remain as A WITNESS AGAINST YOU. 27 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!
In other words, Moses knows the law WON’T DO ANY GOOD. Reading it out every seven years won’t work. Because they’ve got A HEART PROBLEM. Their NATURAL INCLINATION is to wander.
All the law will do is serve as evidence against them. A WITNESS. A measure of how far they’ve slipped.
Israel are like an old house that’s sinking. The foundations are soft. What it needs is A JACK to lift them back up again to level. But that’s not the law. The law is just a TAPE MEASURE that measures HOW FAR THEY’VE SLIPPED. It’s not a JACK that can lift them up again.
So the Levites and the Law can’t fix their future. And it won’t be the elders and leaders either. They’re NEXT in line to receive the bad news. V28. The elders and officials are all called together so Moses can speak to them and call heaven and earth to testify against THEM. He says
29 For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall upon you because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD and provoke him to anger by what your hands have made.”
Down the line we’ve travelled. And they all fall short. Moses,. Joshua, the Levites and the Law, the elders and officials. No human repairer who can fix the basic human orientation to evil. To idolatry and self-centredness.
Not THEN. And not TODAY. Human invented self-improvement can never work. No matter how convincing the sales pitch.
Not meditation, or education, or religion.
Not new age spirituality, or ancient mysticism, or humanism.
Not yoga, or surgery or diet or pills.
Not technology or anthropology or philanthropism (donating money).
Not travel, or self-denial, or fitness
All useless. Perhaps you’ve TRIED them all. And found them EMPTY. POWERLESS. Promising MUCH, but delivering LITTLE. Because they can’t change your basic orientation. Your nature.
All that self-improvement and you wonder whether you’ve improved AT ALL?!
And so we come back to Israel’s national anthem. Because we’ve only looked at the FIRST half. The sad lament. But from v27, the tune changes, and a ray of hope begins to shine through. It changes from a MINOR key to a MAJOR one. From a QUESTION, to AN ANSWER. What humanity is UNABLE to do… GOD does.
In v26, he’s scattered his people into the punishment of exile. But in v27, he thinks to himself.
27 but I dreaded the taunt of the enemy, lest the adversary misunderstand and say, ‘Our hand has triumphed; the LORD has not done all this.'”
God’s going to act to defend his reputation. The nations God’s used to bring his judgment against Israel/ will THEMSELVES be judged for their pride.
But not only that, he’ll RESTORE HIS PEOPLE. v36.
36 The LORD will judge his people and have COMPASSION on his servants when he SEES their strength is gone and no one is left, slave or free. 37 He will say: “Now where are their gods, the rock they took refuge in,
When they hit ROCK BOTTOM, God will SEE them. When their OTHER gods FAIL, HE will step in. v39
39 “See now that I myself am He! THERE IS NO GOD BESIDES ME. I put to death and I BRING TO LIFE, I have wounded and I WILL HEAL, and no one can deliver out of my hand.
Now THAT’S a song you can get EXCITED about singing! And it finishes on a HIGH NOTE with EVERYONE joining in the chorus. V43.
43 Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for HE will avenge the blood of his servants; HE will take vengeance on his enemies and make ATONEMENT for his LAND AND PEOPLE.
GOD will do it. What people COULDN’T do, GOD promises to do. To make ATONEMENT. To RESTORE. To HEAL. To BRING to LIFE.
That was the song. A testimony against their own sinful disposition. And of God’s determination to act JUSTLY.
And Israel sang it, there in the desert east of the Jordan.
And we assume they sang it when they ENTERED the land.
And sang it as they CONQUERED it.
And perhaps they even sang it, as the centuries rolled by, as they veered off course, and followed other gods.
And perhaps they sang it as they were SENT into exile.
(All happening just as the song predicted. God acting just like he’d promised.)
And then perhaps they sang it as they longed for RETURN from exile.
And then God DELIVERED on his promises in the song. And he RESTORED them to the land.
And for a while things looked like they might be fixed. In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the people rebuild the temple, they confess their sins, and they begin to follow God with a new determination.
But before long, they slip back into old habits. Because that’s their inclination. They work on the Sabbath. They inter- marry with the nations. Even the PRIESTS. And by the end of the book of Nehemiah, Nehemiah realises that HE can’t fix Israel’s problems EITHER. He’s praying that God would at least remember HIM for his efforts.
And so it goes on. Again and again, the Old Testament makes the point. Who can rescue humanity? NO ONE! Because there’s a problem with our basic HUMAN NATURE. Like God said to Moses – “I know what they’re DISPOSED TO DO.”
And when we jump forward to the first century AD. And it’s still the same. In Romans 7, Paul describes the struggle of Jews trying to keep God’s law. Ch 7 v5.
5 For when we were controlled by THE SINFUL NATURE, the sinful passions aroused by the LAW were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for DEATH.
And he goes on to describe how the Jewish law is powerless to really change people. Because they’re INCLINED to EVIL. It was Paul’s experience TOO. In v21, he concludes
When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see ANOTHER LAW AT WORK IN THE MEMBERS OF MY BODY, waging WAR against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! WHO WILL RESCUE ME FROM THIS BODY OF DEATH?
The same cry of frustration of every Jew from Moses to Paul! The question the whole Old Testament asked. “Who can rescue us? Who can fix our disposition to choose evil, even when we WANT to choose good?”
But look at what Paul discovered! “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” v25.
Thanks be TO GOD-THROUGH JESUS CHRIST our Lord!
GOD does what HUMANS CAN’T. And he DOES it through JESUS. And as we read on, we see HOW.
8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life SET ME FREE FROM THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH. 3 For what THE LAW WAS POWERLESS TO DO in that it was weakened by the sinful NATURE, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man TO BE A SIN OFFERING. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
Way back in the song of Moses, God promised to MAKE ATONEMENT for his land and his people. And in Jesus he FINALLY DOES it.
He provides the perfect sacrifice for sin to deal with it once and for all. And condemned sin, instead of condemning US.
And then Jesus sends HIS Spirit of life and power to change our nature. To change our orientation. To BEND us back towards God. So we WANT to please him, and actually have his power to be ABLE to obey him.
And the result is God’s gift of true life. Romans 8 goes on to describe it. The life of his Spirit. Peace, and rest and victory and righteousness and purpose and fulfillment. Life that Israel had LONGED for since Moses.
And that’s a life and a gift and a rescuer that really IS worth SINGING about!