Moses’ commencement speech Deuteronomy 4 v.25 – 31
I have been preaching through a series on the promises of God, and have now reached Moses’ promise in Deuteronomy 4 v.29 – uttered from the crest of Mount Nebo.
If Moses had known the hymn “Abide with me” he would have been humming it to himself a little sadly just now.Truth to tell he would have been humming very quietly as he would be out of breath by the time he walked up to the top of Mount Nebo. What a view when he got there though. To one side lay all the land where the drama of his life had been played out. There was the Nile, where he almost perished as a baby. Not for from that was the Pharaoh’s palace where he had grown from boy to man. Then there was the scrubland where the angry young man had fled after his temper boiled over. A little closer was the Red Sea where the waters had stood up like soldiers on parade to this side and that and all had passed by safely. Beyond them the shifting sands of the desert where they had wandered these many years – a cloud before them by day and column of fire by night. And there below him, the glittering ribbon of the Jordan, and beyond that the hazy expanse of the Promised Land. Many a night he had fallen asleep dreaming of its valleys and hills – he’d woken to the taste of milk and honey in his mouth, but never seen them. And now, there it lay – beyond him forever as God had told him he would not cross over.
With a meaty, calloused hand he claps his arm around Joshua’s shoulders, thrusts him to the fore, and tells people to trust him as if he were Moses himself. Then come his words of wisdom. This is Moses’ ‘commencement speech’. I have always found it odd as name – since such a speech spoken when people graduate, and therefore is more about ending than commencing. It is, though, the beginning of the rest of their lives. Consider some samples:
J K Rowling
The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift.
I hope you’ll turn toward the problem of your choosing … Because you must. I hope you’ll drop everything … Because you must And I hope you’ll solve it. Because you must. This is your life, Class of 2016. This is your moment, and it’s all down to you.
You won’t always succeed. But know that you have it within your power to try. That generations who have come before you faced these same fears and uncertainties in their own time. And that through our collective labour, and through God’s providence, and our willingness to shoulder each other’s burdens, America will continue on its precious journey towards that distant horizon, and a better day.
What does Moses have to say? There are two home truths. (Or more precisely one home truth and one heavenly truth)
- You will fail
We often make a joke about “I can resist everything except temptation”…see it as bumper sticker. It’s not really so funny though. To yield to temptation is to let God down.
To yield to temptation is to forfeit lasting blessing for passing pleasure. Moses can see clearly that they are likely to get settled/ easy/ sloppy once they cross over into the promised land. Without the daily battle of desert survival to occupy them; without the unifying force of fighting a war to occupy them – other things will surely crowd in.
v.23 “be careful”
v.26 – 27 They will lose this precious land for which they have travelled & longed and fought and of which they have dreamed.They will be scattered to the four winds (which has happened)
v.28 They will end up with simple gods fashioned by their own hands, whiich can do NOTHING for them
Not so much of a positive home truth, you might think. Consider the more heavenly one though:
2.You will find Him
This promise is made all the sweeter by two words in v.29: from there
From there – flat on your faces as you realise your idols are useless.
From there – scattered to the four winds because you have forfeited the promised land.
From there – far from the land of promise and driving your car on the petrol vapour of bygone good times
After the “home truth” of saying they will fail …comes a glorious promise: “you will find him when you seek him with all your heart and all your soul”. This is similar to other promises of finding Him, – but this is set deliberately in the context of failure & faithlessness
Margaret Thatcher famously turned the u turn into an insult. However, God’s people are a people of grace who know all about the 2nd chance. the whole of Bible from flood onward is a second chance. People like Moses (who had messed up). People like Paul (a violent, destructive, opponent of Kingdom) were outstanding proof of just that.
Asked in a recent live radio interview about the church’s attitude to marriages in general and second marriages in particular, I replied that : I’m a Christian and its all about second chances. There is nothing like being put on the spot in a live broadcast to reveal what was under the surface anyway!
Our fundamental beliefs about grace are built on promises like this long before Christ came on the scene. Moses could see the future for these people far more clearly than anyone giving a commencement speech can see the future for the students sitting in front of them.
He could see a landscape of promise stretching way beyond the land. He could see a place where the catastrophic failure of God’s people would not even put a dent in God’s grace.
It is a place which I am pleased to call home.