In a failure of the Hebrews to trust Him and overcome the enemy strongholds in Canaan, God saw Himself treated with contempt instead of faith and trust. It was a fatal mistake as none who rebelled would be permitted to enter the promised land. In light of their failure, believers in Christ are exhorted to take heed, “lest there by in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12), and fail to “enter into that rest” of faith (4:11). God makes a distinction between intentional sins and those which are unintentional (Numbers 15:22-36). While unintentional sins require atonement, they do not separate one from God providing there is repentance. But intentional sin risks cutting a person off from redemption as we find warned of under the new covenant.
“If we sin willfully after that we have received knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a fearful looking for judgment, and fiery indignation shall devour the enemies. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three: of how much more severe punishment shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” Hebrews 10:26-29
And the granting of pardon and forgiveness through atonement does not always imply the absence of consequences. We see this illustrated when the people arrived in the desert of Zin. There was no water, and people arose in opposition to Moses for bringing them to such a place. “Wherefore have you made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us into this evil place” (Numbers 20:5). Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the LORD, and Moses was told to take the rod of God and speak to a rock to bring water instead of striking it as he had done earlier at Horeb (20:8). But instead of speaking to the rock in irritation with the people who grumbled, Moses struck the rock (20:11).
Water did flow, but Moses disobeyed God’s instructions about speaking to a rock. He spoke as though the power to make water flow resided in himself and Aaron: “Hear now you rebels: must we bring you water out of this rock” (20:10). As a result, God told Moses he would not be allowed to bring people into the promised land (20:12). One must be extremely careful about touching God’s glory. He’ll never give it to another, lest we think we can gather credit and praise for what God is doing through us (Isaiah 48:11).
Following the stoning of Stephen, believers scattered and Philip went to Samaria where many saw miracles, believed in Christ and were baptized (Acts 8:6-12). A man named Simon formerly practiced sorcery, believed and was baptized (6:13). When the apostles in Jerusalem heard Samaria received the Word of God, they sent John and Peter. As yet, the Holy Spirit had not fallen on them; they had only been baptized in the name of Jesus. When the apostles laid hands on them, they received baptism in the Holy Spirit. Seeing this, Simon said, “Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost” (8:19). Because of desire for self-exaltation, Peter said, “Your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven” (8:22). How prone we are to desire credit at times for what God is doing (if not what we our doing in our own ability).
The Israelites would be granted victory by God over numerous enemies who came against them during their thirty nine years of wandering after leaving Kadesh. Arad king of the Canaanites, Sihon king of the Amorites, and Og king of Bashan and their armies as well as fortified cities fell to the Israelites. Yet the latter incessantly grumbled about having had to leave Egypt, ungrateful for deliverance. On one occasion, the LORD sent fiery serpents which bit the people, causeing many to die (Numbers 21:6). Eventually people recognized their sin and came to Moses, asking him to pray for the LORD to remove the serpents, and the LORD gave Moses the following instructions:
“Make you a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one is bitten, when he looks upon it, shall live.” Numbers 21:8
Moses made a snake of brass and put it on a pole. and those bitten by serpents who looked at it lived. The healing and life-sparing power of the brass snake clearly foretells the death of Jesus who was lifted up upon a cross in order to bring life to all bitten by the curse of sin and looked to Him in repentant obedient faith. Jesus would say, “As Moses lifted p the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted: that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:14-16}. In the same way, we must look to the Father for help in overcoming various strongholds in our lives which keep us from living the life which Christ came to bring all who believe in Him.
Eventually Israel reached the Jordan river in the plains of Moab and there pitched their tents. The LORD gave Moses explicit instructions in harmony with NT admonitions so ignored by many if not most professing Christ. “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, When you are passed over Jorday into the land of Canaan, then shall you drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images and completely destroy all their high places….but if you will not drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, then it shall come to pass, that those which you let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land where you dwell. Moreover it shall come to pass that I shall do to you, as I thought to do to them.” (Numbers 33:51-53, 55-56). We too are commanded to come out from fellowship with unbelievers, lest they be pricks in our eyes and thorns in our sides by their unbelief and worldly lifestyles.
Deuteronomy summarizes the first four books of the torah and relates their experiences to spiritual lessons which they underscore. Once before the people had failed to enter Canaan by obedient faith, and again their inheritance lay before them. Moses sees the major perils facing Israel as areas in their spiritual life. They were in covenant with God who demanded exclusive worship and devotion, and were to have learned that obedience was honored by the LORD and that disobedience brings punishment. Contrary to general opinion not only then but today, God doesn’t change. Moses earnestly exhorted people to trust the LORD with their whole heart and to obey His commands. Obedience would not only bring blessings, but make Israel distinctive among nations. But if Israel chose to disobey, then afflictions would come and people would be scattered to lands they knew not. Here we find many foreshadowings of what is taking place in the NT church in its state of apostasy.
God had provided a sacrificial system for all who confessed their sins and offered sacrifices to be reconciled with the LORD. However, God promised to judge severely all willful and intentional disobedience, and nothing has changed under the new covenant. “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment suppose you, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite to the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:26-29).
Through covenant, God intended other nations would observe Israel’s faithfulness and the blessings that accompany obedience, and be drawn to be part of the community of faith in Israel’s God (Deuteronomy 4:6). So the old covenant had a missionary emphasis like the new covenant. Moses is stressing after years in the wilderness that conquest of the land promised Abraham would require commitment of people to consecrate themselves with renewal of covenant with God. Reminding them of blessings and curses in the covenant (28:1-68), Moses explained that the only way they could be confident of remaining in the land was by loving the LORD and obeying His commands. A God who never changes had laid a foundation regarding holiness and obedience which was to continue as prophesied by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Moses, servant of the LORD, then went up Mount Nebo where he could look across the Jordan to see the promised land, There he died in the land of Moab and was buried by God in a place unknown to man (34:5,6).