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Right before he died, Moses gave a blessing to each tribe of Israel (Deuteronomy 33).

I’m not sure what avenue he used to do this – did he speak the blessings or write them down? Did he communicate them to some large general assembly or to just a select group of leaders? Did each tribe have representatives present to receive the blessings, or did they have to wait to learn of their blessings via the Israeli Postal Service?

Regardless, one of the shorter blessings caught my eye today.

Deuteronomy 33:12 reads, “About [the tribe of] Benjamin [Moses] said: ‘Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.'”

While this gem was initially written to Benjamin, it is not an applicational stretch to say it was (secondarily) written to you and me, too.

Why isn’t it a stretch?

Because a) you and I and all followers of Christ are the modern day “beloved[s] of the Lord”, and b) God does not change.

God loves us, ergo, we are His beloved. That one’s easy to see, right? We are “the one[s] the Lord loves”, and, as such, we can “rest secure in him”. Other translations read “dwell in safety by him”. Both renditions carry within them a sense of transcendent peace that can quiet an anxious soul with His presence…if we let it.

Why can we rest secure in Him?

Because our unchanging God shields His beloved – us – all day long. Not part of the day, all day. He doesn’t take a lunch break or get distracted by His Twitter feed from time to time. No, all day He actively shields you and me.

What does He shield us from?

All manner of that which is not in our best interest (Romans 8:28; Jeremiah 29:11).

How does He do this? I think He protects us by putting us at “rest between his shoulders”.

What in the world does that mean?

I didn’t know, so I asked some old guys (i.e., free online commentaries written by now deceased gentlemen). Jameison, Fausset, and Brown, and Matthew Henry both give a geographical explanation for what is meant by “rest between his shoulders” that you probably aren’t interested in. Essentially, as I understand it, the Temple God inhabited was built on Mt. Moriah, which lay within Benjamin’s borders. The correlating imagery, then, is that the Temple itself represented God’s head and the mountain represented His shoulders. More to the point, the people of Benjamin literally “dwel[t] in safety by [God]”, in the shadow of the mountain (or of His metaphorical shoulders, if you prefer), which is just a fancy way of saying they dwelt under His holy protection.

So it is with us. As we – “the one[s] the Lord loves” – “rest between his shoulders”, it just means that He is protecting us from all manner of that which is not in our best interest.

So we got that going for us…which is nice.

I love this blessing for a couple of reasons.

The first is I just love the Hebrew concept of the patriarch speaking a blessing over his children. Fathers were supposed to speak life-giving words to their first-borns (although, as a second-born myself, I do believe I would’ve pulled a Jacob and snatched that blessing right out my brother’s ears and my dad’s mouth, but that’s a different post entirely). Verbally blessing their children was a normal thing back then. And while I am sure it didn’t go down how I like to picture it – a warm, sentimental moment during which the father cupped his son’s face in his hands and spoke full-bodied words of love and affirmation – the fact that it went down at all makes my heart smile.

But I love this blessing in Deuteronomy in particular because it’s an invitation for me to rest secure in my heavenly Father’s presence. As the Holy Spirit speaks to me through this scripture, it’s even better than a patriarch’s blessing; it’s a blessing from the Lord Himself.

And He’s saying it to you, too. He’s cupping your face in a warm, sentimental moment and saying, “Rest secure in Me, for I shield you all day long, and you rest between My shoulders.”

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How to Misunderstand God

In Deuteronomy 4:2, God says to Moses (and, subsequently, to the Israelites and the Christians and today’s believers), “‘Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.'”

Why would God say such a thing?  Because He knows man’s innate desire to control.

When I want to control my children, whether for their own good or for my own convenience, I make up rules.  Or I eliminate rules, depending on what the situation calls for.  We have some standing rules in our family, like don’t hit, be kind, don’t eat crayons.  Those go without saying.  But in the chaotic times, when my children are driving me nuts despite obeying those three no-brainer rules, I add to or subtract from the rules to regain some sense of control.

If I need a break, I might subtract from the rules.  “I know we don’t usually get to watch TV before dinner, but it’s ok today.”  My children love this kind of subtraction, but it also confuses them – what is the actual rule?   Do we or don’t we watch TV before dinner?  And, since Mom is willing to throw rules out, let’s see what else we can get her to compromise on…

When we transfer this desire to control to more serious matters, we get more disastrous results.

I don’t need to tell you – but I will – that man’s desire to control has reared its ugly head in religion.  People have come along and decided they wanted more control, more power, and more fame.  So they added and subtracted from God’s Word.

Joseph Smith did just that by adding the Book of Mormon to the Bible, despite God telling him not to in Deuteronomy 4:2, considering both books to be divine scriptures.  The Book of Mormon is chalk-full of ideas that are contrary to the ideas in the Bible.  And, just like that, a cult was born.

Legalists like to add to scripture as well.  When my dad was a boy, a nun once told him that if he missed one Sunday, he’d go to hell.  Let me assure you, the Bible does not say that, and that nun had no authority to impose her idea via her position of spiritual authority on the children she taught.

Perhaps even more common than adding to scripture is subtracting from scripture.

Many people choose the parts of the Bible they like and hold them to be true while discarding the rest.  Most people can get on board with a loving God who whisks people away to Heaven when they die, but some throw out the less palatable part about the reality of Hell.  Most people think Jesus was an awesome teacher who did lots of nice things, but they turn a blind eye to the Bible’s claim that He is the only avenue through which man can know God the Father.

When we add to and subtract from the Word of God, what we are really doing is trying to make God who we want Him to be.  Without the whole counsel of scripture – and nothing more – we develop an erroneous concept of God and an unstable foundation for our lives.

 

Retroactive Obedience

In yesterday’s Spiritual Legacy post, I mentioned that God is never pleased with doing the right thing the wrong way.  The good, beneficial, godly ends never justify disobedient, hurtful, hateful, or otherwise corrupt means.  I didn’t chase that rabbit trail yesterday, but a great example of this concept showed up in today’s chronological Bible reading.

In Deuteronomy 1, Moses recounts to the people the first time God tried to lead them into the Promised Land, 40 years earlier.  Moses reminds the Israelites that they didn’t trust God.  Despite His promise to give them the land, they were scared of the big, bad inhabitants of the land, and they didn’t believe they could defeat them.  Because of the unbelief, God says none of the adult Israelites will live to see the day Israel moves into the Promised Land.  In fact, He commands them not to go into that land (Deuteronomy 1:40).

And Israel freaks.

They back peddle.

Like a child who didn’t realize the punishment for disobedience would be so severe, Israel is stunned.  You can almost hear them say, “Lord, if we had known our disobedience would have resulted in this, we never would have done it!  We were happy to disobey because we thought You’d just give us a little slap on the hand.  We never dreamed of this harsh consequence.  Have mercy on us!”

And then Israel decided to obey retroactively.  “Then [the Israelites] said, ‘We have sinned against the Lord. We will go up and fight, as the Lord our God commanded us.’ So every one of [them] put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country” (Deuteronomy 1:41).

This behavior is just like my 4 year old’s.  If I tell her to clean up her room, and if she doesn’t, I punish her.  I tell her no TV show that night.  And then she bursts into tears, not out of sincere repentance, but out of self-pity.  She offers to clean up her room and does so as fast as she can, thinking I will give her the TV show back.  But she is mistaken.  Once the punishment is doled out, no retroactive obedience is going to change that.

So it is with Israel.  Actually, it is worse with Israel because God had already told them to forget about the Promised Land.  “Turn around and set out toward the desert,” He told them before they acknowledged their sin (Deuteronomy 1:40).

After their owning up to their disobedience (they claim it; they don’t apologize for it), God tells them again, “Do not go up and fight, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by your enemies” (Deuteronomy 1:42).

Right now, in this moment, what it means for Israel to obey the Lord changes.  Obedience is no longer going into the Promised Land.  The time for that has passed.  Now obedience means to turn away from the Promised Land.

But Israel doesn’t like that idea.

Moses says of Israel, “‘You would not listen. You rebelled against the Lord’s command and in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country.  The Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah,'” (Deuteronomy 1:43-44).

And how did the Lord react?  “[Israel] came back and wept before the Lord, but he paid no attention to [their] weeping and turned a deaf ear to [them]” (Deuteronomy 1:45).

Clearly, God does not care for delayed obedience.  He is not manipulated by people who offer to obey Him on their terms.  With God, there is one acceptable way to obey Him – His way.

Do Christians HAVE to Read the Bible?

When we miss the point of reading the Bible, sometimes we ask ourselves (and those in spiritual authority over us) why we have to read the Bible everyday.

“Show me in the Bible where we are commanded to have daily quiet times,” we say, looking for a way to alleviate our feelings of guilt over the fact that we don’t want to take time to read the Bible each day.

We try to build an argument to support the idea that weekly quiet times or monthly Bible reading is sufficient.  We reason that if the Bible doesn’t expressly say we must read the Bible every day, then we have the freedom to read it as frequently (or as infrequently, as the case may be) as our hearts desire.

I mean, that’s just biblical.  Christ has set us free from the Law!

Mel Gibson as William Wallace wearing woad.
Image via Wikipedia

(Insert William Wallace’s “FREEEEEEDOOOOOOOOOOOM!” cry here.)

The real issue at hand is not what the Bible does and doesn’t say about spending focused time with the Lord alone.  The actual problem at hand is our lack of desire to be with Him.But, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend we really do want to understand the biblicality of quiet times.  More specifically, let’s consider what the Bible tells us about one facet of quiet times – reading the Bible.

When the Lord was instructing Joshua on taking over as the Israelite’s leader, He said, “Be careful to obey all the Law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left that you may be successful wherever you go.  Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful,” (Joshua 1:7-8).

How can we obey the Bible if we don’t know it?   How can we speak about it and meditate on it if we don’t know it?  How can we know it if we don’t read it?  How can we remember what we read if we don’t read it often?

But maybe this verse is not enough to convince us of the need for daily Bible reading…  just often Bible reading.  And “often” is the loophole through which our guilty feelings can escape if we only want to read the Word every once in awhile.

If we are going to emphatically dispute the idea that the Bible doesn’t require us to read it daily, we’re going to have to find another verse.

And I found that verse today.

In Deuteronomy 17, God is telling Moses that there will come a day when Israel will no longer be satisfied with God being their King – they are going to demand a human king.  And when that king is appointed, God says of him, “He is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites.  It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees,” Deuteronomy (17:18-19).

To modernize things, these verses are saying Israel’s leader is to a) have his own Bible, b) keep his Bible with him, and c) read his Bible daily.

Why?

So he may learn to revere the Lord and obey His Word.

You can infer with me that if the king does not know the Word, he won’t know how to revere God or what he needs to do to obey God.

And even though we are not kings of Israel, these commands still apply to us.  Those who know the Bible know how to revere and obey Him.

So it is with us.  The Bible tells us we need to read the Bible.  If you’re struggling with not wanting to read the Word, tell Him about it.  Tell Him why you don’t want to.  Ask Him to make you want to.  He can change your desire.  Just ask.