To the Christian, specifically my fellow seminary students…
A sermon manuscript on Deuteronomy 8:1-20, prepared for one of my homiletics classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Have you ever interacted with really spoiled children? I feel like I’m starting to see kids everywhere who just demand things from their parents and who seem to exhibit no gratitude or respect for them. They want something, and they scream or whine until they get it. Then once they have what they want, they radiate an “it’s about time you got around to that” attitude. They have so much, but they haven’t developed the character to handle all the blessing in their lives. It’s tough to watch.
Our passage today has a lot to say about situations like that, actually – about receiving gifts well and about kids responding appropriately to their parents, especially their heavenly Father. In our text, Moses is warning the nation of Israel to be careful how they receive gifts from God.
Although we may never have been (at least I hope not) one of those screaming, demanding kids in a mall, we are all in need of such a warning. Because God has been extremely generous with us. By any global or historic metric, every person in this room is overflowing with earthly wealth and possessions, not to mention the unbelievable spiritual blessings we have in Christ. So, alongside Israel, we need to hear Moses’ warning about how to live well in the context of God’s generosity and the potential consequences of failing to do so.
Primary Claim Statement
If I were to boil this message down to a single sentence, it would be this…
Don’t forget the Giver amidst all the gifts!
That may sound a bit easy or obvious, but it wasn’t for Israel, and I contend it’s not that cut and dried for us either. So, let’s pray together, and let the Scriptures teach us on this important topic.
Prayer for Illumination
Father, as we turn our eyes and ears and hearts toward your word today, would you open them wide, so that we may receive fully what you desire to teach us today. Change our perspectives, and grow our gratitude, and humble our hearts. Teach us, Lord, for we are eager to learn. And make us doers of your word, not hearers only.
We ask these things in the gracious and glorious and strong name of Jesus. Amen.
Open your bibles with me, please, to Deuteronomy 8:1-20. That’s Deuteronomy 8. While you’re turning there, let me orient us a bit to where this story lies in redemption history.
This scene takes place after the Exodus, after God has led the people in the wilderness for 40 years until an entire generation has died off. As the book of Deuteronomy opens, we encounter the next generation of Israelites, whom God has brought back to the border of the promised land, preparing at last to enter the land and occupy it. Our passage is in the middle of the speech Moses makes to the people on that momentous day, admonishing them to be faithful to God once they’ve taken possession of the land. And although these words were written thousands of years ago, they speak to us today as well.
Reading of Scripture
So, get your bibles in front of you, and follow along with me as I read from the HCSB…
You must carefully follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase, and may enter and take possession of the land the Lord swore to your fathers. Remember that the Lord your God led you on the entire journey these forty years in the wilderness, so that He might humble you and test you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.
He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out, and your feet did not swell these forty years. Keep in mind that the Lord your God has been disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son.
So, keep the commands of the Lord your God, by walking in His ways and fearing Him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams of water, springs, and deep water sources, flowing in both valleys and hills; a land of wheat, barley, vines, figs, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without shortage, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you will mine copper. When you eat and are full, you will praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you.
Be careful that you don’t forget the Lord your God by failing to keep His command—the ordinances and statutes—I am giving you today. When you eat and are full, and build beautiful houses to live in, and your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold multiply, and everything else you have increases, be careful that your heart doesn’t become proud and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. He led you through the great and terrible wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, a thirsty land where there was no water. He brought water out of the flint-like rock for you. He fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers had not known, in order to humble and test you, so that in the end He might cause you to prosper. You may say to yourself, “My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me,” but remember that the Lord your God gives you the power to gain wealth, in order to confirm His covenant, which He swore to your fathers, as it is today.
If you ever forget the Lord your God and go after other gods to worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will perish. Like the nations the Lord is about to destroy before you, you will perish if you do not obey the Lord your God.
God’s command and His promised response to obedience (v1)
Our passage begins with a summary statement of God’s commands and His promises to those who are faithful to obey them. When Moses says, “You must carefully follow every command I am giving you today” in v1, he’s talking about the whole law of God. It’s effectively a general admonition, “Obey Yahweh in all that He commands!”
And what does God promise will result from Israel’s obedience? Abundant life in the land of promise! They will live and increase and enter and take possession of the land. So, we immediately see that Yahweh desires true and abundant life for His people, rest in the land, which is the fulfillment of His promises. This forms a kind of introduction to the rest of our text.
And as we work through the rest of the passage, I’d like to draw our attention to three specific actions we must take, as God’s children, to honor and obey Him as a good and generous Father, who desires to provide abundantly for His children.
God is not a God of promises only, but of action. He has a proven track record of keeping His promises, of providing for His kids. Everyone in this room could testify to the goodness and generosity of God – not as an abstract, theoretical exercise, but in concrete terms, remembering real life experiences. In fact, if we were to make a list of the gifts God has given us and the way that He has blessed us, it would take a really long time.
The same was true for Israel here. God expects them to remember all that He has done for them, and He expects the same for us. In this passage, Moses reminds Israel of two specific things to remember: God’s purpose and God’s provision.
a. Our Father has disciplined us for our good
I think if we’re honest, we have to admit that this doesn’t sound all that fantastic. What’s so wonderful about being humbled and tested in a desert wasteland? Notice that the only specific detail God gives is that He let them go hungry. That doesn’t sound like much fun. I doubt it would be the first thing on our “Reasons to be Thankful” list.
But that’s exactly why the human race is in such deep trouble. The reason we don’t consider these gifts from God to be absolutely glorious is because we dramatically overvalue ourselves and our stuff, and dramatically undervalue our heavenly Father and the beauty of right relationship with Him. Our hearts are so proud and deceitful! The truth is that we need to be humbled. We need to be tested. We need to have our deceitfulness exposed and dealt with, so that the Spirit of God can make us more like Jesus. We are all lumps of rock that have the potential to be bars of pure gold, but not without refining fire. And there’s no greater gift a father can give his children than to refine and develop their character. All the short-term gratification in the world can’t compare to that in the long run.
And God is the perfect Father. He knows how to give to His children the gifts they desperately need, whether they want or understand them or not. And foremost among them is a refining hand, one that humbles and tests until we have learned to receive His gifts well.
As God’s children, we must remember His good and loving discipline.
b. He has provided for our needs
But God isn’t all discipline. He is a lavish provider as well. See in v3; when the Israelites were hungry, it was God who provided food – miraculously … with manna from heaven … something no one had ever even imagined. When they were thirsty, He gave them water … out of a rock. Their clothes didn’t wear out. He sustained them physically. Essentially, he provided everything they needed – personally and miraculously – for 40 years. And not just provision, but provision with a purpose … that the people would learn that real life does not consist of bread and water and clothes and unswollen feet. Real life comes from listening to every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh and obeying it.
In other words, life doesn’t consist in the gifts, but in knowing the One who gives them.
Have you ever played the game in which you have to decide which single object to take with you to the desert island? Moses always won that game, because he always gave the same answer… Take Yahweh with you to the island. He is what you really need. He made sure Israel’s needs were met in the wilderness, and He will make sure your needs are met too, if you remember and obey Him. Centuries later, Jesus would say essentially the same thing, “I am the bread of God who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. Anyone who eats this bread will have eternal life” (John 6:38, 49-51 paraphrased). Real life doesn’t come from the bread; it comes from God Himself.
As God’s children, we must remember not only His discipline, but His provision.
So in v5, Moses makes the summary statement, “Keep in mind (remember) that Yahweh your God has been disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son.” Scripture couldn’t be more clear: it is the duty of every father to discipline and provide for his children, and Yahweh is our role model. So, as we survey the landscape of our lives and behold the countless blessings we see there, we need to let them remind us – cause us to remember – that our heavenly Father has been extremely good to us.
As with the prior section, Moses begins with the command to keep Yahweh’s law. How? By walking in His ways and fearing Him. Why? Because Yahweh wants to bless His children, but He can only do so if they are obedient to Him.
I remember the first time I looked at my son John and realized how hard it was going to be to truly love him well. He was 5, and we were at Disney World getting ready to go on a super fun ride together. But he had done something that required me to drop the hammer instead. He was oblivious, but I knew that discipline was required. I remember standing there looking at him with thinking… I have a choice. I can either ignore what just happened and John will go on smiling and we can be pals and I can shower him with blessings he would clearly recognize… and he would take a significant step down the path toward developing a serious character flaw. Or, we can tangle, and I can withhold the good things I had planned, replacing them with what he would no doubt perceive as oppressive punishment. It would ruin his afternoon and he’d be hurt and angry… BUT we would take a step toward godliness together. I remember how clear it was that the choice was between love and laziness. If I love him, I’ll do the hard thing right now. If I don’t, if I just let it go and pour on the fun instead, then it means that I’m selfish and lazy, and I don’t really care what happens to John’s character. That would be the opposite of fatherly love. Because I can’t just give him good things to make him feel happy and fun and gooey. I want to give him good things … more than he knows … but I can’t. Because his character can’t handle it.
And in a small way, I imagine that this experience has helped me to understand the tension in the air between Yahweh and Israel in this passage. God exhorts them to keep His commands, to walk in His ways, to fear Him. Why? Because He wants to shower them with blessings and abundance. But He can only do that, if He knows His son can handle it. So, he humbled them and tested so that now He can really pour on the blessing.
We’ve already read through God’s description of this pending blessing in vv7-10. We don’t have to go through it again in detail. God is bringing the people to a place where they will have food and water and resources in abundance. It’s a description of outlandish provision. The land is pretty much a paradise, reminiscent of the garden of Eden in some ways. And the people will enjoy it forever … if they will just recognize that these good gifts come from Yahweh and obey Him … if they don’t forget the Giver amidst all the gifts! The way Moses puts it in v10 is that they must remember to worship Him.
And that brings us to our third action…
Thirdly, we must respond. As God’s children, we must respond appropriately to God’s fatherly goodness (vv11-18). This call to response is the clear application of the passage. God has already been so good to His people, and plans to lavish them with even greater gifts. And here in the second half of the passage, I want to consider how Israel – and therefore we – should respond to His generosity.
Look back at the text with me. In vv11-16, Moses is recapitulating themes we’ve already discussed. As with the prior two sections, v11 begins the section with a command – two, actually. First, don’t forget that it is Yahweh who gives you all these good things. And second, obey His commands. Then, vv12-13 reiterate that Yahweh desires to bless His children with even greater gifts than they have known, if they will only obey Him. And vv14-16 expand on the prior list of ways in which Yahweh has already demonstrated His faithful and abundant provision. So, this is more of what we’ve already seen: language of past faithful provision, future abundant life and generally extravagant gift giving on God’s part. What I want us to see are a few responses which are required of God’s children.
a. We must respond in obedience
First, clearly God expects us to obey Him. We must respond in obedience. Five times in the passage – vv1, 2b, 6, 11, 20 – Moses exhorts the people to obey God’s commands, and another six times – vv2a, 5, 11, 14, 18, 19 – he insists that they “remember” or “not forget” the Lord. Remembering Yahweh means, among other things, to obey Him. So really this passage is absolutely riddled with exhortation to obey God’s commands.
So, the question is, what about us? Do we obey God? In our studies, in our work, among our family and friends, when you’re alone and only God can see you… Do you remember the Lord? Do you submit to His word? Like obedient children, are we quick to obey His commands? Or do we argue with Him and question His wisdom? We, who know His word so well, do we obey it? That is the question!
Moses isn’t just warning Israel, he’s warning us. Pick up at v12, and read yourself into this text…
- When we eat and are full, which we are every single day…
- When we live in beautiful houses, which we all do…
- When our shelves of theology texts and drawers full of gadgets and walls full of degrees… When they all grow large, and when our silver and gold multiplies, and when everything else we have increases…
Then we must be careful that our hearts do not become proud and we forget the Lord our God who has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col 1:13) … out of our very own land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.
God didn’t just do that for Israel, He did it for us. And we need to respond in obedience.
b. We must respond in gratitude
Secondly, we must respond in gratitude. This too is critically important to the Christian life, and, I fear, somewhat underrated. It is the idolatrous life which fails to acknowledge that it is God who gives you everything you have. And that is not acceptable for the one who worships Yahweh. We are to be a grateful people.
In thinking about applying this, I wrote down a few ways we can exhibit true gratitude in our lives, ways we can respond well to God’s generosity. These aren’t in the text, but I think they will help make this command real and applicable in our lives.
- Grateful people hold what they have loosely, willing to let God take back what He’s given or direct us to share it with others.
- Grateful people are content with what they have, rather than grumbling about what they don’t have or continually clawing and scraping to acquire more.
- Grateful people acknowledge that God is the origin of the all that is in their lives.
- Grateful people don’t let the many gifts distract them from remembering the goodness of the Giver.
Does this describe you? Are you responding to God’s goodness in gratitude?
c. We must respond in worship
And thirdly, obedience and gratitude are closely related to worship. We must respond to God in worship. This means that we acknowledge His rightful place on the throne of our hearts. We understand that we are dependent on and subservient to Him. I’m not the god in my life, He is. You’re not the star of your movie, He is. God is our Father, and we are His toddler children, wholly dependent on Him. There is no room for pride or boasting. The people of God are a people of humility and worship. Moses lays this out in vv17-18…
You may say to yourself, ‘My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me,’ but remember that the Lord your God gives you the power to gain wealth…
For Israel in the wilderness, that’s about their capacity to live well in a new homeland. But for you and me, maybe its money. Maybe it’s a keen mind. Maybe it’s your muscle memory or your athletic prowess or good looks or nice clothes or high GPA, etc. But, whatever it is, you may say to yourself, “My power and my own ability and the strength of my right arm have gained all these things for me,” but you must remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you these good gifts.
Why? So that we will have all the toys and be happy all our days? For the sake of a better next Tusday? No. It is…
… in order to confirm His covenant, which He swore to your fathers, just as it is today.
God blesses us like this because that’s just the kind of God He is … and because it’s what He promised Abraham He would do. And God keeps His promises. Psalm 145 says,
The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises,
and righteous in all His ways,
and faithful in all He does. (Ps 145:13, 17)
God is faithful, and in return, He demands our worship. And rightly so.
The proper response of the children of God to His unfailing goodness is obedience, gratitude and worship.
I wish I could end this message on a high note like that – remembering God’s faithfulness, recognizing God’s desire to bless us, and responding in obedience, gratitude and worship. But we are the servants of the text, and the text doesn’t stop at v18. We have two more verses to go, and they form a sort of inclusio with v1.
God’s command and His promised response to disobedience (vv19-20)
So, where our passage opens with God’s command to His people and His promises to them if they obey, it closes with a solemn warning about what will happen if the people disobey the Lord. Look back at the text with me. In v19, Moses concludes…
But, if you ever forget the Lord your God, and go after other gods to worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will perish. Like the nations the Lord is about to destroy before you, you will perish if you do not obey the Lord your God.
So, if remembering God means to respond to Him in obedience, gratitude and worship, then forgetting means to respond in rebellion and idolatry. But how can that happen? Why would Israel turn from their gracious Heavenly Father to idols and to other gods? I think it’s because they have fixed their eyes on the gifts instead of the Giver.
Israel grumbled when they were in Egypt. And when God rescued them, they grumbled in the wilderness. They had manna, but they wanted meat. God gave Israel so many good things, but as soon as they had them, they forgot the God who gave them the gifts. They just wanted the stuff, because that was what filled their hearts. Not Yahweh. Not the Giver of all those good things. And God is warning them not to let that trend continue. As Moses spoke this warning, God knew that the blessings that were coming were even bigger than the ones they’d already received. God humbled them and tried to prepare them, but still He knew that they would turn away. And so, He makes a final promise … sobering words that apply to us as much as they did to Israel… If you forget God and do not obey Him, then you will perish. Like any pagan nation, you will be destroyed.
Because God’s patience is not unlimited. Today is the day of salvation. If our hearts are full of earthly things and unable to receive the Giver of those gifts because His place in our hearts is already taken by trinkets, then we too will perish. But it’s not too late. Repent, turn to God, and satisfy yourself with Him whom to know is life eternal.
Don’t be distracted by the things of this world.
Don’t confuse the gifts of God with the true Gift, who is God Himself.
Don’t forget the Giver amidst all the gifts!
Remember the Lord. Recognize His fatherly love for you. And respond to Him in obedience, gratitude, and worship.
Father, we remember you and all the amazing ways you have provided for us and been a father to us, even – or perhaps, especially – in your loving discipline. We recognize that all that we have comes from you. And we want to respond well.
But we are a weak and selfish and idolatrous people. It’s so easy for our eyes to wander and our hearts to be set on other things – on the gifts, rather than on the Giver. So, Lord, would you change us, by the power of your Spirit? Would you grow us up into Christ? Make us a people who remembers and recognizes and responds in such a way that you, and you alone, would be glorified in our lives.
We ask these things, and we trust you to do them, in the name of your Son Jesus. Amen.