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  • « Book Review: Feed My Sheep | Main | The Procession and Consumation of Salvation »

    Images of the Savior (47 -- The Final Song and Blessing of Moses)

    Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by Yahweh, the Shield of your help and the Sword of your splendor? Your enemies shall come cringing unto you, and you shall tread upon their high places. – Deuteronomy 33:29

    We have now come to the conclusion of Deuteronomy, and with it, the conclusion of the five books of Moses, which are of such foundational importance to the entire bible, that it might be said without exaggeration that the whole divine plan of redemption and the schematic for all of history is here laid out, so that all the prophets who should later arise could speak no new thing, but only apply and exegete what Moses had already said; and even the Christ himself, when he came, set about to do only what God had before promised and signified by the hand of Moses so long before; and in these final chapters, although the superiority of Moses is again signaled (Deuteronomy 34:10-12); yet what is particularly emphasized is his inadequacy and failure, and the need for someone greater than he, to do what he could not. And so, as he admits his incapacity to do in earnest what he had spoken of and seen afar by the Spirit of prophecy, at the same time, he commits the people to God, who he trusts should go before them, and do himself what Moses had not been able to do, through another greater Moses.

    So then, this last portion of the Pentateuch ends in failure, and forecasts a very gloomy end for the people of Israel; but even in this dismal outlook, hope again arises, and God's sure promises are once more signified and sealed to the people, through the type of Joshua, and in the blessings that Moses pronounces upon them, which should swallow up their sorrowful end in renewal and victory. But let us consider these things a little more fully, considering first the transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua, and then mentioning in brief the final song of Moses, and his final blessing.

    When Moses begins his last speech, with which he will bring his ministry to an end, he admits at once that he has not been able to bring about the redemption which God had promised through him; he is a hundred and twenty years old, and about to die (31:2, 14; 32:48-50; 34:5-6); and God has forbidden him to enter the Promised Land, because of his failure in the matter of striking the Rock a second time (31:2; 32:51-52). So in two things, viz., his natural weakness and susceptibility to death, and his own sin and failures, he has proven insufficient finally to do what God had undertaken to accomplish, in bringing his people back to Eden, where they might dwell in his presence forevermore. He is the greatest of the prophets, who spoke with God face-to-face, and brought the very words of the Law to the people (31:9-13; 34:10-12); and yet, there ultimately wanted a greater yet, who could do those things promised by God in his mercy, that he had been unable to do. If Moses was not even sufficient to bring the people into the shadowy and typical land of God's presence, who then would be sufficient to bring them back to Paradise indeed, and fit them to live before the holy God forevermore?

    So Moses realizes his own inadequacy; but also, he recognizes the insufficiency of the Law and the Covenant that he had mediated to the people. And so, as he speaks to them for the last time, not only does he announce his impending death, but he swears to them most solemnly that, eventually, they will all rebel, and forsake the Covenant, and that God will forsake them and cast them out (Deuteronomy 31:16-21; 24-30). Thus hopelessly does he look upon the failure of his own mediatorship, and of the Covenant of Law that he had enjoined upon the people.

    How miserable must the children of Israel had been, if Moses had left them with only this forecast of failure! But God in his mercy had provided something better, as we shall now observe: for Moses, just when he is relating his own failure to bring the people into the promised land, remembers the promise of God, that he himself will go in before them, and accomplish his salvation; and so he assures the people by saying that Joshua, which is the same name as Jesus, will bring the people into the land indeed (31:3-6). Now, this promise had both a near and an ultimate fulfillment: in the near sense, it was fulfilled when Joshua brought the people into Canaan, and fought for them, and drove out the nations from before them, so that he could say that not one of God's good promises has failed (Joshua 21:23-25; 23:14). And yet, this could not be the ultimate fulfillment, because Moses then immediately assures the people that they will not be strong to retain the promised land, but will rebel and be driven out; and so the victory of Joshua will only be a fleeting shadow of God's eternal promise. So ultimately, Moses is looking ahead to a different Joshua, who in the Greek is called Jesus, and who will bring the people into God's paradise forevermore; and to this, all the prophets bear witness: for when the later prophets still speak of the final rest which God is preparing for his people, they testify that the rest which the first Jesus gave is only a foretaste, and that only the second Jesus, who fulfills in truth what the first had fulfilled in type, can finally accomplish all of God's good promises, through a new and better Covenant, which should never grow old or fade away (Hebrews 4:5-10; Psalm 95:7-11).

    But note how clearly Moses is suggesting all this, and how certainly he demands the people to look beyond the first Joshua! For when he says, “Yahweh your God himself will go over before you... Joshua himself will go over before you” (Deuteronomy 31:3), by way of apposition, he is making clear that a second Joshua is demanded, who himself should be God, and who should go out before his people as their God, and fulfill all the promises he had made to their fathers. So even though Moses' final words to the people are very heavy, and bespeak great failure, yet in all of it he is hopeful and confident of victory, for beyond the failure and beyond the first Joshua he sees victory through the second Joshua, who should accomplish all of God's good promises.

    We are running out of time, so we must press on to observe, very briefly, how Moses' final song teaches the same lesson. For in it, Moses speaks of the greatness of the Rock, who is Christ, and of his faithfulness and righteousness (32:3-4); but he then contrasts the greatness of Christ with the faithlessness of the people, and prophesies of their failure, and their being rejected and cast off (32:5-42). But even as Moses had seen hope in the promise of a greater Joshua, and so was able to rejoice even in the midst of his sorrowful promise of failure; so here, in his song, after speaking often of the troubles of Israel, and of God's fury against her, and the wrath of his fire that shall burn unto the depths of the earth, he then concludes with the surprising admonition to rejoice, and not just Israel, but all the nations; for in the end, he will be merciful to his people, and destroy all their enemies (32:43).

    Consider then: how could Moses bring an application of joy and hope out of the certain promise of God that he would destroy his Israel with all the fire of his wrath? Is it not just because of this, that his true Israel, the one true Seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16), would stand in and be destroyed by God's fierce anger, and swallow the bitter cup of vengeance that he had promised to pour out upon his faithless people, and so win for them mercy, and grace for every nation on earth, just as he had promised so long before, when he preached the gospel to Abraham (Galatians 3:8-9; Genesis 12:1-3)? So in this song, as well, although Moses looks in a near sense to the exile and captivity of the nation of Israel, he looks ultimately to the exile of Jesus, which took place upon Golgotha, and to his triumphant resurrection, performed by the One who lifts his hand up to heaven and says, “I live forever” (Deuteronomy 32:40); for if he had looked only to the first Israel, he could never have derived the application of triumphant hope; but looking beyond the first Israel's exile, and seeing in these words a sure promise of Jesus' exile on the cross and triumphant restoration from the grave, he admonished all the nations to rejoice in the mystery of God's redemptive plans.

    Finally, we must consider the blessing with which Moses blesses the people of Israel, tribe by tribe, before he departs; and in this, as well, we see a promise of the coming Christ. We will not take the time to examine the blessing of each several tribe, each of which is promised some specific blessing peculiar to itself; but we will only mention this, that, whereas each other tribe is blessed with the promise of some good thing that will come to it from the Lord, the blessing of Judah is framed in terms of his own coming to the people, so that, what is spoken of as Judah's blessing is really a blessing to all of Israel through Judah. Now this blessing, which is a promise that Judah will come to the people with strong hands and the favor of the Lord, to work salvation from their enemies, is no other than a promise of Christ, who will spring up from the tribe of Judah, and come to the people with the favor of the Lord (cf. Isaiah 42:1; Luke 2:52; 3:21-22), and work for them a mighty victory. And we may also mention that the blessing of Benjamin, that he should dwell in safety by the Lord, and be covered by him, is an indication of the later history of that tribe, which when the other ten were cast off and scattered, was alone permitted to stay in the shadow of Judah, and be protected and preserved; which is itself a typological promise, as if to say, the weakest and youngest of Christ's brothers will find in him a place of refuge, and a strong and sheltering arm; though everyone else should be put to flight, yet they who are in the shadow of Christ, however small they be, will be safe in his presence forevermore.

    So Moses concludes with a blessing upon Israel, calling her happy beyond all peoples, and assuring her of ultimate victory, even after he had spoken so sorrowfully of her failure and exile. But then, he finishes the book with an account of his own death, after his inability to accomplish God's good promises, although he was a prophet greater than all the later prophets who should ever after arise in Israel. Thus the Pentateuch ends with a perplexing enigma, cries out for a resolution, and yearns for a greater than Moses, who should turn exile and judgment into victory and joy, and fulfill all the good things that God had promised, for which no one had yet been found who was sufficient. But this Savior, who was so often and ardently foreshadowed and promised everywhere before is here promised again, so that the people might rest in hope, and trust in Christ, and look for his resurrection from the dead. This is the Prophet who should be greater than Moses, by as much as he who built the house is greater than the house (Hebrews 3:1-6). For Moses was but a servant in the house of God, but Jesus, the eternal Son of God, is the architect and builder of God's great house of Redemption, and the heir and possessor of heaven and earth; and all who look to him, as Moses looked to him so long ago, will never be ashamed, but will be made to triumph in spite of every difficulty. Brothers and sisters, the Christ whom Moses promised us so long ago has come and accomplished all God's promises; and to us who await his appearing, he will come a second time, to bring us into his house, where we will dwell in his presence forevermore, world without end, amen.

    Even so come, Lord Jesus.

    Posted by Nathan on March 6, 2009 11:30 AM

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