I hope I am not giving away any trade secrets tonight, but I have to admit that don’t like to discipline my children. Don’t get me wrong - as they can attest - I do it, but I don’t like to do it. It is not something I enjoy. After all, it is usually something that is going bring objections, and moaning, and groaning. And who wants to listen to that?
I would much prefer to do things for them that are going to make them happy. I would prefer to give them something, or to give them a privilege they didn’t expect to receive, like getting to stay up past their bedtime so that they can watch something on TV or play a new video game.
When I see a situation where some form of discipline is needed, there is always the temptation to turn a blind eye. After all that is just easier. I mean, there are days when I am tired and just not in the mood to deal with it.
I am certain that I am not alone in this regard. But while parents feel this way, we also know that discipline is an important part of our vocation as parent. There is nothing that will confirm for you the truth of what Scripture teaches about original sin and the fallen, sinful nature of man like dealing with children. They are selfish and impulsive … and did I mention that they are selfish? If left to themselves they become brats who know little of respect for others, and know nothing of delayed gratification. And so if we are to be faithful in the vocation God has given to us, we know that we must discipline our children. We must do this so that they will mature into responsible adults who function well in the world and eventually are ready to take on the role of being parents themselves.
In our text this evening, Moses’ address to the people of Israel takes up the fact that fathers discipline their sons. He applies this to what Yahweh had done to Israel during the exodus and their time in the wilderness. Just as a father disciplines a son, so Yahweh had disciplined the people of Israel. Yet it is not just Israel who receives this treatment. As our heavenly Father, God continues to do this for us as well.
In our text tonight Moses admonishes Israel about remembering and forgetting. He begins by saying, “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” Moses urges Israel to remember what Yahweh had done during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. During this time Yahweh had humbled Israel. He had done this to test Israel – to see whether they would keep his commandments or not.
When things are difficult or challenging, it is easy to become frustrated with God, and perhaps be less inclined to walk in the ways of the Lord. But Moses says that God uses these times to test us. He uses them to see if we are going to be faithful.
To us, that may sound odd. After all, God is the omniscient God. He knows all things. There is no future, present or past for him. He just knows it all. Doesn’t he already know the outcome? The answer is yes. But also that he does care about what we actually do. It really does matter to him. I can’t explain to you how this works. I only know from God’s word that it is the case. And the fact God actually cares tells us about how he views us. We are important to him. We really do matter.
Israel stood in a unique relation to Yahweh because he had taken them to be his covenant people. God had Moses tell Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son.” Moses says in our text that Yahweh had done for Israel what a father does for his son. He told them, “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.”
Yahweh had disciplined them by allowing them to experience hunger and then providing for them in a miraculous fashion. Moses says, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
God allowed Israel to be hungry and thirsty. He allowed them to be in need. Then he said, “Behold I am about to rain bread from heaven for you.” He provided manna on the ground six days a week for food. This was nothing Israel had seen before. In fact the word “manna” means “What is it?” He provided water from a rock. Israel was completely dependent on Yahweh. And Moses said that God did this, “that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
Our God continues to do this today. As a father disciplines his son, so God disciplines us. He humbles us. He makes us dependent on him so that we too learn that man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. What we consider to be bad things – unfortunate occurrences – God may be working for our good. This is the reality that we must accept in faith.
We can do this because of what God the Father did to his own Son for us. During Lent we are preparing for the events of Holy Week. God the Father humbled Jesus Christ – he sent the incarnate Son of God in the way of humility. He was sent to be a servant – to be the Servant that the prophet Isaiah had foretold. He was humbled to the point of death – even death on a cross. Jesus did this in obedience to the Father for us.
Yet after faithfully suffering humiliation and death, Jesus Christ was exalted by God the Father. First the Father raised Jesus from the dead on the third day, and then he exalted Christ on the fortieth day as he ascended into heaven and was seated at the ride hand of the throne of God.
Because we have seen God do this, we know that we can trust in our heavenly Father when he tests us. We can remain patient and faithful because we know that through these experiences we too are learning that man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. It is his word that gives us life – forgiveness and eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet spiritual challenges do not only occur in the midst of difficulties. They are also present when we experience blessings and abundance. Moses tells the people, “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing.”
God was going to richly bless Israel in the promised land. When he did so, Israel was to bless Yahweh – they were to give thanks to him. But Moses cautioned, “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them,
and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
In the midst of plenty there was the danger that they would forget that Yahweh was the One who had blessed them. Success and abundance could lead to arrogance. It could lead to the delusion that the blessings were the result of their own efforts. They might say, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” Yet instead, it was Yahweh who was going to give them the power, and he was going to do it because of his promise – he was going to do it, “that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”
The many blessings we have received present the same challenge. We can love the gifts more than the Giver. We can fail to give thanks to God. We can be seduced by the thought that all of it has happened because of us – because we are just so good.
The repentance of Lent unmasks this for the lie it is. The humility of this time of the Church year turns us away from ourselves and towards God. It turns us toward the One who walked the way to the cross for us. It turns us to Jesus so that we learn yet again that everything we are and everything we have is because of him.