Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Do you think that’s true? Well, have you ever tried hammering a nail into the wall only to pound your thumb instead? It’s painful, isn’t it? And if you are brave enough to try again, do you still hammer your fingers? Probably not. You recognized how you placed your thumb in danger and so you took the necessary steps to avoid repeating your painful experience. You learned from history.
Or, look at your kids. If your [grand]son successfully grabbed a bee (and got stung), he probably runs away from bees now. If your [grand]daughter slammed her fingers in the car door, she probably watches her fingers a little more closely. Kids avoid future danger by learning from past experiences.
So, what happens if you do not learn from history? …if you do not change your hammer-swinging-habits? … if your [grand]son grabs another bee? …if your [grand]daughter holds the car-doorframe while slamming the door shut? Well, life will be less than pleasant. Life will hurt. Life will be painful because those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
That is why God makes sure you get to hear these very words. He echoes Israel’s history so that you may avoid stumbling into their same suffering. Practice Real Wisdom as you Remember the past so that you can Watch the present and Teach the future.
Moses cannot stress that point enough. He stands before two million Israelites who are on the brink of change. They will enter a new land with a lush, fertile landscape, a new government with a new economy, a new way of life with entirely new opportunities for their children. And Moses… well, Moses will not live to join them. In his final address to the nation, he Remembers the past.
He points back to Mount Sinai (or as you heard it called in verse 10, Mount Horeb). There, God gave Israel Ten Commandments— ten perfect demands to guide their life. He also gives a ceremonial law, instructing them how to worship, when to worship, what offerings to bring, and who will lead worship. He even hands down a civil law, teaching people how to live with each other, how to pay back debts, how to obtain justice, and treat personal property with respect. Moses commands— not suggests, not gives an opinion, but commands: “Follow them.” From this point forward the nation must live life within the boundaries of God’s commands. If they remembered the past, then they would remember why.
You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor. Now, Baal is the name of a pagan god. Nations believed Baal could send rain and sun to make crops grow, and could multiply the size of their herds. The way to activate Baal (or have him work) is to have sex.
So, decades earlier at a place called “Peor,” godless women seduced 24,000 Israelites to worship Baal (Numbers 25:1-9). Even though God first commanded: You shall have no other gods (Exodus 20:3), 24,000 Israelites handed their bodies over to this cow-god in broad daylight.
And God witnessed this! He did not ignore their godlessness. The Lord [their] God destroyed […] everyone who followed the Baal of Peor.
How does a nation which has God speak to them, lead them, and live with them fall into such deep unbelief? Well, is it really much of a wonder? Twenty-four thousand added a new command: You can have a new god! Twenty-four thousand stripped away an old command: You shall have only one God. Twenty-four thousand listened the devilish whisper: “Did God really say?” and they believed the lie.
My friends, that devilish hiss still echoes today. Yes, Moabite women will probably not seduce you to worship Baal. You live in a world that preaches: “Do what makes you feel good!” Love others only when they love you!” Yes, you probably will not worship a cow. Yet, your world challenges: “This is your parent’s church! You surely do not believe everything they believe! You are stronger, wiser, smarter! Believe your own thing!” Yes, you will probably will never erase God’s Word from your mind. Yet, your heart will beat: “You don’t need to listen to him! You don’t need to be in worship as often as possible. You don’t need to let his Word guide your choices. You can live life on your own!” The heart within our very own chest beats, throbs, and pounds for you to stand on top of the Bible, slam down a throne, and render judgments like a judge. God commands: Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord. Yet, you will be tempted to believe every excuse, lie, and reason to change it.
So, here’s the real question: if you add and subtract from God’s commands, then whose word are you really listening to? does not say it, then who is? If God commands love and obedience you ignore it, then who are you following? You are listening to the rules of a faulty human heart that has absolutely no power to make life better. Failing to remember the past can throw you into the same eternal pain as those 24,000.
So, remember the past. Remember a God who guarantees he is near you. Remember a God who wraps himself in the flesh of an infant. Remember a God who grows up in his very own commands. Remember a God who delights in listening to every Word— even when those Words lead to death on the cross.
There, your God, your Jesus remembers you. He remembers to remove every time you stood defiant in the face of God and declared your independence from him. He remembers that his life will cover you so that your sins will be remembered no more.
This is who you are now: God’s child. He has called you to be different. To be different means that you no longer live according to the ways the world considers wise. Instead, you Practice Real Wisdom. Remember the past so that you can Watch the present.
What do you see? Do you feel a heart which pounds for the voice of Jesus to lead you through every decision, question, and challenge? It can be struggle to do so, right? That is why Moses reminds you: See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me… Observe them carefully. This is where our English language loses a little of the Hebrew flavor. To “observe” means you pay close attention to something like when you drive through a dangerous city, but still pay close attention to your surroundings and safety. You protect your life as you avoid danger.
Observe, that is, pay close attention to the Word of your God. You know the commandments; you learned them in catechism class (or if you no longer remember, you can read through them in Exodus 20:1-17). Watch how you use the Word in your everyday life. When you have financial or health or schooling decisions to make, ask: “What advice does Scripture give me?” When you wrestle with temptation, run to the Bible because it is your weapon to end attack (Ephesians 6:10-16). When you feel empty and seek guidance for the future, rely and remember God’s promise that he is always with you (Matthew 28:20).
These commands are to be a part of life because this is your understanding and wisdom. Humanity might be wise in its governing and its decisions. While many benefit from this wisdom, it will never translate into eternal joys. Only God’s Word brings true wisdom. Only God’s teaching gives the clear, definitive answer as to how (1) you stand right with God, (2) how you enter eternal life, and (3) how you live confident of entering eternal life. A heart placed on any other wisdom will never, ever grant such security.
Watch what your heart loves, believes, and trusts. Watch your actions and behaviors. Watch your present spiritual life and safeguard your faith so that will never forsake your eternal treasure. This is how you Practice Real Wisdom.
Yet, wisdom does not stop with the here and now. You are truly wise as you Teach the future.
This is how: Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely. Now, Moses is not talking about looking in a mirror and checking over your appearance. Instead, he wants you to watch what enters you spiritually.
Why? Because you can forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart. Do you remember everything you ate for supper on Friday? Do you remember everything you learned in gradeschool? (... half of everything?... a quarter?) Do you feel confident enough to step back into your first job and be just as effective and knowledgeable as you were then? We forget things over time. That includes what you learned in Sunday School and Bible Class and Catechism class and even in sermons or personal Bible readings. You can forget how long it took Noah to build the ark, or how many commandments God gave (and what they are), what makes King David an important Bible figure, or what makes an apostle different from a disciple. Forgetting can leave gaps in knowledge, meaning: (1) you don’t have an answer—or worse yet, (2) you make one up. Like why we celebrate the Lord’s Supper so often. How God answers prayer. What is the only way people enter heaven.
Because we forget things we must continue relearning and refreshing our knowledge. If you feel you don’t know where to start, then start with your catechism. It teaches you the Bible’s teachings. It is laid out in little sections where you can study a few pages each day. You can even quiz yourself by reading the question and then studying the answer. Relearn what you believe and why you do. Reconsider your time and effort that you may attend Bible study. Ask me if there is something you would like to study on a certain day. Even as we pause some of our education classes and entering the summer, remain in worship. This is possibly the longest amount of time you spend each week in the Word of God. And it’s not just a habit or ritual; God speaks to you so that you may trust him more. As you rely on his promises more, your fears will decrease.
Teach [these commands] to your children and to their children after them. Do you notice that God gives you a responsibility? This is not an option. Once again, this is a command, an expectation of you. If you have children, God expects you, the parent, to share him with them. How else are they going to learn about a Savior who will bring them to heaven? If you have friends or family who have wandered into unbelief, you can teach them about the Savior. How else will young adults, retirees, the elderly avoid eternal danger unless someone approaches them? Teaching means revealing something unknown. Not everyone knows what will happen on the other side of the grave. Not everyone knows the only way to stand right with God. Not everyone knows what God expects of life here on earth. Therefore they must be taught.
What joy and what a privilege you hold that God should use you to share a message that will bring eternal life! Out of everything you will ever do in life, out of all the things you will learn in life, only one knowledge will give you eternal life. That, my friends, is a Savior who lived and died for you. This is true wisdom. Practice This Wisdom as you Teach the future. Not just the future you— how you will implement this study, but also to the literal future of your family.
God has seen fit to preserve these very words for you. He echoes Israel’s history so that you may avoid stumbling into their same suffering. Practice Real Wisdom as you Remember the past so that you can Watch the present and Teach the future.
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