Deuteronomy 31:1-11; 34:5-12.
Facing Life's Changes
Copyright © 2012, John.W. (Jack) Carter
The years of 1991 and 1992 were a particularly difficult time for myself and my family. As a professor in an Upstate New York university, I had witnessed declining student enrollments that were precipitated by a declining economy in the area. When a round of budget cuts hit the university, my 6-year tenure was the shortest in our department, resulting in a letter from our Vice Chancellor that graciously announced that my position was being cut from the budget, that I had done a wonderful job for the university, and my term of service would end at the termination of the current academic year. Good luck, Jack. I had now joined the ranks of so many others who found themselves at middle-age with a family, and out of a job. Leaving our home in New York for another university meant moving a considerable distance, in this case to North Carolina. This meant the termination of some ministries that were close to me and my family including that exercised in our church, association, and State convention. This also meant leaving behind our extended family, as this was the area of our youth. The changes that were about to take place in our lives were probably more dramatic than many we had experienced for years. The change came with anxiety for the future and grief for our losses. Our anxiety and grief revealed a lack of faith in our own lives.
Many of us experience changes in life, and many of those can be traumatic. What are some of the changes that we experience? What are some seminal events that serve as milestones that, once passed, create significant changes in our life experience? Consider a somewhat chronological list of changes that most people experience ...
- Graduation from High School
- Graduation from College
- Birth of first Child
- Your youngest child can be left home alone.
- Empty nest
There are other events in life that are common to our experience that are not as welcomed as these. Some might include ...
- Death of a loved one
- Natural Disaster
- Wartime Disaster
This list can certainly be considerably expanded by the experiences that many of us have endured. Those who have endured such transitions in life have a wealth of knowledge and experience that can serve to help others as they face such changes and trials. Changes are going to take place. Transitions in our life experience are inevitable, and are an appropriate part of our physical, emotional, and spiritual growth. How we face these transitions defines who we are. The maturity level of our faith is testified by our response to changes that could be traumatic if experienced without faith.
This Bible study finds us observing a seminal moment in the life of Moses, and in the experience of the Nation of Israel. Moses is now 120 years old. He has lived three distinct generational experiences: 40 years as the adopted son of the Pharaoh of Egypt, 40 years as a shepherd in Midian, and 40 years as the leader of the Nation of Israel as they experienced the exodus from Egypt and their period of wandering in the wilderness.
And Moses went and spake these words unto all Israel. 2And he said unto them, I am an hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in: also the LORD hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan.
With these words, Moses is announcing to the people that he can no longer lead them. "go out and come in" is a Hebrew idiom that refers to one carrying out his daily duties. Furthermore, not only would Moses be stepping down as their leader, he also announced that he would not be accompanying them across the Jordan river. This prohibition was God's judgment for Moses' disobedience in the wilderness in the land of Meribah, when he was instructed by God to speak to the rock from which water would come forth to meet the needs of a thirsty nation. Instead, Moses struck the rock in a way that made it appear that he was providing the water (Numbers 29:9-13). The people would need to know that it is God that is providing for them, not Moses.
Moses was the only leader that the Nation of Israel had ever known. His abdicating of leadership could precipitate a crisis for the nation. A new leader would be required to take his place. The people were well-aware of the danger facing them as they crossed the Jordan.
The LORD thy God, he will go over before thee, and he will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt possess them: and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the LORD hath said. 4And the LORD shall do unto them as he did to Sihon and to Og, kings of the Amorites, and unto the land of them, whom he destroyed. 5And the LORD shall give them up before your face, that ye may do unto them according unto all the commandments which I have commanded you.
One can imagine the anxiety felt by the people. They were about to embark on the most dangerous part of the journey and would do so without Moses. How would they respond to the leadership of another? That leader would be Joshua, who as a young man and along with Caleb, recommended that the nation obey God and enter the promised land forty years before when they were shouted down by those who would later die in the wilderness. Joshua's wisdom was evident even at a young age, and now he would be chosen to lead the nation into the promised land.
Moses knew that the people of Israel could not endure this transition with a demonstration of faith. They had continually shown themselves as a faithless people. In order to take the promised land, they would have to face the armies of the Canaanites who were experienced in the arts of war. The knowledge of this immediate future, and the loss of their leader would cause the people great anxiety. Therefore, Moses reminds them of how God has already been taking care of them. The reminder of Moses' transgression at the Spring of Meribah and the reminder of God's defeat of the armies of Sihon and Og would serve to assure the people that God would be with them. He then states an often-repeated word of advice to those who are about to endure a seminal change in their lives, one that is the focus of this study...
Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
What is Moses' advice to the people?
- Be strong.
- Be of good courage.
- Do not be afraid.
- God is Lord.
- He will be with you.
- He will not fail.
- He will provide for your needs.
When left on our own, it is difficult to be strong and courageous. God does not expect us to be so on our own, but rather to recognize that He is with us, and by his presence, we can be confident in Him. Without the presence of God in our lives, we are left with fear. However, when God is with us, there is no need for fear; we do not have to be afraid when we know that God is Lord, He is in control of the situation. We know that when we rely on God, he will provide for us. We do not need to approach difficult changes in life with fear and despair. When we are pressed to do so, we can be reminded of these seven imperatives from Moses. Spend a moment and meditate on each of these and consider the impact that the knowledge of these truths can have on the response we have to seminal changes in our lives.
And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the LORD hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. 8And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.
It was not sufficient that Moses just give these words of encouragement to the nation. Joshua needed these words the most. Imagine the profound responsibility that Joshua was about to accept. Certainly, he must have felt that he was unprepared and unable to take on such a tremendous task. "Who could ever fill the shoes of Moses?" Usually when we respond in fear to an event in our lives, the circumstances are not that dissimilar to that facing Joshua. He did not know how he would handle the change, and felt unequipped for it. He did not know what the future would hold and experienced the fear of that unknown. These are usually the primary reasons for anxiety when we face seminal change. We fear a future for which we feel unprepared. Obviously, if we approached it without fear and felt totally prepared, we would not experience such anxiety.
Personally, I have relied on these verses on many occasions, and have used them as a testimony to the same. When called to serve as the director of music at the annual events of the Baptist Convention of New York in 1986, I felt a little bit like Joshua might have felt. Seated in the front row in the worship center I was about to take the podium and lead the program. My heart was pounding in my chest, and I was afraid I would faint on the spot. A musician from childhood, I play all musical instruments and am experienced in leading choirs, bands, and orchestras. However, when faced with this new challenge, I felt completely inadequate for the task. I had prepared for the meeting, and I knew what I was to do. I simply lacked the courage and strength that God would have me demonstrate, and replaced it with a fear of imminent failure due to my own inadequacy. As I sat there, I turned to the first chapter of Joshua as I was reminded of his fear of taking over the leadership of Israel.
Joshua 1:1-2, 6. Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying, 2Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. ... 6Be strong and of a good courage ... 7Only be thou strong and very courageous.
Joshua had heard Moses' words of encouragement to the people. He had also personally heard Moses counsel of encouragement. The fact that even the Lord had to give Joshua this same message helps me to realize that even Joshua had a very hard time dealing with the change that was taking place in his life. The testimony of Joshua in these verses shows how God repeatedly tried to calm his fears as he revealed to him a very important point:
Joshua 1:9. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.
It was this verse that struck me when I was ready to take the podium in front of a huge congregation, many of these with expectations of excellence exceeding only my own. God reminded Joshua that he was taking this task by a direct command of God. When God has called us, and is taking us through a transitional event, our confidence is to be in Him, not in ourselves. We are a testimony to the call of God in all that we do, and to allow our own fears to diminish our effectiveness in the task is playing into the hands of Satan, not of God. Realizing this in my own, more ignorant way, "This is not a time to wimp-out", I took the podium as if it were the podium in my church, and by so doing started a ministry that lasted about 4 years, and was a highlight of my New York experience.
Joshua, someone who we probably think of as one of the strongest, most confident of the patriarchs, lacked confidence to do what God called him to do. He was a normal person like us. I learned from this verse, and from the BCNY experience that whenever I am called by the church to take on a task, to do so with confidence, leading His people. I find then that there is very little that I actually bring to the event. It is then when the Holy Spirit can set me aside and take over. If I ever approach such an event with my own confidence I am doomed to utter foolishness.
And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and unto all the elders of Israel. 10And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles, 11When all Israel is come to appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing.
Moses wrote down the law that he had spoken to the people. Part of that law included a command at each seventh year would be the year of "Jubilee" when all debts would be erased. This established an economy that brought the system of loans under control. No loan could go past the Feast of the Tabernacles (or Feast of Booths) in the year of Jubilee. By doing this, the land would always remain with the family to which it was granted, a very important part of the maintenance of their identity. At this time of Jubilee, it was commanded that the law be read to the people.
One of the reasons for our lack of courage and strength in trying times is our failure to spend time with the Word of God. Most Christians own one or more Bibles that they never read. Some churches encourage their members to bring Bibles to church, and by so doing, may take a short look at a passage or two once each week, provided that the preacher or teacher uses it during the meetings. Moses' command to the nation was that they would read the entire law, not just one or two passages. How many of us have read the entire Bible even once? For the Christian, it is appropriate that our Bibles be worn from use. My favorite Bible is held together with packaging tape, and its regular use was replace only recently by a new Bible.
How can we spend time with the Bible in a way that will strengthen us in times of transition? If we spend time with the scriptures through personal Bible study, corporate study in a class with others, and through attention at worship services, over time we can become familiar enough with them that when events arise, appropriate scriptures can come to mind. This took place when I was drawn to Joshua, chapter one, while sitting, wet-palmed and dry-mouthed at my first meeting as the music directory for the BCNY.
So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. 6And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day. 7And Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated. 8And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days: so the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.
Change can certainly bring grief, and grief is appropriate at such times. For the people of Israel, they experienced the death of their leader, Moses. The death of a loved one can be a real and difficult transition in life. When such changes take place we often experience the loss of some things, while we experience the gain of others. Grief is a process through which we focus in on the important things in life and by so doing we come to accept the changes that are taking place. Under Israelite law, the country was mandated to grieve for 30 days. Grief takes time, and that time cannot be cut short. Often the loss of an immediate family member may require a year or more of grief, followed by a life that is never quite the same again.
And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the LORD commanded Moses. 10And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11In all the signs and the wonders, which the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, 12And in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses showed in the sight of all Israel.
Life does go on after times of transition. When Joshua stepped into the leadership position to which he was called, he did so following the advice of Moses and the counsel of the Lord. The people responded to Joshua's leadership under God, and is described as "a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses," because of his close relationship to, and reliance on God.
I would like to say that I and my family responded in a display of faith and confidence when we made the job move from New York to North Carolina. However, we did not score so well on that test, grieving that loss and others related to it, for a period of three years. Had we responded in faith, we would have suffered much less. When we are faced with the most difficult issues of life, we have a resource from which to draw that will get us through. God never promises us a life without difficulty, but He does promise us that He will never leave us. We truly can know in our hearts that when these times and events come we can ...
- Be strong.
- Be of good courage.
- Be not afraid.
as we are reminded that ...
- God is Lord.
- He will be with you.
- He will not fail.
- He will provide for your needs.