“These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness…” Deuteronomy 1:1
The book of Deuteronomy is about Moses as an old man and respected leader reminding a new generation of Israelites about their past while pointing them into the future. In Numbers 13 and 14 the people chose fear over faith. Despite all the good and powerful things God had done on their behalf up to that point, the people rejected the promises and cried out against God. Because of their sin, instead of taking possession of the land God had promised, the people had to wander the wilderness for forty years and all those aged 20 and upward, other than Joshua and Caleb, would die in the wilderness.
The land became their children’s to inherit.
Moses himself would also not enter the land, but his heart was set to prepare those who would. Deuteronomy was written after the wilderness wanderings for the new generation that had grown up in the wild, for those under sixty.
They would soon follow Joshua to take the land, but before they did Moses reminded them of their past. It is here we see corporate identity and not merely individual history. Some of the new generation were alive during the events in Numbers 13, but many weren’t. Still as Moses spoke and taught, he included them in the you of the past. They may have been a new generation, but they were still of the people of Israel.
Moses’ purpose was to remind them of where they came from and yet also point them to the future where they would go and what they were to do. The past was filled with great victories and massive mistakes. The hope for the future was faithfulness and trust in God, yet warnings if they chose sin instead.
So it is to be with one generation and the next in church as well.
Too often we find excuses in the generational divide—how can the older and younger relate? There are so many differences in style whether musical, clothing, or choice of entertainment; we let style rule the day when depth of substance creates deeper bonds. Deep relationships, though, are built on time and stories, not style. Some of my closest friends have very different styles from me, but we share time, Jesus, and the stories of our lives.
A generation of Timothys needs a generation of Pauls. Pauls are men and women who, like Moses, can tell us of our past. If we are of Christ, then the Christian story is our story. If we are of a particular church, then the church’s story is our story. Pauls are men and women who remind us of the things to be thankful for but refuse to sugar coat the mistakes, because in both we find wisdom to seek the good and flee the bad (1 Corinthians 10:6).
These are also men and women who point us to the future. Following Jesus is about forward movement, it’s about growth, it’s about becoming more like Jesus in our character and attitudes, and it’s about longing for the day that Jesus makes all things right and new. One way to see what might be in the future is to learn about how God has already shaped the lives of men and women who have faithfully followed him.
Each new generation in the church is like the Deuteronomy generation. We stand on the verge of new frontiers and we face many unknowns. We will have great victories and we will make plenty of mistakes. Through it all we need encouragement to keep our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus and to live for him in all the challenges of life.
We need life stories mostly written as we keep writing our own. Stories that remind us of the past and help us look to the future. Stories about the same journey we find ourselves on as the church in 2015, still longing for the Great Promised Land of eternity.
This meditation is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church. Image from Disney-Pixar’s Up.