Your people and Your inheritance

Deuteronomy 9:29
“Yet they are Your people and Your inheritance, whom You brought out by Your mighty power and by Your outstretched arm.”

Of all the pastors who ever lived, I must say I like Moses the best. He dealt with more adversity and more immediate crises than probably any pastor in history, and yet he shepherded the people of Israel with diligence, obedience, and wisdom. Of course, if you really know anything about Moses, you also know that he was just as frustrated with Israel as the Lord was. Poor Moses was constantly facing rebellion, pride, sinful behavior, and a distinct lack of appreciation from the people he served. No one ever thanked him for the job he did–not even when he fasted and prayed for them to avert the all-too-frequent punishments that the Lord planned for their sins. Being the leader of God’s chosen people was a thankless and terrible job for anyone, and yet even while honestly expressing his frustration and anger to God, Moses remained dedicated to Israel’s care right up until his last day on this earth.

I suppose that is why the Lord chose Moses to lead His people: He knew Moses possessed the heart for Israel and the heart for God that all good pastors need. Certainly Moses got exasperated with both the Lord and the Israelites, but he did so out of love. Moses loved the Lord, and so he struggled to understand the Lord’s will and he tried to love as the Lord loved. And when the people bucked and railed against him, Moses often told his Lord that he wished he didn’t have such a lousy job with such lousy people. And yet at the same time, Moses also showed how much he loved the people of Israel, because, like any good father, he was disappointed at their bad behavior. He did his best to help them see the way to get back into God’s good graces, and time and again he was thwarted in his teachings by the people’s proud and rebellious hearts.

Deuteronomy 9:6-7
6 “Therefore understand that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people.
7 “Remember! Do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day that you departed from the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD.”

“Stiff-necked” is Moses’ favorite description for the Israelites, because they seem unable to bend their necks to the lordship of the very God who saved them from slavery. They keep their heads up, looking always at themselves as worthy of even more than the Lord has already given them, and then they think of themselves as gods in their own right. No matter how many times Moses and Aaron worked to avert catastrophe, to stop God from destroying the very people He had saved, the stiff-necked Israelites kept reverting to their old ways–even when the old generation had died off and a new generation raised in the Lord had taken their place. That pattern still holds true today: even people raised in the teaching of the Lord still rebel against Him when they are older. It is in our very nature to rebel against goodness, mercy, and even grace. And our pastors get just as frustrated with us as Moses was with Israel.

Lamentations 3:22-23
22 Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

On the way home from a Bible study this morning, I was contemplating hope, and that wonderful old hymn came to mind, “Great is Thy faithfulness.” Starting with the verses above from Lamentations, the hymnist gave us a wonderful psalm about God’s faithfulness in giving us all of Creation, in granting us pardon for our sins, in blessing us beyond our power to understand. And a line from the song kept ringing in my head: “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” The Israelites had been given such strength and such hope, and yet the rebelled against it. Moses warned them what would happen if they entered into the Promised Land and forgot the blessings and mercy of the Lord their God. And yet no sooner had they crossed the Jordan than they began to fall away from Him again. They saw it graphically illustrated how much they needed to depend on the Lord for victory and for prosperity, and yet they still ignored His instruction and his discipline. God need never have so blessed those people, and at one point the Lord even proposed killing them all off and starting fresh with just Moses and his family. (Exodus 32:10) But God is faithful–faithful to His promises, faithful to His nature as righteous, holy, and merciful, and faithful to His chosen people.

In Deuteronomy chapter 9, Moses is telling the Israelites how close they had come to being blotted off the face of the earth, and he reminds them that they didn’t avert these multiple disasters by any righteousness of their own. Nor had they been brought out of slavery and led to a land overflowing with milk and honey because of their own worthiness. They had been saved and blessed because they were God’s chosen people, because in His infinite grace He had decided to bless those whom He had chosen, because in His abundant and constantly-renewing mercy the Lord saw fit to spare them DESPITE their rebellion and sin.

Moses then closes by addressing not the Israelites but God Himself. Moses could have said the same thing to the Israelites, but he chose instead to turn his rebuke against their sinful behavior into a moment of praise and worship for the Lord their God. Moses knew that it wasn’t about him or the stiff-necked people he served, but all of this was about God’s great faithfulness and love for them all. And so Moses acknowledges the Lord through a simple but glorious statement:

“Yet they are Your people and Your inheritance, whom You brought out by Your mighty power and by Your outstretched arm.”

We who stand in God’s grace and mercy today can cling to this statement, because we, too, are His people, and because of Jesus Christ we possess an inheritance of glory and eternal life. He alone has brought us out of slavery to sin. We did not do this ourselves, nor did we even deserve it. But God CHOSE to do this thing for us, to save us through His mighty power displayed in the gospel of Christ, and through His arm stretching down from heaven to lift us out of the miry pit.

And since we ARE His people and His inheritance, how then ought we to live? Should we continue in rebellion? Should we continue to tolerate sin in our midst? Should the measure of our shepherds be the lowest common denominator or the Christ Himself? Should we not ALL be like Moses, frustrated and angry at the sin around us but always seeking to do the Lord’s will, no matter how difficult? Moses only saw the Holy Land from a distance, and yet he knew that the people of God would inherit that place, that a new generation would cross over the Jordan into blessings that Moses himself had never known. But Moses, too, also knew the salvation of the Lord, and he knew that the Messiah would rise up as a mighty Prophet to lead His people to salvation and life.

Therefore, let us reflect on who we are in Christ. Do we live as though we are God’s people? Do we live as though we truly are co-heirs with Christ of eternal life? Do we live as if we have been saved from the devil and his minions through the power of the Cross? Do we live with the absolute knowledge that we would NOT live at all were it not for God’s mercy and might?

I have hope because I see the Promised Land from this distance. I have hope because the Lord God has spoken through His Word and His Creation and His Son to bring my heart to repentance and faith. I have hope because I KNOW that I have been blessed beyond any worthiness of my own. I have faith because I know I am one of God’s people, part of His inheritance, just one among many who have been saved by His mighty power and outstretched arm. May we all live in that hope, that faith, and that glorious mercy of God, knowing that He chose us long before we ever chose Him.

Holy Lord God, bless us with hope as Your chosen people and as Your inheritance. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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