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Lessons from Deuteronomy 1: How 11 days became 40 years

When I started sharing the story of my wilderness season, it didn’t occur to me to share what God taught me during my 5-6 month stint in Deuteronomy 1—my transition from the valley to the wilderness. But then a friend changed my mind. Exasperated she said, “You don’t know who needs to hear what God told you. Don’t be selfish and keep those things to yourself. Some of us need to hear this as we go through our wilderness seasons or have it in our back pocket for when we do enter the wilderness.”

Friend, the same is true with your story. So please share it in the comments. You never know who needs to hear it—including me.

Interestingly, the first major lesson I learned from Deuteronomy 1 is the most important and the most profound.

Why? Because EVERY OTHER lesson, truth, and bit of wisdom I learned through this chapter radiates from this truth. Because this truth is at the core of EVERYTHING I believe, everything I am, and everything I want to be!

And If you are a follower of Jesus, I believe you will agree the same is true for you.

If you need to catch up, here are the posts in descending order with the newest on top:
The Long Road Back: The Isolation. The Dialog. The Group.
The Long Road Back: How Would You Respond?
The Long Road Back: Are You a Wanderer?
The Long Road Back: Has This Been You?

The Story of Moses has been one of my favorites since I was a child.

I believe, aside from Christ, his story is the most epic saga in all of history! But it wasn’t until recent years that I began to understand his story in a deep and personal way. Watching his story unfold was like watching my own.

No, I’m not claiming to be like this amazing man. Nor am I claiming my ministry is anything like the role God called him to play. My story and calling are much more modest than his. But they are no less important to God.

And neither are yours.

In my previous studies of Moses, I began to see recognizable threads of his story woven into mine. This is probably why his story resonates so deeply with me. And when God had me camped out in Deuteronomy 1, it’s these threads that God used to help me understand my story, purpose, calling, and role in His Story.

Setting the stage

Just prior to his death and the anointing of Joshua as his successor, Moses delivered a series of messages to the second generation of Israelites coming out of Egypt. (This is the book of Deuteronomy.)

In these messages

At the end of his messages he proclaimed:

Today I have given you the choice between life and death,
between blessings and curses.
Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make.
Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!
You can make this choice
by loving the LORD your God,
obeying Him,
and committing yourself firmly to Him.
This is the key to your life.” (30:19-20a)

I have carried these verses with me for years—long before my latest wilderness season began. My reasoning was simple. If loving God, obeying Him, and committing themselves firmly to Him was the key to their life; and if I am an heir to their promises through faith in Jesus Christ, then it must be the key to my life as well.

In other words: If I want to do everything God fore-ordained for me to do, (Ephesians 2:10) and if I want to receive the inheritance and rewards being stored up for me in Heaven (Matthew 5:12, 6:4, 25:21; 1 Timothy 6:17-19) then it’s up to me to not only love Him but to obey Him as well.

You might be thinking, I believe in Jesus. That’s good enough.

But it’s not.

Friend, here’s the hard Truth many people don’t what to talk about: Believing in Jesus isn’t enough. But it is the first step of faith.

This step is like coming up to the gate of faith, putting your hand on the latch, and swinging it open. But…you have yet to pass through the gate to where you can step onto the narrow path that leads to Life and walk on it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Now, let’s take this a little further.

Satan and his demons all believe in Jesus.

They all believe in the Father, Son, and Spirit, AND that they are ONE. This Truth shocks many people—believers and unbelievers alike. But we can’t deny what the Scriptures teach.

Ok, now let’s put these Truths together to understand what James aims to help us understand:

Believing IN Jesus only puts us on par with Satan and his demons. It doesn’t save us.

Not coincidently, it was during the writing of the Bible study on 1 & 2 Samuel that I realized EVERYTHING in our faith hinges on obedience. That believing in Jesus is only the first step in faith. Our next step, the one that takes us through the gate and onto the narrow path, is when we choose to know Him, to love Him, and to firmly commit ourselves to Him. From there, we build momentum in following Him when we walk in obedience and surrender to His will.

And it was on this foundation God taught me my first lesson from Deuteronomy 1.

How 11 Days Became 40 Years

God is the Master Teacher. He used my teaching of 1 & 2 Samuel on Wednesday mornings, His walking me through Deuteronomy 1, and the pain of betrayal to reach areas otherwise not accessible.

And this first Deuteronomy lesson was something I knew about. It was a concept. A known fact. But now, I KNOW it. It’s not only part of me, it’s at the center of who I am. And it started with asking the question: Why did it take the Israelites 40 years to do what they could have done in 11 days?

The answer: Because they didn’t BELIEVE God.

Don’t get me wrong, they believed IN Him. How could they not? They witnessed every plague He rained down on Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. Not only that, they had experienced His fighting for them and His conquering of their enemies. They tasted food from His table and water from His well. And they saw His glory descend on Mount Sinai!

But the problem was they didn’t BELIEVE HIM. Worse, they refused to believe Him. They stubbornly clung to their false gods and false hopes. Their hearts were far from Him and they lived their lives in direct disobedience to Him, His Law, and their purpose in His plan.

All through their time at Sinai, and before, God was introducing them to Himself. As He cared for them as a hen does her chicks,

His goal was for them to learn how to live in obedience to Him so they would continue to do so in their new Land.

He’d already proved who He is in Egypt and after: The Living God. The creator. The King of their Nation. Their Redeemer. Their Savior.

He’d also revealed who they were: Sinful/fallen. Selfish. Stubborn. Hard-hearted. Prideful. Prone to rebellion and doubt. Wayward children and adulterers who chase other gods.

And then He showed them how they could be forgiven and reconciled to Him.

But they rejected Him over and over again.

Finally, He said, “Ok. Regardless of how much I love you, I will let you go in the direction you choose.” Despite His personal pain, God let them follow their own path—away from Him and toward destruction. And that generation died in the wilderness. It was their children, along with Joshua (a Jew) and Caleb (a gentile), that Moses addressed in Deuteronomy.

Imagine! It was the disobedience and unbelief of the previous generation that stretched the 11 days into 40 years.

As I pondered this, I looked back at Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers to study the REPEATED sin of the Israelites’ unbelief. Then I considered my own life, choices, and behaviors; and knew I was looking in a mirror.

I had to ask:
Where am I disobeying my Savior?
How am I exhibiting unbelief?
How are my choices affecting my children and their children?

But then I realized this is much bigger than that.


My willingness to surrender or not surrender to my Savior will determine whether or not He knows me. Will determine whether or not I am His True Disciple. Will determine where I spend Eternity.

When Jesus says He doesn’t know these people in Matthew 7:21-23 He means, ‘I never witnessed you experiencing Me.’

Let that rest on you a moment.

Friend, the only way to experience Jesus is to love Him, to obey Him, and to firmly commit yourself to Him. To believe Him.

Now take that a step further.

Jesus proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) So if we choose not to love, obey, and firmly commit ourselves to Him—there’s no way we can get to the Father or Eternity with Him because our sin excludes us from His presence. But through Jesus, because of His death and resurrection, we can not only stand before His Father but we can run into His arms. Beloved, when we love, obey, and firmly commit ourselves to Jesus we are clean. Forgiven. Righteous. Saved by grace through faith.

So when I choose to do His will my way, when I choose pride over humility, when I walk in unbelief—I cheapen His sacrifice. I belittle His suffering. I take for granted my ability to stand blameless before The Father and the privilege of entering His Glory.

Oh, Lord forgive me.

Every lash across His back. Every punch to His face. Every blow to the head. Every hair ripped from His beard. Every strike of the hammer on the nails. All of it I treat as frivolous every time I choose doubt over faith.

Beloved, when we first believe in Jesus, we begin to know Him and realize His passionate love for us. We’re astounded by His gift of Salvation because we KNOW don’t deserve it and can never repay Him for it—and so we can’t help but fall in love with Him.

Out of that love, we want to know Him more, so we spend time in His word and in prayer. And then an amazing thing happens—our love for Him grows and we begin to believe Him! The Spirit enhances this by presenting us with indisputable evidence that Jesus is not only KNOWABLE, but He’s trustworthy and true.

And the more we trust Him, the more we love Him. And the more we love Him, the easier it is to obey Him and firmly commit ourselves to Him.

Do you see the cycle? This is is how we grow in our faith.

Friend. I missed it. I missed what the key to my life was all about. It’s Him. It’s all about Him and believing Him.

I learned we can believe in Jesus and still ignore Him. We can come up to the gate of faith and continue to live in rebellion and walk in doubt. However, when we choose to believe Him; when we step through the gate to FOLLOW Him; when we love Him, obey Him, and firmly commit ourselves to Him, that’s when we experience Him. That’s when we show the World and Him we are His True Disciples, surrendered to His will, ready to complete our role in His Plan.

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