*Friendly reminder that I am in no way a Bible scholar, but am just sharing my own thoughts as I read through the Bible.
I’m going to pair chapter 12 with 13 but I don’t want to skip over chapter 11. I read it awhile ago but haven’t had time to sit down and write. But over the last week or so there has been this idea taking root deep in my heart.
This chapter of Deuteronomy opens with verse 2, “Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm, the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt…”
I forget while reading sometimes that those Israelites that entered the Promised Land were not the same ones that left Egypt or made the golden calf. This group of Israelites is (with a few exceptions) the children of those that had seen and experienced those things. This is the next generation that was being instructed to remember. And from this, we can take away a couple of things that apply to us.
Others that weren’t there, can’t remember what God has done if they’re not told. Through our journey so far we’ve already talked about the importance of passing on to our children what God has done for us. But if you notice with this verse, the call is not to share the praise reports and testimonies that we are more used to talking about. Here, Moses is instructing them to remember the discipline of the Lord. He continues to talk about God’s mighty works, but it is all in the sphere of this discipline. Now, I don’t know about you, but sharing the blessings that God has given me is a TOTALLY different thing than sharing with people the discipline that I’ve received. Especially with my kids or family members. I like everyone to know my best, and so I hate to share my worst. But I wonder if this approach gives the impression that God only blesses, and never disciplines. There are many times in each of our lives that God disciplines us, just as a father would with his child. And I can distinctly remember specific times I was disciplined as a child, but I can’t remember as distinctly times that the Lord disciplined me. However, these verses clearly instruct us to share our experiences being disciplined so others can learn from it. But how can we share something we don’t think we experience?
Think about it. Can you think of times you were disciplined as a kid? Now try to think of specific times you were disciplined by the Lord. Did you come up with any? Wasn’t it much more difficult? And why us that? I don’t think we have been trained, trained ourselves, or have trained others to look for God’s discipline. Theologically, we know that it happens, but practically it tends to be the last explanation we come up with. The Pharisees came to be because they were a group of Israelites that saw their people not experiencing the promises and blessings that God had gap omen to them, and so their assumption was that they were in sin and needed to correct it. That’s why over time they became so legalistic. They wanted to make sure they didn’t disobey anything in the law and experience God’s discipline. They assumed that if their lives weren’t like what Scripture said, it was their fault- not God’s.
In the days of a watered down version of Christianity and hyper grace to spare feelings, we are on the total other side of the spectrum from the Pharisees (yes, they became so entrenched in legalism that they missed the point also, but we are missing it on the other extreme). When we don’t experience the blessings or promises in the Bible, when situations are rough- we look to everyone BUT ourselves as the thing that needs to be changed. We tend to go wrong in three ways.
First, we can try to just control or change what we are experiencing. There is nothing wrong with seeking the Lord to better our situation, but if we don’t seek Him (or just do it anyways) we are in the wrong. If we seek Him and He doesn’t change what’s going on, then we need to continue to seek if it is discipline.
Second, we can blame other people and think we are the victims of circumstances. Now, I’m not saying we don’t get the short stick at the hands of other people sometimes. And some of us have experienced that to a way worse extent than others. But let’s think back to how the Israelites got to this place in Deuteronomy to begin with. Oh yeah, that’s right… They were enslaved in Egypt. Hm… definitely qualifies as our idea of victims, don’t you think? Their trip to the Promised Land was God saving them from being oppressed and victims but their trip required some travel time. Not a huge deal. But Moses in our verses refers to remembering the discipline of the Lord. He mentions the discipline Pharaoh and Egypt faced because of their evil actions, but he also mentions the discipline the Israelites faced for their disobedience and evil. The Israelites didn’t get a pass because they were legitimately victims- they were still responsible for their actions and attitude. The Israelites received discipline (death!) for questioning the spiritual leaders God put in charge of them. They received discipline for complaining about their time in the wilderness. They received discipline for being impatient and turning to other solutions (golden calf) instead of waiting on the Lord’s timing. They were responsible for how they behaved and responded- even when some of their misfortune was at someone else’s hand. Sometimes when we are being disciplined and should be asking for forgiveness from the Lord (for our bad attitude, pride, etc) we instead are feeding and encouraging the very thing we are being disciplined for by blaming people around us. If we are truly being disciplined, the only thing this does is prolong the period of discipline because we are blind to the problem since our eyes are focused on others instead of ourselves.
Our third possible (bad) response is that we actually blame God! We can do this overtly by rejecting His character and who He is. But we can also do this in a more subtle way. We can start questioning His character and stop living (and treating Him) like He is good and loving. We can even wrap it in godly sounding language such as “I don’t know why God is allowing me to go through this.” Now, stick with me. We do see examples, like Job, where God does allow hardship not for the sake of discipline- so this attitude can be an okay place to end up. But we can start here. If we don’t start with seeking the Lord to see if we are being disciplined for sin, but instead jump to the conclusion that this difficulty is His unprovoked decision- then we are not only dangerously proud, but also attributing the correction of a loving Father to a god with character quite the opposite of who He is and what the Bible teaches.
We all know that as children we will be disciplined, and I would much rather learn from it quickly than the hard way! But it’s so hard to recognize when we are experience discipline from our Father. I wish I could give us a formula to follow but I think we just need to be quick to ask Him if we are being disciplined instead of assuming we’re not. And then I think we take Moses’ instruction to remember and share. I wasn’t taught how to recognize His discipline, but when He helps me recognize it, it can help teach someone else if I share my story. Not that it won’t be hard (I HATE being vulnerable), but if I can help someone else learn what God has for them faster- it’s worth it. So Spirit, help us have the humility to seek you in the hard things first, before we assume that were not being corrected. Give us wisdom that only You can give. Amen.