On Jordan’s Stormy Banks

“On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
and cast a wishful eye
to Canaan’s fair and happy land,
where my possessions lie.”

Whether or not you know this hymn probably says a little something about your age. Throughout the twentieth century this was an incredibly popular hymn, but to be honest, I had not heard it before. Or if I had, it’s somewhere in the hidden recesses of my mind like all the knowledge of Power Rangers and college football stats that I once had.

Those who sing this hymn likely are not saying that their hope and happiness are found in the literal, geographical location of Canaan. Instead, they are likely thinking of heaven when they sing this song.

Either way, it is this hymn that describes the scene that Deuteronomy paints for us. The entire book is documenting the scene described in the hymn.

The entire narrative of Scripture to this point pushing forward to this moment.

Genesis. Creation. Fall. The gospel promise. The origins of humanity. The origins of the cosmos. The promised one to come. The promised nation to come. The promised blessing to come. The grace of God on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The sovereignty of God over the life of Joseph. Power in a new world. All seems well.

Exodus. A new power rises. Slavery. Oppression. Pain. Moses. The plagues. The promised one to come. The Passover. The rescue from Egypt. The Red Sea. Mount Sinai. Testing in the wilderness. The promised land to come. The Ten Commandments. The way the people were to live.

Leviticus. The laws of God. The worship of God. The relationship of God to His people. The Tabernacle. The presence of God. The sacrificial system. The holiness of God.

Numbers. The march towards the promised land. The fear. The rebellion. The punishment. The death of the old, the life of the new. The forty years in the wilderness. Moses’ inability to enter the land of promise. The justice of God upon the disobedience of His people.

What now?

This is the most brief synopsis of the Pentateuch I could possibly write. There is so much more to each and every book. So much more.

But I write it so that I can say what I believe to be true.

If the book of Deuteronomy bores you, it’s because you don’t know the story.

When you know the story, the Biblical narrative, this moment in the story is immensely important. God has promised His people Canaan, and it’s right in front of them. Sure, reading through all the laws isn’t the most exciting Bible experience, nor is it the most immediately applicable. Especially when we understand that we are not held to the minutiae of the Old Testament Law. But with all those caveats, the book of Deuteronomy can still be a deep dive into the beauty of Scripture, the beauty of Jesus, the beauty of grace, the beauty of our part in the story.

Moses is speaking to a new generation of God’s people. The previous generation had died in their disobedience. Now this new generation was poised to enter the Promised Land. Moses was not allowed to enter. So here we have his final sermon, his final guidance given to his people. The book of Deuteronomy is two of his speeches to the people with a re-statement of the law sandwiched between them. Yes, it’s not the most popular book in our churches, but it is immensely important.

In fact, Deuteronomy has been used a lot in American history. Did you know that John Winthrop, the leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, used it to conclude a sermon he preached to his people right before they made it to New England? While I definitely don’t agree with early patriotic readings of the Old Testament where the ‘New World’ was equated to the ‘Promised Land’, you can see from history how Deuteronomy was used to encourage and admonish when people felt themselves on the edge of a new beginning.

Deuteronomy was also utilized in the spiritual songs of African-American slaves, as they longed for freedom in a promised land, whether that be spiritual or historical (like the Underground Railroad). This reading of the book of Deuteronomy is one I am far more sympathetic to.

Either way, we all can glean from it like those before us.

2 Timothy 3:16 will tell us that Deuteronomy teaches us, corrects us, rebukes us, and trains us in righteousness. With that in mind you mustn’t ignore it.

It is because of all this that I want to encourage you to read it. Imagine yourself in the story, immerse yourself in the story. Your parents were rescued out of Egypt by God, and they told you about it. Then they cowered in the face of difficulty and opposition, despite having their miracle-producing God on their side. This led to them dying in the wilderness. But here you are, you look across the Jordan river and see the land of promise. They had told you stories. It was a land of great fruitfulness, a land flowing with milk and honey. A land where you would be free. A land where you would be able to make themselves a home. A land where you could commune with God in prosperity and blessing. You look up and your leader Moses, who looks old and aged, weak and dying, is about to speak.

Now dive.

Dive deep into Deuteronomy.

You won’t regret it.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

(This upcoming semester, I will be preaching through the book of Deuteronomy {at high altitude} for the student ministry I shepherd. When I study a book, there is so much more that I glean than I have time to share on any given Wednesday night, so I will be posting some blogs like this one of what I’ve been learning. The book I’ve relied the most on is Thomas Mann’s commentary on Deuteronomy, and that will likely show in my posts.)

 

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