In January I decided to start a long slow journey to meditatively read the Bible cover to cover. This morning, 30 December 2019, I finished Deuteronomy. The end of Torah/Pentateuch, the five Books of Moses. It’s been rich! I enter 2020 reading the next book in the Bible, Joshua, going into ‘The Promised Land’. How significant is that? Unplanned on my part. End of an era, beginning of a new year, a new decade, a new season to ‘inherit God’s promises’.
What makes this shift more symbolic is that Gill and I came to Johannesburg – independently of one another – in January 1980 (we met in 1984, got married in 1987). And we relocate to Salt Rock on the South African north coast, to a brand new house, on my birthday 14 January 2020! We both, in other words, have lived in Johannesburg exactly 40 years, planting and pastoring churches. Not that they have been a ‘wandering in the wilderness’ like Israel – at least not all of the time! But I do see God’s sovereignty in the timing of things. Has it been ‘training for reigning’, as in Israel’s formation and preparation in the wilderness, to rule with God in the new land?
Briefly, three years ago we started a succession process to hand over our local church. Two years later, on 13 January 2019, we laid hands on a younger couple to lead the church (when I began reading Genesis, ‘new beginnings’). We took the big step of faith to trust God month by month for ministry and finances, making ourselves available to the broader church to travel, consult with leaders, teach conferences, lead spiritual retreats, and write more books. Not that the last one has happened yet! And we decided, with a sense of leading from God, to relocate to the coast – north of Durban, where I was born in 1955. God has encouraged us with prophetic words that speak of a whole new season in our lives. We’ve been stretched in our faith like never before. Without going into detail, here’s one example: due to SA’s economic recession we’ve not yet sold our Johannesburg house, which we really need to sell (if there’s anyone out there who wants to buy it, let me know!)
I have learnt that the longer we faithfully journey with God in life, leadership and ministry, things do not get easier. Faith is further tested and seriously stretched for the finishing work of God in us, and through us, in his preordained plan for us. Jesus’ biggest test was toward the end of his life – Gethsemane – ‘Father, if it’s possible, take this cup from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will’. Greater faith is need for the greater and final things God wants to do in our lives. It’s ultimately training for reigning with Jesus in our resurrected bodies on the new earth, in the coming age(s). God has personally come through for us, reassuring us, providing, making a way, working miracles, keeping promises, being our light in darkness – ‘My God, that’s who you are!’
I conclude by grounding this brief 2019/2020 reflection in my year’s scripture reading. What amazed me is that the five books of Moses are named, in the Hebrew Bible, by the opening phrase of each book. They constitute an overview of headline lessons, a story told backwards from Deuteronomy to Genesis:
- From ‘the words’
- That ‘the Lord speaks’
- Based on ‘the Lord’s calling’ on our lives
- Calling us ‘by name’ to ‘exodus’ out of slavery to sin into God’s Promised Kingdom
- Which is ‘the beginning’ of (a new) creation.
Deuteronomy is essentially the repetition of ‘These are the words’ (1:1, the Hebrew name for Deuteronomy) of God’s covenant, to prepare Israel to enter The Promised Land. They are literally “the words” (debarim) from God that give us faith and life (Romans 10:8-17), that equip us to inherit God’s promises, to enter the rule and reign of God’s Kingdom come.
These ‘words’ (Deuteronomy) follow on, and come from ‘The Lord spoke’ – Hebrew name for the book of Numbers (1:1; the Hebrew Bible also uses “in the desert/wilderness”, 1:1). Did you know that ‘the Lord spoke/said’, and its related phrases, occur 150 times in Numbers? Astonishing! In other words, the message of Numbers is that life’s wilderness is all about learning to hear God’s voice again and again in each and every situation – to receive God’s words, to be guided and trained by them for life. For 40 years in the desert, whenever Israel was tested, facing trials and temptations, Moses prayed and listened, heard and obeyed God. Israel, in contrast, moaned and groaned, reacted and rebelled. To the degree we learn to live and lead by listening and obeying, we exercise God’s authority to rule and reign, demonstrating the signs and wonders of the Kingdom, as Moses did.
‘The Lord said’ (Numbers) is based on ‘The Lord called’ (Leviticus 1:1) – the Hebrew name for the book of Leviticus. The Greek Septuagint name, Leviticus, means ‘relating to the Levites’. The Hebrew message of Leviticus is: because God has called us, therefore we hear God’s Word. It’s all about our calling and identity as God’s redeemed and holy people. The Lord’s Word – recorded in scripture, incarnated in Jesus, revealed by the indwelling Holy Spirit in each life situation – equips us to rule and reign with Christ on the basis of God calling and identifying us as his own. God calls us by name, sets us apart, makes us holy by the blood of the Lamb for his Kingdom purposes.
Our calling (Leviticus), in turn, comes from our Exodus – miraculous deliverance, departure, exit – from our life of slavery to sin, sickness, demons and death. The Hebrew name for the book of Exodus is ‘These are the names of” (1:1). God personally calls each of us out from under Satan’s rule by name, as members of his great diverse family, into a (new) covenant of love, in training for reigning to inherit the Kingdom. Exodus is all about God’s personalised love, fighting for us, freeing us from evil.
Lastly, this exodus – in fact, all four above – is based on, and constitutes, ‘the beginning’ (Genesis) of God’s creation. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (1:1). The book of Genesis is about God bringing order out of chaos, making all things new in a Garden of Delight (the meaning of Eden). God mandated his human image-bearers to take that Garden, that glory and abundance of God’s Shalom-Kingdom, to the ends of the earth.
Therefore, to move from Deuteronomy to Joshua – which I do on 1 January 2020 in my Bible reading; and, symbolically, we will do when we move to Salt Rock after 40 years in Johannesburg – is to come full circle back to the beginning: a new Genesis, a new birth. To move from Deuteronomy to Joshua is to move from Moses to Jesus (Hebrew Yeshuah, Yahweh Saves). Jesus leads us into the Promised Kingdom, to live in and advance God’s new creation – the new heavens and new earth – to the ends of this old, broken, chaotic creation, for the redemption and renewal of all things.
It’s a new year, a new season, a new start.
In Christ, you are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come. Take heart! Turn to God, listen for his voice, receive his word, hear his call. God calls you by name!
Follow Jesus and he will lead you into the Promised Land.