Moses’ preparation of the people of Israel to enter the Promised Land focused on the essential responsibilities they had in keeping their covenant with God. One of the things that Moses wanted the people to do was to consider the discipline of the LORD. Moses said:
“You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. And consider today (since I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen it), consider the discipline of the Lord your God, his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, his signs and his deeds that he did in Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to all his land, and what he did to the army of Egypt, to their horses and to their chariots, how he made the water of the Red Sea flow over them as they pursued after you, and how the Lord has destroyed them to this day, and what he did to you in the wilderness, until you came to this place, and what he did to Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, son of Reuben, how the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households, their tents, and every living thing that followed them, in the midst of all Israel. For your eyes have seen all the great work of the Lord that he did.” (Deuteronomy 11:1-7)
Moses described the discipline of the LORD as “his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, his signs and his deeds” (Deuteronomy 11:2-3) and then, went on to identify specific things that the people had seen God do in order to discipline them. Discipline is a type of personal involvement in the lives of others that is usually motivated by love. Hebrews 12:3-17 states:
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
The writer of Hebrews associated discipline with making straight paths for our feet and indicated that holiness is required for us to see the Lord (Hebrews 12:13-14). The Greek word that is translated see, optanomai (op-tanˊ-om-ahee) means “to gaze (i.e. with wide-open eyes, as at something remarkable)” (G3700). This particular kind of vision is different that simple voluntary observation or mechanical, passive vision. Optanomai has to do with spiritual discernment and one’s ability to understand spiritual truth.
Knowing and seeing the discipline of the LORD are connected with our personal experience as a believer. Jesus told his followers, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23). The Greek word that is translated knew, ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko) “signifies ‘to be taking in knowledge, to come to know, recognize, understand,’ or ‘to understand completely,’…”In the New Testament ginosko frequently indicates a relation between the person ‘knowing’ and the object known; in this respect, what is ‘known’ is of value or importance to the one who knows, and hence the establishment of a relationship” (G1097). Epiginosko “suggests generally a directive, a more special, recognition of the object ‘known’ than does ginosko (G1097); Sometimes epiginosko implies a special participation in the object ‘known,’ and gives greater weight to what is stated…Cf. the two verbs in 1 Corinthians 13:12, ‘now I know in part (ginosko); but then shall I know (epiginosko) even as also I have been known (epiginosko),’ ‘a knowledge’ which perfectly unites the subject with the object” (G1921).
The Hebrew word that is translated discipline in Deuteronomy 11:2, musar, (moo-sawrˊ) appears throughout the book of Proverbs and is used figuratively in speaking of “warning or instruction; also restraint” (H4148). Musar is used three times in the first seven verses of Proverbs 1 which “provide the title (v. 1), the purpose (vv. 2-6), and the theme (v.7) of the book as a whole” (note on Proverbs 1:1-7). It states:
The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:1-7)
According to Solomon, instruction or discipline is connected with wisdom and intelligence and therefore, it is silly to disrespect the person that gives it to you. Proverbs 3:1-12, which encourages believers to trust in the LORD with all their hearts, contains the original text that is cited in Hebrews 12:5-6. It states:
My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.
Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.
Honor the Lord with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:1-12)
Solomon warned believers against leaning on their own understanding or being wise in their own eyes. The point that Solomon was trying to make was that our minds and God’s mind do not work the same way. God’s way of doing things is superior to our own and he is able to accomplish anything he wants to. Isaiah 55:6-11 states:
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Thinking “signifies a mental process whereby some course is planned or conceived” (H2803). Typically, people do this without giving any consideration to God’s thoughts about the matter or his ways of doing things compared to their own. Isaiah’s argument in favor seeking the LORD was that God is compassionate and he is willing to forgive our mistakes.
Judges 1:1 tells us that “After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the LORD, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?’” “The expression ‘inquired of the LORD’ refers to the fact that the civil ruler of Israel had the right to ask the high priest to consult the Urim and Thummin for him (Numbers 27:21). This was the means that God set up for the judges, and later the kings, to know his judgment on any particular matter” (note on Judges 1:1). The Urim and the Thummin were necessary in Old Testament times because the Holy Spirit was not yet available to believers. When one of Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, Jesus said to them:
“When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:2-13)
Jesus used the example of an unfortunate friend to illustrate his point that God always responds to our requests for help and then, concluded with the statement, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13). The Holy Spirit is our primary means of direct communication with God. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). The Holy Spirit doesn’t intercede on our behalf in order to make our request known to God, but, so that God can communicate his will to us.
After the people of Israel “inquired of the LORD, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?’ The LORD said, ‘Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.’” (Judges 1:1-2). The answer the people received gave them the confidence to move forward and resulted in successful conquests, but a pattern developed where there was a failure to complete the conquest. Judges 1:19 states, “And the LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.” Judah’s inability to drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron was not a matter of it being impossible. Israel’s conquests in Northern Canaan involved a great horde of soldiers, “in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots” (Joshua 11:4). The problem that developed was that the people who had seen the great work that the LORD had done for Israel all died. “And there arose a generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:7, 10). Israel’s disobedience caused the angel of the LORD to tell them, “I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you…And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Judges 2:3, 11-12).
Israel’s early abandonment of the LORD was predicted before Moses’ death. Deuteronomy 31:16-18 states, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods.” The LORD hiding his face meant that his favor had been withdrawn, making it seem as if he was no longer present with his people (H5641). The LORD was certainly aware of what was going on because he continued to intervene on their behalf when they got into trouble. Judges 2:16-22 tells us:
Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.”
The statement, “They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways” (Judges 2:19) indicates that the people of Israel were at that point doing “what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25), rather than inquiring of the LORD. The Hebrew word that is translated practices, maʿalal (mah-al-awlˊ) refers to “an act (good or bad)” (H4611). Maʿalal is derived from the word ʿalal (aw-lalˊ) which specifically means “to glean” or to produce an effect, “by implication (in a bad sense) to overdo” (H5953).
Psalm 50 provides some additional insight into what was going on during the period of time between Joshua’s death and the installation of Israel’s first king. Psalm 50:7-17 states:
“Hear, O my people, and I will speak;
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God.
Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
I will not accept a bull from your house
or goats from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
But to the wicked God says:
“What right have you to recite my statutes
or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
God indicated that his people were continually sacrificing burnt offerings to him, but for the wrong reasons. The Israelites weren’t thankful for the things that the LORD had done for them; they were trying to earn God’s favor. God associated the wicked with being able to recite his statutes and being identified with his covenant, but indicated that the wicked were not open to his correction or willing to apply his word to themselves. Subjugation to God’s discipline was an important aspect of the relationship that was demonstrated between God and his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus used the parable of the two sons to emphasize his point that it is necessary for us to change our minds in order to do what God wants us to. Jesus asked, “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him” (Matthew 21:28-32).