March 27 – Mountaintops – Mount Gerazim

Read Deuteronomy 27:11-1428:1-14

Moses was giving instruction here about a future day when the Israelites would once again inhabit the Promised Land.  The twelve tribes were to divide between the two mountains, Ebal and Gerazim.  From the valley below, Levites were to read the curses they would experience if they failed to carry out God’s instruction.  In response to each curse, those on Mount Ebal were to give a reverberating “Amen.”

ebal gerazimBut what about the blessings and clear instruction for those on Mount Gerazim?  The account recorded here is not nearly as specific about how that was to play out.  It seems safe to assume that specific blessings would be read and the six tribes would bellow out a heartfelt, “Amen,” but that is not so precisely delineated.

Nevertheless, the people were promised blessing in the city and in the field.  They would be blessed in their harvest and in childbearing.  They would be feared by other nations and prosperous in their work.

Unfortunately, God’s people were not characterized by obedience, and, as a result, they only experienced these blessings sporadically and only in part.

Aspects of this principle of “blessing for obedience” still abide today.  There is no better place to be than to be found walking with the Lord and in accordance with His will.  In fact, on another “mount” you will soon read about, Jesus proclaimed clear “blessing” for people characterized by such things as “pure in heart” and “peace-loving.”

Meanwhile, be careful to note that your faithful obedience today does not guarantee the same kind of blessings spoken by Moses to the Israelites.  Godly individuals today experience the loss of children and of harvests.  They face opposition in the neighborhood and challenges on the job.  They experience financial challenges that may, at first glance, seem inconsistent with the simple equation of “blessing for obedience.”

We must recognize that the character of God has not changed.  He is still loving and gracious.  But His dealings with His people have.  In fact, now he leverages the trials of our lives, even as faithful followers of Jesus, in order to refine us further so that we may reflect the image of His Son (Js. 1:2-4; Rom. 8:28, 29).

Steve Kern

March 26 – Mountaintops – Mount Ebal

Read Deuteronomy 27:1-19

ebal gerazimFast forward from the time when Moses recorded these words to a time when the activities outlined in Deuteronomy 27 to a day when the Israelites were in the Promised Land.  Imagine you are a Reubenite.  You are standing with others from your tribe as well as representatives from five other tribes on Mount Ebal.  Across the valley from you in the distance, you see Mount Ebal’s twin sister, Mount Gerazim.  Dotting its peak, you make out people who form a crowd from the other six tribes of Israel.  What follows is an unusual but moving form of antiphonal/responsive reading in which you participate.

The Levites say, ““Cursed is anyone who dishonors their father or mother.”

Together with all those of you on Mout Ebal, you voice a thunderous response, “Amen!”

Once again, the Levites proclaim, “Cursed is anyone who moves their neighbor’s boundary stone.”

With a volume that seems to shake the mountain, you respond, “Amen!”

Next, the Levites announce, “Cursed is anyone who leads the blind astray on the road.”

As you face your countrymen across the valley, you echo, “Amen!”

Then it is the Levites turn again as they exclaim, “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”

To which you respond with a heartfelt, “Amen!”

As the Levites continue to announce other “curses,” you continue to announce your agreement with these principles of God.

But what is it that you have already embraced?  To what have you already committed yourself?  You have already placed yourself in line with God’s compassion for people without a voice.  You have already agreed to God’s standards of justice for those who are often overlooked.  No matter what others do, you will honor your parents and the elderly.  No matter what others do, you refuse to take advantage of those around you.  No matter what the culture says, you will protect those with disabilities.  No matter what the norm is, you will seek justice for internationals, orphans, and widows.

Those are powerful words of commitment that you will look out for those often overlooked in life.  Will you do that today?

Steve Kern

March 25 – Mountaintops – Mount Hermon

Read Deuteronomy 3:1-29

“Deuteronomy” means literally “another law.”  In this book, Moses recounts important instruction and experiences from the previous books Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.  Here in this chapter, he reviews the defeat of kings/peoples and the conquest of land east of the Jordan.

While the crossing of the Jordan and the conquest of the land to its west was part of the promise of God, two tribes had asked to live in this land.  The Gadites and Reubenites were granted permission.  Together with half the tribe of Manasseh, theirs would be the land from the Valley of Arnon in the south to a northern boundary of Mount Hermon.

There was, however, one caveat for Gad and Reuben.  When their Israelite brothers and sisters crossed the Jordan to engage in the conquest of the western land, their able bodied men were to go along in order to help secure victory.  Only after the other tribes were situated would they be permitted to return to their families and occupy the land from Arnon to Hermon.

God always has a bigger perspective, doesn’t He?  He always wants you to look beyond me and my.  I am sure it would have been preferable for Gad and Reuben to not move beyond the land that had already been secured.  But the Lord wanted them to look beyond their personal interests and even beyond their tribal interests to the broader interests of their brothers and sisters in other tribes.

It is no different for you.  You are instructed to “value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil. 2:3b, 4)  You are to “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  (Gal. 6:10)  If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been given at least one spiritual gift that you are to leverage to benefit others within the body of Christ.  (1 Cor. 12)

Your challenge today…and every day…is to raise your eyes beyond yourself.  It is to look further than your own area between Arnon and Hermon to those areas and people beyond.

Nate Harley

March 24 – Mountaintops – Mount Nebo

Read Deuteronomy 34:1-12

God had promised the land to Abraham and his descendants centuries earlier.  Unfortunately, they only spent three generations there before famine forced them to Egypt where there was food.  But, for whatever reasons, when the seven-year famine ended, God’s people remained in the land of the pyramids.  Another 400 years passed before God raised up Moses as a deliverer.  Through powerful displays of signs and miracles, this great prophet led the people out of bondage.

The route they took to the Promised Land was not a direct one.  Their disobedience and lack of trust caused them to wander for 40 years.  Now, finally, the land…their land…was within sight; especially if you were standing on top of Mount Nebo.  From that vantage point, Moses was able to see the land where the twelve tribes would soon settle.

This must have been a moving moment for Moses.  He had given the last decades of his life to lead the people towards obedience and towards this destination.  The realization of that dream was within sight.  But that moment was also likely moving for Moses because he knew he would not personally enter into the land.  You see, years earlier, he and Aaron had failed to treat God as holy.  They disobeyed God’s instructions by striking a rock when He had told them to speak to it (Numbers 20).  As a result, Moses died as a strong man with great sight shortly thereafter.

NeboThere are consequences for our disobedience, aren’t there?  Moses’ experience is a prime example of that.  And yet, in spite of his disobedience, Moses was forgiven and even honored by God.  God graciously allowed Moses to see the land.  He saw to it that incredible words of eulogy were recorded in these final lines of Deuteronomy.  And the
Lord Himself personally cared for the burial of this great prophet.  Although his disobedience had consequences, it did not define Moses in the end.

All of our lives are punctuated with disobedience that must break the heart of God.  Even though our disobedience may have repercussions, when we fall upon His forgiving grace, we are not defined by those mistakes.

Praise God!

Steve Kern

March 23 – Mountaintops – Mount Hor

Read Numbers 20:1-29

Mt. Hor It was on that mountain that Aaron died.  A gravesite seems hardly to be the kind of place most of us like to visit.  It may seem difficult to view it as a place for a divine encounter.  And yet, this gravesite was. Mount HorWhat kind of eulogy could have been given for Aaron on that mountain?  He had been chosen by God as spokesman for Moses at the time of the Exodus.  Remember?  Moses had complained about his perceived inability to express himself clearly.  In response, God told Moses, “he will be as a mouth for you and you will be as God to him” (Ex. 4:16).  Aaron had faithfully served in that capacity.

As a descendant of the tribe of Levi, Aaron also served as priest over the nation of Israel.  At times, his leadership was called into question.  But, even as late as Numbers 17, God confirmed His selection of Aaron once again with the budding of his rod.  Thus, Aaron led God’s people in the feasts and sacrifices. Aaron was also privileged to accompany Moses into the Tent of Meeting where they encountered God and were eyewitnesses of His glory.  I am sure that he could have told stories of God’s incredible majesty!

But Aaron was not perfect.  As Moses was on Sinai giving the Law, Aaron allowed himself to be influenced by the people of God.  He constructed a golden calf that was to serve as a visual representation of the One who had led them out of Egypt.  In clear violation of the 2nd commandment, Aaron had listened to man and not to God.  But God was gracious, allowing Aaron to live and to continue to serve. Similarly, in his final days, about which you read, Aaron and Moses together failed to reflect the holiness of God.  With the people thirsting for water, God instructed them to “speak to the rock,” from which water would flow.  Instead, the two of them struck the rock.  As a consequence for their disobedience, neither Moses nor Aaron would enter into the land promised them by God.  In fact, Aaron’s life ended on that mountain.

Although the precise details are much different, the basic realities of Aaron’s life are the same as yours.  Your accomplishments in life are reflections of God’s power.  Your mistakes in life are dependent upon His grace.  You will need both today…and both until the day you die.

Steve Kern

March 22 – Mountaintops – Mount Sinai

Read Exodus 19:1-20:21

This encounter with the Divine at Mount Sinai was a memorable one.  God wanted to makeMount Sinai an impression on His people when He gave them the Law (including the 10 Commandments).  He used visual effects…lightning, a thick cloud, fire, and smoke. He made loud sounds like thunder claps and trumpet blasts. This would be a day that they would long remember.

And then, He gave the commandments.  There are some that describe how people should relate to Him.  Give Him first place in your life.  Don’t worship objects made by man.  Use His name in an honoring way.  Be sure to take time for rest and refreshment.  Commandments like these were to define how we honor God.

Meanwhile, there were other commandments that tell people how to treat one another.  Treat your parents with honor.  Don’t kill others.  Be faithful if you are married.  Don’t take things that belong to other people.  Don’t lie about others.  Be careful not to be jealous.  These directions from God help us to know how He wants us to treat others.

The giving of those commandments was so awesome and terrifying that the people asked that God stop talking (20:19).  They were so moved by the experience that they later vowed, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.”  (Ex. 24:3)

But it was only a handful of chapters later (chapter 32) that they were already violating one of the Ten.  They had constructed an image/idol!

This points out two important realities:

  1. In spite of our good resolve, no one of us can keep the commandments of God.  In fact, the very purpose of the Commandments is to point out our sin and to direct us to Jesus (Gal. 3:23-25).
  2. Mountaintop experiences are great.  They are often a place of clear vision and great resolve.  But the carry through of commitments made is not so easy.  We do well to develop safeguards like accountability that help to ensure the realization of those commitments.

Steve Kern

March 21 – Mountaintops – The Mountain and Moses’ Hands

Read Exodus 17:1-16

Admittedly, the Bible specifically describes the elevated real estate as a hill and not as a mountain.  Nevertheless, something happened there that was worthy of notice…

The battlefield perspective on what transpired that day might have led one to believe that the armies were fairly evenly matched.  Joshua and his men fought against the Amalekites.  It seemed at times that the Amalekites had the advantage.  At other times, Joshua and his army were winning.  In the end, of course, the Israelites prevailed and Joshua and his men overcame the enemy.

Moses' handsBut there is more to life than the obvious, the visible, the physical, or the strength of men and women.  There was more to the outcome of this battle than two comparable armies at war, with one in the end demonstrating a better strategy, greater endurance, or more agility.  On a hill overlooking the battle were Moses, Aaron, and Hur.  At their disposal, they had the staff of God and a rock.  Together, the three men labored to ensure that the hands of Moses (presumably holding the staff) were held high.  You see, there was a direct relationship between the position of Moses’ hands and what happened on the battlefield.  But let’s take it a step further.  Verse 16 tells us that those “hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord.”  Those hands were indicative of the prayerful intervention of Moses on behalf of Joshua and his men.  God responded as Moses, Aaron, and Hur prevailed in “prayer.” There was a battle behind the battle.

Scripture gives you repeated insight to the reality of that battle, the role that God plays, and the importance of prayer.  Unfortunately, it is very possible that the average follower of Christ moves through life as if outcomes depend exclusively upon him/her.  Such people necessarily hone their skills, double their efforts, and perfect their strategies.  They rise early, stay up late, and worry often.  But by acknowledging the battle behind the battle…one fought in prayer…and by recognizing the invisible warrior…the God of the universe…you can rest in knowing that it isn’t up to you!

In what situation should you prayerfully acknowledge that now?

Steve Kern

March 20 – Mountaintops – Mount Horeb

Read Exodus 3:1-22

The life of Moses is divided into forty-year segments.

For the first forty years of his life, he lived as a Jewish/Egyptian.  Raised in the home of Pharaoh with the corresponding privileges, he was different from the enslaved people of God.  And yet, he understood his true identity and had a heart for his people.  But his concern for God’s chosen nation was not understood by them and placed him at odds with Pharaoh himself.  So, after forty years, he fled.

Once in Midian, he married, had a child, and settled into a quiet life as a shepherd.  But that forty-year portion of his life drew to a close with the events recorded in Exodus 3.Mount Horeb

It was there, on a mountain called “Horeb,” that Moses had a divine encounter.  It all began as he witnessed something that defied his logic and prior experience.  He saw an angel in the midst of a burning bush.  Even though the flames burned, the bush remained unchanged…it did not slowly burn up.  This was a holy ground moment.  It was one worthy of removing sandals and remaining at a distance.  It was an encounter with God.

On that mountain, God expressed His calling to Moses.  This quiet shepherd in the Midian wilderness was to be one used of God to lead His people out of slavery and back to the land God had promised.  This mountain was the location where God answered questions and gave reassurances that He really could use this man who had fled for his life forty years earlier.  In spite of Moses’ objections and perceived weakness, God would manifest miracles that would result in the return of the nation.  It was on this mountain that God also revealed Himself as the great “I AM.”  He is not a “has been” or a “will be.”

Though you have not had a Mount Horeb, burning bush experience, if you are a Christ-follower, you are no less called!  You are called to be holy (1 Pet. 1:16).  You are called out of darkness and into light that you may proclaim His greatness (1 Pet. 2:9).  And with this calling, you are assured of the very presence of I AM in the person of the Holy Spirit who empowers you to exercise your calling.

Steve Kern

March 19 – Mountaintops – Mount Gilead

Read Genesis 31:1-55

My wife and I dated long distance for the first two and a half years of our relationship.  In a day without e-mail, Facebook, texting, or even good long-distance calling plans, our communication was largely through handwritten letters.  In those letters, we would often seek to encourage one another with Bible passages.  I can remember citing Genesis 31:49:

“May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.”  (v. 49)

Mount GileadNow, I look back in embarrassment at that!  As I read that verse in its context, I discover that it was a part of a covenant between Jacob and Laban in the hill country of Gilead, in which they expressed their mistrust in one another.

Indeed, the two of them were interesting characters.  Jacob had his own history of deception.  He had taken his brother’s birthright at a vulnerable time in Esau’s life (Gen. 25).  Later, he had stolen his brother’s blessing through a conniving plan that he and his mother had put together (Gen. 27).

But Jacob met his match in Laban.  Jacob wanted to marry Laban’s younger daughter.  In exchange, Jacob agreed to serve his father-in-law for seven years.  Through a convoluted series of decisions made by Laban, however, Jacob had given twenty years of his life in service to dear old dad.

Now, it was time to part ways.  God had made it clear that Jacob was to take his family and his flocks and return to the land promised to his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham.  And so they snuck off.  Soon, Laban caught up with them.  With what must have been tense words, Jacob and Laban made a rock pile that was designed to remind them of the conditions for a covenant:

  • Jacob was to mindfully care for Laban’s daughters and not marry any others.
  • The stones were to serve as a boundary between the two.  Neither was to pass over into the land of the other.

This “mountaintop” experience in the Bible certainly does not fit well into a stereotype of incredible encounters with God.  It does, however, point to an unfortunate reality.  Some relationships require the establishment of healthy boundaries.  We need incredible wisdom in identifying which relationships those are and what boundaries are both protective and biblical.

Steve Kern

March 18 – Mountaintops – Mount Moriah

Read Genesis 22:1-24

Abraham had left Haran decades earlier with a promise that must have sounded almost too good to be true.  He would inherit land.  He would be the father of a great nation.  And his descendants would become the source of blessing to others.

But shortly after seeing his new real estate for the first time, famine forced him to a neighboring country.  And, as to his descendants, Abraham and Sarah just couldn’t seem to conceive.

Finally, twenty-five years after receiving the promise, with both of them beyond the age of normal child bearing, their son, Isaac was born.  He was a miracle and the fulfillment of a promise.  But then came God’s instruction that would seem to contradict all of those years of struggle and anticipation:

“Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”  (v. 2)

Every time I read those instructions, my fatherly instincts kick in.  How could God ask that of any father?  How could any father follow through?  As if to magnify the difficulty, God further describes Isaac as “your only son.”  He was the son of promise that God had in mind decades before.  God goes on to describe Isaac as the one “whom you love.”  Abraham’s attachment to this lad was indescribable.

How could Abraham ever follow God’s instruction?  By faith.  That’s what it says in Hebrews 11:17-19.  Mt. Moriah, you see, was a place of faith.

But Mt. Moriah was also a place of provision.  If God had promised an outcome and commanded an action, He must have a plan that can be trusted.  You see, the instruction He gave Abraham was only a test.  Instead of Isaac, the ram caught in the thicket became the sacrifice.  God provided a substitute…much as He did when Christ went to the cross for us.Mount Moriah

And that’s where we see the events on Mt. Moriah on that day as also a foreshadow of
things that were yet to come.  God, our heavenly Father, would take His one and only Son, the Son whom He loves, and sacrifice Him so that we might live forever with Him.

(By the way, Mt. Moriah eventually became the site on which Solomon’s temple was built.)

Steve Kern