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January 27, 2019

Sermon Deuteronomy 32:1-3 . . .“Bible songs:  Moses’ song”

“Bible songs:  Moses’ song”

Deuteronomy 32:1-3

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Ever heard the phrase, “swan song”?  I’m sure you have!  But while you likely know what it means, you probably don’t know where it comes from.

Apparently, the expression began some two thousand years ago, when it was believed that, just before a swan dies, it sings a beautiful song.

Aesop was one of the first to mention it in the words of his fable, The Swan and the Goose.  And in that fable, he tells the story of a rich man who bought a goose and a swan.  And when it came time to kill the goose, the cook went to get him.  But it was night and it was dark, and he couldn’t tell which was the swan and which was the goose.  By mistake, he caught the swan instead.

And as Aesop wrote, when the swan saw he was about to be cooked for dinner, he suddenly burst into song, which, thankfully, managed to save his life.

Leonardo da Vinci once wrote:  “The swan is white without spot, and it sings sweetly as it dies, that song ending its life.”

Even Shakespeare picked up on the theme in his play, The Merchant of Venice.  It’s where he wrote:  “Let music sound while he doth make his choice; then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end, fading in music.”

Even today, we use that phrase in lots of ways.  When Kobe Bryant scored sixty points in his last game in the NBA, many called it his “swan song.”  Derek Jeter hit a single for his last time at bat, sending in a game-winning run, and Peyton Manning won the Super Bowl in his last season as quarterback.  Many called them their “swan songs” too.

Even Moses had a “swan song.”  And we find it in the words of Deuteronomy chapter 32.  Please turn in your Bible to page 220, as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start where it says, “The Song of Moses.”  Deuteronomy chapter 31, verse 30:  “Then Moses spoke the words of this song until they were finished, in the ears of all the assembly of Israel:  ‘Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.  May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb.  For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God!”

As you can probably guess, Moses had finally come to the end of his life.  He spent the first forty years of his life as a son of Pharaoh.  For the next forty years, he tended his father-in-law’s flocks.  And for the last forty, he led the people of Israel through the wilderness and to their promised land.

And throughout his life, he was one to often sing songs.  In Exodus chapter 15, as Egypt was defeated at the Red Sea and the people of Israel stood safe on dry ground, he sang:  “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea.”  And in Numbers 21, with three million people parched and dry as a desert, he sang:  “Spring up, O well!  Sing to it!  The well that the princes made, that the nobles of the people dug, with the scepter and with their staffs.”

And now here, in the words of Exodus 32, he sings one more song, the last song he would ever sing before he died.

Let’s look for a moment at those opening words, to see what they mean.  Look at verse 2:  “May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distil as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb.”

What’s it mean?  Simply enough, the song that Moses was about to sing would be tender and gentle.  In the words of Charles Spurgeon:  “He would not be a beating hail, nor even a down-pouring shower, but he would be ‘as the small rain upon the tender herb.’”

Sure, there would be thunder in his song.  Look at chapter 32, verse 22:  “For a fire is kindled by My anger, and it burns to the depths of Sheol.”  And verse 23:  “And I will heap disasters upon them; I will spend my arrows on them.”

Yet in the midst of law, there is gospel, “like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb.”

Does it remind you of someone?  It reminds me of Jesus!  Did He speak words of Law?  Of course He did, like no one had ever spoken before.

In the book of Matthew, He said to the scribes and Pharisees:  “You hypocrites!  You shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces...you tithe mint and dill and cumin, yet have neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  You strain gnats and swallow camels...Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones.”  

And to a man who cared more for his money than he did for God, He said:  “Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor.  Then you’ll have treasure in heaven.”

But for every word of law, He had a thousand more words of gospel.  As He began to live and work among us, what did John call Him?  Not the lion of God.  Not something that kills and destroys.  He called Him, “the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world.”  

When He spoke, those who heard Him said, “No one speaks like this Man,” as they begged Him to speak some more!

And who sat down to eat with Him?  Of all people, in anyone’s eyes, it was the worst of the worst--tax collectors and “sinners.”

And when His disciples tried to shoo the children away, Jesus rebuked them and said:  “Let the little children come to Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.”

Just like Moses, His words were “like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb.”

And on whom do we find our rest and strength?  Moses wrote in verse 4:  “The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice.  A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He.”

He’s the Rock of Ages, cleft for me.  He’s the Rock that is higher than I.  He’s the solid Rock on which we stand, when all other ground is sinking sand.  

In the words of II Samuel 2:  “For who is God, besides the Lord?  And who is a Rock, besides our God?”

Now look at verse 11:  “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions…”

How does an eagle stir up its nest?  First, she reaches down with her big, yellow, hooked beak and her powerful claws, then she rips up and gouges out the soft leaves and the rabbit’s fur she once used to build her nest, leaving only prickly sticks and briars behind.  One day, the nest is cozy.  The next, it’s a bed of discomfort and restlessness.

Why?  Because she wants her eaglets to leave the nest and learn how to fly.

And when it’s time to fly, as Moses wrote:  it “flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions.”

Get the picture?  They say it’s one of the most frightening, yet fascinating, things you could ever see.

Just as soon as the eaglet’s wings have grown strong and its white fluff is gone, it begins to jump back and forth, first in the nest, then from branch to branch, learning, testing, getting ready to fly.

And sure enough, in one final moment of truth, it takes its first faltering steps out of the nest and flies.

But the mother is always close by, ready to swoop down, catch him, and lift him high into the sky.

And as it is for them, so it is for us.

As one author wrote:  “It’s very easy for us to get comfortable in a particular position, in a particular place, under particular circumstances.  And suddenly God begins to stir up the nest.  We thought we had great job security, but we find we’ve been terminated.  We say, ‘God, what are You doing?’  He’s teaching you how to fly.”

And he wrote:  “Sometimes in your awkwardness you look down and you’re flapping around and you’re screaming.  And the little eaglets, they really scream as they’re going down, and you see the rocks coming up so fast, and you think, ‘Sure.  I’m going to be dashed.  This is the end.  It’s all over.  God, You’ve forsaken me.’  Then all of a sudden, God swoops underneath, picks you up, and then you begin to understand His plan.”

A father tells of a time he caught his daughter, just a toddler, going up the stairs on her own.  Normally, he would have scolded her, but this time she was trying so hard, he didn’t have the heart to stop her.  But neither could he let her go alone.  There was too much danger.

So ever so quietly, he snuck up behind her and stretched out his arms inches below her, just in case she slipped.  And she was concentrating so hard on grabbing the stair rails to pull herself up, that she didn’t even notice he was there.

Finally, when she reached the top of the stairs, you can imagine how proud she looked, as she actually stood at the top, all by herself, on her shaky and inexperienced legs.

But her father saw it all in a very different way.  He knew that, even if she believed her toddler grip had gotten her safely up the stairs, there were other hands at work.  She had no idea how much danger she was really in, or how safe she really was.  She was safe in the danger, not because of the grip of her infant hands, but because of the safety provided by the arms of her father.

As Moses would say in chapter 33:  “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

One more thing.  Back in the late 1800’s, a teacher named Anthony Showalter received letters from two of his former students, saying that their wives had died.

So to comfort them, he wrote them back, and wrote the words of a hymn.  Maybe you know how it goes:  “What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms; what a blessedness, what a peace is mine, leaning on the everlasting arms.”

 

We thank You Father, for Your great grace, never deserved, but freely given, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your Son.  Hold us, safe and secure, in Your everlasting arms, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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