Life, Death, and Words

[Moses] said to them, “Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. For they are not meaningless words to you but they are your life.”

These poignant verses are given at the conclusion of the song of Moses at the end of the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 32:46-47). Moses and Joshua stand together before the Israelites, calling them to learn and live out every command of God throughout generations to come. Shortly after the song, Moses climbs Mount Nebo, takes a look at Canaan, gives one last blessing for the people, and then dies. Joshua becomes Israel’s new leader and the book of Deuteronomy ends.

On the verge of dying, Moses speaks words of life. The contrast couldn’t have been timelier for the people of God. Even as they were getting ready to settle and live in the new land “flowing with milk and honey,” to not take the whole law to their heart would result in death. Moses’ song was a warning song. Moses at age 120 had lived long enough to understand that the danger of every human heart was not that we make too much of the Bible but that we make too little of it. Any part of the Bible that does not become our life will, inevitably, become to us meaningless. Moses’ life-line “For they are not meaningless words to you but they are your life”captures two extremes that remain irreconcilable. God couldn’t have spoken both meaningless and life-giving words. His mouth isn’t capable of springing both salty and fresh water. No combination of these two extremes is possible, either. God’s words are never lukewarm or vain. Moses asserts with undying confidence (no pun intended) that all of God’s words spoken and written on Mount Sinai are life. The character of the Scriptures reflects perfectly that of the Speaker. The “life” in the words is none other than the life in the Breath who spoke them (2 Timothy 3:16). When we follow the life in the Word of God, we are led to the very God of the Word.

The same warning stands true for us, today. We, too, are more prone to treat the Bible less than our very life. The devil knows that if the Christian overlooks the life in the Word, death is not far. Eve is a prime example of this. But, like C.S. Lewis’ ignorant child who settles on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea, we, too, are too easily pleased with half-hearted words that are quick, temporal fixes, Wonder-Woman band-aids over bone-deep wounds. We, too, forget that the spiritual battle behind all words is intense, fierce, and with eternal consequence. When Moses urges the Israelites to take all the words to heart before entering and settling in Canaan, he was essentially calling them to armor up with the Word of God on their heads, hearts, and hands. The greatest assault on the Word of God is not pagans rejecting God’s law, but Christians whoring with other gods at the foot of the mountain while the law of God is within their reach. We need to cling to every word in our Bibles to live while fighting in the spiritual warfare.

Moses speaking life-giving words on his way to death points forward to Jesus the Messiah whose teachings and ministry on the road to Calvary still bring life today. “The words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit, and they are life,” Jesus states in John 6:63. Like Moses, Jesus speaks words of life. Unlike Moses, Jesus becomes “the way, the truth, and the life,” the only one way to God (John 14:6). And both of these statements are uttered on the road to dying the ultimate death that brings life to all who follow Him. Not only was Jesus headed to a tortuous death on the cross for our sins, but people around Jesus were surrounded by disease, sins, trials, death. Christ’s live-giving words resonated brighter in the death culture he was marching through. The context of the living Word stretches into our modern days that are also of hardships, disease, trials, sins, and death. The gospel invites us not only to acknowledge that the entire Word of God is living and active today, but to also make this Life our own in Christ. As we take all the words of God to heart, we can live like they all are our life because in Christ, they truly are!