Bible Study with Jairus – Deuteronomy 3
In Deuteronomy 3, we encounter two stories that are closely connected in theme. First, we read about the defeat of Og, King of Bashan, a story that shows that the second-generation Israelites were learning important lessons of faith. Forty years of wandering in the wilderness had been a growing experience for the second-generation Israelites. After defeating Sihon, king of Heshbon, in the previous chapter, they go on to defeat Og in Deuteronomy 3.
The second story in this chapter is about Moses being forbidden to enter the Promised Land. He was very worried that the second generation of Israel would continue to “worship idols,” the mistake of the first generation. So from chapter 4 onwards, he did his best to exhort the Israelites not to engage in idolatry.
Neither the first generation nor the second-generation Israelites learned their lesson about idolatry. In Deuteronomy, Moses reiterated the law and the history of the Israelites in an attempt to exhort the second generation not to worship idols. The first two chapters of the book contain Moses’ review of the faith-filled victories of the Israelites. The third chapter of Deuteronomy transitions to his words of exhortation.
Deuteronomy’s “sandwich” structure
Perhaps you have heard of the “sandwich” structure of giving productive criticism. Using this method, you start with praise first, then move to critique, and end with encouragement. It’s like a sandwich consisting of a slice of bread and a piece of sausage and another slice of bread.
Jesus used this structure in his letters to the churches in Revelation (Revelation 2-3). His message to the church in Ephesus began with praise: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” (Revelation 2:2-3). The Lord is a God of encouragement, so He praised their achievements from the very beginning. This is natural. If we met the Lord and heard His rebuke right at the beginning, it would make us feel very scared. So the Lord begins his letters to the churches with encouragement.
But this does not mean that the Lord did not rebuke them as well. He told the church in Ephesus, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:4-5). After this strong rebuke, Jesus didn’t want the church to feel discouraged and disappointed. So He ended his message on a positive note. We find these words of encouragement in Revelation 2:6-7: “Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” God not only used the “sandwich” structure when writing to the church in Ephesus, but he also used it when writing to the other six churches.
If we analyze the structure of Deuteronomy with this structure in mind, we will find that Deuteronomy also utilizes a “sandwich” structure. In Deuteronomy 1-3, Moses praises and encourages the second generation of Israel. Although Moses briefly recounted the story of the ten evil spies and the first generation’s unbelief and failure in Chapter 1 (Deuteronomy 1:19-46), most of these chapters’ content is positive. Chapter 2 records the Israelites’ victory over Sihon King of Heshbon, and Chapter 3 records the story of the Israelites’ defeat of Og King of Bashan. Sihon King of Heshbon and Og King of Bashan were two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River. The first generation of Israel was afraid of the giants in the land of Canaan, but the second generation of Israel had begun to defeat them. These compliments from Moses formed first slice of bread in the sandwich.
Deuteronomy 4 to 31 forms the middle of the sandwich. This portion is Moses’ exhortation or criticism of the second generation of Israel. Why does he critique them? Although the second generation of Israel learned many lessons of faith, they had failed to learn one important lesson. Like their ancestors, they still worshiped idols. God had clearly told Moses that he would not be able to enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 3:26). So Moses delivered a parting message, full of sincere admonitions to the second generation of Israel. This message is recorded in the book of Deuteronomy.
What Moses was most worried about was the second generation’s idol worship. Moses feared that Israel would be punished by God for worshipping idols. I will list two verses to demonstrate Moses’ clear train of thought, a unifying thread that runs from Deuteronomy 4 to 31.
Deuteronomy 4:16 says, “Beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female.” Deuteronomy 31:16 says, “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.””
There are many other similar passages that prove Moses’ concern about idolatry, but these two are sufficient to make my point. The entire middle section, the “meat” of the “sandwich” structure, is full of Moses’ concern and criticism regarding Israel’s idolatry. Moses was concerned about their distance from God. Why did Moses go to such lengths to reiterate the law and the history of Israel? Because he wanted to exhort the second generation of Israel not to worship idols.
The third portion of Deuteronomy, the last slice of bread in the “sandwich” structure, is Deuteronomy 32-34. This segment contains Moses’ words of blessing and encouragement. Deuteronomy 32 records the song of Moses, his warning and blessing to the second generation of Israel. Chapter 33 contains Moses’ prophetic words and blessing to the twelve tribes. In Chapter 34, Moses blessed Joshua, laid his hands on him, transmitted his spiritual gifts, and died.
This concludes the book of Deuteronomy. If you look closely at the book of Deuteronomy, it is a “sandwich” structure. Most of the “meat” in the middle is an exhortation against idolatry.
The Israelites learned lessons of faith
Numbers, which immediately precedes Deuteronomy, is a record of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. The Israelites died in the wilderness for two reasons: “unbelief” (Hebrews 3:18 and 1 Corinthians 10:5) and “rebellion” (Psalm 78:40). Rebellion is idolatry; disobedience is as bad as the worship of false gods (1 Samuel 15:23). This is why the people were punished.
However, during those forty years of wandering, the people learned lessons of faith. The book of Numbers contains many examples of faith. For instance, the book of Numbers ends with the story of the daughters of Zelophehad. Zelophehad died in the wilderness for his own sin, just like every other Israelite. But because his daughters believed God’s promises, not only did they win their father’s inheritance, but they also eventually entered the land of Canaan, west of the Jordan (Joshua 17). Although they faced many external difficulties and obstacles, the daughters of Zelophehad continued to believe in God’s promise. They entered the land of Canaan, as God had promised. This is arguably the best example of the faith of the second generation of Israel.
Deuteronomy 1-3 continues the train of thought that the book of Numbers began. It affirms the lessons of faith that the Israelites had learned. The first generation of Israel was afraid of the giants in the land of Canaan and did not dare enter the Promised Land. But the second generation of Israel no longer feared the giants. With the help of God, they were able to defeat Sihon King of Heshbon and Og King of Bashan.
This chapter records the story of the Israelites’ victory over Og King of Bashan. Og King of Bashan ruled the land east of the Jordan River, in the north. Bashan is not along the travel route that the Israelites would normally have taken on their way to Canaan. Instead, the Israelites took a detour in order to conquer the land of Og King of Bashan and destroy all their people.
Deuteronomy 3:11 records that Og was a giant (a Rephaim). The verse states, “For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim.” God led the Israelites on a detour so they could see for themselves that God can conquer giants.
Since the second generation cooperated with God in faith, they achieved victory. Moses wanted to negotiate with Sihon King of Heshbon and pass through his land peacefully (Deuteronomy 2:30). But God hardened Sihon King of Heshbon’s heart so he could give him into the hands of the Israelites. Moses did not try to negotiate with Og, since Bashan was not on the way to Canaan. But the Lord made it clear to Moses that, just as he had given Sihon king of Heshbon into their hands, he would also give Og king of Bashan into the hands of the Israelites (Deuteronomy 3:2). Both battles were won with the Lord’s help, in stark contrast to the story of Israel defeating the Amorites in Deuteronomy 1:37-45.
In each battle that we face, we know that the battle is the Lord’s (1 Samuel 17:47). But our faith determines whether the Lord’s presence is with us in any given battle. In Deuteronomy 1, the Lord was not with the Israelites because of their unbelief. Because the Lord was not with them, the Israelites were defeated.
But in Israel’s battle against Sihon King of Heshbon and Og King of Bashan, the Israelites cooperated with God in faith, so God’s presence brought them victory. The Israelites’ growth in faith is also reflected in their attitude towards the Canaanite king of Arad in Numbers 21. In this chapter, they asked God if he would give the king of Arad into their hands. If so, they promised to destroy him. So, God gave the Canaanite king of Arad into the Israelites’ hands. This is the definition of faith. We believe that God can do the things we can’t do ourselves. Then we ask for his help, trusting he will come to our aid. The second generation of Israel learned to trust in God, and God gave them the victory.
The Israelites did not learn their lesson about idolatry.
But the second generation of Israel never learned not to worship idols. They inherited positive lessons of faith from the first generation, but they also inherited some negative baggage: the baggage of idolatry.
Deuteronomy 31:29 says, “For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.”
This verse clearly shows Moses’ concern, which he continues to express throughout Deuteronomy. For example, Deuteronomy 4:3 says, “Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal-peor, for the Lord your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor.” The story of Baal-peor is recorded in Numbers 25. When King Balak of Moab hired the false prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites, Balaam tricked the Moabite women into committing adultery with the Israelites. The Israelites began to worship Canaanite idols and joined Baal of Peor. This made the Lord very angry. He caused a plague to break out among the Israelites, killing twenty-four thousand people. The plague stopped only when Aaron’s grandson Phinehas killed an Israelite man and a Midianite woman.
In Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the second generation of Israel not to make the mistakes that the first generation made. But Deuteronomy 31:29 shows that the second generation of Israel did not heed Moses’ warning. They went headlong into the same mistakes as their ancestors. Later, God disciplined them severely for their idolatry by sending them as captives to Babylon. We will further discuss the important topic of idolatry when we study Deuteronomy 4.
Faith and Idolatry in Today’s Church
As Christians today, we must imitate the Israelites’ faith and learn from their bad example. Paul clearly says that what happened to the Israelites serves as a lesson for us today. He said, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11). We must learn from the Israelites’ experiences.
Let me share some personal experiences that demonstrate how God taught me important lessons about faith and idolatry. I hope these stories will be an inspiration to you.
First, God taught me lessons of faith. I went through a decade of infertility problems. As I continued to pray for a child, I felt like I was in a wilderness. During this time of testing, I did not get a clear answer from God. It seemed like He was hidden. I went through this trial in the wilderness and persisted in my faith in God.
Finally, I received a promise from God: I would be given a miracle baby. After that, God continued to appear to me, revealing his calling for my life. But these miracles only happened after ten years of wilderness experience. My faith had gone through fiery trials. When God answered my prayers and revealed Himself and His plan for me, my faith grew by leaps and bounds.
I learned that no matter what came my way, God has a beautiful plan for my life. I just needed to trust Him. As the Bible says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 10:11). During the difficult trials, I persisted in my faith. He certainly did not put me to shame.
Second, God taught me lessons about idolatry. When I came to the United States, my goal was to get a Master’s degree in the United States, then return to China to find a better job. My major was in journalism. My dream was to become a prominent TV host.
But after I arrived in the United States, I came to know the Lord and was saved. Instead of going back to China, I stayed in the United States. As time went by, I found that I wouldn’t be able to achieve my dreams at all. I slowly gave up. I realized that my career had been an idol in my heart, but God gradually taught me that He was all I needed.
My biggest idol is myself. Through various experiences, God has dealt with my flesh and my strong will. Through many life struggles, I have gradually surrendered more and more of myself to Him. We all have idols: false gods, money, career, fleshy needs, etc. But our biggest idol is ourselves. We must put ourselves on the altar and allow it to be crucified with Christ. Only then will we be able to get rid of the idols in our hearts and experience a closer union with God. Although God is still working on me in this area, I can testify that God has done a great work in my heart to cleanse me from idolatry.
If we want our lives to be used by God, we must learn these two lessons. We must know that God is good, mighty and loving. We must have faith in Him. At the same time, we must know ourselves. We must know that our biggest idol is ourselves. We must deny ourselves, unite ourselves with Christ, and seek to please him. As we learn these two lessons, we will become channels of God’s power and blessing in our lives.
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.