You shall therefore love the Lord your God, and always keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commandments. Know this day that I am not speaking with your sons who have not known and who have not seen the discipline of the Lord your God-His greatness, His mighty hand and His outstretched arm…but your own eyes have seen all the great work of the Lord which He did (Deut.11:1, 2, 7).
The Bible is clear: anyone wanting to prepare others for the future, must begin with those alive today. So, one key to the future is to teach those alive today. But the keys to the future are also found in history.
Why? Because the past is very frequently predictive of the future. Take this simple example. If my wife could last year make a first-class Christmas cake, she’ll be confident that those same ingredients prepared and cooked the same way, will produce the same results this year. And we’ll be looking forward to that!
Thus the Book of Deuteronomy was really a history lesson for the children of Israel. In order to prepare to inherit the land, they were commanded by Moses to consider and meditate on what had taken place in Israel’s immediate past.
What had taken place? Israel had been delivered miraculously by God from Egypt at the Exodus, and He had shown them He could easily sustain a whole nation of two to three million in a desert, without a Supermarket. He had graciously made covenant with His people at Mount Sinai utilising the Ten Commandments (Ex.20), and He’d been progressively ridding His people of lots of attitudes and behaviours, that didn’t please Him. Moses carefully documented this painful process for Israel in the Book of Numbers, when God dealt severely with Israel for her idolatry, murmuring, unbelief and immorality.
Now it was time to enter the land, but Moses insisted: they had to go back and learn from the past, before they attempted to go forward.
In the New Testament, Paul does something similar. Writing to the Corinthians about the fathers of Israel, and having explained how God had miraculously delivered them from Egypt, he says that
Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “the people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall (I Cor.10:5-12).
Four times in this passage, Paul uses the term, “…as some of them did.” When Israel sinned, judgment followed. And if God’s people sin in the same way today, we too face similar judgment.
In another passage Paul returns to this very theme. “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Ro.15:4).
As North points out,
Deuteronomy’s message is clear: grace precedes law, but God’s revealed law is the basis of maintaining the kingdom grant. Transgress this law, and the expansion of God’s kingdom in history will suffer a setback for one or more generations. The kingdom inheritance is reduced by God’s negative sanctions in history (Deut. 28:15-66). But this inheritance is never permanently lost. It compounds over time. The compounding process — growth — is the basis of the triumph of the kingdom in history… The Pentateuch sets forth laws which, when obeyed, make socialism impossible to establish. They also make the Keynesian “mixed economy” impossible to establish. Yet other biblical laws make the modern libertarian society impossible to establish. Thus, the suggestion that biblical law remains authoritative today is resisted fiercely by the powers that be.
If we are serious today about preparing the next generation of Christians to serve God, there is something we’d better do. We’d better ensure they are thoroughly familiar with the Pentateuch, and the law of God found there, and that they are ready to obey it.
Why? Because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb.13:8).
 Gary North, “Inheritance and Dominion,” 1999, inside cover.