The Pursuit of God

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Understanding Moses: Identifying Soul Attitudes in Deuteronomy 8

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After leading a mob of spiritual rebels around in a barren wilderness for forty years, a very elderly Moses gives a very long speech to them shortly before he dies.  That speech is recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, and in it Moses summarizes the wilderness experience, reviews Yahweh’s commands, adds some new commands, and passes on prophetic words from God that the whole nation of Israel is going to keep on wallowing in rebellion until God finally trashes her.  Deuteronomy isn’t a cheery book, but it is very educational and filled with many useful spiritual lessons. 

Now before God helps you understand the mechanics of spiritual maturity, some of Moses’ comments can sound rather bizarre.  We find a good example of this in Deuteronomy 8, when Moses says:

“He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh.” (Deut. 8:3)

If that last part sounds familiar, it’s because this is one of the verses Jesus quoted as a rebuttal to Satan during His forty days in the wilderness (see Impressing the Devil: Jesus’ Self-Exalting Temptation Story).  But what is this strange talk about God humbling people by making them go hungry and then teaching them lessons by raining edible flakes (manna) down from the sky?  What is Moses talking about?  Well, since manna is mentioned more than once in this chapter, let’s go through all of Deuteronomy 8 and see what we can learn about how God used food to teach people spiritual lessons.

DEUTERONOMY 8

Moses was Israel’s first major prophet, and as such, he did a good job of passing on many messages from Yahweh.  Now accurately relaying messages for God and treating God well in your own life are two different things.  When it comes to modeling respect for God, Moses is a mixed bag. Sometimes he does a fine job of treating God with honor. Other times he does lousy (see Understanding Yahweh: Why Moses & Aaron Were Banned From The Promised Land).  What you don’t want to do is fall into the trap of idolizing Moses as more than just a man.  This is what the ancient Jews did: they put guys like Moses, Abraham and Elijah up on pedestals and acted like such men could do no wrong.  And yet all humans make mistakes, and we don’t want to pretend that disrespecting God is no big deal just because some famous figure from the Bible is doing it.  Moses has some very bratty moments.  Like the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah, there are times when Moses forgets where his loyalties are supposed to lie and he ends up siding with his fellow countrymen against Yahweh.  Before we praise someone’s behavior in the Bible, we need to be asking God for His opinion of their actions so that we can make sure we’re focusing on the right principles.

Now all of that said, let’s get into Deuteronomy 8.  We’re in the middle of a very long speech here, and normally that would mean we should back up to the start of the speech to understand what Moses’ agenda is.  But being the repetitive guy that he is, Moses tells us his agenda at the start of this chapter, so we don’t have to backtrack to figure out why he’s talking.

“You must carefully follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase, and may enter and take possession of the land Yahweh swore to your fathers.” (Deut. 8:1)

Moses is the first God-appointed leader of the nation of Israel, and as such, he feels free to speak with the authority of God.  But as an individual Christian, you always need to be cautious whenever some human starts bossing you about.  Just because a guy says he’s a prophet, or you know that he’s given legitimate prophecies in the past, doesn’t mean you should just accept what he’s currently saying as a word from God.  Always ask God for yourself.

So should these Israelites obey every command Moses is giving them?  Only if Moses’ commands are things that Yahweh approves of.  Why does Moses say that he wants people to obey his commands?  So that they will be able to take possession of the Promised Land and thrive.  At this point in history, the Israelites haven’t yet entered the Promised Land.  Instead, they’re camped at its border for the second time in forty years, and they’re waiting to go in.  The land is currently occupied by a bunch of different nations, many of whom are going to put up quite a fight when Israelite soldiers rush in to rip their stuff away from them.  By now, Yahweh has made it clear that the Israelites won’t succeed at conquering their new homeland unless He provides them with miraculous help, and He isn’t going to do that unless they respect Him.  So Moses is saying, “Hey, guys, you need to respect Yahweh or He’s not going to help you.  I care about you and I want you to thrive, so listen up as I remind you of the kinds of attitudes Yahweh wants from you.”

This speech is all about soul attitudes, and what Moses is going to do next is remind the Israelites of some of the methods Yahweh has used over the last four decades to cultivate correct soul attitudes within them. We’re always telling you that God judges you by your soul attitudes.  You’re not going to find the phrase “soul attitude” in the Bible, and we’re not quoting specific verses when we say that reverence, submission, dependency and trust are four soul attitudes which are critical to pleasing God.  Instead, what we’re doing is summarizing main principles of what God teaches from Genesis to Revelation.  But don’t take our word for this—think for yourself and see if you can find an emphasis on soul attitudes in what Moses is saying.

“Remember that Yahweh your God led you on the entire journey these 40 years in the wilderness, so that He might humble you and test you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.” (Deut. 8:2)

Moses says that Yahweh has intentionally put the Israelites through a whole mess of trials during their wilderness wandering.  And indeed, He did, but why?  Moses says that the purpose of the trials was to reveal what was in these people’s hearts.  In other words, God was testing their soul’s response to Him. How do we know this?  Well, it is your soul, not your earthsuit, which you relate to God with.  Moses says that Yahweh tested these people to see whether or not they would keep His commands.  Reverence (a fear of God’s awesome power) and submission (yielding to God as the Supreme Authority) are the two soul attitudes which motivate us to obey His commands.  When you do something that you don’t want to do, you are submitting to the person who you’re obeying.  During the last forty years, Yahweh has told these people to do many things which they didn’t want to do—such as not eat certain foods and not worship other gods.  How well have they obeyed Him?  Not very well at all.  In fact the soul attitudes of Moses’ current audience are pretty foul.

Now if your discernment skills are nice and sharp, then you should pick up on the fact that Moses is making Yahweh out to be a bit of a dim bulb here.  Moses talks as if Yahweh didn’t know how the Israelites really felt about Him, therefore He tested them in order to find out. Is this really true?  No.

Anytime someone says that one of our three all-knowing Gods is less than all-knowing, there are only two explanations.  Either the speaker really believes that God has limited knowledge, or he is intentionally exaggerating to make a point.  In the Bible, we find both Jesus and Yahweh sometimes pretending to be less than all-knowing in order to serve some other purpose.  For example, when Jesus wanted to impress everyone by casting a demon out of a boy, He first asked the father how long the boy had been possessed.  Did Jesus really not know this information?  Of course He did, but He wanted the father to say it out loud so that everyone else would hear and be all the more impressed by Jesus’ power (see Practicing Discernment: Jesus Lies).  In Genesis, Yahweh asks Cain where his brother Abel is—the same brother who Cain just murdered in a field.  Does Yahweh really not know where Abel is at the time He asks the question?  Of course He does, but He is giving Cain a chance to confess his crime (see Practicing Discernment: Yahweh Lies).  When it’s God talking, and He’s pretending to be less than all-knowing, then you can know that He’s being deceptive with His language in order to accomplish some other, positive goal.  But when it’s a human like Moses or Paul talking, then often the problem is one of immaturity, and the guy doing the talking simply doesn’t have an accurate understanding of what God’s abilities are.

The truth is that Yahweh knows exactly how every soul feels about Him right now, and how every soul will respond to Him in the future.  So Moses is incorrect to say that Yahweh tested the Israelites in order to figure out how far they would go in their submission to Him.  Yahweh has known from the beginning that these people don’t care about Him.  It wasn’t extra information that Yahweh was fishing for by putting the Israelites through hardships. Instead, He was giving them opportunities to grow spiritually.  Moses is now going to start reflecting on some of the spiritual lessons that he thinks Yahweh was teaching the Israelites by putting them through certain trials.

“He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh.” (Deut. 8:3)

In this statement Moses is linking certain trials with certain soul attitudes.  He’s making the right connections, but to understand what he’s saying, we need to have a correct understanding of three soul attitudes.

Dependency is one of the four critical soul attitudes from which many other positive attitudes flow.  Dependency says, “I can do nothing apart from God.  I depend on Him for all things.”  This soul attitude comes down to acknowledging a basic fact about how things are.  We humans were designed by Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit to be totally incapable of doing anything apart from our three Creators.  We rely on Them to sustain our existence, and we can do nothing without Their approval and assistance.  When you get up in the morning, it doesn’t feel like you need God’s help to get out of bed, and yet you do.  Our dependency on God is like our beating hearts: we don’t think about how much we need our hearts to keep pumping blood through our earthsuits until they suddenly stop.  Then we find ourselves in an immediate crisis, and at least for a little while afterwards, we stop taking our hearts for granted.

Now because humans long to feel in control, and because being dependent on God makes us feel like we have no control, humans try to pretend that they are not dependent on their Creators in life.  When we ignore the way things actually are, and instead pretend that we are free agents who can take care of ourselves, we’re embracing a soul attitude of autonomy. Autonomy is the opposite of dependency, and very displeasing to God.  In the Bible, we find many people getting into big trouble with God for embracing a soul attitude of autonomy, and it’s pretty easy to understand why God gets so angry about this when you put yourself in His place.  After all, if you had a baby who you took care of day and night with feedings and diaper changes, yet one day that baby was to say, “I don’t need you, I can take care of myself,” wouldn’t you feel angry?  We humans are quick to get annoyed when we’re feeling unappreciated.  Well, not having someone acknowledge some nice favor you did for them is one thing.  But getting scoffed at by someone who depends on you to take care of them in life is a much greater insult.  We humans can do nothing apart from our Gods.  This isn’t our choice—it’s a fact of life, and it’s more than a little obnoxious when we pretend that this just isn’t true.

Well, the mob of folks who Yahweh originally hauled out into the desert were a million miles from embracing their dependency on Him.  The Israelites had spent centuries in Egypt, where they had learned to feel dependent on many other gods who weren’t even real.  And, like all humans, the Israelites also liked to think they could take care of themselves.  So to get these people into a better place with Him, Yahweh began putting them through dependency trials. Dependency trials are when God messes up your life in a way that will force you to feel just how dependent on Him you really are (see The Mechanics of Spiritual Growth: Four Essential Attitudes). The correct response to a dependency trial is to say, “I can see how great my need for God is and I accept it.”  The wrong response is to say, “I refuse to accept how much I need God in life.  There must be some way that I can go around Him.  I refuse to give up on the dream that I can live independently of Him.”

So how did Yahweh force Israelites with bad attitudes to realize how dependent they were on Him?  First He led them out into a desert, then He made sure that they ran out of food.  In Verse 3, Moses says that God did this to humble the Israelites.  So what is humility?

The four soul attitudes we’re always mentioning are what we call primary soul attitudes.  Primary soul attitudes are essential for pleasing God, but they also lead to secondary soul attitudes which God will start developing in your life as you move down the road of spiritual maturity.  Humility is a secondary attitude which is a natural product of learning dependency.

Now because the Church always does things backwards, she tries to get you to develop secondary soul attitudes before you develop the primary ones.  You can’t do this.  If you try to develop humility all on its own, you’ll find it to be an aggravating struggle.  But if instead you submit to God’s leading in your life, then He’s going to develop the primary soul attitude of dependency in you.  Dependency says, “I can do nothing apart from God.”  Once you have a decent grasp on dependency, humility comes over you naturally.  Humility is not hard to acquire when you do things in the right order.  In fact, once you learn enough dependency, then humility feels totally natural to you—so natural, that you don’t want to function without it.  Humility says, “Because I can do nothing apart from God (that’s dependency), I don’t deserve the glory for anything.”  The opposite of humility is arrogance.  Arrogance is a product of autonomy.  Autonomy says, “I don’t depend on anyone for anything.  I’m a free agent.”  Arrogance then says, “Because I don’t depend on anyone for anything (that’s autonomy), I obviously deserve all of the glory for what I just accomplished in my own power.”  For arrogance to even sound right to you, you must first be rejecting your dependency on God.  But if you’re embracing your dependency, then arrogance makes you want to gag.  A truly humble Christian doesn’t just pretend to not like standing in the spotlight—he feels honestly repulsed and uncomfortable when receiving glory and applause for things that he knows only God deserves the credit for.

Now since humility is about not taking credit that belongs to someone else, there are many versions of it.  When your boss praises you for doing a great job on a project, regular humility will say, “Actually, Fred did most of the work.”  You’re not exaggerating—Fred really did do most of the work, and because you are humble, you don’t want to take credit that doesn’t belong to you.  This is how regular humility works: it’s about setting the record straight and making sure credit goes where it’s due.  Regular humility is practiced among Christians and non-Christians, but this is not the kind of humility God is talking about in the Bible.

Godly humility is focused on giving God the glory.  Godly humility looks beyond the humans who were involved in doing something and it focuses on the fact that all humans are dependent on their Creators for all things.  There are non-God focused versions of all of the four soul attitudes we discuss.  You can revere the power of an electric fence without thinking about God.  You can submit to your boss because you don’t want to get fired and never think of God.  You can say, “I’m dependent on my house to keep me warm in cold weather,” and not think of God.  You can trust in the good character of your spouse and say, “I have faith that my husband won’t cheat on me,” without thinking of God.  All of these attitudes are fine as far as they go, but they aren’t good enough.  Our Creators demand that we revolve around Them in life, so when They talk about soul attitudes, They are always going to be talking about soul attitudes which are focusing on Them. God always exalts Himself: that’s a good rule of discernment to bear in mind.

So now that we understand that godly humility is about giving God the credit that He deserves, let’s think about how Moses says, “He humbled you by letting you go hungry.”  If someone needs to be humbled, then that immediately tells us two things.  First, they are not embracing their dependency on God (because humility is a product of dependency).  Second, they are not giving God the credit He deserves.  Where there is a lack of humility, the credit is being given to the wrong parties.  For example, the rebellious Israelites liked to give credit to their false gods for taking care of them, instead of praising Yahweh.  Well, when Yahweh cuts off their food supply and the Israelites pray to their false gods for help, those false gods aren’t going to come up with any answers (because, hello, they aren’t even real).  So first Yahweh proves that the Israelites are crediting the wrong party (themselves and their false gods) for providing for them materially.  Then Yahweh causes flaky food to start raining down from the sky as a very clear way of proving that He is the One taking care of the Israelites.  The correct response would be, “I see that it is Yahweh who is taking care of me, and I recognize that I am totally dependent on Him.”  Let’s review what Moses said:

“He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh.” (Deut. 8:3)

What’s the lesson supposed to be?  That these Israelites are dependent on Yahweh to take care of them.  Don’t get tripped up by thinking that the “word” is a reference to the Bible.  In Moses’ day no one had heard of the Bible you use today.  Moses is talking about Yahweh’s spoken words here.  He’s talking about Yahweh’s power—His ability to cause food to rain down from the sky.  Now does Yahweh really have to speak out loud to make food rain from the sky?  Of course not.  Yahweh doesn’t really have a physical body with a set of physical vocal cords.  This is figurative language.  The point is that Yahweh made these people feel their desperation, then He miraculously provided for them in order to motivate them to start acknowledging that He was the God who they needed in life—not their stupid idols or other humans. And food wasn’t the only way Yahweh provided for these people.

“Your clothing did not wear out, and your feet did not swell these 40 years.” (Deut. 8:4)

The Israelites knew that under normal circumstances, their clothes wouldn’t last for forty years.  And with all of the walking they did, it was only natural that they’d develop health problems from sheer fatigue. But Yahweh kept these people miraculously well provided for and He sheltered them from the usual health issues that would be associated with excessive foot travel.  The purpose of all these miracles was not just to pamper these people, but to encourage them to develop right soul attitudes.

“Keep in mind that Yahweh your God has been disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. So keep the commands of Yahweh your God by walking in His ways and fearing Him.” (Deut. 8:5-6)

Now because the Israelites were such rebellious twerps, they refused to cooperate with Yahweh’s maturation methods.  In response, Yahweh disciplined them—sometimes very harshly.  In real life, most of the folks who began the wilderness journey never made it to the Promised Land because Yahweh killed them off as a punishment for their spiritual defiance (see The Last Straw: Israel Refuses to Enter the Promised Land). The folks Moses is speaking to here are mostly the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of the original crop of adult rebels.  These people are also rebellious, and Moses knows it, which is why he is trying so hard to talk them into changing their ways.  See if you can identify the soul attitudes he’s talking about.  He tells people “Keep the commands of Yahweh by walking in His ways.”  If you’re doing what God is telling you to do, then what attitude are you practicing?  Submission.  Moses then tells the people to fear God—which attitude is that?  Reverence.  So Moses is urging these people to embrace the soul attitude of reverential submission. He’s definitely counseling them correctly—too bad they aren’t going to listen.

“For Yahweh your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams of water, springs, and deep water sources, flowing in both valleys and hills; a land of wheat, barley, vines, figs, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without shortage, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you will mine copper. When you eat and are full, you will praise Yahweh your God for the good land He has given you.” (Deut. 8:7-10)

That last line is wishful thinking on Moses’ part.  In real life, these people aren’t going to praise Yahweh for all of the blessings He gives them. Instead, they totally turn away from Him, and we read about their horrible attitudes in the disturbing book of Judges.

“Be careful that you don’t forget Yahweh your God by failing to keep His command—the ordinances and statutes—I am giving you today.” (Deut. 8:11)

Let’s translate this statement into soul attitudes.  What attitude are you practicing when you obey God’s commands?  Submission. So Moses is really saying, “Don’t stop submitting to God.  Don’t start blowing Him off and acting like He’s not the Supreme Authority.”  This is sound advice because it lines up with the soul attitudes that we know God wants us to have.

“When you eat and are full, and build beautiful houses to live in, and your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold multiply, and everything else you have increases, be careful that your heart doesn’t become proud and you forget Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. He led you through the great and terrible wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, a thirsty land where there was no water. He brought water out of the flint-like rock for you. He fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers had not known, in order to humble and test you, so that in the end He might cause you to prosper. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me,’ but remember that Yahweh your God gives you the power to gain wealth, in order to confirm His covenant He swore to your fathers, as it is today.” (Deut. 8:12-18)

If you get into a habit of mentally translating all the messages that get thrown at you into basic soul attitudes, you’re going to become much better at discerning truth from lies.  So let’s identify the soul attitudes that Moses is talking about.  First he describes the Israelites enjoying a life of abundance in the Promised Land.  But then he tells them not to become proud and forget Yahweh.  Well, since the four main soul attitudes that Yahweh wants us to have all have to do with focusing on our glorious Creators, clearly we aren’t practicing any of them if we totally forget about God.  So, yes, we can see that Moses is correct in saying that it is wrong for these people to forget about Yahweh. But notice how he specifically tells them not to become proud.  Then he says:

“You may say to yourself, ‘My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me…’”

Can you identify the soul attitude that would say something like this?  Look at the language: some human is crediting himself for his good fortune.  Well, no, the soul attitude of humility says, “Only God deserves the glory.”  But here Moses is describing a soul attitude which says, “I myself deserve the glory for all that I’ve accomplished.  I depend on no one—I did this in my own power.”  We talked about this soul attitude earlier: it’s the opposite of humility.  It’s the soul attitude of arrogance which is a product of autonomy.  In this speech, Moses is saying that the soul attitudes of arrogance and autonomy are wrong.  Now look at how he corrects these wrong attitudes by reminding the Israelites of some basic facts:

“…but remember that Yahweh your God gives you the power to gain wealth, in order to confirm His covenant He swore to your fathers, as it is today.”

What is Moses saying here? He’s saying, “Hey, you can’t take credit for what you have—it was God that gave it to you.”  When we acknowledge that God is the One who gave us everything that we have, which soul attitude do we end up with?  Dependency, and dependency leads to humility. See how it works?  Always look beyond the details of what is being said and drill down to the soul attitudes by focusing on who is being exalted and who is being told to take the submissive role.  If God honoring attitudes are being promoted, then you know the teaching is good. But if other attitudes are being promoted, then you know there’s a problem.  Sometimes the difference in language is very small.  Consider the following two prayers:

“God, please give me what I want.”
“God please help me to want what You want.”

The first prayer is trying to lead God—this is domination.  The second prayer is practicing submission.  Since God judges us by our soul attitudes, learning to recognize them is an important part of the maturity process.  Now let’s finish up with Moses.

“If you ever forget Yahweh your God and go after other gods to worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will perish. Like the nations Yahweh is about to destroy before you, you will perish if you do not obey Yahweh your God.” (Deut. 8:19-20)

Forgetting God—right away we know that’s bad.  But then Moses talks about the people bowing down to false gods.  They’re practicing submission, alright, but it’s the wrong kind because it’s not focused on the true Gods.  Then he sternly warns the people that they must obey Yahweh: that’s a call for them to return to the right kind of submission—the kind that is focused on yielding to the true Gods.

When it comes to pleasing Yahweh, Jesus and the magnificent Holy Spirit, it’s all about soul attitudes.  We want to embrace the right ones—and that means attitudes which are specifically focused on exalting Them.  The right kind of reverence results in a deep respect for the awesome power of the true Gods.  The right kind of submission results in us bowing down to the true Gods as the only Supreme Authorities.  The right kind of dependency results in us acknowledging that we can do nothing apart from the true Gods, and the right kind of trust is focused on the good Character of the true Gods.  When our Gods are doing the talking, They will always pull our focus onto Them.  God always exalts God.  But when human egos are doing the talking, then humans are the ones who end up being exalted while our Gods are shoved out of the spotlight.  Once you understand these basic principles, and you start boiling everything down to soul attitudes, you will be amazed at the sheer volume of bad teaching that is coming at you from all sides in the Church.  But you’ll also be quick to recognize right teaching, and that teaching will inspire your soul.  When we’re embracing the right soul attitudes—attitudes which are focused on exalting our Gods—then we want to hear Them being exalted in all things.   This is the effect our Gods have on us: They teach us to align with Their own lofty view of Themselves until it becomes quite obvious to us that They really are the most fabulous Beings in existence.

FURTHER READING:
Four Ways to Identify False Teaching in the Church
Soul Attitudes That Please God: What They Are & How We Develop Them
Practicing Discernment: Bible Promises

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