25The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days.
26There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in His majesty.
27The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemy before you, saying, “Destroy him!”
28So Israel will live in safety alone; Jacob's spring is secure in a land of grain and new wine, where the heavens drop dew.
29Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places.
But now, this is what the Lord says - He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.
2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
3For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.
4Since you are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.
5Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west.
6I will say to the north, “Give them up!” and to the south, “Do not hold them back.” Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth - 7everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
The book of Deuteronomy is basically the transcript of Moses’ farewell address to the Israelite nation. He had led them for 40 years, and his time as their leader, and his life was coming to an end. So as they stood on the bank of the Jordan River, looking towards the Promised Land, Moses reminded them of the provision and protection which God had graciously given them.
Verse 25 of chapter 33 in the NIV reads, “The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days.”
The KJV though, says, “Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.”
This is right towards the end of Deuteronomy when Moses speaks these words, and he is reminding each of the 12 tribes of Israel of the Lord’s promises to them.
The portion of Scripture we read today is the promise to the tribe of Asher.
To Asher and his tribe, whose inheritance was a strip of rugged hill country, over which travelling was very difficult, was given this special promise: “Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.”
If you were to travel through the land given to Asher, you would have found the roads and tracks strewn with sharp-edged stones. Consequently, unless your footwear was of an appropriate quality, your feet were left torn, bleeding, and sore.
So God, through Moses, promised Asher shoes of iron and brass to wear while walking on the sharp-edged stones. The tribe of Asher was also promised that while this life would give them more than their fair share of difficulties and hardships, they would be supported and sustained by an unseen power.
There is something remarkably beautiful in the promise we read in verse 27: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
This, and the many other promises we find throughout this love story we know as the Bible are timeless in their application to the children of God. When (when – not if) we are called on to travel over rough places on the journey of life, we can rest assured that we will receive from God what we need.
Of course this doesn’t mean we should be deliberately seeking out hardships and difficulties, but what it does mean that in the inevitable hardships and difficulties we should be deliberately seeking out and relying on the promises of God.
Moses was nearing the end of his life, and from his own personal experience he had seen both suffering and God’s grace.
Moses knew what it was to be afraid, he knew what it was like to be angry, but he also had experienced the grace of God in the most amazing ways. He’d seen it all, so he was speaking from a position of authority.
Before surrendering his leadership of God’s people to Joshua, his successor, he called them all together and commended them to God and to the work of His grace.
On life’s pilgrimage all of us will encounter rough places. We will all walk paths that are strewn with sharp stones.
At many weddings the aisle that the bride and groom walk down as they leave the Church is liberally sprinkled with rose petals. At the reception champagne corks pop as their friends and family toast them and wish them well.
It’s a wonderful picture, and of course we’d all prefer this life to be only champagne and roses, but it doesn’t work that way.
Instead of having flowers strewn in our paths of life or being led through sunny meadows, those who make this pilgrimage called life will have to face the rugged roads of struggle, the steep hills of hardship, and the lonely paths of toil and sacrifice.
We should not be surprised or shocked when these things happen, because we have not been promised an escape from the roughness and steepness of life’s road.
All of us have questioned why it has to be like this at times.
Why haven’t the stones been moved to one side?
Why are the obstacles still there?
In Romans 5 the apostle Paul writes, “We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
The simple answer as to why God does not remove some of the obstacles in our lives is to develop our Christian character, and also to remind us of our desperate need for Him.
Have you ever felt lost, lonely, confused and afraid?
Now imagine those moments without the peace of Jesus in your life. Surely there is no more comforting feeling than to know the strength of the everlasting arms?
Psalm 33 ends with these words: “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.”
There is much hill climbing to do in the Christian life. And for reasons known only to the Lord Himself, some spend more time climbing than others.
Some people have hills to climb because they have descended them. Those who have spent considerable time going downhill should not be surprised when their turn to start climbing comes.
And if we persist in running downhill, we should expect to face an uphill sooner or later.
Many of the difficulties that we encounter are of our own making, and are the direct result of our own bad decisions in life.
At other times we are the victims, and we face hardships because others have put us there. Whatever the causes of our struggles, we need to know firstly, that they will come, but more importantly we need to know that God is already there with His everlasting arms. He will give us ‘shoes made of iron and brass’.
Are you on one of those rocky roads right now? If so, maybe the promises we see in Isaiah 43 are just for you today: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. You are precious and honoured in my sight because I love you. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
So many things happen in our lives almost on a daily basis, which threaten to steal our joy and which challenge our faith in the goodness of God, but His Word reminds us that He is still on His throne, He is still in control, and He will equip us to face life daily. He is there to carry us.
Henry Moorhouse was a famous preacher in 19th century England whose daughter was crippled and couldn’t walk. One day he came home with a parcel, and when he was about to carry it upstairs, she said: “Let me carry the parcel, Daddy.”
He said as gently as possible, “But how can you, who cannot even walk, carry the parcel?”
“Daddy, I will carry the parcel, and you will carry me.”
God does something like that for us when we need help. We carry the load but find ourselves being carried.
I also found this wonderful quote by CS Lewis. Someone once asked him, “Why do the righteous suffer?”
“Why not?” he replied. “They're the only ones who can take it.”
The apostle Paul had a lifelong burden which for some reason, God did not take away. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)
Sometimes God will graciously remove the burdens and the obstacles, and sometimes He will not. But one thing we do know for sure: It is during those times that He gives us grace and strength to carry them.
His promise is to give us shoes that will be suited for the roads that we will have to travel. Don’t hesitate or be afraid to wear the shoes He offers you. Don’t refuse to walk down those roads, because until you do, you have no idea just what it is that God wants to do in your life.
You will not be able to see the good He can bring out of the “bad.”
The truth is that some of the most valuable lessons we learn in life are learned the hard way, and when He seems to be most absent, it is often in those times when we realise He is most present.
I found this quotable quote recently: “What was the darkest hour that ever struck this sinful earth? When was it that God seemed most to be absent, and the powers of darkness to have their way and their will? It was when the Son of God hung on the cross, and when even from His lips there broke the mysterious cry, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Yet out of that darkest hour comes the world's brightest light and the soul's fondest hope. Now we know that God was not absent, but present, when Christ died on the cross, for God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.”
St Augustine once wrote, “Trust the past to the mercy of God, the present to His love, and the future to His providence.”
The promise of the Bible is not that God will fix everything wrong in our world – at least not now – but rather that we will not be alone. John the Baptist, Jesus’ own cousin, was beheaded. Nearly all the disciples were martyred. Jesus Himself had to face the cross.
Christians throughout history have suffered and been killed, and that continues to happen today all over the world. And yet the Church is still thriving, continuing to take the message of hope into places and hearts where it needs to be heard the most. God is with them, and God is with us. We are never alone.
Listen again to this wonderful promise in Isaiah 43:
“This is what the Lord says - He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. Since you are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
I suppose the simple question in all of this is, can God be trusted to do what is right?
If the answer is yes, then we can face the worst that life has to offer. If the answer is no, then we’re no better off than the people who have no faith at all. In fact, if the answer is no or if we’re not sure, then we really don’t have any faith anyway.
Faith is a choice you make.
As we look at the world around us, many things remain mysterious and unanswered. But if there is no God, and if He is not good, then nothing at all makes sense.
But we choose to believe because we must believe. There really is no other choice.
There will be times when we can’t read the Bible. Sometimes we won’t be able to focus our thoughts on God at all. Often we struggle even to pray. But in those moments when we can’t do anything else, we can still trust in the loving purposes of our heavenly Father.
Jesus said in John 16 “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Do not be afraid. No one knows what each day will bring. Who knows if we will all make it through this week? But our God is faithful to keep every one of His promises.
And finally, this promise from Jesus in Matthew 11:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”