Authorities tried to kill you when you were born. You grew up in a pagan home, separated from your godly parents. You spent 40 years looking after sheep in a desert, then another 40 years shepherd a rabble of rebels to a land full of promise. You’re now on your deathbed and, because you lost your temper once, you’ve lost your opportunity to enter and enjoy that land. A hundred years of life – all for nothing?
Doesn’t sound much like a recipe for personal happiness, does it?
And what about the people you’re leaving behind? Many decades in Egyptian slavery followed by 40 years circling round and round in the wilderness. Apart from two families, everyone has lost their parents and grandparents. Innumerable corpses litter the sand in the 40-year dust-trail. And still they are outside the promised territory with many mighty forces challenging them, just as they did 39 years earlier when they took fright and ran away. 39 years on, and we’re no further on.
Not exactly a recipe for national happiness is it?
That was Moses and that was Israel in Deuteronomy 33.
Yet, despite everything, we find a happy Moses celebrating a happy nation. His last recorded words are overflowing with excited exuberance as he proclaims Israel the happiest people in the world.
After declaring multiple blessings (happinesses) on each of the tribes, he then takes a big view of the whole nation and joyfully exclaims: “Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord.”
To the onlooker, Moses and Israel were in the saddest and most miserable of circumstances. Yet Moses pronounces them not just happy, but the happiest people in the world! Incomparably happy. Happier than the most powerful and prosperous of nations.
What can possibly explain this?
First, this was a God-centered happiness. It wasn’t a happiness based upon things or achievements. It was a happiness based upon truth, truth about God. Moses spent the previous three verses declaring seven facts about God and His relationship to Israel, before bursting forth with “Happy are you, O Israel!”
Moses doesn’t just narrate facts about God like a dull and boring university lecturer. No, he’s exulting in God and exalting God as he speaks. He begins this final chorus of praise with, “There is no one like God.” God makes him happy, but worshipping God makes him even happier. God-centered happiness makes him glorify God happily.
When we consider how happy Moses and Israel were with how little outward cause there was for this happiness, we must conclude that it was God-given. It wasn’t something manufactured or manipulated. It was given by God and expressed by faith. Faith saw what sight couldn’t. Faith hoped when reason couldn’t.
Given the circumstances, negativity and pessimism would have been much easier. But, by grace, God enabled Moses to rise above every discouragement and sadness (without denying them) and to find His happiness in God. Like Paul who faced similar harrowing circumstances, he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
And if Moses and Israel had such happiness, how much more should the New Testament Church and every New Testament Christian? If we claim to know much more about God (and we do), and claim to have experienced so much of His great salvation (and we have), how much happier we should be!
Like Moses, I want to die rejoicing in the happiness of God and of his people – regardless of my outward circumstances.
“Happy God! Happy Church! Happy me!”
Great words to die by. Greater words to live by.