Thinking on Scripture with Dr. Steven R. Cook
Where Satan is Attacking in America - Part 2

Where Satan is Attacking in America - Part 2

September 19, 2021

     God’s Word reveals there’s a divine drama unfolding, and the actors consist of angels and people, both good and bad, who operate in interlocking realms that are invisible and visible, both affecting the other. Failure to grasp this biblical truth limits our ability to understand what is transpiring in the world and what role we play. God desires that we live in reality, and His revelation is the blessing that provides insights we could never know except that He has spoken. What we do with that revelation determines whether we’re a force for good or evil. When believers know and live in God’s Word, it affords them the opportunity to make good choices that can bring blessing to those near them. But the opposite is true, that believers living outside of God’s will can bring suffering to those in their periphery. This was true of Jonah who was in disobedience and others suffered because of it (Jonah 1:11-12). But when Jonah obeyed God, many with positive volition were blessed and God’s judgment upon a nation was stayed (Jonah 3:1-10). As Christians, we should play our part well, sharing the gospel of grace and communicating God’s Word as best we can. But we must always keep in mind we’re not the only actors, and that Satan and his forces are at work, trying to weaken individuals, groups and nations. It is the work of Satan in America that motivates the writing of this article. Full article is here: https://thinkingonscripture.com/2021/09/11/where-satan-is-attacking-in-america/ 

A Divided World Until Christ Returns

A Divided World Until Christ Returns

September 18, 2021

     We live in a divided world. I’m speaking about a division between believers and unbelievers, children of God and children of the devil. Jesus gave an illustration when He told the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt 13:24-30). Afterwards, when Jesus was alone with His disciples, they asked for an explanation of the parable (Matt 13:36), and Jesus said:

  • "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear." (Matt 13:37-43).

     In this revelation we understand: 1) God the Son has sown good seed in the world, which are believers, 2) Satan has sown weeds, which are unbelievers, 3) both live side by side until Christ returns at the end of the age, 4) at which time Jesus will send forth His angels to separate out all unbelievers, 5) which unbelievers will be cast into the lake of fire, and 6) believers will enter into the millennial kingdom. That’s a picture of the current state spiritual of affairs which are followed with eschatological certainties concerning judgment and kingdom rule.

     For the present time, Satan is the ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; 1 John 5:19). We are all born under “the dominion of Satan” (Act 26:18), into his “domain of darkness” (Col 1:13). Our spiritual state changes at the time we turn to Christ and trust Him as Savior (1 Cor 15:3-4). At the moment of faith in Christ, we become “children of God” (John 1:12), are transferred to the kingdom of His Son (Col 1:13), forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7), given eternal life (John 10:28), the gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9), and the power to live holy (Rom 6:11-14). And, it is God’s will that we advance to spiritual maturity (Heb 6:1; Eph 4:11-13; 1 Pet 2:2), and serve as His ambassadors to others (2 Cor 5:20).

     Are Christians called to make the world a better place? Certainly, those who know God and walk in His Word will live moral lives and bring improvement wherever they go. However, that’s not really our calling or objective. As a Christian, our primary focus is evangelism and discipleship (Mark 16:15; Matt 28:19-20), not the reformation of society. Though Christians are to be good and do good (Gal 6:9-10; Eph 2:10; Tit 2:11-14), the reality is we live in a fallen world that is currently under Satan’s limited rule, and God sovereignly permits this for a time. True good is connected with God and His Word, and His good is executed—in part—by those who walk according to His biblical directives. But there are many who reject God and follow Satan’s world-system, which system is always pressuring us to conform (Rom 12:1-2). A permanent world-fix will not occur until Christ returns and puts down all rebellion, both satanic and human (Rev 19:11-21; 20:1-3). Those who are biblically minded live in this reality. As a result, our hope is never in this world; rather, we are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit 2:13). We are looking forward to the time when Christ raptures us from this world to heaven (John 14:1-3; 1 Th 4:13-18). This will be followed by seven years of Tribulation in which God will judge Satan’s world and those who abide by his philosophies and values (see Revelation chapters 6-19). Afterwards, Christ will rule the world for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-7), and shortly after that, God will destroy the current heavens and earth and create a new heavens and earth. This is what Peter is talking about when he says, “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13; cf. Isa 65:17; Rev 21:1). Our present and future hope is in God and what He will accomplish, and not in anything this world has to offer. As Christians, we are “not of the world” (John 17:14; cf. 1 John 4:4-5), though it’s God’s will that we continue to live in it (John 17:15), and to serve “as lights in the world” (Phi 2:15), that others might know the gospel of grace and learn His Word and walk by faith. This understanding is shaped by God’s Word, which determines our worldview.

     How are we to see ourselves in this present world? In the dispensation of the church age, we understand people are either in Adam or in Christ (1 Cor 15:21-22). Everyone is originally born in Adam (Rom 5:12), but those who have trusted in Jesus as Savior are now identified as being in Christ (1 Cor 1:30; 2 Co 5:17; Rom 8:1; Gal 3:28; Eph 1:3). This twofold division will exist until Christ returns. Furthermore, we are never going to fix the devil or the world-system he’s created. Because the majority of people in this world will choose the broad path of destruction that leads away from Christ (Matt 7:13-14), Satan and his purposes will predominate, and Christians will be outsiders. And being children of God, we are told the world will be a hostile place (John 15:19; 1 John 3:13). There will always be haters. Until Christ returns, Satan will control the majority, and these will be hostile to Christians who walk according to God’s truth and love.

     How should we respond to the world? The challenge for us as Christians is not to let the bullies of this world intimidate us into silence or inaction. And, of course, we must be careful not to become bitter, fearful, or hateful like those who attack us. The Bible teaches us to love those who hate us (Matt 5:44-45; Rom 12:14, 17-21), and we are to be kind, patient, and gentle (2 Tim 2:24-26; cf. Eph 4:1-2; Col 3:13-14). What we need is courage. Courage that is loving, kind, and faithful to share the gospel of grace and to speak biblical truth. The hope is that those who are positive to God can be rescued from Satan’s domain of darkness. We also live in the reality that God’s plans will advance. He will win. His future kingdom on earth will come to pass. Christ will return. Jesus will put down all forms of rebellion—both satanic and human—and will rule this world with perfect righteousness and justice. But until then, we must continue to learn and live God’s Word and fight the good fight. We are to live by faith (Heb 10:38; 11:6), share the gospel of grace (1 Cor 15:3-4), disciple others (Matt 28:19-20), be good and do good (Gal 6:9-10; Tit 2:11-14), and look forward to return of Christ at the rapture (Tit 2:13; cf. John 14:1-3; 1 Th 4:13-18).

 

Deuteronomy 16:1-8

Deuteronomy 16:1-8

September 11, 2021

     Moses directed Israel to observe the annual feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, both of which commemorated Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Moses opens this pericope, saying, “Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night” (Deut 16:1). The annual pilgrimage to celebrate the Passover was required under the Mosaic Law. The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were often celebrated together. William MacDonald states, “The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were closely connected. The Passover is described in verses 1, 2, 5–7; the Feast of Unleavened Bread in verses 3, 4, and 8. These feasts were to remind God’s people of His redemptive work on their behalf.”[1] The Passover marks the occasion when the angel of death passed over the homes which had the blood of the lamb applied to the lintel and doorposts. The Feast of Unleavened Bread memorialized the hurried departure from Egypt. This was to be an occasion where parents instructed their children about God’s deliverance (Ex 12:25-27). Israel first celebrated the Passover one year after Sinai (Num 9:1-5), but Scripture is silent about its celebration until the second generation entered the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua (Josh 5:10-11). Also, it appears the Passover was poorly executed during the period of the kings of Israel and Judah, but was properly executed under the leadership of King Josiah in 622 B.C. (2 Ki 23:22-23; 2 Ch 35:16-19).

     God had blessed Israel with much prosperity, and the Passover feast was a time when His people could offer sacrifices to Him; sacrifices which were eaten by those who participated. Moses wrote, “You shall sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God from the flock and the herd, in the place where the LORD chooses to establish His name” (Deut 16:2). Sacrifices from the flock were for the Passover meal, and sacrifices from the herd were likely extra offerings connected with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And these offerings were to occur at the place of God’s choosing, which was first at the tabernacle and later at the temple in Jerusalem.

     Moses continues to explain, “You shall not eat leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), so that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt” (Deut 16:3). Again, Passover and Unleavened Bread were closely connected festivals. Subsequent generations of Israelites were to “remember” an event which they never personally experienced, but which was known firsthand by that generation that came out of Egyptian slavery. They were to remember their parents’ days of bondage as though they were their own. And they were to share in their parents’ experience of deliverance by eating the Passover lamb on the very night their parents ate it, and for seven days to eat unleavened bread, which symbolized their affliction and hasty departure. Moses states, “For seven days no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory, and none of the flesh which you sacrifice on the evening of the first day shall remain overnight until morning” (Deut 16:4).

     The first Passover meal was originally eaten in the homes of the Israelites when they were in captivity in Egypt. But eating the meal in a home was not permitted by God to subsequent generations, as Moses wrote, “You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which the LORD your God is giving you; 6 but at the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset, at the time that you came out of Egypt” (Deut 16:5-6). Though the location for the reenactment was different, the animal, the day, and time of day was to be the same. The date was the fourteenth of Abib, the animal an unblemished lamb, and the time of sacrifice was to occur at dusk.

     For the third time in this pericope, Moses tells them to sacrifice and eat the meal at the place of God’s choosing, saying, “You shall cook and eat it in the place which the LORD your God chooses. In the morning you are to return to your tents” (Deut 16:7). The instruction for them to “return to your tents” likely refers, not to the tents they lived in while in the wilderness, but to temporary living quarters of those hundreds of thousands of Israelites who traveled great distances to be at the tabernacle or temple to celebrate this feast. This probably consisted of tents in temporary campgrounds located around the tabernacle.

     Moses concludes this pericope, saying, “Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the LORD your God; you shall do no work on it” (Deut 16:8). The Passover was celebrated on the fourteenth of Abib. The feast of Unleavened Bread started on the fifteenth of Abib and concluded seven days later, on the twenty-first day of the same month (Ex 12:18). And this final day was to be treated as a solemn closing ceremony, a day in which no work would occur.

     God’s deliverance from Egypt was personally experienced by some of Moses’ audience, as they were part of the younger generation—under twenty—who could personally recall the exodus event (Num 14:29). They knew about God’s judgment on Egypt, the angel of death that passed over the homes of Israelites with the blood of the lamb on the lintel and doorposts, crossing the Red Sea, destruction of Pharaoh’s army, God speaking to them at Mount Sinai, His provision for their needs in the wilderness, and His judgment that fell upon them because of their parent’s rebellion. But there were many others who were either too young to remember all these things, or were born at a later time. God expected subsequent generations—by faith—to regard the Passover and feast of Unleavened Bread as their own, as their liberation was experienced through their relatives who came out of Egyptian captivity. This experience was to be replicated year after year, marking God’s deliverance, and experientially connecting each generation with its predecessors.

Present Application:

     There is similarity between God’s deliverance of Israel and the Church. Like Israel, we were once enslaved in a kingdom, the kingdom of darkness over which Satan rules (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; 1 John 5:19), and we were helpless to liberate ourselves (Rom 5:6). But God reached into Satan’s kingdom and disrupted his domain, calling out a people for Himself from among those who were enslaved, and this disruption occurred at the cross, where having “disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him [Christ]” (Col 2:15). Our freedom came when we responded positively to the message of the cross, believing “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). The result was God “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). Our deliverance is complete, “For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7), and we have been redeemed by the precious “blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:19). And now we are “children of God” (John 1:12), brothers and sisters to the King of kings and Lord of lords. In addition, we have a new citizenship in heaven (Phil 3:20), we are a kingdom of priests to God (Rev 1:6), and ambassadors of Christ who represent Him to a fallen world (2 Cor 5:20). Because of our new position in Christ, we are encouraged “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). And we look forward to future rewards for our life of faithfulness, knowing we do our work “for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col 3:23-24).

 

[1] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 215.

Where Satan is Attacking in America - Part 1

Where Satan is Attacking in America - Part 1

September 11, 2021

     God’s Word reveals there’s a divine drama unfolding, and the actors consist of angels and people, both good and bad, who operate in interlocking realms that are invisible and visible, both affecting the other. Failure to grasp this biblical truth limits our ability to understand what is transpiring in the world and what role we play. God desires that we live in reality, and His revelation is the blessing that provides insights we could never know except that He has spoken. What we do with that revelation determines whether we’re a force for good or evil. When believers know and live in God’s Word, it affords them the opportunity to make good choices that can bring blessing to those near them. But the opposite is true, that believers living outside of God’s will can bring suffering to those in their periphery. This was true of Jonah who was in disobedience and others suffered because of it (Jonah 1:11-12). But when Jonah obeyed God, many with positive volition were blessed and God’s judgment upon a nation was stayed (Jonah 3:1-10). As Christians, we should play our part well, sharing the gospel of grace and communicating God’s Word as best we can. But we must always keep in mind we’re not the only actors, and that Satan and his forces are at work, trying to weaken individuals, groups and nations. It is the work of Satan in America that motivates the writing of this article. Full article is here: https://thinkingonscripture.com/2021/09/11/where-satan-is-attacking-in-america/ 

 

 

Deuteronomy 15:19-23 - And Christian Spiritual Sacrifices

Deuteronomy 15:19-23 - And Christian Spiritual Sacrifices

September 4, 2021

     In this pericope, Moses returns to the subject of animals and what should be offered to God in sacrifice. In typical fashion, Moses repeats himself to his audience in order to drive a point. Moses’ emphasis is that firstborn male animals were to be devoted to the Lord and should be eaten only at the place God prescribed. The meal was to be eaten annually in the presence of the Lord at the place He would prescribe and the whole household was to participate in this meal.

     Moses opens this pericope, saying, “You shall consecrate to the LORD your God all the firstborn males that are born of your herd and of your flock; you shall not work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock” (Deut 15:19). The word consecrate translates the Hebrew verb קָדָשׁ qadash, which means to sanctify, declare as holy, or set apart for a special purpose. The causative verb stem (hiphil) expresses conscious intentionality on the part of the offeror to consecrate the firstborn male of the herd or flock to God (cf. Ex 13:2, 12; Deut 12:6, 17; 14:23). Israelites were to set apart the best of their herds and flocks for God, for He was the cause of all their blessings. The Lord had blessed them by giving them the land of Canaan (Deut 4:1; 9:6), which included cities, houses, wells and vineyards (Deut 6:10-11), the ability to produce wealth (Deut 8:18), and blessed their labor so they would be fruitful (Deut 7:13; 11:13-15). The Lord had been very good to them, and He deserved their very best.

     The annual sacrifice of the unblemished firstborn animal looks back in history to when the Israelites were brought out of Egyptian captivity and their firstborn sons were spared from the angel of death (Ex 13:1-15). But the unblemished firstborn animal also looked forward to Christ, who is our Passover lamb (John 1:29; 1 Cor 5:7), who shed His precious blood on Calvary as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Peter explained we were redeemed from the slave-market of sin with “precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18-19).

     The firstborn male of the herd or flock was to be eaten by the offeror and his family. Moses stated, “You and your household shall eat it every year before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses” (Deut 15:20). This was an annual meal eaten at the place God would choose, which first was at the tabernacle and later at the temple. Furthermore, in addition to the immediate members of the family, the animal was to be eaten by the servants and Levites (cf. Deut 12:17-18).

     However, Moses instructed them, saying, “But if it has any defect, such as lameness or blindness, or any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the LORD your God” (Deut 15:21). To offer a defective animal would be an afront to God (cf. Deut 17:1), for it would not represent the very best of the herd or flock. Unfortunately, this is what Israelites were doing in Malachi’s day (Mal 1:6-9). Moses explained the lame animal could be eaten by the Israelites, saying, “You shall eat it within your gates; the unclean and the clean alike may eat it, as a gazelle or a deer” (Deut 15:22). The firstborn male animal that was lame could be eaten by the owner, his family and servants, as well as the Levite who relied on the kindness and goodness of others to help provide for him and his family.

     And the animal, like all others, was to have its blood drained before it could be consumed. Moses stated, “Only you shall not eat its blood; you are to pour it out on the ground like water” (Deut 15:23). Remember, the animal’s blood represented its life, and this was to be treated in a special way and not eaten (Deut 12:23; Lev 17:10-14). Israel was to understand that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev 17:11a) and was to treat it with respect in all situations. The blood symbolized life, which God has given to all creatures. If the animal was killed at home, the blood was to be drained before eating. If the animal was brought to the tabernacle or temple, the blood was to be drained beside the altar. In those ritual offerings the priests would catch some of the blood and sprinkle it on the altar, or on the mercy seat atop the ark of the covenant on the Day of Atonement. In this way they treated the blood of the animal as special.

Present Application:

     As Christians, we do not offer animal sacrifices, nor do we worship at a prescribed location as Israel did. We do not gather at a temple, rather, “we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16; cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17). And we do not bring grain or animal sacrifices, but “offer up spiritual sacrifices” to the Lord (1 Pet 2:5). But like Israel, what we offer to the Lord should represent our very best, for God has done His very best for us by sending His Son into the world to be our Savior. God the Son added perfect sinless humanity to Himself (Isa 9:6; Luke 1:26-35), lived a perfect and sinless life (Matt 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and went to the cross as a willing sacrifice (Mark 10:45; John 10:11, 17) and paid our sin debt (Col 2:13-14; 1 Pet 2:24). In Christ we have forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), eternal life (John 10:28), imputed righteousness (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9), and have been rescued from Satan’s “domain of darkness” and transferred “to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son” (Col 1:13). We received these blessings from God at the moment we accepted Christ as our Savior, believing He died for our sins, was buried, and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). Now saved and part of the Royal family of God, we are to serve as “ambassadors for Christ” to a lost world (2 Cor 5:20), and “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called” (Eph 4:1). As Christians living in the dispensation of the Church age, God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). And these blessings enable us to live the Christlike life that honors God and blesses others. It is a life of humility, love, service, and sacrifice for the benefit of others. As Christians, we are called to offer sacrifices to God, and these sacrifices include:

  1. The continual giving of the body for service to the Lord (Rom 12:1-2).
  2. Confessing our sins directly to God (1 John 1:6-9).
  3. Sharing the gospel with others (Rom 15:15-16).
  4. Offering praise to God (Heb 13:15).
  5. Doing good works and sharing with others (Heb 13:16; cf. Phil 4:18).
  6. Giving our lives for the benefit of others (Phil 2:17; cf. Phil 1:21-26; 2:3-4).
  7. Walking in love (Eph 5:1-2; cf. 1 Pet 1:22).

 

A Brief Look at Slavery in the Bible

A Brief Look at Slavery in the Bible

August 28, 2021

     Freedom is God’s ideal for humanity. Slavery is a deviation from God’s original design. The first humans enjoyed life and freedom in the garden of Eden. God created them and their world, and He endowed them with the capacity to exercise responsible dominion over the earth (Gen 1:26-28). He also created the garden of Eden, placed them in it, and gave them the task “to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). He assigned them to function as theocratic administrators. God’s directives provided the framework within which their environment and freedom was maintained. Adam and Eve forfeited their freedom and blessings when they disobeyed God and followed Satan’s directive (Gen 2:19-20; 3:1-7). Satan’s kingdom of darkness was expanded to include the earth at the time when Adam and Eve fell into sin. Subsequent to the historical fall of Adam and Eve, all people—excluding Jesus—are born “slaves to sin” (Rom 6:6), under “the dominion of Satan” (Acts 26:18), who reigns over his “domain of darkness” (Col 1:13). Spiritual slavery became the norm for Adam and Eve, and new forms of slavery followed.

     Human slavery has been around for thousands of years and practiced by the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. It continued throughout history in regions such as Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Comanche Indians were known to attack and kill other tribes, steal their land, and enslave some.[1] Slavery was practiced for centuries in Europe, but was formally abolished in Brittan in 1833 and France in 1848. Thankfully, slavery in America was abolished in 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, slavery continues today with more than 40 million victims worldwide and is practiced in countries such as Afghanistan, Africa, Cambodia, Iran, South Sudan, and Pakistan, just to name a few. The highest concentration of slavery today is found in North Korea.[2] Illegal human trafficking still exists in the U.S. with numbers ranging from 18,000 to 20,000.[3] Modern slavery represents a relational power structure between individuals and groups, as one seeks to control the other for personal gain, and this by means of force. The subject of slavery is extremely complex when one considers it throughout history, as not all slaves were treated the same. Even in America, some slaves gained their freedom, attained relative success, and then purchased slaves themselves. One example was William Ellison, a black slave owner who “was one of about 180 black slave masters in South Carolina at the time, most of whom were former slaves themselves.”[4] Often, we hear the ancient horror stories of forced labor in grueling conditions, rape, and early death. These stories are terrible and true. However, in some instances, slaves enjoyed protection within a family unit, married and raised children, engaged in business, and could purchase their freedom. In certain contexts, slaves had more privileges and benefits than many who were free and poor. Bartchy states:

  • "Under Roman, Greek, and Jewish laws, those in slavery could own property, including other slaves! Some well-educated slaves bought children, raised and educated them, and recovered the tuition costs when selling them to families needing tutors. A slave’s property was entirely under the control of the slave, who could seek to increase it for use in purchasing legal freedom and in establishing a comfortable life as a freed person."[5]

     In the ancient world, some became slaves when defeated in war, others were illegally kidnapped and made slaves, and many were born slaves. Again, sometimes these served in terrible conditions, whereas others were protected and cared for. In most societies, slaves were purchased to meet household needs, such as making clothes, preparing meals, tilling land, and housecleaning. More educated slaves served as tutors to household children, helping prepare them academically and teaching them social etiquette. It is historically noted that some sold themselves into slavery, and this to secure immediate clothing, shelter, and food, as well as the prospect of future freedom and social and economic advancement. Bartchy states:

  • "Large numbers of people sold themselves into slavery for various reasons, above all to enter a life that was easier and more secure than existence as a poor, freeborn person, to obtain special jobs, and to climb socially…Many non-Romans sold themselves to Roman citizens with the justified expectation, carefully regulated by Roman law, of becoming Roman citizens themselves when manumitted. The money that one received from such a self-sale usually became the beginning of the personal funds that would later be used to enter freedom under more favorable circumstances, e.g., with former debts extinguished. Greek law also recognized the validity of self-sale into slavery, often with a contract limiting the duration of the enslavement. Such sales were frequent in the eastern provinces in imperial times. Temporary self-sale had been known in Jewish circles for centuries. Because of the reputation of Jewish owners for honoring Jewish laws calling for good treatment, many Jews who wished to sell themselves often could not find a Jewish purchaser."[6]

     In the OT, slavery was practiced long before Israel became a theocracy after their exodus in 1445 B.C. Joseph was sold by his brothers to Midianite traders (Gen 37:27-28), who sold him to an Egyptian named Potiphar (Gen 37:36). Israel, as a nation, became slaves to the Egyptians (Ex 13:3, 14). Eventually, God liberated His people from their Egyptian captors (Ex 20:2; Deut 6:12; 7:8). But slavery was never abolished as an institution in the ancient world, and Israelites were permitted to purchase slaves from other nations. Moses wrote, “As for your male and female slaves whom you may have—you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you” (Lev 25:44). Unger states, “The Mosaic economy did not outlaw slavery, which was a universal institution at the time. It did, however, regulate and elevate it, imbuing it with kindness and mercy and, like Christianity, announcing principles that would ultimately abolish it (cf. Lev 25:39-40; Deut 15:12-18).”[7]

     Moses addressed a form of slavery in Deuteronomy that refers to a voluntary servitude in which a person worked for a period of six years to pay off their debt (Deut 15:12-18). In this situation, Israelites could sell themselves into the service of another for a period of time to pay off their debt. In addition to their freedom, they were to receive a generous severance package of livestock, grain, and wine, which was intended to jumpstart their own economic independence (Deut 15:12-14; cf. Ex 21:5-6). However, some made the choice to become a lifetime servant, and this occurred from a motivation of love, because their employer had been good and cared for them (Deut 15:16-17). The common Hebrew servant who surrendered his/her freedom to serve another was limited to six years labor and was guaranteed freedom in the seventh year (Deut 15:12-14; cf. Ex 21:1-2). And there were laws that protected slaves. For example, kidnapping for slavery was punishable by death under the Mosaic Law (Ex 21:16; Deut 24:7). If a slave was injured by his owner, the law demanded he be set free (Ex 21:26-27). This law would naturally limit abuse. And the Mosaic Law allowed for an Israelite slave to be redeemed by family (Lev 25:47-49a), or he could redeem himself if he acquired the means (Lev 25:49b-53). Lastly, Israelite slaves would automatically go free in the year of Jubilee (Lev 25:10, 40, 54).

     Slavery continued into NT times. There were Christians who were both slaves and slave owners (Eph 6:5-9). Paul wrote, “Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that” (1 Cor 7:21). He then stated, “he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise, he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave” (1 Cor 7:22). All Christians in the early church, whether slave owners or slaves, were to regard themselves as slaves to Christ. Writing to slave owners at the church in Ephesus, Paul instructed them to “give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him” (Eph 6:9). Paul told Philemon to regard his slave, Onesimus, “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Phm 1:16).

     Biblically, God does not call for Christians to reform society. This does not mean that societal transformation is not a concern for Christians. It is a great concern. However, we realize true and lasting transformation must occur from the inside out, as people are regenerated through faith in Christ and mature spiritually through learning and living God’s Word. Where Christianity prevails in a society, institutions of slavery will naturally dissolve, and freedom will be maintained by a moral and just people. John Adams knew this very well and said, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Sadly, we know from Scripture that the majority of people in the world will not accept Christ as Savior (Matt 7:13-14). Therefore, they will choose to live as slaves in Satan’s world-system where his philosophies and values will predominate until Christ returns and establishes His kingdom on earth. As Christians, we are called to share the Gospel that people might receive new life and be liberated from Satan’s slave-market. If a person rejects Jesus as Savior, then that person chooses to continue as a slave to Satan and his world-system. It’s unfortunate, but it’s their choice, and it must be respected. We cannot force them to be free.

     Slavery to sin is both a positional and experiential reality. Positionally, it means unbelievers belong to Satan and are referred to as his children (Matt 13:38; John 8:44; Acts 13:10; 1 John 3:10). Experientially it means unbelievers are slaves to Satan’s philosophies and values which predominate in the world, as well as being in bondage to the sinful passions that spring from the fallen nature. Passions born of the sin nature can lead to various forms of bondage such as alcoholism, drug addition, gambling addiction, power-lust, approbation-lust, etc. Ultimately, unbelievers who reject God’s offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 16:31; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5) will spend eternity with Satan and his angels in the Lake of Fire (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10-15). Sadly, believers, who belong to Christ, can also fall victim to the passions of their sinful nature (Rom 13:14; 1 Pet 2:11; 1 John 2:15-16). Though believers are saved forever (John 10:28-30), they can forfeit their eternal rewards (Matt 5:19; 2 John 1:8). Those who are born again are saved the penalty of sin (John 5:24; Rom 6:23; 8:1), the power of sin (Rom 6:11; 8:13; 2 Cor 5:17), and ultimately the presence of sin (Phil 3:21; 1 John 3:2).

     The reality is we are all born into Satan’s slave-market of sin and helpless to liberate ourselves (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3). But God desires our freedom from Satan’s domain, and He sent Jesus into the world to be our Liberator. Jesus was born without sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), which meant He was born free. Furthermore, He maintained His freedom from Satan’s domain by living righteously in the Father’s will (Matt 5:17-18; Heb 10:5-8). Finally, Jesus willingly went to the cross and died a death He did not deserve. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He willingly shed His blood on the cross as payment for our sin-debt. Jesus purchased our freedom. Paul told the Christians at Corinth, “You have been bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20a; cf., 1 Cor 7:23a). Peter said our redemption was not “with perishable things like silver or gold…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18-19). We can be free from Satan’s tyranny if we accept Jesus’ payment for our sin, believing He died for our sins, was buried, and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). Our salvation and entrance into the family of God introduces us to the possibility of greater freedoms and blessings, but only if we make good choices according to God’s Word and advance to spiritual maturity. Our freedom is protected and maintained when we possess and live morally as God directs.

 

[1] Native American History, Comanche War Raids, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGA_18W1U0Y

[2] Helen Gibson, Modern-Day Slavery by the Numbers, https://lifewayresearch.com/2019/02/07/modern-day-slavery-by-the-numbers/

[3] The Women’s Center, https://www.womenscenteryfs.org/index.php/get-info/human-trafficking/statistics

[4] University of Richmond, Blacks Owning Blacks: The Story of William Ellison, https://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/6699

[5] S. S. Bartchy, “Slavery,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 544.

[6] Ibid., 543.

[7] Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN., AMG Publishers, 2002), 130.

 

 

Deuteronomy 15:12-18 - Slavery in Israel

Deuteronomy 15:12-18 - Slavery in Israel

August 28, 2021

     In this pericope, Moses addresses the subject of voluntary slavery in Israel, where a man or woman committed themselves to a period of service in order to pay off a debt. In this situation, the master could not require more than six years of service and was directed to release the slave from his/her debt in the seventh year. Furthermore, the wealthy were required to send the servant away with a generous supply of resources—a severance package—to help jumpstart their freedom and personal success.

     Moses opens this section, saying, “If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free” (Deut 15:12). If a person owed a debt to another Israelite that he/she could not pay, the Mosaic Law granted that person the right to commit themselves to six years of contractual servitude in order to pay off what they owed. This allowed for economic integrity in the community in which a person could and should pay off their debts. However, God limited the servitude to six years, and in the seventh year, the servant was required to be set free from the mutual contract agreement. This verse shows that poor slaves had rights under God’s economy. This seven-year agreement is different than the seven years mentioned in Deuteronomy 15:1-11. Here, the seven-year agreement begins when the contract starts.

     Furthermore, God obligates the master to set his servant free with a generous severance package. Moses wrote, “When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you” (Deut 15:13-14). The liberal distribution of resources was a severance package of animals, grain, and wine, all intended to help kickstart the former servant’s own economic independence. Warren Wiersbe states:

  • "Servants were to be released after six years of service, whether the seventh year was the Sabbath Year or not. This law assumes that the man’s six years of service without a salary had adequately repaid the loan. But once again, the Lord commanded generosity, for the masters were to send their servants away bearing gifts that would help them start life over again, including livestock, grain, and wine. After all, when the Jews left Egypt, they received expensive gifts in return for their years of enslavement (Ex 11:2; 12:35-36), so why shouldn’t a Jewish brother be rewarded for six years of faithful labor to a fellow Jew?"[1]

     Here, we see economic integrity being preserved, as a person was given the option to pay off debts by means of selling himself into service to another. But we also see the principle of love and generosity in Moses’ words. Such love and generosity was consistent with the character of God as well as His past actions toward the nation as a whole. Moses wrote, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore, I command you this today” (Deut 15:15). The word remember translates the Hebrew verb זָכַר zakar means to call to mind, and implies intentionality. God’s people were commanded to remember their past servitude in Egypt, as that memory was to have a direct influence on how they treated others who were less fortunate than themselves. God loved them, liberated them, and pulled them out of Egypt with much silver and gold (Ex 12:35-36). This wealth enabled Israel to jumpstart their own economy when they entered into Canaan. Likewise, God’s people were to model God’s generosity and help their fellow Israelite succeed. Eugene Merrill states:

  • "The rationale for this was the comparable situation in which Israel had found itself in Egypt. There they had been pressed into slavery, cruelly mistreated, but at last delivered by the redemptive grace and power of God. But even the Egyptians had sent them away with provisions to tide them over until they could stand on their own feet (Ex 12:35-36). If this mighty act of redemption was carried out by the Lord on Israel’s behalf, how much more should the beneficiaries of that goodness be quick to exercise it on behalf of their financially oppressed brothers and sisters (Deut 15:14b-15)."[2]

     But there was another possibility open to the master and servant. Moses said, “It shall come about if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he fares well with you; 17 then you shall take an awl and pierce it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also, you shall do likewise to your maidservant” (Deut 15:16-17). In this situation, the master proves to be a good man who loves the Lord and honors His Word and cares for those in his service. The servant recognizes the one he serves is a good man who cares for him and meets his needs. As a result, the servant feels loved and loves in return. In this relationship, the servant voluntarily offers to remain in service to his master for the remainder of his life, surrendering his independence, believing he will be loved and cared for until the end of his days. If the master agreed, then the two would seal the arrangement with a ceremony in which the servant would have an awl driven through his ear in front of God and others. The hole in the ear—or maybe an earring—served as a public statement that this master and servant saw each other’s value and freely consented to a lifetime of work together. And this would be initiated by the servant because of his love for the one he served. Warren Wiersbe writes:

  • "During those six years of service, the debtor might come to love the host family and want to stay with them. Or, he might have gotten married during that time, have a family, and want to remain with them. If that was the debtor’s choice, he would be taken to the judges where his decision would be officially recognized. Then his master would bore a hole in his ear to mark him as a willing servant for life. A female servant could make the same choice, but see Exodus 21:7-11 for special provisions."[3]

     Moses, returning to the original scenario, in which a servant would be set free with a generous severance package after six years, states, “It shall not seem hard to you when you set him free, for he has given you six years with double the service of a hired man; so the LORD your God will bless you in whatever you do” (Deut 15:18). When it came time for the master to release his servant after six years of service, he was to be motivated by two factors: first, he had benefitted from the servant’s labor that would have cost him twice as much if he’d hired someone to perform the same work. Second, God promised to bless him for obeying His directive, a theme of blessing God had promised to others if they obeyed (see Deut 15:4, 6, 10).

 

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 104.

[2] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 246.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 104.

Deuteronomy 15:1-11

Deuteronomy 15:1-11

August 21, 2021

     In this pericope, Moses continues his address concerning godly behavior toward fellow Israelites and the need to have the right heart attitude and to be forgiving and open-handed. This section assumes economic stratification within the Israelite community. Deuteronomy 15:1-6 pertains to forgiving loans to fellow Israelites based on the seven-year pattern set forth for the nation. Deuteronomy 15:7-11 pertains to the attitude and actions God expected of the blessed in Israel toward the poor, as they were to see them as a “brother” (Deut 15:7, 9, 11). Moses does not address why the fellow Israelite is poor (maybe because of poor lifestyle choices, bad investments, etc.), but only that he is poor, and that those with means should be open-handed in giving loans to help him succeed.

     Moses opens this pericope, saying, “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the LORD’S remission has been proclaimed” (Deut 15:1-2). God had established a seven-year cycle the nation was to follow, and this ended when the Feast of Booths was celebrated (Deut 31:10). At the end of every seven years, those Israelites who had made loans to others within the covenant community were to release them from any remaining debt. The Hebrew word for remission is שְׁמִטָּה shemittah, which means a letting drop. Some Bible scholars believe the payment of the loan was only suspended for the seventh year, and would then resume afterwards. Complete cancellation of the loan seems more consistent with the spirit of Deuteronomy, as God had provided complete liberation from physical slavery and generously blessed His people. Eugene Merrill states:

  • "The lender must simply forgive the debt as a necessary consequence of God’s declaration of a “time for canceling debts” (v. 2). This was, as already noted, at the end of seven years, a period not necessarily commencing with the making of the loan but, as v. 9 makes clear, a universally recognized year of release (cf. Ex 23:10–11; Lev 25:2–4). To protect both lender and borrower, the loan, one assumes, was of such an amount as to reasonably be repaid in whatever time remained until the year of cancellation. That is, the size of the loan was commensurate with the time to repay it."[1]

     Israel was an agricultural economy and God required they follow a seven-year cycle to let the land rest every seventh year. Not only were Israelites forgiven their debts in the seventh year, but landowners were not to work their land, and the poor were permitted to eat freely from whatever the ground produced (Ex 23:10-11; cf. Lev 25:3-7, 20-23). Apparently, Israel never obeyed the command to let the land rest, and was later judged for their disobedience (2 Ch 36:20-21; Jer 25:11-12; 29:10).

     But this loan forgiveness was extended only to those within the covenant community and did not apply to outsiders. Moses said, “From a foreigner you may exact it, but your hand shall release whatever of yours is with your brother” (Deut 15:3). In this verse, Moses draws a distinction between Israelites who are blessed because of their covenant relationship with the Lord, and the foreigner (Heb. נָכְרִי nokri) who lived among them but was not part of the covenant community. Clearly membership had its privileges. Here, one observes divinely sanctioned discrimination (cf., Gal 6:10). Nothing is said about the resident alien (Heb. גֵּר ger) who resided among the Israelites, who enjoyed greater benefits than the foreigner because he/she had committed themselves to the Lord. Concerning Israelites who lived in the land, Moses said, “However, there will be no poor among you, since the LORD will surely bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess” (Deut 15:4). The notion of no poor in the land does not mean economic equality through redistribution of wealth, for there would always be economic stratification. Rather, it meant no Israelite would fall below the poverty line and be without food, shelter, or clothing (cf., 1 Tim 6:8).[2] And Moses reminds his hearers, again, that God was the One who would bless them “in the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess” (Deut 15:4b; cf. Deut 4:21, 40; 9:6; 11:31; 12:9-10, 13:12; 15:7; 16:5, 18, 20; 17:2; 20:16). Thinking from the divine perspective, Israel was to understand God was the One who had liberated them from slavery (Deut 5:6), given them the land of Canaan (Deut 4:1; 9:6), which included cities, houses, wells and vineyards (Deut 6:10-11), enabled them to produce wealth (Deut 8:18), and blessed their labor (Deut 7:13; 11:13-15). The wealthy were to treat fellow Israelites the way God had treated them, with a generous heart and an open hand. God hears the cry of the poor, “For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise His who are prisoners” (Psa 69:33), and “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So, show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Deut 10:18-19).

     This ideal situation of no poor in the land was possible for the nation, but was conditioned on their obedience to the Lord’s directives. Moses made this clear by the following conditional clause, saying, “if only you listen obediently to the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today” (Deut 15:5). God’s ideal concerning the poor could be actualized if His people would walk in His will. The blessed of the Lord were called, not to hoard their wealth, but to be generous as He had been generous. God would honor such open-handed behavior by blessing His people, as they would serve as conduits of His grace to others. For the obedient Israelite, Moses said, “For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you” (Deut 15:6). If Israel obeyed the Lord concerning their generosity toward those in the covenant community, God would bless them greatly, which would give them economic superiority over other nations.

     But the Israelites were to be mindful about learning and living God’s Word. Moses said, “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; 8 but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks” (Deut 15:7-8). It was inevitable that a wealthy Israelite would encounter a poor person, and when faced with the prospect of helping the impoverished, he was to be generous. What Moses describes is a loan to the poor person with the expectation that it would be repaid. This was different than the gift given through the tithe (Deut 14:22-29). And the help given to the poor was to be “sufficient for his need” and not his greed. A study in Scripture reveals some were poor because of bad choices such as laziness (Pro 6:9-11; 13:18; 24:30-34), alcoholism (Pro 23:21), or chasing daydreams (Pro 28:19 NET). Whereas others were poor through no fault of their own, such as those who were robbed (Mic 2:1-2; cf. Jer 22:13; Jam 5:4). It’s possible that giving money to the poor may be harmful if it facilitates a destructive drug addiction or fosters laziness. Certainly, we don’t want to do that. Scripture promotes a strong work ethic, saying, “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat” (2 Th 3:10). This assumes that a person is able to work and that work is available. Helping the poor in society is always a good thing, but compassion must be governed by wisdom.

     In this context, it appears Moses assumes a person is impoverished through no fault of his own and needs a loan to help until his situation improves. When the need was legitimate, God called the wealthy to be generous (cf., Pro 11:24-25; 14:31; 19:17; 28:27). But God was concerned about the heart and wanted His people to act on right motives. Moses said, “Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the LORD against you, and it will be a sin in you” (Deut 15:9). The concern here was that a needy brother would ask for help near the seventh year, just prior the time when loans were automatically forgiven, and the loan would become a gift with the lender losing all hope of repayment. If the wealthy Israelite failed to obey the Lord and withheld the loan to the poor person, then the poor “may cry to the LORD” in such a situation, which meant he would take his case before the Judge of all the earth and, it would “be a sin” in the one who was stingy. Here, it is revealed that the poor had legal rights in God’s theocratic kingdom, which is revealed in other parts of Scripture (Deut 27:19; Pro 29:7; Isa 10:1-2). The cure of a hostile attitude toward the poor was a generous heart and an open hand. This cure was to be self-administered. Failure to be kind and open-handed would bring about God’s cursing, but obedience would secure His blessings (Deut 7:11-13; 11:13-15, 26-28).

     Rather than be stingy, Moses said, “You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings” (Deut 15:10). The wealthy Israelite knew God was watching him, and that God would bless him for his obedience. And because the nation as a whole never fully obeyed all God’s laws, there would always be poor among them, as Moses said, “For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore, I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land’” (Deut 15:11). Failure to be generous was unbecoming the Israelite who claimed to be the Lord’s servant, who represented His values in everyday life. In all this, we see how Israelites were to have a theological perspective that governed their daily lives, even how they handled money and treated others within the community.

     Though there are no theocracies today, many Old Testament and New Testament passages reflect the heart of God toward the poor, needy, and most vulnerable in society. Scripture reveals God has compassion on the poor (Psa 72:13), helps the poor (1 Sam 2:8; Psa 12:5), is a refuge (Psa 14:6), saves those who cry out to Him (Psa 34:6), rescues the afflicted (Psa 35:10), provides for them (Psa 68:10), lifts them up (Psa 113:7), and seeks justice for them (Psa 140:12). Helping the poor is a demonstration of grace. Being gracious to the poor means listening to their cry for help (Pro 21:13), giving to meet their need (Pro 19:17), and defending their social rights (Pro 31:9). Such actions honor the Lord (Pro 14:31), who “will repay him [the giver] for his good deed” (Pro 19:17; cf. 28:27). John wrote, “Whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17; cf. Jam 2:15-16). Paul wrote, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Tim 6:17-19).

 

[1] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 243.

[2] Some theologians argue for Socialism or Communism from this and other biblical passages, but this is wrong. Socialism and Communism are godless evil governmental systems that seek to steal wealth from those who are skilled at making it, and then hoard it for their own power-hungry purposes. The notion of redistribution of wealth to the poor never materializes in Socialistic and Communistic systems, as greedy and manipulative leaders actually hoard the wealth for themselves and use it as a means for further suppression. The naïve in a society are little more than useful idiots.

The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper

August 21, 2021

     The Lord’s Supper is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew (26:26-29), Mark (14:22-25), Luke (22:19-20), and by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians at Corinth (1 Cor 11:23-34). The Lord’s Supper is also called the Eucharist, from the Greek word εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo, which means to give thanks, which is what Christ did when He instituted this church ordinance (Luke 22:19). And, it is called Communion, from the Geek word κοινωνία koinonia, which means communion, fellowship, or sharing (1 Cor 10:15-17), because it took place during a community meal where believers fellowshipped with each other during a time of Bible study and prayer (see Acts 2:42).

     The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus on the night He and the disciples were celebrating the Passover meal. This was the night before His crucifixion. The Passover meal celebrated God’s deliverance from the final plague on Egypt as the Lord passed over the homes of those who had sacrificed an unblemished lamb and placed its blood on the doorpost and lintel (Ex 12:1-51). The flawless lamb foreshadowed the sinless humanity of Jesus who is “a lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Pet 1:19), “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus is “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor 5:7), and His death paid the price for our sins (Mark 10:45; Eph 1:7; Heb 9:22).

     Jesus’ death instituted the New Covenant which was given to Israel and will find its ultimate fulfillment in the future millennial kingdom. Because Christ inaugurated the New Covenant, some of the spiritual blessings associated with it are available to Christians today; specifically, forgiveness of sins (Jer 31:34; Matt 26:28; Heb 10:17) and the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ezek 36:26-27; 37:14; 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19).

     The elements of the Lord’s Supper include unleavened bread and red juice. The unleavened bread symbolizes the sinless humanity of Jesus (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5). The red juice symbolizes the “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). Throughout the church age, there have been four major views concerning the elements of the Lord’s Supper: 1) The Roman Catholic viewTransubstantiation—teaches that the bread and red juice, without losing its form or taste, becomes the literal body and blood of Christ. 2) The Lutheran viewConsubstantiation—holds that Christ is present in and with the bread and red juice in a real sense. 3) The Reformed viewSpiritual—teaches that Christ is spiritually present in the bread and red juice. 4) The Evangelical viewSymbolic—sees the bread and red juice as symbols that point to the body and blood of Christ. The first three views see Christ actually present in the bread and juice, whereas the last view sees the elements as symbols that point to Christ. The last view is similar to how one understands the sacrificial lamb in the OT, which sacrifice did not actually contain Christ, but rather pointed to Him and His atoning work on the cross. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper does not actually contain Christ, but points the believer to His sacrificial life and substitutionary death. 

     When Christians partake of the unleavened bread and red juice, we are recognizing our relationship with God through the life and death of Christ. Just as we are nourished bodily by physical food, so we are nourished spiritually by the life and shed blood of Jesus who died in our place. Eating the bread and drinking the red juice is a picture of the believer receiving the benefits that have been provided by the life and death of Jesus. There is a vertical and horizontal aspect to the Lord’s Supper. The vertical aspect indicates one is in a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus, for the Lord’s Supper has meaning only to the one who has trusted Christ as Savior and received forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; Eph 1:7). The horizontal aspect of the Lord’s Supper indicates one is walking in love and living selflessly towards other Christians (1 Cor 10:15-17; 11:17-34), for it is a picture of the love and selflessness of Christ who gave His life for the benefit of others. It is a sin to partake of the Lord’s Supper while behaving selfishly toward other believers, and God will punish those who do so (1 Cor 11:27-30). Paul instructed the Christians at Corinth to partake of the Lord’s Supper retrospectively by looking back at the sacrificial life and death of Christ (1 Cor 11:23-25), prospectively by looking forward to Jesus’ return (1 Cor 11:26), and introspectively by examining their attitudes and actions (1 Cor 11:27-32). A proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper will lead to unselfish love towards others (1 Cor 11:33-34a).

Summary

     The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus while celebrating the Passover meal on the night before His crucifixion. The unleavened bread symbolizes the perfect humanity of Christ, and the red juice symbolizes the blood of the New Covenant that was shed on the cross. Christians who partake of the Lord’s Supper see themselves as the beneficiaries of the spiritual blessings of forgiveness and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Eating the bread and drinking the juice is a picture of receiving Christ and all He did for us through His life and death. The Lord’s Supper instructs us to look back to the selfless love of Christ, forward to His return, and inward to one’s values and actions.

Deuteronomy 14:22-29 - Tithing in Israel

Deuteronomy 14:22-29 - Tithing in Israel

August 7, 2021

     In this pericope, Moses addressed both the annual tithe as well as the triennial tithe that Israelites were required to give. The annual amount consisted of a tenth of their crops and herds and was to be eaten once a year in the presence of the Lord, and the triennial tithe was to be shared within the community of each city in order to bless the economically vulnerable; namely the Levites, aliens, orphans and widows.

     Moses said, “You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year” (Deut 14:22). This was an annual tithe that occurred at the time of harvest. In the Old Testament, Israel operated as a free-market economy, as families owned land which they cultivated and worked. However, they relied on rain in regular intervals, which the Lord provided as a blessing for the nation’s faithfulness to Him.

     Moses wrote, “You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always” (Deut 14:23). Every year, the whole family would travel to the sanctuary with their tithe and eat it—or a portion of it—in the presence of the Lord. This consisted of the produce of the ground as well as the firstborn of their herds and flocks. This annual practice was didactic, in that it taught the people to fear the Lord their God, for He was the One who had liberated them from slavery (Deut 5:6), gave them the land of Canaan (Deut 4:1; 9:6), which included cities, houses, wells and vineyards (Deut 6:10-11), enabled them to produce wealth (Deut 8:18), and blessed their labor (Deut 7:13; 11:13-15). In this way, the tithe was a Thank You to God for all His goodness.  Warren Wiersbe states, “The people of Israel were to be generous with tithes and offerings because the Lord had been generous with them. Each time they brought their tithes and gifts to the sanctuary and enjoyed a thanksgiving feast, it would teach them to fear the Lord (Deut 14:23), because if the Lord hadn’t blessed them, they would have nothing to eat and nothing to give.”[1]

     However, because the land of Canaan was large, it might be difficult to transport large quantities of food and herds to the sanctuary, so God made an allowance for some Israelites. Moses wrote, “If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you, then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses” (Deut 14:24-25). This would allow the Israelite to travel with an easy load, one which could be used to purchase food and herds at the sanctuary. Moses continued, saying, “You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household” (Deut 14:26). Twice Moses said the money could be spent “for whatever your heart desires”, which included food as well as wine or strong drink. And this was to be consumed in the presence of the Lord at the sanctuary. In this instance, the Lord was not merely a spectator, but a participant. However, whereas the Israelite ate their portion of the meal, the Lord’s portion was offered as a sacrifice on the altar.[2] And wine and strong drink were permitted to be consumed as part of the act of worship before the Lord. Wine is clearly an alcoholic drink, and the strong drink was likely a low-alcoholic beer. Concerning alcohol, the Bible teaches moderation, not abstinence. Though drinking was permitted, drunkenness was condemned (Isa 5:11; Pro 20:1; cf. Eph 5:18). The consumption of alcohol becomes a problem when it impairs one’s ability to think and act biblically. For those who cannot regulate their alcohol intake, it’s best to refrain from consumption altogether.

     Moses then states, “Also, you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town, for he has no portion or inheritance among you” (Deut 14:27) Because the Levites did not own land, they were dependent on the obedience and good will of their fellow Israelites to care for them and to provide for their daily needs. In this way, the Levites were vulnerable to their fellow Israelites in the community. If Israelites were growing spiritually and walking with God as obedient-to-the-Word believers, then the Levite would dwell securely. However, if Israelites were not walking with the Lord, but living as they pleased, the Levite—and his family—would be neglected. The Levite’s physical wellbeing was tied to the spiritual health of the nation. What was true of the Levite was also true for other vulnerable persons in the community; persons such as the alien, orphan and widow.

     Moses introduced another tithe, saying, “At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town” (Deut 14:28). Here was a tithe that was taken every third year and deposited—not at the sanctuary—but in their own town. This third-year tithe was for the less fortunate and vulnerable within the community. The food was for “The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town shall come and eat and be satisfied, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do” (Deut 14:29). It’s likely much of the food was stored in city storerooms where the poor could go and draw from those resources over a period of time and not merely on one occasion. Warren Wiersbe states:

  • "Every third year, the people were to give the Lord a second tithe which remained in their towns and was used to feed the Levites and the needy people in the land, especially the widows and orphans. The Levites served at the sanctuary but were scattered throughout Israel. If the people of Israel demonstrated concern for the needs of others, God would bless their labors and enable them to give even more (Deut 14:29)."[3]

     Being generous is a praiseworthy characteristic in the Old Testament. For example, Solomon wrote, “The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered” (Pro 11:25), and “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed” (Pro 19:17), and “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor” (Pro 22:9), and “He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses” (Pro 28:27). The New Testament carries this idea over to Christians, as Paul states, “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6). Jack Deere states:

  • "If the Israelites obeyed this command to share, then they could always expect to live in a prosperous society and could be generous, for God would bless them in all the work of their hands. Tithing is not commanded in the New Testament. Yet believers in the Church Age still indicate by their giving that God supports and cares for them. Christians are to give “generously,” knowing that they “will also reap generously” (2 Cor 9:6; cf. 2 Cor 9:7–9; 1 Cor 16:1–2)."[4]

     God had blessed Israel with freedom (Deut 5:6), land (Deut 4:1; 9:6), and the ability to make a profit (Deut 8:18). The tithe was a test of their heart, to see if they loved the Lord and would trust Him as their Provider. When it came to helping the Levite, the alien, the orphan, and the widow, Israelites were to be generous and open-handed when surrendering the tenth of their labor-produce. The tithe would secure the needs of the economically vulnerable in the community. And obedient-to-the-Word Israelites would serve as conduits of God’s grace.

     Moses’ directives assume social and economic stratification, which occurs naturally in a free-market economy where citizens own their land and are responsible for its production as well as the distribution of its resources, either for sale, or gifting to the poor and needy. In the Bible there is no place for Socialism or Communism, in which a godless, humanistic government steals the property and production of others for personal power—though they claim to operate on principles of compassion for the needy. Daniel Block states, “The Torah does not envision a welfare system administered by a political bureaucracy and based on a centralized system of taxation. The well-being of the potentially marginalized depends on the charity of all citizens.”[5]

Christian Giving:

     Israel and the Church are both God’s people, but Israel was under “the Law” of Moses (John 1:17), whereas the Church is under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2). Israel was required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut 14:22-23; 28-29; Num 18:21), but there is no tithe required from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). To Christians, the apostle Paul mentions systematic giving (1 Cor 16:1-2), but nowhere specifies an amount. Giving 10% of one’s income is fine, so long as it is understood that it’s a voluntary action and not required by the Lord. One could easily set aside a different amount to be given on a regular basis. Certainly, the financial support of the Pastor is in line with Scripture (Gal 6:6; 1 Tim 5:17-18), although the apostle Paul supported himself in his own ministry as an example to others of sacrificial living (Acts 20:32-35). Giving systematically and giving joyfully is consistent with the teaching of the New Testament (1 Cor 16:1-2; 2 Cor 9:7). And it seems God blesses in proportion to the giving, as Paul states, “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Co 9:6). However, one must not regard this as a means of prosperity, which would make the giving selfish rather than selfless.

     As God’s children, we realize all we have is on loan from God, for “the earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Psa 24:1). The Lord declares, “every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psa 50:10), and “‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine’, declares the LORD of hosts” (Hag 2:8). When we give to the Lord, it’s a test of our love and loyalty to Him; for what we give is already His, and giving back to Him means we trust and support His work in the world. David captures this well when he says, “who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You” (1 Ch 29:14).

 

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 101.

[2] The practice of exchanging money for food at the sanctuary continued into the New Testament, but there were some who abused it by charging exorbitant exchange rates, which perverted God’s Law for personal gain (Matt 21:12-13; John 2:13-16).

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, 101.

[4] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 290.

[5] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 358.

Deuteronomy 14:1-21 - Dietary Laws in Israel

Deuteronomy 14:1-21 - Dietary Laws in Israel

August 7, 2021

     In chapter fourteen, Moses shifts away from the danger of accepting pagan idols to adopting pagan practices that were part of the surrounding cultures. Moses addresses pagan rites concerning mourning for the dead (Deut 14:1), as well as distinctions between animals the Lord declares to be clean or unclean (Deut 14:3-21a). These dietary laws are sandwiched between commands to be holy to the Lord (Deut 14:2, 21b). Finally, Moses concludes this pericope with a comment concerning boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk (Deut 14:21c). These directives would help Israel know what God expected of them and secured blessing if obeyed and cursing if not obeyed (Lev 18:26-30; Deut 11:26-28).

     Moses opens with a command, saying, “You are the sons of the LORD your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave your forehead for the sake of the dead” (Deut 14:1). This appears to refer to a mourning rite associated with the cult of the dead. Non-Israelites held to the notion that the deceased spirits of dead family members continued to exist and to wield influence over the living. Some practiced ancestor-worship. Jack Deere writes:

  • "The precise significance of the rituals mentioned here (Deut. 14:1)—laceration and shaving the head for the dead—is unknown today. But cutting oneself was a sign of mourning (cf. Jer 16:6; 41:5; 47:5; 48:37). However, it is clear that these practices reflected beliefs about the dead that conflicted with faith in the Lord, the ultimate Source of life. Therefore, when a loved one died, the Israelites were to demonstrate their faith in the Lord by refraining from these pagan practices."[1]

     Israel’s relationship with God required them to walk in conformity with His character. God is holy, which means He is upright and set apart from all that is fallen. God called His people be to be holy, which meant their behavior was to conform to His expectations, and they were not to act like the pagan nations around them. Moses wrote, “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deut 14:2). All of Israel was holy in the sense that they were set apart by the Lord and in a special covenantal relationship with Him. But God expected His people to behave in a holy manner, saying, “you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine” (Lev 20:26). Warren Wiersbe states:

  • "As a holy people, the Jews were set apart from all the other nations because the holy presence of the Lord was with them and they had received God’s holy law (Deut 23:14; Rom 9:4). Because they were a holy people, they were not to imitate the wicked practices of their neighbors, such as cutting their bodies or shaving their foreheads in mourning (1 Ki 18:28; Jer 16:6; 41:5)."[2]

     Continuing with the subject of holy living, Moses addressed the subject of eating, saying, “You shall not eat any detestable thing” (Deut 14:3). The detestable thing (Heb. תּוֹעֵבָה toebah) here refers to animals God declared as unclean for consumption (Deut 14:4-20).

     What Moses presents is a list of animals into three classes: 1) animals that roam on land (Deut 14:4-8), 2) animals that swim in water (Deut 14:9-10), and 3) animals that fly in the air (including insects, Deut 14:11-20). It’s likely this list is not exhaustive, but representative of each group. Jack Deere states “It has been suggested that certain animals in each group provide the standard for that class; any deviation from that standard renders the animal unclean. For example, the unclean birds are birds of prey that eat flesh without draining the blood and/or are carrion eaters, whereas clean birds are presumably those that eat grain.”[3] This distinction was not new, for Noah had known about clean and unclean animals at the time he constructed the ark (Gen 7:1-10). And this distinction was not based on any quality intrinsic to the animal, but was a designation set forth by the Lord; a designation we don’t fully understand. Some have thought these dietary restrictions were for hygienic purposes, and that’s possible. Peter Craigie states:

  • "Regarding this section…there has been debate over the principle underlying the regulations on permitted and prohibited foods. There are those who adopt the position that the underlying principle has to do with hygiene. Thus, an American doctor conducted a series of experiments to determine the levels of toxicity in the meats of the animals, aquatic creatures, and birds mentioned in Deuteronomy 14; he discovered that the various types of prohibited meats contained a higher percentage of toxic substances than those which were permitted."[4]

     However, because this pericope opens with a prohibition against pagan cultic practices associated with the cult of the dead, it seems likely that the dietary laws concerning clean and unclean foods were associated—in some way—with the pagan practices in Canaan. Perhaps the laws served both purposes. And we’re not even sure about the identity of all these animals. Warren Wiersbe states:

  • "We must admit that we don’t know what some of these creatures were and can’t identify them with creatures we know today. For example, the hare (Deut 14:7) certainly isn’t the same as our “rabbit” even though the NIV gives that translation. The rabbit doesn’t chew the cud, although the movements of his jaw and nostrils may look like that’s what he’s doing."[5]

     Though we cannot identify every animal, nor understand with absolute clarity all the reasons why some are declared clean and others unclean, we assume the Israelite to whom Moses spoke understood. Whatever we make of the dietary laws, they were pedagogical in nature and connected with God’s expectation of His people to be holy, and this was to distinguish them from the practices of surrounding cultures.

     Apart from the list of clean and unclean animals, Moses also said, “You shall not eat anything which dies of itself. You may give it to the alien who is in your town, so that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner, for you are a holy people to the LORD your God” (Deut 14:21a). It’s possible this prohibition was given because an animal that died of itself has not had the blood drained from it, which would make it prohibited for consumption (cf., Deut 12:16, 23, 27; 15:23). However, the dead animal—assuming its death was recent and its carcass suitable for healthy consumption—could be given as an act of charity for the benefit of the alien (Heb. גֵּר ger) who resided within the covenant community. Or, the dead animal could be sold to the foreigner (Heb. נָכְרִי nokri) who lived in the region, perhaps for business purposes. In both instances, the alien and foreigner were not under the requirements of the Mosaic Law, so they could eat the dead animal.

     Lastly, Moses closes this pericope with the statement, “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Deut 14:21b). It’s likely this practice was tied to the pagan Canaanite culture and represented something detestable. On the surface, it seems unnatural to take what is meant to promote life (milk) and use it to destroy life. In closing, these dietary laws were to be a part of Israel’s everyday activities and serve as a constant reminder of their relationship with the Lord and that they were to be set apart from the pagan practices that surrounded them.

Christians and Food:

     Christians living in the dispensation of the church age are also called to “be holy and blameless” before the Lord (Eph 1:4; cf. 1 Pet 1:15-16). Paul wrote to Christians, saying, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:1-2a). Such holy living also pertains to everyday activities such as eating.

     In our current dispensation, all foods are cleared for consumption. Jesus, when discussing things that defile a person, “declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19). God gave Peter a vision of all kinds of animals (Acts 10:10-12) and told him to “kill and eat” (Acts 10:13). But Peter refused the Lord’s directive, saying, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean” (Acts 10:14). But the divine reply came to Peter, saying, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:15). The primary reason for the vision was to teach Peter that he was now to accept the Gentiles as equal in the body of Christ, and that he “should not call any man unholy or unclean” (Acts 10:28). However, the Lord was simultaneously declaring all foods clean and Gentiles acceptable under His new program for the Church. The apostle Paul further revealed that foods are no longer an issue, saying, “Food will not commend us to God; [for] we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat” (1 Cor 8:8). And to the Christians living in Colossae, Paul stated, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (Col 2:16). Though Christians are not under dietary restrictions (except for the consumption of blood; see Acts 15:20); we should be mindful that our behavior—even concerning food—reveals something about our walk with God. For this reason, Paul instructed the Christian at Corinth, saying, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). Those who seek to live holy lives will do it to the glory of God.

 

 

[1] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 287.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 98.

[3] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 288.

[4] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 230.

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 100.

Deuteronomy 13:12-18

Deuteronomy 13:12-18

August 1, 2021

     Moses continues his sermon directing God’s people to maintain loyalty to the Lord. In the beginning of this chapter, Moses spoke of the false prophet who would arise among God’s people—even performing signs and wonders—and seek to lead them away from the Lord and into idolatry (Deut 13:1-5). In the second pericope, Moses spoke of the close family or friend who might secretly entice a believer to break allegiance with God and worship idols (Deut 13:11-12). In this third pericope, Israel’s spiritual leader addresses the possibility that certain worthless men might lead a whole city into idolatry (Deut 13:13-18). In all three examples, God prescribed the death penalty for those who promoted treason within the nation (Deut 13:5, 9, 15). These tests would arise throughout the nation’s history, and each Israelite would choose blessing if he/she kept allegiance with God, and cursing if they did not (Deut 11:26-28).

     Moses opens this section, saying, “If you hear in one of your cities, which the LORD your God is giving you to live in, anyone saying that some worthless men have gone out from among you and have seduced the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom you have not known), then you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly” (Deut 13:12-14a). In contrast to the direct speech one would hear from a false prophet who spoke publicly (Deut 13:1-2), or the words that came directly from a close relative or friend (Deut 13:6), it might happen that one would hear from secondary or tertiary sources about a city in Israel that had broken loyalty to God. To add to the egregiousness of the offense, Moses describes the city as one “which the LORD your God is giving you to live in” (Deut 13:12b). If the account of rebellion was true, it meant the residents of the city had taken God’s blessing and used it for sinful purposes. The offense was, “some worthless men have gone out from among you and have seduced the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom you have not known)” (Deut 13:13).

     The term worthless men is a translation of the Hebrew בְּלִיָּעַל belial, which occurs 27 times in Scripture (a few references include Deut 13:13; Judg 19:22; 20:13; 1 Sam 25:17; 1 Ki 21:9-13; Pro 6:12-14; 16:27; 19:28; Nah 1:11). The word means “Uselessness, wickedness…good for nothing.”[1] These were people whom God designated as worthless because they continually resisted His will and disrupted the activities of His people. Over time, the term Belial became a name for Satan (2 Cor 6:15), who embodies wickedness, worthlessness and trouble, always resisting God and seeking to harm those who walk with Him (1 Pet 5:8). Solomon wrote, “A worthless person [בְּלִיָּעַל belial], a wicked man, is the one who walks with a perverse mouth, who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet, who points with his fingers; who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, who spreads strife” (Pro 6:12-14). Elsewhere, Scripture describes the worthless person as one who “digs up evil” (Pro 16:27), “makes a mockery of justice” (Pro 19:28), and “plots evil against the LORD” (Nah 1:11). He leads others away from God (Deut 13:13), is given to lewd behavior (Judg 19:22), hides from justice (Judg 20:13), is unreasonable (1 Sam 25:17), defies authority (2 Sam 20:1), is willing to lie against the innocent and promote injustice (1 Ki 21:9-13), and seeks to overpower the timid leader (2 Ch 13:7). It should be noted that worthless persons can be born into good families, for “the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the LORD” (1 Sam 2:12). And, they can attach themselves to a godly leader and cause trouble, such as “the wicked and worthless men among those who went with David” (1 Sam 30:22).

     In Deuteronomy chapter thirteen, the worthless men engage in organized criminal activity, working as community organizers to seduce the leadership and inhabitants of their city. The enticement was to worship idols (and there was one for everyone), which permitted easy sinful behavior and made no demands for holiness. But in God’s kingdom, idolatry was treason against their good King who had liberated them from slavery and blessed them as His chosen people.

     However, rather than operate on hearsay, Moses instructed them, saying, “then you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly” (Deut 13:14a). This meant that some of Israel’s leaders were to send a team of investigators to the city and make a thorough inquiry in the matter to determine the facts. Moses states, “If it is true and the matter established that this abomination has been done among you, you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying it and all that is in it and its cattle with the edge of the sword” (Deut 13:14b-15). Action, or inaction, was to follow only after the facts were obtained. If the matter was proven true and all the residents of the city had broken the first commandment and turned to idolatry (Deut 5:7), then the death penalty was prescribed. All the guilty inhabitants of the city were to be killed and their property was to be utterly destroyed (Heb. חָרָם charam) along with them. If Israelites turned from the Lord and acted like the Canaanites, then they would be judged and treated like the Canaanites. This shows God’s actions of judgment were a response to the unethical behavior of His people who had turned away from Him in violation of the covenant.

     Moses said, “Then you shall gather all its booty into the middle of its open square and burn the city and all its booty with fire as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God; and it shall be a ruin forever. It shall never be rebuilt” (Deut 13:16). The action of judging the city included gathering everything to its center and offering it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. Furthermore, the city was not permitted to be rebuilt. Rather, it was to serve as a ruined memorial to others, that they might not follow worthless men and engage in such evil practices. The destruction of all the city’s property would also impede some who might be tempted to spread falsehood about a city, hoping to claim its wealth after the residents were killed.

     Moses said, “Nothing from that which is put under the ban shall cling to your hand, in order that the LORD may turn from His burning anger and show mercy to you, and have compassion on you and make you increase, just as He has sworn to your fathers” (Deut 13:17). If God’s directives were followed, and the guilty city destroyed, this would turn God from His anger for their violation of the covenant. In turn, the Lord would be merciful and compassionate because they humbly obeyed, and He would bless them with increase to make up for the lost members of the community who were killed. But this was conditioned on their obedience, as Moses said, “if you will listen to the voice of the LORD your God, keeping all His commandments which I am commanding you today, and doing what is right in the sight of the LORD your God” (Deut 13:18). Keeping God’s directives was the key to success and prosperity in the covenant community (see Deut 11:26-28).

     As Christians, we live in a fallen world that is spiritually and morally sick. God has a prescription, but the majority of those in the world reject Him, so the disease goes untreated. As those who have turned to Christ as Savior and been restored to God (forgiven and given new life), we now have the responsibility to grow into spiritual adulthood and live effectively for God and others (i.e., the demanding life of a disciple). This will only happen as we consistently make good choices that are rooted in God’s Word. We grow spiritually when we study the Bible (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17), and live by faith, following God’s directives (Matt 7:24; John 13:17; Jam 1:22). We learn God’s Word in order to live God’s will. The Lord says, “My righteous one shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). The believer whose mind is saturated with God’s Word, correctly understood and applied, “will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psa 1:3). But there are dangers and distractions to the Christian life. We must be careful who we choose as friends, for they will influence us, either for good or evil. We do well to choose good teachers who help us know Scripture, and good friends who encourage us to pursue God’s will. And we must not bow to moments of sinful pressure, nor go with the flow of our declining culture. God is at work in the world, but so is Satan and his demonic forces. We’re constantly confronted with value systems that are harmful and may lead us into destructive paths. Society is never neutral, and there are pressures that pull us to go with the flow. Sometimes that’s alright, but other times not. We realize any dead fish can float downstream, but it takes someone who is alive and strong to swim against it. We should strive to be that person who daily walks with God and who helps and encourages others to do the same. God has granted us the privilege of being a godly influence in the lives of others, whether with family, coworkers, or in the community. We should take these privileges seriously, knowing that our loving and godly behavior may lead others to Christ for salvation, and may encourage other Christians to know the Lord better and to walk closely with Him.

 

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 134.

Deuteronomy 13:6-11

Deuteronomy 13:6-11

July 31, 2021

     In the previous pericope, we learned about false prophets that Moses anticipated would openly seek to seduce God’s people into idolatry (Deut 13:1-5). In this section, Moses saw danger in a sibling, child, spouse, or close friend who might entice an Israelite to treason by turning away from the Lord and worshipping false gods. Israelites who succumbed to such an enticement would open themselves to God’s cursing (Deut 11:26-28). Moses opens this section, saying:

  • "If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom neither you nor your fathers have known), of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him." (Deut 13:6-8)

     Unlike the false prophet who enticed rebellion publicly, Moses anticipated a scenario in which close family or friends would privately promote rebellion against God (Deut 13:6-7). If/when this happened, the person who was being enticed was not to yield or listen to the satanically inspired counsel of his/her close family or friend. At that moment, the close family or friend who advocated treason was actually seeking the other person’s harm. Moses said, “your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him” (Deut 13:8b). Naturally one would be inclined to protect loved ones; however, Israelites were to love God and protect their relationship with Him above all else. The obedient-to-the-word Israelite was not to yield or listen to the family or friend who was enticing idolatry. Nor were they to show pity, which meant strong emotional ties were not to be a factor when doing God’s will. The Israelite was not to give asylum to the offender. In this scenario there were two temptations: 1) the temptation by a close family member or friend to engage in treason against the Lord by going after other gods (Deut 13:6-7), and 2) the temptation to show compassion for the close family or friend who was promoting criminal-evil behavior and to hide that person from the divine consequences due them.

     For better or worse, close family and friends have the potential to wield great psychological pressure which can influence thoughts, values, and behaviors. God had delivered Israel from slavery and oppression in Egypt and the nation had agreed to enter into a contract relationship with the Lord at Mount Sinai (Ex 19:1-8). As Israel’s Ruler, Lawgiver, and Judge (Isa 33:22), He promised to guide, provide, and protect them if they would follow His directives, but would also curse them if they disobeyed (Deut 11:26-28). Above all else, Israel was to maintain their relationship and walk with the Lord, not only for their own spiritual wellbeing, but for those around them. To turn to other gods would be a violation of the first commandment, which states, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Deut 5:7), as well as the great commandment which states, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:5).  The believer’s allegiance was to God above all others. The obedient-to-the-word believer would know God’s blessing, and this would spill over into the lives of others. However, Satan and his demonic forces are always at work in the lives of rebellious people, and these collaborate to push or pull God’s people away from the Lord. Satan cannot force the believer to leave the ground of God’s Word and God’s blessing, but he can and does seek to entice or pressure the believer to sin. If/when believers make the choice to turn away from the Lord, they become their own worst enemy and open themselves up to discipline. This will not only bring punishment upon God’s erring child, but will negatively influence the lives of others. Choices have consequences, either for or against God and self. Godly actions open doors of opportunity for serving the Lord and blessing others. Sinful actions close doors of opportunity for serving the Lord and can bring God’s cursing on self and others. No doubt Satan desires to turn as many people away from God as possible, and what starts as an individual act can spread to family and friends, communities, and the whole nation.

     Moses realized that sentimentality connected with family or close friends might hinder justice in the moment. But divine justice must take priority, as Moses said, “But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people” (Deut 13:9). The punishment was to fit the crime, and the witness was to have a part in the judicial process, which included the execution of that person who advocated treason against the Lord. This was a most serious situation that required total allegiance to God and personal integrity. The participation of others in the community showed their understanding of the seriousness of the crime and its potential harm on them all. If allowed to spread, the idolatry might endanger the community as a whole. Moses went on to say, “So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deut 13:10). God had rescued Israel from slavery and bondage, and they owed their allegiance to Him.

     Moses had previously stated that capital punishment could not occur on the basis of a single witness, saying, “no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness” (Num 35:30b). Later in Deuteronomy he would state, “On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness” (Deut 17:6; cf. 19:15). There was always the possibility that a false witness would rise up against a person and seek their harm. The Lord had forbidden this, saying, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Deut 5:20). The two or three witness policy would mitigate against this sort of falsehood. In fact, there was a statute that condemned the false witness to bear the punishment he/she sought to bring upon another, if they were caught in their falsehood. Moses said, “If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing…[and] if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother” (Deut 19:16, 19).

     Moses taught that allegiance to God must take priority over family or friends. If God’s Word was obeyed, this would create a healthy fear within the community, which would prevent further enticements of idolatry. Moses said, “Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such a wicked thing among you” (Deut 13:11). Punishment for crime can deter others from committing similar acts.

     Because sin is contagious, an egregious sin such as idolatry could spread from one family to another, to communities, and eventually infect the whole nation. Failure to follow this instruction would allow the spiritual disease to spread throughout the community, which could bring about the death of the nation. Unfortunately, this is what happened, as idolatry was permitted. A terrible example is seen in Solomon who allowed his wives to influence him to worship foreign gods (1 Ki 11:1-10), and this had a negative impact on the nation of Israel, as it encouraged others to worship idols. Because Israel pursued idols, this brought God’s judgment, which ultimately led to the nation’s destruction (2 Ki 17:6-23).

     Like Israel, Christians will encounter people who seek to lead us away from God, and these may even include family members. Like Israel, we are to resist those who seek to damage our walk with God, and this can mean taking extreme action in order to preserve our relationship with the Lord. However, unlike those under the Mosaic Law, punishment by death is not commanded, but rather, exposure and separation from the offending person. The reason for separation is to maintain our walk with the Lord. Peter wrote, “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘you shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:15-16). Living holy means we are set apart to the Lord for His purposes. However, if/when another Christian with whom we are in fellowship should turn away from the Lord and live sinfully (not the occasional sin, but ongoing sin), this can have a negative influence on us and impede our own walk with the Lord. After all, “bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor 15:33). If/when this happens, we are to disassociate from that rebellious person and preserve our walk with God. Paul stated, “I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one” (1 Cor 5:11). Disassociation was for the purpose of maintaining holiness with the Lord. We always hope the sinning Christian will come to his senses and come back into fellowship. In another place it is stated, “I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (Rom 16:17). And, “We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us” (2 Th 3:6). Such actions are never easy, for we love fellow believers and desire friendship with them. However, our walk with God must always take priority, for He is our greatest Friend, and allegiance to Him secures for us all that is strong and good and meaningful in life. And if/when the erring believer turns back to the Lord and resumes their walk-in-the-Word, then all will be as it should.

How to Test a Prophet

How to Test a Prophet

July 25, 2021

     The word prophet translates the Hebrew word נָבִיא nabi (Grk. προφήτης prophetes), which means “speaker, herald, preacher,”[1] and refers to one who served as the spokesman for another. For example, נָבִיא nabi was used of Aaron who was the spokesman for Moses (Ex 7:1-2). When called of God, the prophet communicated a message directly from the Lord. Sometimes the prophet engaged in forthtelling, in which he addressed sinful behavior within a community, calling God’s people to stop their evil practices and turn to righteous living. But sometimes the prophet engaged in foretelling, in which he revealed the future actions of God, either for judgment or salvation (i.e., The Exodus, the Rapture of the Church, the Tribulation, Millennial Kingdom, etc.). The prophets were primarily men, but did include women such as Miriam (Ex 15:20), Deborah (Judg 4:4), Huldah (2 Ki 22:14), and Anna (Luke 2:36). God’s prophets received His revelation directly and then communicated it to others (Ex 4:12; Jer 1:9; Amos 1:3), and sometimes they served as intercessors to God (Gen 20:7; Ex 32:10-14; 1 Sam 12:17, 19). Throughout Scripture there were true prophets to be obeyed (Deut 18:18; 34:10-11; 1 Sam 3:20; 2 Ch 25:15; 28:9; Hag 1:13; Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-11) and false prophets to be ignored (Deut 13:1-5; 18:21-22; Neh 6:12-13; Jer 23:25-28; Matt 7:15; 24:24; Acts 13:6; 2 Pet 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1-3; Rev 2:20). In the NT, the gift of prophecy was for the edification of others, as Paul wrote, “one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation” (1 Cor 14:3).

     It is important to understand that prophetic revelation always originates with God, as the prophet is merely the mouthpiece of the Lord. The Lord told Moses, “I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say” (Ex 4:12). To Isaiah the Lord said, “I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand” (Isa 51:16a).  And He told Jeremiah, “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth” (Jer 1:9b). We’re not exactly sure how this happened; however, what is clear, is that the words the prophet spoke originated with God. The apostle Peter stated, “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:21; cf. 1 Sam 10:6; 19:20). The word moved translates the Greek word φέρω phero, which means “to bear or carry from one place to another.”[2] Luke used the word φέρω phero to refer to ship that were propelled by a wind (Acts 27:15, 17). Paul wrote, “when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Th 2:13). Prophecy that was written became Scripture. And the prophets who wrote were not robots who merely dictated what God revealed, but maintained their personality, literary style, emotion, and volition.

     In the OT, Moses knew there would be false prophets that would arise and seek to lead God’s people away from their covenant agreement with the Lord. Concerning the false prophets, God said, they “are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds” (Jer 14:14; cf. Jer 23:16, 21). This deception derives from Satan and his demons who are active in the world and constantly seeking to subvert God’s activities and programs. God, in His sovereignty, permits Satan to have his way for a time. Ultimately, false prophets are agents of Satan and can appear as messengers of light (2 Cor 11:14-15). But God has equipped His people to be able to identify false prophets so they can be rejected. In Deuteronomy, Moses gave two objective tests that could be applied to the person who claimed to be a prophet and said, “Thus says the Lord.”

     First was the doctrinal test. In this test, there would appear someone who claimed to be “a prophet or a dreamer of dreams” (Deut 13:1), and would even perform a miraculous sign or wonder (Deut 13:2a). The miraculous sign or wonder performed by the false prophet functioned as a means of persuading others. However, the ability to perform a sign or wonder by itself proves nothing. When Moses was executing God’s plagues upon Egypt, it is recorded three times “the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts” (Ex 7:10-11; cf., 7:21-22; 8:6-7). Jesus warned, “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matt 24:24). And Paul spoke of the coming Antichrist, “whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Th 2:9-10).

     Though able to perform a supernatural act, the deceiver would reveal himself as a false prophet by his words, saying, “Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them” (Deut 13:2b). When the self-proclaimed-prophet teaches something that clearly violates God’s written Word, he/she reveals the source of their connection. To call God’s people to serve other gods is in violation of the first commandment, which states, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Deut 5:7), as well as the great commandment which states, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:5). Moses said, “you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut 13:3). Here is a test of allegiance. Those who love God will remain loyal to Him (Deut 13:4). Because Israel was a theocracy, and God was their Judge, Lawgiver, and King (Isa 33:22), He directed His people to execute the false prophet or dreamer of dreams (Deut 13:5a), “because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you” (Deut 13:5b). Only those who know God’s Word and live by it will guard themselves against the deceiving power of false miracle workers.

     Second was the short-term-fulfillment of a prophecy. On another occasion, God spoke about “the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak” (Deut 18:20a). Like the previous example of a false prophet, God prescribed the death penalty for such an action, saying, “that prophet shall die” (Deut 18:20b). Naturally, the Israelites would ask, “How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?” (Deut 18:21). The Lord’s answer was, “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deut 18:22; cf. Jer 28:9). Apparently, the prophet would be able to predict a short-term event that everyone could see for themselves and verify. Once the short-term prophecy was fulfilled in exact detail, the prophet’s long-term prophecies could be accepted and relied upon as valid. Jesus adhered to this test, providing short-term prophesies that came to pass (Mark 11:12-14, 19-20), which validated His long-term prophecies which are still pending (Matt 24:3—25:46).

Example of a True Prophet:

  • "Now behold, there came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of the LORD, while Jeroboam [King of Israel] was standing by the [pagan] altar to burn incense [to false gods; cf. 1 Ki 12:28-33]. 2 He [the true prophet] cried against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the [bones of the dead] priests of the high places [pagan worship centers] who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you [fulfilled 300 years later; cf. 2 Ki 23:15-20].’” 3 Then he gave a sign the same day [proving to everyone he was a true prophet], saying, “This is the sign which the LORD has spoken, ‘Behold, the altar [used by King Jeroboam] shall be split apart and the ashes which are on it shall be poured out.’” 4 Now when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.” But his hand which he stretched out against him dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. 5 The altar also was split apart and the ashes were poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD." (1 Ki 13:1-5)

In this example of a true prophet, we see where he spoke against the worship of false gods in agreement with written revelation (Deut 13:1-5; cf. Ex 20:1-5a), and validated himself by performing an observable short-term prophecy for others to witness (Deut 18:22).

Beware of False Prophets:

  • "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you [in the Church], who will secretly introduce destructive heresies [false doctrines], even denying the Master who bought them [attacking the Person of Jesus Christ and His redemptive work on the cross; cf. 1 John 4:1-3], bringing swift destruction upon themselves.  2 Many [in the church] will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned [outsiders will spurn Christianity]; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you [to get your money] with false words [πλαστοῖς λόγοις plastois logois – lit. plastic words, easily molded to accommodate the hearer]; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep." (2 Pet 2:1-3)

     False prophets/teachers will arise in churches and will seek to introduce false doctrines alongside true ones (2 Pet 2:1a; cf. Acts 20:28-30). These false prophets will attack the incarnation of Jesus Christ (2 Pet 2:1b; cf. 1 John 4:1-3), as well as His redeeming work of the cross (2 Pet 2:1). On this basis we know Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are cults. Unfortunately, many in the church will be misled by false teachers, and this will cause the Christian way to be maligned (2 Pet 2:2). The motivation of false prophets is greed, in which they will exploit others for money (2 Pet 2:3a). Their power lies in their false words which they employ to subjugate their hearers. But these false prophets/teachers have not escaped God’s notice, and their judgment is coming (2 Pet 2:3b). Exposure to false teachers is inevitable; however, the Christian mind is guarded and remains stable as the believer continually learns and lives God’s Word (Matt 7:24-27; 2 Cor 10:3-5; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). Some false teachers may be won to Christ (Acts 8:9-13), but others are to be resisted or avoided (Gal 2:4-5; Phil 3:2; 2 John 1:9-11).

     There are some Christians today who believe God continues to reveal Himself directly to His people. However, other Christians believe God reveals Himself today only through nature (general revelation), the Bible (special revelation), and providentially through circumstances. The Bible is the only source of special revelation, and God’s providential acts are only discernable by the Christian mind saturated with Scripture. Concerning faith and practice (orthodoxy & orthopraxy), the Bible is the only dependable source of divine revelation, and the Christian does well to know it from cover to cover. Christians are instructed to know God and His will through Scripture (Eph 4:11-16; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2), and the believer who knows and lives God’s Word will prove to be a blessing to others.

 

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 661–662.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1051.

Deuteronomy 12:32–13:5

Deuteronomy 12:32–13:5

July 24, 2021

     In the Hebrew Bible, Deuteronomy 12:32 appears as the first verse of chapter thirteen. In the previous lesson (Deut 12:29-31), Moses warned against being ensnared by idolatry and pagan practices after the Canaanites had been destroyed and their places of worship demolished (Deut 12:29-31). In that passage, Israel would prove to be their own worst enemy if they did not guard themselves against the enticements of the pagan practices of the Canaanites. In this pericope, God warns His people to be on guard against false prophets that will arise among them and seek to lead them away from the Lord.

     This section opens with the statement, “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it” (Deut 12:32). God was giving His people clear directives about how to live as He expects, and these commands were being codified, and were not to be modified in any way. Contracts and law codes rely on the integrity of language in which words and phrases retain authorial intent, and this is especially true when it comes to God’s Word. To add or remove words from God’s commandments speaks of a shift in authority from God to the receiver, as the Author’s infused meaning is ignored and the reader’s response becomes enthroned. Israel was a theocracy and God was their Ruler, Lawgiver, and Judge (see Isa 33:22). The Lord had liberated His people from Egyptian slavery and entered into a binding covenant relationship which they accepted (Ex 19:1-9). As their good King, God had every right to issue commands and direct their lives; not because He was a brutal tyrant who sought to subjugate and oppress them, but rather, that they might walk with Him and be blessed. All of this assumes the integrity of language, in which the author’s original meaning is permanently infused in the words and phrases he writes, and that language itself serves as a reliable vehicle for communication. The end result is that the hearer/reader is responsible to know what has been communicated and will be blessed or judged based on whether they respond to it positively or negatively. Here, the integrity of the written commands must be honored. The contract must not be modified. But there would be subversives among God’s people, as he warns them that false prophets would arise and seek to lead them contrary to God’s directives. Moses wrote:

  • “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul." (Deut 13:1-3)

     The word prophet translates the Hebrew noun נָבִיא nabi and refers to one who claims to be summoned by God and serves as His communicator or spokesman. God sometimes spoke to His prophets in their dreams (Num 12:6). Like the prophet, the dreamer of dreams (Oneiromancy) refers to one who claims to have divine revelation directly from God. Moses warns his people about the reality of false communicators that would arise among God’s people and seek to mislead them (Deut 13:1). Furthermore, these false prophets would be backed by Satan and be able to perform signs and wonders which actually come to pass (Deut 13:2a). Here, the sign or wonder functions as a means of persuading the ignorant and rebellious. The ability to perform a sign or wonder by itself proves nothing. When Moses was executing God’s plagues upon Egypt, it is recorded three times “the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts” (Ex 7:10-11; cf., 7:21-22; 8:6-7). Jesus warned that “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matt 24:24). And Paul spoke of the coming Antichrist, “whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Th 2:9-10). Only those who know God’s Word and live by it will guard themselves against the deceiving power of false miracle workers.

     False prophets are self-centered and don’t really care about God or others. They are motivated by pride, power, a following of people, and often a desire to gain wealth. When a pseudo miracle worker says, “Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them” (Deut 13:2b), he/she is, at that moment, in violation of the first commandment, which states, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Deut 5:7), as well as the great commandment which states, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:5). The false prophet is identified because he/she violates the clear teaching of Scripture. Moses said, “you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut 13:3). Thomas Constable writes:

  • "God permitted prophets to utter false prophecies to test His people’s love (v. 3). The test of a false prophet was his or her fidelity to the Mosaic Covenant. If he led the people away from God, the civil authorities were to put him to death (v. 5). Some false prophets would foretell the future since they received information from the evil spirit world (e.g., diviners, soothsayers, etc.). Some of them could even perform signs and wonders (supernatural acts) to substantiate their claim that their power came from God. Enticement to idolatry was a very serious crime in Israel."[1]

Jack Deere adds:

  • "Miraculous signs alone were never meant to be a test of truth. Miracles happen in many religions because Satan uses false religions and false prophets to deceive the world (cf. 2 Cor. 11:13–15; Eph. 6:11; Rev. 12:9). So Moses warned the people that the standard for truth must never be a miraculous sign or wonder (or other areas of human experience). The standard of truth is the Word of God. A prophet’s or a dreamer’s prediction may come true. But if his message contradicted God’s commands, the people were to trust God and His Word rather than their experience of a miracle. If human experience seemed to contradict God’s clear teachings the Israelites were to bow in submission to God’s commands, for His Word is truth (cf. John 17:17)."[2]

     God had revealed Himself directly and through Moses, and once that revelation became inscripturated (i.e., written down), it could not be modified by anyone. The written revelation could be understood through normal reading and applied by faith in those who received it. Once studied and understood, God’s Word was to serve as the foundation for the walk of faith. Though we enjoy our experiences and feelings, these should never serve as our guide for Christian living. When there is a conflict between God’s truth and our experiences or feelings, we are to live by faith and trust God at His Word.

     God permits His people to be exposed to false prophets and teachers. But this exposure is didactic in nature, as the outcome reveals the heart of those who claim to love the Lord. Often, we don’t like trials or tests, but it is these very things that expose what is really in our hearts and whether we are as committed as we often claim. Peter thought he was strong in himself and would never deny the Lord (Matt 26:34-35); however, his claim was untested, and his self-perception proved wrong when the test actually came. Peter denied the Lord three times (Matt 26:69-74), and then wept bitterly when the truth of his weak heart was made manifest (Matt 26:75).

     Moses directs his people to faithfulness, saying, “You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him” (Deut 13:4). Moses drives his point by means of action words, telling his people they must follow, fear, keep, listen, serve, and cling to the Lord and His commands. The mind and will must be in agreement, as the believer seeks to know God’s Word in order to live His will. But the false prophet or dreamer of dreams “shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you” (Deut 13:5). The death penalty against false prophets and dreamers of dreams was necessary, for if they continued, they would lead God’s people away from Him and this would guarantee the Lord’s judgment (Deut 11:26-28). The phrase, you shall purge the evil from among you occurs nine times throughout Deuteronomy (Deut 13:5; 17:7, 12; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21–22, 24; 24:7). By killing the false prophet who counseled treason against the Lord, it would purge the evil person from the community. It should be remembered that Israel was a theocracy, and God was their Judge, Lawgiver, and King (Isa 33:22), and He set their laws and demanded enforcement. To promote idolatry was an attempt to subvert God’s ruling authority over His people and would bring judgment.

     Like Israel, God will allow us to be exposed to false representatives (Matt 7:15; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Pet 2:1-3). But we are to see these moments as a test, as an opportunity to show our loyalty to God by rejecting the false teacher and their message and staying true to the Lord. In the Church Age, we are not directed to execute false prophets, teachers, or miracle workers who seek to lead us away from the Lord; rather, we are not to associate with them (Rom 16:17; 2 Th 3:14), nor welcome them into our home (2 John 1:9-11).

 

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Dt 12:32.

[2] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 286.

Deuteronomy 12:29-31 - Human Sacrifice in the OT

Deuteronomy 12:29-31 - Human Sacrifice in the OT

July 18, 2021

     Moses anticipates that his hearers will enter Canaan and that God will give them victory over the corrupt pagan nations that occupy the land. But Moses warns his people to guard themselves that they do not become trapped in the idolatry that brought about God’s judgment on the Canaanites. Moses said, “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?’” (Deut 12:29-30). The word beware translates the Hebrew verb שָׁמַר shamar, which means to guard, be careful about, watch over, and in this context refers a warning that after victory, the Israelites were to guard themselves against the idols and practices that ensnared (נָקַשׁ naqash) the Canaanites and brought about God’s judgment. Moses follows with the statement, “You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.” (Deut 12:31; cf., Lev 18:21; 20-1-5). Some of the abominable acts practiced by the Canaanites included gross sexual immorality, which included all forms of incest (Lev 18:1-20; 20:10-12, 14, 17, 19-21), homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13), and sex with animals (Lev 18:23; 20:15-16). They also engaged in the occult (Lev 20:6), were hostile toward parents (Lev 20:9), and offered their children as sacrifices to Molech (Lev 18:21; 20:1-5; Deut 18:10). God specifically told His people, “You shall not follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them” (Lev 20:23). Yet, this is what Israel did throughout their history (Psa 106:37-38; 2 Ki 17:6-23; Jer 7:30-31; 19:4-5; 32:35; Ezek 16:20-21).

Excurses on Human Sacrifice in the Old Testament

     Cultures throughout human history have practiced human sacrifice. Some of these include Chinese, Egyptians, Canaanites, Greeks, Romans, Africans, Incans, Mayans, Aztecs, Peruvians, Europeans (Brit, Celts), Vikings, Koreans, and Native American Indians.[1] Glenn Sunshine states:

  • "Most pagan religions practiced human sacrifice at some point in their history. Each of the three principal gods of the Celts demanded human sacrifices by a different means—Taranis by bashing the skull in with an axe or burning, Esus by strangling, and Teutates by drowning. The Druids, who presided over these sacrifices, were also well known for putting prisoners of war in wicker cages and burning them alive as a sacrifice to the gods. The Norse also engaged in widespread human sacrifices, with perhaps the best documented taking place at the temple of Uppsala, Sweden. The Greeks and Romans also engaged in human sacrifice in their earlier history. Greek legend tells of a number of human sacrifices in the Mycenaean period, but according to Plutarch the Greeks sacrificed humans as late as the Persian Wars, just prior to the battle of Salamis in 480 BC."[2]

     When it comes to sacrificing their children, the United States of America outdoes all previous cultures. As of 2021, more than 62 million babies have been aborted in America since Roe v. Wade.[3] Most children are sacrificed for the parent’s self-interest. One resource states, “In the USA, where nearly half of pregnancies are unintended and four in 10 of these are terminated by abortion, there are over 3,000 abortions per day.”[4] And girls are more likely to be aborted than boys, which translates to a form gendercide.[5] The killing of innocent human life is a violation of the sixth commandment, which states, “You shall not murder” (Deut 5:17). Of course, forgiveness is available to those who turn to Christ as their Savior. This is true for any sin, however heinous, even murder.

     According to the Mosaic Law, human sacrifice was regarded as murder (Lev 18:21; Deut 12:31; 18:10), and God prescribed death for those practiced it (Lev 20:1-2). We know from Scripture that by the end of his life King Solomon turned away from the Lord and worshipped idols, even building places of worship for them (1 Ki 11:4-8). These pagan worship sites were later used by Israelites to sacrifice their children (Jer 32:31-35). It is recorded that two of Israel’s kings, Ahaz and Manasseh, caused their sons to be burned alive to pagan gods (2 Ki 16:1-3; 21:1-6). Apparently, other Israelites were also sacrificing their sons and daughters to idols (Psa 106:37-38; Jer 7:30-31; 19:4-5; 32:31-35; Ezek 16:20-21). Paul tells us that such sacrifices are actually offered to demons (1 Cor 10:20), so it’s no surprise that such sacrifices are hellish. Because Israel became corrupt, God destroyed and expelled them from the land by means of military defeat from their enemies. Child sacrifice is mentioned in the list of sins that brought the nation to destruction (2 Ki 17:6-23).

     Critics have raised three problem examples of human sacrifice in the Bible, and these include 1) Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, 2) Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter, and 3) God the Father’s sacrifice of His Son, Jesus.

     First, in Genesis 22, Moses records an event in which “God tested Abraham” concerning his son Isaac (Gen 22:1). The Lord told Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Gen 22:2). It’s important to note that this was a test of Abraham’s faith. God has a pattern of testing His people to humble them (Ex 16:4; 20:20; Deut 13:3; Judg 3:1-2; Isa 48:10). Abraham obeyed and did as the Lord instructed, right up to the moment that Isaac lay bound on the rock, with Abraham’s hand raised, ready to slay him with a knife (Gen 22:3-11). But God interrupted and told him, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Gen 22:12). Abraham then turned and saw a ram caught in a thicket, which he took and offered to God “in the place of his son” (Gen 22:13). Abraham passed the test. He loved and trusted the Lord above all else, even his precious son, Isaac. Abraham learned that God provides for him; therefore, he named the place “The Lord Will Provide” (Hebrew יְהוָה יִרְאֶה Yahweh Yireh or Jehovah Jireh) (Gen 22:14). The writer to the Hebrews mentions this event in the life of Abraham, and states, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your descendants shall be called.’ He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type” (Heb 11:17-19).

     Second, in the book of Judges there was an incident where a man named Jephthah offered his daughter as a sacrifice to God, and this because of a vow he made to the Lord (Judg 11:29-40). It’s possible that Jephthah felt he had to barter with God as an act of diplomacy in order to secure his victory over the Ammonites, and he did this by making a vow (Judg 11:30-31). God gave Jephthah victory over Israel’s enemies, so Jephthah kept his vow. However, it should be noted that Jephthah’s act of sacrifice was not commanded by the Lord. Furthermore, it’s possible, based on an alternate reading of Judges 11:31, that Jephthah only dedicated his daughter to service to the Lord rather than actually killing her. The two major views concerning Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter are as follows:

  1. Jephthah actually offered his daughter as a human sacrifice, and the statement “a burnt offering” should be taken at face value. If this is the case, then Jephthah probably derived this strange understanding and commitment from the Canaanite culture, for human sacrifice was forbidden under the Mosaic Law (Lev 18:21; 20:2-5). This would also explain Jephthah’s grief when he said to his daughter, “You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back” (Judg 11:35).
  2. Jephthah only dedicated his daughter for service to the Lord and did not kill her (cf. 1 Sam 1:9-11; 26-28). This understanding is derived from an alternate reading of Judges 11:31 in which Jephthah’s vow was to dedicate for service whoever “or” whatever came through the door of his home (YLT). If a person, he/she would be dedicated to God for a lifetime of service, “or” if an animal, it would be sacrificed. This view is both linguistically possible and contextually favorable because Jephthah knew Scripture well enough not to make such a blunder (Judg 11:15-27), the text seems to emphasizes dedication when it reads that his daughter “had no relations with a man” (Judg 11:39), and future generations honored her faithfulness (Judg 11:40).

In both of the above possible understandings of Jephthah’s actions, God never commanded human sacrifice, and Jephthah is never praised for what he did.

     Third, some have criticized the cross of Jesus as a form of forced human sacrifice. The argument is that God the Father forced His Son, Jesus, to be sacrificed on a cross to die a horrible death. It is true that God offered His Son as a sacrifice for our sins; however, Scripture reveals that Jesus went to the cross as a willing substitute, to lay down His life for us. Isaiah tells us, “The LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering” (Isa 53:10a). In this verse we see the Father sent and Jesus went. It was an agreement between the two. Jesus said, “the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:17-18). And after Jesus died and was buried in a grave, “God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible” (Acts 10:40). Furthermore, the Father “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:20-21). Jesus was not forced to go to the cross, so His death cannot be compared to the human sacrifices in the Old Testament, in which children and adults were forced to die against their will.

 

[1] Owen Jarus, 25 Cultures That Practiced Human Sacrifice, Live Science (https://www.livescience.com/59514-cultures-that-practiced-human-sacrifice.html).

[2] Glenn S. Sunshine, Why You Think the Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 29–30.

[3] Sam Dorman, “An estimated 62 million abortions have occurred since Roe v. Wade decision in 1973”, (https://www.foxnews.com/politics/abortions-since-roe-v-wade).

[4] Worldometer, https://www.worldometers.info/abortions/

[5] Abortion in numbers, (https://thelifeinstitute.net/learning-centre/abortion-facts/issues/the-numbers).

Deuteronomy 12:20-28

Deuteronomy 12:20-28

July 17, 2021

     Moses opens this pericope with an expectation that his audience will enter the land of Canaan and take possession of it. Once in it, Moses also expects that God will bless His people by expanding their territory and giving them abundant food to eat, saying, “When the LORD your God extends your border as He has promised you, and you say, ‘I will eat meat,’ because you desire to eat meat, then you may eat meat, whatever you desire” (Deut 12:20). This was a repetition of what he’d said previously (Deut 12:15). Jack Deere comments:

  • "Modern readers may find this repetition a bit tedious. But it should be remembered that Deuteronomy was originally presented in sermonic form to Israel. Normally repetition is important in the learning process, but it is doubly important in oral presentations as the audience does not have the opportunity to “read” over something missed the first time."[1]

     Moses continues, saying, “If the place which the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, then you may slaughter of your herd and flock which the LORD has given you, as I have commanded you; and you may eat within your gates whatever you desire. Just as a gazelle or a deer is eaten, so you will eat it; the unclean and the clean alike may eat of it.” (Deut 12:21-22). When Israel was in the wilderness, the tabernacle was situated in the middle of their campground and God required His people kill their domesticated animals in front of the sanctuary and priests (Lev 17:1-5). This was doable because of the proximity of the tabernacle. However, it appears Moses modified this law to account for great distances an Israelite would have to travel once God chose a sacred space where His name would be permanently represented. Daniel Block writes:

  • "Without modifications to the Sinai legislation, everyday diet would be restricted to wild game and vegetarian foods, and the people would have to be satisfied with eating the meat of domesticated animals only at celebrations at the central sanctuary. In this passage Moses modifies the previous regulations, removing a legal constriction of Israelite life in the land and inviting the people to enjoy the products of their labor and the blessing of Yahweh."[2]

Jack Deere adds:

  • "The earlier prohibition (Lev 17:1–12) against eating meat without offering it first at the tabernacle was only meant to apply while the Israelites were in the wilderness, when their “homes” were near the religious sanctuary. Now the people were about to move into the Promised Land where the majority would live too far away from the central sanctuary to bring all meat there. So permission was given to slaughter and eat animals at home for “secular” meals."[3]

     Here we see the Lord extending freedom to kill and eat those animals not offered to God in worship. These were animals the people desired to eat, but the great distance they would need to travel made killing it difficult. So, the Lord relaxed His previous command in order to satisfy their desires. And it did not matter if the Israelite was ceremonially clean or unclean, since the animal was not going to be used for worship, but only consumption. And Moses repeats his previous command about not eating the animal’s blood, saying:

  • "Only be sure not to eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. You shall not eat it; you shall pour it out on the ground like water. You shall not eat it, so that it may be well with you and your sons after you, for you will be doing what is right in the sight of the LORD. Only your holy things which you may have and your votive offerings, you shall take and go to the place which the LORD chooses. And you shall offer your burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, on the altar of the LORD your God; and the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the LORD your God, and you shall eat the flesh." (Deut 12:23-27)

     As mentioned in the previous lesson, Israel was to understand that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev 17:11a) and was to treat it with respect in all situations. The blood symbolized life, which God has given to all creatures. If the animal was killed at home, the blood was to be drained before eating. If the animal was brought to the tabernacle or temple, the blood was to be drained beside the altar. In those ritual offerings the priests would catch some of the blood and sprinkle it on the altar or on the mercy seat, atop the ark of the covenant, on the Day of Atonement. In this way they treated the blood of the animal as special. This requirement not to eat animal blood was not unique to Israel, for God had previously forbidden Noah and his descendants from eating blood, saying, “you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gen 9:4). And this command was repeated in the New Testament to Christians, calling them to “abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood” (Acts 15:20).

     Moses desired his people be blessed by the Lord, and he knew that blessing depended on their faithful obedience to His commands. Therefore, Moses said, “Be careful to listen to all these words which I command you, so that it may be well with you and your sons after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God” (Deut 12:28). Be careful translates the Hebrew verb שָׁמַר shamar, which generally means to guard, keep, watch over, or preserve. Here, it refers to the obligation of the Israelites to adhere to God’s commands. If they would obey the Lord, the result is that it would be well them as well as their children after them. By obeying God’s command, they would ensure His approval and blessing, not only for themselves, but for their children after them.

     For the Christian, the subject of blood in the New Testament is significant, especially the blood of Christ. In the Old Testament, an animal was sacrificed and its blood was shed in order to atone for sin. Concerning the animal sacrifice, God told His people, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Lev 17:11). The word atonement translates the Hebrew verb כָּפַר kaphar, which means to “cover over, pacify, propitiate, [or] atone for sin.”[4] The animal that gave its life on the altar covered the offender’s sin; but this was a temporary covering, until Jesus could come and offer Himself as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). To take away sin—and the guilt caused by sin—communicates the doctrine of expiation. Jesus came into this world and lived a perfectly sinless life (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and then gave “His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). As believers, we are redeemed, not by anything this world can offer or by anything we can do, but by “His precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:19). The “blood of Christ” refers to Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, in which He bore our sin and paid the penalty that rightfully belonged to us. The blood of Christ is the coin of the heavenly realm that God accepted as payment for our sin. As a result of the death of Christ, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood” (Rom 3:24-25a). Propitiation translates the Greek word ἱλαστήριον hilasterion which refers to a sacrifice that satisfies God’s righteous demands for our sins. The sacrifice changes God’s disposition toward us from wrath to satisfaction. At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness required, and saves the sinner as His love desires.

     When we believe in Christ as Savior (1 Cor 15:3-4), we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7), given new life (John 10:28), and gifted with God’s own righteousness (2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). At the moment of salvation, there is relational peace between us and God (Rom 5:1), and we have become part of His family (Eph 2:19), will never be condemned (Rom 8:1), and made free to serve Him in righteousness (Rom 6:11-14; Tit 2:11-14).

 

[1] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 285.

[2] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 316.

[3] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 285.

[4] Francis Brown, S.R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers 1979), 497.

The Gospel Explained

The Gospel Explained

July 14, 2021

     The gospel is the solution to a problem (see video presentation). It’s the good news that follows the bad news. There are two parts to the problem. First, God is holy (Psa 99:9; Isa 6:3; Rev 15:4), which means He is positively righteous and separate from all that is evil. Being holy, God can have nothing to do with sin except to condemn it (Hab 1:13; 1 John 1:5). Second, all mankind is sinful and separated from God (Rom 3:10, 23). We are sinners in Adam (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Rom 7:14-25; 13:12-14), and sinners by choice (Isa 59:2; Jam 1:14-15). Some who experienced God’s holiness automatically saw their sinfulness (Isa 6:5; Luke 5:8). To further complicate the problem, we are helpless to solve the sin problem and save ourselves (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3). Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa 64:6; Rom 4:1-5; Gal 2:16, 21; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5; cf. Phil 3:4-9). We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon. But God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph 2:3-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is the cross of Christ (1 Cor 1:18). God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35; John 1:1, 14), lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt 5:17-21), and willingly died in our place and bore the punishment for our sins. Jesus solved both problems: 1) He lived the righteous life that God demands and committed no sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and 2) He died for us on the cross and paid the penalty for all our sins (Isa 53:1-12; Mark 10:45; Rom 5:6-10; 1 John 2:2). Peter informs us that Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). The cross is God’s righteous solution to the problem of sin, as well as His greatest display of love toward sinners. At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness required, and pardons the sinner as His love desires. To understand the cross of Christ is to understand the heart of God toward a fallen world He wants to save.

     Scripture reveals that after Jesus went to the cross and died for our sins, He was buried, and raised again on the third day (Matt 16:21; 17:22-23; Luke 24:6-7; Acts 10:38-41; 1 Cor 15:3-4). After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to numerous persons over a period of forty days, namely, Mary Magdalene and other women (Matt 28:1-10; John 20:10-18), two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32), the disciples without Thomas (John 20:19-25), the disciples with Thomas (John 20:26-29), the disciples by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-23), Peter, James, and more than 500 brethren at one time (1 Cor 15:5-7), the apostle Paul (1 Cor 15:8), and lastly, to the disciples at the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9-12). Jesus’ resurrection means He conquered sin and death and will never die again (Rom 6:9).

     In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; 20:30-31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31). The gospel message is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), and receive the righteousness of God as a free gift (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9).

Deuteronomy 12:8-19

Deuteronomy 12:8-19

July 11, 2021

     Moses continued his address to Israelites who were poised to enter the land of Canaan, saying, “You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes; for you have not as yet come to the resting place and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you” (Deut 12:8-9). He instructed them that the paradigm for wilderness worship they were familiar with would be different when they entered the land. This was because their nomadic condition was about to change and they would find themselves living in settled places. Moses continued to say:

  • "When you cross the Jordan and live in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies around you so that you live in security, then it shall come about that the place in which the LORD your God will choose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution of your hand, and all your choice votive offerings which you will vow to the LORD." (Deut 12:10-11)

     In verse 10 Moses implies the crossing of the Jordan would certainly happen, they would take possession of the land God promised to give them. Here was another reminder that God owns the world and controls who occupies territories (cf., Deut 10:14; 2 Ch 20:5-7; Psa 24:1; 89:11; Acts 17:24-26). Not only would God give the land, but would also provide security. And once there, God would set apart a specific place where His people could meet Him for worship. There, they would bring their burnt offerings which were sacrifices wholly devoted to the Lord, their sacrifices of which they could eat a portion along with the Levite, their tithe of produce, as well as the offerings they’d vowed to the Lord. This first occurred at Shiloh under the leadership of Joshua (Josh 18:1). Later, during the time of Samuel, the tabernacle and ark was at Mizpah (1 Sam 7:6), and then Nob (1 Sam 21:1-6). The place of worship finally rested in Jerusalem under the leadership of David and Solomon. Concerning this, Eugene Merrill writes:

  • "As is well known, the first permanent location of the tabernacle was Shiloh (Josh 18:1), a site chosen only after the land had been brought under control. How long after the conquest Shiloh was chosen cannot be known precisely, but it seems to have been a minimum of seven years (cf. Josh 14:7–10). In the meantime, it is clear that altars of the kind authorized by the Lord in Exodus 20 were built in Canaan both before (Josh 8:30) and after the selection of Shiloh as the place of national convocation (Josh 22:10–11; Judg 6:24–26; 13:20; 21:4; 1 Sam 7:17; 2 Sam 24:18–25)."[1]

     Concerning this place and time of worship, Moses said, “And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance with you” (Deut 12:12). The adult parents are here addressed as those who should rejoice before the Lord (lit. before the face of Yahweh you God), and this was to include their children and servants who were part of the household unit. And Moses instructs them to include the Levite who lives in their town, since he possessed no land to cultivate, and relied on the goodness and obedience of other townsfolk.

     The instruction concerning sacrifices continued, as Moses said, “Be careful that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every cultic place you see, but in the place which the LORD chooses in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you” (Deut 12:13-14). Here, God called His people to be set apart from the Canaanite culture that surrounded them, specifically concerning the location where sacrifices were to be offered. Warren Wiersbe provides the following insight:

  • "Canaanite worship permitted the people to offer whatever sacrifices they pleased at whatever place they chose, but for Israel there was to be but one altar. The Jews were allowed to kill and eat livestock and wild game at any place (Deut 12:15, 21-22), but these animals were not to be offered as sacrifices when they were killed. The only place where sacrifices were accepted was at the altar of God’s sanctuary, and the only people who could offer them were the Lord’s appointed priests. The Lord didn’t want His people inventing their own religious system by imitating the practices of the pagan nations. During the decadent days of the Judges, that’s exactly what some of the people did (Judg 17-18)."[2]

     For those animals not offered to God in worship, the Lord extended freedom to His people to eat whatever they wanted, saying, “However, you may slaughter and eat meat within any of your gates, whatever you desire, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you; the unclean and the clean may eat of it, as of the gazelle and the deer” (Deut 12:15). In this passage, there was the option to eat whatever meat they wanted within the city gates, whether wild animals or those God declared acceptable for sacrifice. And it did not matter if the Israelite was ceremonially clean or unclean, since the animal was not going to be used for worship, but only consumption (cf., Deut 12:20-22). Eugene Merrill states:

  • "Life in the land would bring widespread settlement, so much so that it would be impossible from a practical standpoint for all acts of worship, including sacrifice, to be carried out at any one central place, to say nothing of the slaughter of animals for food. Thus, animals could be slain in local villages—even those normally reserved for sacrifice—to provide a food supply (vv. 15, 20–22). Such animals could be considered as wild game in such circumstances, that is, they could be used for noncultic purposes. This is why both the ceremonially clean and unclean could partake of it (v. 15b)."[3]

     However, whether the animal was to be used for religious worship or secular consumption, the Lord placed a prohibition on all Israel, saying, “Only you shall not eat the blood; you are to pour it out on the ground like water” (Deut 12:16). Israel was to understand that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev 17:11a) and was to treat it with respect in all situations. The blood symbolized life, which God has given to all creatures. If the animal was killed at home, the blood was to be drained before eating. If the animal was brought to the tabernacle or temple, the blood was to be drained beside the altar. In those ritual offerings the priests would catch some of the blood and sprinkle it on the altar, or on the mercy seat atop the ark of the covenant on the Day of Atonement. In this way they treated the blood of the animal as special.

     But there were some sacrifices that could only be eaten at the tabernacle or temple, as Moses wrote, “You are not allowed to eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or new wine or oil, or the firstborn of your herd or flock, or any of your votive offerings which you vow, or your freewill offerings, or the contribution of your hand” (Deut 12:18). Those animals dedicated to the Lord were off limits for consumption, and could only be consumed at the centralized place of worship which the Lord prescribed (cf. Deut 12:6, 11). The Lord’s instruction continued, saying, “But you shall eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God will choose, you and your son and daughter, and your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all your undertakings” (Deut 12:18). In typical fashion, Moses repeats himself to his audience in order to drive a point. Moses’ emphasis is that animals devoted to the Lord could be eaten only at the place God prescribed, and meal participants were to include sons and daughters, male and female servants, and the Levite who resided within the town. And this worship was to be a time of rejoicing before the Lord, a celebration that included the family and others. And then, in order to drive his point even further, Moses states, “Be careful that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in your land” (Deut 12:19). Because the Levites did not own land, they were dependent on the obedience and good will of their fellow Israelites to watch out for them and care for them for their daily needs.

     As we covered in a previous lesson, there is no specialized priesthood in the dispensation of the Church Age. Rather, every Christian, at the moment of salvation, becomes a priest to God (1 Pet 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6). Furthermore, we do not worship at a prescribed centralized location as Israel did; rather, “we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16; cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17). And we do not bring grain or animal sacrifices, but “offer up spiritual sacrifices” to God (1 Pet 2:5). The basic functions of the Christian priesthood include:

  1. The continual giving of the body for service to the Lord (Rom 12:1-2).
  2. Confessing our sins directly to God (1 John 1:6-9).
  3. Sharing the gospel with others (Rom 15:15-16).
  4. Offering praise to God (Heb 13:15).
  5. Doing good works and sharing with others (Heb 13:16; cf. Phil 4:18).
  6. Giving our lives for the benefit of others (Phil 2:17; cf. Phil 1:21-26; 2:3-4).
  7. Walking in love (Eph 5:1-2; cf. 1 Pet 1:22).

     Lastly, Pastor-Teachers are not a special class of priests, nor is tithing to the church obligatory for Christians. However, the NT makes it clear that it is valid for “those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14), and “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him” (Gal 6:6). In this way, believers support their Pastor-Teachers for the work they do.

 

[1] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 224.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 83.

[3] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary, 226.

Deuteronomy 12:1-7

Deuteronomy 12:1-7

July 10, 2021

     Deuteronomy chapter twelve begins a new section as Moses commences to provide statutes and judgments to Israelites who are poised to enter the land of Canaan. This new section starts in 12:1 and runs through 26:15. It should be remembered that Deuteronomy is law (תּוֹרָה torah) presented as a sermon. Moses’ message is not an exhaustive restating of the law codes which had been given to the previous generation; but rather, a representative restating that emphasized a quality of life the Israelites were to follow. These laws provided the framework for Israel to be blessed if they obeyed them, and cursing if they did not obey (Deut 10:12-13; 11:26-28).

     In Deuteronomy chapters 1-5, Moses reviewed the nation’s past to remind them of all God’s work in delivering them. Then, in chapters 6-11, Moses explained how Israel should respond to the Lord’s goodness with an attitude of humility and commitment love to God. Moses was seeking to strengthen their love and faith in God in order to motivate them to walk in obedience. Moses desired their blessing in the new land they were about to enter. Moses’ instructions in the following chapters direct the nation’s vertical relationship with God as well their horizontal relationship with each other.

     Anticipating entrance into the land of Canaan, Moses stated, “These are the statutes and the judgments which you shall carefully observe in the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess as long as you live on the earth” (Deut 12:1). Statutes likely refers to written laws, and judgments to case laws. The statutes assume authorial intent as well as the integrity of language in which words and phrases carry specific meaning from the author to the audience down through time. The judgments—case laws—are legal precedents in which judges applied the law to specific cases. These judicial rulings serve as samples when analyzing future cases that might have ambiguities. In verses 2-3 Moses calls for the Israelites to purge the land of Canaan of all forms of idolatry, and in verses 4-7 to replace them with worship that is approved by the Lord.

     The Israelites were commanded, “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree” (Deut 12:2). To utterly destroy translates the Hebrew verb אָבַד abad, which, in the Piel stem, means “to cause to perish…to destroy.”[1] Other translations render the verb as “destroy completely” (Deut 12:2 CSB), “surely destroy” (Deut 12:2 ESV), “by all means destroy” (Deut 12:2 NET). Here is a divine mandate to cancel the pagan Canaanite culture by tearing down and removing all vestiges of idolatry. Failure to remove the idols would be comparable to an alcoholic that attempts to deal with her alcoholism by throwing away only ninety percent of the alcohol in the home, or to the heroin addict that discards only eighty percent of the heroin in his possession. The remaining temptation, no matter how small, would always serve as a dangerous enticement to a destructive lifestyle. Concerning the worship of idols on high places and under every green tree, Warren Wiersbe states:

  • "The religions of the Canaanite peoples were both false and filthy. They worshiped a multitude of gods and goddesses, chiefly Baal, the storm god, and Asherah, his consort. The wooden “Asherah poles” were sex symbols, and the people made use of temple prostitutes as they sought to worship their gods. Since the major goal of the Canaanite religion was fertility for themselves and for their crops, they established places of worship on the mountains and hills (“the high places”) so as to get closer to the gods. They also worshiped under the large trees, which were also symbols of fertility. Their immoral religious practices were a form of magic with which they hoped to please the gods and influence the powers of nature to give them bountiful crops."[2]

     Moses specifically states, “You shall tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and burn their Asherim with fire, and you shall cut down the engraved images of their gods and obliterate their name from that place” (Deut 12:3). This command was a reiteration of previous commands to destroy the altars, sacred pillars, Asherim and engraved images (Deut 7:5, 25). To obliterate their name means to remove their memory from the land. Of course, the written record would serve as an historical reminder about these places and events, and this would allow the Israelites to remember their history from a proper theological perspective. Daniel Block writes:

  • "Moses assumes that obliterating the physical symbols of paganism will reduce the temptation of idolatry. Thus, he commands the Israelites to obliterate the name of their gods from every place where they are worshiped. This action will remove all reminders of their existence, delegitimize the sites as centers of worship, neutralize the respective divinities’ claim to the sites and the surrounding regions, and set the stage for Yahweh’s election of a place for himself, and with this his exclusive claim to the land."[3]

     The Israelites were told, “You shall not act like this toward the LORD your God” (Deut 12:4). The Israelites were not to act toward Yahweh the way Canaanites acted toward their pagan idols. Israel was to be holy, distinct, separate from the values and practices of the pagan nations around them. Warren Wiersbe states:

  • "Israel worshiped the true and living God, while the pagans in the land worshiped dead idols that represented false gods. The Canaanites had many shrines, but Israel would have one central place of worship. There is a definite contrast in the text between “all the places” in Deuteronomy 12:2 and “the place” in verses 5, 11, 14, 18, 21 and 26:2 The Canaanites built many altars, but Israel was to have but one altar. The Canaanites sacrificed whatever they pleased to their gods and goddesses, including their own children, but the Lord would instruct the Jews what sacrifices to bring, and He made it clear that they were never to sacrifice their children."[4]

     In contrast to the Canaanite practices, Moses tells God’s people, “But you shall seek the LORD at the place which the LORD your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come” (Deut 12:5). The central place of worship was the tabernacle at the time when Moses wrote, and this moved about as the Lord chose. The place of God’s choosing is mentioned twenty times from this point onward and refers to the location where God’s people would meet the Lord for worship (Deut 12:5, 11, 14, 18, 21, 26, 14:23-25; 15:20; 16:2, 6-7, 11, 15-16; 17:8; 18:6, 26:2; 31:11). Later, this place of worship became fixed in Jerusalem (2 Sam 24:18-25; 1 Ch 21:18).

     Moses describes the practice of worship, saying, “There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock” (Deut 12:6). In this verse Moses provides a basic theology of worship and lists seven expressions of worship for the Israelite.

  1. Burnt offerings – an animal sacrifice in which the whole carcass was consumed by fire (Lev 1:1-17). This pictured total dedication to God.
  2. Sacrifices – animal sacrifices in which the blood and fat were to be burned on the altar, and the meat was to be eaten by the presenter and the priest together in the presence of the Lord (Lev 7:11-15).
  3. Tithes – the tenth portion of crops and animals (Deut 14:23).
  4. The contribution of your hand (special gifts) – these were contributions made at any time and were set apart specifically for the Lord (Lev 22:21).
  5. Votive offerings – a vowed offering (Lev 7:16-17; 22:21).
  6. Freewill offerings – these were spontaneous offerings of happiness (Lev 22:21).
  7. The firstborn of herds and flocks – the firstborn animal from the herd or flock (Deut 15:19-21).

     And this was to involve the whole family, as Moses states, “There also you and your households shall eat before the LORD your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the LORD your God has blessed you” (Deut 12:7). These worship events were to be characterized by joy with the whole family. To eat the meal “before the LORD your God” implied the Lord was present at each meal as a personal participant (Deut 12:18; 14:23, 26; 15:20; 27:7). Rejoicing in connection with worship is mentioned several times in Deuteronomy (Deut 12:7, 12, 18; 14:26; 16:11).

     Unfortunately, we know from Scripture that Israel failed to obey this command and the remnant of evil in the land became a corrupting influence (Psa 106:34-39). Over time Israel did not obey the Lord, and the place of God’s choosing had been forgotten, and idolatry became prevalent. It was during the reign of Josiah (2 Ki 22:1), that a copy of Deuteronomy was found in the temple (2 Ki 22:8-20), and the land was largely purged of idolatry and the temple restored to its proper place of function (2 Ki 23:1-25). However, after Josiah died in 609 BC, the four subsequent kings all did evil in the sight of the Lord until eventually Judah and Jerusalem were destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians and many taken into captivity for seventy years.

     As a reminder to us as Christians, we do not live in a theocracy and there is no land that God requires us to take by force. Rather, we find ourselves, for the most part, living in pagan societies that promote values contrary to Scripture. Though most of the people we encounter are indifferent to God, we are to love them, pray for them, and share God’s truth when we have opportunity. Jesus said, “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35). Though we are to love others, we must also guard ourselves from being polluted by worldly values that can injure our walk with the Lord. David’s instruction is valuable when he states, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psa 1:1-3).

 

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 3.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 80.

[3] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 305.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series, 81.

Matthew 16:1-12
Deuteronomy 11:18-32

Deuteronomy 11:18-32

June 27, 2021

     As Moses nears the end of his sermon to the second generation of Israelites, he calls for them to take personal responsibility for what he’s giving to them and to make sure it’s deeply seated in their minds. What Moses tells them in Deuteronomy 11:18-20 is similar to what he stated in Deuteronomy 6:4-6; albeit with slight variation. One would expect this sort of variation from someone who was speaking extemporaneously. Moses tells them:

  • "You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (Deut 11:18-20)

     Moses knew he would die soon and would not be present to help instruct and guide the nation into righteousness. He was faithfully communicating God’s revelation to the nation, but it was their responsibility to take what was given and plant it into their minds so that it flowed in their stream of conscious thought and influenced their daily activities. Some Israelites took Moses’ words literally and made phylacteries which they wore on their hands and foreheads (Matt 23:5), as well as mezuzahs they placed on doorposts, all of which contained Scripture. Here, the meaning is symbolic. God’s commands were to be wrapped up in their daily activities (hand), and always in the forefront of their thinking (forehead). Moses’ words were to impact the audience in front of him, that they might learn God’s will and faithfully transmit it to their children, who will pass it along to their children, and so on. The activity of teaching one’s children was to occur at all times and in all locations. Sitting suggests times of rest, and walking speaks of activity. When you lie down suggests evening time, and when you rise up suggests the morning hours. These form a double merism which encompass of all of life. God’s Word was to permeate all aspects of society, starting with their homes (doorposts of your house), and influencing the activities of the leaders who met to discuss social and legal matters at the entrance of the city (gates). God’s Word in the heart is the greatest deterrent to idolatry and sinful living.

     Learning and living God’s Word would yield benefits for the Israelite who followed God’s directives. Moses specified the benefit, saying, “so that your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied on the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens remain above the earth” (Deut 11:21). God’s Word learned and lived would benefit the immediate hearers and doers, and it would also benefit their children after them. Jack Deere states:

  • "Only by letting God’s words invade every area of their lives and homes and by diligently teaching them to their children could the nation hope to escape the seduction of false worship and find permanent prosperity in the land of promise given by the Lord on oath to their forefathers. The same principle applies to Christians today. Commitment to know and obey the Scriptures keeps believers from contemporary forms of false worship (cf. 2 Tim 3:1–9 with 2 Tim 3:14–17). Therefore, Paul exhorted all Christians to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col 3:16)."[1]

     Each generation of Israelites had the blessing and curse before them. It was up to them to continue in obedience to the Lord, or turn away from Him and serve other gods. Blessing and cursing were always on their horizon, and how they lived before God determined the state of the nation. Moses said, “For if you are careful to keep all this commandment which I am commanding you to do, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him, 23 then the LORD will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you” (Deut 11:22-23). Their moral behavior before God would guarantee military victory over their enemies. Israel’s commitment-love to God and obedience to His directives would determine their future success, even though they faced great obstacles. Israel was not to fear the people in Canaan, for God was with His people and would guarantee their victory.

     As Israel advanced in God’s will, He would give them every bit of land which they walked on, saying, “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours; your border will be from the wilderness to Lebanon, and from the river, the river Euphrates, as far as the western sea” (Deut 11:24). Here, Moses included the boundaries of the land which God had promised earlier to Abraham (Gen 15:18). Concerning this section of land, William MacDonald states:

  • "Those who walked in the ways of the Lord would drive out the heathen Canaanites and possess all the land their feet walked on. The rule of possession is given in verse 24. All the land was theirs by promise, but they had to go in and make it their own, just as we have to appropriate the promises of God. The boundaries given in verse 24 have never been realized historically by Israel. It is true that Solomon’s kingdom extended from the river (Euphrates) to the border of Egypt (1 Kgs 4:21), but the Israelites did not actually possess all that territory. Rather, it included states that paid tribute to Solomon but maintained their own internal government. Verse 24, along with many others, will find its fulfillment in the Millennial Reign of the Lord Jesus Christ."[2]

     Concerning the residents of the land of Canaan, Moses explained that God would instill fear into their hearts, saying, “No man will be able to stand before you; the LORD your God will lay the dread of you and the fear of you on all the land on which you set foot, as He has spoken to you” (Deut 11:25). Here was an example of divinely induced psychological warfare, in which God Himself would instill fear into the minds of Israel’s enemies, thus neutralizing the threat (cf. Deut 2:25). Israelites found this to be true as they advanced into the land under the leadership of Joshua (Josh 2:9; 5:1).

     All Moses communicated to God’s people was intended to educate and encourage them to love the Lord and to walk in His directives. Moses placed God’s Word before the people, but it was up to them to lay hold of it and walk in it. However, being the covenant people of God, bound in a contract relationship with the Lord, they were not free to walk away from it without consequence. To obey would result in God’s blessing, but to disobey would result in God’s cursing. Moses said, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am commanding you today; 28 and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known” (Deut 11:26-28). Through Moses, God gave them only two possible futures. If they accepted God’s present offer, they would cross the Jordan River and enter into the land. However, once they entered Canaan, the Israelites would find themselves on a battlefield, and only their continued walk with the Lord would determine the outcome of each battle. Today’s decisions touch tomorrow’s victories.

     Once in the land, Israel was to mark the occasion by a special event in which they would gather at a specific location and read aloud the blessings and cursings. Moses wrote, “It shall come about, when the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, that you shall place the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal” (Deut 11:29). This was a specific location where the nation would renew the covenant with God. Moses stated, “Are they not across the Jordan, west of the way toward the sunset, in the land of the Canaanites who live in the Arabah, opposite Gilgal, beside the oaks of Moreh?” (Deut 11:30). In antiphonal chorus, half the tribes would stand on Mount Gerizim and shout the blessings, and the other half would stand on Mount Ebal and shout the curses. This was done under the leadership of Joshua (Josh 8:30-35). Moses also stated this location was “beside the oaks of Moreh” which were in Shechem (Deut 11:30b). Abraham stopped at the oaks of Moreh as he traveled through Canaan (Gen 12:6), and it was also the place where Jacob buried the family idols and devoted himself wholly to the Lord (Gen 35:1-4). Eugene Merrill comments on the importance of the location of Shechem, saying:

  • "The reason for the selection of Shechem and its vicinity was clearly the association of this holy place with the patriarchs to whom the Lord had first appeared and made covenant promises concerning the land. It was there that Abraham had built his first altar (Gen 12:6–7); there Jacob had bought a piece of property (Gen 33:19), where he built an altar (Gen 33:20) and dug a well (John 4:6); and there his son Joseph was buried (Josh 24:32). From those ancient days onward Shechem was closely associated with covenant making of all kinds, both legitimate and illegitimate (cf. Josh 24:1–28; Judg 9:1–21)."[3]

     Israel’s love for God and obedient behavior determined her national and historical success, not only in the moment, but for future generations that would follow in righteousness. Moses said, “For you are about to cross the Jordan to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall possess it and live in it, 32 and you shall be careful to do all the statutes and the judgments which I am setting before you today” (Deut 11:31-32). God was about to bless the nation with victory and possession of the land of Canaan; however, they were to be careful to follow the Lord’s directives.

     As Christians living in the dispensation of the Church Age, we are not under the Mosaic Law, which refers to “the statutes and ordinances and laws which the LORD established between Himself and the sons of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai” (Lev 26:46). For the Christian, the New Testament speaks of “the perfect law of liberty” (Jam 1:25), “the royal law” (Jam 2:8), the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2), and “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2). The body of Scripture that sets forth God’s directives for the Christian is found in Romans chapter one through Revelation chapter three. And just like Israel, God desires to bless us, but we must learn His Word and walk in His ways (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2), and pursue a life of righteousness and good works (Gal 6:10; Tit 2:11-14). Obedience is rewarded by the Lord (Rom 14:10; 1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 Cor 5:10), and disobedience results in discipline (1 Cor 11:32; Heb 12:5-11; Rev 3:19).

 

[1] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 283.

[2] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 211.

[3] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 214.

Deuteronomy 11:1-17

Deuteronomy 11:1-17

June 26, 2021

     Moses opens this pericope with a concern for Israel’s relationship with God. He does not want them to obey the Lord merely because He’s their King, but because they understand His goodness, that He has chosen them for a relationship, purpose, and blessing. For this reason, Moses states, “You shall therefore love the LORD your God, and always keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commandments” (Deut 11:1). To love the Lord was a choice-response to trust and walk with Him. This love would manifest itself by obedience to His will.

     God’s deliverance from Egypt was personally experienced by some of Moses’ audience, as they were part of the younger generation—under twenty—who could personally recall the exodus event (Num 14:29). They knew about God’s judgment on Egypt, the Passover event, crossing the Red Sea, destruction of Pharaoh’s army, God speaking to them at Mount Sinai, His provision for their needs in the wilderness, and His judgment that fell upon them because of their rebellion. Moses stated:

  • "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, 3 and His signs and His works which He did in the midst of Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to all his land; 4 and what He did to Egypt’s army, to its horses and its chariots, when He made the water of the Red Sea to engulf them while they were pursuing you, and the LORD completely destroyed them; 5 and what He did to you in the wilderness until you came to this place, 6 and what He did to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, the son of Reuben, when the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, their households, their tents, and every living thing that followed them, among all Israel— 7 but your own eyes have seen all the great work of the LORD which He did." (Deut 11:2-7)

     Moses’ selective recollection of God’s blessings and discipline upon the nation were didactic in nature. These events served to reveal God’s faithfulness to them. The Lord preferred to bless them (Deut 11:2-5), but being holy, He could not suffer their foolishness and rebellion (Deut 11:6). Those whom Moses addressed had personally witnessed the the events he was recalling (Deut 11:7), and these could share their experiences with the next generation. In what follows, Moses shifts his language from recalling God’s past actions of blessing and judgment to exhortation and obedience. Israel was to believe that their God who judged Egypt, rescued and cared for them, and judged the unfaithful, could and would lead them into the land of Canaan. But their future blessing or cursing required them to know and obey God’s Word.

     In order for Israel to receive God’s blessings and avoid His judgments, they would need to learn His Word and obey His directives. Moses wrote, “You shall therefore keep every commandment which I am commanding you today, so that you may be strong and go in and possess the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, 9so that you may prolong your days on the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give to them and to their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut 11:8-9; cf. Deut 4:40). The call for obedience was followed by two purpose clauses: 1) that they would be strong and go in and possess the land (vs. 8), and 2) that they would prolong their days in the land (vs. 9). Jack Deere states:

  • "Moses wanted the people to draw an important conclusion from his brief review of their history (vv. 1–7). Since God had designed Israel’s past experiences to bring about her moral education, it should have been plain to the nation that their experiencing the Lord’s grace or judgment depended on their moral behavior. Therefore, they could prosper in the new land only by observing (obeying) all God’s commands. The strength of the Israelites was directly related to their obedience. So the supernatural ability to conquer enemies stronger than they and the ability to live long in the land (cf. 4:40; 5:16; 6:2; 25:15; 32:47) was ultimately a question of ethics, not military skill."[1]

     Moses portrayed the land as attractive, as “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Moses had previously described the land of Canaan as consisting of “great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, [and] vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant” (Deut 6:10-11). And in another place described Canaan as “a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without scarcity, in which you will not lack anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper” (Deu 8:7-9). The land of Canaan was move-in-ready for Israel to take, as the Canaanites were under God’s judgment, for they had forfeited the land because of their wickedness (Deut 9:4-5).

     Compared to Egypt, Canaan was a special land. Moses stated, “For the land, into which you are entering to possess it, is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, where you used to sow your seed and water it with your foot like a vegetable garden” (Deut 11:10). In Egypt, the cultivation of the land and food production was entirely by human effort. Eugene Merrill comments:

  • "The technique referred to is attested in ancient texts and drawings and still exists in parts of Egypt. It consists of networks of ditches, canals, and holding tanks from and into which river water could be “pumped” by means of a paddlewheel-like device called a shadūf in Arabic. This was powered by pedals or similar systems so that one could indeed say that the irrigation was done by foot."[2]

     In contrast to the land of Egypt, God was bringing His people into a land that He personally cared for. Moses stated, “But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, 12 a land for which the LORD your God cares; the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year” (Deut 11:11-12). The blessing was that Israel would not have to rely on human effort to make sure the land was watered, for God Himself would provide rain from heaven. And unlike the pagan gods who slept and went on trips, Yahweh would not sleep or go away, so His eyes were always fixed on the land and He would ensure the rain from the beginning to the end of the year.

     Being in a contractual relationship with God, Israel’s blessing or cursing depended on obedience to Him. God had already shown Himself to be loving, faithful, powerful, and one who desired their best. Israel could expect God to keep His word and send them rain for their crops at the proper times. The provision of rain did not depend on them working the land—like they did in Egypt—but on their obedience to knowing and walking in God’s will. To be clear, God was not buying their obedience; rather, He was promising to reward them for faithful service.

     Moses told them, “It shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, 14 that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil” (Deut 11:13-14). Obedience was the key to blessing, for if God’s people would commit themselves to His directives, He would send the rain at the proper seasonal times. The people were informed, “He will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied” (Deut 11:15; cf. Deut 7:13). Here is another example of God’s logistical grace, as He will provide for all their needs.

     But Israel could forfeit their blessings if they turned away from the Lord and disobeyed Him. Moses warned them, saying, “Beware that your hearts are not deceived, and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them” (Deut 11:16). God’s people could be deceived by taking in false doctrine. The people who occupied the land, as well as the surrounding culture, were pagan through and through. If Israel did not take care to guard their hearts, they could succumb to cultural pressures, which would lead them to turn away from God and worship idols. If Israel did this, Moses warned them, “the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and He will shut up the heavens so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit; and you will perish quickly from the good land which the LORD is giving you” (Deut 11:17). The Canaanites worshipped Baal and other fertility deities that promised fruitful seasons. Baal idol worship included sensual ritual sex—at pagan altars and in fields—designed to provoke the deity to send rain. Jack Deere states: 

  • "Unless the people of Israel were extremely careful, they could easily be enticed by their pagan neighbors to enter into the sensual worship of these deities. It would simply be a matter of transferring their trust in the Lord for the fertility of their land to one or more of those false gods. And this worship, which was divorced from the realm of ethics and which emphasized ritual sex, was so appealing to human hearts that careless and morally undisciplined Israelites would be drawn into its fatal web."[3]

     The bilateral covenant between God and Israel promised blessing or cursing depending on how they responded to the Lord. If Israel would love God in return and follow His directives, He would give them blessing. However, if they chose not to love the Lord and follow His directives, then blessing was withheld and cursing would follow (Deut 11:26-28).

     God has a history of providing tangible blessings for His people; however, as Christians living in the dispensation of the Church Age, we are not promised physical blessings or real estate. Rather, God has chosen to bless us spiritually in Christ (Eph 1:3). Some of these blessings are as follows:

  1. We are the special objects of God’s great love (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:4-5).
  2. We are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 2:13; Heb 10:10-14).
  3. We are children of God (John 3:6; Gal 3:26; 1 Pet 1:23; Tit 3:5).
  4. We are given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; 20:31).
  5. We are given the gift of God’s righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9)
  6. We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3).
  7. We are made alive together with Christ (Eph 2:5).
  8. We are raised up and seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6).
  9. We are the recipients of His grace (Eph 2:8-9).
  10. We are justified before God (Rom 3:24-28; 5:1).
  11. We have relational peace with God (Rom 5:1).
  12. We are given citizenship in heaven (Phil 3:20).
  13. We are made ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20).
  14. We are transferred from Satan’s domain of darkness to the kingdom of Christ (Col 1:13; 1 Thess 2:12; cf. Acts 26:18).
  15. We are all saints in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:18-19; 2:19).
  16. We are priests to God (Rev 1:6).
  17. We are God’s elect (Rom 8:29-33; Eph 1:4).
  18. We are the recipients of His faithfulness (Heb 13:5; Phil 1:6; 1 Th 5:24).
  19. We have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4, 10-13).
  20. We are members of the Church, the body of Christ (Eph 1:22-23; Col 1:18).
  21. We are indwelt and sealed with the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; Eph 1:13).
  22. We have special access to His throne of grace (Heb 4:16).
  23. We are guaranteed a new home in heaven (John 14:1-3).
  24. We are guaranteed resurrection bodies (1 Cor 15:50-58).
  25. We will be glorified in eternity (Rom. 8:18, 30; Col. 3:4).

     As Christians, we must grow up and become spiritually mature. This means devoting ourselves to the Lord to learn and live His Word by faith. Obedience means we’ll have a proper identity rooted in divine viewpoint, a healthy spiritual self-esteem, and a purposeful walk with the Lord. Failure to grow up means we’ll live ignorantly of God’s calling and forfeiture of His blessings, both in time and eternity.

 

[1] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 282.

[2] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 208.

[3] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 282.

Matthew 15:1-20
Deuteronomy 10:12-22

Deuteronomy 10:12-22

June 13, 2021

After Moses revealed God had spared the nation from destruction, he educated them about how to avoid being in that place again. Israel had a choice concerning the quality of their lives, and it was based on their relationship with God. Moses desired their success and informed them about God’s expectation. Moses said: “Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13and to keep the LORD’S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deut 10:12-13). Moses, having shown that Israel could not survive without God (Deut 8:1-20), and that her history revealed a tendency to be prideful and rebellious (Deut 9:1—10:11), called the nation to be committed to the Lord and walk in His will. God’s requirement of His people was set forth in a series of commands: 1) to fear Him, 2) to walk in all His ways, 3) to love Him, 4) to serve Him with all their heart and soul, and 5) to keep His commandments. All these were intended for their good. The central theme of these commands is love; for if Israel would love God, they would keep His commands. Warren Wiersbe states:

  • "The sequence of these five imperatives is significant: fear, walk, love, serve, and keep. The fear of the Lord is that reverential awe that we owe Him simply because He is the Lord. Both in the Old Testament and the New, the life of faith is compared to a walk (Eph 4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15). It starts with a step of faith in trusting Christ and yielding ourselves to Him, but this leads to a daily fellowship with Him as we walk together in the way that He has planned. The Christian walk implies progress, and it also implies balance: faith and works, character and conduct, worship and service, solitude and fellowship, separation from the world and ministry and witness to the world. Obeying Him is “for our own good” (Deut 10:13), for when we obey Him, we share His fellowship, enjoy His blessings, and avoid the sad consequences of disobedience."[1]

     What God required of Israel was a right attitude and conduct that conformed to His will. This started with an attitude of fear, in which they properly reverenced God. By fearing the Lord, they would be inclined to “walk in all His ways and love Him” as they should. Walking in God’s ways meant walking in the prescribed path He set for them, a path He would journey with them. As they walked with God, they would come to know and love Him. They were commanded to serve the Lord with all their being. This included all their abilities and resources. And they were to keeps God’s laws which guided them into right-living as they conformed to His standards of expectations.

     The God who called them to walk with Him could meet all their needs, as Moses said, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it” (Deut 10:14). And Israel was special to God, as they were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who had received the promises of God’s blessing upon their children. Moses revealed, “Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day” (Deut 10:15). God had initiated His love toward Israel, a rebellious nation, and this should have motivated them to love Him in return and to love others as well. God’s love toward us is the same (Rom 5:8; 1 John 4:10). Because Israel was in a special relationship with God, they were to live righteous lives, and not in conformity with the fallen world around them. In this way, they were to have a right attitude and a humble heart that was willing to do His will. Moses wrote, “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer” (Deut 10:16). A circumcised heart meant they would no longer be stiff-necked, but responsive to the Lord, submitting themselves to His will. Jack Deere comments:

  • "Thus the command to circumcise their hearts assumes that human hearts are naturally rebellious and need correction. Though human hearts are slow to change, Moses warned the nation that no bribe or anything less than an inward transformation could satisfy the Lord, who is the great God. God’s treatment of the helpless (the fatherless … the widow, and the alien) further illustrates His absolutely just character (showing no partiality) and highlights His requirement for Israel to be just."[2]

Warren Wiersbe adds:

  • "Circumcision wasn’t a guarantee that every Jewish man was going to heaven (Matt 3:7–12). Unless there was a change in the heart, wrought by God in response to faith, the person didn’t belong to the Lord in a vital way. That’s why Moses exhorted them to let God “operate” on their hearts and do a lasting spiritual work (see Deut 30:6), a message that was repeated by the prophets (Jer. 4:4; Ezek 44:7, 9) and the Apostle Paul (Rom 4:9–12; see Acts 7:51)."[3]

     God is a righteous Ruler and He always acts justly. “For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe” (Deut 10:17). When Moses describes God as the “God of gods and the Lord of lords”, he’s using Hebrew superlatives to say He’s sovereign over all. Though God is mighty and awesome, He is no tyrant; rather, He is just in all His ways and will not “show partiality or take a bribe.” God’s actions are seen in how He regards the needy, as “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing” (Deut 10:18). Eugene Merrill states:

  • "Such a description does not admit to the reality of other gods but simply emphasizes the absolute uniqueness and incomparability of the Lord and his exclusive right to sovereignty over his people (cf. Deut 3:24; 4:35, 39). As Lord over all he cannot be enticed or coerced into any kind of partiality through influence peddling (v. 17) and, in fact, is the special advocate of defenseless persons who are so often victims of such unscrupulous behavior (v. 18)."[4]

Daniel Block writes:

  • "Having declared in principle Yahweh’s absolute justice, in verse 18 Moses explains how this is implemented to the advantage of the vulnerable in society: the fatherless, the widow, and the alien. All three classes of people are easily preyed upon and subject to abuse because they lack a father or husband or older brother to protect and care for them."[5]

     As God’s people, Israel was to model His love for others. This love was also to be born out of their own experience, as Moses reminds them that they were previously aliens and slaves in a foreign land, saying, “So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Deut 10:19). The alien (Heb גֵּר ger) was the foreigner who migrated to Israel because they saw something good in their God and the law code He’d given. There was a place for the stranger to be welcomed, protected, and provided for under the legal system. And Israel was to remember that they were formerly aliens in Egypt and knew what it meant to be the vulnerable class. Daniel Block states:

  • "The term gēr (“alien”) refers to an outsider who has chosen to leave the security of family and homeland to try to make a living in a foreign context. Remarkably Yahweh, the God of Israel, is not so ethnocentric as to be blinded to the plight of the non-Israelites in their midst. Going beyond the privileges granted to resident aliens in Exodus 12:48, Moses declares that Yahweh extends to the alien the same covenant commitment (“love”) he had demonstrated toward their ancestors (4:37; 10:15). He does so not with mere words but in action, providing them with “food and clothing.”" [6]

     All Moses set forth could be accomplished if the people would reverence God and walk closely with Him. Moses said, “You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name” (Deut 10:20). Here, again, is a call to loyalty to the Lord, which loyalty would manifest itself in obedience to the Lord’s commands. Moses then points to God’s worthiness because He has done great things for the nation, saying, “He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen” (Deut 10:21). By recognizing God’s love and blessings upon them, they would naturally praise Him. One of the greatest of God’s acts was the preservation and multiplication of His people when they went into captivity in Egypt, as Moses revealed, “Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven” (Deut 10:22). Israel’s existence and great size were themselves a display of God’s power and goodness.

     In summary, Moses is providing historical and theological context to Israel’s existence and present state of opportunity. They were the fortunate recipients of God’s sovereign grace and goodness. Furthermore, the Lord who made them numerous and positioned them for blessing is a righteous God who requires they live by His righteous commandments. To accomplish this, they must remove their pride and submit themselves to His will. And they were to show sympathy and regard for the vulnerable in society, namely the orphan, widow, and alien, and their love was to be tangible, in the form of food and clothing, just as God had provided food and clothing for them. God called for His people to care for the vulnerable, not only because it reflected His heart, but because Israel could identify with them, for they were formerly vulnerable aliens living in the land of Egypt. All of God’s commands were intended to lead to blessing His people, but Israel had a role to play in their relationship with Him and must abide by His laws. Blessing or cursing hung in the balance (Deut 11:26-28).

 

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 70.

[2] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 281.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series, 71–72.

[4] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 204.

[5] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 273.

[6] Ibid., 273.

Deuteronomy 10:1-11

Deuteronomy 10:1-11

June 12, 2021

     In the previous chapter, Moses gave a history lesson to the second generation of Israelites, explaining how the nation came near to destruction because they had angered God by their rebellion and disobedience. But like other occasions, Moses had interceded for them, and God’s anger was averted. Moses then describes how God renewed the covenant with them, saying “At that time the LORD said to me, ‘Cut out for yourself two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to Me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood for yourself’” (Deut 10:1). God, being gracious, was willing to renew the relationship with His people. Commanding Moses to cut out two tablets of stone implied God would rewrite the Ten Commandments on them as He’d done the first time.

     God told Moses, “I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered, and you shall put them in the ark” (Deut 10:2). God, who had initiated the covenant at Mount Sinai, was willing to renew it. The ark made of acacia wood was the container where the covenant tablets were stored (Ex 25:16). Moses revealed himself as obedient to God’s command, saying, “So I made an ark of acacia wood and cut out two tablets of stone like the former ones, and went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hand” (Deut 10:3). It’s likely this ark was a temporary container that would hold the two copies of the Ten Commandments. Later, Moses commissioned a more elaborate ark to be constructed by the expert craftsman Bezalel (Ex 37:1-9). The final ark was kept by the priests in the Holy of Holies and was significant, especially on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:11-14). It would seem Moses carried the tablets with him up the mountain, but left the ark with the priests.

     Moses records that God carried out His word, saying, “He wrote on the tablets, like the former writing, the Ten Commandments which the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me” (Deut 10:4). With the second copy of the Ten Commandments in hand, Moses states, “Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark which I had made; and there they are, as the LORD commanded me” (Deut 10:5). As Israel’s leader, Moses portrays himself as obedient to the Lord, following His commands.

     What follows in Deuteronomy 10:6-9 is parenthetical, as Moses presents the Levites as the custodians of the covenant tablets. Furthermore, current scholarship has not been able to accurately identify the places that are mentioned here; except perhaps Moserah, which is likely near Mount Hor, the place where Aaron died (Num 20:23-24; 33:38-39; Deut 32:50). Moses records, “Now the sons of Israel set out from Beeroth Bene-jaakan to Moserah. There Aaron died and there he was buried and Eleazar his son ministered as priest in his place. From there they set out to Gudgodah, and from Gudgodah to Jotbathah, a land of brooks of water” (Deut 10:6-7). Though the location of these places cannot be accurately identified, they nonetheless reveal the events as both historical and geographical, occurring in time and space.

     Moses gives special attention to the tribe of Levi, saying, “At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to serve Him and to bless in His name until this day” (Deut 10:8). The Levites were blessed to serve as custodians of the covenant tablets that were kept inside the ark, which only they were permitted to carry. More so, the Levites were called to “stand before the Lord to serve Him”, which meant they were responsible for the sacrifices (Ezek 44:11). The Levitical priests were to mediate between God and the people.

     Furthermore, Moses explained the Levites did not have a land inheritance, but something more; namely, God Himself would be their inertance. Moses wrote, “Therefore, Levi does not have a portion or inheritance with his brothers; the LORD is his inheritance, just as the LORD your God spoke to him” (Deut 10:9). The Levites were not given land, but they were given cities where they could live (Num 35:1-8), and these cities were spread throughout the land of Canaan. Having the Lord as their inheritance meant they would have a perpetual place of service in Israel and would receive the tithes (Num 18:20-24).

     Today, there is no specialized priesthood, and the Catholic Church—or any organization—is not justified in creating a priestly cast within the body of Christ. Presently, in the church age, every Christian, at the moment of salvation, positionally becomes a priest to God. Peter wrote of Christians, saying, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5), and “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).[1] This is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, who “has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (Rev 1:6), and “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (Rev 5:10; cf. 20:6). Furthermore, we do not worship at a temple; rather, “we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16; cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17). And we do not bring animal sacrifices, but “offer up spiritual sacrifices” to God (1 Pet 2:5). The basic functions of the Christian priesthood include:

  1. The continual giving of the body for service to the Lord (Rom 12:1-2).
  2. Confessing our sins directly to God (1 John 1:6-9).
  3. Sharing the gospel with others (Rom 15:15-16).
  4. Offering praise to God (Heb 13:15).
  5. Doing good works and sharing with others (Heb 13:16; cf. Phil 4:18).
  6. Giving our lives for the benefit of others (Phil 2:17; cf. Phil 1:21-26; 2:3-4).
  7. Walking in love (Eph 5:1-2; cf. 1 Pet 1:22).

     The Christian becomes a priest at the moment of salvation; however, the practice of the priesthood begins when he/she surrenders their body as a “living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Unlike the OT animal sacrifices which surrendered their lives once, the Christian life is a moment by moment, continual surrender to God. This spiritual service is performed by the believer “to our God” (Rev 5:10), for the benefit of others (Gal 6:10; Phil 2:3-4; Heb 13:16). Lastly, pastor-teachers are not a special class of priests, nor is tithing obligatory for Christians. However, the NT makes it clear that it is valid for “those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Co 9:14), and “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him” (Gal 6:6). In this way, believers support their pastors for the work they do. However, a pastor may refuse this support if he thinks it’s an impediment to ministry. When Paul ministered in Ephesus, he said, “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me” (Acts 20:33-34; cf. 1 Cor 9:18; 2 Cor 11:7; 1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thess 3:8).

     In the last two verses of this pericope, Moses recapitulates his intercession for the nation and God’s turning from His anger and intent to destroy them because of their sin. Moses said, “I, moreover, stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights like the first time, and the LORD listened to me that time also; the LORD was not willing to destroy you” (Deut 10:10). Moses’ intercession is part of what kept God from destroying the nation when they sinned. With a renewed covenant in hand, God directed Moses and the nation to resume their journey onward to the land of Canaan. The Israelite’s relationship with God was restored, and now they could walk together, with God leading them into the promised land. Moses wrote, “Then the LORD said to me, ‘Arise, proceed on your journey ahead of the people, that they may go in and possess the land which I swore to their fathers to give them’” (Deut 10:11). Moses’ prayer touched the throne of God, and the people were blessed with the opportunity to continue onward.

     God’s answer to Moses’ prayer encourages us to intercede for others. Prayer works, but only when it agrees with God’s plan. God is always sovereign and can, at times, say “no” to our requests. Remember, God had refused to answer Moses’ prayer concerning his desire to enter the Promised Land. Moses prayed to God, saying, “Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon. But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the LORD said to me, ‘Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter’” (Deut. 3:25-26). God’s decision concerning Moses was final. Moses would not enter the Promised Land, for the Lord said, “Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan” (Deut. 3:25-27; cf. Deut. 1:37; 31:1-2). God explained to Moses why He would not hear his prayer, saying, “because you broke faith with Me in the midst of the sons of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not treat Me as holy in the midst of the sons of Israel” (Deut. 32:51). No amount of prayer would change God’s mind, so He told Moses to stop praying about it. Though God denied Moses’ request to enter the land of Canaan, He said yes to his request to spare the nation when they sinned.

     Our personal walk with God is to be one of righteousness as we seek to learn His Word and live His will. Our walk not only impacts us on a personal level, but it also impacts the lives of those around us. Others are blessed when we live as we ought. And they are cursed when we do not. Our prayer life is a manifestation of our walk, for the more we walk with God the more we will come before His throne of grace in prayer, and the more others will be blessed.

 

[1] Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum argues that the references in 1 Peter 2:5-9 refers narrowly to Jewish Christians, and there is merit to his argument. He also makes clear that all Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, are priests to God, and references Revelation 1:6; 5:10, and 20:6 as his prooftexts. For further investigation, read Israelology, pages 720-722.

Deuteronomy 9:15-29

Deuteronomy 9:15-29

June 6, 2021

     The central idea of this passage is that Moses interceded on behalf of Israel, who had a history of complaining and rebelling against God, and God spared the nation from destruction. This was intended to humble God’s people and make them aware that His goodness toward them was more a matter of His integrity and grace than their personal righteousness.

     After Moses had recounted Israel’s sin of making the golden calf and violating God’s covenant, he said, “So I turned and came down from the mountain while the mountain was burning with fire, and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands” (Deut 9:15). This was in response to God’s command to go back down to the camp because the people had made a golden calf and were worshipping it. This was a clear violation of the covenant, which the people had previously sworn they would keep (Ex 19:7-8; 24:3, 7). Moses recalled what he saw when came into the camp, saying, “And I saw that you had indeed sinned against the LORD your God. You had made for yourselves a molten calf; you had turned aside quickly from the way which the LORD had commanded you” (Deut 9:16). The nation had not kept their word. They had sinned by making a golden calf and worshipping it. This was a violation of the conduct God had prescribed for His people; the path He desired they would walk together. Israel was a theocracy and God was their Ruler, Lawgiver, and Judge (see Isa 33:22). The Lord had liberated His people from Egyptian slavery and offered them a binding covenant relationship which they accepted (Ex 19:1-9). As their good King, God had every right to issue commands and direct their lives; not because He was a brutal tyrant who sought to subjugate and oppress them, but rather, that they might walk with Him and be blessed. Here was failure on the part of the nation to uphold its side of the contract. They had sinned, which meant they had disobeyed God’s commands. The apostle John tells us, “Everyone who commits sin also breaks the law; sin is the breaking of law” (1 John 3:4 CSB). Moses demonstrated Israel’s breaking of the law by smashing the two tablets which he’d brought with him when he descended from Mount Sinai. Moses said, “I took hold of the two tablets and threw them from my hands and smashed them before your eyes” (Deut 9:17). Daniel Block writes:

  • "These actions were both legal and symbolic, analogous to the Mesopotamian custom of breaking tablets on which contracts were written when the agreement had been violated. As the representative of Yahweh, by smashing the tablets Moses declared the covenant null and void even before the people had a chance to see the divinely produced written documentation."[1]

     But Moses advocated for the nation by fasting and prayer, humbling himself before the Lord and pleading on their behalf. Moses said, “I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you had committed in doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD to provoke Him to anger” (Deut 9:18). Moses mentions the evil ( הָרַעha-ra – lit. the evil) Israel did was specifically the act of idolatry. Here was spiritual infidelity on the part of the nation, which provoked the Lord’s anger at their unjust behavior. The covenant relationship was between God as the sovereign Lord who had the right to direct them as their King. Since the Mosaic covenant was a bilateral covenant, with blessing and cursing being conditioned on obedience, God had every right to be angry and to punish them. Moses knew this and said, “For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which the LORD was wrathful against you in order to destroy you, but the LORD listened to me that time also” (Deut 9:19). Like other times, Moses had pleaded for the nation that God would show mercy, and the Lord listened to him. Here we see where “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (Jam 5:16).

     Not only was God angry enough to destroy the nation, but here we learn that “The LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him; so I also prayed for Aaron at the same time” (Deut 9:20). Moses’ brother, Aaron, was with the people during their rebellion, and he should have resisted their call to make an idol. Rather than take a leadership position and try to stop the Israelite nonsense, Aaron let himself be led by the people, even helping them construct the golden calf. Not only was Aaron a bad leader, he was also a bad liar, trying to convince Moses that the golden calf just jumped out of the fire all by itself (Ex 32:22-24). God spared Aaron because of Moses’ request. However, Aaron’s failure brought judgment by God, and he was not permitted to enter the land of Canaan. Aaron, by disobedience, forfeited his reward of going into the land of Canaan.

     Moses recalled what he did with the golden calf, saying, “I took your sinful thing, the calf which you had made, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it very small until it was as fine as dust; and I threw its dust into the brook that came down from the mountain” (Deut 9:21). By crushing the idol very small and throwing it into the brook, Moses was destroying it beyond recovery. In Exodus we learn Moses “took the calf which they had made and burned it with fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it over the surface of the water and made the sons of Israel drink it” (Ex 32:20). In this way, the remnants of the idol—the thing they worshipped as a god—would pass through their system as fecal matter to be discarded.

     In describing Israel’s unworthiness concerning God’s goodness, Moses cites other examples of their failings, saying, “Again at Taberah and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the LORD to wrath. When the LORD sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and possess the land which I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God; you neither believed Him nor listened to His voice” (Deut 9:22-23). Moses uses the names of various places— Taberah, Massah, Kibroth-hattaavah, and Kadesh-barnea—as code words packed with historical significance. Taberah means burning, because God’s anger had burned against them because of their complaining at His provision (Num 11:1-3). Massah means testing, and refers to the incident when Israel complained about no water to drink and tried the Lord (Ex 17:1-3). Kibroth-hattaavah means graves of desire and refers to the time when they craved food beyond what God had already provided (Num 11:4-10). And Kadesh-barnea was the place where Israel failed to live by faith, not believing God could bring them into the land of Canaan and defeat their enemies (Numbers chapters 13-14). The NT describes them as having “an evil and unbelieving heart” (Heb 3:12). In each of these places, Israel failed to live by faith, and complained against God’s guidance and goodness. God’s people should be marked by faith and gratitude, not complaining (1 Cor 10:10; Phil 2:14-15).

     Moses concluded his argument by giving a summary statement about Israel’s history for the previous forty years, saying, “You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day I knew you” (Deut 9:24). Moses’ reason for recalling these other failings was to demonstrate that the golden calf was not an isolated event, but rather, part of a long history of rebellion. But as one who loved God’s people, even though they were rebellious and marked by many failures, Moses pleaded for them, saying, “So I fell down before the LORD the forty days and nights, which I did because the LORD had said He would destroy you” (Deut 9:25). Here is a picture of humble and loving leadership. What follows is a beautiful picture of how Moses pleaded for the nation, as he sought to protect God’s glory and the wellbeing of Israel. There are three parts to Moses’ prayer. First, Moses said, “I prayed to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord GOD, do not destroy Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand” (Deut 9:26). Here, Moses advocated for Israel, not because of any goodness found in them, but because God had invested Himself in them by redeeming them from slavery. Moses did not want God to lose any of His investment into the lives of those He’d redeemed from captivity. Second, Moses prayed, “Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not look at the stubbornness of this people or at their wickedness or their sin” (Deut 9:27). Here, Moses advocated for Israel because of God’s promises to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses might be referring to God’s promise to multiply their descendants and to give them the land of Canaan (Ex 32:13). Moses knew God was faithful to keep His promises, so He asked the Lord to spare the nation because of His integrity, to keep His word, and not to look at the stubbornness or wickedness of Israel’s sin. Third, Moses prayed, “Otherwise the land from which You brought us may say, ‘Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land which He had promised them and because He hated them He has brought them out to slay them in the wilderness.” (Deut 9:28). Here, Moses advocated for Israel in order to protect God’s reputation among those who saw and heard about God’s deliverance. Moses did not excuse Israel’s sin. He knew he could not plead to the Lord because of any goodness in them. Rather, Moses argued on the basis of wanting to protect God’s reputation among the nations; specifically, the Egyptians. Moses argued that if God destroyed His people, the Egyptians might conclude that either God was not able to keep His promise to them, or that He had intentionally deceived them and brought them into the wilderness for no other reason than to destroy them. But this was not the case. Moses declared, “Yet they are Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have brought out by Your great power and Your outstretched arm” (Deut 9:29). In these arguments, Moses pleaded with God, not on the basis of Israel’s righteousness and goodness, but in order to protect God’s investment in His people, to uphold His character as One who keeps His word, and to promote His reputation among the nations. Moses’ prayer reflected a desire to promote God’s glory, as other godly persons have done (Psa 86:12; Rom 4:18-21), and as we should do as well (Matt 5:16; 1 Cor 10:31; cf., Rom 15:17; 1 Cor 6:19-20; 1 Pet 2:12). Warren Wiersbe states:

  • "We can’t help but admire Moses as the leader of God’s people. He spent forty days on the mountain, learning how to lead the people in their worship of God; and then he spent another forty days fasting and praying, interceding for a nation that complained, resisted his leadership, and rebelled against the Lord. But leaders are tested just as followers are tested, and Moses passed the test. He showed that his great concern wasn’t his own fame or position but the glory of God and the good of the people. In fact, he was willing to die for the people rather than see God destroy them (Ex. 32:31–34). A true shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11)."[2]

     There is a parallel between Israel’s history and our own. As people made in God’s image, we have demonstrated on many occasions our rebellion and wickedness before the Lord. But God has not judged us as our sin deserves, nor treated us according to our failures. David knew this very well and said of God, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psa 103:10-12). And the apostle Paul wrote:

  • "For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men." (Tit 3:3-8)

     The Bible reveals, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Psa 103:8). However, His grace and love toward unbelievers does not last forever. As long as a person is alive, he/she may humble themselves and turn to Christ as Savior and receive forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), eternal life (John 10:28), and the gift of God’s righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). But if the unbeliever rejects Jesus as Savior, there is no other way to be forgiven and brought into the family of God. Jesus is the only way (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). As believers who have trusted in Christ as Savior, we must continue in our walk with the Lord (Eph 4:1), living by faith (Heb 10:38; 11:6), and advancing toward spiritual maturity (Eph 4:11-16; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2). And this we will do when we humble ourselves daily, seeking God’s will, and prioritizing His glory above our own ambitions and interests. Humility is not a sense of worthlessness, but unworthiness of God’s goodness. It is not just thinking less of self, but in many cases, not thinking about ourselves at all. Rather, we seek God’s glory and the benefit of others in all we say and do.

 

[1] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 250.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 67–68.

Deuteronomy 9:1-14

Deuteronomy 9:1-14

June 5, 2021

     Moses opens this pericope by calling for Israel’s attention, saying, “Hear, O Israel! You are crossing over the Jordan today to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, great cities fortified to heaven” (Deut 9:1). The phrase, “Hear, O Israel”, was a call to attention with the idea of obeying what followed. This is normal, because faith comes by hearing God’s Word (Rom 10:17). The second generation of Israelites were about to cross over the Jordan and into Canaan. The word “today” does not refer to that exact day, for the nation would not cross the Jordan for another forty days. Rather, it refers to the day when God was going to work among His people. And the work God was going to perform referred to the dispossession of the wicked Canaanites from the land. Moses described the Canaanites as “greater and mightier” than Israel. And as people who lived in cities “fortified to heaven”, which was hyperbolic language (Num 13:28). And the people who lived there were “a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’” (Deut 9:2). This was intentional language that reflected the Israelites’ human perspective of the situation.

     But rather than focus on what they perceived as an impossible situation, Moses called them to focus on God, saying, “Know therefore today that it is the LORD your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the LORD has spoken to you” (Deut 9:3; cf. Pro 21:31). What Moses communicated was to flow in their stream of consciousness as they advanced into Canaan. And what Moses emphasized was God’s role in leading them to subdue their enemies. But Israel had a part to play, as they were to “drive them out and destroy them quickly.” Both God and Israel worked together. God would lead them as a General into battle, ensuring their victory, but they had to follow Him and obey His commands. However, after they’d defeated their enemies, there was a danger that Israel might become prideful. Moses warned them about future pride, saying, “Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you” (Deut 9:4). For a second time, Moses states, “It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you” (Deut 9:5a). God would lead His people to victory, but it would not be because of their righteousness, but because He was using them to judge the wicked Canaanites. But God was also doing it “in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Deut 9:5b). God had made a promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to give the land of Canaan to their descendants (Gen 17:7-8; 26:24; 28:13-14), and now was the time to fulfill His word. For a third time, Moses reminded them that coming victory was not because any goodness found in them, saying, “Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people” (Deut 9:6). The Hebrew word stubborn (קָשֶׁה qashehobstinate, stubborn, stiff-necked) refers to an unsubmissive animal that refuses to bend its neck downward in order to pull the cart or plow. Several times Israel is described this way (Ex 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; Deut 9:13). Eugene Merrill states:

  • "With his verdict of “stiff-necked” Moses pricks Israel’s balloon of inflated self-esteem and sets the stage for his portrayal of the Israelite’s fundamentally flawed character. They have nothing to commend themselves to God: no physical greatness (7:7), or power (8:17), or moral character. Their election, occupation of the land, and prosperity within it are all gifts of divine grace, granted to them in spite of their lack of merit."[1]

Warren Wiersbe adds:

  • "Once again, Moses reminded the nation that the land was a gift from the Lord, not a reward for their righteousness. God had graciously covenanted with Abraham to give him and his descendants the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:1–3; 13:14–17; 15:7–21), and He would keep His promise. The people in the land were wicked and ripe for judgment; and even though Israel wasn’t a perfect people, God would use them to bring that judgment. The emphasis is on the grace of God and not the goodness of God’s people, and this emphasis is needed today (Titus 2:11–3:7). When we forget the grace of God, we become proud and start thinking that we deserve all that God has done for us, and then God has to remind us of His goodness and our sinfulness; and that reminder might be very painful."[2]

     Then, to drive the point further, Moses cited specific events when the Israelites failed. First, Moses called for them think about the past forty years, saying, “Remember, do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD” (Deut 9:7). The Israelite’s defiance was not marked by a single event, but by a long history of failures that spanned forty years. This defiance started from the very beginning, as Moses recalls, “Even at Horeb you provoked the LORD to wrath, and the LORD was so angry with you that He would have destroyed you” (Deut 9:8). Horeb was the occasion where God met the Israelites and ratified the Mosaic Covenant (Ex 19:1-25). Moses recalled his part at that time, saying, “When I went up to the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the LORD had made with you, then I remained on the mountain forty days and nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water” (Deut 9:9). Moses was humbling himself before the Lord by fasting for a period of forty days and nights. After which, he says, “The LORD gave me the two tablets of stone written by the finger of God; and on them were all the words which the LORD had spoken with you at the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly” (Deut 9:10). The two tablets represented the codification of the Law from God to His people. These two copies were to be kept with the Ark of the Covenant as a record of the contract. Moses states, “It came about at the end of forty days and nights that the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant” (Deut 9:11). But during the forty days Moses was on the mountain conversing with God and receiving the tablets of the covenant, the people of Israel had turned away from God and were engaging in idolatry. Moses recalls, “Then the LORD said to me, ‘Arise, go down from here quickly, for your people whom you brought out of Egypt have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them; they have made a molten image for themselves’” (Deut 9:12). Warren Wiersbe states:

  • "Israel committed a very great sin when they worshiped the golden calf (Ex. 32–34). Behind them was the history of their deliverance from Egypt, a demonstration of the grace and power of the Lord; and yet they rebelled against their Redeemer! Israel was the people of God, redeemed by His hand, and yet they manufactured a new god! Before them was Mount Sinai where they had seen God’s glory and holiness demonstrated and from which they had received the law of the Lord. In that law, God commanded them to worship Him alone and not to make idols and worship them. They had accepted that law and twice promised to obey it (Ex. 24:3, 7), and yet they broke the first and second commandments by making and worshiping an idol, and the seventh commandment by engaging in lustful revelry as a part of their “worship.”[3]

     God called for Moses to leave the mountain and return to camp. God said the reason was that Moses’ people were acting corruptly and had turned aside from doing God’s will and were engaging in idolatry. Here we see the beginning on an exchange between God and Moses, as God starts off by referring to the Israelites as Moses’ people. The question naturally rises as to whether Moses would identify with his people, even though he was not personally guilty of the sin of idolatry. Moses said, “The LORD spoke further to me, saying, ‘I have seen this people, and indeed, it is a stubborn people’” (Deut 9:13). Here was another rebuke against the Israelites, as they were described as a stubborn people. Then, as if Moses were in God’s way, the Lord said, “Let Me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they” (Deut 9:14). Concerning this pericope, Jack Deere writes:

  • "The emphatic exhortation, Remember this and never forget, underscores the absurdity of Israel ever supposing that the land was given them as a reward for their righteousness. Moses used one incident from their past, the worship of the golden calf, to illustrate that Israelite history has nearly always been one of rebellion (v. 7) against God’s grace. This incident (Ex 32), perhaps more than any other until that time, illustrates Israel’s sinfulness on the one hand and God’s grace on the other. While Moses was fasting for 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Horeb (Sinai; cf. Deut 1:2) and therefore was completely dependent on God, the people were feasting. While Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments (the tablets of the covenant, 9:9, 11) by the finger of God, the people were breaking several of them by worshiping the golden calf. As the Lord had given the covenant to Moses, the people had become corrupt and turned away quickly (Deut 9:12). Even God Himself proclaimed that the people were stiff-necked (v. 13). Their rebellion was so great that He wanted to destroy the nation and start all over with Moses (cf. Ex 32:9–10)."[4] (emphasis his)

     When God said to Moses, “Let Me alone,” it reveals the close relationship between the two of them. In effect, God was telling Moses He wanted to destroy the nation because of their sin, but would not touch the Israelites without his permission. God even promised Moses that He would start over with him and fulfill His promises through Moses’ descendants. The question here was whether Moses would agree to God’s proposal and not intervene for the nation?

     Moses wanted this second generation of Israelites to understand the gravity of the situation they were facing and to live by faith. He did not want them to be stiff-necked and faithless like their parents, but to humble themselves before the Lord that He might lead them into battle and give them the victory and blessing. As Christians, we are not called to face physical enemies such as the Canaanites, nor to fight for promised land possessed by pagan peoples. As Christians, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). In this struggle we are to stand firm against Satan, his world-system, and our flesh. And we are to be strengthened by God’s Word, live by faith, pursue righteousness, share the gospel and biblical truth with those who will hear, and pray always.

 

[1] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 246.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 65.

[3] Ibid., 66.

[4] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 279.

Matthew 14:13-21 - Jesus Feeds the Multitude
Angels and Demons - Part 14 - Satan’s Strategies
Angels and Demons - Part 13 - Satan’s Strategies
Angels and Demons - Part 12 - The Christian Armor
Angels and Demons - Part 11 - The Christian Armor
Matthew 13:53-58 - Jesus is Rejected in His Hometown
Angels and Demons - Part 10 - The Christian Armor
Angels and Demons - Part 9 - The Sin Nature - Satan’s Inside Agent
Matthew 13:1-23 - Jesus Begins to Teach in Parables
Angels and Demons - Part 8 - Satan’s World System
Angels and Demons - Part 7 - Satan’s World System
Matthew 12:1-21 - The Pharisees Try to Trap Jesus
Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App