Thinking on Scripture with Dr. Steven R. Cook
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
Angels and Demons Part 6 - Satanology
Angels and Demons Part 5 - The Sons of God and Genesis 6
Angels and Demons - Part 4
Angels and Demons - Part 3
Matthew 11:1-19 - A Turning Point in Matthew’s Gospel
Angels and Demons - Part 2
Angels and Demons - Part 1
Deuteronomy 8:11-20 - Prosperity Testing

Deuteronomy 8:11-20 - Prosperity Testing

March 20, 2021

     The main idea of this pericope is that Israel faced a real danger in the prosperity that lay ahead of them. The acquisition and accumulation of wealth might lead to pride in which God’s people think they don’t need the Lord, forget to obey and praise Him, and turn to idolatry and bring about their own ruin. If Israel would keep the Lord’s commands and walk in His ways and fear Him, then all would be well (Deut 8:6). Blessing or cursing was their choice (cf. Deut 11:26-28). Though Israel faced the threat of Canaan before them, there was a greater danger that God’s people would forget the Lord who liberated and prospered them. Moses issued a warning, saying, “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today” (Deut 8:11, cf., 14, 19). To forget the Lord meant Israel would not obey Him, nor recognize Him in fear and worship. Israel was to know that disobedience and ingratitude would start them on the journey that would lead to idolatry and their eventual ruin.

     The danger is expressed in a series of actions that might lead to Israel being lifted in pride, as Moses wrote, “otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deut 8:12-14). Prosperity can, over time, have an amnesic effect that leads to pride and an attitude of self-sufficiency. But Moses reminds them about God’s deliverance, saying, “He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know” (Deut 8:15-16a). Moses provides a series of verbs—each in the hiphil stem—revealing God as the causal agent who led them through the wilderness, who brought water from the rock, and who fed them manna. God was the provider who met their basic needs. From the Israelite perspective, this was a difficult time in which they did not enjoy an abundance of resources and when their vulnerability was apparent every day. However, the Lord was training them to trust Him, to rely on His moment-by-moment provisions, in order that they might humbly rely on Him and not themselves or others. Moses explains God’s intention behind the testing, saying, “that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end” (Deut 8:16b). God desired to do good for Israel, but humility in the heart was more important than the blessing in their hands. Moses then states, “Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth’” (Deut 8:17). This would be a form of thievery, in which they would take credit for the blessing God provided, falsely believing they had been their own savior and had met all their own needs. To mitigate against this danger, Moses instructs them, saying, “But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day” (Deut 8:18). As repeated before, Moses calls on God’s people to regulate their thoughts and consciously and consistently recognize God in their lives as the One who empowers them to make wealth. The blessing they would enjoy was part of the covenant God has established with their fathers, and He would be faithful to keep His word to them.

     For the third time in this pericope Moses issues a warning about forgetting God, saying, “It shall come about if you ever forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so you shall perish; because you would not listen to the voice of the LORD your God” (Deut 8:19-20). If Israel chose to act like the pagan nations, God would cause them to perish like them.

     Whether facing tests of adversity or prosperity, the believer is always to respond in faith and gratitude to the Lord. Paul states, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:18), and, “give thanks for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph 5:20). And the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15). God is ultimately in control of life, whether in hardship or blessing (Eccl 7:14; cf. Job 2:9-10; Isa 45:5-7), and He wants us to keep our focus on Him in everything. Though it is our proclivity to run from trials—which may not be wrong in itself—in doing so, we might miss what God is working to accomplish in our hearts; namely, humility. But we must let God have His work in our lives so that humility is present, not only in adversity, but also in times of blessing. Whatever the situation, we are called to live by faith, which means we look to God and rely on Him to guide and sustain us in each moment. Part of that expression of faith is seeing life from the divine perspective and not letting circumstances, or the attitudes and actions of others dictate our response. Though Joseph had been mistreated by his brothers and sold into slavery, yet he operated from divine viewpoint and said to them, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20). Joseph realized God used the sinful attitudes and actions of his brothers to accomplish His greater good. When Job lost his family and business, he said, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Though Job suffered and grieved, it did not destroy his divine viewpoint perspective or his faith response of praise to God. When Peter and the apostles were flogged for preaching about Jesus, Luke tells us, “they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). Though they suffered physical pain from the beating, it did not diminish their faith or praise response. When Paul and Silas had been beaten with rods and thrown into prison, Luke informs us they “were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). Again, we see where God’s people lived by faith and worshipped Him in spite of their difficult situations. As Christians, we cannot always control adversity, but neither should we be controlled by it. God wants us to be humble and to seek Him in everything, whether trials or blessings. How we respond is up to us. If we fail to live by faith, then our spiritual development stalls, and we face the danger of regressing into crippling fear. However, if we respond in faith, this will enable us to handle the situation and also strengthen us for future circumstances.

 

Deuteronomy 8:1-10 - Adversity Testing

Deuteronomy 8:1-10 - Adversity Testing

March 20, 2021

     The central idea of this text is that God’s people were to obey His commands that they might receive His blessings, which come after they learn humility and to trust and bless Him for His goodness.

     Moses opens this pericope with the statement, “All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your forefathers” (Deut 8:1). God desired to bless and multiply His people by giving them the land He’d promised to the patriarchs, but according to the Mosaic Covenant, the inheritance was conditioned on their obedience to Him. Moses used the Hebrew word מִצְוָה mitsvah which, here, referred to the whole corpus of laws he was providing.

     Moses’ instruction included remembering their past and God’s testing them during the forty years of wilderness wandering. Moses said, “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Deut 8:2). Moses used the Hebrew verb זָכַר zakar, translated remember, several times in His address to the nation (see Deut 5:15; 7:18; 8:18; 9:7; 15:15; 16:3, 12; 24:9, 18, 22; 32:7). The Israelites were to intentionally recall to mind God’s forty years of guidance in the wilderness for the purpose of humbling them, to test them, in order to reveal what was in their hearts. Remembering God, his commands and blessings, is set against the danger of forgetting, which will lead to ruin (Deut 4:9, 23, 31; 6:12; 8:11, 14, 19; 9:7; 25:19). And how did God train His people? Moses said, “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deut 8:3). Spiritual nourishment is more valuable than physical nourishment. Jack Deere writes:

  • "In the desert they could not produce their own food but had to depend on God for food and thus for their very lives. When Moses reminded them that they did not live on bread alone he meant that even their food was decreed by the word of God. They had manna because it came by His command. It was therefore ultimately not bread that kept them alive but His word!"[1]

Thomas Constable adds:

  • "God humbled the Israelites in the sense that He sought to teach them to have a realistic awareness of their dependence on Himself for all their needs. This is true humility. God’s provision of manna to eat and clothing to wear should have taught the people that they were dependent on His provision for all their needs, not just food and clothing."[2]

     God intentionally placed His people in difficult places in order to reveal what was in their hearts and to educate them that He is their provider. Jesus cited Deuteronomy 8:3 when being tested by Satan to demonstrate that spiritual nourishment is more important than physical (see Matt 4:4; Luke 4:4). Part of God’s instruction included displays of His logistical grace, as Moses revealed, “Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years” (Deut 8:4). God supernaturally provided for His people, meeting all their basic needs. The point was that they were to learn something. It was revealed to them, “Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son” (Deut 8:5). God wanted His people to mature and He used suffering as a vehicle to help make that happen. Warren Wiersbe writes:

  • "Discipline is 'child training,' the preparation of the child for responsible adulthood. A judge justly punishes a convicted criminal in order to protect society and uphold the law, but a father lovingly disciplines a child to help that child mature. Discipline is an evidence of God’s love and of our membership in God’s family (Heb. 12:5–8; Prov. 3:11–12). When you think of the Lord’s discipline of His children, don’t envision an angry parent punishing a child. Rather, see a loving Father challenging His children to exercise their muscles (physical and mental) so they will mature and be able to live like dependable adults. When we’re being disciplined, the secret of growth is to humble ourselves and submit to God’s will (Deut. 8:2–3; Heb. 12:9–10). To resist God’s chastening is to harden our hearts and resist the Father’s will. Like an athlete in training, we must exercise ourselves and use each trial as an opportunity for growth."[3]

     Obedience leads to maturity and maturity opens up many of God’s blessings. For Israel to receive what God had for them, they were to follow His commands and walk with Him. They were instructed, “Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him” (Deut 8:6). God was to be feared as the One who holds the power to bless and punish. And Moses describes the good land that was before them, saying, “For the LORD your God is bringing you into 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” (Deut 8:7-9). The land of Canaan was rich with resources which stood in contrast to their wilderness experience. And the proper response to God’s goodness was for His people to bless Him. The words given to them were, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you” (Deut 8:10). An attitude of gratitude was not only the proper response to God’s goodness, but it also helped the Israelites remember the Lord as an expression of faith.

     As Christians, God has secured our salvation be means of the Lord Jesus Christ, who died in our place and paid the penalty for our sin and redeemed us from Satan’s captivity (Col 1:13-14). As believers, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7), and gifted with eternal life (John 10:28) and God’s own righteousness (2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). As children of God (John 1:12), the Lord desires that we advance from spiritual infancy to adulthood (Eph 4:11-16; 1 Pet 2:2). This requires years of learning and living God’s Word (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17), and making good choices to live by faith (Heb 10:38; 11:6). The Lord also uses adversity as opportunities to live by faith and grow (Rom 5:3-5; Jam 1:2-4). How we respond to trials determines whether we advance, stagnate, or regress. But we must also be on guard against failing the prosperity test, lest we take our eyes off the Lord and focus on riches instead.

     The Bible teaches that God owns everything. Moses said, “to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it” (Deut 10:14). David wrote, “Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone” (1 Ch 29:12; cf. Psa 24:1; 89:11; Hag 2:8). Paul said:

  • "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)

     It is God who gives wealth as a blessing to us. However, we should see ourselves as stewards of His resources and be ready to use what He’s provided to help advance His people and purposes in the world. Being open-handed as a Christian is the proper attitude, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

 

[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), 278.

[2] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Dt 8:1.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 61-62.

Matthew 10:24-33 - Overcoming Fear

Matthew 10:24-33 - Overcoming Fear

March 14, 2021

The main point of this pericope is that Jesus warned His disciples that they would face persecution as His followers, but they should not fear their persecutors, but rather, should fear God who loves and cares for them. Click here for complete set of notes.

Biblical Self-Talk

Biblical Self-Talk

March 13, 2021
  • "Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." (2 Cor 10:3-5)

     Self-talk is a mechanism of our reasoning that includes mental dialogues that can be quite complex. The dialogue can originate solely within our mind, or be influenced by external experiences or discussions. Sometimes these dialogues are pleasant, and sometimes not. And they can approximate reality, or be pure fantasy. The Bible presents a number of passages that address what today would be called self-talk (Gen 17:17; Deut 7:17; 8:17; 9:4; 18:21; 1 Sam 27:1; Psa 14:1; Isa 49:21; Jer 3:17-25; Luke 7:39; 16:3; 18:4). On several occasions, David faced pressure in life that disrupted his mental state and he took control of His thoughts and directed them to God (Psa 13:1-6; 42:1-11; 131:1-2). In these instances, David was his own biblical counselor as he applied God’s Word to his own situation and effected stability in his soul.

     The mind is a busy place. As Christians, we face competing systems of thought all around us, via sources such a TV, radio, literature, daily discussions, and experiences. The brain needs to be healthy for the mind to work properly. The brain is our hardware and the mind its software. If the brain is damaged, the mind will not work properly. Or, the brain can be operational, but the mind corrupt. Volition tends the gate of our mind, determining what enters, its level of activity once inside, and the duration of its stay. For the most part, we determine what we let into our stream of consciousness. Sometimes—without our being fully aware—we accept antithetical beliefs, which result in cognitive dissonance and fragmentation. The rational mind will recognize incompatible thoughts and seek to find reconciliation, or eventual correction by means of expunging aberrant thoughts that cause trouble. Of course, this assumes a standard by which to evaluate our thoughts and values. For the Christian, the Bible is God’s special revelation to us to help us understand truths and realities we could not obtain by any other means.

     Self-talk refers to our inner reflections, the mental-dialogues we have with ourselves. But self-talk is never neutral. There’s always a bias. A desire to think a certain way. Thoughts align with God and His Word, our personal desires, or the fallen world around us. Often, self-talk pertains to how something or someone impacts us, and what we can do to make sense of it and manage it along with other activities or pressures. As a Bible teacher, it’s my every intention to get into your mind, to promote God’s Word in every aspect of your reasoning so that you learn to think as He thinks and that His Word will govern every mental discussion. Others are trying to get into your mind as well. Some are helpful, others hurtful. You must choose what you allow in, and you must regulate the mental discussions you have with yourself.

     Sometimes external activities or discussions with others can carry over into mental dramas and discussions we have with ourselves when alone. We create scenarios that play out an emotionally charged debate we had earlier in the day or week.[1] We do this because there’s a natural part of us that wants to make sense of what happened, so we replay the scenario in our minds, albeit imperfectly and with a bias. We might even assign a motive that may, or may not, correspond to reality. Often, real people and experiences come into our mental plays, as we set the stage and cast characters in various roles. We write the script of what each person says, how they act or react, and where the story goes. We play a part in our mental productions, either as the victim or victor. Emotions can flare during these staged productions, and this helps push the storyline in various directions, for better or worse. Often, our mental productions are an effort to anticipate how another person will act in reality, and various scenarios allow us to work out how we might respond if/when the real-life situation goes as we anticipate. Sometimes we do this with past experiences, recreating a scenario that is not true to the occasion, so that the outcome is more to our liking. The problem is that perception is never equal to reality, and sometimes we can misperceive another person’s words, actions, or motives; and when this happens, it drives our mental production into areas that might actually prove harmful.

     Biblical self-talk is where we deliberately and consciously insert God and His Word into our thought processes. The purpose is to produce mental and emotional stability as we orient our thinking to divine viewpoint. This can be very challenging in a culture that excludes God and where the mind is conditioned to think about all matters from the perspective of how things relate to us. The mental stability of the Christian is predicated, to a large degree, on the biblical content and continuity of his thinking. It’s not only what we think, but the consistency of our thoughts that produce mental stability. But this is not the only factor, as our mind can be impacted—for better or worse—by things such as sleep, hydration, nutrition, exercise, and socialization. If we’re tired, hungry, and have not taken care of ourselves, then we are naturally more vulnerable to the pressures of life.

     In personal trials and tribulations, I know God is at work in my life, using the furnace of affliction to burn away the dross of weak character and to develop those golden qualities that reflect His character. God wants me to grow up spiritually, and suffering is a vehicle He uses for that purpose. Suffering is like the manure that helps the plant grow; we don’t like its smell, but we understand it’s nourishing value. Joseph understood this, and even when his brothers treated him poorly, he saw it from the divine perspective and said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20). Joseph could not control how his brothers treated him; but he could control his response, which was based on divine viewpoint and the choice of faith. As a Christian, I know that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Below are some ways to strengthen the mind:

  1. Take control of your thoughts. Solomon wrote, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Pro 4:23). And Paul stated, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Your mind is your own, and you must regulate what enters and stays, and what you choose to focus on at any given moment.
  2. Spend time in God’s Word. The person who is daily in God’s Word is like a tree planted near water that constantly receives life sustaining nourishment. David writes of the righteous person, saying, “his delight is in the LORD’s instruction, and he meditates on it 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 1:2-3). The Lord spoke to Jeremiah, saying, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jer 17:7-8). It’s only in the daily activity of biblical meditation that the Word of God begins to saturate our thinking and flow freely within the stream of our consciousness, permeating all aspects of our lives.
  3. Spend time in prayer. Jesus taught His disciples “that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1). As Christians, we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17). This means our prayer life should never end, but should be ongoing, day by day, moment by moment. Life can be stressful, but we are to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phi 4:6). As Christians, we are to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).
  4. Spend time with growing believers. Scripture states we are to “encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13), and “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). Paul wrote, “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours” (Rom 1:12). When writing to the church at Thessalonica, Paul said, “Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith” (1 Th 3:1-2). Growing believers are marked by love for each other as we seek to encourage each other to love the Lord and to serve Him in humility and faithfulness.
  5. Spend time giving thanks to God. The psalmist wrote, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; speak of all His wonders. Glory in His holy name; let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad. Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His face continually” (Psa 105:1-4). Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phi 4:4a), “and “Give thanks always for all things” (Eph 5:20a), and “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:18). An attitude of gratitude to God strengthens the heart of God’s people.
  6. Take care of yourself physically. Make sure you get good sleep, hydration, nutrition, exercise, and socialization. If we’re tired, hungry, and have not taken care of ourselves, then we are naturally more vulnerable to the pressures of life. When Elijah the prophet was threatened by Jezebel, he became fearful and fled for his life, even wanting to die (1 Ki 19:1-4). And God sent an angel to Elijah, not to rebuke him, but to care for him. And twice, while Elijah slept, the angel cooked a meal for him in order to strengthen him for his journey (1 Ki 19:5-8). On one occasion, Jesus told His disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while. For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.” (Mark 6:31). Sometimes, when engaging in ministry, we’re in a better frame of mind to handle those situations if we are rested and taking care of ourselves physically.

 

[1] Emotion is connected to thought, like a trailer to a truck. One pulls the other along. We drive the truck. We determine where our thoughts go, and emotion follows. However, once in motion, the truck cannot stop easily, for when the brakes are applied, the force of the trailer pushes the truck, reducing the braking process. How far we travel to come to a complete stop is determined by how much the trailer weighs, how fast the truck is going, and the external road conditions. I’m sure the metaphor could be developed further, but you get the point. Thoughts and feelings are connected systems that either work for us or against us, but they are never neutral.

Faith Strengthening Techniques

Faith Strengthening Techniques

March 13, 2021
  • "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Pro 3:5-6)

     Fear is part of the human experience. It is first mentioned in Genesis chapter three after Adam and Eve sinned and then encountered the presence of the Lord (Gen 3:10). Since the historic fall, there exists healthy and unhealthy forms of fear. Fear of God that leads to righteous living is good. Fear of others that leads to sinful living is bad. When we live righteously, we have no reason to fear God (1 John 4:18) or righteous rulers (Rom 13:1-4). Satan, and those who align with him, will seek to intimidate others into conformity in order to frustrate the plan of God. When facing opposition to doing God’s will, the believer must stand on truth. When fear rises among believers, there are faith-strengthening techniques we can apply to our situation that will fortify our walk with God. These techniques are all learned from Scripture and applied by faith.

  1. Live in God’s Word – Scripture is the starting point for the Christian faith, as “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17 KJV). As Christians, we are to “have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor 5:9). God states, “my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (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). Those who consistently live in God’s Word find stability for their souls (Psa 1:1-3; Jer 17:5-8). Scripture reveals that only God and His Word are absolutely true (Psa 119:160; John 17:17), and never fail (Matt 24:35; Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18). In contrast, we learn that people fail (Jer 17:5; cf. Pro 28:26), money fails (Psa 62:10), the government fails (Psa 146:3), and the creation fails (Matt 24:35).
  2. Look up to God – When believers encounter a stressful situation, the first action should be to place our focus on God for help. David wrote, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?” (Psa 56:3-4; Ex 14:1-14; Deut 20:1-4; 31:1-8). When Abraham considered God’s promise that he would have a son (Gen 15:1-6; 17:6), yet knew in his old age that neither he nor Sarah could produce an heir by human effort (Rom 4:18-19), “he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (Rom 4:20-21). The proclivity of people is to look inward, outward, and downward; whereas God calls us to look to Him. Isaiah wrote, “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock” (Isa 26:3-4). And Paul wrote, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:1-2).
  3. Look back on God’s faithfulness –When facing a large population and military in Canaan, Moses told his people, “If you should say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?’ You shall not be afraid of them; you shall well remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: the great trials which your eyes saw and the signs and the wonders and the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid” (Deut 7:17-19; cf. 8:1-4). And Jeremiah, when lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of his people, found hope by recalling God’s faithfulness. Jeremiah wrote, “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lam 3:21-23).
  4. Look forward to God’s future promises – On two occasions Jesus knew His disciples were struggling with fear and He sought to strengthen their faith by instructing them to focus on eschatological certainties. In the first occasion (the one we just studied), they were to focus on God’s future judgments, as Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). Those who kill the body do so in time, whereas God is able to destroy both body and soul at the future judgment seat of Christ (Rev 20:11-15). On another occasion Jesus instructed His disciples to focus on His promise concerning their future place of residence in heaven, saying, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
  5. Live in God’s love – John wrote, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). God is perfect, and so is His love and care for us (Rom 8:28-39). As we walk with God, our immature love develops and grows strong, becoming like His love. When this happens, fear fades away, and we can be courageous and loving toward everyone, even those who identify as our enemies and seek our harm.
  6. Fellowship with growing believers – Paul wrote, “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours” (Rom 1:12). When writing to the church at Thessalonica, Paul said, “Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith” (1 Th 3:1-2). Growing believers are marked by love for each other as we seek to encourage each other to love the Lord and to serve Him in humility and faithfulness.
Deuteronomy 7:17-26

Deuteronomy 7:17-26

March 7, 2021

     This pericope presents Israel with a theology of warfare, both physical and spiritual. The main point of this passage is that Moses promises defeat of the many nations before them, who are greater and more numerous than Israel (Deut 7:17-24), and then calls them to destroy the images of idolatry that brought God’s judgment upon Canaan, warning them not to bring the idols into their homes, lest they be defeated spiritually and destroyed (Deut 7:25-26).

     Moses opens this section by addressing the mental concerns of his audience, saying, “If you should say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?’” (Deut 7:17). Here, Moses addresses the humanistic self-talk of the Israelites, knowing they are mentally evaluating the Canaanites as numerically superior, and are concerned about how, by their own resources, they can defeat their enemy. Moses addresses their fear by injecting divine viewpoint into the stream of their consciousness, saying, “you shall not be afraid of them; you shall well remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt” (Deut 7:18). As their godly leader, Moses provided a faith-strengthening technique intended to prevent the crippling effects of fear. Moses called God’s people to bring their thoughts into captivity and redirected them to think on God and His past faithfulness; specifically, His defeat of their greatest foe, which was Pharaoh and Egypt. This past victory included “the great trials which your eyes saw and the signs and the wonders and the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out” (Deut 7:19a). God’s past faithfulness and deliverances were to strengthen their thinking regarding their present situation, as Moses said, “So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid” (Deut 7:19b). As God had done before, so He promised to do again. And Israel would not be fighting alone, as Moses revealed, “Moreover, the LORD your God will send the hornet against them, until those who are left and hide themselves from you perish” (Deut 7:20). The truth was, the residents of Canaan were afraid of Israel, and God would affect their destruction, even using hornets to attack them in hiding places too small for others. Warren Wiersbe writes:

  • "Bible students don’t agree on what is meant by “the hornet” in Deuteronomy 7:20 (Ex. 23:27–30; Josh. 24:12), but it’s likely that it was the familiar stinging insect that swarmed into the land and attacked the people. The Canaanites were a superstitious people who saw omens in every unusual happening and they may have interpreted this strange occurrence as an announcement of defeat. Insects are sometimes used as metaphors for nations (Isa. 7:18), and some students understand “hornets” to refer to invading nations that God sent into Canaan prior to Israel’s arrival. These local wars would weaken the Canaanite military defenses and prepare the way for Israel’s invasion. Whatever the interpretation, and the literal one makes good sense, two facts are clear: God goes before His people and opens the way for victory, and He can use even small insects to accomplish His purposes."[1]

     For a second time, Moses tells his audience, “You shall not dread them” (Deut 7:21a). Unwarranted fear can cripple God’s people from doing His will and advancing forward to receive His blessings. And again, Moses inserts divine viewpoint into their thinking, saying, “for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God” (Deut 7:21b). The God who was in their midst, who has power to accomplish His word, would Himself guarantee the defeat of Israel’s enemies. However, God’s strategy of removing Israel’s enemy would not occur all at once, but rather in stages, little by little. Moses said, “The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them quickly, for the wild beasts would grow too numerous for you” (Deut 7:22). There was practical wisdom to God’s plan of defeating Israel’s enemies gradually, as sudden depopulation would result in a secondary problem of wild animals—such as lions and bears—that would hinder their settling the land (a reading of the book of Joshua reveals it took about seven years to gain control of the land of Canaan). Though gradual, Israel’s enemies would surely be destroyed, as Moses wrote, “But the LORD your God will deliver them before you, and will throw them into great confusion until they are destroyed” (Deut 7:23). Part of God’s defeat of Israel’s enemies included disrupting their cognitive processes so that they would be confused. Clarity of thought is necessary for any endeavor, and that includes military campaigns. But God would cause Israel’s enemies to be confused, and this would help bring about their destruction. And the defeat of Canaan was a collaboration between God—the Divine Warrior—and the people of Israel. The battle started and ended with God, but He included Israel in the fight. From the divine side, God “will deliver their kings into your hand” (Deut 7:24a). From the human side, “you will make their name perish from under heaven” (Deut 7:24b). The end result would be, “no man will be able to stand before you until you have destroyed them” (Deut 7:24c).

     Israel faced a primary enemy in the Canaanites, but then a secondary, and more dangerous enemy, regarding idols. After Israel defeated their enemies, they were to purge the land of the pagan idols, lest they fall into the trap of idolatry, which is seductive, contagious, and destructive of one’s relationship with God. Even the precious metals used for constructing the idols was to be regarded as unclean and destroyed. Moses wrote, “The graven images of their gods you are to burn with fire; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, or you will be snared by it, for it is an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deut 7:25). God understands the human heart and knows our sinful weaknesses. The greater threat to Israel—greater than the Canaanites themselves—was idolatry, and the immorality associated with it. The greater battle was spiritual, not physical. Moses concluded the pericope, saying, “You shall not bring an abomination into your house, and like it come under the ban; you shall utterly detest it and you shall utterly abhor it, for it is something banned” (Deut 7:26). Eugene Merrill comments:

  • "So reprehensible are these objects that they contaminate those who use them or who even bring them into their homes (v. 26). Indeed, they render them to the same judgment as was appropriate to the objects themselves, namely, total eradication. This was illustrated most tragically but clearly in the episode of Achan; following Jericho’s destruction, he seized some of the detestable goods of that city, brought them into his tent, and subsequently perished along with them (Josh 7:16–26)."[2]

     As Christians, we face ongoing battles in the devil’s world. Constant troubles can dominate our thoughts and lead to crippling fear if we don’t learn to operate from the divine perspective. Like Israel, God calls us to take control of our thoughts (2 Cor 10:5), to set our minds on Him (Col 3:1-2), and to let His Word saturate our thinking (Col 3:16). We are to live by faith (Heb 10:38; 11:6), as this allows us to gain victories that could not be won by any other means. Furthermore, we live in the present reality that “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). And God Himself said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” and “the Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me? (Heb 13:5-6). As Christians, we must not fall into the trap of loving the world (1 John 2:15), but rather, “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). Warren Wiersbe states:

  • "Like Israel of old, the church today must move forward by faith, conquer the enemy, and claim new territory for the Lord (Eph 6:10–18; 2 Cor 2:14–17). But unlike Israel, we use spiritual weapons, not human weapons, as by faith we overcome the walls of resistance that Satan has put into the minds of sinners (John 18:36; 2 Cor 10:1–6; Eph 6:17; Heb 4:12). The apostolic church had no buildings, budgets (Acts 3:6), academic degrees (Acts 4:13), or political influence, but depended on the Word of God and prayer (Acts 6:4); and God gave them great victory. Can He not do the same for His people today? Jesus has overcome the world and the devil (John 12:31; 16:33; Eph 1:19–21; Col 1:13; 2:15); therefore, we fight from victory and not just for victory. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31)."[3]

 

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 55.

[2] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 184.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series, 58.

Deuteronomy 7:12-16

Deuteronomy 7:12-16

March 6, 2021

     The main point of this pericope is that God promised to bless Israel if they would obey His commands. The blessing would include children, productive crops and herds, good health, and the defeat of their enemies. Moses opens with the statement, saying, “Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers” (Deut 7:12). God’s covenant belonged to the nation of Israel, and blessing or cursing was theirs, depending on whether they obeyed or disobeyed His commands. The bilateral Mosaic covenant continued from one generation to the next, as each Israelite was beholden to the eternal God who enforced it. God is their good King and He desires only their best; however, they must walk in obedience to His commands in order to secure His blessings (Deut 5:33; 12:28). If the Israelites were disobedient to God’s directions, it did not destroy the covenant-relationship with the Lord (i.e., they did not cease to be His people), but resulted in forfeiture of covenant-blessings and the addition of covenant-curses.

     If each Israelite would follow the Lord’s commands, they could expect His blessing, as Moses stated of God, “He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you” (Deut 7:13). God’s love would be displayed in the form of blessings He desired to give His people, which would spill over to their children, as well as their crops and herds (blessing by association). And this would occur in the land where God was taking them, the land which God had promised to their forefathers and their offspring (Gen 17:7-8; 26:24; 28:13-14). And Moses continued saying, “You shall be blessed above all peoples; there will be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle” (Deut 7:14). God’s blessing was tangible.

     Part of the blessing included no sickness or disease, which the Lord would place on Israel’s enemies. Moses said, “The LORD will remove from you all sickness; and He will not put on you any of the harmful diseases of Egypt which you have known, but He will lay them on all who hate you” (Deut 7:15). Israel could know these blessings, but they had to be faithful and completely destroy the residents of Canaan, as Moses said, “You shall consume all the peoples whom the LORD your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, nor shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you” (Deut 7:16). Israel was not to have misplaced compassion on the wicked Canaanites who had sinned terribly, and who had sinned away their day of grace. Furthermore, Israel was not to serve their gods, for that would ensnare them in the same sins that God was bringing on their enemies. Earl Kalland writes:

  • "To secure these advantages, the Israelites were to destroy without pity the Canaanites the Lord would give over to them. The Canaanite gods were not to be worshiped, for that would be a snare to the Israelites. In Exodus 23:33, Judges 2:3, and Psalm 106:36, the gods (idols) of Canaan are said to be snares, while in Exodus 34:12 and Joshua 23:13 the Canaanites themselves are snares."[1]

Warren Wiersbe adds:

  • "Privilege always brings responsibility, and Israel’s responsibility was to obey God’s commandments, for then He could bless them as He promised. God’s covenant was a covenant of love, and He would show His love by blessing them if they obeyed and chastening them if they disobeyed. The Lord would bless them with children and grandchildren and increase their numbers greatly. He would also increase their crops and livestock so they would have enough to eat and a surplus to sell. Because of their obedience, Israel would escape the terrible diseases they saw in Egypt as well as the plagues that God sent to the land."[2]

     As Christians, our salvation cannot be lost (John 10:28), but failure to know and walk with the Lord can result in forfeiture of blessings and also bring divine discipline. As those who have trusted in Christ as our Savior, we have become “children of God” (John 1:12), and the Lord expects us to live virtuous lives. God instructs us “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (Eph 4:1-2), and to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:10), and to “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Th 2:12). As Christians, 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).

     As Christians, we do not live in a theocracy and should not seek to form one. 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 wrote, “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). Warren Wiersbe adds:

  • "Separation is simply living up to what we are in Christ. If we separate ourselves from sin, God will be able to deal with us as obedient children. He will commune with us and bless us. “Let us cleanse ourselves” is the negative part of godly living, but “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” is the positive part, and the two go together (Deut 7:1). We aren’t supposed to isolate ourselves from the world (1 Cor 5:9–13) because the world needs our witness and service. We cooperate with different people at different times for different reasons, but we’re careful not to compromise our witness for Christ. We do some things because it’s for the good of humanity and other things because we’re citizens or employees. But whatever we do, we seek to do it to the glory of God (vv. 19–20)."[3]

 

 

[1] Earl S. Kalland, “Deuteronomy,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 73.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 52–53.

[3] Ibid., 53–54.

Matthew 10:1-15 - Jesus’ Disciples Proclaim the Kingdom of God

Matthew 10:1-15 - Jesus’ Disciples Proclaim the Kingdom of God

February 28, 2021

The main point of this pericope is that Jesus transformed His disciples into apostles and sent them out to the house of Israel with the message that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. The complete study notes can be accessed here.

Deuteronomy 7:7-11

Deuteronomy 7:7-11

February 28, 2021

     The main point of this pericope is that God chose and redeemed Israel because of the promise He made to their forefathers, which promise resulted in the nation’s liberation and covenant relationship. Moses opens this section, saying, “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples” (Deut 7:7). Here, God’s love for Israel is seen in His choosing them to be His people; which love was in no way influenced by their greatness as a nation. In fact, they are said to be “the fewest of all people”, which implies their insignificance by human standards. But God did love them, and His love was in no way predicated on their worthiness (cf. Deut 9:4-6). God’s love is that inherent characteristic that motivates Him to act, not for self-interest, but wholly for the benefit of others. And this love can be tied from one person or generation to the next, as Moses states, “but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut 7:8). God’s liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt was a sign of His love for them. Some have questioned why God loved and chose Israel for Himself, and one liberal scholar states, “Maybe it was pure chance. Maybe God just tossed a coin. For whatever reason, God ‘chose’ Israel.”[1] Such flippant and dismissive comments portray God as one who acts randomly and arbitrarily rather than thoughtfully and intentionally. God’s selection of Israel was based on the oath He swore to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deut 4:37; 10:15). The Lord promised their descendants would become a great nation and possess the land of Canaan (Gen 17:7-8; 26:24; 28:13-14), so He brought them out of Egypt to fulfill His word (Deut 5:6; 6:12; 8:14), and thus He brought the nation into existence (Isa 43:15; cf. 45:11). Warren Wiersbe writes:

  • "The Lord’s choice of Abraham and Sarah was an act of sovereign grace. They were idol-worshipers in Ur of the Chaldees when “the God of glory” appeared (Acts 7:1–3; Josh. 24:1–3). They had no children and yet were promised descendants as numerous as the sands of the seashore and the stars of the heavens. They later had one son, Isaac, and he had two sons, Esau and Jacob; and from Jacob’s twelve sons came the twelve tribes of Israel. When Jacob’s family gathered in Egypt, there were seventy people (Gen. 46), but by the time they were delivered from Egypt, they had become a great nation. Why did this happen? Because God loved them and kept the promises that He made to their ancestors."[2]

     God keeps His word, and His actions speak volumes. Based on this, Moses said to those Israelites before him, “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deut 7:9). As the only God that is, Israel was to know that He is able to accomplish His will (Isa 45:5-7), and to be faithful and keep His covenant promises indefinitely from one generation to the next with those who love/choose Him and keep His commandments. Moses used the Hebrew word חֶסֶד chesed—translated lovingkindness—to refer to God’s loyalty to the covenant and those in relationship with Him.

     Not only does God promise to bless Israel when they are faithful to Him, but He is also identified as One who “repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face” (Deut 7:10). Here, the judgment falls solely on the Israelite who is in a bilateral covenant relationship with God and is obligated to live according to His commandments. Those who hate God have rejected His authority, and He will judge them individually for their disloyalty and disobedience. To enjoy God’s blessings and avoid His judgments, Moses told his hearers, “Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them” (Deut 7:11). God had done everything necessary for the nation to be victorious and blessed. All Israel had to do was keep their part of the covenant agreement. 

     As Christians, when we think about our relationship with God, we realize there is nothing special about us that would motivate Him to love, redeem, and reconcile us to Himself, which He accomplished by the death of Christ. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, saying:

  • "For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God." (1 Cor 1:26-29)

     Before being saved, we were helpless sinners who were enemies of God (Rom 5:6-10), dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1-2), completely unable to save ourselves (Rom 4:1-5; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). But Paul reveals God’s sovereign grace, saying, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Cor 1:30-31). And elsewhere he states, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-6). And we were selected not just for a relationship, but “that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4), “a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Tit 2:14; cf. 3:8, 14; Heb 10:24).

  • "As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful." (Col 3:12-15)

 

[1] John Goldingay, Numbers and Deuteronomy for Everyone (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 123.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 52.

Deuteronomy 7:1-6

Deuteronomy 7:1-6

February 27, 2021

     In this pericope, Moses tells his people that God would bring them into the land of Canaan and they were to annihilate all the inhabitants and show them no grace (Deut 7:1-2), and avoid the temptation to intermarry (Deut 7:3), which would lead Israel into idolatry (Deut 7:4). After defeating their enemies, Israel was to destroy all their places and symbols of worship (Deut 7:5), for God had selected His people to be set apart for holiness (Deut 7:6).

     Moses opens his instruction with the promise that God would bring His people into the land of Canaan to possess it (Deut 7:1a), and would clear away “many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you” (Deut 7:1b). Going into the land of Canaan was a collaboration in which God would lead them into battle and Israel would follow and serve as His instrument of judgment. The number seven in Scripture represents completeness, and the idea of listing seven nations was to reveal that Israel would face a full set of adversaries. It appears many of the residents listed are descendants of Canaan (Gen 10:15-19). Thomas Constable writes: “Moses mentioned seven nations that resided in Canaan here (v. 1), but as many as 10 appear in other passages (cf. Gen 15:19–22; Ex 34:11; Num 13:28–29; Judg 3:5). Perhaps Moses named seven here for rhetorical purposes seven being a number that indicates completion or fullness.”[1]

     Moses then states, “and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them” (Deut 7:2). The reference to Canaan’s “utter destruction” derives from the Hebrew חָרָם charam, which here means the residents of the region were to be devoted to extermination. Here was a divine pronouncement of guilt upon a people and culture that had become extremely corrupt. God had been gracious to the Canaanite people for four hundred years (Gen 15:14-16), giving them ample time to turn from their sin. Though God is very gracious and slow to anger (Psa 145:8-9), the time for grace had ended and their guilt required judgment (Gen 15:16; Lev 18:24-30; Deut 9:1-5). As mentioned from a previous lesson, the Canaanites were by no means a sweet and lovely people who spent their days painting rainbows on rocks and playing with butterflies. Rather, they were antitheocratic and hostile to God and His people and comprised the most depraved culture in the world at that time. For centuries the Canaanites practiced 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; cf. Deut 12:31; 18:10); much like modern day America. God 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).

     A similar command follows, as Moses states, “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons” (Deut 7:3). Apparently, Moses knew there would be a temptation among the Israelites to take some of the Canaanite women as wives; and likely some of their sons and daughters faced this temptation as well. But God forbid it, saying, “For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods” (Deut 7:4a). God was Israel’s Ruler, and the danger of serving other gods was tantamount to treason. Such action would upset their relationship with God, and Moses said, “then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you” (Deut 7:4). If the Israelites became like the pagan Canaanites in their idolatry, values, and behavior, then God would treat them with the same judgment. Eugene Merrill comments:

  • "This drastic action was taken as a form of immediate divine judgment upon those who had sinned away their day of grace (cf. Gen 15:16; Lev 18:24–30). It also was to preclude their wicked influence on God’s covenant people who would otherwise tend to make covenant and intermarry with them (Deut 7:3) and adopt their idolatry (v. 4), something that, in fact, did take place because of Israel’s failure to obey the ḥērem decree."[2]

     Sadly, we know historically that Israel failed to obey the Lord (see the book of Judges), and the immoral culture spread among God’s people, who themselves began to practice all the evil things God hates (Deut 12:31), including idolatry and child sacrifice (2 Ki 3:27; 16:3; Psa 106:37-38; Isa 57:5; Jer 7:31; 19:5; 32:35; Ezek 16:20-21). Because Israel eventually became corrupt, God destroyed and expelled them from the land by means of military defeat from their enemies. This happened when the ten northern tribes of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC and the two southern tribes of Judah fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC.

     Not only was Israel to defeat their enemies, they were to remove the vestiges of their pagan culture from the land, lest it became a temptation to them. Moses said, “But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire” (Deut 7:5). Eugene Merrill states:

  • "The 'sacred stones' represented the male procreative aspect of the Canaanite fertility religion; and the Asherah, the female. Asherah was also the name of the mother goddess of the Canaanite pantheon, the deity responsible for fertility and the productivity of soil, animals, and humankind. She was represented by either an evergreen tree or by a pole that also spoke of perpetual life. The cult carried on in their name was of the most sensual and sordid type, one practiced in the temples and also under the open sky at high places and in groves of trees. Prominent in its services was sacred prostitution involving priests and priestesses who represented the male and female deities."[3]

     Moses then concludes this pericope, saying, “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God 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 7:6). To be holy meant the nation was to be set apart to the Lord and be distinct from the pagan cultures around them. Israel was a chosen people with a special calling, and this required they know God and walk with Him, for they were His own possession. Jack Deere comments:

  • "The basis for the command to destroy the Canaanites lay in God’s election of Israel. The word translated chosen means “to be chosen for a task or a vocation.” God had selected Israel as His means of sanctifying the earth. Thus, they were holy (set apart for God’s special use) and were His treasured possession (cf. Deut 14:2; 26:18; Psa 135:4; Mal 3:17). Since the Canaanites were polluting the earth, and since they might endanger Israel’s complete subordination to the will of the Lord, they either had to repent or be eliminated. And as stated, for 400 years they had refused to repent."[4]

     God always calls His people to holy living, which means we are to be set apart for service to Him. It means conforming our lives to His righteous standards of thinking, speaking, and living. By living as God expects, we will not conform to the values and practices of whatever culture we live in. In contrast, we will call for others to know the Lord as well and, once saved, to conform their lives to Him, that they too might walk as children of light. As Christians, God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4; cf. 1 Pet 1:15-16). This means we are to “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:22-24). As we learn to walk with God, we will manifest the virtues of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).

 

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Dt 7:1.

[2] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 179–180.

[3] Ibid., 180.

[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), 276.

Deuteronomy 6:20-25

Deuteronomy 6:20-25

February 14, 2021

     In this pericope, Moses anticipates the curiosity of children toward their parents, asking why they follow the Lord’s commands (Deut 6:20), and how the parents must seize those moments and explain God’s mighty deliverance from Egypt and how He brought them into a covenant relationship with righteous directives intended for their good (Deut 6:21-25). Moses opens this section, saying, “When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the LORD our God commanded you?’” (Deut 6:20). This assumes Israelite children will, in time, ask their parents why they live differently than the surrounding culture. In Israel, God intended theological training to start in the home with parents training their children in right theology (orthodoxy) and right living (orthopraxy). The training that started in the home was to continue into adulthood as God’s people were to learn from the Levitical priests (Lev 10:8-11; Deut 31:9-13; 33:8-10; Mal 2:7). It’s interesting that before getting to the laws (which the children ask about), the parents were to recount the historical narrative of God’s special deliverance from Egypt. The script Moses provided to the parents started with, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the LORD brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand” (Deut 6:21). At the outset, Israel is described as being in a helpless situation of suffering, and God is seen as the mighty deliverer, an image repeated throughout Deuteronomy (cf., Deut 5:15; 7:8; 9:26; 26:8). The instruction continues, as the parents explain, “Moreover, the LORD showed great and distressing signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household” (Deut 6:22). Israel is portrayed as captive observers who witness the Lord’s assault against Egypt, the superpower of their day. God’s defeat of Egypt resulted in their rescue, as “He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers” (Deut 6:23). The deliverance not only brought them out of their suffering, it was also intended to bring them into the place of blessing; a place connected with physical land, real estate which God had previously sworn to give to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen 17:7-8; 26:24; 28:13-14). God continued to own and control the land promised to Israel, even after they came to live in it (cf. Lev 25:23; Psa 85:1; Hos 9:3; Joel 2:18). Then, after explaining the historical narrative, the reason for the law was given, “So the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today” (Deut 6:24). The commandments were part of the covenant relationship Israel had with God, and these came after their salvation and were never the cause of it. God’s directives were for their “good” and for their “survival” in the land. The word survival translates the Hebrew verb חָיָה chayah, which connotes preservation (CSB, ESV, NET). The parents then close by saying, “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us” (Deut 6:25). The word righteousness translates the Hebrew צְדָקָה tsedaqah, which refers here to right living in conformity to God’s revealed will. Israel was to observe God’s commandment, here translated by the singular Hebrew noun מִצְוָה mitsvah, which regards God’s laws as a unit. As we will observe in the chapters ahead, God’s directives provided an objective standard for right living in a world that was otherwise arbitrary and chaotic. God’s standards for right living were important for Israel’s success and prosperity from one generation to the next, as there was a real danger His people would become perverted by the culture around them and turn away from the Lord. When properly followed, God’s directives pertained to everyone in Israel, whether male or female, rich or poor, old or young, servant or free, king or peasant, and served as the basis for a stable society. It’s interesting that Moses repeats this parental formula later in his message (cf. Deut 26:5-9). Subsequent generations copied this didactic method of retelling Israel’s historical deliverance from Egypt, wilderness wanderings, possession of Canaan, failure to the covenant by worshipping idols, the Lord’s punishment upon them, and ensuing deliverances when they humbled themselves (See Psa 78; 105; 106; 135; Josh 24:1-13; Neh 9; Acts 7).

Biblical Education Starts in the Home

     God expected His people to teach their children about Him in order that they might walk with Him and live righteously. God said of Abraham, “I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice” (Gen 18:19). After the exodus from Egypt, the command was given to God’s people, saying, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deut 6:6-7; cf., Ex 10:2; 2:26-27; 13:14; Deut 4:9; 11:19; 31:10-13). One of the psalmists wrote, “He [God] established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers that they should teach them to their children, that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments” (Psa 78:5-7). The psalmist also hoped the children would learn from their parent’s failures, that they would “not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not prepare its heart and whose spirit was not faithful to God” (Psa 78:8).

     It appears Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs (Pro 1:1) as a training manual for parents to educate their children “to know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding, to receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity; to give prudence to the naive, to the youth knowledge and discretion” (Pro 1:2-4). Proverbs opens with a direct address from a father who tells his son, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching; indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head and ornaments about your neck” (Pro 1:8-9; cf., 4:1-9). And the book closes with the words of a wise king, “King Lemuel”, who recalls his youthful instruction, “the message which his mother taught him” (Pro 31:1).

     In the NT, Christian fathers are instructed, “do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul’s friend, Timothy, was a spiritually mature believer, in part because of the godly influence of his mother and grandmother. Paul wrote to Timothy, “I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well” (2 Tim 1:5). Later, Paul referenced Timothy’s godly upbringing, saying, “from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15).

 

Deuteronomy 6:16-19

Deuteronomy 6:16-19

February 13, 2021

     Moses previously explained that Israel was about to experience the test of prosperity, as God was about to bring His people into the Promised Land and give them homes, wells, and vineyards which had been built by others (Deut 6:10-11). Moses was concerned the prosperity would lead to amnesia and Israel would forget the Lord’s deliverance from Egypt and slavery (Deut 6:12), and he commanded them to stay faithful to God and worship Him only (Deut 6:13). Israel was not to engage in idolatry, as the pagans around them did (Deut 6:14), for Yahweh is a jealous God, who zealously seeks to protect His relationship with His people, and will become angry and render punishment if they violate the covenant (Deut 6:15). Now, Moses hearkens back to an event that occurred shortly after the exodus, saying, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah” (Deut 6:16). The event Moses referred to occurred with the exodus generation nearly forty years earlier, in which Israel tested the Lord so that He might prove Himself to them (Ex 17:1-7). This was not necessary, as they’d personally witnessed His deliverance from Egypt and had benefitted from His provision as He led them into the wilderness. Warren Wiersbe writes:

  • "After He delivered Israel from Egypt, the Lord deliberately led them through difficulties so He could teach them to trust Him. First, they came to bitter water at Marah and complained about it instead of asking God to help them (15:22–26). Then they got hungry for the “fleshpots of Egypt” and murmured against the Lord and the Lord provided the daily manna to sustain them (16:1–8). When they came to Rephidim, there was no water to drink, and once again they complained against the Lord instead of trusting the Lord (17:1–7). “Is the Lord among us or not?” was their question, meaning, “If He is among us, why doesn’t He do something?”[1]

Eugene Merrill adds:

  • "To test God is to make upon him demands or requirements that are inappropriate either to his nature and character or to the circumstances. Jesus quoted this text in responding to Satan’s overtures that he cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple (Matt 4:7; Luke 4:12). The point is not that God could not have rescued him but that such an act would trivialize the power of God and his care for those he loves."[2]

     God, because He is gracious and kind, gave them water from the rock (Ex 17:6), even though they complained against the Lord (Ex 17:7). Unlike their parents who demonstrated unbelief by complaining against God, Moses called for the second generation to live by faith and obey the Lord, saying, “You should diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and His testimonies and His statutes which He has commanded you” (Deut 6:17). What God had commanded (Heb. צָוָה tsavah) them was within their ability to do, and would bring blessing if they complied (cf. Deut 11:26-28). Here, in clear terms, Moses states that keeping God’s commandments means doing “what is right in the sight of the LORD” (Deut 6:18a). It must always be remembered that 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 covenant relationship which they accepted (Ex 19:1-9), which bound them in a relationship with Him. 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. If Israel would walk with the Lord and follow His commands, the result would be, “that it may be well with you and that you may go in and possess the good land which the LORD swore to give your fathers” (Deut 6:18b). Obedience would result in blessing. If Israel would follow the Lord, He would keep His word “by driving out all your enemies from before you, as the LORD has spoken” (Deut 6:19). God owned the land (Lev 25:23; Psa 85:1; Hos 9:3; Joel 2:18), and He would transfer ownership from one people to the next as He willed.

     For the Christian, God gives us commands to guide our lives, which commands are consistent with His good character and when followed, guide us into right living which glorifies Him, benefits others, and helps us avoid the unnecessary suffering that results from bad decisions. And, like Israel, God will give us tests to help develop our relationship with Him and to reveal what is in our hearts that we might grow spiritually. Like Agur, we should seek neither poverty nor riches, lest we turn away from the Lord (Pro 30:7-9), and we should learn to be thankful, whatever our condition in life (Phi 4:11-13). It is generally true that most believers turn to the Lord in times of adversity, but fail to walk with God when prosperity comes; which might explain the failure of many Christians who live in America. Warren Wiersbe states:

  • "The Lord tests our faith, not just in the great crises of life, but even more in the small unexpected events, such as a travel delay, an irritating interruption, a sudden sickness, or a lost wallet. The way we respond in these situations will indicate what’s in our hearts, because what life does to us depends on what life finds in us. If we love and trust the Lord, we’ll leave the matter with Him and do what He tells us; but if we question the Lord and rebel because we’re not getting our own way, then we’re in danger of tempting Him. One of the best protections against tempting the Lord is a grateful heart. If we’re in the habit of thanking the Lord in everything, including the painful experiences of life, then the Holy Spirit will fill our hearts with love and praise instead of Satan filling us with bitter venom. How many “Massahs” and “Meribahs” are marked on the map of our journey of faith?"[3]

 

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 49.

[2] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 172.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series, 49–50.

Jesus’ Compassion for the Sick and Dying (Matthew 9:18-26)

Jesus’ Compassion for the Sick and Dying (Matthew 9:18-26)

February 7, 2021
  • "While He was saying these things to them, a synagogue official came and bowed down before Him, and said, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 Jesus got up and began to follow him, and so did His disciples. 20 And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; 21 for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.” 22 But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” At once the woman was made well. 23 When Jesus came into the official’s house, and saw the flute-players and the crowd in noisy disorder, 24 He said, “Leave; for the girl has not died, but is asleep.” And they began laughing at Him. 25 But when the crowd had been sent out, He entered and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26 This news spread throughout all that land." (Matt 9:18-26 NASB)

     The events that preceded this double pericope included Jesus calling Matthew to be His disciple and then joining him for dinner (Matt 9:9-10), which included tax collectors, sinners, and hostile Pharisees who joined the party late (Matt 9:11-13). While Jesus was at dinner and answering questions posed by the Pharisees, some disciples of John the Baptist approached Him with a concern as to why they and the Pharisees fasted, but Jesus’ disciples did not (Matt 9:14-17). Matthew then states, “While He was saying these things to them, a synagogue official came and bowed down before Him” (Matt 9:18a). Mark and Luke tell us this official was “one of the synagogue officials named Jairus” (Mark 5:22; cf. Luke 8:41), and that he “implored Him earnestly” (Mark 5:23a). Luke tells us Jairus’ daughter was “an only daughter” and that she was “about twelve years old” (Luke 8:42). That Jairus came and bowed before Jesus demonstrates humility.

     Matthew records that Jairus told Jesus, “My daughter has just died” (Matt 9:18b). Mark and Luke state that Jairus’ daughter was “at the point of death” and had not yet passed (Mark 5:23b; cf. Luke 8:42a). It appears Matthew abbreviated the story, knowing the girl would die before Jesus arrived at Jairus’ home. Thomas Constable writes, “According to Matthew he announced that his daughter had just died. Mark and Luke have him saying that she was near death. Since she died before Jesus reached her Matthew evidently condensed the story to present at the outset what was really true before Jesus reached his house.”[1]

     Jairus tells Jesus, “but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live” (Matt 9:18c). Here, Jesus responded to Jairus’ faith, as He “got up and began to follow him, and so did His disciples” (Matt 9:19). It would seem others who were at Matthew’s dinner table heard the discussion and wanted to see what Jesus would do, as Mark informs us “a large crowd was following Him and pressing in on Him” (Mark 5:24). Perhaps these consisted of some of the tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees, and maybe even some of the disciples of John the Baptist, since they were all with Jesus at the time Jairus approached Him at Matthew’s house.

     As Jesus was walking through the city, Mathew informs us about “a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years” (Matt 9:20a). Mark broadens the account, saying, she “had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse” (Mark 5:26; cf. Luke 8:43). Not only had this woman suffered for twelve years, she also paid a lot of money to her physicians, who provided no benefit to her, and her situation only worsened. However, she had not lost all hope, as she came up behind Jesus and “touched the fringe of His cloak. For she was saying to herself, ‘If I only touch His garment, I will get well’” (Matt 9:20b-21). The “fringe of His cloak” probably referred to one of the four tassels that Jewish men wore on the corners of the cloaks which served as a visual reminder they were to live obedient lives to the Lord. Moses wrote:

  • The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God.” (Num 15:37-40)

     Touching the tassels of Jesus garment meant touching that part of His clothing that represented moral and ritual purity. According to the Law, ritual purity would have been lost if one came into contact with a woman who was bleeding internally. Craig Keener writes:

  • "This woman’s sickness was reckoned as if she had a menstrual period all month long; it made her continually unclean under the law (Lev 15:19–33)—a social and religious problem in addition to the physical one. If she touched anyone or anyone’s clothes, she rendered that person ceremonially unclean for the rest of the day (cf. Lev 15:26–27). Because she rendered unclean anyone she touched, she should not have even been in this heavy crowd. Many teachers avoided touching women altogether, lest they become accidentally contaminated. Thus she could not touch or be touched, she had probably never married or was now divorced, and she was marginal to Jewish society."[2]

     After touching Jesus’ garment, the woman was healed of her hemorrhage. Apparently, Jesus knew power had flowed from Him to another. Mark tells us, “Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction” (Mark 5:29). This woman came to Jesus secretly hoping to steal a cure from Him, without anyone knowing, and she got what she hoped for. And Jesus could have let her go about her life without stopping and drawing attention to her. But He did not. Rather, He made public what only He and the woman knew happened. Mark also informs us about the exchange between Jesus and the healed woman, saying:

  • "Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth." (Mark 5:30-33; cf. Luke 8:46-47)

     Why was the woman afraid? Had years of suffering and being ostracized made her timid; fearful to be near others, perhaps expecting a rebuke for making others ceremonially unclean? Whatever the reason, she came to Jesus and humbled herself before Him and told Him the truth. But Jesus did not rebuke her. “But Jesus turning and seeing her said [θάρσει, θύγατερ· ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε], ‘Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.’ At once the woman was made well” (Matt 9:22). It was not the woman’s faith that affected her healing, but her faith in the Savior who alone had the power to heal. Matthew employs the Greek verb σῴζω sozo to describe her being “made well.” The verb means to save, deliver, rescue, or liberate. Here, the deliverance is clearly physical. No doubt His gracious words had a healing effect on her tired and wounded soul. It is also likely He did this for Jairus to witness so that his faith, which was about to be tested, might be strengthened for what lay ahead.

     Mark informs us, “While He was still speaking, they came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, ‘Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher anymore? But Jesus, overhearing what was being spoken, said to the synagogue official, ‘Do not be afraid any longer, only believe’” (Mark 5:35-36; cf. Luke 8:49-50). Here was the test of Jairus’ faith. Though he was surrounded by voices of unbelief, Jesus encouraged him to believe. Jairus had a choice to make, and he obviously chose well. At this point, Jesus thinned the crowd that was traveling with Him, including His disciples, for “He allowed no one to accompany Him, except Peter and James and John the brother of James” (Mark 5:37; cf. Luke 8:51).

     Jesus finally arrived at Jairus’ house, and “When Jesus came into the official’s house, and saw the flute-players and the crowd in noisy disorder, He said, ‘Leave; for the girl has not died, but is asleep’” (Matt 9:23-24a). Professional mourners were common in this culture as they helped the grieving family express the pain of their loss. But Jesus told the mourners to leave, for the reason for mourning was about to be removed, as the Giver of life would restore what once was lost. Throughout the Bible, sleep is a common euphemism for death (Dan 12:2; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; 1 Cor 15:6, 18; 1 Th 4:13–15; 2 Pet 3:4). Death is a tyrant that has ruled for millennia, but it cannot stand against the Lord of life, who raises the dead as easily as waking someone from sleep. But Jesus words did not go unheard or without response, as those in the house “began laughing at Him” (Matt 9:24b). But Jesus commanded them to leave, for He would not tolerate their mocking and unbelief.

     Jesus permitted only “the child’s father and mother and His own companions” to enter the room where the girl’s body lay (Mark 5:40). And “when the crowd had been sent out, He entered and took her by the hand, and the girl got up” (Matt 9:25). Luke tells us Jesus spoke to the little girl, saying, “Child, arise” (Luke 8:54; cf. Mark 5:41), and that “her spirit returned” (Luke 8:55a). Mark informs us the girl “got up and began to walk” (Mark 5:42; cf. Luke 8:42), and Jesus asked “that something should be given her to eat” (Mark 5:43; Luke 8:55b). Jesus supernaturally raised her back to life, and then requested she be given something to eat, which would strengthen her naturally. Matthew closes this pericope by writing, “This news spread throughout all that land” (Matt 9:26). Warren Wiersbe writes:

  • "It is interesting that Jairus and this woman—two opposite people—met at the feet of Jesus. Jairus was a leading Jewish man; she was an anonymous woman with no prestige or resources. He was a synagogue leader, while her affliction kept her from worship. Jairus came pleading for his daughter; the woman came with a need of her own. The girl had been healthy for 12 years, and then died; the woman had been ill for 12 years and was now made whole. Jairus’ need was public—all knew it; but the woman’s need was private—only Jesus understood. Both Jairus and the woman trusted Christ, and He met their needs."[3]

     In summary, Jairus, as well as the woman with the hemorrhage, had confidence that Jesus could help them, and when they knew where Jesus was, their faith became aggressive, pushing through the crowds and overcoming the obstacles to reach the Lord. Here, we see that faith is strong when the need is great and the object of benefit is within reach. This double pericope demonstrated Jesus’ authority to heal the sick and raise the dead. What Jesus did for the helpless woman with the hemorrhage and Jairus’ dead daughter, He will do for those who trust in Him as Savior. For a day will come when there will no longer be sickness in this world and death will be removed. In the eternal state, we learn that Jesus “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev 21:4). And Jesus who sits on His throne will say, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). Until then, we are trusting in Christ as our Savior (John 3:16), and “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit 2:13).

 

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Mt 9:18.

[2] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Mt 9:20–21.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 35.

How to Advance Spiritually - Part 2

How to Advance Spiritually - Part 2

February 7, 2021

     God desires that we advance to spiritual maturity which glorifies Him and blesses us and others. This advance assumes one has believed in Christ as Savior and has spiritual life (John 3:16; 20:31; Acts 4:12; Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5; 1 Pet 1:3, 23).[1] To be clear, salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Only Christ’s atoning work at the cross is sufficient to save, and no works performed before, during, or after salvation are necessary. Though good works should follow our salvation, they are never the condition of it. The information taught in this lesson applies only to the Christian, for “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14 NET; cf. John 8:43-44).

     The advance to spiritual maturity is a process that takes time as Christians learn and live God’s Word on a regular basis. There is always opposition, for we live in the devil’s world and are confronted with many obstacles and distractions that seek to push or pull us away from God. Though constant distractions are all around us, we move forward by “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Bringing our thoughts into captivity means focusing our minds on God and His Word (Isa 26:3; Pro 3:5-6; Col 3:1-2), and not allowing our thoughts to be bogged down and trapped with the cares of this world (Matt 6:25-34). This requires spiritual discipline to learn and live God’s Word on a regular basis. Biblically, several things are necessary for us to reach spiritual maturity, and these are as follows:

  1. Be in submission to God. Scripture tells us to “Submit to God” (Jam 4:7), and “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Submission is a will surrendered to the will of another. Being in submission to God is a sign of positive volition that we’ve prioritized our relationship with Him above all else, and that we trust Him to guide and provide in all things. Like a good friend, He is naturally in our thoughts, and we live every day conscious of Him, being sensitive to what may offend, and making every effort to please Him through a life of faith. When we yield to God, His Word opens up to us, as Jesus said, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17; cf. Luke 24:45; Acts 16:14; 1 John 5:20).
  2. Continually study God’s Word. Ezra, the priest, was one who “had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezr 7:10). The growing believer is one whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). As Christians, we understand that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). We cannot live what we do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. From regeneration onward, we study God’s Word in order to grow spiritually, that we might reach Christian maturity. God has helped the church by giving Pastors and Teachers (Eph 4:11), “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature person, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13). Christians have the individual responsibility of studying God’s Word in order to live the best life and grow to maturity (Deut 8:3; Jer 15:16; 2 Tim 2:15; Heb 5:12-14; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18).
  3. Live by faith. Living by faith means we trust God at His Word. The writer to the Hebrews states, “But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38; cf. Heb 3:7—4:2), 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). It is possible to learn God’s Word and not believe it. For example, the Exodus generation heard God’s Word and understood it; however, “the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Heb 4:2). Our faith is effective when God’s Word is more real than our experiences, feelings, or circumstances.
  4. Restore broken fellowship with God through confession of personal sin. All believers sin, and there are none who attain perfection in this life (Pro 20:9; Eccl 7:20; 1 John 1:8-10). For this reason, familial forgiveness is necessary for a healthy relationship with God. David understood the folly of trying to conceal his sins, which resulted in psychological disequilibrium and pain; however, when he confessed his sin, God forgave him (Psa 32:2-5). John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God forgives because it is His nature to do so, for He “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15; cf. Psa 103:8-14). And He is able to forgive because Christ has atoned for our sins at the cross, satisfying the Father’s righteous demands regarding our offenses (1 John 2:1-2). The challenge for many believers is to trust God at His word and accept His forgiveness and not operate on guilty feelings.
  5. Be filled with the Spirit. Paul wrote to Christians, “don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit” (Eph 5:18 CSB). If a believer consumes too much alcohol, it can lead to cognitive impairment and harmful behavior. But the believer who is filled with the Spirit will possess divine viewpoint and manifest the fruit of godliness, worship, and thankfulness to the Lord (Eph 5:19-20). Being filled with the Spirit means being guided by Him rather than our own desires or the desires of others. The Spirit’s guidance is always according to Scripture. Being filled with the Spirit does not mean we have more of Him, but that He has more of us, as we submit to His leading.
  6. Walk in the Spirit. Paul wrote, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). In this passage walking is a metaphor for daily living, which can be influenced by God (Deut 5:33; 10:12), other righteous persons (Pro 13:20), sinners (Psa 1:1; Pro 1:10-16; 1 Cor 15:33), or one’s own sin nature (Gal 5:17-21). To walk in the Spirit means we depend on His counsel to guide and power to sustain as we seek to do His will. The Spirit most often guides us directly by Scripture (John 14:26), but also uses mature believers whose thinking is saturated with God’s Word and who can provide sound advice.
  7. Accept God’s trials (Deut 8:2-3). Paul wrote, “we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom 5:3-4). James said, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (Jam 1:2-4 CSB). The Lord uses the fire of trials to burn away the dross of our weak character and to refine those golden qualities consistent with His character. The growing believer learns to praise God for the trials, knowing He uses them to strengthen our faith and develop us into spiritually mature Christians.
  8. Pray to God. Prayer is essential to spiritual growth as we need to have upward communication with God to express ourselves to Him. Prayer is the means by which we make requests to God, believing He has certain answers ready for us, and that we just need to ask (Jam 4:2). Scripture directs us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17), and “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph 6:18; cf. Jude 1:20). To pray in the Spirit means we pray in the power of the Holy Spirit as He directs and energizes our prayer life.
  9. Worship and give thanks to the Lord. The writer to the Hebrews stated, “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15). And Paul wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica, saying, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:18). To give thanks (εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo) is to have a daily attitude of gratitude toward God for His goodness and mercy toward us. Part of this attitude comes from knowing God is working all things “together for good” (Rom 8:28), because “God is for us” (Rom 8:31).
  10. Fellowship with other believers. The writer of Hebrews states, “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). Spiritual growth ideally happens in community, for God expects us to exercise our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (see Rom 12:10-13; 14:19; Eph 4:32; Phil 2:3-4; 1 Th 5:11-15).
  11. Serve others in love. We are part of the body of Christ and God calls us to love and serve each other. Paul wrote, “you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13), and “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). Peter states, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10). As Christians, we are told, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phi 2:3-4).
  12. Take advantage of the time God gives. Time is a resource we should manage properly. Paul writes, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16). Solomon wrote, “Whatever you find to do with your hands, do it with all your might, because there is neither work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, the place where you will eventually go” (Ecc 9:10 NET). God has determined the length of our days, as David wrote, “in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for my life when as yet there was not one of them” (Psa 139:16). Every moment is precious and we must make sure our days are not wasted on meaningless pursuits, but on learning God’s Word and living His will, and walking in love with those whom the Lord places in our path.

     As Christians, we will face ongoing worldly distractions in our lives which are designed by Satan to prevent spiritual growth. We have choices to make on a daily basis, for only we can choose to allow these distractions to stand between us and the Lord. As Christians, we experience our greatest blessings when we reach spiritual maturity and utilize the rich resources God has provided for us. However, learning takes time, as ignorance gives way to the light of God’s revelation. Frustration is often the handmaiden of ignorance, but spiritual success comes with knowledge of God and His Word.

 

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 version.

How to Advance Spiritually - Part 1

How to Advance Spiritually - Part 1

February 6, 2021

     God desires that we advance to spiritual maturity which glorifies Him and blesses us and others. This advance assumes one has believed in Christ as Savior and has spiritual life (John 3:16; 20:31; Acts 4:12; Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5; 1 Pet 1:3, 23).[1] To be clear, salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Only Christ’s atoning work at the cross is sufficient to save, and no works performed before, during, or after salvation are necessary. Though good works should follow our salvation, they are never the condition of it. The information taught in this lesson applies only to the Christian, for “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14 NET; cf. John 8:43-44).

     The advance to spiritual maturity is a process that takes time as Christians learn and live God’s Word on a regular basis. There is always opposition, for we live in the devil’s world and are confronted with many obstacles and distractions that seek to push or pull us away from God. Though constant distractions are all around us, we move forward by “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Bringing our thoughts into captivity means focusing our minds on God and His Word (Isa 26:3; Pro 3:5-6; Col 3:1-2), and not allowing our thoughts to be bogged down and trapped with the cares of this world (Matt 6:25-34). This requires spiritual discipline to learn and live God’s Word on a regular basis. Biblically, several things are necessary for us to reach spiritual maturity, and these are as follows:

  1. Be in submission to God. Scripture tells us to “Submit to God” (Jam 4:7), and “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Submission is a will surrendered to the will of another. Being in submission to God is a sign of positive volition that we’ve prioritized our relationship with Him above all else, and that we trust Him to guide and provide in all things. Like a good friend, He is naturally in our thoughts, and we live every day conscious of Him, being sensitive to what may offend, and making every effort to please Him through a life of faith. When we yield to God, His Word opens up to us, as Jesus said, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17; cf. Luke 24:45; Acts 16:14; 1 John 5:20).
  2. Continually study God’s Word. Ezra, the priest, was one who “had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezr 7:10). The growing believer is one whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). As Christians, we understand that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). We cannot live what we do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. From regeneration onward, we study God’s Word in order to grow spiritually, that we might reach Christian maturity. God has helped the church by giving Pastors and Teachers (Eph 4:11), “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature person, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13). Christians have the individual responsibility of studying God’s Word in order to live the best life and grow to maturity (Deut 8:3; Jer 15:16; 2 Tim 2:15; Heb 5:12-14; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18).
  3. Live by faith. Living by faith means we trust God at His Word. The writer to the Hebrews states, “But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38; cf. Heb 3:7—4:2), 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). It is possible to learn God’s Word and not believe it. For example, the Exodus generation heard God’s Word and understood it; however, “the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Heb 4:2). Our faith is effective when God’s Word is more real than our experiences, feelings, or circumstances.
  4. Restore broken fellowship with God through confession of personal sin. All believers sin, and there are none who attain perfection in this life (Pro 20:9; Eccl 7:20; 1 John 1:8-10). For this reason, familial forgiveness is necessary for a healthy relationship with God. David understood the folly of trying to conceal his sins, which resulted in psychological disequilibrium and pain; however, when he confessed his sin, God forgave him (Psa 32:2-5). John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God forgives because it is His nature to do so, for He “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15; cf. Psa 103:8-14). And He is able to forgive because Christ has atoned for our sins at the cross, satisfying the Father’s righteous demands regarding our offenses (1 John 2:1-2). The challenge for many believers is to trust God at His word and accept His forgiveness and not operate on guilty feelings.
  5. Be filled with the Spirit. Paul wrote to Christians, “don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit” (Eph 5:18 CSB). If a believer consumes too much alcohol, it can lead to cognitive impairment and harmful behavior. But the believer who is filled with the Spirit will possess divine viewpoint and manifest the fruit of godliness, worship, and thankfulness to the Lord (Eph 5:19-20). Being filled with the Spirit means being guided by Him rather than our own desires or the desires of others. The Spirit’s guidance is always according to Scripture. Being filled with the Spirit does not mean we have more of Him, but that He has more of us, as we submit to His leading.
  6. Walk in the Spirit. Paul wrote, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). In this passage walking is a metaphor for daily living, which can be influenced by God (Deut 5:33; 10:12), other righteous persons (Pro 13:20), sinners (Psa 1:1; Pro 1:10-16; 1 Cor 15:33), or one’s own sin nature (Gal 5:17-21). To walk in the Spirit means we depend on His counsel to guide and power to sustain as we seek to do His will. The Spirit most often guides us directly by Scripture (John 14:26), but also uses mature believers whose thinking is saturated with God’s Word and who can provide sound advice.
  7. Accept God’s trials (Deut 8:2-3). Paul wrote, “we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom 5:3-4). James said, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (Jam 1:2-4 CSB). The Lord uses the fire of trials to burn away the dross of our weak character and to refine those golden qualities consistent with His character. The growing believer learns to praise God for the trials, knowing He uses them to strengthen our faith and develop us into spiritually mature Christians.
  8. Pray to God. Prayer is essential to spiritual growth as we need to have upward communication with God to express ourselves to Him. Prayer is the means by which we make requests to God, believing He has certain answers ready for us, and that we just need to ask (Jam 4:2). Scripture directs us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17), and “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph 6:18; cf. Jude 1:20). To pray in the Spirit means we pray in the power of the Holy Spirit as He directs and energizes our prayer life.
  9. Worship and give thanks to the Lord. The writer to the Hebrews stated, “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15). And Paul wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica, saying, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:18). To give thanks (εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo) is to have a daily attitude of gratitude toward God for His goodness and mercy toward us. Part of this attitude comes from knowing God is working all things “together for good” (Rom 8:28), because “God is for us” (Rom 8:31).
  10. Fellowship with other believers. The writer of Hebrews states, “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). Spiritual growth ideally happens in community, for God expects us to exercise our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (see Rom 12:10-13; 14:19; Eph 4:32; Phil 2:3-4; 1 Th 5:11-15).
  11. Serve others in love. We are part of the body of Christ and God calls us to love and serve each other. Paul wrote, “you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13), and “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). Peter states, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10). As Christians, we are told, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phi 2:3-4).
  12. Take advantage of the time God gives. Time is a resource we should manage properly. Paul writes, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16). Solomon wrote, “Whatever you find to do with your hands, do it with all your might, because there is neither work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, the place where you will eventually go” (Ecc 9:10 NET). God has determined the length of our days, as David wrote, “in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for my life when as yet there was not one of them” (Psa 139:16). Every moment is precious and we must make sure our days are not wasted on meaningless pursuits, but on learning God’s Word and living His will, and walking in love with those whom the Lord places in our path.

     As Christians, we will face ongoing worldly distractions in our lives which are designed by Satan to prevent spiritual growth. We have choices to make on a daily basis, for only we can choose to allow these distractions to stand between us and the Lord. As Christians, we experience our greatest blessings when we reach spiritual maturity and utilize the rich resources God has provided for us. However, learning takes time, as ignorance gives way to the light of God’s revelation. Frustration is often the handmaiden of ignorance, but spiritual success comes with knowledge of God and His Word.

 

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 version.

Deuteronomy 6:10-15

Deuteronomy 6:10-15

January 31, 2021

     The main point of this pericope is that God would bless His people when they entered the promised land, but He warns them to keep their priorities, remember His great deliverance from Egypt, and stay faithful to Him. Moses opens this section by informing Israel that God was about to bring them into the Promised Land and suddenly bless them with wealth they did not work for. Moses wrote, “Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you” (Deut 6:10a). Clearly this was something God was going to bring to pass, as the word bring translates the Hebrew verb בּוֹא bo, which is in the causative stem (hiphil). This means God would cause Israel to come into the Promised Land; however, this did not exclude Israel’s participation, for He’d previously given instruction concerning the importance of learning His commands and teaching them to their children that blessing might follow from one generation to the next (Deut 6:1-9). God’s blessing of the land was based on a previous pledge He’d made to Israel’s patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to their descendants (Gen 17:7-8; 26:24; 28:13-14). Here, the Israelites would know sudden wealth, as God would give it to them.

     And Moses specified what they were about to receive, namely, “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, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied” (Deut 6:10b-11). Up to this time, Israel had been living in tents and moving from one location to the next as they advanced toward the Promised Land. But things would change for them once they took the land, as they would instantly acquire cities, homes with fine possessions, wells that provided water for them and their animals, and orchards of olive trees and other plants producing fruit so they could eat and be satisfied. Moses made clear that Israel did not build, fill, dig, nor plant any of the things they were suddenly to possess. But there was a real danger Israel was about to face, and it would be in the land of prosperity, where God would bless them greatly. The danger was that Israel would become satisfied and forget the One who blessed them. To prevent them from forgetting the God who delivered them, Moses prescribed the following, saying, “then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name” (Deut 6:12-13). To watch (שָׁמַר shamar) connotes mental activity in which the Israelites were to guard their own thoughts and not let the blessings influence them to forget (שָׁכַח shakach) it was the Lord who delivered them from Egypt and slavery. For Israel to forget God was a danger Moses mentioned several times (cf. Deut 4:9, 23; 8:11-14, 19-20). To fear God meant having a holy reverence for the Lord. To worship God meant having an attitude of thankfulness and praise for His goodness. To swear by God’s name meant to vow loyalty to the Lord and no others (cf. Deut 10:20).

     Moses then gave the negative command, saying, “You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you” (Deut 6:14). To follow other gods meant to walk in devotion to them, thus breaking loyalty with God. This has been a real danger for believers in every dispensation; for though we are in the world, we are not to love the world or its ways. John wrote, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16). Moses concludes this pericope with a serious warning, saying, “for the LORD your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise, the anger of the LORD your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth” (Deut 6:15). God was constantly in their midst, securing their blessings and protecting them from harm. And He is a jealous God, which means he is zealous to protect His relationship with them, for their good. A mother who rightly protects her children from harm understands this kind of jealousy. Sinful jealousy is when we seek to protect was it not rightfully ours. God wanted to bless, but according to the covenant relationship, Israel needed to obey. If Israel turned away from the Lord, they would forfeit their blessings and incur God’s anger. And, if they persisted in turning away from Him and following other gods, He would eventually bring about their destruction. Daniel Block writes, “If Yahweh’s people behave like Canaanites, they may expect the fate of the Canaanites. The God in their midst prefers to act for their good, but by the terms of the covenant he is not obligated to those whose devotion is compromised.”[1] Warren Wiersbe writes:

  • "With privilege always comes responsibility, and Israel’s responsibility was to fear Jehovah and obey Him (Deut 6:13), the verse that Jesus quoted when He replied to Satan’s third temptation (Matt 4:10). When we cultivate a reverent and submissive heart, we will have an obedient will and won’t even want to mention the names of false gods. Israel needed to remember that the Lord owned the land (Lev 25:23) and that they were merely His “tenants.” Their inheritance in the land was God’s gift to His people, but if they disobeyed His covenant, they would forfeit the land and its blessings. The Lord is jealous over His people and will not share their love and worship with any false god (Deut 5:8–10; 32:16–26)."[2]

     As Christians, God wants us to walk with Him and enjoy His love and blessings. Our obedience is driven by love, as a response to His goodness, for “we love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Love is not an emotion, but a commitment to the One who has saved and blessed us, a commitment that is necessary for our wellbeing and marked by expressions of reverence, praise, and service to Him (Col 3:23-24; 1 Th 5:16-18; Heb 12:28). And, it is vitally important to our walk with God that we keep His Word flowing in the stream of our consciousness, as this helps us guard and maintain the health of our relationship with Him.

 

[1] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 193.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 48–49.

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