Thinking on Scripture with Dr. Steven R. Cook



Saturday Dec 18, 2021

This lesson is part of a series on knowing and doing the will of God. The study notes for this lecture can be found at: 

Sunday Dec 12, 2021

     In this pericope, Moses addresses Israel’s future request for a king (Deut 17:14-15), and then specifies the requirements of that king that he may serve as the Lord’s viceregent (Deut 17:16-20).      God knew subsequent generations of Israelites would desire a king after they’d entered the land of Canaan and He was favorable to the notion, albeit with restrictions. Moses wrote, “When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me” (Deut 17:14). Being omniscient (Psa 139:1-4), God knew Israel would possess the land of Canaan, a land which He owned and controlled (cf. Lev 25:23; cf., Psa 24:1; 89:11). He also knew the Israelites would, in time, desire and request a human king to rule over them. The word king translates the Hebrew word מֶלֶךְ melek, and was used of Israel’s leaders from 1050 to 586 B.C. Having a king was not a problem, for God had promised Abraham—the progenitor of Israel—that he would be the father of many nations, saying, “kings will come forth from you” (Gen 17:6; cf. Gen 17:16; 35:11). Later, God had narrowed the kingly line to the tribe of Judah, saying, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Gen 49:10). The problem was that Israel would desire a king in order to be “like all the nations” around them. God wanted His people to be separate, distinct, and unlike the nations of the world. He said, “I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples” (Lev 20:24b). He called them to be “a holy nation” (Ex 19:6). Daniel Block notes, “In contrast to the offices of judge (Deut 16:18–20; 17:9), priest (Deut 17:9; 18:1–8), and prophet (Deut 18:9–22), the office of king is presented as optional, subject to the desire of the people.”[1]      God would grant Israel’s desire to have a king, but He set guidelines for the king, guidelines that would complement the nation’s operations and not hinder it from being holy. Moses said, “you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman” (Deut 17:15). God would be the One to select their king, and He did via His prophet, as was the case when Samuel anointed Saul (1 Sam 9:15-16; 15:1), and later David (1 Sam 16:1-3, 12-13). Warren Wiersbe writes: "The king was not to be elected by the people; he was to be chosen by God. Israel’s first king was Saul (1 Sam 9–10), but God never intended Saul to establish a royal dynasty in Israel. Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, but Judah was the royal tribe (Gen 49:8–10), and the Messiah would come from Judah. Actually, Saul was given to the people to chasten them because they rejected the Lord (1 Sam 8:7), for God’s greatest judgment is to give His people what they want and let them suffer for it."[2]      God knew His people well, and He knew they would be tempted to live in conformity to the pagan values of the world around them. In order to keep His people distinct from other nations, and to keep them looking to Him as their God-King, He placed prohibitions on the kings of Israel. These prohibitions included: 1) multiplying horses to strengthen the army, 2) multiplying wives for pleasure and political alliances, and, 3) greatly increasing silver and gold for financial security.      Starting with the development of the king’s army, God said, “Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never again return that way’” (Deut 17:16). Horses were used in military battles and pulled chariots, which were the tanks of the day. God wanted the king to look to his Lord for deliverance and not rely on military might like the pagan nations did. Egypt was a major source of horses, and God forbid His people from returning to the place where they’d been delivered from captivity.      Addressing the king’s marital life, God decreed, “He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away” (Deut 17:17a). Pagan kings in the ancient world multiplied wives as a means of securing political alliances with neighboring nations and also for sexual pleasure, which was the purpose of the concubine. Human relationships either help or hinder a believer’s walk with God, and there was no closer relationship a king could have than with his wife. God knew if Israel’s kings married women with pagan values and practices, it would only be a matter of time before they turned his heart away from Him. Wives played key roles in the lives of Israel’s kings, either for good (Prov 31:10-12) or bad (1 Ki 21:25; 2 Ki 8:16-18).[3]      And concerning the king’s treasury, God said, “nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself” (Deut 17:17b). Having wealth is essential to the economic development of a person and nation, and there was nothing wrong with the king having wealth. This prohibition pertained to the pursuit of wealth by human means, which would prove to be a consuming passion that would turn his heart away from the Lord. David said of God, “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). God may bless His servant with riches; however, David also said, “If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them” (Psa 62:10b). Money was necessary for living, but was also unstable and could easily be lost. The rule was, “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens” (Prov 23:4-5; cf., Prov 27:24). The Lord Jesus said, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Wisdom is found in the one with a temperate heart (Prov 30:7-9), who is content with what the Lord provides (1 Tim 6:8), is concerned with storing up wealth in heaven (Matt 6:19-21), pursues a life of righteousness (Matt 6:33), and if blessed with wealth, uses it for godly purposes (1 Tim 6:17-19). Daniel Block states: "These prohibitions, then, address three major temptations facing ancient rulers: lust for power, lust for status, and lust for wealth. The text does not prohibit the purchase of horses, or marriage, or the accumulation of some silver and gold. The threefold repetition of “for himself” emphasizes the ban concerning the king’s exploitation of his office for personal gain."[4]      How was the king to know God’s will for him? He was to know it by reading the book of Deuteronomy, which enriched his thinking and guided his actions. In fact, God required the king to hand write a copy of the book of Deuteronomy, saying, “Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests” (Deut 17:18). The king did not make laws, but received them from God, who was Israel’s divine King (Psa 44:4; 74:12; Isa 43:15), as well as their Legislator and Judge (Isa 33:22). God’s laws were inscripturated and could be studied and applied by the king, or any who desired to know God and live His will (Deut 6:1-3; Ezra 7:10; Neh 8:1-3; Mal 2:7). Writing out a personal copy of the law in the presence of the Levitical priests signified this as a sacred act. It’s possible the Levitical priests, being present, would ensure the copy was wholly accurate. And the king was to carry it with him and read it all the days of his life as a manual for righteous living before his holy God. All of this assumes the integrity of language, in which the author’s original meaning was permanently infused in the words and phrases he wrote, and that language itself served as a reliable vehicle for communication. The end result was that the reader was responsible to know what had been communicated and would be blessed or disciplined based on whether they responded to it positively or negatively. Here, the integrity and authority of the written commands was to be honored by the king who subordinated himself to his God-King.      After hand writing a copy of the Law, the king was required to keep its content flowing in the stream of his consciousness at all times. This meant he was to carry the Scriptures with him all the time and read it daily. God said, “It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deut 17:19). Again, the integrity of language is assumed as subsequent kings would have an objective standard by which to guide their thinking and actions.      The daily reading of God’s Word was also intended to help keep the king humble, “that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel” (Deut 17:20). The king, like all Israel, was under God’s ultimate authority. But being the king also meant he was to serve as a spiritual leader to God’s people, and this meant he was held to a higher standard, for if the king turned “aside from the commandment, to the right or the left” it meant leading others into sin. But if the king was obedient, both he and his sons would know God’s blessing and the Lord would ensure their continuation in the land. Without question, the most important qualification for the king was to know God’s Word and walk in it. Failure at this point would result in a prideful ruler who would, by default, be governed by the inclinations of his sinful heart and the values and practices of a fallen world that is governed by Satan and his forces.      The king who followed these directives would serve as the ideal Israelite, not relying on self or resources, but be wholly devoted to God and guided by sacred Scripture. Later, when Samuel was leading Israel, the people came to him with their concerns and asked for a king that they might be “like all the nations” around them (1 Sam 8:4-5). This displeased Samuel greatly (1 Sam 8:6). However, when he prayed about the matter, God told Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Sam 8:7). The Lord also said, “Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also” (1 Sam 8:8). Samuel warned them about the ways of “the king who would reign over them” and the abuses that would follow (1 Sam 8:9-18). Even with the warning of tyranny and abuses, the people requested a king (1 Sam 8:19-20), and God gave them the desires of their heart by selecting Saul, a Benjamite (1 Sam 9:1-2), who did all the harm God had warned them about.      Saul started out well, but in a short time He became disobedient to the Lord. Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you” (1 Sam 13:13a). As a consequence, God told Saul, “Now your kingdom shall not endure” (1 Sam 13:14a). Samuel informed Saul about the reason he lost his kingship, saying, “because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (1 Sam 13:14c). Samuel also informed Saul about his replacement, saying, “The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people” (1 Sa 13:14b). God selected David as Saul’s replacement, and David was “a man loyal to Him” (1 Sam 13:14 CSB). Throughout his life, David sought the Lord and studied His Word (Psa 1:1-2; 25:4-5), walked with God and taught others to do the same, saying, “I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You” (Psa 51:13). David was a writer who composed 73 Psalms which instructed others in righteousness and led them in worship. And when David sinned, he handled his failures in a biblical manner by confession (Psa 32:3-5), and owning the consequences (1 Chron 21:13). Israel’s kings were sometimes compared with David (1 Ki 15:1-5; 2 Ki 16:2; 18:1-3; 22:1-2; 23:3). David also instructed his son, Solomon, to know God’s Word and to walk in it (1 Ki 2:1-3). Though Solomon knew God’s directives for kingship, he broke all three commands as he accumulated horses from Egypt (1 Ki 4:26-28; 10:26-28), wealth by oppression (1 Ki 10:14-25; 12:4), and hundreds of wives and concubines (1 Ki 3:1; 11:1-8). Solomon had great wisdom, but he failed to apply what he knew. All believers have this capacity, which is why James said, “to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (Jam 4:17). Being a good leader is always about learning God’s Word and doing Gods will, staying humble, staying faithful, and selflessly seeking the best interests of others.      It is true that David practiced the sin of polygamy contrary to the Law of Moses. From Scripture we know the names of eight of David’s wives: Michal (1 Sam 18:27), Abigail (1 Sam 25:39-42), Ahinoam (1 Sam 25:43), Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:24), Maacah, Haggith, Abital and Eglah (2 Sam 3:2-5). He had other wives and concubines that are not named, as Scripture reveals, “David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron” (2 Sam 5:13a). Interestingly, the Bible says nothing negative about David’s practice of polygamy, and though it was a sin according to Scripture, it was apparently tolerated in David’s life, perhaps because it never resulted in his wives leading him into idolatry as it did with his son, Solomon (see 1 Kings 11:1-11).[5]      In summary, the Mosaic Law placed limitations on the role of the king because of the tendency of those in power to become corrupt, because the proclivity of the human heart is bent toward self-interest rather than God’s interests. However, if the king in Israel learned God’s Word and followed His directives, stayed humble and faithful, he and the nation would know ongoing blessing.   [1] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 418. [2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 118. [3] Mothers have been influencers as well, either for good (Prov 31:1) or bad (2 Chron 22:2-3). There is merit to the statement, the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. [4] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 419. [5] Biblically, some acts of obedience are more important than others, and some acts of sin are more egregious than others. For example, Samuel, told Saul, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam 15:22). Solomon wrote, “To do righteousness and justice is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice” (Pro 21:3). Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, “you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23). Likewise, some sins are worse than others and bring greater judgment. Jesus told His disciples not to be like the Scribes, “who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers”, saying, “These will receive greater condemnation” (Luke 20:47). Concerning the citizens of Chorazin and Bethsaida, Jesus said, “it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you” (Matt 11:22). The apostle John, writing to believers, states, “All unrighteousness is sin” (1 John 5:17a). However, he drew a distinction, saying, “there is a sin that results in death” (1 John 5:16b), and “there is a sin that does not result in death” (1 John 5:17b). These are obvious statements that show some acts of obedience are better than others, and some acts of sin are worse than others.

Saturday Dec 04, 2021

     This unit of Scripture is part of a larger section in which Moses addresses four leadership offices God would assign in Israel, namely, judges (Deut 16:18-17:8), priests (Deut 17:9-13; 18:1-8), kings (Deut 17:14-20), and prophets (Deut 18:15-22). These four leadership offices were bound by the Mosaic Law, which legitimized their authority and was the guide for their rulership.      In this pericope, Moses continues his message to the Israelites who were about to enter the land of Canaan. In addition to judges (שָׁפַט shaphat) who would serve in local communities (Deut 16:18-17:8), Moses introduces a higher court that consisted of Levitical priests and a judge who would serve at a central location, namely the tabernacle or temple. This higher court was intended to handle legal cases that were too difficult for judges in local communities.      Being a theocracy meant God was their Judge, Lawgiver, and King (Isa 33:22). As King, He was their national leader. As Lawgiver, He was the source of their legislation. As Judge, He would evaluate His people on the basis of their adherence to His laws. Moses himself had previously served as a judge (Ex 18:13-16), and had instructed others in God’s law (Ex 18:17-26). The men Moses selected to serve as judges were to be men of good character, “men who fear God, men of truth, and those who hate dishonest gain” (Ex 18:21a). These men could be selected from any of the tribes in Israel, and their moral integrity was to be the chief quality. Once selected and trained, judges in Israel were to see themselves as subordinate representatives of God, the supreme Judge of Israel. God directed His judges to adhere to His standards, saying, “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Deut 16:20). This meant knowing and judging according to God’s written laws. If a judge in Israel perverted justice, it meant he diminished the character of God. Following the directives in Deuteronomy, King Jehoshaphat (who reigned from 873 to 848 BC) appointed judges in Judah and told them, “Consider what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the LORD who is with you when you render judgment” (2 Ch 19:6). He also spoke to the priests in Judah and told them to help execute “the judgment of the LORD and to judge disputes among the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (2 Ch 19:8).[1]      In Israel, the priest (כֹּהֵן kohen) referred to those who drew near to God on behalf of others, usually in sacred matters of prayer and sacrifice. God originally intended the whole nation of Israel to be a kingdom of priests, saying, “and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6). However, because of the sin of worshipping the golden calf (Ex 32:1-35), God took that privilege from the nation and confined the priesthood to Aaron and his descendants, and the Levites were to be their assistants (Num 3:1-10; 18:1-7). According to God’s law, priests were to: Be holy in their behavior (Ex 19:6). Teach His law to others (Lev 10:11; Deut 33:10). Preserve the tabernacle and temple (Num 18:1-4). Officiate duties in the Holy of Holies once a year (Ex 30:6-10; Lev 16). Inspect people and fabrics for cleanliness (Lev 13-14). Receive tithes (Num 18:21, 26; cf. Heb 7:5). Offer sacrifices for sin (Lev chapters 4, 9, 16). Educate and lead God’s people in religious services (Ezra 7:10; Neh 8:1-5, 8). Help judges decide legal matters (Deut 17:8-13).      Moses opens this section by addressing the judges in local communities, saying, “If any case is too difficult for you to decide, between one kind of homicide or another, between one kind of lawsuit or another, and between one kind of assault or another, being cases of dispute in your courts, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the LORD your God chooses” (Deut 17:8). The word court literally means gate (שַׁעַר shaar) and refers to the gate of the city. The city gate was an open area that served as the place where litigants would meet town elders, other citizens, and judges who helped adjudicate crimes or legal matters. Not only where these cases open to the public, but they were also handled relatively quickly (see Ruth 4:1-11). However, Moses assumed there would arise difficult cases in which local judges could not render a ruling, cases of homicide, lawsuit, or assault. When this happened, the judges could take the matter to a higher court.      The higher court would be at a central location of God’s choosing. At first, this would be the tabernacle and later the temple. Moses directed the local judges, saying, “So you shall come to the Levitical priest or the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall inquire of them and they will declare to you the verdict in the case” (Deut 17:9). It could be that the Levitical priests would select one of their own to serve in a judicial capacity; however, the use of the definite article connected with the word “judge” ( הַשֹּׁפֵטha shaphat – the judge) implies a distinction between them. That is, there would be several priests and a particular judge who resided at the tabernacle/temple. These would serve as the court of last appeal. It’s possible the high priest could discern a divine answer by using the Urim and Thummim (Ex 28:29-30; cf. 1 Sam 28:6); however, it seems more likely the theological and experiential wisdom of the priests and judge would decide the case. Once a verdict came down to the local judges, they were instructed:      You shall do according to the terms of the verdict which they declare to you from that place which the LORD chooses; and you shall be careful to observe according to all that they teach you. According to the terms of the law which they teach you, and according to the verdict which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or the left. (Deut 17:10-11)      The local judges who brought the difficult case were bound to adhere to the decision given to them by the priests and judge at the tabernacle/temple. The verdict was declared from the “place which the LORD” chose, which meant Yahweh was involved in the decision, and it was final. The judges who originally brought the case were not free to execute a sentence either with leniency or severity beyond what had been handed to them. The decision of the court represented God’s will, and to reject or deviate from the court’s decision was to reject or deviate from God’s decision, and such an act would be a crime against the Lord. Moses wrote, “The man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the LORD your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel” (Deut 17:12). Executing those who rebelled against the Lord’s decision was seen as purging evil from their communities. In this way, the judges would advance God’s directive to administer “justice, and only justice” within their communities (Deut 16:20a). If the rebellious person was put to death, it would create a healthy fear that would prevent others from rejecting the Lord’s authority. Moses said, “Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again” (Deut 17:13). It’s noteworthy that this legal system Moses was providing assumed objective standards of law (that everyone could observe) predicated on the integrity of words (that didn’t change or lose meaning) and the reliability of language as a vehicle of communication from one person or group to another.      Moses was providing God’s laws, which were a reflection of His righteous character and the basis for their covenantal relationship with Him. Obedience to God’s directives guaranteed blessing and disobedience guaranteed cursing (Deut 11:26-28). Remember, the exodus generation had seen the Lord’s power and experienced His liberation from Egyptian slavery (Ex 13:3), yet, they rebelled against the Lord ten times—disobeying His commands—and were punished by Him (Num 14:22-23). The result of their disobedience was they were not permitted to enter Canaan, but to wander in the wilderness for forty years until they perished (Num 14:28-35). Though they had the promises of God, “the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Heb 4:2). After the exodus generation died, Moses educated their children, restating the Law (Deuteronomy), and these experienced the Lord’s blessings because they responded positively to the godly leadership of Joshua and followed the Lord’s directives. However, after Joshua’s death (Judg 2:8-9), and the death of the generation of Israelites he’d led (Judg 2:10a), we learn, “there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel” (Judg 2:10b). Rather than follow in the ways of the Lord, we learn, “Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger” (Judg 2:11-12).   [1] Jehoshaphat was a relatively good king who followed after the ways of King David. Jehoshaphat started his reign by committing himself to the Lord and destroying the pagan worship centers throughout Judah (2 Ch 17:3-6). He then directed godly men to teach God’s Word throughout the land (2 Ch 17:7-8), and “They taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the LORD with them; and they went throughout all the cities of Judah and taught among the people” (2 Ch 17:9).

Saturday Nov 20, 2021

     This unit of Scripture is part of a larger section in which Moses addresses four leadership offices God would assign in Israel, namely, judges (Deut 16:18-17:8), priests (Deut 17:9-13; 18:1-8), kings (Deut 17:14-20), and prophets (Deut 18:15-22). These four leadership offices were bound by the Mosaic Law, which legitimized their authority and was the guide for their rulership.      In this pericope, Moses continues his message to the judges in Israel (Deut 16:18-20) and addresses the evil of idolatry that may happen within a community (Deut 17:2-3). If the judges heard about a case of idolatry, they were to launch a thorough investigation (Deut 17:4a), and if the report was true, the man or woman guilty of the evil act was to be put to death by stoning (Deut 17:4b-5). The evidence for the case was based on the eye witness testimony of at least two, or preferably, three persons (Deut 17:6). The persons who testified as eye witnesses were to be the first to cast a stone against the offender, and then others within the community were to join in and execute the offender (Deut 17:7a). In this way, God’s people purged the evil persons from their community, thus removing the existential danger of idolatry (Deut 17:7b).      All Israel was to remember and honor God as their Ruler, Lawgiver, and Judge (Isa 33:22). The nation was being blessed with the land of Canaan which God had promised to them (Gen 15:18; 17:7-8; 26:3-4; 28:13-14; Ex 3:8, 17; 13:5; 33:2). Though God was giving them the land as a blessing (Deut 4:1, 40; 11:31-32; 13:12; 16:20), He retained ownership at all times (Lev 25:23; cf. Deut 10:14; 2 Ch 20:5-7; Psa 24:1; 89:11; Acts 17:24-26). The land of Canaan was theirs by divine promise, but possessing the land was contingent on their faithful obedience to the conditions of the Mosaic Covenant. If Israel repeatedly turned away from God and pursued idols, the Lord would curse them as He’d promised and eventually remove them from the land (Deut 28:63). Concerning the passage under consideration, Moses said: "If there is found in your midst, in any of your towns, which the LORD your God is giving you, a man or a woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, by transgressing His covenant, 3 and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host, which I have not commanded, 4 and if it is told you and you have heard of it, then you shall inquire thoroughly." (Deut 17:2-4a)      God was going to give towns for His people to live in, but it was their responsibility to live righteously and to maintain the covenant relationship they had with Him. Personal responsibility is here in view. If the judges in the local communities became aware of a person—man or woman—who was committing idolatry, it was their responsibility to investigate the matter. The specific offense mentioned here is that of idolatry, which Moses calls evil (הָרַע ha ra - lit. the evil, referring to idolatry; cf. Judg 2:11; 3:7; 10:6). Idols were generally manmade objects, but could also include stellar bodies such as “the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host” (Deut 17:3b). Idolatry was a crime of the highest order. Peter Craigie writes: "The crime undermined the very basis on which the covenant community existed and therefore it was to be dealt with very severely, for it threatened the security and life of all Israelites. Thus, the crime, though religious in form, was political in significance. It is analogous to the modern crime of espionage or treason in time of war, for the net effect of both would be to weaken the security of the homeland."[1]      That this crime was done “in the sight of the LORD your God” implies God’s omniscience (cf., Psa 139:1-4; Matt 10:30). And Moses uses the proper name of God (יהוה) which was the name He used when establishing His covenant with Israel. The word transgressing translates the Hebrew verb עָבַר abar, which means to pass over, go one’s own way, or transgress. Here, the term refers to unfaithful individuals who are walking away from the Lord, going their own way, breaking the contract, and worshipping blocks of wood or stone instead of the One who had liberated them from slavery (Deut 5:6), given them the land of Canaan (Deut 4:1; 9:6), cities, houses, wells and vineyards (Deut 6:10-11), enabled them to produce wealth (Deut 8:18), and promised to bless their labor (Deut 7:13; 11:13-15). The word covenant translates the Hebrew word בְּרִית berith, which means covenant, agreement, or contract. Israel was in a binding relationship with God—a contract—that promised blessing if they obeyed (Deut 28:1-14) and cursing if they disobeyed (Deut 28:15-68; cf. Deut 11:26-28). God was giving His people land and towns, and also written laws which were intended to guide the leadership concerning the formation and practice of good government. It was the leadership’s responsibility—as theocratic administrators in God’s kingdom—to apply His laws within their towns. If a judge heard about someone practicing idolatry, he was to take action and investigate the matter thoroughly (Deut 17:4a). It would be unjust to convict someone on the basis of mere hearsay. A careful investigation would be necessary in order to establish beyond all doubt that this crime had been committed.      Moses continued, saying, “Behold, if it is true and the thing certain that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out that man or that woman who has done this evil deed to your gates, that is, the man or the woman, and you shall stone them to death” (Deut 17:4b-5). If the offense of idolatry was true, the offender—whether man or woman—was to be executed. The reason was idolatry was tantamount to treason because it subverted God’s authority by influencing the Israelites to devote themselves to a manmade idol. If left unaddressed, idolatry would destroy Israel from the inside out. An idol, being only a block of wood or stone, cannot provide, protect, or guide those who worship them. However, part of the attraction of idols is that they make no demands contrary to the proclivity of the fallen human heart. And when there is no check on the human heart to restrain its sinful inclinations, the result is a breakdown in morality that weakens society and leads to harmful behavior, especially toward the righteous, vulnerable, and innocent within a community. The punishment for idolatry was death (Deut 17:5; cf., Deut 13:10), and the participation of others in the community to execute the idolaters showed their understanding of the seriousness of the crime and its potential harm on them all.      When the judges investigated a case to determine guilt, it was to be “On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses” (Deut 17:6a). This set a high bar for trials which was intended to protect the innocent and judge the guilty. Moses continued, saying, “he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness” (Deut 17:6b). Moses had previously stated that capital punishment could not occur on the basis of a single witness, saying, “no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness” (Num 35:30b). For emphasis, he repeats this policy later, saying, “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed” (Deut 19:15).[2] In Israel, as in any society, there was always the possibility that a wicked person would present a false charge against another, thus corrupting and weaponizing the judicial system for evil ends. The Lord had clearly forbidden this, saying, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Deut 5:20). The two or three witness policy would mitigate against this sort of corruption. In fact, there was a statute that condemned the false witness to bear the punishment he sought to bring upon another. Moses said, “If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing…[and] if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother” (Deut 19:16, 19). These laws, if properly followed, would allow the judicial system to function properly and for Israel to administer justice against idolaters.       Because sin is contagious, an egregious sin such as idolatry could spread from one family to another, to communities, and eventually infect the whole nation. Failure to follow this instruction would allow the spiritual disease to spread throughout the community, which could bring about the death of the nation.[3] Concerning the execution of the idolater who was determined to be guilty, Moses said, “The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people” (Deut 17:7a). Concerning the involvement of the witnesses in the execution of the offender, Eugene Merrill writes: "The purpose for this contingency was to preclude personal or private vindictiveness and to assure that what was observed had actually occurred and was not the product of poor sensory perception or an overactive imagination. To forestall a conspiratorial process in which witnesses would collaborate in misrepresenting the truth, the witnesses would themselves be forced to hurl the first stones of execution (v. 7). The gravity of what they were called upon to do would be so great that it was likely that the collusion would unravel either in the judicial process itself or subsequent to the miscarriage of justice."[4]      The public execution was not to be administered by the leadership, but by the residents of the town. Those who personally witnessed fellow Israelites practicing idolatry were directed be the first to cast a stone. Then, other Israelites were to participate in putting the offender to death, and in this way, Moses said, “So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deut 17:7b). Here, the purging consisted of the person who practiced idolatry and thus influenced others to evil. Daniel Block states, “Moses’ concern for communal health leaves no room for sentimentality or prejudice. Yahweh’s agenda requires a people united in its devotion to him and rigorous in its preservation of its own character as a holy people (cf. 7:1–6). Eliminating those guilty of capital crimes eradicates the evil from the land and the people.”[5]      If this law had been faithfully executed by the judges and citizens in Israel, it would have kept idolatry at bay and helped preserve the spiritual and moral purity of the nation. However, the record of Israel’s history—with the exception of a few generations that were faithful to God—is a record of their worship of pagan idols, which at times included human sacrifice (Deut 12:31; 18:10-11; 2 Ki 17:6-23; 21:6; Psa 106:37-38; Jer 7:30-31; 19:4-5; 32:35; Ezek 16:20-21). Because of a breakdown in leadership and jurisprudence, God eventually judged His people because they failed to judge themselves. After hundreds of years of idolatry, God destroyed the ten northern tribes of Israel in 722 B.C. (2 Ki 17:7-23), and the two southern tribes of Judah in 586 B.C. (Jer 25:8-11). Present Application:      Idolatry, at its core, it is the selfish sin of substitution in which a person dedicates himself to something or someone lesser than God to direct his life and to meet his wants and needs. God states, “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth” (Ex 20:3-4). Biblically, there is only one God (Isa 45:5-6), and to worship someone or something in His place is to steal the glory due Him (Isa 42:8). Idolatry is thievery of the highest order. An idol is merely the work of a craftsman (see Isa 44:9-20). There is no life in it (Psa 115:1-8; Jer 51:17; Hab 2:18-20), nor can it deliver in times of trouble (Isa 46:5-7). And, as stated previously, an idol cannot provide, protect, or guide those who worship it. However, part of the attraction of idols is that they make no demands contrary to the proclivity of the fallen human heart. And there’s the problem. For when God and His Word do not hold the place of preeminence so as to govern the life of a person (concerning personal choices, family, finances, business, etc.), the heart is then free to follow its sinful inclinations. The result is a lifestyle that ultimately frustrates the worshipper, weakens his/her morals, and eventuates in the harm of others for the sake of self-interest.      Like Israel, Christians are susceptible to idolatry. Writing to Christians in Corinth, Paul said, “Do not be idolaters” (1 Cor 10:7), instructing them to “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor 10:14), revealing that a sacrifice to an idol is really a “sacrifice to demons and not to God” (1 Cor 10:20a). The reason for Paul’s instruction was he did not want the Christians at Corinth “to become sharers in demons” (1 Cor 10:20b). The apostle John, who twice bowed to worship an angel and was rebuked for it (Rev 19:10; 22:8-9), wrote to Christians, saying, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).      Modern forms of idolatry can include: 1) The actual worship of physical idols in one’s home or pagan temple (Ex 20:3-5; cf. Ex 32:1-4). This form of idolatry is straightforward in its form and function, as one worships the physical representation of pagan deity. Various forms today can include Hinduism, New Age, ancestor worship, astrology, and the occult. 2) Money, the aggressive pursuit and acquisition of which makes us feel secure and powerful (Matt 6:24; 1 Tim 6:6-10). Money can be a blessing, but only when it does not take the place of God. A good test of whether money has taken the place of God is whether we hoard it or use it wisely for God’s purposes and glory (1 Tim 6:17-19), the advancement of Christian ministries, and helping the less fortunate in society (Jam 2:15-16). 3) Humanism, which places mankind at the center of everything and makes us look only to ourselves or others for purpose, meaning, and the solution to our own problems. Atheism, big government (socialism and communism), naturalism (which teaches evolution), and environmentalism are all manifestations of humanism, as we become our own lords to find meaning in life and to solve our own problems without God’s help. Humanism is what predominates in our universities, government, businesses, and social institutions. 4) Pleasure, which elevates physical stimulation above all else. Manifestations of this can include a commitment to drugs, alcohol, sex, food, and entertainment such as music and television with the result that God has no place in the life of that person. When all of life is under God’s control, we will have eliminated our personal idols.      Idolatry in the Church should be dealt with as a most serious offense. However, the Church is not Israel and we are not under the Mosaic Law as the rule of life (Rom 6:14; Heb 8:13), but under the Law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2); therefore, how we handle idolaters is different. Israel was required to execute those guilty of idolatry (Deut 17:2-5), but no such command is given to the Church. God’s directive for the Church is to disassociate from the rebellious person who refuses to turn from idolatry in order that we might preserve our walk with God. As Christians, we are to live holy lives, as Peter wrote, “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘you shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:15-16). To be holy means we are set apart from the sinful ways of the world and living in conformity with God’s character and commands. God directs us to manage our relationships with others, for though we live in a fallen world and interact with sinful people, we must be careful who we let into our inner circle of friends, for “bad company corrupt good morals” (1 Cor 15:33; cf. Prov 13:20; 22:24-25). Israel, as a nation, failed to manage their relationships with the surrounding pagan nations, and as a result, they “mingled with the nations and learned their practices, and served their idols, which became a snare to them. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons” (Psa 106:35-37). The very wise King Solomon failed to manage his relationships and “his wives turned his heart away after other gods” (1 Ki 11:4). The result was, “Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done” (1 Ki 11:5-6). Writing to Christians at Corinth, Paul stated, “I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one” (1 Cor 5:11; cf., Rom 16:17; 2 Th 3:6). Disassociation was for the purpose of maintaining holiness with the Lord and avoiding a snare that will trap us in sin. Disassociation is never easy, for we love fellow believers and desire friendship with them, praying and reminding them of Scripture when we have opportunity, hoping they will come to their senses and come back into fellowship. However, our walk with God must always take priority, for He is our greatest Friend, and allegiance to Him secures for us all that is strong and good and meaningful in life. And if/when the erring believer turns back to the Lord and resumes his/her walk-in-the-Word, then all will be as it should, and we should extend forgiveness and grace and welcome him/her back into fellowship.   [1] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 250. [2] In the New Testament, the apostle Paul uses this same rule in church policy concerning charges brought against Church leaders, saying, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses” (1 Tim 5:19). [3] Unfortunately, this is what happened, as idolatry was permitted. A terrible example is seen in Solomon who allowed his wives to influence him to worship foreign gods (1 Ki 11:1-10), and this had a negative impact on the nation of Israel, as it encouraged others to worship idols. Because Israel pursued idols, this brought God’s judgment, which ultimately led to the nation’s destruction (2 Ki 17:6-23). [4] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 261. [5] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 407.

Sunday Oct 31, 2021

     Moses had previously directed Israel to observe the annual feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, both of which commemorated Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Deut 16:1-8). In this pericope, Moses instructs them to observe the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths (Deut 16:9-17).      Moses opens, saying, “You shall count seven weeks for yourself; you shall begin to count seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain” (Deut 16:9). It was the responsibility of the Israelites to begin counting from the time they began to harvest the grain, and they were to count forward seven weeks. This would have corresponded to the time when they harvested grain in March-April. Thus, the Feast of Weeks would have occurred in late May or early June, depending on when the harvesting began. Jack Deere states, “It was also known as the ‘Feast of Harvest’ (Ex 23:16) and the ‘day of firstfruits’ (Num 28:26). Later it was given the title ‘Pentecost’ based on the Septuagint’s translation of the ‘50 days’ (Lev 23:16).”[1] Peter Craigie writes: "The dating of the feast is given in relative and imprecise terms in this context; seven weeks (hence the title of the feast, “Weeks”) were counted from the beginning of the harvest of grain. In Lev 23:15-16, the date is more explicitly defined as being fifty days (seven weeks, the fiftieth day being the day of the festival) after the offering of a sheaf at the beginning of Passover."[2]      On the fiftieth day following the beginning of the grain harvest, Moses instructs, “Then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand, which you shall give just as the LORD your God blesses you” (Deut 16:10). This was to be a time of celebration to the Lord in which Israelites brought a “freewill offering” in proportion to the Lord’s blessing. Jack Deere writes: "The Feast of Weeks was a celebration of God’s rich provision for His people. Therefore, each freewill (voluntary) offering was to be in proportion to one’s blessings from the Lord (cf. v. 17; 15:14). Paul may have had this standard of giving in mind for Christians rather than a system of tithing when he directed the Corinthian Christians to give as each one “may prosper” (1 Cor 16:2)."[3]      And this celebration was to include the residents of a household as well the less fortunate within the community. Moses states, “and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite who is in your town, and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your midst, in the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name” (Deut 16:11). The word rejoice translates the Hebrew verb שָׂמַח samach, which means to be joyful or be glad. God desired His people rejoice, and this time of happiness was connected with the nation’s feasts and worship (Deut 12:7; 14:26; 26:10-11; 27:7), and was to be shared with family and others in the community. This rejoicing was good for the soul, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh 8:10).[4]The festival was tied to the tangible goodness of the Lord who had blessed them with food for another year.      It was during this time of celebration and joy that Israel was to remember their past experience as slaves in Egypt. Moses states, “You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes” (Deut 16:12). The word remember translates the Hebrew verb זָכַר zakar, which means to remember, to call to mind, which Moses tells them to do on several occasions (Deut 5:15; 15:15; 24:18, 22). God’s people were commanded to remember their past servitude in Egypt, and that memory was to have a direct influence on how they understood God’s goodness toward them. God loved them, liberated them, and pulled them out of Egypt with much wealth so they could begin as a new nation (Ex 12:35-36). Moses mentions Egypt 49 times in the book of Deuteronomy. Eugene Merrill states: "The focus of the festival was a joyous meal in celebration of the bountiful blessing of God in providing crops of grain. All the members of the community, regardless of their social or economic status, were invited to participate in the festivities. The most disadvantaged among them were, in fact, especially to be welcomed, for Israel must remember their own bondage in Egypt and how the Lord had freed them so that now they could enjoy such blessings (v. 12). The sign of that divine favor was the produce itself, a portion of which must be presented to the Lord and to his needy people. The amount to be offered should be in proportion to the abundance with which God had blessed in every case."[5]      Next, Moses set forth a third festival which was intended to help them remember their time after they came out of Egypt. Moses said, “You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat; 14 and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns” (Deut 16:13-14). The Feast of Booths (סֻכָּה sukkah – hut, shelter) was also known as the Feast of Tabernacles and was an autumn festival that took place in the month of Tishri, which corresponded to September-October. The tabernacles were basically huts constructed of tree branches and foliage, and the Israelites were to live in these temporary structures for seven days. Leviticus makes clear this was to be practiced by all subsequent generations of Israelites as long as the Mosaic Law was in effect (Lev 23:39-43). This annual practice of living in temporary shelters for seven days following God’s harvest-blessing would help to keep His people humble, and would cement their connection with their ancestors who lived in similar shelters after they came out of Egypt and lived in the wilderness (Lev 23:43). But it was also to be a time of celebration, as God would bless their labor with a plentiful harvest that would provide their nutritional needs for the coming year.      Moses went on to say, “Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful” (Deut 16:15). God promised to continually bless His people’s labor from year to year, but they had to be faithful to follow His directives concerning these annual festivals. And this festival was to take place at the location of God’s choosing. First, this was at the tabernacle and later at the temple.      Summarizing these three annual festivals, Moses states, “Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths, and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed” (Deut 16:16). God called the men of Israel to take responsibility for their families and communities and to gather together three times a year to celebrate God’s goodness, remembering their time of slavery in Egypt, and the Lord’s deliverance. And they were to come with hands full of harvest-blessings, which gatherings and contributions constituted an ongoing pledge of loyalty to the Lord, recognizing Him as their Liberator and Blesser. And the gifts were to be in proportion to the blessing, as Moses said, “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you” (Deut 16:17). God was going to bless their labor from year to year, and He required they acknowledge and celebrate His goodness with these three annual festivals. Present Application:      As the Church, there is similarity between God’s deliverance of Israel and Christians. Like Israel, we should remember we were once enslaved in a kingdom, the kingdom of darkness over which Satan rules (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13; cf., John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; 1 John 5:19), and were helpless to liberate ourselves (Rom 5:6). But God desired our freedom from Satan’s domain, and He sent His Son into the world to be our Liberator. As a human, Jesus was born without sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), which meant He was born free. Furthermore, He maintained His freedom from Satan’s domain by living righteously in the Father’s will (Matt 5:17-18; Heb 10:5-9). Finally, Jesus willingly went to the cross and died in our place (John 3:16-17; 10:14-18). Jesus said, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He willingly shed His blood on the cross as payment for our sin-debt. Jesus purchased our freedom. As Christians, we “have been bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20a; cf., 1 Cor 7:23a), and the payment of our sin-debt was not “with perishable things like silver or gold…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18-19). Through the work of Christ, God has disrupted Satan’s domain of darkness, and having “disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him [Christ]” (Col 2:15). Our freedom came when we responded positively to the message of the cross, believing “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). Having trusted in Christ as Savior, God “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). And now we are “children of God” (John 1:12), brothers and sisters to the King of kings and Lord of lords, and as such, are directed “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). And we look forward to future rewards for our life of faithfulness (2 Cor 5:9-10; 2 John 1:8), 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).      Unlike Israel, the church does not have obligatory holidays (i.e., Resurrection Sunday or Christmas). However, we are directed to gather together as believers, “not forsaking our assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:25). When the early church met, they were “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). It was also a time of giving to support ministry and others in need (2 Cor 9:6-7, 12). As Christians we are directed to do “all things without complaining or arguing” (Phil 2:14). Rather, we are to “always give thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph 5:20), and to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; and in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18). And when we gather, we are to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb 13:15-16).       [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), 292. [2] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 245. [3] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 292. [4] This time of rejoicing did not rule out times of grief or mourning, which are common expressions when one experiences the death of a loved one (Gen 23:2; 1 Ki 13:29; Eccl 3:4). [5] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 254.

Saturday Sep 11, 2021

     Moses directed Israel to observe the annual feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, both of which commemorated Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Moses opens this pericope, saying, “Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night” (Deut 16:1). The annual pilgrimage to celebrate the Passover was required under the Mosaic Law. The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were often celebrated together. William MacDonald states, “The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were closely connected. The Passover is described in verses 1, 2, 5–7; the Feast of Unleavened Bread in verses 3, 4, and 8. These feasts were to remind God’s people of His redemptive work on their behalf.”[1] The Passover marks the occasion when the angel of death passed over the homes which had the blood of the lamb applied to the lintel and doorposts. The Feast of Unleavened Bread memorialized the hurried departure from Egypt. This was to be an occasion where parents instructed their children about God’s deliverance (Ex 12:25-27). Israel first celebrated the Passover one year after Sinai (Num 9:1-5), but Scripture is silent about its celebration until the second generation entered the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua (Josh 5:10-11). Also, it appears the Passover was poorly executed during the period of the kings of Israel and Judah, but was properly executed under the leadership of King Josiah in 622 B.C. (2 Ki 23:22-23; 2 Ch 35:16-19).      God had blessed Israel with much prosperity, and the Passover feast was a time when His people could offer sacrifices to Him; sacrifices which were eaten by those who participated. Moses wrote, “You shall sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God from the flock and the herd, in the place where the LORD chooses to establish His name” (Deut 16:2). Sacrifices from the flock were for the Passover meal, and sacrifices from the herd were likely extra offerings connected with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And these offerings were to occur at the place of God’s choosing, which was first at the tabernacle and later at the temple in Jerusalem.      Moses continues to explain, “You shall not eat leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), so that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt” (Deut 16:3). Again, Passover and Unleavened Bread were closely connected festivals. Subsequent generations of Israelites were to “remember” an event which they never personally experienced, but which was known firsthand by that generation that came out of Egyptian slavery. They were to remember their parents’ days of bondage as though they were their own. And they were to share in their parents’ experience of deliverance by eating the Passover lamb on the very night their parents ate it, and for seven days to eat unleavened bread, which symbolized their affliction and hasty departure. Moses states, “For seven days no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory, and none of the flesh which you sacrifice on the evening of the first day shall remain overnight until morning” (Deut 16:4).      The first Passover meal was originally eaten in the homes of the Israelites when they were in captivity in Egypt. But eating the meal in a home was not permitted by God to subsequent generations, as Moses wrote, “You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which the LORD your God is giving you; 6 but at the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset, at the time that you came out of Egypt” (Deut 16:5-6). Though the location for the reenactment was different, the animal, the day, and time of day was to be the same. The date was the fourteenth of Abib, the animal an unblemished lamb, and the time of sacrifice was to occur at dusk.      For the third time in this pericope, Moses tells them to sacrifice and eat the meal at the place of God’s choosing, saying, “You shall cook and eat it in the place which the LORD your God chooses. In the morning you are to return to your tents” (Deut 16:7). The instruction for them to “return to your tents” likely refers, not to the tents they lived in while in the wilderness, but to temporary living quarters of those hundreds of thousands of Israelites who traveled great distances to be at the tabernacle or temple to celebrate this feast. This probably consisted of tents in temporary campgrounds located around the tabernacle.      Moses concludes this pericope, saying, “Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the LORD your God; you shall do no work on it” (Deut 16:8). The Passover was celebrated on the fourteenth of Abib. The feast of Unleavened Bread started on the fifteenth of Abib and concluded seven days later, on the twenty-first day of the same month (Ex 12:18). And this final day was to be treated as a solemn closing ceremony, a day in which no work would occur.      God’s deliverance from Egypt was personally experienced by some of Moses’ audience, as they were part of the younger generation—under twenty—who could personally recall the exodus event (Num 14:29). They knew about God’s judgment on Egypt, the angel of death that passed over the homes of Israelites with the blood of the lamb on the lintel and doorposts, crossing the Red Sea, destruction of Pharaoh’s army, God speaking to them at Mount Sinai, His provision for their needs in the wilderness, and His judgment that fell upon them because of their parent’s rebellion. But there were many others who were either too young to remember all these things, or were born at a later time. God expected subsequent generations—by faith—to regard the Passover and feast of Unleavened Bread as their own, as their liberation was experienced through their relatives who came out of Egyptian captivity. This experience was to be replicated year after year, marking God’s deliverance, and experientially connecting each generation with its predecessors. Present Application:      There is similarity between God’s deliverance of Israel and the Church. Like Israel, we were once enslaved in a kingdom, the kingdom of darkness over which Satan rules (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; 1 John 5:19), and we were helpless to liberate ourselves (Rom 5:6). But God reached into Satan’s kingdom and disrupted his domain, calling out a people for Himself from among those who were enslaved, and this disruption occurred at the cross, where having “disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him [Christ]” (Col 2:15). Our freedom came when we responded positively to the message of the cross, believing “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). The result was God “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). Our deliverance is complete, “For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7), and we have been redeemed by the precious “blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:19). And now we are “children of God” (John 1:12), brothers and sisters to the King of kings and Lord of lords. In addition, we have a new citizenship in heaven (Phil 3:20), we are a kingdom of priests to God (Rev 1:6), and ambassadors of Christ who represent Him to a fallen world (2 Cor 5:20). Because of our new position in Christ, we are encouraged “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). And we look forward to future rewards for our life of faithfulness, knowing we do our work “for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col 3:23-24).   [1] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 215.

Saturday Sep 04, 2021

     In this pericope, Moses returns to the subject of animals and what should be offered to God in sacrifice. In typical fashion, Moses repeats himself to his audience in order to drive a point. Moses’ emphasis is that firstborn male animals were to be devoted to the Lord and should be eaten only at the place God prescribed. The meal was to be eaten annually in the presence of the Lord at the place He would prescribe and the whole household was to participate in this meal.      Moses opens this pericope, saying, “You shall consecrate to the LORD your God all the firstborn males that are born of your herd and of your flock; you shall not work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock” (Deut 15:19). The word consecrate translates the Hebrew verb קָדָשׁ qadash, which means to sanctify, declare as holy, or set apart for a special purpose. The causative verb stem (hiphil) expresses conscious intentionality on the part of the offeror to consecrate the firstborn male of the herd or flock to God (cf. Ex 13:2, 12; Deut 12:6, 17; 14:23). Israelites were to set apart the best of their herds and flocks for God, for He was the cause of all their blessings. The Lord had blessed them by giving them the land of Canaan (Deut 4:1; 9:6), which included cities, houses, wells and vineyards (Deut 6:10-11), the ability to produce wealth (Deut 8:18), and blessed their labor so they would be fruitful (Deut 7:13; 11:13-15). The Lord had been very good to them, and He deserved their very best.      The annual sacrifice of the unblemished firstborn animal looks back in history to when the Israelites were brought out of Egyptian captivity and their firstborn sons were spared from the angel of death (Ex 13:1-15). But the unblemished firstborn animal also looked forward to Christ, who is our Passover lamb (John 1:29; 1 Cor 5:7), who shed His precious blood on Calvary as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Peter explained we were redeemed from the slave-market of sin with “precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18-19).      The firstborn male of the herd or flock was to be eaten by the offeror and his family. Moses stated, “You and your household shall eat it every year before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses” (Deut 15:20). This was an annual meal eaten at the place God would choose, which first was at the tabernacle and later at the temple. Furthermore, in addition to the immediate members of the family, the animal was to be eaten by the servants and Levites (cf. Deut 12:17-18).      However, Moses instructed them, saying, “But if it has any defect, such as lameness or blindness, or any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the LORD your God” (Deut 15:21). To offer a defective animal would be an afront to God (cf. Deut 17:1), for it would not represent the very best of the herd or flock. Unfortunately, this is what Israelites were doing in Malachi’s day (Mal 1:6-9). Moses explained the lame animal could be eaten by the Israelites, saying, “You shall eat it within your gates; the unclean and the clean alike may eat it, as a gazelle or a deer” (Deut 15:22). The firstborn male animal that was lame could be eaten by the owner, his family and servants, as well as the Levite who relied on the kindness and goodness of others to help provide for him and his family.      And the animal, like all others, was to have its blood drained before it could be consumed. Moses stated, “Only you shall not eat its blood; you are to pour it out on the ground like water” (Deut 15:23). Remember, the animal’s blood represented its life, and this was to be treated in a special way and not eaten (Deut 12:23; Lev 17:10-14). Israel was to understand that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev 17:11a) and was to treat it with respect in all situations. The blood symbolized life, which God has given to all creatures. If the animal was killed at home, the blood was to be drained before eating. If the animal was brought to the tabernacle or temple, the blood was to be drained beside the altar. In those ritual offerings the priests would catch some of the blood and sprinkle it on the altar, or on the mercy seat atop the ark of the covenant on the Day of Atonement. In this way they treated the blood of the animal as special. Present Application:      As Christians, we do not offer animal sacrifices, nor do we worship at a prescribed location as Israel did. We do not gather at a temple, rather, “we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16; cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17). And we do not bring grain or animal sacrifices, but “offer up spiritual sacrifices” to the Lord (1 Pet 2:5). But like Israel, what we offer to the Lord should represent our very best, for God has done His very best for us by sending His Son into the world to be our Savior. God the Son added perfect sinless humanity to Himself (Isa 9:6; Luke 1:26-35), lived a perfect and sinless life (Matt 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and went to the cross as a willing sacrifice (Mark 10:45; John 10:11, 17) and paid our sin debt (Col 2:13-14; 1 Pet 2:24). In Christ we have forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), eternal life (John 10:28), imputed righteousness (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9), and have been rescued from Satan’s “domain of darkness” and transferred “to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son” (Col 1:13). We received these blessings from God at the moment we accepted Christ as our Savior, believing He died for our sins, was buried, and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). Now saved and part of the Royal family of God, we are to serve as “ambassadors for Christ” to a lost world (2 Cor 5:20), and “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called” (Eph 4:1). As Christians living in the dispensation of the Church age, God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). And these blessings enable us to live the Christlike life that honors God and blesses others. It is a life of humility, love, service, and sacrifice for the benefit of others. As Christians, we are called to offer sacrifices to God, and these sacrifices include: The continual giving of the body for service to the Lord (Rom 12:1-2). Confessing our sins directly to God (1 John 1:6-9). Sharing the gospel with others (Rom 15:15-16). Offering praise to God (Heb 13:15). Doing good works and sharing with others (Heb 13:16; cf. Phil 4:18). Giving our lives for the benefit of others (Phil 2:17; cf. Phil 1:21-26; 2:3-4). Walking in love (Eph 5:1-2; cf. 1 Pet 1:22).  

Saturday Aug 28, 2021

     In this pericope, Moses addresses the subject of voluntary slavery in Israel, where a man or woman committed themselves to a period of service in order to pay off a debt. In this situation, the master could not require more than six years of service and was directed to release the slave from his/her debt in the seventh year. Furthermore, the wealthy were required to send the servant away with a generous supply of resources—a severance package—to help jumpstart their freedom and personal success.      Moses opens this section, saying, “If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free” (Deut 15:12). If a person owed a debt to another Israelite that he/she could not pay, the Mosaic Law granted that person the right to commit themselves to six years of contractual servitude in order to pay off what they owed. This allowed for economic integrity in the community in which a person could and should pay off their debts. However, God limited the servitude to six years, and in the seventh year, the servant was required to be set free from the mutual contract agreement. This verse shows that poor slaves had rights under God’s economy. This seven-year agreement is different than the seven years mentioned in Deuteronomy 15:1-11. Here, the seven-year agreement begins when the contract starts.      Furthermore, God obligates the master to set his servant free with a generous severance package. Moses wrote, “When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you” (Deut 15:13-14). The liberal distribution of resources was a severance package of animals, grain, and wine, all intended to help kickstart the former servant’s own economic independence. Warren Wiersbe states: "Servants were to be released after six years of service, whether the seventh year was the Sabbath Year or not. This law assumes that the man’s six years of service without a salary had adequately repaid the loan. But once again, the Lord commanded generosity, for the masters were to send their servants away bearing gifts that would help them start life over again, including livestock, grain, and wine. After all, when the Jews left Egypt, they received expensive gifts in return for their years of enslavement (Ex 11:2; 12:35-36), so why shouldn’t a Jewish brother be rewarded for six years of faithful labor to a fellow Jew?"[1]      Here, we see economic integrity being preserved, as a person was given the option to pay off debts by means of selling himself into service to another. But we also see the principle of love and generosity in Moses’ words. Such love and generosity was consistent with the character of God as well as His past actions toward the nation as a whole. Moses wrote, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore, I command you this today” (Deut 15:15). The word remember translates the Hebrew verb זָכַר zakar means to call to mind, and implies intentionality. God’s people were commanded to remember their past servitude in Egypt, as that memory was to have a direct influence on how they treated others who were less fortunate than themselves. God loved them, liberated them, and pulled them out of Egypt with much silver and gold (Ex 12:35-36). This wealth enabled Israel to jumpstart their own economy when they entered into Canaan. Likewise, God’s people were to model God’s generosity and help their fellow Israelite succeed. Eugene Merrill states: "The rationale for this was the comparable situation in which Israel had found itself in Egypt. There they had been pressed into slavery, cruelly mistreated, but at last delivered by the redemptive grace and power of God. But even the Egyptians had sent them away with provisions to tide them over until they could stand on their own feet (Ex 12:35-36). If this mighty act of redemption was carried out by the Lord on Israel’s behalf, how much more should the beneficiaries of that goodness be quick to exercise it on behalf of their financially oppressed brothers and sisters (Deut 15:14b-15)."[2]      But there was another possibility open to the master and servant. Moses said, “It shall come about if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he fares well with you; 17 then you shall take an awl and pierce it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also, you shall do likewise to your maidservant” (Deut 15:16-17). In this situation, the master proves to be a good man who loves the Lord and honors His Word and cares for those in his service. The servant recognizes the one he serves is a good man who cares for him and meets his needs. As a result, the servant feels loved and loves in return. In this relationship, the servant voluntarily offers to remain in service to his master for the remainder of his life, surrendering his independence, believing he will be loved and cared for until the end of his days. If the master agreed, then the two would seal the arrangement with a ceremony in which the servant would have an awl driven through his ear in front of God and others. The hole in the ear—or maybe an earring—served as a public statement that this master and servant saw each other’s value and freely consented to a lifetime of work together. And this would be initiated by the servant because of his love for the one he served. Warren Wiersbe writes: "During those six years of service, the debtor might come to love the host family and want to stay with them. Or, he might have gotten married during that time, have a family, and want to remain with them. If that was the debtor’s choice, he would be taken to the judges where his decision would be officially recognized. Then his master would bore a hole in his ear to mark him as a willing servant for life. A female servant could make the same choice, but see Exodus 21:7-11 for special provisions."[3]      Moses, returning to the original scenario, in which a servant would be set free with a generous severance package after six years, states, “It shall not seem hard to you when you set him free, for he has given you six years with double the service of a hired man; so the LORD your God will bless you in whatever you do” (Deut 15:18). When it came time for the master to release his servant after six years of service, he was to be motivated by two factors: first, he had benefitted from the servant’s labor that would have cost him twice as much if he’d hired someone to perform the same work. Second, God promised to bless him for obeying His directive, a theme of blessing God had promised to others if they obeyed (see Deut 15:4, 6, 10).   [1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 104. [2] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 246. [3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 104.

Saturday Aug 21, 2021

     In this pericope, Moses continues his address concerning godly behavior toward fellow Israelites and the need to have the right heart attitude and to be forgiving and open-handed. This section assumes economic stratification within the Israelite community. Deuteronomy 15:1-6 pertains to forgiving loans to fellow Israelites based on the seven-year pattern set forth for the nation. Deuteronomy 15:7-11 pertains to the attitude and actions God expected of the blessed in Israel toward the poor, as they were to see them as a “brother” (Deut 15:7, 9, 11). Moses does not address why the fellow Israelite is poor (maybe because of poor lifestyle choices, bad investments, etc.), but only that he is poor, and that those with means should be open-handed in giving loans to help him succeed.      Moses opens this pericope, saying, “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the LORD’S remission has been proclaimed” (Deut 15:1-2). God had established a seven-year cycle the nation was to follow, and this ended when the Feast of Booths was celebrated (Deut 31:10). At the end of every seven years, those Israelites who had made loans to others within the covenant community were to release them from any remaining debt. The Hebrew word for remission is שְׁמִטָּה shemittah, which means a letting drop. Some Bible scholars believe the payment of the loan was only suspended for the seventh year, and would then resume afterwards. Complete cancellation of the loan seems more consistent with the spirit of Deuteronomy, as God had provided complete liberation from physical slavery and generously blessed His people. Eugene Merrill states: "The lender must simply forgive the debt as a necessary consequence of God’s declaration of a “time for canceling debts” (v. 2). This was, as already noted, at the end of seven years, a period not necessarily commencing with the making of the loan but, as v. 9 makes clear, a universally recognized year of release (cf. Ex 23:10–11; Lev 25:2–4). To protect both lender and borrower, the loan, one assumes, was of such an amount as to reasonably be repaid in whatever time remained until the year of cancellation. That is, the size of the loan was commensurate with the time to repay it."[1]      Israel was an agricultural economy and God required they follow a seven-year cycle to let the land rest every seventh year. Not only were Israelites forgiven their debts in the seventh year, but landowners were not to work their land, and the poor were permitted to eat freely from whatever the ground produced (Ex 23:10-11; cf. Lev 25:3-7, 20-23). Apparently, Israel never obeyed the command to let the land rest, and was later judged for their disobedience (2 Ch 36:20-21; Jer 25:11-12; 29:10).      But this loan forgiveness was extended only to those within the covenant community and did not apply to outsiders. Moses said, “From a foreigner you may exact it, but your hand shall release whatever of yours is with your brother” (Deut 15:3). In this verse, Moses draws a distinction between Israelites who are blessed because of their covenant relationship with the Lord, and the foreigner (Heb. נָכְרִי nokri) who lived among them but was not part of the covenant community. Clearly membership had its privileges. Here, one observes divinely sanctioned discrimination (cf., Gal 6:10). Nothing is said about the resident alien (Heb. גֵּר ger) who resided among the Israelites, who enjoyed greater benefits than the foreigner because he/she had committed themselves to the Lord. Concerning Israelites who lived in the land, Moses said, “However, there will be no poor among you, since the LORD will surely bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess” (Deut 15:4). The notion of no poor in the land does not mean economic equality through redistribution of wealth, for there would always be economic stratification. Rather, it meant no Israelite would fall below the poverty line and be without food, shelter, or clothing (cf., 1 Tim 6:8).[2] And Moses reminds his hearers, again, that God was the One who would bless them “in the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess” (Deut 15:4b; cf. Deut 4:21, 40; 9:6; 11:31; 12:9-10, 13:12; 15:7; 16:5, 18, 20; 17:2; 20:16). Thinking from the divine perspective, Israel was to understand God was the One who had liberated them from slavery (Deut 5:6), given them the land of Canaan (Deut 4:1; 9:6), which included cities, houses, wells and vineyards (Deut 6:10-11), enabled them to produce wealth (Deut 8:18), and blessed their labor (Deut 7:13; 11:13-15). The wealthy were to treat fellow Israelites the way God had treated them, with a generous heart and an open hand. God hears the cry of the poor, “For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise His who are prisoners” (Psa 69:33), and “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So, show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Deut 10:18-19).      This ideal situation of no poor in the land was possible for the nation, but was conditioned on their obedience to the Lord’s directives. Moses made this clear by the following conditional clause, saying, “if only you listen obediently to the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today” (Deut 15:5). God’s ideal concerning the poor could be actualized if His people would walk in His will. The blessed of the Lord were called, not to hoard their wealth, but to be generous as He had been generous. God would honor such open-handed behavior by blessing His people, as they would serve as conduits of His grace to others. For the obedient Israelite, Moses said, “For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you” (Deut 15:6). If Israel obeyed the Lord concerning their generosity toward those in the covenant community, God would bless them greatly, which would give them economic superiority over other nations.      But the Israelites were to be mindful about learning and living God’s Word. Moses said, “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; 8 but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks” (Deut 15:7-8). It was inevitable that a wealthy Israelite would encounter a poor person, and when faced with the prospect of helping the impoverished, he was to be generous. What Moses describes is a loan to the poor person with the expectation that it would be repaid. This was different than the gift given through the tithe (Deut 14:22-29). And the help given to the poor was to be “sufficient for his need” and not his greed. A study in Scripture reveals some were poor because of bad choices such as laziness (Pro 6:9-11; 13:18; 24:30-34), alcoholism (Pro 23:21), or chasing daydreams (Pro 28:19 NET). Whereas others were poor through no fault of their own, such as those who were robbed (Mic 2:1-2; cf. Jer 22:13; Jam 5:4). It’s possible that giving money to the poor may be harmful if it facilitates a destructive drug addiction or fosters laziness. Certainly, we don’t want to do that. Scripture promotes a strong work ethic, saying, “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat” (2 Th 3:10). This assumes that a person is able to work and that work is available. Helping the poor in society is always a good thing, but compassion must be governed by wisdom.      In this context, it appears Moses assumes a person is impoverished through no fault of his own and needs a loan to help until his situation improves. When the need was legitimate, God called the wealthy to be generous (cf., Pro 11:24-25; 14:31; 19:17; 28:27). But God was concerned about the heart and wanted His people to act on right motives. Moses said, “Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the LORD against you, and it will be a sin in you” (Deut 15:9). The concern here was that a needy brother would ask for help near the seventh year, just prior the time when loans were automatically forgiven, and the loan would become a gift with the lender losing all hope of repayment. If the wealthy Israelite failed to obey the Lord and withheld the loan to the poor person, then the poor “may cry to the LORD” in such a situation, which meant he would take his case before the Judge of all the earth and, it would “be a sin” in the one who was stingy. Here, it is revealed that the poor had legal rights in God’s theocratic kingdom, which is revealed in other parts of Scripture (Deut 27:19; Pro 29:7; Isa 10:1-2). The cure of a hostile attitude toward the poor was a generous heart and an open hand. This cure was to be self-administered. Failure to be kind and open-handed would bring about God’s cursing, but obedience would secure His blessings (Deut 7:11-13; 11:13-15, 26-28).      Rather than be stingy, Moses said, “You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings” (Deut 15:10). The wealthy Israelite knew God was watching him, and that God would bless him for his obedience. And because the nation as a whole never fully obeyed all God’s laws, there would always be poor among them, as Moses said, “For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore, I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land’” (Deut 15:11). Failure to be generous was unbecoming the Israelite who claimed to be the Lord’s servant, who represented His values in everyday life. In all this, we see how Israelites were to have a theological perspective that governed their daily lives, even how they handled money and treated others within the community.      Though there are no theocracies today, many Old Testament and New Testament passages reflect the heart of God toward the poor, needy, and most vulnerable in society. Scripture reveals God has compassion on the poor (Psa 72:13), helps the poor (1 Sam 2:8; Psa 12:5), is a refuge (Psa 14:6), saves those who cry out to Him (Psa 34:6), rescues the afflicted (Psa 35:10), provides for them (Psa 68:10), lifts them up (Psa 113:7), and seeks justice for them (Psa 140:12). Helping the poor is a demonstration of grace. Being gracious to the poor means listening to their cry for help (Pro 21:13), giving to meet their need (Pro 19:17), and defending their social rights (Pro 31:9). Such actions honor the Lord (Pro 14:31), who “will repay him [the giver] for his good deed” (Pro 19:17; cf. 28:27). John wrote, “Whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17; cf. Jam 2:15-16). Paul wrote, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Tim 6:17-19).   [1] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 243. [2] Some theologians argue for Socialism or Communism from this and other biblical passages, but this is wrong. Socialism and Communism are godless evil governmental systems that seek to steal wealth from those who are skilled at making it, and then hoard it for their own power-hungry purposes. The notion of redistribution of wealth to the poor never materializes in Socialistic and Communistic systems, as greedy and manipulative leaders actually hoard the wealth for themselves and use it as a means for further suppression. The naïve in a society are little more than useful idiots.

Saturday Aug 07, 2021

     In this pericope, Moses addressed both the annual tithe as well as the triennial tithe that Israelites were required to give. The annual amount consisted of a tenth of their crops and herds and was to be eaten once a year in the presence of the Lord, and the triennial tithe was to be shared within the community of each city in order to bless the economically vulnerable; namely the Levites, aliens, orphans and widows.      Moses said, “You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year” (Deut 14:22). This was an annual tithe that occurred at the time of harvest. In the Old Testament, Israel operated as a free-market economy, as families owned land which they cultivated and worked. However, they relied on rain in regular intervals, which the Lord provided as a blessing for the nation’s faithfulness to Him.      Moses wrote, “You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always” (Deut 14:23). Every year, the whole family would travel to the sanctuary with their tithe and eat it—or a portion of it—in the presence of the Lord. This consisted of the produce of the ground as well as the firstborn of their herds and flocks. This annual practice was didactic, in that it taught the people to fear the Lord their God, for He was the One who had liberated them from slavery (Deut 5:6), gave them the land of Canaan (Deut 4:1; 9:6), which included cities, houses, wells and vineyards (Deut 6:10-11), enabled them to produce wealth (Deut 8:18), and blessed their labor (Deut 7:13; 11:13-15). In this way, the tithe was a Thank You to God for all His goodness.  Warren Wiersbe states, “The people of Israel were to be generous with tithes and offerings because the Lord had been generous with them. Each time they brought their tithes and gifts to the sanctuary and enjoyed a thanksgiving feast, it would teach them to fear the Lord (Deut 14:23), because if the Lord hadn’t blessed them, they would have nothing to eat and nothing to give.”[1]      However, because the land of Canaan was large, it might be difficult to transport large quantities of food and herds to the sanctuary, so God made an allowance for some Israelites. Moses wrote, “If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you, then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses” (Deut 14:24-25). This would allow the Israelite to travel with an easy load, one which could be used to purchase food and herds at the sanctuary. Moses continued, saying, “You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household” (Deut 14:26). Twice Moses said the money could be spent “for whatever your heart desires”, which included food as well as wine or strong drink. And this was to be consumed in the presence of the Lord at the sanctuary. In this instance, the Lord was not merely a spectator, but a participant. However, whereas the Israelite ate their portion of the meal, the Lord’s portion was offered as a sacrifice on the altar.[2] And wine and strong drink were permitted to be consumed as part of the act of worship before the Lord. Wine is clearly an alcoholic drink, and the strong drink was likely a low-alcoholic beer. Concerning alcohol, the Bible teaches moderation, not abstinence. Though drinking was permitted, drunkenness was condemned (Isa 5:11; Pro 20:1; cf. Eph 5:18). The consumption of alcohol becomes a problem when it impairs one’s ability to think and act biblically. For those who cannot regulate their alcohol intake, it’s best to refrain from consumption altogether.      Moses then states, “Also, you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town, for he has no portion or inheritance among you” (Deut 14:27) Because the Levites did not own land, they were dependent on the obedience and good will of their fellow Israelites to care for them and to provide for their daily needs. In this way, the Levites were vulnerable to their fellow Israelites in the community. If Israelites were growing spiritually and walking with God as obedient-to-the-Word believers, then the Levite would dwell securely. However, if Israelites were not walking with the Lord, but living as they pleased, the Levite—and his family—would be neglected. The Levite’s physical wellbeing was tied to the spiritual health of the nation. What was true of the Levite was also true for other vulnerable persons in the community; persons such as the alien, orphan and widow.      Moses introduced another tithe, saying, “At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town” (Deut 14:28). Here was a tithe that was taken every third year and deposited—not at the sanctuary—but in their own town. This third-year tithe was for the less fortunate and vulnerable within the community. The food was for “The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town shall come and eat and be satisfied, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do” (Deut 14:29). It’s likely much of the food was stored in city storerooms where the poor could go and draw from those resources over a period of time and not merely on one occasion. Warren Wiersbe states: "Every third year, the people were to give the Lord a second tithe which remained in their towns and was used to feed the Levites and the needy people in the land, especially the widows and orphans. The Levites served at the sanctuary but were scattered throughout Israel. If the people of Israel demonstrated concern for the needs of others, God would bless their labors and enable them to give even more (Deut 14:29)."[3]      Being generous is a praiseworthy characteristic in the Old Testament. For example, Solomon wrote, “The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered” (Pro 11:25), and “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed” (Pro 19:17), and “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor” (Pro 22:9), and “He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses” (Pro 28:27). The New Testament carries this idea over to Christians, as Paul states, “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6). Jack Deere states: "If the Israelites obeyed this command to share, then they could always expect to live in a prosperous society and could be generous, for God would bless them in all the work of their hands. Tithing is not commanded in the New Testament. Yet believers in the Church Age still indicate by their giving that God supports and cares for them. Christians are to give “generously,” knowing that they “will also reap generously” (2 Cor 9:6; cf. 2 Cor 9:7–9; 1 Cor 16:1–2)."[4]      God had blessed Israel with freedom (Deut 5:6), land (Deut 4:1; 9:6), and the ability to make a profit (Deut 8:18). The tithe was a test of their heart, to see if they loved the Lord and would trust Him as their Provider. When it came to helping the Levite, the alien, the orphan, and the widow, Israelites were to be generous and open-handed when surrendering the tenth of their labor-produce. The tithe would secure the needs of the economically vulnerable in the community. And obedient-to-the-Word Israelites would serve as conduits of God’s grace.      Moses’ directives assume social and economic stratification, which occurs naturally in a free-market economy where citizens own their land and are responsible for its production as well as the distribution of its resources, either for sale, or gifting to the poor and needy. In the Bible there is no place for Socialism or Communism, in which a godless, humanistic government steals the property and production of others for personal power—though they claim to operate on principles of compassion for the needy. Daniel Block states, “The Torah does not envision a welfare system administered by a political bureaucracy and based on a centralized system of taxation. The well-being of the potentially marginalized depends on the charity of all citizens.”[5] Christian Giving:      Israel and the Church are both God’s people, but Israel was under “the Law” of Moses (John 1:17), whereas the Church is under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2). Israel was required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut 14:22-23; 28-29; Num 18:21), but there is no tithe required from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). To Christians, the apostle Paul mentions systematic giving (1 Cor 16:1-2), but nowhere specifies an amount. Giving 10% of one’s income is fine, so long as it is understood that it’s a voluntary action and not required by the Lord. One could easily set aside a different amount to be given on a regular basis. Certainly, the financial support of the Pastor is in line with Scripture (Gal 6:6; 1 Tim 5:17-18), although the apostle Paul supported himself in his own ministry as an example to others of sacrificial living (Acts 20:32-35). Giving systematically and giving joyfully is consistent with the teaching of the New Testament (1 Cor 16:1-2; 2 Cor 9:7). And it seems God blesses in proportion to the giving, as Paul states, “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Co 9:6). However, one must not regard this as a means of prosperity, which would make the giving selfish rather than selfless.      As God’s children, we realize all we have is on loan from God, for “the earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Psa 24:1). The Lord declares, “every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psa 50:10), and “‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine’, declares the LORD of hosts” (Hag 2:8). When we give to the Lord, it’s a test of our love and loyalty to Him; for what we give is already His, and giving back to Him means we trust and support His work in the world. David captures this well when he says, “who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You” (1 Ch 29:14).   [1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 101. [2] The practice of exchanging money for food at the sanctuary continued into the New Testament, but there were some who abused it by charging exorbitant exchange rates, which perverted God’s Law for personal gain (Matt 21:12-13; John 2:13-16). [3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, 101. [4] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 290. [5] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 358.

Saturday Aug 07, 2021

     In chapter fourteen, Moses shifts away from the danger of accepting pagan idols to adopting pagan practices that were part of the surrounding cultures. Moses addresses pagan rites concerning mourning for the dead (Deut 14:1), as well as distinctions between animals the Lord declares to be clean or unclean (Deut 14:3-21a). These dietary laws are sandwiched between commands to be holy to the Lord (Deut 14:2, 21b). Finally, Moses concludes this pericope with a comment concerning boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk (Deut 14:21c). These directives would help Israel know what God expected of them and secured blessing if obeyed and cursing if not obeyed (Lev 18:26-30; Deut 11:26-28).      Moses opens with a command, saying, “You are the sons of the LORD your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave your forehead for the sake of the dead” (Deut 14:1). This appears to refer to a mourning rite associated with the cult of the dead. Non-Israelites held to the notion that the deceased spirits of dead family members continued to exist and to wield influence over the living. Some practiced ancestor-worship. Jack Deere writes: "The precise significance of the rituals mentioned here (Deut. 14:1)—laceration and shaving the head for the dead—is unknown today. But cutting oneself was a sign of mourning (cf. Jer 16:6; 41:5; 47:5; 48:37). However, it is clear that these practices reflected beliefs about the dead that conflicted with faith in the Lord, the ultimate Source of life. Therefore, when a loved one died, the Israelites were to demonstrate their faith in the Lord by refraining from these pagan practices."[1]      Israel’s relationship with God required them to walk in conformity with His character. God is holy, which means He is upright and set apart from all that is fallen. God called His people be to be holy, which meant their behavior was to conform to His expectations, and they were not to act like the pagan nations around them. Moses wrote, “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deut 14:2). All of Israel was holy in the sense that they were set apart by the Lord and in a special covenantal relationship with Him. But God expected His people to behave in a holy manner, saying, “you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine” (Lev 20:26). Warren Wiersbe states: "As a holy people, the Jews were set apart from all the other nations because the holy presence of the Lord was with them and they had received God’s holy law (Deut 23:14; Rom 9:4). Because they were a holy people, they were not to imitate the wicked practices of their neighbors, such as cutting their bodies or shaving their foreheads in mourning (1 Ki 18:28; Jer 16:6; 41:5)."[2]      Continuing with the subject of holy living, Moses addressed the subject of eating, saying, “You shall not eat any detestable thing” (Deut 14:3). The detestable thing (Heb. תּוֹעֵבָה toebah) here refers to animals God declared as unclean for consumption (Deut 14:4-20).      What Moses presents is a list of animals into three classes: 1) animals that roam on land (Deut 14:4-8), 2) animals that swim in water (Deut 14:9-10), and 3) animals that fly in the air (including insects, Deut 14:11-20). It’s likely this list is not exhaustive, but representative of each group. Jack Deere states “It has been suggested that certain animals in each group provide the standard for that class; any deviation from that standard renders the animal unclean. For example, the unclean birds are birds of prey that eat flesh without draining the blood and/or are carrion eaters, whereas clean birds are presumably those that eat grain.”[3] This distinction was not new, for Noah had known about clean and unclean animals at the time he constructed the ark (Gen 7:1-10). And this distinction was not based on any quality intrinsic to the animal, but was a designation set forth by the Lord; a designation we don’t fully understand. Some have thought these dietary restrictions were for hygienic purposes, and that’s possible. Peter Craigie states: "Regarding this section…there has been debate over the principle underlying the regulations on permitted and prohibited foods. There are those who adopt the position that the underlying principle has to do with hygiene. Thus, an American doctor conducted a series of experiments to determine the levels of toxicity in the meats of the animals, aquatic creatures, and birds mentioned in Deuteronomy 14; he discovered that the various types of prohibited meats contained a higher percentage of toxic substances than those which were permitted."[4]      However, because this pericope opens with a prohibition against pagan cultic practices associated with the cult of the dead, it seems likely that the dietary laws concerning clean and unclean foods were associated—in some way—with the pagan practices in Canaan. Perhaps the laws served both purposes. And we’re not even sure about the identity of all these animals. Warren Wiersbe states: "We must admit that we don’t know what some of these creatures were and can’t identify them with creatures we know today. For example, the hare (Deut 14:7) certainly isn’t the same as our “rabbit” even though the NIV gives that translation. The rabbit doesn’t chew the cud, although the movements of his jaw and nostrils may look like that’s what he’s doing."[5]      Though we cannot identify every animal, nor understand with absolute clarity all the reasons why some are declared clean and others unclean, we assume the Israelite to whom Moses spoke understood. Whatever we make of the dietary laws, they were pedagogical in nature and connected with God’s expectation of His people to be holy, and this was to distinguish them from the practices of surrounding cultures.      Apart from the list of clean and unclean animals, Moses also said, “You shall not eat anything which dies of itself. You may give it to the alien who is in your town, so that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner, for you are a holy people to the LORD your God” (Deut 14:21a). It’s possible this prohibition was given because an animal that died of itself has not had the blood drained from it, which would make it prohibited for consumption (cf., Deut 12:16, 23, 27; 15:23). However, the dead animal—assuming its death was recent and its carcass suitable for healthy consumption—could be given as an act of charity for the benefit of the alien (Heb. גֵּר ger) who resided within the covenant community. Or, the dead animal could be sold to the foreigner (Heb. נָכְרִי nokri) who lived in the region, perhaps for business purposes. In both instances, the alien and foreigner were not under the requirements of the Mosaic Law, so they could eat the dead animal.      Lastly, Moses closes this pericope with the statement, “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Deut 14:21b). It’s likely this practice was tied to the pagan Canaanite culture and represented something detestable. On the surface, it seems unnatural to take what is meant to promote life (milk) and use it to destroy life. In closing, these dietary laws were to be a part of Israel’s everyday activities and serve as a constant reminder of their relationship with the Lord and that they were to be set apart from the pagan practices that surrounded them. Christians and Food:      Christians living in the dispensation of the church age are also called to “be holy and blameless” before the Lord (Eph 1:4; cf. 1 Pet 1:15-16). Paul wrote to Christians, saying, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:1-2a). Such holy living also pertains to everyday activities such as eating.      In our current dispensation, all foods are cleared for consumption. Jesus, when discussing things that defile a person, “declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19). God gave Peter a vision of all kinds of animals (Acts 10:10-12) and told him to “kill and eat” (Acts 10:13). But Peter refused the Lord’s directive, saying, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean” (Acts 10:14). But the divine reply came to Peter, saying, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:15). The primary reason for the vision was to teach Peter that he was now to accept the Gentiles as equal in the body of Christ, and that he “should not call any man unholy or unclean” (Acts 10:28). However, the Lord was simultaneously declaring all foods clean and Gentiles acceptable under His new program for the Church. The apostle Paul further revealed that foods are no longer an issue, saying, “Food will not commend us to God; [for] we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat” (1 Cor 8:8). And to the Christians living in Colossae, Paul stated, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (Col 2:16). Though Christians are not under dietary restrictions (except for the consumption of blood; see Acts 15:20); we should be mindful that our behavior—even concerning food—reveals something about our walk with God. For this reason, Paul instructed the Christian at Corinth, saying, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). Those who seek to live holy lives will do it to the glory of God.     [1] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 287. [2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 98. [3] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 288. [4] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 230. [5] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 100.

Sunday Aug 01, 2021

     Moses continues his sermon directing God’s people to maintain loyalty to the Lord. In the beginning of this chapter, Moses spoke of the false prophet who would arise among God’s people—even performing signs and wonders—and seek to lead them away from the Lord and into idolatry (Deut 13:1-5). In the second pericope, Moses spoke of the close family or friend who might secretly entice a believer to break allegiance with God and worship idols (Deut 13:11-12). In this third pericope, Israel’s spiritual leader addresses the possibility that certain worthless men might lead a whole city into idolatry (Deut 13:13-18). In all three examples, God prescribed the death penalty for those who promoted treason within the nation (Deut 13:5, 9, 15). These tests would arise throughout the nation’s history, and each Israelite would choose blessing if he/she kept allegiance with God, and cursing if they did not (Deut 11:26-28).      Moses opens this section, saying, “If you hear in one of your cities, which the LORD your God is giving you to live in, anyone saying that some worthless men have gone out from among you and have seduced the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom you have not known), then you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly” (Deut 13:12-14a). In contrast to the direct speech one would hear from a false prophet who spoke publicly (Deut 13:1-2), or the words that came directly from a close relative or friend (Deut 13:6), it might happen that one would hear from secondary or tertiary sources about a city in Israel that had broken loyalty to God. To add to the egregiousness of the offense, Moses describes the city as one “which the LORD your God is giving you to live in” (Deut 13:12b). If the account of rebellion was true, it meant the residents of the city had taken God’s blessing and used it for sinful purposes. The offense was, “some worthless men have gone out from among you and have seduced the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom you have not known)” (Deut 13:13).      The term worthless men is a translation of the Hebrew בְּלִיָּעַל belial, which occurs 27 times in Scripture (a few references include Deut 13:13; Judg 19:22; 20:13; 1 Sam 25:17; 1 Ki 21:9-13; Pro 6:12-14; 16:27; 19:28; Nah 1:11). The word means “Uselessness, wickedness…good for nothing.”[1] These were people whom God designated as worthless because they continually resisted His will and disrupted the activities of His people. Over time, the term Belial became a name for Satan (2 Cor 6:15), who embodies wickedness, worthlessness and trouble, always resisting God and seeking to harm those who walk with Him (1 Pet 5:8). Solomon wrote, “A worthless person [בְּלִיָּעַל belial], a wicked man, is the one who walks with a perverse mouth, who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet, who points with his fingers; who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, who spreads strife” (Pro 6:12-14). Elsewhere, Scripture describes the worthless person as one who “digs up evil” (Pro 16:27), “makes a mockery of justice” (Pro 19:28), and “plots evil against the LORD” (Nah 1:11). He leads others away from God (Deut 13:13), is given to lewd behavior (Judg 19:22), hides from justice (Judg 20:13), is unreasonable (1 Sam 25:17), defies authority (2 Sam 20:1), is willing to lie against the innocent and promote injustice (1 Ki 21:9-13), and seeks to overpower the timid leader (2 Ch 13:7). It should be noted that worthless persons can be born into good families, for “the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the LORD” (1 Sam 2:12). And, they can attach themselves to a godly leader and cause trouble, such as “the wicked and worthless men among those who went with David” (1 Sam 30:22).      In Deuteronomy chapter thirteen, the worthless men engage in organized criminal activity, working as community organizers to seduce the leadership and inhabitants of their city. The enticement was to worship idols (and there was one for everyone), which permitted easy sinful behavior and made no demands for holiness. But in God’s kingdom, idolatry was treason against their good King who had liberated them from slavery and blessed them as His chosen people.      However, rather than operate on hearsay, Moses instructed them, saying, “then you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly” (Deut 13:14a). This meant that some of Israel’s leaders were to send a team of investigators to the city and make a thorough inquiry in the matter to determine the facts. Moses states, “If it is true and the matter established that this abomination has been done among you, you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying it and all that is in it and its cattle with the edge of the sword” (Deut 13:14b-15). Action, or inaction, was to follow only after the facts were obtained. If the matter was proven true and all the residents of the city had broken the first commandment and turned to idolatry (Deut 5:7), then the death penalty was prescribed. All the guilty inhabitants of the city were to be killed and their property was to be utterly destroyed (Heb. חָרָם charam) along with them. If Israelites turned from the Lord and acted like the Canaanites, then they would be judged and treated like the Canaanites. This shows God’s actions of judgment were a response to the unethical behavior of His people who had turned away from Him in violation of the covenant.      Moses said, “Then you shall gather all its booty into the middle of its open square and burn the city and all its booty with fire as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God; and it shall be a ruin forever. It shall never be rebuilt” (Deut 13:16). The action of judging the city included gathering everything to its center and offering it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. Furthermore, the city was not permitted to be rebuilt. Rather, it was to serve as a ruined memorial to others, that they might not follow worthless men and engage in such evil practices. The destruction of all the city’s property would also impede some who might be tempted to spread falsehood about a city, hoping to claim its wealth after the residents were killed.      Moses said, “Nothing from that which is put under the ban shall cling to your hand, in order that the LORD may turn from His burning anger and show mercy to you, and have compassion on you and make you increase, just as He has sworn to your fathers” (Deut 13:17). If God’s directives were followed, and the guilty city destroyed, this would turn God from His anger for their violation of the covenant. In turn, the Lord would be merciful and compassionate because they humbly obeyed, and He would bless them with increase to make up for the lost members of the community who were killed. But this was conditioned on their obedience, as Moses said, “if you will listen to the voice of the LORD your God, keeping all His commandments which I am commanding you today, and doing what is right in the sight of the LORD your God” (Deut 13:18). Keeping God’s directives was the key to success and prosperity in the covenant community (see Deut 11:26-28).      As Christians, we live in a fallen world that is spiritually and morally sick. God has a prescription, but the majority of those in the world reject Him, so the disease goes untreated. As those who have turned to Christ as Savior and been restored to God (forgiven and given new life), we now have the responsibility to grow into spiritual adulthood and live effectively for God and others (i.e., the demanding life of a disciple). This will only happen as we consistently make good choices that are rooted in God’s Word. We grow spiritually when we study the Bible (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17), and live by faith, following God’s directives (Matt 7:24; John 13:17; Jam 1:22). We learn God’s Word in order to live God’s will. The Lord says, “My righteous one shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). The believer whose mind is saturated with God’s Word, correctly understood and applied, “will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psa 1:3). But there are dangers and distractions to the Christian life. We must be careful who we choose as friends, for they will influence us, either for good or evil. We do well to choose good teachers who help us know Scripture, and good friends who encourage us to pursue God’s will. And we must not bow to moments of sinful pressure, nor go with the flow of our declining culture. God is at work in the world, but so is Satan and his demonic forces. We’re constantly confronted with value systems that are harmful and may lead us into destructive paths. Society is never neutral, and there are pressures that pull us to go with the flow. Sometimes that’s alright, but other times not. We realize any dead fish can float downstream, but it takes someone who is alive and strong to swim against it. We should strive to be that person who daily walks with God and who helps and encourages others to do the same. God has granted us the privilege of being a godly influence in the lives of others, whether with family, coworkers, or in the community. We should take these privileges seriously, knowing that our loving and godly behavior may lead others to Christ for salvation, and may encourage other Christians to know the Lord better and to walk closely with Him.   [1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 134.

Copyright 2013 Steven Cook. All rights reserved.

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