Thinking on Scripture with Dr. Steven R. Cook
Deuteronomy 16:1-8

Deuteronomy 16:1-8

September 11, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Present Application:

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

 

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

Deuteronomy 15:19-23 - And Christian Spiritual Sacrifices

Deuteronomy 15:19-23 - And Christian Spiritual Sacrifices

September 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Present Application:

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

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

 

Deuteronomy 15:12-18 - Slavery in Israel

Deuteronomy 15:12-18 - Slavery in Israel

August 28, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 15:1-11

Deuteronomy 15:1-11

August 21, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Deuteronomy 14:22-29 - Tithing in Israel

Deuteronomy 14:22-29 - Tithing in Israel

August 7, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christian Giving:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 14:1-21 - Dietary Laws in Israel

Deuteronomy 14:1-21 - Dietary Laws in Israel

August 7, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christians and Food:

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 13:12-18

Deuteronomy 13:12-18

August 1, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Deuteronomy 13:6-11

Deuteronomy 13:6-11

July 31, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Test a Prophet

How to Test a Prophet

July 25, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example of a True Prophet:

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

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

Beware of False Prophets:

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

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

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

 

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

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

Deuteronomy 12:32–13:5

Deuteronomy 12:32–13:5

July 24, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Deere adds:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

July 18, 2021

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

Excurses on Human Sacrifice in the Old Testament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 12:20-28

Deuteronomy 12:20-28

July 17, 2021

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

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

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

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

Jack Deere adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 12:8-19

Deuteronomy 12:8-19

July 11, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 12:1-7

Deuteronomy 12:1-7

July 10, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 11:18-32

Deuteronomy 11:18-32

June 27, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 11:1-17

Deuteronomy 11:1-17

June 26, 2021

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

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

  • "Know this day that I am not speaking with your sons who have not known and who have not seen the discipline of the LORD your God—His greatness, His mighty hand and His outstretched arm, 3 and His signs and His works which He did in the midst of Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to all his land; 4 and what He did to Egypt’s army, to its horses and its chariots, when He made the water of the Red Sea to engulf them while they were pursuing you, and the LORD completely destroyed them; 5 and what He did to you in the wilderness until you came to this place, 6 and what He did to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, the son of Reuben, when the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, their households, their tents, and every living thing that followed them, among all Israel— 7 but your own eyes have seen all the great work of the LORD which He did." (Deut 11:2-7)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 10:12-22

Deuteronomy 10:12-22

June 13, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Warren Wiersbe adds:

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

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

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

Daniel Block writes:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

[6] Ibid., 273.

Deuteronomy 10:1-11

Deuteronomy 10:1-11

June 12, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Deuteronomy 9:15-29

Deuteronomy 9:15-29

June 6, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Deuteronomy 9:1-14

Deuteronomy 9:1-14

June 5, 2021

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

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

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

Warren Wiersbe adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

[3] Ibid., 66.

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

Deuteronomy 8:11-20 - Prosperity Testing

Deuteronomy 8:11-20 - Prosperity Testing

March 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

 

Deuteronomy 8:1-10 - Adversity Testing

Deuteronomy 8:1-10 - Adversity Testing

March 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

Thomas Constable adds:

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

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

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

     Obedience leads to maturity and maturity opens up many of God’s blessings. For Israel to receive what God had for them, they were to follow His commands and walk with Him. They were instructed, “Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him” (Deut 8:6). God was to be feared as the One who holds the power to bless and punish. And Moses describes the good land that was before them, saying, “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without scarcity, in which you will not lack anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper” (Deut 8:7-9). The land of Canaan was rich with resources which stood in contrast to their wilderness experience. And the proper response to God’s goodness was for His people to bless Him. The words given to them were, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you” (Deut 8:10). An attitude of gratitude was not only the proper response to God’s goodness, but it also helped the Israelites remember the Lord as an expression of faith.

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

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

  • "Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed." (1 Tim 6:17-19)

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

 

[1] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 278.

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

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

Biblical Self-Talk

Biblical Self-Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Faith Strengthening Techniques

Faith Strengthening Techniques

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

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

  1. Live in God’s Word – Scripture is the starting point for the Christian faith, as “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17 KJV). As Christians, we are to “have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor 5:9). God states, “my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). Those who consistently live in God’s Word find stability for their souls (Psa 1:1-3; Jer 17:5-8). Scripture reveals that only God and His Word are absolutely true (Psa 119:160; John 17:17), and never fail (Matt 24:35; Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18). In contrast, we learn that people fail (Jer 17:5; cf. Pro 28:26), money fails (Psa 62:10), the government fails (Psa 146:3), and the creation fails (Matt 24:35).
  2. Look up to God – When believers encounter a stressful situation, the first action should be to place our focus on God for help. David wrote, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?” (Psa 56:3-4; Ex 14:1-14; Deut 20:1-4; 31:1-8). When Abraham considered God’s promise that he would have a son (Gen 15:1-6; 17:6), yet knew in his old age that neither he nor Sarah could produce an heir by human effort (Rom 4:18-19), “he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (Rom 4:20-21). The proclivity of people is to look inward, outward, and downward; whereas God calls us to look to Him. Isaiah wrote, “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock” (Isa 26:3-4). And Paul wrote, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:1-2).
  3. Look back on God’s faithfulness –When facing a large population and military in Canaan, Moses told his people, “If you should say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?’ You shall not be afraid of them; you shall well remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: the great trials which your eyes saw and the signs and the wonders and the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid” (Deut 7:17-19; cf. 8:1-4). And Jeremiah, when lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of his people, found hope by recalling God’s faithfulness. Jeremiah wrote, “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lam 3:21-23).
  4. Look forward to God’s future promises – On two occasions Jesus knew His disciples were struggling with fear and He sought to strengthen their faith by instructing them to focus on eschatological certainties. In the first occasion (the one we just studied), they were to focus on God’s future judgments, as Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). Those who kill the body do so in time, whereas God is able to destroy both body and soul at the future judgment seat of Christ (Rev 20:11-15). On another occasion Jesus instructed His disciples to focus on His promise concerning their future place of residence in heaven, saying, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
  5. Live in God’s love – John wrote, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). God is perfect, and so is His love and care for us (Rom 8:28-39). As we walk with God, our immature love develops and grows strong, becoming like His love. When this happens, fear fades away, and we can be courageous and loving toward everyone, even those who identify as our enemies and seek our harm.
  6. Fellowship with growing believers – Paul wrote, “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours” (Rom 1:12). When writing to the church at Thessalonica, Paul said, “Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith” (1 Th 3:1-2). Growing believers are marked by love for each other as we seek to encourage each other to love the Lord and to serve Him in humility and faithfulness.
Deuteronomy 7:17-26

Deuteronomy 7:17-26

March 7, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 7:12-16

Deuteronomy 7:12-16

March 6, 2021

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

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

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

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

Warren Wiersbe adds:

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

     As Christians, our salvation cannot be lost (John 10:28), but failure to know and walk with the Lord can result in forfeiture of blessings and also bring divine discipline. As those who have trusted in Christ as our Savior, we have become “children of God” (John 1:12), and the Lord expects us to live virtuous lives. God instructs us “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (Eph 4:1-2), and to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:10), and to “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Th 2:12). As Christians, we look forward to future rewards for our life of faithfulness, knowing we do our work “for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col 3:23-24).

     As Christians, we do not live in a theocracy and should not seek to form one. We find ourselves, for the most part, living in pagan societies that promote values contrary to Scripture. Though most of the people we encounter are indifferent to God, we are to love them, pray for them, and share God’s truth when we have opportunity. Jesus said, “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35). Though we are to love others, we must also guard ourselves from being polluted by worldly values that can injure our walk with the Lord. David wrote, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psa 1:1-3). Warren Wiersbe adds:

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

 

 

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

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

[3] Ibid., 53–54.

Deuteronomy 7:7-11

Deuteronomy 7:7-11

February 28, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Deuteronomy 7:1-6

Deuteronomy 7:1-6

February 27, 2021

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

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

     Moses then states, “and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them” (Deut 7:2). The reference to Canaan’s “utter destruction” derives from the Hebrew חָרָם charam, which here means the residents of the region were to be devoted to extermination. Here was a divine pronouncement of guilt upon a people and culture that had become extremely corrupt. God had been gracious to the Canaanite people for four hundred years (Gen 15:14-16), giving them ample time to turn from their sin. Though God is very gracious and slow to anger (Psa 145:8-9), the time for grace had ended and their guilt required judgment (Gen 15:16; Lev 18:24-30; Deut 9:1-5). As mentioned from a previous lesson, the Canaanites were by no means a sweet and lovely people who spent their days painting rainbows on rocks and playing with butterflies. Rather, they were antitheocratic and hostile to God and His people and comprised the most depraved culture in the world at that time. For centuries the Canaanites practiced gross sexual immorality, which included all forms of incest (Lev 18:1-20; 20:10-12, 14, 17, 19-21), homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13), and sex with animals (Lev 18:23; 20:15-16). They also engaged in the occult (Lev 20:6), were hostile toward parents (Lev 20:9), and offered their children as sacrifices to Molech (Lev 18:21; 20:1-5; cf. Deut 12:31; 18:10); much like modern day America. God told His people, “you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them” (Lev 20:23).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

[3] Ibid., 180.

[4] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 276.

Deuteronomy 6:20-25

Deuteronomy 6:20-25

February 14, 2021

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

Biblical Education Starts in the Home

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

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

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

 

Deuteronomy 6:10-15

Deuteronomy 6:10-15

January 31, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

January 30, 2021

     The main point of this pericope is that Israel was to commit themselves to the Lord, learn His Word, live it, and communicate it to future generations so that God’s blessing would continue. Moses opens this section, saying, “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it” (Deut 6:1). The commandment, statutes, and judgments refer to all of the divine commands that follow in Deuteronomy. These commands did not originate with Moses, but with God, who “commanded” Moses “to teach” them to Israel. The purpose of the teaching was that Israel “might do them in the land” where they were going to live. The result was, “so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged” (Deut 6:2). The adults were to walk properly before the Lord so that their children might learn to do the same. If they would comply, their days in the land would “be prolonged.” Moses further states, “O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut 6:3). Again, Moses desired Israel’s best, so he exhorted them to be careful to learn and obey God’s Word. The benefit was that it would “be well” with them and they would “multiply greatly” as God had promised. And this would occur “in a land flowing with milk and honey.” Warren Wiersbe comments, “At least six times in this book, Moses called Canaan ‘a land of milk and honey’ (v. 3; 11:9; 26:9, 15; 27:3; 31:20), a phrase that describes the richness and fruitfulness of the land. Milk was a staple food and honey a luxury, so ‘a land of milk and honey’ would provide all that the people needed.”[1]

     Moses then provides Israel’s pledge of allegiance, saying, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deut 6:4). This section opens with the Hebrew verb שָׁמַע shama, which connotes listening so as to obey. And who is the LORD? The answer is, “The LORD is our God,” which meant He is the God of Israel, their treasured possession. And, unlike the Gentile nations, which had many gods, Israel’s “LORD is one.” The Hebrew numeral, אֶחָד echad, here refers to God’s uniqueness as the only God who is (cf. Isa 45:5-6). Jack Deere comments:

  • "This verse has been called the Shema, from the Hebrew word translated Hear. The statement in this verse is the basic confession of faith in Judaism. The verse means that the Lord (Yahweh) is totally unique. He alone is God. The Israelites could therefore have a sense of security that was totally impossible for their polytheistic neighbors. The “gods” of the ancient Near East rarely were thought of as acting in harmony. Each god was unpredictable and morally capricious. So a pagan worshiper could never be sure that his loyalty to one god would serve to protect him from the capricious wrath of another. The monotheistic doctrine of the Israelites lifted them out of this insecurity since they had to deal with only one God, who dealt with them by a revealed consistent righteous standard. This confession of monotheism does not preclude the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. “God” is plural (’ělōhîm), possibly implying the Trinity, and one (’eḥāḏ) may suggest a unity of the Persons in the Godhead (cf. Gen. 2:24, where the same word for “one” is used of Adam and Eve)."[2]

     Moses then states, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:5). The word love translates the Hebrew verb אָהֵב aheb, which speaks of an act of the will in which Israelites were to commit themselves to the Lord wholeheartedly. Concerning the word love, Daniel Block writes:

  • "Speaking biblically “love” is not merely an emotion, a pleasant disposition toward another person, but covenant commitment demonstrated in actions that seek the interest of the next person…Just as in marriage true love is demonstrated not merely or even primarily by roses and verbal utterances of “I love you,” but in actions that seek the well-being and delight of one’s spouse."[3]

Warren Wiersbe adds:

  • "In the life of the believer, love is an act of the will: we choose to relate to God and to other persons in a loving way no matter how we may feel. Christian love simply means that we treat others the way God treats us. In His love, God is kind and forgiving toward us, so we seek to be kind and forgiving toward others (Eph. 4:32). God wills the very best for us, so we desire the very best for others, even if it demands sacrifice on our part."[4]

     Moses provided the extent to which they were to love God, “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” The word heart translates the Hebrew word לֵבָב lebab which refers to the inner person, will, or intellect. This means love starts in the mind with right understanding and includes the will. The word soul translates the Hebrew word נֶפֶשׁ nephesh, which refers to one’s life, passions, or personal desires. Setting our desires upon God means we structure our lives in such a way to give Him and His Word priority. And the word might translates the Hebrew word מְאֹד meod, which refers to one’s strength, force, abundance, or physical resources. Concerning the Hebrew word מְאֹד meod, Daniel Block states, “Here its meaning is best captured by a word like ‘resources,’ which includes physical strength, but also economic or social strength, and it may extend to the physical things an Israelite owned: tools, livestock, a house, and the like.’[5] Our might not only includes personal effort, but also the abundance of our effort, which includes our personal resources. Earl Kalland is correct when he states, “The exhortation to love ‘with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’ is not a study in faculty psychology. It is rather a gathering of terms to indicate the totality of a person’s commitment of self in the purest and noblest intentions of trust and obedience toward God.”[6]

     Moses’ instruction starts with the individual adults, in which he states, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart” (Deut 6:6). Here, each Israelite had the personal responsibility of learning God’s Word. By doing this, they could fulfill the next command, which states, “You shall teach them diligently to your sons” (Deut 6:7a). The phrase, teach them diligently, translates the Hebrew verb שָׁנָן shanan, which means to engrave or chisel on stone. The verb is in the Piel stem, which makes it intensive (i.e., teach diligently). Here, the tongue of the parents is likened to a chisel they keep applying to their children’s minds in order to engrave God’s Word into their thinking (cf. Pro 6:20-23). Where and when was this activity of training to take place? Moses says, you “shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deut 6:7b). Sitting suggests times of rest, and walking speaks of activity. When you lie down suggests evening time, and when you rise up suggests the morning hours. These form a double merism which encompass of all of life. In this way, Deuteronomy is aimed at subsequent generations, that they might learn God’s will and faithfully transmit it to their children, who will pass it along to their children, and so on.

     In the final verses of this pericope, Moses states, “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut 6:8-9). Some Israelites took this literally and made phylacteries which they wore on their hands and foreheads (Matt 23:5), as well as mezuzahs they placed on doorposts, all of which contained Scripture. Here, the meaning is symbolic, where God’s commands were to be wrapped up in their daily activities (hand), always to be in the forefront of their thinking (forehead), guarding their homes (doorposts of your house), and influencing the activities of the leaders who met to discuss social and legal matters at the entrance of the city (gates).

     As Christians, we know God desires to bless those with whom He is in a covenant relationship, but inheritance blessing is dependent on learning and living God’s Word carefully, which is an indicator that we have placed Him first in our lives above all others. Parents who love their children will naturally want the best for them; therefore, they will diligently teach their children how to have the best life with God, and this they will do in all places, activities, and times of the day. This way, God’s Word will govern all their activities, thoughts, and places of gathering.

 

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 44.

[2] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 274.

[3] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 189–190.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series, 46.

[5] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, 184.

[6] Earl S. Kalland, “Deuteronomy,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 64.

Deuteronomy 5:28-33

Deuteronomy 5:28-33

January 24, 2021

     The main point of this pericope is that God granted the Israelite’s request to leave Mount Sinai because they were afraid of Him, and afterward to speak His laws through Moses, that His people would have an objective basis for right living and blessing. Moses opens this pericope, saying, “The LORD heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken’” (Deut 5:28). God, because He is omniscient, heard the words of His people to Moses and affirmed their comments. But honest and good words spoken in the moment may not carry into the future. God knew His people and He desired their best. However, He also hinted at their future failings when He said, “Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” (Deut 5:29). As discussed from previous lessons, we realize that at the heart of every problem is the problem of the heart. A heart that respects God will manifest itself in obedience to His commands. But a heart that loves self, or the world, will not regard God or His will, but will turn away from Him. This is not only the basis for instability, but harm to self and others. Warren Wiersbe writes:

  • "Obedience is always a matter of the heart, and if we love the Lord, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15, 21–24). There’s no conflict between the greatness of God and the grace of God, His transcendence and His immanence; for we can love the Lord and fear the Lord with the same heart (Pss 2:10–12; 34:8–9). The fear of the Lord is a major theme in Deuteronomy (Deut 6:2, 13, 24; 10:20; 14:23; 17:19; 31:12), but so is the love of God for us (Deut 7:7; 10:15; 23:5) as well as our love for Him (Deut 6:5; 10:12; 11:1, 13, 22; 19:9; 30:6, 16, 20)."[1]

     God told Moses, “Go, say to them, ‘Return to your tents. But as for you, stand here by Me, that I may speak to you all the commandments and the statutes and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I give them to possess” (Deut 5:30-31). God did not force His people to stay at Mount Sinai. They were afraid they’d die if they remained, so the Lord granted their request. Though God wants to reveal Himself to us, sometimes in powerful ways, He will not force us to experience Him beyond what we’re willing to accept, even though it may mean we’re forfeiting the blessing that otherwise would come. The people had asked Moses to be their mediator, and God granted their request. All the remaining laws God had for His people would be given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and as Israel’s loving shepherd, he would write them down for their benefit. Moses then told his people, “So you shall observe to do just as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left. You shall walk in all the way which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess” (Deut 5:32-33). To “observe” God’s Law meant Israel was to know its content, and to “walk in the way” meant they were to live as God commanded. If they did this, it would “be well” with them and they would “prolong” their days in the land of Canaan. Blessing is associated with obedience. Though we are Christians living in a different dispensation under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2), there is much for us to learn here about God. Warren Wiersbe writes:

  • "Even though God’s children live under grace and not under the Mosaic Law (Rom 6:14; Gal 5:1), it’s important for us to know the Law of God so that we might better know the God of the Law and please Him. Christ has fulfilled the types and symbols found in the Law, so we no longer practice the Old Testament rituals as Israel did. Christ bore the curse of the Law on the cross (Gal 3:10–13) so that we need not fear judgment (Rom 8:1). But the moral law still stands and God still judges sin. It’s as wrong today to lie, steal, commit adultery, and murder as it was when Moses received the tables of the Law at Mount Sinai. In fact, it’s worse, because we have today the full revelation of God’s will through Jesus Christ, and we sin against a flood of light."[2]

 

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 40.

[2] Ibid., 40–41.

The Human Conscience

The Human Conscience

January 23, 2021

     The Ten Commandments are the beginning of the Mosaic Law code that was given specifically to Israel as a redeemed people (Lev 27:34), and they were not given in written form to anyone else. The Ten Commandments not only revealed the holy character of God, but gave the Israelites an objective standard for right living, both before God and others. Though the Law was given specifically to Israel, there is a sense in which God’s Laws are written on the hearts of all people, even those who are not saved. Paul wrote, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Rom 2:14-15). Warren Wiersbe writes:

  • "God did not give the Law to the Gentiles, so they would not be judged by the Law. Actually, the Gentiles had “the work of the Law written in their hearts” (Rom 2:15). Wherever you go, you find people with an inner sense of right and wrong; and this inner judge, the Bible calls “conscience.” You find among all cultures a sense of sin, a fear of judgment, and an attempt to atone for sins and appease whatever gods are feared."[1]

     According to Paul, God has placed His Law within the heart of every person, which Law informs us concerning God’s standard of what is right; and, God has given every person a conscience. The word conscience translates the Greek word συνείδησις suneidesis, which refers to “the inward faculty of distinguishing right and wrong.”[2] Conscience does not instruct us concerning what is good or evil, for that is determined by God; rather, conscience is that inner voice that urges us to do right. However, because of sin’s corrupting influence, the human conscience it is not always a reliable gauge of right and wrong. It would seem that conscience functions cognitively in a judicial role, evaluating thoughts and actions and determining guilt or innocence based on moral laws. This would make sense, as Paul describes the conscience as “bearing witness” with regard to some behavior, and the mind serving as the courtroom, “accusing or defending” the action.

      Human conscience, when operating properly, serves as God’s moral compass placed within each person. People instinctively know that God exists (Rom 1:18-20), and that the Law of God is good (Rom 2:14-15). We don’t have to persuade anyone. It’s already written on their hearts. God placed it there. They know God exists, that He is good, and that actions such as murder, lying, stealing, and adultery are wrong.

     Those who have a relationship with God and pursue a life of faith will have a healthy conscience that operates as God intends. This starts when “the blood of Christ…cleanses our conscience” so that we may “serve the living God” (Heb 9:14).[3] In the New Testament Paul spoke of the “good conscience” that was connected with “genuine faith” (1 Tim 1:5, 19; cf. Acts 23:1; Heb 13:18), and he personally served God with a “clear conscience” (1 Tim 3:9; 2 Tim 1:3). Paul also described believers at Corinth whose “conscience is weak” (1 Cor 8:7, 10, 12). These were immature believers whose consciences had been corrupted by years of sinful living before their conversion and who had not fully restored their conscience to normal operation. Learning God’s Word recalibrates our conscience, and advancing spiritually strengthens it. In a negative way, there are some who progressively turn away from God and indulge in sin, and whose “conscience is defiled” (Tit 1:15), or who have “an evil conscience” (Heb 10:22). Paul wrote of some “whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1 Tim 4:2). The word seared translates the Greek word καυστηριάζω kausteriazo, which means to burn or cauterize with a hot iron. Just as one’s flesh can be severely burned so that it becomes hard, without sensitivity, so the conscience can become hardened and without feeling. This is obvious in the person who lives in prolonged sin and no longer blushes at their wicked behavior. I once knew a man in prison who bore the moniker “Naughty.” I once heard this man boast, with smile and laughter, of having sexually abused a helpless woman whom he greatly degraded, and he did this without any remorse. I cringed as others laughed at his stories. Here were consciences that had become seared because of sinful behavior.

     The believer, though having a conscience damaged by years of sin, can have it cleansed by means of the cross-work of Christ, and then recalibrated by means of God’s Word, which provides an objective standard for righteousness. But this will not happen quickly. Just as we exposed ourselves to many years of worldly thinking, which corrupted our consciences, so it will take time to unseat the human viewpoint and restore the conscience to normal function as God intends.

 

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 520.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 967.

[3] The “blood of Christ” refers to Jesus atoning work on the cross, in which He bore our sin and paid the penalty that rightfully belonged to us. This was in contrast to the OT sacrificial system which could never take away sin, only cover it for a short time. When we believe in Christ as Savior (1 Cor 15:3-4), we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7), given new life (John 10:28), and gifted with God’s own righteousness (2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). At the moment of salvation, there is relational peace between us and God (Rom 5:1), and we have become part of His family (Eph 2:19), will never be condemned (Rom 8:1), and made free to serve Him in righteousness (Rom 6:11-14; Tit 2:11-14). In this way, the “blood of Christ” has cleansed our conscience from any notion that religious.

Deuteronomy 5:22-27

Deuteronomy 5:22-27

January 23, 2021

     The main point of this pericope is that Moses recalled that God wrote down the Ten Commandments and how the people expressed a healthy fear of the Lord. Moses opens this section, saying, “These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain from the midst of the fire, of the cloud and of the thick gloom, with a great voice, and He added no more. He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me” (Deut 5:22). This confirms the Ten Commandments were spoken directly by God, who then provided Moses two hard copies which were written on tablets of stone. The Ten Commandments, as given by God at Mount Sinai to Israel, should not be separated from the larger body of the Mosaic Law. It must be remembered, “These are the commandments which the LORD commanded Moses for the sons of Israel at Mount Sinai” (Lev 27:34). Moses is also clear the Lord did not provide anything more than the Ten Commandments. Earl Kalland writes;

  • "He 'added nothing more' (v.22) refers to these Ten Commandments that were spoken and then written by God on the two stone tablets. They constitute the basic behavioral code that was to determine not only their allegiance and life-style but also that of all succeeding generations as well. No other such short list of commands begins to compare with the effect that these have had in world history. In spite of being constantly broken, they stand as the moral code par excellence."[1]

     Moses records the response of the Israelites, saying, “And when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders” (Deut 5:23). Every one of the Israelites at Mount Sinai heard the voice of God, audibly, which came from the direction of the mountain that was burning with fire. Apparently, the audio was quite loud and connected with pyrotechnic effects. After approaching Moses, the elders said, “Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives” (Deut 5:24). Here was a divine encounter with the God of the universe that was so powerful, they were surprised that they were still alive. Then, they spoke out of fear, saying, “Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer, then we will die. For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?” (Deut 5:25-26). Being close to God meant, to some degree, feeling uncomfortable in His presence, because as they came near to Him, they became painfully aware that He is holy and they were sinful. However, they felt their lives were in danger if they continued to experience God’s presence as He had revealed Himself at the mountain. Healthy fear was a common experience among those who personally encountered God (Isa 6:5; Luke 5:8; Rev 1:17); and others too felt their lives had been spared after encountering the Lord (Gen 32:30; Judg 6:22-23; 13:22-23). Though the Israelites recognized it was God who spoke with them, and that they’d heard His voice and saw His glory, yet they did not want the experience to continue. Instead, they asked Moses to serve as mediator between them and God, saying, “Go near and hear all that the LORD our God says; then speak to us all that the LORD our God speaks to you, and we will hear and do it” (Deut 5:27).

     As Christians, the more we learn about God, the more we become aware of His holiness and our sinfulness. However, by faith, we also know He accepts us because of the work of Christ, and we can come humbly before His throne of grace, realizing there is no condemnation because we are in Christ.

 

[1] Earl S. Kalland, “Deuteronomy,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 61.

Deuteronomy 5:6-21

Deuteronomy 5:6-21

January 17, 2021

     The main point of this pericope is that God personally spoke the Ten Commandments, giving them as the foundation for the whole of the Mosaic Law and the revelation of His holiness (Deut 5:6-21; cf. Ex 20:1-17). The Mosaic Law provided a framework for healthy relationships and worship within the theocracy of Israel. It gave every Israelite a basis for freedom within a sphere of righteous laws designed to protect God’s people. In the opening statement, God identifies Himself, saying, “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deut 5:6). The name of the LORD (~yhil{a// hwhy Yahweh Elohim) is His covenant name, and He is related to Israel as the One who liberated them from bondage. He is their Redeemer and has graciously entered into a covenant relationship with them. The first four commands refer to Israel’s relationship to Yahweh, their Redeemer, and the last six relate to their relationship to each other. Daniel Block states, “This document functions as an Israelite version of a bill of rights. However, unlike modern bills of rights, the document does not protect one’s own rights but the rights of the next person.”[1]

     The first commandment was, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Deut 5:7). Because there is only one true God (Isa 45:5-6), it is aberrant to worship anything other than Him. When people turn away from God, they must find something or someone to fill the God-place in their heart, so they manufacture a god that resembles something familiar.

     The second commandment was, “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. You shall not worship them or serve them” (Deut 5:8-9a). The Lord was married to Israel (Isa 54:5; Hos 2:19-20; cf. Ezek 16:32), and to worship an idol was tantamount to spiritual adultery (see Ezek 16:1-63). Eugene Merrill writes, “Israel had been redeemed from bondage or service in Egypt in order to serve Yahweh. To serve other gods, then, was to reverse the exodus and go back under bondage, thus betraying the grace and favor of Yahweh.”[2] Thomas Constable adds:

  • "By making and using images of Yahweh the worshipper would gain a sense of control over Him. God is the Creator, and we are His creatures. He is also sovereign over all. Rather than accepting his place as subject creature under the sovereign Creator, the person who makes an image of God puts himself in the position of creator. In effect he puts God in the place of a created thing. He usurps God’s sovereignty. Since God made man in His image it is inappropriate for us to try to make God in our image much less in the image of an animal."[3]

     God desired to protect His people, saying “for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Deut 5:9b-10). God’s jealousy is a healthy desire to protect His relationship with His people. He informs them that if they turn away from Him, there are consequences that will come upon them as well as their children, to the third and fourth generation. Sin impacts the sinner as well as those in connection with him/her, and this is especially true in the family. Children may perpetuate the sin of their parents as they adopt their values and mimic their behavior. Though children may experience, to some degree, the punishment of their parents, the children are judged for their sins (Ezek 18:1-4). Alternatively, if they keep covenant and obey Him, He will bless to the thousandth generation. Thomas Constable states, “Apostasy has effects on succeeding generations. Rebellious, God-hating parents often produce several generations of descendants who also hate God (cf. Exod. 20:5; 34:6–7). Children normally follow the example of their parents. Note that God’s blessing exceeds his discipline a thousand-fold.”[4] Cleary God prefers to bless rather than curse. Warren Wiersbe states:

  • "The Lord doesn’t punish the children and grandchildren because of their ancestors’ sins (Ezek. 18), but He can permit the sad consequences of those sins to affect future generations, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Children are prone to imitate their parents, and Eastern peoples lived in extended families, with three and four generations often in the same home. It’s easy to see that the older members of the family had opportunities to influence the younger ones either for good or for evil. But the Lord also blesses successive generations of people who honor and obey Him. My great-grandfather prayed that there would be a preacher of the Gospel in every generation of our family, and there has been. I minister today because of godly ancestors who trusted the Lord."[5]

     The third commandment was, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Deut 5:11). Taking the name of God in vain meant attaching it to something vain; such as when a person takes an oath they know they will not keep (Lev 19:12). Rather, God’s people were to honor His name, which meant they were to speak and act in such a way as to make God look good to others.

     The fourth commandment was, “Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you” (Deut 5:12). The word “sabbath” (שַׁבָּת shabbath) means rest. For Israel, this was specifically related to a day of physical rest from their labor and production, as God said, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God” (Deut 5:13-14a). Other ancient Eastern cultures took a day off from work, but it was usually reserved only for the upper classes and did not apply to the poor, slaves, and certainly not to animals. However, God’s commandment was all inclusive, saying, “in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you” (Deut 5:14). Here, the law pertained to everyone, regardless of their social status. And the commandment was to help Israel remember their heritage, as the Lord explained, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore, the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day” (Deut 5:15). Daniel Block comments, “In grounding the ‘holiday’ on Israel’s memory of their own experience in Egypt (v. 15), Moses calls for a sympathetic disposition toward those under one’s authority. In their treatment of children, servants, animals, and outsiders, the heads of households were to embody the superior righteousness of the revealed laws of Yahweh (Deut 4:8).”[6] The Sabbath was also a sign to Israel concerning their relationship to the Lord (Ex 31:16-17), for this reason it ceased when the Mosaic Law was rendered obsolete (Heb 8:13). The Christian is related to God by means of the New Covenant, and the sign of that covenant is the unleavened bread and red juice (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26). Because we are not under the Mosaic Covenant (Rom 6:14), Christians are not required to observe the Sabbath. Thomas Constable states, “God did not command Christians to observe the sabbath (cf. Rom 10:4; 14:5–6; Gal 3:23–29; 4:10; Col 2:16–17). From the birth of the church on Christians have observed the first day of the week, not the seventh, as a memorial of Jesus Christ’s resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2).”[7] Warren Wiersbe adds:

  • "Many well-meaning people call Sunday “the Christian Sabbath,” but strictly speaking, this is a misnomer. Sunday is the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, and the Sabbath is Saturday, the seventh day of the week. The Sabbath symbolizes the Old Covenant of Law: you labored for six days and then you rested. The Lord’s Day commemorates the New Covenant of grace: it opens the week with rest in Christ and the works follow. Both the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day emphasize the importance of devoting one day in seven to the Lord in worship and service. Every day belongs to the Lord and it’s unbiblical to make the observance of days a test of spirituality or orthodoxy (Col. 2:16–17; Rom. 14:1–15:7; Gal. 4:1–11)."[8]

     Though Christians are not obligated to keep the Sabbath, we may do so if we please; however, we may not require it of others. Furthermore, God designed the work week, and He also designed the human body to be at regular rest from labor, and it’s to our harm if we do not follow our Designer’s operating manual concerning time off from work.

     The fifth commandment was, “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you” (Deut 5:16a). This commandment assumes a normal family, with father and mother, as God intends. The word “honor” translates the Hebrew word כָּבַד kabad, which means to be heavy, or weighty. The idea was to treat their parents as important. This command came with a promise of blessing, as the Lord said, “that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the LORD your God gives you” (Deut 5:16). Personally, this does not mean we approve of all our parents do, but that we respect them, privately and publicly, seeking to meet their needs. Even Samuel, though angry with Saul because of his foolish sin (1 Sam 15:1-29), still honored him when asked to do so (see 1 Sam 15:30-31).

     The sixth commandment was, “You shall not murder” (Deut 5:17). This commandment assumes the right to life. The word “murder” translates the Hebrew verb רָצַח ratsach, which is commonly used for homicide in general; however, capital punishment and killing during times of war were commanded by God (Deut 13:5, 9; 20:13, 16-17), so this must be distinguished as unjustified intentional homicide. Jesus revealed there is a mental murder we commit when we hate our brothers or sisters (Matt 5:21-22). Thomas Constable writes:

  • "There are several reasons for the sixth commandment (Gen 9:6). The first is the nature of man. Not only did God create man essentially different from other forms of animal life (Gen 2:7; cf. Matt 19:4), but He also created humans in His own image (Gen 1:28). Consequently, when someone murders a person, he or she obliterates a revelation of God. Second, murder usurps God’s authority. All life belongs to God, and He gives it to us on lease (cf. Ezek 18:4a). To take a human life without divine authorization is to arrogate to oneself authority that belongs only to God. Third, the consequences of murder, unlike the consequences of some other sins (e.g., lying, stealing, coveting), are fatal and irreversible."[9]

     The seventh commandment was, “You shall not commit adultery” (Deut 5:18). This commandment assumes the institution of marriage, which was created by God for happiness as well as the stability and perpetuation of a just society. The command was intended to protect the marriage union from unhindered passions. Under the Mosaic Law, adultery was punishable by death for both the man and woman (Lev 20:10). Jesus revealed there is a mental form of adultery that makes one guilty before God (Matt 5:27-28). Daniel Block writes:

  • "Adultery was considered a capital crime because it undermined the integrity and covenant of marriage, violated the sanctity of sexual union, defiled a human being as the image of God, and threatened the stability of the community. Like murder, adultery pollutes the land and ultimately causes it to spew out its inhabitants (Lev. 18:20, 24–25). And like murder, adultery is not only a crime against one’s spouse or children or parents; it is a crime against God (cf. Gen. 39:9). Whereas elsewhere instructions on adultery focus on the female adulteress, this regulation focuses on male adultery."[10]

     The eighth commandment was, “You shall not steal” (Deut 5:19). This commandment assumes the right to possess private property, which has been obtained either by the production of labor or family inheritance. Eugene Merrill comments, “There obviously is an inherent evil in the illegitimate appropriation of another’s property, but on an even higher covenantal and theological level theft betrays an essential dissatisfaction with one’s lot in life and an acquisitive desire to obtain more than the Lord, the Sovereign who dispenses to his vassals what seems best, has granted already.”[11]

     The ninth commandment was, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Deut 5:20). This command forbids lying about others, whether in a coffee shop or a court of law. If we’re not careful, what we say can ruin the lives of other people. Naboth was falsely accused by worthless men sent from King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, and the result was he was murdered and his property stolen (1 Ki 21:1-16). And, of course, Jesus was falsely accused and crucified by those who hated Him (Matt 26:59-61; John 19:15). Warren Wiersbe adds:

  • "Truth is the cement that holds society together, and things fall apart when people don’t keep their promises, whether contracts in business or vows at the marriage altar. This commandment also prohibits slander, which is lying about other people (Ex 23:1; Pro 10:18; 12:17; 19:9; 24:28; Tit 3:1–2; Jam 4:11; 1 Pet 2:1). God’s people should be known for speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15)."[12]

     The tenth commandment was, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Deut 5:21). Nine of the Ten Commandments deal with outwardly observable behavior, but the tenth commandment is invisible until some action is taken that reveals it. Biblically, coveting is the unwarranted desire for other people’s possessions and the willingness to step over boundaries to get it. Eugene Merrill adds:

  • "As has been noted repeatedly by scholars, the tenth commandment differs greatly from the other nine in that it has to do with an inner disposition more than with an outward act. That is, it has to do with the desires and not the practical steps to satisfy those desires. What is less frequently observed is that this is in line with the progression of violence or disruption in a descending spiral from the shedding of blood to the ruin of personal reputation. What has been manifest empirically in acts and words is now hidden in thoughts and cravings."[13]

     The tenth commandment is what helped Paul understand his own sinfulness, as he said, “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘you shall not covet’” (Rom 7:7). The command of God is holy and good, but Paul was a sinner, unable to keep the command. This is why he said, “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind” (Rom 7:8a). As regenerate people of God, we have the capacity to obey this command, and we do so when we learn to be content with what we have (Phil 4:11-13; 1 Tim 6:7-11).

     Though the Church is not under the Mosaic Law (Rom 6:14), we are under the “Law of Christ” and have an obligation to know His will and walk in it (Gal 6:2). God’s grace-system teaches us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” (Tit 2:12-14). The Christian does not obey God out of an obligatory sense of duty, but rather from an appreciative sense of thankfulness in response to God’s great love (1 John 4:10-11, 19). Biblical love motivates right behavior.

 

[1] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 161.

[2] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 147–148.

[3] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Dt 5:8.

[4] Ibid., Dt 5:8.

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 36.

[6] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, 164.

[7] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Dt 5:12.

[8] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series, 37.

[9] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Dt 5:17.

[10] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, 166.

[11] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary, 155.

[12] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series, 38–39.

[13] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary, 155–156.

Introduction to the Mosaic Law

Introduction to the Mosaic Law

January 16, 2021

     God gives law to humans living in every age. He gave commands to Adam and Eve living in the sinless environment of the Garden of Eden (Gen 1:26-30; 2:15-17). He gave commands to Noah (Gen 6-9). He gave commands to Abraham (Gen 12:1; 17:10-14). He gave commands to the Israelites—known as the Mosaic Law—after delivering them from their bondage in Egypt (Ex 20 - Deut 34). He has given commands to Christians (Romans 1 to Revelation 3). These biblical distinctions are important, for though all Scripture is written for the benefit of Christians, only some portions of it speak specifically to us and command our walk with the Lord. Just as Christians would not try to obey the commands God gave to Adam in Genesis 1-2, or the commands God gave to Noah in Genesis 6-9, so they should not try to obey the commands God gave to Israel in Exodus through Deuteronomy. Romans chapter 1 through Revelation chapter 3 roughly mark the body of Scripture that directs the Christian. Charles Ryrie states:

  • "Adam lived under laws, the sum of which may be called the code of Adam or the code of Eden. Noah was expected to obey the laws of God, so there was a Noahic code. We know that God revealed many commands and laws to Abraham (Gen 26:5). They may be called the Abrahamic code. The Mosaic code contained all the laws of the Law. And today we live under the law of Christ (Gal 6:2) or the law of the Spirit of life in Christ (Rom 8:2). This code contains the hundreds of specific commandments recorded in the New Testament."[1]

     The Mosaic Law refers to “the statutes and ordinances and laws which the LORD established between Himself and the sons of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai” (Lev 26:46). The Mosaic Law revealed the holy character of God (Lev 11:45; cf. Rom 7:12), was given specifically to Israel circa 1445 BC (Lev 26:46), was regarded as a unit of laws (613 total), and had to be taken as a whole (Gal 3:10; 5:3; Jam 2:10), and existed for nearly 1500 years before being rendered inoperative (Heb 7:18; 8:13; cf. Rom 7:1-4). 

     The Mosaic Law is typically viewed in three parts: 1) The moral law consisting of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:2-17; Deut 5:6-21), 2) The civil law which addressed slavery, marriage, property rights, economics, etc., (Ex 21:1–24:18), and 3) The ceremonial law which addressed the tabernacle, priests, worship and the sacrificial system as a whole (Ex 25:1–40:38). Paul Enns states, “It should be noted that these categories are intermingled in the text of Exodus–Deuteronomy; within a given context, all three aspects of the law may be described. Nor is it always a simple matter to distinguish between the three aspects of the law. In any case, the law was Israel’s constitution with the Lord, the King.”[2]

     The Mosaic Law was never a means of justification before God, as that has always been by faith alone in God and His promises (Gal 2:16). Over time, the Mosaic Law became perverted into a system of works whereby men sought to earn their salvation before God (Luke 18:9-14). Regarding the fact that the Mosaic Law never justifies anyone, Merrill F. Unger comments:

  • "By nature the Law is not grace (Rom 10:5; Gal 3:10; Heb 10:28). It is holy, righteous, good, and spiritual (Rom 7:12, 14). In its ministry it declares and proves all men guilty (Rom 3:19). Yet it justifies no one (Rom 3:20). It cannot impart righteousness or life (Gal 3:21). It causes offenses to abound (Rom 5:20; 7:7-13; 1 Cor 15:56). It served as an instructor until Christ appeared (Gal 3:24). In relationship to the believer, the Law emphatically does not save anyone (Gal 2:21). A believer does not live under the Law (Rom 6:14; 8:4), but he stands and grows in grace (Rom 5:2; 2 Pet 3:18). The nation, Israel, alone was the recipient of the Law (Ex 20:2)."[3]

     The New Testament reveals the Mosaic Law was regarded as a “yoke” which Israel had not “been able to bear” because their sinful flesh was weak (Acts 15:1-11; cf. Rom 8:2-3). There is no fault with the Mosaic Law, for it “is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12). The Mosaic Law is holy because it comes from God who is holy. Because the Mosaic Law is holy, it exposes the faults of people and shows them to be sinful (Rom 3:20). More so, because people are inherently sinful and bent toward sin, when they come into contact with God’s holy Law, it actually stimulates their sinful nature and influences them to sin even more (Rom 5:20; 7:7-8). 

     Paul made clear that the Mosaic Law was not the rule of life for the Christian. He even referred to it as a ministry of “death” and “condemnation” (2 Cor 3:5-11). Paul stated that it was intended to be temporary (Gal 3:19), that it was never the basis for justification (Gal 2:16, 21; 3:21; cf. Rom 4:1-5), but was intended to lead people to Christ that they may be justified by faith (Gal 3:24). Now that Christ has come and fulfilled every aspect of the Law and died on the cross, the Mosaic Law, in its entirety, has been rendered inoperative as a rule of life (Matt 5:17-18; Rom 8:2-4; 10:4; 2 Cor 3:7, 11; Heb 8:13). “As a rule of life, the Law of Moses was temporary … [and] came to an end with the death of the Messiah.”[4]

     God is the Author of both the Mosaic Law as well as the Law of Christ; therefore, it is not surprising that He chose to incorporate some of the laws He gave to Israel into the law-code which He has given to the Church. When trying to understand which laws have carried over and which have not, the general rule to follow is: what God has not restated, has been altogether abrogated.  Charles Ryrie states, “The Mosaic Law was done away in its entirety as a code. It has been replaced by the law of Christ. The law of Christ contains some new commands (1 Tim 4:4), some old ones (Rom 13:9), and some revised ones (Rom 13:4, with reference to capital punishment).”[5] The Church is no more under the Mosaic Law than a Canadian is under US law, as laws only have authority to its citizenry. Thomas Constable states:

  • "The law of Christ is the code of commandments under which Christians live. Some of the commandments Christ and His apostles gave us are the same as those that Moses gave the Israelites. However, this does not mean that we are under the Mosaic Code. Residents of the United States live under a code of laws that is similar to, but different from, the code of laws that govern residents of England. Some of our laws are the same as theirs, and others are different. Because some laws are the same we should not conclude that the codes are the same. Christians no longer live under the Mosaic Law; we live under a new code, the law of Christ (cf. 5:1)."[6]

     Though rendered inoperative as a rule of life, the Mosaic Law can be used to teach such things as God’s holiness, people’s sinfulness, the need for atonement, and the ultimate need for people to trust in Christ for salvation (Rom 3:10-25; 5:20; 10:1-4). All Scripture is for us, though not all Scripture is to us (1 Cor 10:11). And, being under the grace-system does not mean believers are without law and can therefore sin as they please (Rom 6:14-16; Tit 2:11-12). The New Testament speaks of “the perfect law of liberty” (Jam 1:25), “the royal law” (Jam 2:8), the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2), and “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2). Henry Thiessen states:

  • "The believer has been made free from the law, but liberty does not mean license. To offset this danger of antinomianism, the Scriptures teach that we have not only been delivered from the law, but also “joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God” (Rom 7:4). We are thus not “without the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21; cf. Gal 6:2). Freedom from law should not result in license, but love (Gal 5:13; cf. 1 Pet 2:16). The believer is, consequently, to keep his eyes on Christ as his example and teacher, and by the Holy Spirit to fulfill his law (Rom 8:4; Gal 5:18)."[7]

Arnold Fruchtenbaum adds:

  • "The Law of Moses has been disannulled and we are now under a new law. This new law is called the Law of Christ in Galatians 6:2 and the Law of the Spirit of Life in Romans 8:2. This is a brand new law, totally separate from the Law of Moses. The Law of Christ contains all the individual commandments from Christ and the Apostles applicable to a New Testament believer. A simple comparison of the details will show that it is not and cannot be the same as the Law of Moses. Four observations are worth noting. First, many commandments are the same as those of the Law of Moses. For example, nine of the Ten Commandments are also in the Law of Christ. But, second, many are different from the Law of Moses. For example, there is no Sabbath law now (Rom 14:5; Col 2:16) and no dietary code (Mark 7:19; Rom 14:20). Third, some commandments in the Law of Moses are intensified by the Law of Christ. The Law of Moses said: love thy neighbor as thyself (Lev 19:18). This made man the standard. The Law of Christ said: love one another, even as I have loved you (John 15:12). This makes the Messiah the standard and He loved us enough to die for us. Fourth, the Law of the Messiah provides a new motivation. The Law of Moses was based on the conditional Mosaic Covenant and so the motivation was: do, in order to be blessed. The Law of Christ is based on the unconditional New Covenant and so the motivation is: you have been and are blessed, therefore, do. The reason there is so much confusion over the relationship of the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ is that many commandments are similar to those found in the Mosaic Law, and many have concluded that certain sections of the law have, therefore, been retained."[8]

     The Church is not Israel, and is not under the Mosaic Law as the rule for life. Just as OT saints had a clear body of Scripture which guided their walk with the Lord (Exodus 20 through Deuteronomy 34), so NT saints have a body of Scripture that guides us (Romans 1 through Revelation 3). “The rule of life for the saint today is found in the epistles of the New Testament. As with the Law of Moses, instructions and commandments of the New Testament are not the means of salvation but they are a ‘heavenly rule of life’ for those who are heavenly citizens through the power of God.”[9] Some of the distinctions between Israel and the Church are as follows:

Distinctions_Between_Israel_and_the_Church9op...

     Christians living under the Law of Christ have both positive and negative commands that direct their lives. Where the Scripture does not provide specific commands, it gives divine principles that guide the Christian’s walk (i.e., to walk in love, to glorify God in all things, etc.).

 

[1] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 351.

[2] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, Ill.; Moody Press, 2008), 59.

[3] Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN., AMG Publishers, 2002), 125.

[4] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 373.

[5] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 351-52.

[6] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Gal. 6:2.

[7] Henry Clarence Thiessen and Vernon D. Doerksen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 171.

[8] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 650-51.

[9] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 379.

Deuteronomy 5:1-5

Deuteronomy 5:1-5

January 9, 2021

     The main point of this pericope is that Moses called the second generation of Israelites to hear the statutes and ordinances that were part of the bilateral covenant agreement between them and Yahweh, their God. The Israelites were camped east of the Jordan River and poised to enter the land of Canaan. Moses “summoned all Israel and said to them: ‘Hear O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully’” (Deut 5:1). The word “hear” translates the Hebrew verb שָׁמַע shama, which means to listen to instructions for the purpose of following them. Specifically, Israel was to learn “the statutes and the ordinances” that they might “observe them carefully.” Moses specifies the covenant, saying, “The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb” (Deut 5:2). This reveals both parties involved, and follows the pattern of a bilateral covenant between a suzerain and vassal; between a superior and an inferior. Moses went on to say, “The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today” (Deut 5:3). The “covenant” referred to here is the bilateral Mosaic covenant, in which stipulations had to be met for blessing to occur. The Mosaic covenant is different than the unilateral covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which covenant had no stipulations (Gen 17:7-8; 26:24; 28:13-14). Thomas Constable states, “The covenant to which Moses referred (v. 2) is not the Abrahamic but the Mosaic Covenant. What follows is an upgrade of the Mosaic Covenant for the new generation about to enter the Promised Land.”[1] Eugene H. Merrill adds:

  • "Not only is the covenant referred to here the same as that at Horeb, but it is only that and not anything anterior to it. “It was not with our fathers,” Moses said, “that the Lord made this covenant, but with us” (v. 3). This rules out the identification of the Deuteronomic covenant with the patriarchal and, in fact, draws a clear line of demarcation between the two. This is in line with the generally recognized theological fact that the Horeb-Deuteronomy covenant is by both form and function different from the so-called Abrahamic. The latter [Abrahamic covenant] is in the nature of an irrevocable and unconditional grant made by the Lord to the patriarchs, one containing promises of land, seed, and blessing. The former [Mosaic covenant] is a suzerain-vassal arrangement between the Lord and Israel designed to regulate Israel’s life as the promised nation within the framework of the Abrahamic covenant. The existence of Israel is unconditional, but its enjoyment of the blessing of God and its successful accomplishment of the purposes of God are dependent on its faithful obedience to the covenant made at Horeb. Thus the covenant in view here is not the same as that made with the fathers (i.e., the patriarchal ancestors), but it finds its roots there and is related to it in a subsidiary way."[2]

     And, this covenant, once made, was binding upon all subsequent generations, either to bless or curse.[3] Warren Wiersbe writes:

  • "When God made this covenant, it included every generation of the nation of Israel from that day on and not just with the generation that gathered at Sinai. Moses was addressing a new generation and yet he said, “The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb” (v. 2). Just as God’s covenant with Abraham included the Jewish people of future generations, so did His covenant at Sinai."[4]

     Moses, speaking to the second generation of Israelites since the exodus, addressed them as if they were standing directly before God, saying “The LORD spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire” (Deut 5:4). Some of Moses’ audience would have been at the mountain, but would have been younger and may not have understood what was happening. The phrase “face to face” is a figure of speech that means directly, one person to another. Biblically, God has revealed Himself generally through all creation (Psa 19:1-2; Rom 1:18-20), but this was special revelation provided directly by God to His people. God speaks, and He does so in language people can understand (e.g., Jer 4:28; 30:2; Ezek 5:13-17). This is what sets Him apart from stupid idols who do not speak (cf. Psa 135:16). This revelation was also personal, to Israel, which marked them as His special people. Moses also mentioned his role in the covenant arrangement, as the mediator between God and Israel, saying, “I was standing between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain” (Deut 5:5). Remember, God spoke the Ten Commandments directly to Israel at Mount Sinai (Ex 20:1-17). However, the experience frightened them, for “All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance” (Ex 20:18). Such fear is common among those who encounter God (see Gen 32:30; Ex 33:20; Judg 6:22-23; 13:22; Isa 6:5; Dan 8:17-18; Luke 5:8; Rev 1:17). Rather than listen to the voice of God directly, the people said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die” (Ex 20:19). Afterward, God spoke mediately through Moses, who faithfully communicated “the word of the LORD.”

     A theological extrapolation of Israel’s personal relationship with God—based on understandable language and expectations—would have provided them a personal sense of destiny, for the God who chose and spoke to them, who entered into a special contract relationship with them, was able also to direct their future and secure their blessings if they would obey Him. As Christians, we too have a special relationship with God as participants of the New Covenant (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6; Heb 9:15), which was instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ by means of His sinless life (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5) and shed blood on the cross (1 Cor 10:16; Eph 2:13; Heb 12:24; 1 Pet 1:19). Additionally, we have special revelation in the Bible, which is God’s written word for us and to us, which tells us all we need to know to be saved (1 Cor 15:3-4), and to live a life of faith and godliness. Our relationship with God through Christ means we are children of God, brothers and sisters to the King of kings and Lord of lords, and we too enjoy a personal sense of destiny, knowing God is directing our lives toward the eternal state, toward which He is moving us. 

 

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Dt 5:1.

[2] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 142.

[3] An example of this can be found in 2 Kings 17:1-18, where God judged the ten northern tribes for violating the terms of the covenant made with the exodus generation. The result was their being destroyed by the Assyrians and sent into captivity.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 35.

Deuteronomy 4:41-49

Deuteronomy 4:41-49

January 9, 2021

     In the first part of this pericope, Moses legislates three cities east of Jordan to be reserved as places of refuge, to which a manslayer could flee for safety (Deut 4:41-43). In the second part of this pericope (Deut 4:44-49), it is revealed that Moses is the one who gave Israel the law (תּוֹרָה torah), which law was given at the time when Israel was poised to enter the land of Canaan, just east of the Jordan River. The main body of the Mosaic law is recorded in Deuteronomy chapters 5-26. Prior to this section, Moses had explained it was God’s love for His people that motivated Him to choose them for Himself (Deut 4:37-38), and if Israel would walk according to His commands, it would go well with them and they would enjoy long life in the Promised Land (Deut 4:39-40). The cities of refuge were evidence of God’s love and mercy, which allowed people who accidentally killed another person to find protection until their case could be heard (Num 35:9-12, 20-25; Deut 19:1-13). It could be Moses legislated these cities of refuge early in his sermon because it met a pressing need. We know from other passages that a manslayer could seek refuge until his case could be heard and judged properly (Num 35:9-12, 20-25; Deut 19:1-13). Additionally, guilt and punishment depended on two or more witnesses (Num 35:30; Deut 19:15), which would help prevent secondary victims from being unjustly persecuted by a close relative (גָּאַל gaal) who typically executed family justice. Daniel Block states, “This policy illustrates the need for all judicial systems to take into account the lives of potential secondary victims. Even as it grieves over accidental loss of life, a just society will guard against unwarranted violent responses to innocent acts.”[1]

     The text shifts in Deuteronomy 4:44-49, where a narrator—under divine inspiration—reveals Moses as Israel’s lawgiver. He writes, “Now this is the law which Moses set before the sons of Israel” (Deut 4:44). The word “law” is a translation of the Hebrew word תּוֹרָה torah, which commonly means law, instruction, or direction. The “law” refers to what follows in chapters 5-26. The Mosaic Law was operative until the death of Christ, at which time it was fulfilled by Christ (Matt 5:17-18), and rendered “obsolete” (Heb. 8:13; cf. John 1:17; Rom 10:4), having been replaced by the “law of Christ” which is now operational for the church (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2). Thomas Constable writes, “God gave the law to regulate the life of the Israelites religiously, governmentally, and domestically. This regulatory purpose is what ended with the death of Jesus Christ. The law of Christ (Gal. 6:2) has replaced the Old (Mosaic) Covenant by specifying new regulations for believers since Jesus Christ died.”[2] What Moses describes in Deuteronomy 4:45-49 is important, because it shows that what was revealed to Israel took place in time-space history. God had already revealed His love for Israel by choosing them as His special people, liberating them from Egyptian slavery, entering into a covenant with them at Mount Sinai, and providing all their needs as He directed them to the Promised Land. The blessings promised under the Mosaic Covenant were conditioned on obedience, and God now begins to provide clear expectation of His people so they understand their role in the relationship. Many of the laws presented in Deuteronomy had already been given in Exodus; so, it must be remembered that what Moses is providing in Deuteronomy is a restatement of many of those laws in sermon form, which includes exhortation to obedience. Jack Deere writes:

  • "Moses set before the people God’s instruction (tôrâh, the word rendered Law, means instruction) in how to walk with Him. If the Israelites were to prosper individually and nationally they had to obey the stipulations of the covenant expressed in the form of decrees and laws. These were originally given three months after the Israelites came out of Egypt (cf. Ex. 20:1–17; 21–23). Thus Deuteronomy is not a new covenant but the renewal of a covenant previously made. But it was repeated east of the Jordan River near Beth Peor."[3]

     In Deuteronomy, Moses is presented as a pastor teaching his flock what they need for a healthy relationship with the Lord and each other. Daniel Block writes, “As Moses had declared in 4:1 and will reiterate in 5:1 and 6:1, he stands before the people as a pastor-teacher, seeking to inspire his audience with a particular vision of God and to convince them to order their lives accordingly.”[4]

 

 

[1] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 152.

[2] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Dt 4:44.

[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), 272.

[4] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, 152–153.

Deuteronomy 4:32-40

Deuteronomy 4:32-40

January 2, 2021

     In this pericope it is revealed that Yahweh is unique in all history, having been motivated by love, He chose to deliver His enslaved people from Egyptian bondage and bring them to the Promised Land, and Israel was to take it to heart and obey His commands so it would go well with them. The pericope is presented as a history lesson (Deut 4:32-34), followed by a theological lesson (Deut 4:35), then another history lesson (Deut 4:36-38), a second theological lesson (Deut 4:39), concluding with a practical lesson (Deut 4:40).[1] Moses calls his audience to think back on their history “concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it?” (Deut 4:32). Moses asks them to consider several things. First, “Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived?” (Deut 4:33). The answer, after consideration, was a resounding “no.” The second question was, “Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?” (Deut 4:34). Again, the clear answer was “no.” In fact, a study of pagan deities shows they operated out of self-interest, attacking other nations merely to expand their territory, not for the interest of their worshippers. But Yahweh is different. He is the only true God; there are no others (see Isa 45:5-6). And, He invaded Egypt, the superpower of the day, demanding His people be set free from their slavery to worship Him, and humbling Egypt when Pharaoh refused, and bringing Israel out to Himself to be a special people. Moses provides a theological lesson from these facts, saying, “To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him” (Deut 4:35). What Israel was “shown” was to lead them to what “they might know”, namely, the Lord is God is unique, with no other like Him (sui generis). God’s acts were self-revelatory, for the purpose of making Himself known to a specific group of people, Israel, that they “might know” His special uniqueness in all history, and especially toward them as His chosen people. Moses provides a second history lesson, saying, “Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire” (Deut 4:36). The phrase, “out of the heavens”, means God condescended to the earth to let His people “hear His voice” and to “see His great fire” at Mount Sinai. The “discipline" mentioned here is not punitive, but didactic for training purposes, that they might know and obey Him. And what was God’s motivation for His deliverance and self-disclosure? Moses states, “Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today” (Deut 4:37-38). Love and choice belong together. “In this brief motive clause occur two of the most covenantally significant words in the Old Testament, ‘love’ and ‘choose.’ As technical terms they are virtually synonymous as a great many scholars have put beyond doubt. In other words, ‘to love’ is to choose, and ‘to choose” is to love.’[2] God’s love (אָהֵב aheb) is an important theological motif that runs throughout Deuteronomy (See Deut 7:7-8, 13; 10:15, 18; 23:5). Although love has a wide semantic range in the Old Testament, “in Deuteronomy ‘love’ denotes ‘covenant commitment demonstrated in actions that serve the interests of the other person.’ This statement is revolutionary, since the notion of love is virtually absent from the vocabulary of divine-human relationships in the ancient orient.”[3] The idea of commitment-love carries into the New Testament where Jesus tells His disciples, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Love for Jesus means we are committed to Him above all else, and this commitment is manifest in a life of obedience to Him and service to others. Biblical love is not an emotion; rather, it’s a choice to commit ourselves to another person, a choice to seek God’s best in their lives. Love is manifest by prayer, sharing the Gospel with the lost, sharing biblical truth to edify believers, open handed giving to the needy, and supporting Christian ministries that do God’s work, just to name a few. From God’s past acts of self-revelation and deliverance, Israel was to “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other” (Deut 4:39). Here, for the second time, Moses drives the point that God is unique, in a class all by Himself (sui generis), for there are no other gods that exist. And what was Israel to do with this knowledge? They were to take it to heart and live as God intended. Moses draws a practical lesson, saying, “So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today” (Deut 4:40a). Here is the often-repeated pattern throughout Scripture that knowledge precedes application. We cannot live what we do not know, for learning His Word necessarily precedes living in His will. And what’s the benefit? Moses tells Israel, “that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time” (Deut 4:40b). Not only would God bless His people for their obedience, but would also bless their children. Godliness results in benefits, both to the person who walks with the Lord, and to those connected to her/him.

  • "Moses appeals to his people to obey the will of Yahweh for their own good and for the good of their descendants. If they will keep alive the memory of Yahweh’s gracious actions, if their theology remains pure, and if their response is right, God’s mission for them will be fulfilled. The land has indeed been promised them as an eternal possession, but enjoyment of the promise is conditional. Each generation must commit itself anew to being the people of God in God’s land for God’s glory."[4]

     Israel was blessed by God’s loving choice of them as a special people; which love was manifest in His great acts of deliverance in their past. Such a record of God’s greatness was intended to help motivate them to obedience. “The best way to motivate people to obey God is to expound His character and conduct, as Moses did here. Note too that Moses appealed to the self-interest of the Israelites: ‘. . . that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land . . .’ (v. 40; cf. 5:16; 6:3, 18; 12:25, 28; 19:13; 22:7; Prov. 3:1–2, 16; 10:27).”[5]

     As the Church, there is similarity between God’s deliverance of Israel and us. 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, and as such, 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] This observation is taken from Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 142.

[2] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 132.

[3] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, 144.

[4] Ibid., 144.

[5] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Dt 4:32.

Deuteronomy 4:25-31

Deuteronomy 4:25-31

January 2, 2021

     In this pericope Moses warns Israel they will experience exile-punishment if they turn away from the Lord and pursue idols (Deut 4:25-28), but also restoration and blessing if they humble themselves afterward and return to the Lord in obedience (Deut 4:29-31). Moses knows it’s possible for God’s people to be seduced by the culture around them and to turn away from the Lord and serve idols for selfish reasons. He anticipates a time when they will be in the land long enough to have children and grandchildren (Deut 4:25a), and realizes the possibility they will “act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD your God so as to provoke Him to anger” (Deut 4:25b). The word evil (רָע ra) has the definite article (הָרַע ha-ra) and refers to a specific kind of evil, the worst kind of evil, namely, idolatry. “That this idiom commonly occurs with the article (“the evil”) suggests a particular kind of evil; violating the Supreme Command (“You shall have no other gods before me,” 5:7) by manufacturing competing images of worship, which “provoke” Yahweh’s ire.”[1] Moses warns his people that if they commit this most egregious sin, God will summon them before His heavenly court and call the whole creation to witness against them (Deut 4:26a), specifying the judgment, saying, “you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed” (Deut 4:26b). As the supreme Judge of all the earth (Gen 18:25), God will execute His punishment, and “will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD drives you” (Deut 4:27). The punishment will consist of giving them what they want, saying, “there you will serve gods, the work of man's hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell” (Deut 4:28).

  • "In our text idolatry involves reverential acts of homage and submission to objects other than God—objects made either by human hands or by God’s own hands. While modern Westerners tend not to create concrete objects to be worshiped, we are constantly crafting new substitutes for God. Indeed an idol may be defined as anything (whether concrete or abstract) that rivals God—anything to which we submit and which we serve in place of God himself. The stuff of idols is not necessarily bad. The sun, moon, and stars are good; they govern the universe. Wood and stones are good and useful for limitless projects and tasks. But when we pervert their function and treat them as ultimate things on which our well-being and destiny depend, they rival God—and that makes them an idol… Idols are not necessarily physical. Many have identified money, sex, and power as pervasive idols in our day. However, the same may be true of our spouses, our children, our hobbies, our books. If we are unwilling to give them up for the sake of the kingdom, they have become idols and God is robbed of the exclusive worship he deserves."[2]

     Sadly, Moses knew God’s people would do this (Deut 31:29), and by their own choice, bring upon themselves God’s judgment. As centuries passed and Israel repeatedly turned away from God and worshipped idols and engaged in all forms of corruption (even child sacrifice), the Lord eventually removed them from the land and sent them into captivity. First, the ten northern tribes of Israel were destroyed in 722 BC by the Assyrians, then the two southern tribes of Judah were taken into captivity in 586 BC by the Babylonians. But God, who righteously judges His arrogant people, will also be merciful to them if/when they humble themselves and return to Him in obedience. Moses said, “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice” (Deut 4:29-30). If Israelites were to find themselves living in captivity in a pagan land and humble themselves and return to the Lord, seeking Yahweh alone, He promises they would be restored to the place of blessing. The reason for God’s promise of restored blessing was twofold. First, because “the LORD your God is a compassionate God” Deut 4:31a). Compassion is a chief characteristic of the Lord, as revealed in Scripture (Ex 34:6; 2 Ch 30:9; Neh 9:17, 31; Psa 78:38; 103:8; 111:4; 116:5; Joel 2:13; Jon 4:2). Second, “He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them” (Deut 4:31). The Lord has integrity and will keep His covenant promises to bless His people if they abide by the terms of the contract-relationship. The phrase, “the covenant with your fathers,” refers to the bilateral covenant made with the exodus generation (Lev 26:44-46), not the unilateral covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen 17:7-8). This understanding is reinforced by the language of the chapter, specifically when Moses mentions Israel entering into covenant with God at Mount Horeb/Sinai (see Deut 4:10-13; cf. Jer 34:13). “When God established His covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, Moses and the Jewish elders ate before God on the mountain (Ex. 24:11). The terms of the covenant were simple: if Israel obeyed God’s laws, He would bless them; it they disobeyed, He would chasten them.”[3]

     A unilateral covenant is an unconditional contract in which one party promises to do something for another without any stipulations. A bilateral covenant is a conditional contract in which one party promises to bless or curse based on obedience or disobedience to specific commands. With the bilateral covenant, blessings and cursings were built into it, so the Israelites would know with certainty what to expect from God depending on how they treated their relationship with Him. This does not mean the Israelites could manipulate God to do their bidding; rather, it simply meant He was predictable and would do what He promised. A healthy relationship relies on predictable behavior.

 

[1] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 132.

[2] Ibid., 139–140.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 33.

Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App