Thinking on Scripture with Dr. Steven R. Cook



Sunday Dec 26, 2021

The central idea of Jeremiah 23:25-40 is that false prophets were giving false messages derived from depraved imaginations and their messages were confusing God’s people and leading them astray from His will. Here is a complete set of study notes: 

Saturday Dec 04, 2021

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

Sunday Nov 21, 2021

     This pericope opens with a directive from the Lord (Thus says the LORD) to Jeremiah who instructed him, saying, “Go and buy a potter’s earthenware jar, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests” (Jer 19:1). God called His prophet to make a trip to the local potter’s shop in order to purchase a pot. Jeremiah bought a specific kind of jar (בַּקְבֻּק baqbuq) that had a narrow neck and was used for pouring liquid. It’s likely the name of the jar was an onomatopoeia, where the name sounded like the kind of noise it made as the liquid was being poured out. Apparently, Jeremiah’s message was for the leadership of the city, as he was instructed to take some elders and senior priests along with him.      The Lord instructed Jeremiah, saying, “Then go out to the valley of Ben-hinnom, which is by the entrance of the potsherd gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you” (Jer 19:2). After visiting the potter’s shop, the Lord instructed Jeremiah to head to the valley of Ben-hinnom, which is just south of Jerusalem. It’s likely the potsherd gate was near the potter’s shop and was known as the place where the potter would discard broken vessels that were no longer useful and could not be repaired.      The content of Jeremiah’s message was then given by the Lord who instructed His prophet, saying, “Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Behold I am about to bring a calamity upon this place, at which the ears of everyone that hears of it will tingle.’” Hear the word of the Lord was the common phrase spoken by a prophet who spoke for the Lord. This reveals that the message was not from the prophet himself, but was actually God’s Word to the people. The plural reference to the “kings of Judah” likely includes the current leadership as well as the prior dynasty of kings responsible for the deplorable state of affairs in Jeremiah’s day. Jeremiah used God’s proper name, YHWH (יהוה), eight times in this chapter. YHWH (יהוה) was God’s covenant name with Israel and would have reminded the people of their relationship with Him. Jeremiah also used one of God’s titles, referring to Him as “the LORD of hosts”—literally, the LORD of the armies—who was also identified as “the God of Israel.” It should be remembered that Israel was a theocracy and God was their Judge, Lawgiver, and King (see Isa 33:22). They were in a binding contract with Him which included blessings and cursings depending on whether they obeyed or disobeyed (Deut 11:26-28; 28:1-68). Because of Israel’s long history of idolatry and rebellion, they had chosen the path of cursing. Because God has integrity and keeps His Word, He was about to fulfill His promise to judge them based on the agreement of the Mosaic Covenant. God was about to unleash a calamity (רָעָה raah – evil, misery, distress, injury, calamity) upon Judah and Jerusalem, and the result was that “the ears of everyone that hears of it will tingle.” Here was a sensation that one could feel all the way up to one’s ears as the news of terrible calamity was about to be unleashed on the nation. God then explains why this was going to happen. He said: "Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods, that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent 5 and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind." (Jer 19:4-5)      Jeremiah mentions three reasons for God’s judgment: 1) They had forsaken the Lord, which meant the covenant relationship had been abandoned. Once they had forsaken the Lord and His righteous directives, all forms of evil followed. 2) They had made Jerusalem an alien place where sacrifices were made to idols. 3) Their pagan sacrifices had degenerated to the place where they sacrificed their innocent children to Baal.      Idolatry had permeated Judahite culture to such an extent that they’d lost their identity as God’s people and were no longer distinct from the pagan cultures around them. Forsaking Yahweh did not lead to atheism, but idolatry, which is a form of thievery, as it gives worship to manmade objects instead of the Lord. Biblically, there is only one God (Isa 45:5-6), and to worship someone or something in His place is to steal the glory due Him (Isa 42:8). Furthermore, idolatry subverts the Lord’s authority and eventuates in social and judicial perversions. Being only a block of wood or stone, idols cannot provide, protect, or guide those who worship them, but neither do they make demands contrary to the proclivity of the fallen human heart. And when there is no check on the human heart to restrain its sinful inclinations, the result is a breakdown in morality that weakens society and leads to harmful behavior, especially toward the righteous, vulnerable, and innocent within a community. Sadly, many churches in America have become superficial and useless, reflecting more the values of our declining culture rather than the holiness God expects of those who are His children and possess His Word.      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 who 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 106:34-38; 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).      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.[1] Most children are sacrificed for the parent’s self-interest. Of unintended pregnancies in the USA, four in 10 are aborted, which amounts to roughly 3,000 per day.[2] And girls are more likely to be aborted than boys, which translates to a form of gendercide.[3] The killing of innocent human life is a violation of the sixth commandment, which states, “You shall not murder” (Deut 5:17). Today, we don’t have idol centers located in temples or fields where children are sacrificed to a pagan deity; rather, we have clinical offices with well-educated and well-paid hitmen who use their surgical tools and vacuums to murder the innocent. Our government not only legalizes such activity, but uses tax dollars to fund it. We are a nation guilty before a just and holy God, and one wonders how long such evil can continue before the Lord’s judgment falls and renders to us what we deserve? It’s unimaginable to serve a God who cannot or will not judge us if we continue our current course of spiritual and moral decline. Of course, forgiveness is available to those who humble themselves and turn to Christ as their Savior. This is true for any sin, however heinous, even murder.      We know Judah was unrepentant and that God’s judgment was coming upon them. Jeremiah continued His message from the Lord, saying, “therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the valley of Slaughter” (Jer 19:6). God would change the name of this valley to fit the crime that was committed there; namely, the slaughter of innocent children. In this way it was to serve as a memorial that recalled Judah’s unfaithfulness to God and the evil that fell upon the children of the nation.      The leaders of Judah had other plans, but God would overrule them and bring about His judgment. The Lord said, “I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place, and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hand of those who seek their life; and I will give over their carcasses as food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth” (Jer 19:7). God’s judgment would be terrible and swift. And the punishment would fit the crime, as they would be put to death by the Babylonians whom God would raise up as a weapon against them, and their dead bodies He would give as food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the fields. Such language is employed of Jesus at His Second Coming when He puts down rebellion before establishing His kingdom on earth (Rev 19:11-18).      The city of Jerusalem would be destroyed in such a way that others would see and be amazed. God said, “I will also make this city a desolation and an object of hissing; everyone who passes by it will be astonished and hiss because of all its disasters” (Jer 19:8). God would intentionally make Jerusalem an object lesson for others to see; no doubt, that others might learn to fear the Lord.      God revealed further judgment in which He would create a distressing situation that would result in Israelites engaging in cannibalism. God said, “I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh in the siege and in the distress with which their enemies and those who seek their life will distress them” (Jer 19:9). God knows the wickedness of the human heart and the perversities that materialize when there is no restraint on sin. One day these Judahites were sacrificing their children to Baal and Molech, and in a short time they would resort to eating them! God had warned of this judgment upon the nation if they turned away from Him and lived sinful lives (Deut 28:53-57; cf. Jer 11:1-8). Later, Jeremiah wrote about how this came to pass during the Babylonian siege (Lam 2:20; 4:10).      God instructed Jeremiah, saying, “Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you” (Jer 19:10). Here, Jeremiah’s act was itself a Word from the Lord, as it communicated in visual form the mind of God toward Judah and Jerusalem. And after breaking the jar, Jeremiah gave a message, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial” (Jer 19:11). Just as Jeremiah easily broke the jar, so God would break His people and Jerusalem for their sins. And just as the potter’s jar could not be repaired, and would be thrown into a trash heap, so the Israelites, who were guilty of horrible sins, would be killed and buried in Topheth because there is no other place for their corpses. The Lord continued, saying, “This is how I will treat this place and its inhabitants,” declares the LORD, “so as to make this city like Topheth” (Jer 19:12).      Jeremiah offered no call to repentance. Rather, the picture is one of judgment that is sudden and final. The clay jar is broken and that’s it. God’s judgment was upon that generation to whom Jeremiah spoke, but His judgment did not render His former promises to the nation obsolete, as future generations could know God’s grace and blessing. Walter Kaiser states: "The fact that this sin-sickness cannot be “cured” does not mean that there are no future possibilities for a restoration to God’s favor again. This word of judgment is for the present generation; there will be no reversals for those who have failed to respond so frequently to the message currently being delivered, but the promises of God made to the patriarchs and others about his choice of the nation, his gift of the seed that will bring salvation, his gift of the land, and especially his gift of the gospel (that is, that in your seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed), are all irrevocable (Rom 11:29)."[4]      Speaking about the destruction of the city, Jeremiah continued, saying, “The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah will be defiled like the place Topheth, because of all the houses on whose rooftops they burned sacrifices to all the heavenly host and poured out drink offerings to other gods” (Jer 19:13). The reason for God’s judgment is clear. His people had turned away from Him and been worshiping openly on rooftops, offering sacrifices and drink offerings to astral deities and other gods. Because of their unfaithfulness to the covenant, God would destroy Judah, and Jerusalem would burn (Jer 7:16-20; 32:29-30).      After giving his object lesson with the clay pot, we learn, “Then Jeremiah came from Topheth, where the LORD had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of the LORD’S house and said to all the people” (Jer 19:14). Once in the temple courtyard, Jeremiah said, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to bring on this city and all its towns the entire calamity that I have declared against it, because they have stiffened their necks so as not to heed My words’” (Jer 19:15).      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 God’s will. Instead, the leadership and people stiffened their necks and defied God’s Word and lived sinfully by worshipping idols and sacrificing the innocent. Judah’s prolonged sinfulness had blinded them to their depraved spiritual condition and they were beyond repair by preaching (Jer 25:3) or by prayer (Jer 7:16). Judgment was coming.      Jeremiah’s message fell on hard hearts and was not received kindly. The next chapter reveals the resistance and hostility Jeremiah received for speaking God’s Word, with the result that he was beaten and placed in stocks by Pashhur, a priest and chief officer in Jerusalem (Jer 20:1-2).   [1] Sam Dorman, “An estimated 62 million abortions have occurred since Roe v. Wade decision in 1973”, ( [2] Worldometer, [3] Abortion in numbers, ( [4] Walter C. Kaiser Jr. and Tiberius Rata, Walking the Ancient Paths: A Commentary on Jeremiah (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 245.

Saturday Nov 20, 2021

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

Saturday Nov 13, 2021

     In this pericope, Moses directs Israel to appoint judges and officers for themselves within each town that God was giving them (Deut 16:18). These judges were to judge according God’s righteous standards and not perversely (Deut 16:19-20), especially as it related to worship and sacrifice (Deut 16:21—17:1). This section also begins to name four leadership offices God would assign in Israel, namely, judges (Deut 16:18-17:8), priests (Deut 17:9-13; 18:1-8), kings (Deut 17:14-20), and prophets (Deut 18:15-22). These were all bound by the Mosaic Law, which legitimized their authority and was the guide for their rulership.      Previously, Moses had tried to serve as the single judge in Israel, but became overwhelmed, fatigued, and burned out. Moses’ wise father-in-law, Jethro, counseled him to appoint qualified men who were wise and of good character to help judge cases. Moses followed Jethro’s advice and trained men in the law of God so they could serve as judges in Israel (Ex 18:13-27).      Moses knew his people would soon find themselves transitioning from a nomadic existence to that of living in settled communities. This sociological paradigm shift would necessitate a hierarchical structure of elders who could administer just judgments according to God’s Law that was being communicated by Moses. Moses said, “You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment” (Deut 16:18). Moses was giving the people just laws, but it was their responsibility to recognize men of integrity and appoint them (נָתַן nathan) as judges who would officiate legal matters and officers who could carry out their judgments. With this directive, it fell to the elders in each town to appoint judges (שָׁפַט shaphat) who could properly arbitrate legal matters among God’s people, and to select officers (שֹׁטֵר shoter) as subordinates who could carry out their decisions. It’s possible the judges would be selected from among the ruling elders, who were themselves to be wise and discerning men from the community (Deut 1:13). It was the responsibility of the elders to make sure those laws were justly applied within their towns, according to their tribes. More difficult cases could be sent to a higher court (Deut 17:8).      The laws were given by God, who was their Judge, Lawgiver, and King (Isa 33:22). God was also 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). Now God was directing them concerning legal matters which, if followed, would have marked them as a righteous people who adhered to just laws. To judge the people with “righteous judgment”- מִשְׁפַּט־צֶדֶק) mishpat-tsedeq) meant their decisions were to conform to the standards set forth in God’s Word. Righteousness (צֶדֶק tsedeq) consisted of the objective standard of written laws Moses was giving the nation, which at that time would have been the Pentateuch. Wiersbe writes: "The repetition of the word “gates” (16:5, 11, 14, 18; 17:2, 5, 8) indicates that the basic unit of government in Israel was the local town council. It was made up of judges and officers who, with the elders, conducted business at the city gates (Ruth 4:1-12). The judges and officers were probably appointed or elected by the male land-owning citizens of the town, but we aren’t given the details. The word translated “officers” means “writers, secretaries” and refers to the men who kept the official records and genealogies, advised the judges, and carried out their decisions."[1]      However, living in a fallen world and possessing sinful natures meant there would always be a challenge to following just laws and administering justice. For this reason, Moses said, “You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous” (Deut 16:19). Being partial in a legal case, or taking a bribe from a litigant, are two examples of perverted justice. The judges were not to distort justice, nor be influenced to partiality by the social position of those who stood before them, whether small or great. Each judge was to realize the laws they administered were God’s laws, and that each judge was directly under “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25). Israel was to remember that “the LORD is our judge, The LORD is our lawgiver, The LORD is our king” (Isa 33:22). The judges in Israel were to realize they were serving as God’s representatives within the community. If a judge perverted justice, it meant he diminished the character and name of God (2 Ch 19:6-7), and the Lord would curse those who perverted justice (Deut 27:25).      The judges were to be pure in their decisions. For this reason, Moses said, “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Deut 16:20). To emphasize his point, Moses uses a double reference to righteousness (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק tsedeq tsedeq), stressing the need for the judges to pursue God’s standards among God’s people. If they complied with God’s directive, the result would be that God would bless them by allowing them to continue to live in the land. The reality was that God owned the land (Lev 25:23), and He could evict them as a means of punishment if they became corrupt. Historically, we know that because of rampant idolatry, human sacrifice, and other egregious sins, God eventually destroyed the ten northern tribes of Israel in 722 B.C. (2 Ki 17:7-23), and the two southern tribes of Judah in 586 B.C. (Jer 25:8-11).      What follows in the next few verses appears to be examples of crimes that were deserving of punishment by judges. Moses said, “You shall not plant for yourself an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of the LORD your God, which you shall make for yourself. You shall not set up for yourself a sacred pillar which the LORD your God hates” (Deut 16:21-22). Because Israel was a theocracy, one could not separate legal from theological matters. In fact, the highest crimes committed were those that perverted the worship of Yahweh by introducing idols within the nation (Deut 5:6-8), which God had previously commanded to be destroyed (Deut 7:5; 12:3). Such an act was tantamount to treason, for it sought to subvert God’s authority with a manmade block of wood or stone.[2] Eugene Merrill writes: "Moses had just discussed the matter of righteous judgment and the blessing that followed such a policy. Now he provided a hypothetical case or two to illustrate what he meant by untainted jurisprudence and the practices to be followed in achieving it. The violations he adduced could not be more significant, for they strike right at the heart of the covenant relationship. In fact, they challenged the uniqueness of the Lord and the exclusiveness of his worship, on the one hand (16:21–22), thus disobeying the first two commandments; and, on the other hand, they spoke to the sin of cultic impurity in defiance of the third and fourth commandments (17:1). At stake was nothing less than who God is and how he is to be worshiped."[3] Here, the command was for God’s people not to engage in religious syncretism, in which a pagan Asherah pole would be placed alongside the altar of the Lord and worshipped together. If idols were worshipped alongside Yahweh, it would subvert the Lord’s authority and eventuate in social and judicial perversions. Being only a block of wood or stone, idols cannot protect, provide, or guide those who worship them, but neither do they make demands contrary to the proclivity of the fallen human heart. And when there is no check on the human heart to restrain its sinful inclinations, the result is a breakdown in morality that weakens society and leads to harmful behavior, especially toward the weak and innocent within a community.      Moses then provided a third example for the judges in Israel, saying, “You shall not sacrifice to the LORD your God an ox or a sheep which has a blemish or any defect, for that is a detestable thing to the LORD your God” (Deut 17:1). Moses had previously provided the directive not to offer a blemished or defective animal as a sacrifice to the Lord (Lev 22:20; Deut 15:21), which here he makes clear would be an afront to God. Such an offering failed to acknowledge God and His goodness as Israel’s Provider. Unfortunately, this is what the Israelites were doing in Malachi’s day (Mal 1:6-9). Peter Craigie writes: "In relation to 16:21–22, the offering of a blemished sacrifice is similar in result to defiling God’s sanctuary by the importation of things foreign to Israelite worship. It is possible that Canaanite religion did not have such a prescription, and therefore that offering defective animals was a sign of further lapse into a syncretistic form of religion. Any type of syncretism with foreign religion would be an abomination of the Lord your God."[4]   [1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 114. [2] Gideon, a judge in Israel, had cut down an Asherah pole within his community when directed by the Lord (Judg 6:25-27). Gideon’s action caused a stir in his community and the residents of his town wanted to kill him afterwards (Judg 6:28-30). [3] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 258–259. [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), 249.

Saturday Nov 21, 2020

Deuteronomy 2:34 mentions, for the first time in this book, the subject of holy war. The words “utterly destroyed” translate the Hebrew חָרָם charam, which in this passage connotes something “devoted to destruction.”[1] Leon Wood states, “Usually ḥāram means a ban for utter destruction, the compulsory dedication of something which impedes or resists God’s work, which is considered to be accursed before God.”[2] Eugene Merrill comments: "Nothing is more integral to the waging of holy war than the placing of conquered lands and their peoples under ḥērem. This noun, derived from the verb ḥāram, “to exterminate,” refers to a condition in which persons and things became the personal possession of the Lord by virtue of his inherent sovereignty and his appropriation of them by conquest. They could either be left alive and intact (Lev 27:21, 28; Josh 6:19) or eradicated (as here; cf. Num 21:2–3; Josh 6:21). In the passage at hand, it seems that the physical structures of the cities themselves were spared and that only the populations were decimated."[3]      Though the idea of holy war can be difficult for us to digest (which in this context includes putting children to death), several things should be considered. First, the command was from the Lord Himself (Deut 2:34; 7:1-2; 20:17). Because God is omniscient (Psa 139:1-6), He knew the situation completely. Because the Lord is perfectly righteous (Gen 18:25; Psa 7:11), His command was just and fair. And, because God is gracious and patient (Psa 103:8), His command to execute the Canaanites was not reckless. Divine judgment meant God had determined the Canaanite culture was not reformable. Second, the Canaanites were by no means innocent. Rather, they were antitheocratic and hostile to God and His people and comprised the most corrupt culture in the world at that time. For hundreds of years 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). Third, 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), this does not last forever and eventually His righteous judgment falls upon those who deserve it (Deut 9:4-5). Fourth, Moses offered Sihon, King of Heshbon, peaceful terms if he would let the Israelites pass through his land, even offering to pay for whatever food and water they consumed, but Sihon rejected Moses’ offer and therefore brought judgment upon himself and his people. Fifth, the Amorites could have moved out and avoided the conflict by settling in another area. Sixth, God could have destroyed the people Himself, like He’d done in the global flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Egypt; however, it was His will the Canaanites be removed by military means and as a test of obedience to His people. Seventh, those who turned to God would have been spared, like Rahab and her family (Josh 2:1-14). Eighth, the killing of the Canaanite children may have spared them from growing up in a corrupt and hostile culture, “For if the child died before reaching the age of accountability it is likely that his or her eternal destiny would have been made secure in heaven.”[4] Ninth, this is the only time in the Bible and history that this command was given and was never repeated to other generations. Tenth, God’s command for holy war is not applicable for Christians, for God is not working to establish a theocratic kingdom on earth as He was through Israel.      God warned Israel that if they failed to execute His judgment upon the Canaanites, they would become a corrupting cancer that would infect them (Deut 20:17-18; cf. Ex 23:33; Josh 23:12-13). Israel’s actions would have a direct impact on future generations. We know historically that Israel failed to obey the Lord (see the book of Judges), and the corrupt culture spread among God’s people, who themselves began to practice all the evil things God hates (Deut 12:31). Because Israel eventually became corrupt, He then 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 when the two southern tribes of Judah fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC.   [1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 354. [2] Leon J. Wood, “744 חָרַם,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 324. [3] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, 102. [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.

Saturday Nov 07, 2020

     The history of Israel starts with God who chose the nation to be His representatives upon the earth. Israel was created by God (Isa 43:1, 15), and He loves them with an everlasting love (Jer 31:1-3). God chose them because of who He is, not because of any greatness or goodness in them (Deut 7:6-8). Israel began with a unilateral covenant which God made with Abraham, promising “I will make you a great nation” (Gen 12:2). The Abrahamic covenant was later expanded with the Land Covenant (Deut 29:1-29; 30:1-10), the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:3-4, 34-37), and the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34). Though Abraham had children by different women (Sarah, Hagar and Keturah), the Abrahamic promises were restated only through Isaac (Gen 17:19-21) and Jacob (Gen 28:10-15). Because of a crippling encounter with God, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, which means “he who wrestles with God” (Gen 32:24-30). The sons of Israel (i.e. Jacob) went into captivity in Egypt for four hundred years as God had foretold (Gen 15:13), and remained there until He called them out through His servants Moses and Aaron (Ex 3:1-10). God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage through a series of ten plagues that destroyed Pharaoh and the nation (Exodus chapters 5-14). The exodus generation were believers who followed God’s servant, Moses, out of captivity (Ex 4:31; 14:31; 1 Cor 10:1-4). After the exodus, God entered into a bilateral covenant relationship with Israel at Mount Sinai (Ex 19:1-8), and gave them 613 commands—which comprise the Mosaic Law—and these commands are commonly divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial codes. The exodus generation—though they witnessed God’s miraculous deliverance against the Egyptians—rebelled and complained against the Lord during the forty years they were in the wilderness. Because of their rebellion, God eventually disciplined them by prohibiting them from entering the promised land (Num 14:1-23; cf. Heb 3:15—4:1-2). This was a generation of believers who failed to live by faith, and so God withheld their inheritance of the land. The two exceptions were Joshua and Caleb, who lived by faith (Num 14:30). God then promised the second generation of Israelites would inherit the promised land, but only after their parents died in the wilderness (Num 14:31-33). The book of Numbers differentiates between a generation possessed of negative volition and their children who were positive to God. When the last person of the exodus generation died, God then delivered a message through Moses to their children, reiterating many of the commands given to the first generation. The message Moses gave is known as the book of Deuteronomy, which restates many of the laws of the covenant. Under the Mosaic Law, Israel would know blessing if they obeyed God’s commands (Deut 28:1-15), and cursing if they did not (Deut 28:16-68). After Moses died, God brought the Israelites into the land of Canaan (i.e. the land promised to Abraham) under the leadership of Joshua (Deut 31:23; Josh 1:1-9), and there the land was divided, giving a portion to each of the descendants of Jacob. After Joshua died (Josh 24:29-31), Israel repeatedly fell into idolatry and suffered divine discipline for their rebellion (read Judges). This went on for roughly 300 years as Israel fell into a pattern of idolatry, after which God would send punishment, then the people would cry out to God, Who would relent of His judgment and send a judge to deliver them, then the people would serve God for a time, and then fall back into idolatry. The period of the Judges was marked by people who did not obey the Lord, but “did what was right in their own eyes” (Judg 17:6; 21:25). Samuel was the last of Israel’s judges, and then the people cried for a king because they wanted to be like the other nations (1 Sam 8:4-5). God gave them their request (1 Sam 8:22), and Saul became the first king in Israel (1 Sam 10:1). Though Saul started well, he quickly turned away from the Lord and would not obey God’s commands. Saul reigned for approximately 40 years and his leadership was basically a failure (1 Sam 13:1; cf. Acts 13:21). Later, God raised up David to be king in Israel (1 Sam 16:1-13), and David reigned for 40 years and was an ideal king who followed God and encouraged others to do the same (1 Ki 2:10-11). God decreed David’s throne would be established forever through one of his descendants (2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:3-4), and this is Jesus (Luke 1:31-33). Solomon reigned for 40 years after David (1 Ki 2:12; 11:42-43), and though He was wise and did many good things (ruled well, built the temple, wrote Scripture, etc.), he eventually turned away from God and worshiped idols (1 Ki 11:1-10), and the kingdom was divided afterward (1 Ki 11:11-41). The nation was united under Saul, David, and Solomon.      Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, ruled over the two southern tribes (Judah) and Jeroboam ruled over the ten northern tribes (Israel). Israel—the northern kingdom—had 19 kings throughout its history and all were bad, as they led God’s people into idolatry (i.e. the “sins of Jeroboam” 1 Ki 16:31; 2 Ki 3:3; 10:31; 13:2). The ten northern tribes came under divine discipline because of their idolatry and were destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC. Judah—the southern kingdom—had 20 kings throughout its history and 8 were good (some more than others), as they obeyed God and led others to do the same (they were committed to the Lord like David, 1 Ki 15:11). However, Judah repeatedly fell into idolatry—as the 10 northern tribes had done—and were eventually destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The dispersion of Israel was promised by God if they turned away from Him and served other gods (Deut 28:63-68). Since the destruction by Babylon, Israel has been under Gentile dominance (Luke 21:24; Rom 11:25). After a temporary regathering under Ezra and Nehemiah, Israel continued under Gentile dominance with the Medes & Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Because of their rejection of Jesus as Messiah, God disciplined Israel again in AD 70, and the Jews were scattered all over the world (Jam 1:1; 1 Pet 1:1). Israel’s current state is one of judgment (Matt 23:37-39), and a “partial hardening” (Rom 11:25). Israel will be restored when Messiah returns to establish His kingdom on earth (Rev 19:11-21; 20:4-6).

Copyright 2013 Steven Cook. All rights reserved.

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