Thinking on Scripture with Dr. Steven R. Cook
Angels and Demons - Part 7 - Satan’s World System
Matthew 12:1-21 - The Pharisees Try to Trap Jesus
Angels and Demons Part 6 - Satanology
Angels and Demons Part 5 - The Sons of God and Genesis 6
Angels and Demons - Part 4
Angels and Demons - Part 3
Matthew 11:1-19 - A Turning Point in Matthew’s Gospel
Angels and Demons - Part 2
Angels and Demons - Part 1
Deuteronomy 8:11-20 - Prosperity Testing

Deuteronomy 8:11-20 - Prosperity Testing

March 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

 

Deuteronomy 8:1-10 - Adversity Testing

Deuteronomy 8:1-10 - Adversity Testing

March 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

Thomas Constable adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Matthew 10:24-33 - Overcoming Fear

Matthew 10:24-33 - Overcoming Fear

March 14, 2021

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

Biblical Self-Talk

Biblical Self-Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Faith Strengthening Techniques

Faith Strengthening Techniques

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 7:17-26

March 7, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 7:12-16

Deuteronomy 7:12-16

March 6, 2021

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

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

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

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

Warren Wiersbe adds:

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

[3] Ibid., 53–54.

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

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

February 28, 2021

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

Deuteronomy 7:7-11

Deuteronomy 7:7-11

February 28, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Deuteronomy 7:1-6

Deuteronomy 7:1-6

February 27, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

[3] Ibid., 180.

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

Deuteronomy 6:20-25

Deuteronomy 6:20-25

February 14, 2021

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

Biblical Education Starts in the Home

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

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

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

 

Deuteronomy 6:16-19

Deuteronomy 6:16-19

February 13, 2021

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

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

Eugene Merrill adds:

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

     God, because He is gracious and kind, gave them water from the rock (Ex 17:6), even though they complained against the Lord (Ex 17:7). Unlike their parents who demonstrated unbelief by complaining against God, Moses called for the second generation to live by faith and obey the Lord, saying, “You should diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and His testimonies and His statutes which He has commanded you” (Deut 6:17). What God had commanded (Heb. צָוָה tsavah) them was within their ability to do, and would bring blessing if they complied (cf. Deut 11:26-28). Here, in clear terms, Moses states that keeping God’s commandments means doing “what is right in the sight of the LORD” (Deut 6:18a). It must always be remembered that Israel was a theocracy and God was their Ruler, Lawgiver, and Judge (see Isa 33:22). The Lord had liberated His people from Egyptian slavery and offered them a covenant relationship which they accepted (Ex 19:1-9), which bound them in a relationship with Him. As their good King, God had every right to issue commands and direct their lives; not because He was a brutal tyrant who sought to subjugate and oppress them, but rather, that they might walk with Him and be blessed. If Israel would walk with the Lord and follow His commands, the result would be, “that it may be well with you and that you may go in and possess the good land which the LORD swore to give your fathers” (Deut 6:18b). Obedience would result in blessing. If Israel would follow the Lord, He would keep His word “by driving out all your enemies from before you, as the LORD has spoken” (Deut 6:19). God owned the land (Lev 25:23; Psa 85:1; Hos 9:3; Joel 2:18), and He would transfer ownership from one people to the next as He willed.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

How to Advance Spiritually - Part 2

How to Advance Spiritually - Part 2

February 7, 2021

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

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

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

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

 

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

How to Advance Spiritually - Part 1

How to Advance Spiritually - Part 1

February 6, 2021

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

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

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

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

 

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

Deuteronomy 6:10-15

Deuteronomy 6:10-15

January 31, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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.

The Call of Matthew (Matt 9:9-13)

The Call of Matthew (Matt 9:9-13)

January 24, 2021
  • "As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, 'Follow Me!' And he got up and followed Him. Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, 'Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?' But when Jesus heard this, He said, 'It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 'But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'" (Matt 9:9-13)

     The above passage is Matthew’s personal account of being called by Jesus to be His disciple. The location of the event was probably in or near the city of Capernaum. The event occurred shortly after Jesus had demonstrated His power to forgive sins and heal disease (Matt 9:1-12). Matthew opens his account by telling us, “As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he got up and followed Him” (Matt 9:9). This Matthew is the author of the Gospel that bears his name. He is also called Levi by Mark and Luke (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27).

     Matthew was identified according to his occupation as a tax collector. Tax collectors sat in booths at the entry points of cities and cross sections of commerce, collecting taxes for the Roman government, and sometimes taking a little extra for themselves. Matthew would have been regarded by many as no better than a robber. Being a tax collector for the Romans would have made Matthew despised by his fellow Jews, who would have regarded him as a traitor, an enemy of the state who took Jewish money and gave it to their overlords. Donald Hagner comments:

  • "Tax collectors, or tax farmers, in that culture were despised as greedy, self-serving, and parasitic. They grew rich at the expense of the poor by extorting from them more than was required by their superiors in order to fill their own pockets. They furthermore often compromised regulations for purity in their handling of pagan money and their dealings with Gentiles. That Jesus should call a tax collector to be his disciple must have been in itself scandalous. We hear no objection to that here, but when in the following narrative Jesus fraternizes with tax collectors and sinners (the “lower” end of society), we do encounter a protest."[1]

     Jesus called Matthew while he was working, telling him, “Follow Me!” The word follow translates the Greek verb ἀκολουθέω akoloutheo, which means, “to move behind someone in the same direction, come after…to follow or accompany someone who takes the lead, accompany, go along with.”[2] In this context, the word connotes following Jesus as a disciple. This began Matthew’s journey as a disciple of Jesus, and Matthew would eventually be counted among the apostles (Matt 10:1-4). In an instant, Matthew walked away from a lucrative and secure job to follow Jesus. This was a radical move for sure. Though he forfeited earthly riches, he obtained new life, a greater sense of destiny, and a personal relationship with the King of kings and Lord of lords. He also secured for himself riches in heaven, which are far greater than anything this world could offer.

     Matthew recorded a big dinner he gave for Jesus, telling us, “Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples” (Matt 9:10). Luke reveals the dinner was actually a “big reception” (Luke 5:29), revealing Matthew was financially well off. The banquet included several of Matthew’s friends who were fellow tax collectors, and a group of people identified as “sinners” (Grk. ἁμαρτωλός hamartolos). Sinners were the irreligious, “who did not observe the Law in detail and therefore were shunned by observers of traditional precepts.”[3] These were the outsiders who did not play along with the religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees, and were condemned for it. Matthew did not care. He was once classified among them, and now he’d been transformed and was ready to move on with a new life as a disciple of the One who was truly righteous. Matthew’s dinner party for Jesus was, in itself, a form of public confession concerning his new life.

     But the antagonists soon arrived and, in typical fashion, began meddling in other people’s business. Matthew records the event, saying, “When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?’” (Matt 9:11). In the first century Jewish culture, when people fellowshipped at a table of food, it was regarded as a picture of friendship and acceptance. The Pharisees were befuddled when they saw Jesus and His disciples eating with the dregs of society. In addition, the Pharisees had a growing abhorrence toward Jesus, so their observations were filtered through a lens of hatred. This prompted them to bring a question; not for clarification, but to impugn His character. The question they asked implied guilt by association. But Jesus’ disciples did not answer the Pharisees; rather, “when Jesus heard this, He said, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick’” (Matt 9:12). There was a common image in Jewish culture that compared teachers with physicians. These were regarded as soul-doctors who helped bring about spiritual and mental wellbeing. Of course, to need healing, one must admit sickness, and this the Pharisees were not willing to do. William MacDonald writes:

  • "The Pharisees considered themselves healthy and were unwilling to confess their need for Jesus. The tax collectors and sinners, by contrast, were more willing to acknowledge their true condition and to seek Christ’s saving grace. So the charge was true! Jesus did eat with sinners. If He had eaten with the Pharisees, the charge would still have been true—perhaps even more so! If Jesus hadn’t eaten with sinners in a world like ours, He would always have eaten alone. But it is important to remember that when He ate with sinners, He never indulged in their evil ways or compromised His testimony. He used the occasion to call men to truth and holiness."[4]

     The Pharisees were correct that Jesus was a Teacher, and He promptly gave them something to learn. Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt 9:13). The phrase “go and learn” was a common expression used by rabbis when pointing them to a particular passage of Scripture to be considered. This was a poke at the Pharisees, for even though they regarded themselves as the experts of the Law, Jesus treated them as though they were novices. And the passage Jesus pointed them to was Hosea 6:6, which states, “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice.” Certainly, sacrifice was important to God, and there is much in the Mosaic Law that explains this, especially in the book of Leviticus. However, the activity of sacrifice, no matter how great the offering or sophisticated the occasion, meant nothing to God if the worshipper lacked the qualities of compassion, kindness, and mercy found in the One to whom the offering was brought. Hosea, and other OT prophets mentioned this repeatedly. Note the following examples:

  • "For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." (Psa 51:16-17)
  • "To do righteousness and justice is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice." (Pro 21:3)
  • "What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me? Says the LORD. I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them. So, when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you, yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow." (Isa 1:11-17)
  • "For I delight in mercy rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." (Hos 6:6)
  • "With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? 7 Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what the LORD requires of you: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." (Mic 6:6-8)

     The Pharisees, like the religious apostates in Hosea’s day, performed the outward rituals of sacrifice at the temple, but their hearts were far from God. They were careful to keep the ceremonial practices, but failed to capture the greater heart qualities the Lord expected of those who claimed to know and walk with Him. How the Pharisees treated the tax collectors and sinners demonstrated this.

     In summary, Jesus called Matthew to be His disciple, and the tax collector left everything to begin a new life with Jesus. Matthew celebrated his new life as a disciple by hosting a dinner party for Jesus and inviting other tax collectors and irreligious sinners to come and meet his new Master. The Pharisees arrived and filtered the event through their hate filled heart, and then tried to trap Jesus with a question concerning His company, which question implied His guilt. But Jesus corrected the Pharisees by pointing out He’d come to heal the sick and therefore needed to be among them. Jesus then instructed the Pharisees to learn a lesson from the book of Hosea, that God desires compassion and not sacrifice. How Jesus treated the tax collectors and sinners demonstrated His compassion, and how the Pharisees treated them demonstrated their self-righteous pride and hatred.

 

[1] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, vol. 33A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1993), 238.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 36.

[3] Ibid., 51.

[4] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1235.

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.

Judges 21:1-25

Judges 21:1-25

January 8, 2021

     The Central Idea of the Text is that Israel grieved over the depleted condition of Benjamin, but then acted with a human solution that harmed innocent persons.

     The eleven tribes of Israel had made a self-induced vow that none of their daughters should be given to the tribe of Benjamin (Judg. 21:1, 5, 7, 18); subsequently, the eleven tribes grieved the near-destruction of Benjamin (Judg. 21:2, 6), and sought to resolve the problem of how to restore them.  Though they offered sacrifice to God (Judg. 21:3-4), they did not consult Him concerning Benjamin’s restoration (Judg. 21:5-7).  The human solution was to attack Israelites from Jabesh-gilead—who had not participated in the battle—and to destroy all its inhabitants (men, women, and children), and then take the remaining 400 virgin girls and give them as wives to the Benjamites (Judg. 21:8-12), thus reconciling and restoring the tribe (Judg. 21:13-15).  The elders of Israel then considered how to provide wives for the remaining 200 Benjamites who had not been given a wife, while not violating their self-induced vow that they should not give them wives from their children (Judg. 21:16-18).  The human solution was that the Benjamites should kidnap wives for themselves during the time of the annual feast at Shiloh (Judg. 21:19-22), and so they did (Judg. 21:23-24).  The conclusion to the account, as well as the book as a whole, is that “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). 

     Sin will always rise—personally and nationally—when God’s word is ignored and His will disobeyed.  The divine solution is always to fear God (Prov. 1:7; 8:13), and this means learning His word and obeying it (Ps. 34:11-14; 119:9-11).  To fear God also means seeking God’s will in every aspect of our lives and not compartmentalizing (Prov. 3:5-7).  The life of faith is often challenging, but the good choices bring stability and blessing. 

Judges 20:1-48

Judges 20:1-48

January 5, 2021

     The Central Idea of the Text is that eleven tribes of Israel go to war against the tribe of Benjamin in order to exact justice for the Levite’s concubine who was raped and murdered in Gibeah.

     The tribes of Israel—minus Benjamin—gathered to hear the Levite’s account of the rape and killing of his concubine (Judg. 20:1-7), and then decided to take action (Judg. 20:8-11), giving Benjamin the opportunity  give up the offenders, which they refused to do (Judg. 20:12-13).  The result was civil war between eleven tribes of Israel and the Benjamites.  Three times God directed the eleven tribes to fight against Benjamin (Judg. 20:18, 23, 26-28); however, He permitted the Israelites to taste defeat on the first two occasions (40,000 men died), perhaps to discipline them for their pride—because they had excluded God from their lives for many years—and to prompt them to look to Him alone for victory.  Each defeat led the tribes to seek God more humbly and earnestly, to know His will and to have His blessing.  God finally defeated Benjamin for the wickedness of the men they were defending (Judg. 20:35).  25,100 Benjamites were killed (Judg. 20:35), and their city was destroyed (Judg. 20:48).  600 Benjamites survived the battle and hid themselves in the wilderness of Rimmon (Judg. 20:47).

     Sometimes God lets us experience defeat in order to break down our pride and to condition us to look to Him in all things and to cast ourselves upon His sustaining grace (Ps. 55:22; 2 Cor. 12:7-10).  Whatever the defeat, we must look to the Lord (Prov. 3:5-6) and accept that He is in sovereign control (Ps. 135:6; Dan. 4:35) and that He is working all things for our benefit (Rom. 8:28; cf. Gen. 50:20).

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.

Judges 19:1-30 Part 2

Judges 19:1-30 Part 2

December 29, 2020

     The Central Idea of the Text is that a Levite—in order to save himself—sacrificed his concubine to worthless men who gang raped and killed her.

     A Levite left Ephraim to persuade his runaway concubine to return home (Judg. 19:1-3).  His father-in-law was glad to see him and entertained him for three days (Judg. 19:4-7).  The Levite eventually left and traveled homeward with his wife, servant, and two donkeys (Judg. 19:8-10).  They could have stayed in Jebus, but traveled on to Gibeah in the tribe of Benjamin (Judg. 19:11-14).  The only display of hospitality in Gibeah was by an old man who brought them into his home and cared for them (Judg. 19:15-21).  Like the story of Sodom, several wicked men came searching for the visitor to sexually assault him, and the old man sought to protect his visitor (Judg. 19:22-23).  However, the old man was willing to throw his daughter and the concubine out to the attackers to save himself and the Levite (Judg. 19:24; cf. Gen. 19:4-8).  The wicked men refused, so the cowardly Levite forced his wife out of the house and into their hands to be raped and abused all night (Judg. 19:25-26).  The next morning the callous Levite gathered his concubine’s body and took her home, then cut her into twelve pieces and sent a portion to the twelve tribes of Israel (Judg. 19:27-29).  “Clearly he did not really love this woman or he would have defended her and even offered himself in her place. His actions speak volumes about his views of women, himself, and God’s will.”[1]  The final verse is a question posed by the Israelites concerning how they would respond to this evil act (Judg. 19:30).

     A husband’s love is to be based on the character of God.  For the Christian, he is to love his wife as Christ loves the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:23-29).  The husband is to provide for his wife physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  He is to protect her at all costs, even with his own life if necessary.  The husband is to build his wife up in the Lord, seeking her best at all times.  He is to make his wife feel safe so that she can love him without fear (1 John 4:18).  These values and actions do not guarantee the wife will respond positively.  However, there can be no healthy marital relationship if the husband is not leading with these values and actions. 

 

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Jdg 19:22.

Judges 19:1-30 Part 1

Judges 19:1-30 Part 1

December 29, 2020

     The Central Idea of the Text is that a Levite—in order to save himself—sacrificed his concubine to worthless men who gang raped and killed her.

     A Levite left Ephraim to persuade his runaway concubine to return home (Judg. 19:1-3).  His father-in-law was glad to see him and entertained him for three days (Judg. 19:4-7).  The Levite eventually left and traveled homeward with his wife, servant, and two donkeys (Judg. 19:8-10).  They could have stayed in Jebus, but traveled on to Gibeah in the tribe of Benjamin (Judg. 19:11-14).  The only display of hospitality in Gibeah was by an old man who brought them into his home and cared for them (Judg. 19:15-21).  Like the story of Sodom, several wicked men came searching for the visitor to sexually assault him, and the old man sought to protect his visitor (Judg. 19:22-23).  However, the old man was willing to throw his daughter and the concubine out to the attackers to save himself and the Levite (Judg. 19:24; cf. Gen. 19:4-8).  The wicked men refused, so the cowardly Levite forced his wife out of the house and into their hands to be raped and abused all night (Judg. 19:25-26).  The next morning the callous Levite gathered his concubine’s body and took her home, then cut her into twelve pieces and sent a portion to the twelve tribes of Israel (Judg. 19:27-29).  “Clearly he did not really love this woman or he would have defended her and even offered himself in her place. His actions speak volumes about his views of women, himself, and God’s will.”[1]  The final verse is a question posed by the Israelites concerning how they would respond to this evil act (Judg. 19:30).

     A husband’s love is to be based on the character of God.  For the Christian, he is to love his wife as Christ loves the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:23-29).  The husband is to provide for his wife physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  He is to protect her at all costs, even with his own life if necessary.  The husband is to build his wife up in the Lord, seeking her best at all times.  He is to make his wife feel safe so that she can love him without fear (1 John 4:18).  These values and actions do not guarantee the wife will respond positively.  However, there can be no healthy marital relationship if the husband is not leading with these values and actions. 

 

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Jdg 19:22.

Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App