Monthly Archives: November 2014

Deuteronomy 16

Moses gives a concise overview of three of the festivals or feasts the people of Israel are to celebrate every year, Passover or Unleavened Bread, Weeks and Tabernacles. Each of these feasts must be celebrated at the place where God will choose to put his dwelling, not just anywhere the people might choose to do it. And although it says that all the men must appear before God for these feasts, they are celebrated with the entire household and more:

14 Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.

He reminds them that they were slaves in Egypt, and that’s why they should celebrate with foreigners and the outcasts. This is so powerfully analogous to we as Christians who were once slaves to the Egypt of sin and how we should treat others. We are not in any way superior to any other human being.

The people are commanded to rejoice and be joyful. This is not something you usually associate with a command. We equate this with the modern notion of being happy, which is found nowhere in the Bible, but happiness is self-centered, not others or God centered. When we get what we want, when the circumstances are such that we like them, then we feel the emotion of happiness.

Biblical joy on the other hand is about being in God’s will, being part of his covenant of grace, of accepting every good thing that comes our way as a blessing from his hand. It even says something we probably can’t relate to or really ever achieve, that when God has blessed us in all the work of our hands, that our joy will be complete. He actually says this to the people of Israel in the context of his covenant blessing, but we are also part of his covenant blessing in Christ, thus our joy can too be complete. I think this can only be achieved, really just approximated, when we absolutely trust in the goodness and love of the Triune God.

And Moses says here that the gifts the men bring are done in proportion to the way the Lord has blessed them. God does not bless all people equally, yet we can all equally rejoice in whatever blessing God gives us. So we can all have theoretically complete joy; more blessing doesn’t mean more joy any more than does less blessing mean less joy. I say theoretical because we will only know ultimate joy in his presence in eternity, when sin and death are finally, ultimately defeated.

Deuteronomy 15

In this chapter Moses instructs the people about canceling debts every seven years. Although I’m not expert on ancient near eastern cultures or religions, I have to believe this was completely unique, and I’m sure you don’t find it in the Greco-Roman world that knew nothing of mercy or grace, or Asian or Indian cultures either. Yet another reason I believe this is true revelation from God and not just something made up by the mind of man. Human nature just doesn’t work this way.

The chapter starts with this stark statement:

At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts.

Then they are given instructions of how to do this. First, this only applies among the Israelites. They may still require payment from foreigners. And why must they forgive these debts? So that there will be no poor among them because God will richly bless them and those who lend must share that blessing with those who borrow. And just because every seven years debts are to be forgiven, those who lend are not to be stingy the other six years. This is called a “wicked thought.”

God has a heart for the “poor and needy,” but this is qualified by “in your land.” Certainly we are to care for the poor and needy generally, but there is a difference between those of the household of faith and those that are not. This is true in the NT as well as the OT.

The Israelites are to free their servants every seven years as well, and this because they were once slaves themselves in Egypt and God set them free. One of the beauties of Biblical religion is that there is absolutely no room for self-righteousness because it is a religion not of works, but of grace and mercy, completely unique among the religions of the world.

Finally, the people are commanded to set apart the firstborn make of their herds and flocks, and only those that are perfect are to be sacrificed to the Lord. These must only be eaten in the place of God’s choosing, not their own towns. I assume this must be referring to wherever the tabernacle, or God’s holy temple is placed. Again and again, God calls the shots on how he is to be worshiped, and his blessings enjoyed.

Deuteronomy 14

Everything that follows in these two chapters is driven by the first two verses:

You are the children of the Lord your God . . . for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.

The first part of chapter fourteen following this is rules for what the Israelites can eat. Paul Copan in Is God a Moral Monster gives a great explanation, a plausible one as to why God would do this. It seems random, but if God commands it, it is not.

Then Moses explains the tithe, and why the people are to set aside a tenth of all their fields produce, but the purpose is to eat that tenth in the presence of God, at his dwelling. The purpose? “That you may learn to revere the Lord your God always . . . and rejoice.” God takes rejoicing seriously. When he blesses we are commanded to enjoy! Strange that this would be necessary, but our hearts tend toward complaint and envy and everything else wicked and self-centered. He wants our eyes, hearts and minds focused on him, for in him we find our fulfillment.

The last two verses of the chapter show how radical and revolutionary the religion of the Hebrews was:

28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

There is simply no other religion or worldview in the ancient world that had any ethic for the downtrodden or outcasts. Notice that God’s blessing is directly related to how they treat these people. Amazing. If you look to the “enlightened” Greco-Roman world, this mentality simply doesn’t exist. Add to this Jesus teaching that we should do something as absurd as loving our enemies, and Western civilization was changed forever. This completely new, out of the ordinary ethic is yet more evidence that the OT is truly a revelation of God and not made up by man.

Deuteronomy 12 & 13

Moses makes it very clear that when they enter the land they are not to worship God like the other peoples worship their gods because “they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates,” even burning their children in fire as sacrifices. In chapter 12 he tells the people there will be a specific place where the Lord will place his name, and there they will worship him. Verse 7 says something very profound that can be easily missed:

There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.

Today, there is no specific place where we must experience God’s presence or worship because as Jesus says we now worship in the Spirit and in truth (John 4). Because of Jesus we can experience and enjoy God’s presence everywhere. But what stands out to me in this passage is that in his presence we can rejoice in everything, we can have true joy without qualification because of him. All of it is his blessing, from his hand, by his will. We can know equanimity; we don’t have to have constant worry or tension. That’s why it says the joy of the Lord is our strength.

And to add to this Moses says that at that time when they crave meat, and he uses that word (hearkening back to when they craved meat and were not satisfied with the mana from heaven), they can have all they want. Enjoy! You’re in God’s presence, he’s blessed you, be filled. The only qualification is one they already know, don’t eat the blood because the life is in the blood. But all of this depends on their obedience and not running after other gods.

Chapter 13 shows just how serious God is about this. Even if some prophet or dreamer comes along and does miracles and then tells them to follow other gods, he must be put to death. This is exactly what Caiaphas was referring to when he condemned Jesus to death. All the miracles where just something to deceive the people to follow a false god, him. You can see by his lights why he’d say it is better for one man to die than for an entire nation to perish. And when Jesus was hung on a tree, cursed of God, they obviously thought they were right, and the Apostles thought they must be too.

And even if a family member tries to entice them to worship other gods, they must die as well. Seems harsh, right? To each his own, bla, bla, bla. Not to the true and living God. Our lives are only what they are meant to be when they are lived in him. Anything else is death.

Deuteronomy 11

I’ve mentioned this before, but the command to love the is Lord unique among all the world’s religions, and especially so in the time Moses is imploring the people of Israel to do so. The first verse:

Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.

Why does love precede obedience? Because God is not an abstraction; he is not an idea or an abstraction. And because we now know God is a Triune God of love, it makes perfect sense that our obedience to him would have to also flow out of love.

And for the Israelites Moses is putting before them something we know is humanly impossible, which is perfect obedience as requirement for blessing. We know that’s not true even in the OT, but a relationship without holy God requires it nonetheless. He says in v 26-28:

26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— 27 the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; 28 the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.

This points to Christ because cursed is anyone hung on a tree, as we learn later in Deuteronomy 21:23. The curse we deserve because we cannot obey perfectly, Christ took for us so God might bless us because of his obedience. Really amazing when you think about it, and God had to go through all of this to eventually convince us he himself would be our blessing.

And the command to love God is also impossible if God is our judge. This is what Martin Luther experience before his conversion when he said he literally hated God because God was his judge and he knew he could never please him. But because he is no longer our judge but our savior, we can truly love him out of the overflow of gratitude in our hearts.

Deuteronomy 9 & 10

Moses continues his history lesson. He wants the people to be very clear that it’s not because of their own righteousness that God will give them victory over the stronger peoples in the land, but because of those peoples’ wickedness. He is declaring judgment on the peoples, not affirming Israel’s worthiness. It’s amazing how consistent the Bible is about this fact, that people cannot earn God’s acceptance by their works. Yet human nature is such that every one of us want to make our relationship with God about works and not grace. God had to go through a redemptive history of over 2,000 years to try to get this point across to our thick skulls, and rebellious hearts, and we still want to earn our way.

He tells Israel that they are a stiff-necked people, then proceeds to lay out the evidence, starting with the golden calf. And then in chapter 10 from verse 12 to the end of the chapter we read one of the great texts in the foundations of Western civilization. Through Israel, and then Jesus, God gave to humanity a completely different way of looking at reality. The ancient Near East knew nothing of the worldview God bequeathed to Israel.

In v. 12 & 13 Moses implores them to fear and obey the Lord, but he does more, he implores them to love and serve him. I’m pretty confident that the other gods of the peoples, and other gods of the pagans throughout history, never demanded love. How could you love a god who is capricious and basically a human invention, who is just the best and worst of human traits? But since we are made in God’s image, and not the other way around, we love and worship a God who is fully worthy.

Then Moses establishes God’s bona fides. First, God is creator and all of the universe belongs to him. As I saw last time through the OT, God affirmed as Creator is done over and over again. Then the Lord picked them, he choose them from among all the other peoples of the earth. Isn’t that unfair? Why didn’t God choose every people? This is a very difficult concept for human beings to accept, that God is sovereign and they are not! And this is a big difficulty for non-Calvinists. Is not God showing there that salvation will never be universal, and that he is the author of it? That he is going to save himself eternally a people and he will decide who those people are? I think so.

Moses uses an interesting word that you wouldn’t find of the other gods; God set his “affection” on Israel’s forefathers. God has feelings. The synonyms for affection tell us a lot about the nature of our God: fondness, love, liking, tenderness, warmth, devotion, endearment, care, caring, attachment, friendship. If God were not Triune this would make no sense. How could God be a solitary monism for eternity, know nothing of relationship, then out of the blue create humans and love on them? For all eternity he is completely alone, interacting with nothing, then bam! He decides one day he’ll create something and have a relationship with it even though the concept of relationship is foreign to him. I think not.

And we see something in verse 18 and 19 that change the course of ethics in human history:

18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

In the ancient Near East this was just plain radical. Where would this come from if it didn’t come from God? This was also unknown in all of the Greco-Roman world, except among the Jews, and until Jesus fulfillment of it all in the gospel. It’s basically the golden rule, but much deeper than that. I don’t treat others well because I want to be treated well; I treat others well because God had mercy on me, rescued me from the slavery of sin and death, and I am obligated because of that, and thus obligated to God to love others, even the least in human terms. All the ethical norms westerners take for granted today and believe come from nowhere and nothing, are rooted in God’s relationship and commands to the people of Israel.

He ends the chapter with these profound words:

20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.

What does this say about what the focus of our lives should be? When John says in the first chapter of his gospel that in Jesus was life, and that life was the light of men, he, as Moses says here, is saying that God himself is the source of our existence, that which we must stay plugged into in order to be, and to be fully human, be what we were meant to be before the fall turned us inward on ourselves, Satan’s temptation that we might be like God. And he doesn’t tell us to do this just “on faith” as God’s enemies always claim, but based on evidence, what we can and have seen with our own eyes. Biblical faith is profoundly evidential, that we might have faith in, i.e. trust, in our God.

Deuteronomy 8

Great chapter. Moses implores the people to follow “every” command he’s giving them so they may truly prosper in the land. The key phrase in the first verse goes back to this being all about God. He is giving them the land he “promised on oath to” their forefathers (Gen. 15). This is happening because of what he had done and what he is doing. We only respond to God’s initiative in salvation. The purpose for which he had led and humbled them in the desert was to teach them total dependence on his Word:

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

This of course was quoted by Jesus when he was tempted by Satan in his own wilderness journey. He obviously learned it better than the Israelites; what they couldn’t accomplish, he did. And what an amazing concept, something that should be at the forefront of our minds at all time. Sure we need bread, food and physical sustenance, but what truly gives us life is every Word of God. And notice it’s not some words, words we can pick and choose, but on every word. Which of course leads us to John 1:1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

We live on God himself! God’s word and his character are one, in perfect harmony. I love that the Hebrew’s religion offered the world the foundation for reason; their religion isn’t some mystical, “spiritual,” experiential existence that seeks to take a person beyond this world. It is rational and propositional and bound up in this world, and it’s basis is a person, the person of God.

Then Moses warns them again that when they are blessed in the land they are not to forget where this blessing comes from and that they were slaves in Egypt. They are only where they are because of God. Never forget that, and neither should we. Then he says something that is truly revolutionary:

17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

Yes, in context this is a statement relating to the covenant of God with his people, and he gives them this ability to confirm that covenant, but it implies so much more. Wealth is a good thing; there is no hint in Biblical religion that poverty or being poor is good. The only problem with wealth is that we can fall into what Moses is warning Israel against, thinking our wealth is somehow our own doing, that we don’t need God, that any material blessing is something built of our own strength (and that’s what the Hebrew word here implies).

It also implies that the foundation of capitalism is God himself. Just like some people are deluded into thinking that the universe runs itself, some if not most think economies run themselves. As Paul says, he gives all men life, breath and everything else. Our economics is no more autonomous than we are; God’s foundational morality ground in his being is its basis. It’s the way the world works and the way he made the world to work. No wonder modern liberals screws things up so often, thinking they can “control” an economy and people.

Moses finally ends this chapter on a downer. If God’s people forget him and bow down to other gods, they too will be destroyed. The blessing or not of Israel is completely conditional. God is teaching not only them, but the rest of us that our ultimate blessing can never come from perfect obedience because we can never pull it off. God’s blessing, not to mention salvation, comes from his mercy and grace alone.