Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tuesday - Deuteronomy 7 - Stark & Stringent Severity

Though God is immutable (Malachi 3:6), His character is demonstrated very differently upon different people. Romans 11:22 describes this phenomenon well, "Behold the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness:  otherwise you also will be cut off." In Deuteronomy 7 we see, in strong contrast, the goodness of God toward His children... and the incredible severity of God toward His enemies.

Why is this important for us? Well, think of this... generally Christians think of God as primarily holy, just and ridged in the Old Testament, but gracious, merciful and generous in the New Testament. And, in some ways, I suppose that there is some truth in that perspective. But, let's not forget Revelation. Of course, there are many places in the NT... even in the Gospels ... where the wrath and judgment of God is emphasized, but John's Apocalypse is the most obvious place where the worst serving of unfettered justice EVER to be meted out is described. In other words, as we preach "hell hot and heaven real" in these modern times, these OT accounts (of the relentlessness of God's wrath against sinners) are invaluable in demonstrating the fact that (though He doesn't enjoy punishing evildoers) God definitely has the staunchness necessary to divvy out damnation (Deuteronomy 7:10). If He did it in the past, we can certainly expect that He will do it in the future   too.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday - Deuteronomy 6 - The Basics

Jesus quoted quite a bit from this chapter. And, why not? Some of the most fundamental principles of pure religion are addressed herein. Fear God! Love God!  Teach the truth!  Do right!  Sometimes we like to complicate matters and pretend like the Christian life is some deep and complex conundrum. Perhaps it soothes our conscience if we can imagine that our problems lie in the intricacies of doctrine and mysteries of the nature of faith. Such thoughts are nonsense though. Living by faith in God is the simplest of all lifestyles (II Corinthians 11:3).  It is a life of reverence, affection, clarity and obedience. God is not the author of confusion. He isn't trying to hide from His children (James 4:8).  Our faith walk becomes difficult when we try to mix our sinfulness with our saintliness. It's like oil and water. Naturally it's hard to do spiritual things in our own strength. Even harder is trying to use spiritual resources to feed our fleshly appetites. But, if we will just be willing to call sin what it is and to train our eyes on the Savior, what to do and when to do it will not normally be a great quandary. We get all confused when we try to connive and contrive ways of using God like a genie to get what we want. Such a strange strategy SHOULD cause the typical wrecks that most of us endure over and again.

Now, wrapped up in those spiritual basics is a great emphasis on the Word of God; revelation; Scripture; God's truth. Using Psalm 119 as a reference, we can find multiple synonyms for "the Bible" in Deuteronomy 6. God's commandments, statutes, judgments, promises, words, testimonies ... these are our source of strength and cleansing.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday - Deuteronomy 5 - Why?

Back in Exodus 20 we were introduced to the Decalogue; the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 4:13). Here they are again, repeated by Moses for emphasis as well as to clarify that the covenant that God made with Israel was not just with the first generation of post-Egypt Jews (Deuteronomy 5:3). The audience that Moses was speaking to here was full of adults who had been children at Sinai. So, Moses reminded them of the spectacular sight that they had witnessed 40 years earlier. Surely the memory of God's presence on Mt. Sinai was particularly unforgettable in light of the fact that they experienced it while still so young and impressionable.

The people had responded so well... initially. They were humble and respectful. God was pleased with their spirit (Deuteronomy 5:28). But He sadly recognized that it wouldn't last (Deuteronomy 5:29). He clearly wanted to bless them, but God's passion for generosity doesn't cancel His ability or willingness to insist on obedience from his children.  Study the Decalogue again and consider the reasons behind each commandment that God issued.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday - Deuteronomy 4 - Negative & Positive Reinforcement

Deuteronomy 4:23-26 includes both an injunction to do right and a threat of retribution for failure to do right. Such a warning of impending negative reinforcement is always intended to stir fear in the heart of the subject, thereby producing obedience.  Through Moses, God started His motivational speech with intimidation.

Comparatively, Deuteronomy 4:37-40 contains both an order to obey and a promise of reward for said submission. Such a guarantee of eventual positive reinforcement is always intended to stir up an emotional connection in the heart of a subordinate... again, thereby producing obedience. Through Moses, God concluded His coaching discourse with inspiration.

Now, here is the sad part. How successful was this approach in the long run? Initially, the admixture of intimidation and inspiration worked rather well. The Jews did fine during the duration of Joshua’s tenure... but, within a generation they were guilty of wholesale defection from the straight and narrow way. They forsook God, His love and His law. Not surprisingly, God had anticipated that they would turn from Him, so He instructed them to pass all of His words along to their posterity (Deuteronomy 4 :9-10) and to teach them, that, even in judgment, if they would repent, then there would be mercy that could be obtained  (Deuteronomy 4:29-31).

God repeatedly squeezed the people with both kindness and revenge (Deuteronomy 4:3-4). But in the end, the only sufficient cure for them... or for us... was and is substitutional atonement by Immanuel. Of course, even in that, we find potential positive and negative reinforcement motivations - namely, heaven and hell.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Thursday - Deuteronomy 3 - No Small Conquest

This chapter is most surely a continuation of the last one in theme and purpose. Moses was still attempting to enhance the spirit and confidence of the nation. "You are able to possess the land!" - that was his message. "God is with you! Look what He has already done for you! The Canaanites will be no different."

Now, the take-over of the Amorites required more than a trivial military skirmish. There are a couple of ways that Moses magnified the real grandeur of their accomplishments. First, he reminded them of just how big their chief enemy had been. King Og was such a huge giant that his iron bed had become an artifact for a museum (Deuteronomy 3:11). Og's bed was 13 feet long and 6 feet wide. That would imply that he was probably over 10 feet tall... before he attacked the Jews, that is. They defeated him and cut him down to size.  Dead men aren't quite so tall.

Secondly, Moses reminded them of how many of Og's cities they had destroyed. In absolute victory, they had razed 60 walled cities. Additionally, they had won battles against a great many more little villages from the kingdom of Og. This was not a small accomplishment. By the standards of ancient warfare, there was a lot involved in defeating a city that had a wall of defense... and in wiping out an entire population. They hadn't just completely subjugated them; they had actually carried out a God­ ordained program of full-fledged genocide against them!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday - Deuteronomy 2 - Land o' Giants

In this chapter Moses reviews some of the encounters that the nation endured during their wilderness wandering. Only 4 nationalities are mentioned here: the Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites and Amorites.

The Edomites were descendants of Jacob's brother Esau. The Moabites and the Ammonites were descendants of Abraham's nephew Lot (Genesis 19:37-38). Faith had existed in those three people groups' history; therefore God allotted certain lands to them. Consequently, the Jews were forbidden from going after them or their possessions.

However, things were altogether different with the Amorites. God had been planning their demise for many centuries (Genesis 15:16). So, as we read back in Numbers 21, God delivered the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan River into the hands of Moses and Israel. It was, in a way, the beginning of the conquest of Canaan. We usually think of Jericho as the first conquest, but that is only true in relation to the ministry of Joshua and the territory west of the Jordan.

So, Mt. Seir belonged to the Edomites and God refused to give even an inch of Esau's land to Jacob. The same was true with the other lands that had been given to Lot's descendants. Moses records some of those 3 nation's history here too. Evidently God had given them victory over the even MORE ancient peoples who HAD lived there previously. Those nations had included many giants, yet God delivered them over to the Edomites, Moabites and the Ammonites.  Why would Moses bring that up? Well, if you will recall, the spies had reported earlier that Canaan was full of giants. So, Moses was assuring the people that God was both willing and able to give them victory over giants. He had given Israel victory over Sihon (and Og, see Deuteronomy 3:11)... including some giants, so they were to expect the same kinds of victories when they got into the heart of Canaan.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday - Deuteronomy 1 - Review & Reminders

From Sinai to the border of Canaan should have only taken 11 days (Deuteronomy 1:2).  Instead, once they turned their faces away from Canaan, it took Israel 40 years to make their way back to it.  Toward the end of their journeying and at the end of Moses' tenure as their leader, he sat them down and rehearsed to them the story of what God had done with them.  The whole book of Deuteronomy fits into this context.

Moses' words were sometimes didactic, sometimes sermonic, sometimes reflective and always important. He covered a few major topics in this particular chapter.  Not much new information is given here. He challenged the nation to get into Canaan. He reminded them about the formation of the Sanhedrin.  He reviewed the failure of the spies at Kadeshbarnea.  And, he rehearsed again the selection of Joshua as his own replacement.

Since the day Moses walked back into Egypt, the people had turned on Him so many times that they really didn't deserve to inherit the Promised Land.  They didn't have the faith or the fortitude to do the job anyway, but it seems that justice had more to do with this turn of events than practicality did. Either way, by comparing Numbers 13:1-3 with Deuteronomy 1:22 we find one of many places in the Bible where there is more than one perspective to be considered. Life's stage is influenced by many different players.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday - Numbers 36 - Bigger Than Me

We were recently introduced to Zelophehad. The man had no sons (Number 26:33). We also found that in order to provide inheritance justice for Zelophehad's 5 daughters, God made a new rule which was an exception to an older one (Numbers 27:1-7).  Here in Numbers 36 God issued another new rule to add to the earlier ones to handle the repercussions of the earlier adjustment. Not that God hadn't known of these nuances before, He just waited until the situation arose to deliver the judgment regarding them.

So anyway, there was a fear among the leaders of the tribe of Manasseh that if land was occasionally handed down from fathers to daughters, then by those daughters marrying outside of the tribe, their land would eventually be inherited by their children... who would naturally bear the tribal name of their father (since that was the first rule and the root of the exception). What were they to do to prevent the loss of tribal lands?

God's new rule might seem rather restrictive, but it was perfectly logical. Any woman, who inherited land, because there was no man to inherit it, was required to marry within her own tribe in order to preserve the inheritance borders of her forefathers.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday - Numbers 35 - Urban Safety

Because I was reared out in the country" I'm personally predisposed to think of rural safety and urban blight, but such was not to be the case in Israel... at least not for the 6 Levite cities of refuge. These cities were to be known as safe places, especially for the accused in capital criminal cases.

Perhaps it hasn't ever struck you as odd, but to me it is strange that God originally made this planet all rural (beginning with the Garden of Eden) but has called a people unto Himself and to His city (Hebrews 11:10 & 16). In my very limited experience it seems that cities are generally the bastions of evil while more conservative family values and traditional morals are preserved out where the stars can still be seen.

Regardless of my perceptions though, this was God's program for the Jews.  The Levites were given 48 cities throughout the nation. Now, 6  of them  (and  their  suburbs)  were  set  aside  for  the  Levites  to  inhabit for the  preservation  of  a  proper  balance  between  mercy  and justice.  God ordained 3 cities for the 9 tribes on the west side and 3 for the 2 tribes on the east side (for the safety of men guilty of unintentional manslaughter and for any man who claimed innocence ... until he could stand trial - see Numbers 35:12). Thus the cities were spread out geographically so as to make  them  accessible  with relative  ease  from  anywhere  in the nation.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Thursday - Numbers 34 - National Borders & New Leadership

When America was growing west in the 1800s, there was a supposition popularly known as our Manifest Destiny. Even before the land of the free stretched from sea to shining sea, there was an understanding in the minds of many that attaining that goal was inevitable. This was true for the Jews as they crossed the Jordan River too, but they had a little more clarity in their destiny. God actually told them where their borders would be. If you are familiar with the modern borders of Israel, they are roughly related to the ones which God drew.  However, for our purposes, I'm not sure the location of the borderlines is as important as is the fact that God was the one who declared them. Modern arguments about who gets what land over there should be settled (for Bible believers) after reading Numbers 34.

There are two things about the covenant that God made with Abraham that seem abundantly clear. It was a land agreement and it was permanent (Genesis 13:15). Now, all of the tribal chiefs who could, would and should have inherited the various plots in Canaan (Numbers 1) died without entering, so, obviously the new chieftains received that honor. Eleazar (the spiritual head) & Joshua (the head of state) received (as one of their first orders of joint business) the responsibility of dividing the land among 9 tribes. Reuben, Gad and Levi are not mentioned in this list because they didn't receive any regions in Canaan.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tuesday - Numbers 33 - Always More to Do

In the 40 years that the Jews wandered, they stopped at no less than 40 different campsites.  We know of some of the events that occurred at some of the locations, like Marah, Sinai & Hor, but what about many of the rest of the stops?  Why do all of the other dots on the roadmap matter?  Truly this isn't one of the more dramatic portions of the record. Yet, it is important. And, by the way... since they buried over a million Jews in the wilderness, it's a good thing they were moving around a lot. The general sanitary (and sane) condition of that Bedouin nation was preserved in part by their continual journeying. There certainly would have been even more problems if they had stayed in one place all of that time... going nowhere and doing nothing.

But, finally, after a long sequence of stops, Moses brought the Hebrews to their last campsite prior to their entry into Canaan. That had to have been an incredibly exciting time. Now, among the many other instructions that God commanded Moses to give to his followers, God made it abundantly clear what the modus operandi was to be. He told them, "Drive out all the inhabitants of the land... destroy their pictures, their images and tear down all their high places of worship... and divide the land among yourselves." Then He warned them, "If you will not drive out the inhabitants of the land; then those which you let remain will be pricks in your eyes, thorns in your sides and will vex you ... moreover... I shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them."  Let it be said that God gave the people a fair warning.  As we read through the rest of the OT we are going to spend a whole bunch of time studying circumstances that resulted from nothing else but the refusal of the Jews to completely conquer their Canaanite enemies. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Monday - Numbers 32 - Augmenting God's Anger

Reuben & Gad decided that they didn't want to go into Canaan. They were cattlemen and the eastern shore of the Jordan was apparently conducive to cattle farming, so they asked Moses if they could stay. Moses erroneously thought that they didn't want to go fight the Canaanites, so he wasn't too happy. He reminded them of the sins of their dead forefathers who had made God angry. He was afraid that they were just going to add to the long list of national infractions that had upset Jehovah. Thankfully, he misread the situation.

Reuben & Gad were all too willing to go with all of their Israelite brethren across the Jordan to fight until Canaan was fully possessed. They just wanted to leave their families in the east and return to them as soon as they were done. Now, all of that seems noble and acceptable on the surface I guess. After all, Moses and God allowed them to do it, right? But, I think if you will look at the typology of entering the Promised Land, you will be somewhat hesitant to jump to their defense.

If Canaan represented the victorious life, then the desire of Ruben and Gad to remain on the "wilderness side" of the Jordan River - despite their willingness to fight for their brother's land - must point us to the danger of living our saintly lives on the fence. How many modern believers prefer living just outside the land of victory ... not quite in the world, but not in Canaan either? Many Christians will even cheer on their brothers who live in the power of the Spirit... and are even willing to help and encourage them ... as long as they can return to their comfortable distance east of the river.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Saturday - Numbers 31 - Sic 'em Moses

Prior to the Deluge, men did not have a mandate from God to exercise justice upon one another.  Neither war nor civil law had yet been ordained. In fact, governments and nations didn't even exist... at least not like we find after Noah's flood. God didn't institute government until Genesis 9:6. But, once He extended to us some of His jurisdiction of justice, human history became a record of wars and power struggles. Not to imply that government is the problem. Genesis 6:11 tells us that the earth was filled with violence BEFORE God submerged everything and started again from scratch. No, government is the solution... at least it was intended to be a partial one.

Now, in the OT one of God's primary tools of military justice against corrupt cultures and nations was Israel. In Numbers 31 we find one of many stories about God commanding the Jews to annihilate an evil nation. True, vengeance belongs to God, not to us (Deuteronomy 32:35, Psalm 94:1 & Hebrews 10:30). Yet, when God gives a directive, arguments about rights and authority should come to an end. In this case, God commanded Moses to "avenge" the Hebrews of the Midianite treachery (related to the advice of Balaam and Peor). 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday - Numbers 30 - An Authority Umbrella

Vows or promises to God are serious business. Now, this isn't the first time the issue has arisen in the writings of Moses. In fact, we dealt with them in an entry on Leviticus 27. As I said then, if you will compare all of the verses in the Bible that address this issue, you will find that vows, promises, oaths, pledges, and all such binding statements (that function as a form of swearing) are indeed permitted, but certainly not recommended. God is the only being who can absolutely live up to His commitments every time. With us, guarantees are always truly conditional and are actually always risky. Jesus basically pointed out that we have enough on our hands just trying to live up to the statements we make in passing without even considering contractual agreements (Matthew 5:37). Think about it, how many messes have we all gotten ourselves into by making deals that later turned out bad enough that we wished we could get out of them? Living without making vows simply makes for a life with fewer temptations.

Nevertheless, God gave Moses rules regarding the oaths that He knew people would be making. In summary, His law was that they had to live up to their word (Numbers 30:2). Now, He did insert a few loopholes" for His female followers. Seems strange to us in our "liberated" culture, I suppose, but God was truly being both merciful and wise by allowing for these exceptions. If a husband or a father overheard his wife or daughter make a vow to God, then he had the authority to immediately excuse her from fulfilling her vow. God generously agreed to forgive females in such cases despite the fact that they would not be fulfilling their word.

There was another effect of this exception though. The authority of the men in the Jewish culture was bolstered. God gave some of His own jurisdiction to them by allowing them to cancel these vows. Of course, by virtue of their broader experiences, the men in that culture would have been better equipped to judge the feasibility of fulfilling various commitments than perhaps the women in their households would have been.  In that way, it was simply practical to give them oversight in this arena.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Thursday - Numbers 29 - Afflict Your Soul

The 7th month of the year was special in Israel just like the7th day of the week and the 7th year was special. It began with great fanfare during the Feast of Trumpets (Numbers 29:1-6). Now, the 7 feasts of Israel were just that - feasts; celebrations; festive occasions... with one exception. On the Day of Atonement the people were to be intentionally sad. On the 10th day of the 10th month they were supposed to "afflict their souls" (Numbers 29:7) because of their sinfulness. Even the Passover was to have been celebratory, but this day, when the sin sacrifice was the focus of the nation, joy was to be set aside.

Think of the crucifixion of our Lord. On the great day of final atoning, Jesus labored and sacrificed miserably as His Father and all of nature recoiled in agony at the scene... there was nothing to smile about. Sin and all of the awfulness of it was on display. It would not have been an appropriate context for joy or celebration.  We celebrate His resurrection, yes... but we should bow our head in somber shame when we think of how inhumane humanity was in our handling of the Messiah (see Isaiah 53).