Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday - Deuteronomy 29 - An Additional Covenant

Basically God told Israel that if they would follow after Him (generally) then He would secure the Promised Land (Canaan; Palestine) in their hands. But, if they were to choose idolatry and sin, well, then He promised to remove them from their land, drive them into a foreign land and curse the ground in Canaan for their sake. And, we can see even in modern times that the land which once "flowed with milk and honey" is not even remotely that luscious today. In fact, much of it is barren. It was once densely covered with greenery and fruit.  But, the sins of the people caused that blessing to be lost.

In the midst of the explanation of the land grant that God was offering to Israel, 3 great theological statements are made in Deuteronomy 29:2, 3 & 4, 29:29 and 29:19 & 20).  These 3 statements are both deep and interconnected. What Moses was discussing was God's revelation of Himself and His truth. First, that nobody can understand anything about God until He reveals it to them. We are at His divine mercy. Second, there are some things about God that we will never know, but He has shared a few things with us for the very specific purpose of developing humble obedience in us. Last, if we think we can go our own way and do our own thing and still reap the benefits of obedience and righteousness... well, we have another thing coming. There will be a rude awakening for folk who imagine that wickedness will not go unpunished or that salvation is nothing more than a good insurance policy to be cashed in at the end of our self-centered and self-serving journey through life. Galatians 6:7-8 is a good reminder for us all!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thursday - Deuteronomy 28 - Head or Tail

Israel's future was not left to chance. Their destiny was most certainly not going to be a product of randomness or a flip of a coin. Yet, neither was their existence an illustration of fatalism. They had choices to make. They had very real responsibilities and there were distinct options that God laid out before them.

In the last chapter we read some of the threatened curses that God used to warn the people in order to motivate them toward holiness and goodness. In this very long chapter (68 verses) there are more curses listed along with some great promises of blessing. Of course, these were very particular arrangements that God made with Israel. Still, we can learn much about God's methods and interests through this passage. It remains true today that our behavior in relation to God's instructions and expectations does indeed produce certain blessings - or problems... as the case may be (Deuteronomy 28:63).

Among other things, military, agricultural, financial and physical blessings were offered to Israel for the taking. But, the most precious offering to them was spiritual. Deuteronomy 28:9 introduces a concept that I will emphasize every time I find it in our reading. That is the snowball principle. Good begets good. In other words, the greatest blessing that obedience produces, is more obedience. The heavier a snowball gets, the better it picks up more snow and grows into a giant snowball. Even so, the more we follow after righteousness, the more God will empower us to more righteousness. Likewise, wickedness produces wickedness; ignorance begets more ignorance... i.e., the worst product of sin is more sin (Deuteronomy 28:36).

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tuesday - Deuteronomy 27 - The Law & an Altar

Through Moses, God commanded the Jews to construct 2 memorials when they arrived in Canaan (or maybe just 1 edifice that would serve 2 purposes - Deuteronomy 27:7 & 8).  They were required to make a monument with the 10 Commandments written on it and they were supposed to build an altar. Maybe the 2 were one and the same. Either way, once that task (or those tasks) was (or were) done, the Levites were to pronounce a great curse over the people (to which they were to heartily agree). Actually, 6 tribes were to antiphonally respond to the curse and the other 6 were to respond to an equally important blessing.

Here are the sins that would specifically bring swift cursing from God. Idolatry, disobedience to parents, dishonesty with a neighbor, unconcern about the handicapped, dishonesty with the downtrodden, sexual impurity, wicked violence, acceptance of bribes and... well, just rebellion in general - all of those bad behaviors were dangerous in that God would curse the guilty. And, the people were required to avouch for His word in that regard with many a hearty "Amen!"

Now, more of the same will be found in the next chapter. And, both the blessing and cursing were used by God to motivate the people toward righteousness. Let us never neglect the reality of God's curses. They are as real and as powerful as His blessings.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday - Deuteronomy 26 - The Epitome of the Purpose of the Law

No stranger commandment can you find than the commandment in this chapter for people to declare their obedience before the Lord (Deuteronomy 26:13 and 14).  Why would God ask His people to do this thing? Of the many passages in the OT, surely this one is the clearest in its congruence with and preparation for Galatians 3:24-26. The law was never intended to be a means or mode of salvation. It was meant to function as a magnifying glass to reveal to all of us our sinfulness. Can you imagine how many honestly pious Jews had to stop in mid-sentence while quoting from Deuteronomy 26:13 & 14 and cry out, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" Surely, over and over again, there were true saints who were made so by God's grace as they were regenerated by God through the humble repentance and faith that an attempted confession like that one would supernaturally generate. It has been said that it is easier to get a man saved than it is to get him lost. Well, certainly it does sometimes seem like God has to use some rather extreme measures to convince many of His creatures that we are worthy of death and hell, so He can save us (Matthew 9:13 & Mark 2:17).

Hence, enters the scene valiantly: justification (Romans 3:24, 25, 26; 5:1 & following). Only by God's saving grace and imputed righteousness can we come so boldly before the throne of God with confidence (Hebrews 4:16, I Timothy 6:12-14 & Jude 1:24 & 25). Hallelujah! He has done for us what we could never have done for ourselves. And, though it cost Him greatly... for us it is free!!!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Saturday - Deuteronomy 25 - More Promotions of Justice

No sin will ever go unpunished. God is a just God and HE demands justice. Of course, all of us see injustice frequently. But, we must remember as Asaph did (Psalm 73:17) that the story isn't over yet. In the very end, justice will indeed always prevail. God insists upon it!

Now, in this chapter you can find many illustrations to demonstrate the nature of justice.  Best of all though: your salvation and mine is not based just upon the love of God… but upon the sacrificial death and justifying resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Even so, the forgiveness which we offer to others is not meant to be based upon our own generosity, but upon the person and work of Jesus Christ – specifically upon the concept of justice… (Ephesians 4:32).

Friday - Deuteronomy 24 - More Regulations

Just like in the last chapter, Moses was regulating the people as they were; dealing with matters that were common among them. This doesn't mean that all of his advice was final or universal. In fact, Jesus added some strong commentary on Moses' words in Matthew 19:8 when he negated his permissive position of divorce (Matthew 19:3-9).  Much of this is little more than reasonable humanitarian guidelines. 

Some would say that Deuteronomy 24:7 was altogether a condemnation of slavery.  However, while I am opposed to the institution of slavery, it was indeed common in Moses' day. Moses issued many regulations for how to treat slaves equitably. So, what is this verse really?  It is a clear condemnation of the slave trade... but not of slavery per se. There is a major difference in voluntary slavery and compulsory slavery.  Becoming a slave to a benevolent owner to pay off a debt was a world away from kidnapping and selling people as slaves.

Many of the verses in this text are devoted to providing for the poor. Jews were to take care when pledges were made that they used restraint and caution in accepting and retrieving them.  Men and women would exchange a piece of their own clothing or some other item as a guarantee (pledge) that they would do a thing or pay a price. So, this practice was not to be used for the purpose of oppression.

Moses also said that the Jews were supposed to pay the poorest of their employees on the very day that they did their work (Deuteronomy 24:15). He added that if a poor man had to go to bed in angst because he had not yet been paid... then God would be angry with his employer. And, Moses forbade the close and complete harvest of the vineyards, fields and orchards. The gleanings were always supposed to be left for the poor (Deuteronomy 24:19-21).

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thursday - Deuteronomy 23 - Was Anything Taboo?

Was anything taboo?  Yes, if you're talking about bad behavior.  There were many taboos or forbidden behaviors in Israel.  That IS kind of the whole purpose of the chapter? Moses was listing things that people shouldn't do... socially, culturally, physically, morally, spiritually, etc. (as well as some things they were required to do).

We could almost be persuaded that nothing was taboo, if you're just considering about conversation topics. Moses got rather crass and uncouth by most standards of “proper” and respectable conversation. Could you imagine your pastor preaching descriptively about Deuteronomy 23:1, 2, 10, 13 or even 17? Surely there are enough appropriate topics for discussion to keep us busy without us having to "stoop" to that kind of talk, right?

Well, while I admit that there are body parts and functions which I can happily die without ever conversing about..."respectable; comfortable; decent" conversation is not necessarily moral in and of itself. True, it does seem (in my experience) that (for the most part) the more wicked people happen to be overall, the more willing they are to be rude and offensive in their language.  But, that is not always the case. There are some very evil people who may appear innocuous enough due to their socially palatable conversation habits. And, indeed I've met a few men who were as diligent and trustworthy as the day is long, but who apparently thought nothing about using words and discussing themes that would certainly never go over well from behind the pulpit.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tuesday - Deuteronomy 22 - Courtesy, Caution & Common Sense

Clearly, God expects us to use common sense as well as Spiritual wisdom in the interpretation and application of the Old Testament (II Timothy 3:16).  There were some laws that were intended to be temporary regulations aimed at maintaining a proper peculiarity and a degree of separation among the elect people of God (Deuteronomy 22 :10, 11& 12). Israel was special, so God made some very stringent rules to help reveal and emphasize their blessed position in His plan.

Now, judging and rejecting the OT in its entirety based upon your disdain for a few of the more puzzling minor rules (like the one against wearing cotton and wool at the same time) is not intellectually honest. Does anyone sincerely imagine that the rule requiring a certain kind of seam at the edges of everyone's clothing in those days carried the same weight and significance as the rule against murder? Even today we know the difference between the seriousness of a law against jaywalking and a law against driving while intoxicated.  Assume that common sense is not too rare.

Some of the rules Moses pronounced were more universal and practical. Be courteous; be kind; be generous; be nice; be safe; be considerate - that kind of thing. He made rules establishing lost and found policies (Deuteronomy 22:1-3), promoting neighborliness (Deuteronomy 22:4), conserving wildlife (Deuteronomy 22:6) and even one setting up a building code to advance safety (Deuteronomy 22 :8).

The sexual purity and physical morality of the nation was a matter of a much more serious nature (Deuteronomy 22:13-29). More space in this chapter is devoted to these matters. And, more serious consequences were determined against violators of these rules.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Monday - Deuteronomy 21 - A Neighborhood Watch

This chapter addresses how local municipalities were held responsible for the preservation of justice in their immediate area (Deuteronomy 21:3, 19 & 21). Both criminal and domestic disputes were to be dealt with locally. Surely there were matters of national concern that affected whole tribes or even the whole nation. But, many issues were ultimately the responsibility of the neighborhood.

The first specific example of this emphasis had to do with any case of an unsolved murder. Whichever Israelite city was closest to the scene of the crime was held responsible for it. So, there had to be a special sacrifice made to purge them of the guilt of the shed blood... even though they had no knowledge of it. This, of course, meant that local leaders were required to see that a reasonable measure of policing was done within their jurisdiction.

Additionally, Deuteronomy 21:10-14 applied to the rights of female captives who were taken in war.  Deuteronomy 21:15-17 is NOT meant to be an endorsement of polygamy.  Actually, it is a regulation  that required men in that situation to treat their children equally and without favoritism regardless of which wife was their mother. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 gave parents who had rebellious and unruly children a strong recourse if they couldn't manage their own kids. So important to Him is this matter that He ordained capital punishment for any son who couldn't be controlled.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday - Deuteronomy 20 - War Strategies

What was the source of Israel’s strength? Deuteronomy 20:4 records that it was God Himself. The number of warriors, the experience and expertise of those men and the strength of their opponents didn't matter. By comparison, those factors meant nothing.  God's power is infinite.  All of the finite dynamics in the world don't even register on the gauge when our omnipotent God stands on the scales.

Who, should and shouldn't fight? The answer is related to the fact that God was their military Savior. Any man who had built a house, planted a vineyard or was engaged to be married was to be excused from battle. Those 3 exceptions indicated the heart of God. He is a God of compassion. He is considerate and generous. There was one other exception though... men who were scared were to be sent home as well (Deuteronomy 20:8).

When fighting against the Canaanites, they were supposed to annihilate them without diplomacy or treaties (Deuteronomy 20:16 & 17). Even unconditional surrender was not an option for the enemies that they had in the Promised Land. But, when the Jews found themselves fighting against people who were not from Canaan, they could make peace with them... if the people were willing to submit (Deuteronomy 20:15 & 9 - 14).

Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday - Deuteronomy 19 - Civil Justice

There were some great classic legal principles that Moses reviewed (Numbers 35:6) and established before his death. These policies were meant to help preserve civil justice in Israel. Because the nation had a unique form of government, which we call a theocracy, it's hard sometimes for us to differentiate between Moses' secular and sacred regulations... but there was indeed a difference.

This chapter is devoted to what we would typically call civil justice (secular rules intended to promote fairness and peace between citizens). Technically, there was no such thing as a truly "secular" matter in Israel, at least there weren't supposed to be any areas that were void of spiritual significance. And, even in our lives as Christians (and as Americans for that matter), God should be preeminent in EVERY area of our life. Still, of the 3 human institutions that God has ordained (family, government & the church) - there are distinct differences in the roles of each institution.  This chapter was aimed   at government.

Notice the double edged sword of justice (Romans 13:3 & 4). In some cases, the emphasis was on the safety of the innocent (Deuteronomy 19:3), and at other times the emphasis was on the pitiless punishment of the guilty (Deuteronomy 19:12, 13 & 21). At all times, fairness, equality and justice was the aim... even down to the distance required to find safe harbor from avengers (Deuteronomy 19:6) or the standards for the lawful proof of a crime (Deuteronomy 19:15). 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Thursday - Deuteronomy 18 - Prophets, Priests & Kings (Part 2)

After addressing leaders, officers, judges, kings and priests, Moses revisited his own official position... that of "the prophet." Earlier in his discourse to Israel (in Deuteronomy 13:1-5) Moses had spoken of prophets who would have real spiritual power but who would teach men to forsake Jehovah. Here he contrasts the ministry of Satan through his false prophets with the ministry of God through true prophets.

This chapter begins with a reminder that the priestly tribe was to be sustained through the gifts that the other tribes gave to God. Not only were sacrificial cheeks (jowls) and maws (stomachs) of oxen and sheep given to the Levites, but also shoulders, the first-fruits of corn, wine & oil and the first fleece of the sheep.  Since He didn't give them an inheritance of property in the land, this was God's gift to the Levites.  Every other tribe had their own region, but not Levi.  They were the religious leaders during that era (Deuteronomy 18:1-6).

In every case that we have examined (prophets, priests, kings, etc.) there are 2 different angles to consider in examining the legitimacy of the individual in power: 1). God's perspective & 2). Men's perspective - consider Romans 13:1, I Samuel 8:22 & Psalm 75:6 & 7. God gives individuals the right and the power to rule over others... but stewardship is the responsibility of those leaders, and of their followers. Rulers may abdicate their responsibility. Followers may rebel. But, we will all answer to God for how we have responded to all of the opportunities with which our God has endowed us... especially in relation to His Son (Hebrews 10:28 & 29). 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Tuesday - Deuteronomy 17 - Prophets, Priests & Kings (Part 1)

Deuteronomy 17 & 18 definitely go together. On the surface both passages might seem to be random and disjointed, but, as a whole, there is a distinct overall emphasis on leadership. Moses actually began this theme back in Deuteronomy 16:18, 19 & 20. Judges and officers were the precursors of the kings. Moses was writing down a warning to all leaders to guard their hearts and to devote themselves to impartial justice. After all, the preservation of justice is really the whole purpose behind human leadership.

So, in Deuteronomy 17:9 priests and judges were authorized to pass judgment on legal questions. Overall in the Pentateuch, leaders were given say-so in religious, domestic, civil and criminal matters. They weren't allowed to come up with their own rules, they had to propagate and interpret the existing laws that God had already issued (Deuteronomy 17:11). And, God was so serious about this impartation of His own authority that He ordained the same punishment for people who ignored the judgment of their leaders as He had previously ordained for anyone guilty of idolatry: death (Deuteronomy 17:2, 3, 5 & 12) No wonder leadership isn't altogether a thing to be desired (James 3:1).

The second half of the chapter is devoted to regulations for the monarchs that God knew would eventually reign over Israel. God (through Moses) spoke to those kings before they were even born saying, "Don't multiply horses to yourself (especially Egyptian horses}, don't marry multiple wives and don't seek after wealth.  Do write yourself a copy of the Scriptures, keep it with you, read from it every day and (above all) obey it. In this way your heart won't become distracted... and I will be able to bless you and lengthen your reign." But, from Saul to Johanan (700 years after Saul), one after another Jewish kings dug traps for their own feet by disregarding these words. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monday - Deuteronomy 16 - Reading Into Things?

If repetition is a mechanism of emphasis, then the Lord's feasts must have been incredibly important. Exodus 23:14-19, 34:18-23, Leviticus 23 and now Deuteronomy 16 are all devoted to injunctions regarding those feasts.  Let me remind you that there were 7 Jewish feasts that were ordained by God.  Specifically, 3 seasons of celebration were obligatory for all of Israel's males. Those 3 are addressed here under the titles: Passover, Weeks and Tabernacles. It seems (by comparing Exodus 23:17, 34:23 & Deuteronomy 16:16 and the surrounding verses in each passage) that the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread were inextricably linked together... as was the feasts of First-fruits and Pentecost (or Weeks as it was called). And, the feasts of Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles all occurred together in the seventh month of the year.

For us, these three festival seasons seem to point to the past, present and future, respectively. The Passover reminds us of redemption. Pentecost reminds us of God's blessings.  The Feast of lngathering points to the consummation of our salvation (Romans 8:23, Titus 2:13, Philippians 1:6 & II Corinthians 1:10); that which God has for us in the future.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saturday - Deuteronomy 15 - How We Treat the Poor

God always considers the poor (James 2:5, Psalm 41:1, Proverbs 28:27, Luke 4:18 and many other passages).  Here in Deuteronomy 15 God instructed the Jews to forgive their debtors every 7th year... at least, the debtors who were their brethren. Of course, Jesus raised the bar a bit in Luke 6:30 where He admonished us to "Give to every man that asks of us; and of him that takes away our goods ask them not again."  Surely He wasn't serious though, right?

There is always balance in the Scripture. To the debtor, God says that we are to pay our debts (Romans 13:8). From the creditor God requires generosity and patience (Proverbs 28:8). And, those admonitions aren't given for us to use as leverage against others, but for the introspective judgment of our own lives. Whatever the case, clearly God intended for his people to be kind to the "less fortunate" members of their society (Proverbs 19:17).

And, let's not forget the spirit of cheerfulness that God expects from the lender (II Corinthians 9:6 & 7). Indeed, Deuteronomy 15:7, 8, 9 & 10 sets a very high standard of liberality... "If there be among you a poor man of one of your brethren... you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your poor brother: but you shall open your hand wide unto him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he lacks. Beware that there be not a thought in your wicked heart, saying, But, I won't get my money back;' and your eye be evil against your poor brother, and you give him nothing, etc."

Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday - Deuteronomy 14 - Does God Prefer the Uni-brow?

Of all of the various pieces of instruction that are included in the Bible, maybe the most unusual one of all is this one: "Don't shave the hair between your eyes" (Deuteronomy 14:1). What was the purpose behind this rule and others (which many people would regard today as trivial)? Was God opposed to personal grooming? And, was God really opposed to jewelry, tattoos and body piercings (Leviticus 19:28)?  Why did God forbid the Jews from eating ham and catfish?  There are several primary reasons why someone might ask these kinds of questions.

The most upright reason for asking why these rules were in place would be because of genuine holy curiosity; the desire to know the mind of God... even in matters of seemingly minor importance. Some might want to know why these rules existed because the rules seem so strange in the "light" of our modern culture. Sadly, others inquire cynically with a desire to ridicule and mock God, His Word and His people.

Still, we shouldn't gloss over obscure rules. There isn't room to address every nuance in this entry, but let's just look at the example that we started with. Deuteronomy 14:1 says that the Jews were not to "cut themselves or shave the middle of their eyebrows FOR THE DEAD." Even without any knowledge of the manners and customs of the people of those days, it should be apparent that the heathen were doing things ritualistically (in honor or fear) for dead people in a way that was cultic and that demonstrated their hopeless sorrow.

God desired for His people to be distinctly different (Deuteronomy 14:2). In their diet, in their appearance, in the financial dealings... in every way, they were supposed to evidence their separation from the world.  Is that really so strange (I Corinthians 10:31)?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Thursday - Deuteronomy 13 - The Idol & Its Devotees

There were 2 kinds of prophets which Moses warned the people about. One kind had power, but the wrong message. Another could have an innocuous message, but had no power. A true prophet of God had to pass both tests.  He had to have a message consistent with the messages of the former prophets who had already been proven to be legitimate ... and he had to have real power to validate his message. This "litmus test" was very important when Jesus came. Those folk who claimed to have so much reverence for the words of Moses should have been obligated by their own standards to accept the validity of Jesus' claims. He stayed consistent with the former prophecies like nobody had ever done before; and, His immeasurable power proved that God was with Him.

Now, when the antichrist comes, he will have great power, but his message will contradict all former revelations. According to this chapter, a false prophet, friend, family member, group or culture that leads people away from God is worthy of death. Even so, the antichrist will be worthy of nothing except death... and that will indeed be his end.

In the days of Moses, everybody associated with idolatry... as well as all of their belongings... were supposed to be destroyed without pity. Thankfully God hasn't given me (and, I can safely say, won't be giving me) the responsibility of executing that kind of justice, but that doesn't mean that I don't recognize the reality of His impending wrath against all idolatry. Whether now or later, all idolatry will garner more than enough negative justice from our God, whose name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14). No wonder in the NT Paul was still willing to declare with simple urgency, "Flee idolatry" (I Corinthians 10:14). 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Tuesday - Deuteronomy 12 - Vital Vision

Here is a simple truth, without God's revelation... we would be doomed. No matter how moral a society might be; regardless of the degree of education or even the strength of the family unit... without an injection of God's inspired truth, every man would ultimately be doomed. Such is the foundation behind the bulk of Deuteronomy 12. The principle is summarized by Solomon this way, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."  Now, contrary to the frequent application, the vision here is not a reference to being goal oriented, creative or "visionary" in one's strategy. The vision of Proverbs 29:18 is a direct allusion to divine revelation. We need God to reveal Himself and His truth to us, for we would never discover Him on our own.

Deuteronomy 12:8 states that if we simply follow our conscience or our natural inclinations, we will fall far short of what God requires of us. Several verses tell us that we have to know God's positions, and we must do things His way, not our own way. Doing what is "good and right in the sight of the LORD God" is to be chosen over "whatever is right in our own eyes" (Deuteronomy 12:28 & 8). We are also not allowed to BEGIN with His perspective and adjust it based upon our own experiences, personality or preferences. "Don't add to it.  Don't take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:32). Not that God feels threatened by us; He doesn't!  But, He knows that the only thing that we can do is pollute and detract from His revelation. We are absolutely incapable of improving upon His wisdom.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Monday - Deuteronomy 11 - If Seeing is Believing

Seeing IS believing... or, at least it should be. Jesus said as much in John 14:11 when He rebuked those who would not believe in Him - even though He had produced much visible evidence backing up His claims of deity. Of course, later on, He especially commended those who would believe without seeing (John 20:29). Here in Deuteronomy 11, Moses called upon Israel to act on the evidence that they had seen with their own eyes. How much plainer could it be?  "Your eyes have seen all the great acts of the LORD which He did. Therefore you shall keep all the commandments which I command you" (Deuteronomy 11:7-8).

Their # 1 temptation was idolatry (worshipping a god you can see). That was the worldwide norm in those days, so it was the particular lure that the devil would be able to use on them most effectively. Covetousness is the face of idolatry these days (Colossians 3:5), but the draw and the damnation hasn't changed. And, neither has the proper defense against idolatry been altered. God's Word is a tremendous deterrent (Deuteronomy 11:18-20).   Of course, His word is not just good preventive medicine; it's also a powerful cure.