Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 16

    Deuteronomy 16 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. People of Israel, you must celebrate Passover in the month of Abib, because one night in that month years ago, the LORD your God rescued you from Egypt.
  2. The Passover sacrifice must be a cow, a sheep, or a goat, and you must offer it at the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped.
  3. Eat all of the meat of the Passover sacrifice that same night. But don't serve bread made with yeast at the Passover meal. Serve the same kind of thin bread that you ate when you were slaves suffering in Egypt and when you had to leave Egypt quickly. As long as you live, this thin bread will remind you of the day you left Egypt. For seven days following Passover, don't make any bread with yeast. In fact, there should be no yeast anywhere in Israel.
  4. (SEE 16:3)
  5. Don't offer the Passover sacrifice in just any town where you happen to live.
  6. It must be offered at the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped. Kill the sacrifice at sunset, the time of day when you left Egypt.
  7. Then cook it and eat it there at the place of worship, returning to your tents the next morning.
  8. Eat thin bread for the next six days. Then on the seventh day, don't do any work. Instead, come together and worship the LORD.
  9. Seven weeks after you start your grain harvest,
  10. go to the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped and celebrate the Harvest Festival in honor of the LORD your God. Bring him an offering as large as you can afford, depending on how big a harvest he has given you. Be sure to take along your sons and daughters and all your servants. Also invite the poor, including Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows.
  11. (SEE 16:10)
  12. Remember that you used to be slaves in Egypt, so obey these laws.
  13. After you have finished the grain harvest and the grape harvest, take your sons and daughters and all your servants to the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped. Celebrate the Festival of Shelters for seven days. Also invite the poor, including Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows. The LORD will give you big harvests and make you successful in everything you do. You will be completely happy, so celebrate this festival in honor of the LORD your God.
  14. (SEE 16:13)
  15. (SEE 16:13)
  16. Each year there are three festivals when all Israelite men must go to the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped. These are the Festival of Thin Bread, the Harvest Festival, and the Festival of Shelters. And don't forget to take along a gift for the LORD.
  17. The bigger the harvest the LORD gives you, the bigger your gift should be.
  18. After you are settled in the towns that you will receive from the LORD your God, the people in each town must appoint judges and other officers. Those of you that become judges must be completely fair when you make legal decisions, even if someone important is involved. Don't take bribes to give unfair decisions. Bribes keep people who are wise from seeing the truth and turn honest people into liars.
  19. (SEE 16:18)
  20. People of Israel, if you want to enjoy a long and successful life, make sure that everyone is treated with justice in the land the LORD is giving you.
  21. When you build the altar for offering sacrifices to the LORD your God, don't set up a sacred pole for the worship of the goddess Asherah.
  22. And don't set up a sacred stone! The LORD hates these things.

    Moses reviewed three major festivals for the Israelites they were to continue observing when they were established in their new territory, though with some modifications. To this point they were all in one camp with the tabernacle in the center of the camp. In the new territory they would be living at various distances from the location God chose for the tabernacle and later the temple. However, they were required to observe these festivals only at this centralized location of the tabernacle. Thus Moses' emphases to the men that "to appear three times a year before the LORD your God in the place He chooses: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths." (16:16) This didn't mean that only the men were to observe these festivals, but they were given the responsibility to see that their families observed the festivals.

    The Festival of Unleavened Bread included Passover and was observed in the spring (March-April) and reminded the Israelites of the Lord's redemption for them in their deliverance from Egypt. The Festival of Weeks, also known as Pentecost, came 50 days later (May-June) and was connected with the wheat harvest. The third festival, The Festival of Booths or Tabernacles, came in the fall at the conclusion of the main harvest season.

    The chapter concludes with instructions to establish judges in all the towns "the Lord your God is giving you." (16:18) These judges were to see that justice prevailed and also to see that syncretism did not creep into their worship of God. That is, that pagans practices did not become mixed with their worship of God. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 15

    Deuteronomy 15 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Every seven years you must announce, "The LORD says loans do not need to be paid back." Then if you have loaned money to another Israelite, you can no longer ask for payment.
  2. (SEE 15:1)
  3. This law applies only to loans you have made to other Israelites. Foreigners will still have to pay back what you have loaned them.
  4. No one in Israel should ever be poor. The LORD your God is giving you this land, and he has promised to make you very successful, if you obey his laws and teachings that I'm giving you today. You will lend money to many nations, but you won't have to borrow. You will rule many nations, but they won't rule you.
  5. (SEE 15:4)
  6. (SEE 15:4)
  7. After the LORD your God gives land to each of you, there may be poor Israelites in the town where you live. If there are, then don't be mean and selfish with your money.
  8. Instead, be kind and lend them what they need.
  9. Be careful! Don't say to yourself, "Soon it will be the seventh year, and then I won't be able to get my money back." It would be horrible for you to think that way and to be so selfish that you refuse to help the poor. They are your relatives, and if you don't help them, they may ask the LORD to decide whether you have done wrong. And he will say that you are guilty.
  10. You should be happy to give the poor what they need, because then the LORD will make you successful in everything you do.
  11. There will always be some Israelites who are poor and needy. That's why I am commanding you to be generous with them.
  12. If any of you buy Israelites as slaves, you must set them free after six years.
  13. And don't just tell them they are free to leave--
  14. give them sheep and goats and a good supply of grain and wine. The more the LORD has given you, the more you should give them.
  15. I am commanding you to obey the LORD as a reminder that you were slaves in Egypt before he set you free.
  16. But one of your slaves may say, "I love you and your family, and I would be better off staying with you, so please don't make me leave."
  17. Take the slave to the door of your house and push a sharp metal rod through one earlobe and into the door. Such slaves will belong to you for life, whether they are men or women.
  18. Don't complain when you have to set a slave free. After all, you got six years of service at half the cost of hiring someone to do the work.
  19. If the first-born animal of a cow or sheep or goat is a male, it must be given to the LORD. Don't put first-born cattle to work or cut wool from first-born sheep.
  20. Instead, each year you must take the first-born of these animals to the place where the LORD your God chooses to be worshiped. You and your family will sacrifice them to the LORD and then eat them as part of a sacred meal.
  21. But if the animal is lame or blind or has something else wrong with it, you must not sacrifice it to the LORD your God.
  22. You can butcher it where you live, and eat it just like the meat of a deer or gazelle that you kill while hunting. Even those people who are unclean and unfit for worship can have some.
  23. But you must never eat the blood of an animal--let it drain out on the ground.

    True worshipers of God take on His nature as their own. That is the outcome of "loving the Lord your God" and obeying His commands. Those who worship other gods actually worship objects of their own creation so in this case the god takes on their nature. It is this becoming like God (not as God) that is behind the teaching of this chapter. God was generous with Israel and had freed her from slavery, so she too was to be generous and to remember her deliverance from slavery by periodically freeing those who were their slaves.

    Though no limit was placed on a person's generosity, minimum practices were established. The first of these practices was the canceling of debt among fellow Israelites. Anyone who was a creditor was to cancel all debts owed him every seventh year. Our immediate thought is that no one would make a loan that extended into the seventh year, but this was prohibited. The seventh year was not to be a consideration when approached for a loan. Loans were to be made normally even as this year approached. The Lord promised those who generously observed this practice that He would "bless you in all your work and in everything you do." (15:10)

    Another practice of generosity reflecting the Lord's nature and reminding them of what the Lord had done for them was the release of servants or slaves in their seventh year of service. The Israelites were not to enslave their own people but they did practice indentured servanthood in which a person worked for them without pay to pay a debt they could not otherwise pay. At first reading these instructions for releasing servants in the seventh year might seem to coincide with the release of debt every seven years. Instead, this required the release of a servant in the seventh year of service placing a seven year limit on the amount of time a person was required to work off their debt. In releasing a servant they were to remember that "you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you; that is why I am giving you this command today." (15:15) Reflecting the nature of their God.

    If a servant chose to remain a servant this was allowed. When a servant was released, though, they were not to be released empty-handed. After seven years of service they would have little that was their own. To release them empty-handed would set them up for a quick return to servanthood. Thus the master was to "Give generously to him from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress." (15:14) Should he be tempted to be stingy in what he gave, the master should keep in mind that he would have paid much more had he hired workers during this time.

    A final instruction was the giving of the first-born male of all their livestock to the Lord. This was an expression of gratitude for what the Lord did for them and also a reflection of His nature.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 14

    Deuteronomy 14 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. People of Israel, you are the LORD's children, so when you mourn for the dead, you must not cut yourselves or shave your forehead.
  2. Out of all the nations on this earth, the LORD your God chose you to be his own. You belong to the LORD, so don't behave like those who worship other gods.
  3. Don't eat any disgusting animals.
  4. You may eat the meat of cattle, sheep, and goats; wild sheep and goats; and gazelles, antelopes, and all kinds of deer.
  5. (SEE 14:4)
  6. It is all right to eat meat from any animals that have divided hoofs and also chew the cud.
  7. But don't eat camels, rabbits, and rock badgers. These animals chew the cud but do not have divided hoofs. You must treat them as unclean.
  8. And don't eat pork, since pigs have divided hoofs, but they do not chew their cud. Don't even touch a dead pig!
  9. You can eat any fish that has fins and scales. But there are other creatures that live in the water,
  10. and if they do not have fins and scales, you must not eat them. Treat them as unclean.
  11. You can eat any clean bird.
  12. But don't eat the meat of any of the following birds: eagles, vultures, falcons, kites, ravens, ostriches, owls, sea gulls, hawks, pelicans, ospreys, cormorants, storks, herons, and hoopoes. You must not eat bats.
  13. (SEE 14:12)
  14. (SEE 14:12)
  15. (SEE 14:12)
  16. (SEE 14:12)
  17. (SEE 14:12)
  18. (SEE 14:12)
  19. Swarming insects are unclean, so don't eat them.
  20. However, you are allowed to eat certain kinds of winged insects.
  21. You belong to the LORD your God, so if you happen to find a dead animal, don't eat its meat. You may give it to foreigners who live in your town or sell it to foreigners who are visiting your town. Don't boil a young goat in its mother's milk.
  22. People of Israel, every year you must set aside ten percent of your grain harvest.
  23. Also set aside ten percent of your wine and olive oil, and the first-born of every cow, sheep, and goat. Take these to the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped, and eat them there. This will teach you to always respect the LORD your God.
  24. But suppose you can't carry that ten percent of your harvest to the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped. If you live too far away, or if the LORD gives you a big harvest,
  25. then sell this part and take the money there instead.
  26. When you and your family arrive, spend the money on food for a big celebration. Buy cattle, sheep, goats, wine, beer, and if there are any other kinds of food that you want, buy those too.
  27. And since people of the Levi tribe won't own any land for growing crops, remember to ask the Levites to celebrate with you.
  28. Every third year, instead of using the ten percent of your harvest for a big celebration, bring it into town and put it in a community storehouse.
  29. The Levites have no land of their own, so you must give them food from the storehouse. You must also give food to the poor who live in your town, including orphans, widows, and foreigners. If they have enough to eat, then the LORD your God will be pleased and make you successful in everything you do.

    Moses continues his messages to the Israelites as he prepares them to enter Canaan. In preceeding chapters he spoke to them about being loyal to God and forsaking any hint of idolatry. In this chapter he emphasizes their special relationship to God as the only nation on earth that God had chosen "to be His special people." (14:2) As such they should not participate in the pagan practices of the surrounding nations such as cutting themselves or making bald spots on their heads as a practice of mourning.

    Furthermore, they were to be different from the other nations in their dietary practices.  The purpose of these dietary laws has been a source of debate for centuries. The various thoughts concerning them go from having hygienic value to their being used in pagan cultic practices to being symbolic of good and evil. Given the context and the difficulty in applying any of these other approaches consistently throughout the list, I prefer to see them as an additional distinction God made to show Israel's unique relationship to Him. Their recognition and acknowledgment of God was to be observed in every area of their lives. Just as they were not to cut themselves or make bald spots as a practice of mourning to distinguish themselves from the pagans, they were not to eat just any food as a further distinction.

    Moses then moved to the topic of tithing. Tithing from their produce of crops and livestock had been addressed in the covenant given them at Sinai. This was to go to the Levites as an offering to the Lord. The portion mentioned in this chapter was to be eaten by the Israelites in the presence of the Lord at the tabernacle. It is not clear whether this was a portion of the tithe mentioned in Numbers or a second tithe to be taken from the remaining 90% as some think. In either event, when they were established in their new land, they were to travel annually to the central sanctuary for this meal, bringing their food with them, to recognize God as the source of their prosperity. They could bring a tenth of their grain, new wine, and oil, or firstborn of their herd and flock. If the distance they had to travel was too great, they could sell the produce or livestock and bring the proceeds with them to purchase something for the meal when they arrived at the location of the sanctuary.

    As a provision for the less fortunate, every third year they were to store the food within their own communities to be used for the foreign residents, fatherless, and widows among them as well as the Levites who were dependent on them for their food. Their generosity would be rewarded with God's blessing of the work of their hands.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 13

    Deuteronomy 13 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Someday a prophet may come along who is able to perform miracles or tell what will happen in the future. Then the prophet may say, "Let's start worshiping some new gods--some gods that we know nothing about."
  2. (SEE 13:1)
  3. If the prophet says this, don't listen! The LORD your God will be watching to find out whether or not you love him with all your heart and soul.
  4. You must be completely faithful to the LORD. Worship and obey only the LORD and do this with fear and trembling,
  5. because he rescued you from slavery in Egypt. If a prophet tells you to disobey the LORD your God and to stop worshiping him, then that prophet is evil and must be put to death.
  6. Someone else may say to you, "Let's worship other gods." That person may be your best friend, your brother or sister, your son or daughter, or your own dear wife or husband. But you must not listen to people who say such things. Instead, you must stone them to death. You must be the first to throw the stones, then others from the community will finish the job. Don't show any pity. The gods worshiped by other nations have never done anything for you or your ancestors. People who ask you to worship other gods are trying to get you to stop worshiping the LORD, who rescued you from slavery in Egypt. So put to death anyone who asks you to worship another god.
  7. (SEE 13:6)
  8. (SEE 13:6)
  9. (SEE 13:6)
  10. (SEE 13:6)
  11. And when the rest of Israel hears about it, they will be afraid, and no one else will ever do such an evil thing again.
  12. After the LORD your God gives you towns to live in, you may hear a rumor about one of the towns.
  13. You may hear that some worthless people have talked everyone there into worshiping other gods, even though these gods had never done anything for them.
  14. You must carefully find out if the rumor is true. Then if the people of that town have actually done such a disgusting thing in your own country,
  15. you must take your swords and kill every one of them, and their livestock too.
  16. Gather all the possessions of the people who lived there, and pile them up in the marketplace, without keeping anything for yourself. Set the pile and the whole town on fire, and don't ever rebuild the town. The whole town will be a sacrifice to the LORD your God. Then he won't be angry anymore, and he will have mercy on you and make you successful, just as he promised your ancestors.
  17. (SEE 13:16)
  18. That's why you must do what the LORD your God says is right. I am giving you his laws and teachings today, and you must obey them.

    Following Moses' instructions in chapter 12 for a centralized worship in Israel and prohibition against any curiosity toward idolatry, in chapter 13 he gives three likely sources through which  temptation toward idolatry was likely to come: false prophets, family, wicked people in the community. In all three cases, the offenders were to be treated the same. They were to be stoned to death. In the third scenario where wicked people turned the whole town away from God, the entire town was to be completely destroyed as they were to do with the Canaanite towns.  One's relationship to God is to be supreme over all other relationships. However, it should be pointed out that God emphasizes family relationship next in importance. He is not into separating families but in binding them together. However, if a choice must be made, one's relationship to God comes first.

    The situations described by Moses were of offenders actively seeking to turn others away from God. They were not passively going their own idolatrous way, but were attempting to take others with them. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul addressed the issue of believers married to unbelievers. This did not warrant breaking up the marriage. Only if the unbelieving mate wanted out of the marriage should they separate. He did not address the case in which the unbelieving mate tried to turn the other against God, but New Testament teaching does not include or even condone the taking of life in dealing with sin.

    Regarding the issue of false prophets, it should be noted that miraculous signs alone are not evidence of God's involvement. Those who seek signs in order to believe in God should beware.  Signs that are not validated with God's Word are false signs whose source is more likely Satan than God. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 12

    Deuteronomy 12 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Now I'll tell you the laws and teachings that you have to obey as long as you live. Your ancestors worshiped the LORD, and he is giving you this land.
  2. But the nations that live there worship other gods. So after you capture the land, you must completely destroy their places of worship--on mountains and hills or in the shade of large trees.
  3. Wherever these nations worship their gods, you must tear down their altars, break their sacred stones, burn the sacred poles used in worshiping the goddess Asherah, and smash their idols to pieces. Destroy these places of worship so completely that no one will remember they were ever there.
  4. Don't worship the LORD your God in the way those nations worship their gods.
  5. Soon you will cross the Jordan, and the LORD will help you conquer your enemies and let you live in peace, there in the land he has given you. But after you are settled, life will be different. You must not offer sacrifices just anywhere you want to. Instead, the LORD will choose a place somewhere in Israel where you must go to worship him. All of your sacrifices and offerings must be taken there, including sacrifices to please the LORD and any gift you promise or voluntarily give him. That's where you must also take one tenth of your grain, wine, and olive oil, as well as the first-born of your cattle, sheep, and goats. You and your family and servants will eat your gifts and sacrifices and celebrate there at the place of worship, because the LORD your God has made you successful in everything you have done. And since Levites will not have any land of their own, you must ask some of them to come along and celebrate with you. Sometimes you may want to kill an animal for food and not as a sacrifice. If the LORD has blessed you and given you enough cows or sheep or goats, then you can butcher one of them where you live. You can eat it just like the meat from a deer or gazelle that you kill when you go hunting. And even those people who are unclean and unfit for worship can have some of the meat. But you must not eat the blood of any animal--let the blood drain out on the ground.
  6. (SEE 12:5)
  7. (SEE 12:5)
  8. (SEE 12:5)
  9. (SEE 12:5)
  10. (SEE 12:5)
  11. (SEE 12:5)
  12. (SEE 12:5)
  13. (SEE 12:5)
  14. (SEE 12:5)
  15. (SEE 12:5)
  16. (SEE 12:5)
  17. (SEE 12:5)
  18. (SEE 12:5)
  19. (SEE 12:5)
  20. The LORD has promised that later on he will give Israel more land, and some of you may not be able to travel all the way from your homes to the place of worship each time you are hungry for meat. But the LORD will give you cattle, sheep, and goats, and you can butcher any of those animals at home and eat as much as you want.
  21. (SEE 12:20)
  22. It is the same as eating the meat from a deer or a gazelle that you kill when you go hunting. And in this way, anyone who is unclean and unfit for worship can have some of the meat.
  23. But don't eat the blood. It is the life of the animal, so let it drain out on the ground before you eat the meat.
  24. (SEE 12:23)
  25. Do you want the LORD to make you successful? Do you want your children to be successful even after you are gone? Then do what pleases the LORD and don't eat blood.
  26. All sacrifices and offerings to the LORD must be taken to the place where he chooses to be worshiped. If you offer a sacrifice to please the LORD, all of its meat must be burned on the altar. You can eat the meat from certain kinds of sacrifices, but you must always pour out the animal's blood on the altar.
  27. (SEE 12:26)
  28. If you obey these laws, you will be doing what the LORD your God says is right and good. Then he will help you and your descendants be successful.
  29. Israel, as you go into the land and attack the nations that are there, the LORD will get rid of them, and you can have their land.
  30. But that's when you must be especially careful not to ask, "How did those nations worship their gods? Shouldn't we worship the LORD in the same way?"
  31. No, you should not! The LORD hates the disgusting way those nations worship their gods, because they even burn their sons and daughters as sacrifices.
  32. Obey all the laws and teachings I am giving you. Don't add any, and don't take any away.

    In this portion of Moses' message to the Israelites he gives very direct and repeated instructions about their centralized worship of God and total avoidance of anything even remotely related to other gods. They were to be completely focused on the God who had delivered them from slavery and who would give them victory over the strong nations inhabiting this new land and remove them from the land.

    As the Israelites began to drive out the inhabitants of the land and came across their places of worship to other gods, Israel was to completely destroy those places along with any object of worship. They were not even to inquire about the gods of these nations asking, "How did these nations worship their gods?" (12:30) Even out of curiosity they were not to ask such questions. They were not even to open themselves to any thoughts regarding other gods. In doing so, it was too easy for their minds to be influenced. This is good counsel for us as well.

    The other topic in this chapter, centralized worship, was mentioned repeatedly, emphasizing its importance. While living the past 40 years in the desert and being in one large camp, they were always close to the tabernacle. There was no question where they would offer their sacrifices. But once they were established in the new land they would be spread out and many would have some distance to travel to the tabernacle. But it was still to be the only place they offered their sacrifices. The location of the tabernacle would be determined by the Lord, a choice that changed at various times during Israel's history. This expectation for centralized worship was aimed at keeping their worship of the Lord pure and the people politically and spiritually united.

    While in the desert they were not even to kill an animal for food to eat without first bringing it to the tabernacle to present it as an offering to the Lord. Once they were spread out in their new land, though, they were permitted to kill livestock for food without this requirement. However, the restriction not to eat the blood of an animal remained. This was forbidden under all circumstances. This emphasized a respect for life and that the blood is a ransom for sin. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 11

    Deuteronomy 11 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD is your God, so you must always love him and obey his laws and teachings.
  2. Remember, he corrected you and not your children. You are the ones who saw the LORD use his great power
  3. when he worked miracles in Egypt, making terrible things happen to the king and all his people.
  4. And when the Egyptian army chased you in their chariots, you saw the LORD drown them and their horses in the Red Sea. Egypt still suffers from that defeat!
  5. You saw what the LORD did for you while you were in the desert, right up to the time you arrived here.
  6. And you saw how the LORD made the ground open up in the middle of our camp underneath the tents of Dathan and Abiram, who were swallowed up along with their families, their animals, and their tents.
  7. With your own eyes, you saw the LORD's mighty power do all these things.
  8. Soon you will cross the Jordan River, and if you obey the laws and teachings I'm giving you today, you will be strong enough to conquer the land
  9. that the LORD promised your ancestors and their descendants. It's rich with milk and honey, and you will live there and enjoy it for a long time.
  10. It's better land than you had in Egypt, where you had to struggle just to water your crops.
  11. But the hills and valleys in the promised land are watered by rain from heaven,
  12. because the LORD your God keeps his eye on this land and takes care of it all year long.
  13. The LORD your God commands you to love him and to serve him with all your heart and soul. If you obey him,
  14. he will send rain at the right seasons, so you will have more than enough food, wine, and olive oil, and there will be plenty of grass for your cattle.
  15. (SEE 11:14)
  16. But watch out! You will be tempted to turn your backs on the LORD. And if you worship other gods,
  17. the LORD will become angry and keep the rain from falling. Nothing will grow in your fields, and you will die and disappear from the good land that the LORD is giving you.
  18. Memorize these laws and think about them. Write down copies and tie them to your wrists and your foreheads to help you obey them.
  19. Teach them to your children. Talk about them all the time--whether you're at home or walking along the road or going to bed at night, or getting up in the morning.
  20. Write them on the door frames of your homes and on your town gates.
  21. Then you and your descendants will live a long time in the land that the LORD promised your ancestors. Your families will live there as long as the sky is above the earth.
  22. Love the LORD your God and obey all the laws and teachings that I'm giving you today. If you live the way the LORD wants,
  23. he will help you take the land. And even though the nations there are more powerful than you, the LORD will force them to leave when you attack.
  24. You will capture the land everywhere you go, from the Southern Desert to the Lebanon Mountains, and from the Euphrates River west to the Mediterranean Sea.
  25. No one will be able to stand up to you. The LORD will make everyone terrified of you, just as he promised.
  26. You have a choice--do you want the LORD to bless you, or do you want him to put a curse on you?
  27. Today I am giving you his laws, and if you obey him, he will bless you.
  28. But if you disobey him and worship those gods that have never done anything for you, the LORD will put a curse on you.
  29. After the LORD your God helps you take the land, you must have a ceremony where you announce his blessings from Mount Gerizim and his curses from Mount Ebal.
  30. You know that these two mountains are west of the Jordan River in land now controlled by the Canaanites living in the Jordan River valley. The mountains are west of the road near the sacred trees of Moreh on the other side of Gilgal.
  31. Soon you will cross the Jordan River to conquer the land that the LORD your God is giving you. And when you have settled there,
  32. be careful to obey his laws and teachings that I am giving you today.

    The Israelites had abundant evidence of God's mighty works on their behalf. Although the soldiers ages 20 and older when they made the wilderness journey had died before arriving at the point where Israel was at the time of these messages by Moses, there were still many older adults who had witnessed God's work for them in Egypt and through the wilderness journey. These works, and the events that precipitated them, were designed by God as lessons to teach the Israelites and prepare them for taking possession of Canaan.

    Once they crossed the Jordan to begin the conquest, they would encounter nations that were "greater and stronger than you are." (11:23) But the Lord would put a fear of Israel in these nations so they would be hindered in battle and Israel would defeat them. This was conditional, however, on Israel's careful observance to  "to love the LORD your God, walk in all His ways, and remain faithful to Him." (11:22) If they were observant of loving the Lord, victory over these nations would be theirs and "Every place the sole of your foot treads will be yours." (11:24) Seldom does Moses mention love for the Lord without connecting it to faithful observance of the Lord's commands. Love and obedience are inseparable. Love of God is never merely a mental acknowledgement that God exists and He is good and we owe Him our allegiance. It includes the reordering of our lives around those acknowledgements.

    Again Moses cautioned them against turning to other gods. Even after experiencing God's provision of victory over the nations living in Canaan, once they settled into the land and enjoyed its rich benefits they would still be tempted to turn away from God. Their temptation would be to do as they had observed the Egyptians and other nations - that was to turn to fertility gods for the provision of good crops. The irony of this would be that God promised the rain they would need throughout the growing season so they would have good harvests of grain and wine and oil, as well as grass for their livestock. But this was contingent on them not turning to other gods. If they turned to the fertility gods to assure good crops they would find the opposite result.

    What was the safeguard against forgetting the Lord and turning to other gods? It was to embed God's word - His instructions - into their lives: "Impress these words of Mine on your hearts and souls, bind them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your foreheads.  Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. " (11:18-20)  As pointed out in other reflections, Moses laid the responsibility for religious education at the feet of parents - not with religious leaders or institutions. If it were to be done faithfully and effectively it must be done by the parents. The children must not only hear from their parents the importance of loving and obeying the Lord, but they must see the importance in the lives of their parents.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 10

    Deuteronomy 10 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD told me to chisel out two flat stones, just like the ones he had given me earlier. He also commanded me to make a wooden chest, then come up the mountain and meet with him.
  2. He told me that he would write the same words on the new stones that he had written on the ones I broke, and that I could put these stones in this sacred chest.
  3. So I made a chest out of acacia wood, and I chiseled two flat stones like the ones I broke. Then I carried the stones up the mountain,
  4. where the LORD wrote the Ten Commandments on them, just as he had done the first time. The commandments were exactly what he had announced from the fire, when you were gathered at the mountain. After the LORD returned the stones to me,
  5. I took them down the mountainside and put them in the chest, just as he had commanded. And they are still there.
  6. Later we set up camp at the wells belonging to the descendants of Jaakan. Then we moved on and camped at Moserah, where Aaron died and was buried, and his son Eleazar became the priest.
  7. Next, we camped at Gudgodah and then at Jotbathah, where there are flowing streams.
  8. After I put the two stones in the sacred chest, the LORD chose the tribe of Levi, not only to carry the chest, but also to serve as his priests at the place of worship and to bless the other tribes in his name. And they still do these things.
  9. The LORD promised that he would always provide for the tribe of Levi, and that's why he won't give them any land, when he divides it among the other tribes.
  10. When I had taken the second set of stones up the mountain, I spent forty days and nights there, just as I had done before. Once again, the LORD answered my prayer and did not destroy you.
  11. Instead, he told me, "Moses, get ready to lead the people into the land that I promised their ancestors."
  12. People of Israel, what does the LORD your God want from you? The LORD wants you to respect and follow him, to love and serve him with all your heart and soul,
  13. and to obey his laws and teachings that I am giving you today. Do this, and all will go well for you.
  14. Everything belongs to the LORD your God, not only the earth and everything on it, but also the sky and the highest heavens.
  15. Yet the LORD loved your ancestors and wanted them to belong to him. So he chose them and their descendants rather than any other nation, and today you are still his people.
  16. Remember your agreement with the LORD and stop being so stubborn.
  17. The LORD your God is more powerful than all other gods and lords, and his tremendous power is to be feared. His decisions are always fair, and you cannot bribe him to change his mind.
  18. The LORD defends the rights of orphans and widows. He cares for foreigners and gives them food and clothing.
  19. And you should also care for them, because you were foreigners in Egypt.
  20. Respect the LORD your God, serve only him, and make promises in his name alone.
  21. Offer your praises to him, because you have seen him work such terrifying miracles for you.
  22. When your ancestors went to live in Egypt, there were only seventy of them. But the LORD has blessed you, and now there are more of you than there are stars in the sky.

    Moses had just cautioned the Israelites (chapter 9) against pride when they went into Canaan and the Lord drove out the inhabitants. They were not to think the Lord did this for them because of their righteousness. He went on to tell them they were a stiff-necked people and had been as long as he had known them. God would drive out the inhabitants not because of the righteousness of the Israelites but because of the wickedness of the inhabitants, and would use the Israelites for this purpose because of His promise to their fathers, "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." (9:5)

    In chapter 10 Moses continued to drive home the point of their unworthiness to inherit the new land. He reminded them of their rebellion at Mt. Sinai when they made and worshiped the golden calf. Moses came down from the mountain with the ten commandments written on stone tablets and found this scene with the Israelites bowing down to the calf. He threw down the stone tablets and broke them, thus annulling the covenant.  He returned to the mountain and for 40 days and nights interceded on behalf of the people. God renewed the covenant and again wrote the law on two stone tablets. Then He told Moses to continue the journey to enter and possess the land He "swore to give their fathers." (10:11)

    Having cautioned the people against thinking themselves worthy of inheriting the new land and pointing out their unworthiness, Moses challenged them to what the Lord asked of them. That is to "fear the LORD your God by walking in all His ways, to love Him, and to worship the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul?" (10:12) By fearing the Lord and walking in all His ways, they were to no longer be a stiff-necked people. This meant that they would execute justice for the fatherless and widow as God does and to love the foreign resident in their midst since they had been foreigners in Egypt.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 9

    Deuteronomy 09 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Israel, listen to me! You will soon cross the Jordan River and go into the land to force out the nations that live there. They are more powerful than you are, and the walls around their cities reach to the sky.
  2. Some of these nations are descendants of the Anakim. You know how tall and strong they are, and you've heard that no one can defeat them in battle.
  3. But the LORD your God has promised to go ahead of you, like a raging fire burning everything in its path. So when you attack your enemies, it will be easy for you to destroy them and take their land.
  4. After the LORD helps you wipe out these nations and conquer their land, don't think he did it because you are such good people. You aren't good--you are stubborn! No, the LORD is going to help you, because the nations that live there are evil, and because he wants to keep the promise he made to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  5. (SEE 9:4)
  6. (SEE 9:4)
  7. Don't ever forget how you kept rebelling and making the LORD angry the whole time you were in the desert. You rebelled from the day you left Egypt until the day you arrived here.
  8. At Mount Sinai you made the LORD so angry that he was going to destroy you.
  9. It happened during those forty days and nights that I was on the mountain, without anything to eat or drink. He had told me to come up there so he could give me the agreement he made with us. And this agreement was actually the same Ten Commandments he had announced to you when he spoke from the fire on the mountain. The LORD had written them on two flat stones with his own hand. But after giving me the two stones,
  10. (SEE 9:9)
  11. (SEE 9:9)
  12. he said: Moses, hurry down the mountain to those people you led out of Egypt. They have already disobeyed me and committed the terrible sin of making an idol.
  13. I've been watching the Israelites, and I've seen how stubborn and rebellious they are.
  14. So don't try to stop me! I am going to wipe them out, and no one on earth will remember they ever lived. Then I will let your descendants become an even bigger and more powerful nation than Israel.
  15. Fire was raging on the mountaintop as I went back down, carrying the two stones with the commandments on them.
  16. I saw how quickly you had sinned and disobeyed the LORD your God. There you were, worshiping the metal idol you had made in the shape of a calf.
  17. So I threw down the two stones and smashed them before your very eyes.
  18. I bowed down at the place of worship and prayed to the LORD, without eating or drinking for forty days and nights. You had committed a terrible sin by making that idol, and the LORD hated what you had done. He was angry enough to destroy all of you and Aaron as well. So I prayed for you and Aaron as I had done before, and this time the LORD answered my prayers.
  19. (SEE 9:18)
  20. (SEE 9:18)
  21. It was a sin for you to make that idol, so I threw it into the fire to melt it down. Then I took the lump of gold, ground it into powder, and threw the powder into the stream flowing down the mountain.
  22. You also made the LORD angry when you were staying at Taberah, at Massah, and at Kibroth-Hattaavah.
  23. Then at Kadesh-Barnea the LORD said, "I am giving you the land, so go ahead and take it!" But since you didn't trust the LORD, you rebelled and disobeyed his command.
  24. In fact, you've rebelled against the LORD for as long as he has known you.
  25. After you had made the idol in the shape of a calf, the LORD said he was going to destroy you. So I bowed down in front of the sacred tent for forty days and nights,
  26. and I prayed: Our LORD, please don't wipe out your people. You used your great power to rescue them from Egypt and to make them your very own.
  27. Israel's ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob obeyed you faithfully. Think about them, and not about Israel's stubbornness, evil, and sin.
  28. If you destroy your people, the Egyptians will say, "The LORD promised to give Israel land, but he wasn't powerful enough to keep his promise. In fact, he hated them so much that he took them into the desert and killed them."
  29. But you, our LORD, chose the people of Israel to be your own, and with your mighty power you rescued them from Egypt.

    We should never think ourselves deserving of God's grace and His blessings, for none are worthy. As Psalm 14:2-3 states: "The LORD looks down from heaven on the human race to see if there is one who is wise, one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one."  It was a truth Moses wanted Israel to be fully aware of as she prepared to enter Canaan and drive out the people. This would be accomplished only because God made it happen. It would not be because of their own might for the people they would drive out had cities "fortified to the heavens." "Who can stand up to the sons of Anak?" (9:1, 2) Moses asked. It was impossible for the Israelites. But not for God.

    When God did this for them they were not to think He did it because of their righteousness. Moses made it very plain that if God were acting on their merit He would have already destroyed them. He called them a "stiff-necked" people, and went into detail recalling incidents in their history to verify it. He concluded by saying, "You have been rebelling against the LORD ever since I have known you." (9:24) Moses gave two reasons God was going to drive out the people from Canaan: because of the wickedness of those people, and because He promised it to the Israelite fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We can add a third reason: because of God's grace.

    Over and over, scripture points to people God used for His purposes who were very obviously underserving. But by turning to God He used them in significant ways. The spiritual giants in scripture stand out partly because they were giants but also because they were few in number and were contrasted by so many who were as this hoard of Israelites of whom Moses referred as 'stiff-necked.'

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 8

    Deuteronomy 08 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Israel, do you want to go into the land the LORD promised your ancestors? Do you want to capture it, live there, and become a powerful nation? Then be sure to obey every command I am giving you.
  2. Don't forget how the LORD your God has led you through the desert for the past forty years. He wanted to find out if you were truly willing to obey him and depend on him,
  3. so he made you go hungry. Then he gave you manna, a kind of food that you and your ancestors had never even heard about. The LORD was teaching you that people need more than food to live--they need every word that the LORD has spoken.
  4. Over the past forty years, your clothing hasn't worn out, and your feet haven't swollen.
  5. So keep in mind that the LORD has been correcting you, just as parents correct their children.
  6. Obey the commands the LORD your God has given you and worship him with fear and trembling.
  7. The LORD your God is bringing you into a good land with streams that flow from springs in the valleys and hills.
  8. You can dig for copper in those hills, and the stones are made of iron ore. And you won't go hungry. Wheat and barley fields are everywhere, and so are vineyards and orchards full of fig, pomegranate, and olive trees, and there is plenty of honey.
  9. (SEE 8:8)
  10. After you eat and are full, give praise to the LORD your God for the good land he gave you.
  11. Make sure that you never forget the LORD or disobey his laws and teachings that I am giving you today. If you always obey them,
  12. you will have plenty to eat, and you will build good houses to live in.
  13. You will get more and more cattle, sheep, silver, gold, and other possessions.
  14. But when all this happens, don't be proud! Don't forget that you were once slaves in Egypt and that it was the LORD who set you free.
  15. Remember how he led you in that huge and frightening desert where poisonous snakes and scorpions live. There was no water, but the LORD split open a rock, and water poured out so you could drink.
  16. He also gave you manna, a kind of food your ancestors had never even heard about. The LORD was testing you to make you trust him, so that later on he could be good to you.
  17. When you become successful, don't say, "I'm rich, and I've earned it all myself."
  18. Instead, remember that the LORD your God gives you the strength to make a living. That's how he keeps the promise he made to your ancestors.
  19. But I'm warning you--if you forget the LORD your God and worship other gods, the LORD will destroy you, just as he destroyed the nations you fought.
  20. (SEE 8:19)

    As Moses spoke to the Israelites prior to their entry into Canaan, he cautioned them against forgetting the source of their prosperity. As success can breed failure, so prosperity can breed pride which can result in destruction. While Israel was about to enter into an exciting new life with everything they needed for the "good life," they would also be facing the great danger of forgetting God in their prosperity. Doing so would lead to a fate similar to that of the nations they would be driving from the land. The remedy was and is praise and obedience. When enjoying the blessing God has given, give Him praise both in thanksgiving and to remember Him as the source. Also remember to do what He has instructed which helps to remember why we are obedient to Him.

    Though not mentioned in this passage, the key to remembering to praise the Lord and obey His commands is to have a regular time to worship Him. Individually this should be daily and publically at least weekly. The Sabbath would play a key role in this for the Israelites. Unless they observed it enthusiastically, they were bound to forget the Lord. A routine and ritualistic observance wouldn't cut it. As much as God desires to share His creation and abundance with those who recognize and appreciate Him, He must wonder at the wisdom of doing so when such abundance is so likely to spoil us and make us prideful and forget the source of our abundance.

    The Israelites had no choice but to depend on God while in the wilderness. When He met their needs when they had nothing it was obvious. Their dependence on Him in the land of milk and honey would be no less but their recognition of it would be blinded by the abundance.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 7

    Deuteronomy 07 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. People of Israel, the LORD your God will help you take the land of the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. These seven nations have more people and are stronger than Israel, but when you attack them,
  2. the LORD will force them out of the land. Then you must destroy them without mercy. Don't make any peace treaties with them,
  3. and don't let your sons and daughters marry any of them.
  4. If you do, those people will lead your descendants to worship other gods and to turn their backs on the LORD. That will make him very angry, and he will quickly destroy Israel.
  5. So when you conquer these nations, tear down the altars where they worship their gods. Break up their sacred stones, cut down the poles that they use in worshiping the goddess Asherah, and throw their idols in the fire.
  6. Israel, you are the chosen people of the LORD your God. There are many nations on this earth, but he chose only Israel to be his very own.
  7. You were the weakest of all nations,
  8. but the LORD chose you because he loves you and because he had made a promise to your ancestors. Then with his mighty arm, he rescued you from the king of Egypt, who had made you his slaves.
  9. You know that the LORD your God is the only true God. So love him and obey his commands, and he will faithfully keep his agreement with you and your descendants for a thousand generations.
  10. But if you turn against the LORD, he will quickly destroy you.
  11. So be sure to obey his laws and teachings I am giving you today.
  12. If you completely obey these laws, the LORD your God will be loyal and keep the agreement he made with you, just as he promised our ancestors.
  13. The LORD will love you and bless you by giving you many children and plenty of food, wine, and olive oil. Your herds of cattle will have many calves, and your flocks of sheep will have many lambs.
  14. God will bless you more than any other nation--your families will grow and your livestock increase.
  15. You will no longer suffer with the same horrible diseases that you sometimes had in Egypt. You will be healthy, but the LORD will make your enemies suffer from those diseases.
  16. When the LORD helps you defeat your enemies, you must destroy them without pity! And don't get trapped into worshiping their gods.
  17. You may be thinking, "How can we destroy these nations? They are more powerful than we are."
  18. But stop worrying! Just remember what the LORD your God did to Egypt and its king.
  19. You saw how the LORD used his tremendous power to work great miracles and bring you out of Egypt. And he will again work miracles for you when you face these enemies you fear so much.
  20. Some of them may try to survive by hiding from you, but the LORD will make them panic, and soon they will be dead.
  21. So don't be frightened when you meet them in battle. The LORD your God is great and fearsome, and he will fight at your side.
  22. As you attack these nations, the LORD will force them out little by little. He won't let you get rid of them all at once--if he did, there wouldn't be enough people living in the land to keep down the number of wild animals.
  23. But when you attack your enemies, the LORD will make them panic, and you will easily destroy them. You will defeat them one after another until they are gone, and no one will remember they ever lived.
  24. (SEE 7:23)
  25. After you conquer a nation, burn their idols. Don't get trapped into wanting the silver or gold on an idol. Even the metal on an idol is disgusting to the LORD,
  26. so destroy it. If you bring it home with you, both you and your house will be destroyed. Stay away from those disgusting idols!

    Moses' second message to the Israelites as they awaited entry into Canaan now focuses on their need to totally annihilate the Canaanites when they took possession of the land. As with any other of the Lord's instructions to them (or us), obedience was not to be based on their (or our) own reasoning. God had His own reasons for eliminating the Canaanites. Studies of these people show them to be the most morally depraved culture of that time. God had dealt with them for over 400 years and they had not responded. Time for their judgment had come. They were a moral cancer that threatened to invade all other societies. God would use a people He had chosen for His own purposes both to bring that judgment and to benefit from it.

    Should Israel fail to obey the first command to totally destroy these people, they were faced with additional risks: intermarriage with these depraved people, and idolatry. Avoidance of idolatry was primarily to be avoided and intermarriage was a step toward it. This is the same reason Christians are instructed in the New Testament not to marry unbeleivers. It runs the very likely risk of being influenced away from the Lord. Though it is often reasoned that the believer might influence the unbeliever to come to the Lord in such a marriage, this seldom the case. Even allowing oneself to be placed in a position of considering such a marriage is normally a compromise in one's own relationship with the Lord. This gap in the faith of the believer is more likely to be widened by the influence of the unbeliever rather than the believer influencing the unbeliever. Whether the believer is drawn away from the Lord or merely hindered from growing spiritually as they should, the harm is done. The instruction against intermarriage with the Canaanites evidently recognized that the Israelites would not keep the instructions to annihilate these people.

    If the Israelites obeyed these instructions, they were promised unbelievable blessings. Their crops and herds would flourish. None of them would experience infertility nor would any experience sickness. Instead, God would inflict their enemies with disease. Since they only partially obeyed these instructions, they only partially enjoyed these blessings. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 6

    Deuteronomy 06 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD told me to give you these laws and teachings, so you can obey them in the land he is giving you. Soon you will cross the Jordan River and take that land.
  2. And if you and your descendants want to live a long time, you must always worship the LORD and obey his laws.
  3. Pay attention, Israel! Our ancestors worshiped the LORD, and he promised to give us this land that is rich with milk and honey. Be careful to obey him, and you will become a successful and powerful nation.
  4. Listen, Israel! The LORD our God is the only true God!
  5. So love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.
  6. Memorize his laws
  7. and tell them to your children over and over again. Talk about them all the time, whether you're at home or walking along the road or going to bed at night, or getting up in the morning.
  8. Write down copies and tie them to your wrists and foreheads to help you obey them.
  9. Write these laws on the door frames of your homes and on your town gates.
  10. The LORD promised your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that he would give you this land. Now he will take you there and give you large towns, with good buildings that you didn't build,
  11. and houses full of good things that you didn't put there. The LORD will give you wells that you didn't have to dig, and vineyards and olive orchards that you didn't have to plant. But when you have eaten so much that you can't eat any more,
  12. don't forget it was the LORD who set you free from slavery and brought you out of Egypt.
  13. Worship and obey the LORD your God with fear and trembling, and promise that you will be loyal to him.
  14. Don't have anything to do with gods that are worshiped by the nations around you.
  15. If you worship other gods, the LORD will be furious and wipe you off the face of the earth. The LORD your God is with you,
  16. so don't try to make him prove that he can help you, as you did at Massah.
  17. Always obey the laws that the LORD has given you
  18. and live in a way that pleases him. Then you will be able to go in and take this good land from your enemies, just as he promised your ancestors.
  19. (SEE 6:18)
  20. Someday your children will ask, "Why did the LORD give us these laws and teachings?"
  21. Then you will answer: We were slaves of the king of Egypt, but the LORD used his great power and set us free.
  22. We saw him perform miracles and make horrible things happen to the king, his officials, and everyone else.
  23. The LORD rescued us from Egypt, so he could bring us into this land, as he had promised our ancestors.
  24. That's why the LORD our God demands that we obey his laws and worship him with fear and trembling. And if we do, he will protect us and help us be successful.
  25. (SEE 6:24)

    Moses, in chapter 5, reminded the Israelites of the Ten Commandments. In chapter 6 is given the main focus of these commandments. Jesus summarized the law with two commandments: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." and "Love your neighbor as yourself." "All the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets," Jesus said, "are based on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37, 39, 40) Moses here focused on the first of those two - loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind. If they truly did this it would be reflected in their obedience of these commands Moses had just reviewed for them (the ten commandments), and they would teach this love for the Lord to their children.

    We should love the Lord primarily because He is worthy of it. A particular point regarding His worthiness of our love is the fact He has set us free. In other words, He has redeemed us. For the Israelites this related to freedom from slavery in Egypt. For all of us who have accepted His redemption, it relates to freedom from sin. But Moses pointed to another reason the Israelites had for loving the Lord, and that was that their future prosperity in the land the Lord was giving them depended on it. These three factors are tightly woven: love of the Lord, obedience to His commands, and a life of prosperity. A life of prosperity does not necessary translate to being rich. Jesus referred to it as an abundant life. We might refer to it as life to the fullest. Whatever term is used, a life of prosperity flows from love for the Lord and obedience to His commands. His commandments prescribe a lifestyle that makes a life of prosperity possible. Our love for the Lord allows Him to guide us and His hand of protection to be on us. When we pull away from Him we withdraw from both His guidance and His protection. We also lose a desire to obey His commandments which prescribe a lifestyle conducive for prosperity.

    An added caution Moses gave the people was that once they experienced this prosperity the Lord made possible that they not forget the Lord. This is the danger of prosperity. Under the spell of prosperity we are at risk of coming to see it as our security rather than the Lord, and of loving it more than we love the One who made it possible.  Moses' concern went beyond merely forgetting the source of their prosperity. It was a concern that they would attribute their prosperity to other gods. There is really no middle ground. We don't attribute the events and circumstances of life to nothing. We recognize there is a source, and the source of all good things is God. If we don't recognize that, then we attribute them to false sources which is the ultimate blasphemy of God. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 5

    Deuteronomy 05 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Moses called together the people of Israel and said: Today I am telling you the laws and teachings that you must follow, so listen carefully.
  2. The LORD our God made an agreement with our nation at Mount Sinai.
  3. That agreement wasn't only with our ancestors but with us, who are here today.
  4. The LORD himself spoke to you out of the fire,
  5. but you were afraid of the fire and refused to go up the mountain. So I spoke with the LORD for you, then I told you that he had said:
  6. I am the LORD your God, the one who brought you out of Egypt where you were slaves.
  7. Do not worship any god except me.
  8. Do not make idols that look like anything in the sky or on earth or in the ocean under the earth.
  9. Don't bow down and worship idols. I am the LORD your God, and I demand all your love. If you reject me and worship idols, I will punish your families for three or four generations.
  10. But if you love me and obey my laws, I will be kind to your families for thousands of generations.
  11. Do not misuse my name. I am the LORD your God, and I will punish anyone who misuses my name.
  12. Show respect for the Sabbath Day--it belongs to me.
  13. You have six days when you can do your work,
  14. but the seventh day of the week belongs to me, your God. No one is to work on that day--not you, your children, your oxen or donkeys or any other animal, not even those foreigners who live in your towns. And don't make your slaves do any work.
  15. This special day of rest will remind you that I reached out my mighty arm and rescued you from slavery in Egypt.
  16. Respect your father and mother, and you will live a long and successful life in the land I am giving you.
  17. Do not murder.
  18. Be faithful in marriage.
  19. Do not steal.
  20. Do not tell lies about others.
  21. Do not want anything that belongs to someone else. Don't want anyone's wife or husband, house, land, slaves, oxen, donkeys, or anything else.
  22. When we were gathered on the mountain, the LORD spoke to us in a loud voice from the dark fiery cloud. The LORD gave us these commands, and only these. Then he wrote them on two flat stones and gave them to me.
  23. When fire blazed from the mountain, and you heard the voice coming from the darkness, your tribal leaders came to me
  24. and said: Today the LORD our God has shown us how powerful and glorious he is. He spoke to us from the fire, and we learned that people can live, even though God speaks to them.
  25. But we don't want to take a chance on being killed by that terrible fire, and if we keep on hearing the LORD's voice, we will die.
  26. Has anyone else ever heard the only true God speaking from fire, as we have? And even if they have, would they live to tell about it?
  27. Moses, go up close and listen to the LORD. Then come back and tell us, and we will do everything he says.
  28. The LORD heard you and said: Moses, I heard what the people said to you, and I approve.
  29. I wish they would always worship me with fear and trembling and be this willing to obey me! Then they and their children would always enjoy a successful life.
  30. Now, tell them to return to their tents,
  31. but you come back here to me. After I tell you my laws and teachings, you will repeat them to the people, so they can obey these laws in the land I am giving them.
  32. Israel, you must carefully obey the LORD's commands.
  33. Follow them, because they make a path that will lead to a long successful life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

    Moses began his second message to the Israelites as they waited to enter Canaan. He opened with a review of the ten commandments which are the heart of God's covenant with them. He emphasized that this covenant was made, not with their fathers, but "with all of us who are alive here today." (5:3) The law was for the living, not the dead. It was the "fathers" who were present when God gave them, but it was the children who were now alive and receiving this review from Moses. There would be other descendants to come for whom it was also given.

    Man is prone to legalism. That is because we desire a religion in which we maintain some control and through which we can manipulate God. Through legalism we think we can control what happens by keeping the rules or laws. In doing so, God has no choice but to honor our rule-keeping. This is typically our approach to the ten commandments. It is God's rule book, so we think, and by keeping it we can gain salvation. We are wrong to think that is God's plan and wrong to think we could ever keep the commandments even if it were God's plan. Breaking even one point of the law would keep us from salvation if this were the way, and no one could possibly do that.  For instance, the 10th commandment against covetousness is not an outward command that might more easily be kept, but an inner one. Who has not at some time had thoughts of coveting what another person had? But Jesus redefined the rest of the commandments, as well, by pointing out that to even think of adultery or of murder was to do it in our hearts and we were still guilty.

    Faith has always been God's plan for salvation. It was Abraham's faith that was counted for righteousness. It was not the ten commandments that was the salvation of Israel. God had already saved them or redeemed them. Freeing them from slavery in Egypt was their redemption. The law was given to honor the God who had already redeemed them and to give them a good life free from the actions that destroy a society.

    When God spoke these laws to Israel on Mt. Horeb (Sinai), they were afraid at the sound of His voice. Once He finished speaking the ten commandments they didn't want to hear more for fear they would die. They requested that Moses be their mediator to receive the rest that God had to speak and to give it to them. Although God commended them for their fear of Him, He lamented that they didn't have a heart to "keep all My commands." (5:29) It is my observation that those who are inclined to have others give them God's messages rather than seeking to hear from God themselves are not so inclined to give Him a high priority in their lives. They hear the messages from God that others give them and then go their way.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 4

    Deuteronomy 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Israel, listen to these laws and teachings! If you obey them, you will live, and you will go in and take the land that the LORD is giving you. He is the God your ancestors worshiped,
  2. and now he is your God. I am telling you everything he has commanded, so don't add anything or take anything away.
  3. You saw how he killed everyone who worshiped the god Baal Peor.
  4. But all of you that were faithful to the LORD your God are still alive today.
  5. No other nation has laws that are as fair as the ones the Lord my God told me to give you. If you faithfully obey them when you enter the land, you will show other nations how wise you are. In fact, everyone that hears about your laws will say, "That great nation certainly is wise!" And what makes us greater than other nations? We have a God who is close to us and answers our prayers.
  6. (SEE 4:5)
  7. (SEE 4:5)
  8. (SEE 4:5)
  9. You must be very careful not to forget the things you have seen God do for you. Keep reminding yourselves, and tell your children and grandchildren as well.
  10. Do you remember the day you stood in the LORD's presence at Mount Sinai? The LORD said, "Moses, bring the people of Israel here. I want to speak to them so they will obey me as long as they live, and so they will teach their children to obey me too."
  11. Mount Sinai was surrounded by deep dark clouds, and fire went up to the sky. You came to the foot of the mountain,
  12. and the LORD spoke to you from the fire. You could hear him and understand what he was saying, but you couldn't see him.
  13. The LORD said he was making an agreement with you, and he told you that your part of the agreement is to obey the Ten Commandments. Then the LORD wrote these Commandments on two flat stones.
  14. That's when the LORD commanded me to give you the laws and teachings you must obey in the land that you will conquer west of the Jordan River.
  15. When God spoke to you from the fire, he was invisible. So be careful
  16. not to commit the sin of worshiping idols. Don't make idols to be worshiped, whether they are shaped like men, women,
  17. animals, birds,
  18. reptiles, or fish.
  19. And when you see the sun or moon or stars, don't be tempted to bow down and worship them. The LORD put them there for all the other nations to worship.
  20. But you are the LORD's people, because he led you through fiery trials and rescued you from Egypt.
  21. The LORD was angry at me because of what you said, and he told me that he would not let me cross the Jordan River into the good land that he is giving you.
  22. So I must stay here and die on this side of the Jordan, but you will cross the river and take the land.
  23. Always remember the agreement that the LORD your God made with you, and don't make an idol in any shape or form.
  24. The LORD will be angry if you worship other gods, and he can be like a fire destroying everything in its path.
  25. Soon you will cross the Jordan River and settle down in the land. Then in the years to come, you will have children, and they will give you grandchildren. After many years, you might lose your sense of right and wrong and make idols, even though the LORD your God hates them. So I am giving you fair warning today, and I call the earth and the sky as witnesses. If you ever make idols, the LORD will be angry, and you won't have long to live, because the LORD will let you be wiped out.
  26. (SEE 4:25)
  27. Only a few of you will survive, and the LORD will force you to leave the land and will scatter you among the nations.
  28. There you will have to worship gods made of wood and stone, and these are nothing but idols that can't see or hear or eat or smell.
  29. In all of your troubles, you may finally decide that you want to worship only the LORD. And if you turn back to him and obey him completely, he will again be your God.
  30. (SEE 4:29)
  31. The LORD your God will have mercy--he won't destroy you or desert you. The LORD will remember his promise, and he will keep the agreement he made with your ancestors.
  32. When the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt, you saw how he fought for you and showed his great power by performing terrifying miracles. You became his people, and at Mount Sinai you heard him talking to you out of fiery flames. And yet you are still alive! Has anything like this ever happened since the time God created humans? No matter where you go or who you ask, you will get the same answer. No one has ever heard of another god even trying to do such things as the LORD your God has done for you.
  33. (SEE 4:32)
  34. (SEE 4:32)
  35. The LORD wants you to know he is the only true God, and he wants you to obey him. That's why he let you see his mighty miracles and his fierce fire on earth, and why you heard his voice from that fire and from the sky.
  36. (SEE 4:35)
  37. The LORD loved your ancestors and decided that you would be his people. So the LORD used his great power to bring you out of Egypt.
  38. Now you face other nations more powerful than you are, but the LORD has already started forcing them out of their land and giving it to you.
  39. So remember that the LORD is the only true God, whether in the sky above or on the earth below.
  40. Today I am explaining his laws and teachings. And if you always obey them, you and your descendants will live long and be successful in the land the LORD is giving you.
  41. Moses said, "People of Israel, you must set aside the following three towns east of the Jordan River as Safe Towns: Bezer in the desert highlands belonging to the Reuben tribe; Ramoth in Gilead, belonging to the Gad tribe; and Golan in Bashan, belonging to the Manasseh tribe. If you kill a neighbor without meaning to, and if you had not been angry with that person, you can run to one of these towns and find safety."
  42. (SEE 4:41)
  43. (SEE 4:41)
  44. The Israelites had come from Egypt and were camped east of the Jordan River near Beth-Peor, when Moses gave these laws and teachings. The land around their camp had once belonged to King Sihon of Heshbon. But Moses and the Israelites defeated him
  45. (SEE 4:44)
  46. (SEE 4:44)
  47. and King Og of Bashan, and took their lands. These two Amorite kings had ruled the territory east of the Jordan River
  48. from the town of Aroer on the edge of the Arnon River gorge, north to Mount Hermon.
  49. Their land included the eastern side of the Jordan River valley, as far south as the Dead Sea below the slopes of Mount Pisgah.

    Moses continues the first of a series of messages or sermons to the Israelites as they await entry into Canaan and he awaits his death. In earlier sections of this first message Moses reminded the people of their failure to enter Canaan when they first arrived at its borders, resulting in a 38 year delay before having another opportunity to enter. He further reminded them of finally leaving the hill country of Seir after their 38 year delay and marching to where they were now camped. As they came to the land of the Amorites God allowed them to drive them out of their land and take possession. Moses then gave instructions for the division of this Amorite land East of the Jordan among the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh and reminded them to keep their promise to help their brothers take possession of their land West of the Jordan. Then Moses encouraged Joshua to be courageous and faithful as their new leader.

    He concluded his first message to the people with strict instructions to be faithful to the God who had been faithful to them. They must observe His laws intact without adding to them or taking away from them. They had witnessed His judgment of them at Mt. Horeb when some of them worshipped idols and He stuck them down. This should serve as a reminder of what will happen if they are ever unfaithful. Responsibility for continued faithfulness down through the generations to come was given, not to the leaders or the priests, but to the parents. The priests would guide the adults in their worship, but they were to guide their children.

    Moses further reminded them of hearing God speak to them at Horeb but they did not see Him in any form. The reason for this is that they were not to envision God in any shape or form and thus make an object in His likeness. This would reduce God in their eyes from the God of heaven and earth to an object. They were strictly forbidden to worship any idol in any form. To do so would end their days in the land the Lord was giving them. They would be scattered among other nations and reduced to a few survivors. Even then, they could return to Him if they sought Him with all their hearts.

    Moses closed this first message by telling them of the awesome privilege they had been given. If they were to enquire of God's dealings with mankind since creation, they would find that no people before had ever heard His voice nor had He ever made a nation His own.  Therefore, they should this very day, "recognize and keep in mind that the LORD is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other." (4:39) And, they should "Keep His statutes and commands, which I am giving you today, so that you and your children after you may prosper and so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you for all time." (4:40)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 3

    Deuteronomy 03 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. When we turned onto the road that leads to Bashan, King Og of Bashan led out his whole army to fight us at Edrei.
  2. But the LORD told me, "Moses, don't be afraid of King Og. I am going to help you defeat him and his army and take over his land. Destroy him and his people, just as you did with the Amorite King Sihon of Heshbon."
  3. The LORD our God helped us destroy Og and his army and conquer his entire kingdom of Bashan, including the Argob region. His kingdom had lots of villages and sixty towns with high walls and gates that locked with bars. We completely destroyed them all, killing everyone,
  4. (SEE 3:3)
  5. (SEE 3:3)
  6. (SEE 3:3)
  7. but keeping the livestock and everything else of value.
  8. Sihon and Og had ruled Amorite kingdoms east of the Jordan River. Their land stretched from the Arnon River gorge in the south to Mount Hermon in the north, and we captured it all.
  9. Mount Hermon is called Mount Sirion by the people of Sidon, and it is called Mount Senir by the Amorites.
  10. We captured all the towns in the highlands, all of Gilead, and all of Bashan as far as Salecah and Edrei, two of the towns that Og had ruled.
  11. King Og was the last of the Rephaim, and his coffin is in the town of Rabbah in Ammon. It is made of hard black rock and is thirteen and a half feet long and six feet wide.
  12. I gave some of the land and towns we captured to the tribes of Reuben and Gad. Their share started at the Arnon River gorge in the south, took in the town of Aroer on the edge of the gorge, and went far enough north to include the southern half of the Gilead region. The northern part of their land went as far east as the upper Jabbok River gorge, which formed their border with the Ammonites. I also gave them the eastern side of the Jordan River valley, from Lake Galilee south to the Dead Sea below the slopes of Mount Pisgah. I gave the northern half of Gilead and all of the Bashan region to half the tribe of Manasseh. Bashan had belonged to King Og, and the Argob region in Bashan used to be called the Land of the Rephaim. Jair from the Manasseh tribe conquered the Argob region as far west as the kingdoms of Geshur and Maacah. The Israelites even started calling Bashan by the name "Villages of Jair," and that is still its name. I gave the northern half of Gilead to the Machir clan.
  13. (SEE 3:12)
  14. (SEE 3:12)
  15. (SEE 3:12)
  16. (SEE 3:12)
  17. (SEE 3:12)
  18. At that time I told the men of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh: The LORD our God told me to give you this land with its towns, and that's what I have done. Now your wives and children can stay here with your large flocks of sheep and goats and your large herds of cattle. But all of you men that can serve in our army must cross the Jordan River and help the other tribes, because they are your relatives.
  19. (SEE 3:18)
  20. The LORD will let them defeat the enemy nations on the west side of the Jordan and take their land. Afterwards, you can come back here to the land I gave you.
  21. Then I told Joshua, "You saw how the LORD our God helped us destroy King Sihon and King Og. So don't be afraid! Wherever you go, the LORD will fight on your side and help you destroy your enemies."
  22. (SEE 3:21)
  23. At that time I prayed and begged,
  24. "Our LORD, it seems that you have just begun to show me your great power. No other god in the sky or on earth is able to do the mighty things that you do.
  25. The land west of the Jordan is such good land. Please let me cross the Jordan and see the hills and the Lebanon Mountains."
  26. But the LORD was angry with me because of you people, and he refused to listen. "That's enough!" he said. "I don't want to hear any more.
  27. Climb to the top of Mount Pisgah and look north, south, east, and west. Take a good look, but you are not going to cross the Jordan River.
  28. Joshua will lead Israel across the Jordan to take the land, so help him be strong and brave and tell him what he must do."
  29. After this we stayed in the valley at Beth-Peor.

    Israel was still camped on the Plains of Moab, East of the Jordan River, waiting for God's instruction to cross over and take possession of Canaan. Meanwhile, Moses reviewed the events leading up to this time. Previously the Lord had given them victory over the Amorite king Sihon, giving them possession of his land and cities. Following that victory they went further North and another Amorite king, Og, brought out his army against them. But God told them not to be afraid because He had handed this king over to them as well. So they struck down his army, leaving no survivors, and took possession of their 60 cities along with the entire region.

    With all of the Amorite territory in their possession, Moses divided the land among the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh. This was their inheritance from the Lord. But Moses reminded them that once their women and children were settled into the land they were to lead the march into Canaan, leading the fight to help their brothers take possession of their land. Once this was accomplished they could return to their families and new homes in peace.

    Then Moses shifted the attention from land to leadership referring to the change of command from himself to Joshua. Joshua had witnessed these victories East of the Jordan to bolster his courage and faith with the confidence that "the LORD your God fights for you." (3:22) Though Moses repeatedly begged the Lord to allow him to go into the new land - even to the point of angering Him - the Lord continued to refuse. Moses would only see the land from Mount Pisgah. He was to turn his attention from entering the land to preparing Joshua to replace him.

    It seems tragic that despite Moses' faithful leadership of the Israelites from Egypt to Israel, dealing with their fickleness all along the way, he was refused entry into the new land and the reward of his efforts due to a momentary lapse of faith. We don't understand the seeming unfairness of this judgment by God. We can offer a variety of explanations to justify it, but the bottom line is that we either trust God's judgment to be the best for any given situation or we judge God based on our own judgment. I don't have to understand it or explain it. I simply trust God.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 2

    Deuteronomy 02 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. We spent many years wandering around outside the hill country of Seir,
  2. until the LORD said: Moses,
  3. Israel has wandered in these hills long enough. Turn and go north.
  4. And give the people these orders: "Be very careful, because you will soon go through the land that belongs to your relatives, the descendants of Esau. They are afraid of you,
  5. but don't start a war with them. I have given them the hill country of Seir, so I won't give any of it to you, not even enough to set a foot on.
  6. And as you go through their land, you will have to buy food and water from them."
  7. The LORD has helped us and taken care of us during the past forty years that we have been in this huge desert. We've had everything we needed, and the LORD has blessed us and made us successful in whatever we have done.
  8. We went past the territory that belonged to our relatives, the descendants of Esau. We followed Arabah Road that starts in the south at Elath and Ezion-Geber, then we turned onto the desert road that leads to Moab.
  9. The LORD told me, "Don't try to start a war with Moab. Leave them alone, because I gave the land of Ar to them, and I will not let you have any of it."
  10. Before the LORD gave the Moabites their land, a large and powerful tribe lived there. They were the Emim, and they were as tall as the Anakim.
  11. The Moabites called them Emim, though others sometimes used the name Rephaim for both the Anakim and the Emim.
  12. The Horites used to live in Seir, but the Edomites took over that region. They killed many of the Horites and forced the rest of them to leave, just as Israel did to the people in the land that the LORD gave them.
  13. When we came to the Zered Gorge along the southern border of Moab, the LORD told us to cross the gorge into Moab, and we did.
  14. This was thirty-eight years after we left Kadesh-Barnea, and by that time all the men who had been in the army at Kadesh-Barnea had died, just as the LORD had said they would.
  15. The LORD kept getting rid of them until finally none of them were left.
  16. (SEE 2:15)
  17. Then the LORD told me,
  18. "Moses, now go past the town of Ar and cross Moab's northern border
  19. into Ammon. But don't start a war with the Ammonites. I gave them their land, and I won't give any of it to Israel."
  20. Before the Ammonites conquered the land that the LORD had given them, some of the Rephaim used to live there, although the Ammonites called them Zamzummim.
  21. The Zamzummim were a large and powerful tribe and were as tall as the Anakim. But the LORD helped the Ammonites, and they killed many of the Zamzummim and forced the rest to leave. Then the Ammonites settled there.
  22. The LORD helped them as he had helped the Edomites, who killed many of the Horites in Seir and forced the rest to leave before settling there themselves.
  23. A group called the Avvim used to live in villages as far south as Gaza, but the Philistines killed them and settled on their land.
  24. After we went through Ammon, the LORD told us: Israel, pack up your possessions, take down your tents, and cross the Arnon River gorge. The territory of the Amorite King Sihon of Heshbon lies on the other side of the river, but I now give you his land. So attack and take it!
  25. Today I will start making all other nations afraid of you. They will tremble with fear when anyone mentions you, and they will be terrified when you show up.
  26. After we had crossed the Arnon and had set up camp in the Kedemoth Desert, I sent messengers to King Sihon of Heshbon, telling him that his nation and ours could be at peace. I said:
  27. Please let Israel go across your country. We will walk straight through, without turning off the road.
  28. You can even sell us food and water, and we will pay with silver. We need to reach the Jordan River and cross it, because the LORD our God is giving us the land on the west side. The Edomites and Moabites have already let us cross their land. Please let us cross your land as well.
  29. (SEE 2:28)
  30. But Sihon refused to let us go across his country, because the LORD made him stubborn and eager to fight us. The LORD told me, "I am going to help you defeat Sihon and take his land, so attack him!"
  31. (SEE 2:30)
  32. We met Sihon and his army in battle at Jahaz,
  33. and the LORD our God helped us defeat them. We killed Sihon, his sons, and everyone else in his army.
  34. Then we captured and destroyed every town in Sihon's kingdom, killing everyone,
  35. but keeping the livestock and everything else of value.
  36. The LORD helped us capture every town from the Arnon River gorge north to the boundary of Gilead, including the town of Aroer on the edge of the gorge and the town in the middle of the gorge.
  37. However, we stayed away from all the Ammonite towns, both in the hill country and near the Jabbok River, just as the LORD had commanded.

    As Moses recounts to the Israelites their travels through the wilderness, we learn details not included in the book of Numbers. Their 38 year delay following their failure to enter Canaan is such an event. Numbers gives nothing concerning this period. While Deuteronomy does not give a lot of detail, we are told they "traveled around the hill country of Seir" during this time. (2:1) Once the "entire generation of fighting men had perished," (2:14) the Lord instructed them to cross the Zered Valley, leaving Seir. This fullfilled God's judgment on them when He told them they would never see the promised land of Canaan. 2:15 suggests that they did not all die of natural causes, saying that "the Lord's hand was against them, to eliminate them from the camp."

    The Israelites were not the only people for whom God drove a people out so they might occupy their land. In each case it served the dual purpose of giving land to the people God chose and destroying a people for whom God handed down judgment. Moses explained in this chapter that God had given the land of Seir to the Edomites, descendants of Esau. Israel was not to have "an inch of it (Seir), because I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his possession." (2:5) Similar instructions were given regarding the land of Moab. They were to "Show no hostility toward Moab, and do not provoke them to battle, for I will not give you any of their land as a possession, since I have given Ar as a possession to the descendants of Lot." (2:9)

    Both the descendants of Esau and of Lot were distant relatives of Abraham and thus also of the Israelites. This was all a part of His blessing to Abraham. But once they moved past these territories, it changed. As they crossed the Arnon Valley toward Amorite territory, God told them He had handed over this land to them. They were to engage these people in battle and take possession of the land. To prepare these people for Israel's invasion, God put in them a fear and dread of the Israelites causing them to tremble and "be in anguish" because of them. Thus giving Israel the advantage. Nevertheless, the Amorites were given one last chance for survival. Moses sent messengers "with an offer of peace" to the king of the Amorites. An offer he did not accept.  The Edomites had refused passage of the Israelites through their land and the Israelites had merely skirted around them. Had the Amorites done the same we don't know what the outcome might have been, but this offer of peace suggests they would have done the same. However, they were not given this option for the Amorite king "and his whole army came out against us for battle at Jahaz." (2:32)

    Prior to the attack by the Amorite king, God told Israel, "See, I have begun to give Sihon and his land to you. Begin to take possession of it." (2:31) The attack was actually an indication that God would give the Israelites possession of the Amorite land. Reality is not always what the most obvious conclusion would indicate. Without Spiritual perception given by God, the attack by the Amorites would have likely drawn the more obvious conclusion that God was wrong and they would not take possession. We are prone to think that if God intends to give us something or use us in some great way that He will just put it in our laps without effort or difficulty on our part. That is seldom the case. In this situation, the true indication that the Israelites would not take possession would have been for the Amorites to accept the offer of peace.

    We will continually be misunderstanding and misinterpreting God's actions and the circumstances of life as long as we judge both by our standards. It is not until we allow ourselves to be judged by God's standards that we will ever quite "get it."