Thursday, September 27, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 32

    Deuteronomy 32 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Earth and Sky, listen to what I say!
  2. Israel, I will teach you. My words will be like gentle rain on tender young plants, or like dew on the grass.
  3. Join with me in praising the wonderful name of the LORD our God.
  4. The LORD is a mighty rock, and he never does wrong. God can always be trusted to bring justice.
  5. But you lie and cheat and are unfaithful to him. You have disgraced yourselves and are no longer worthy to be his children.
  6. Israel, the LORD is your Father, the one who created you, but you repaid him by being foolish.
  7. Think about past generations. Ask your parents or any of your elders. They will tell you
  8. that God Most High gave land to every nation. He assigned a guardian angel to each of them,
  9. but the LORD himself takes care of Israel.
  10. Israel, the LORD discovered you in a barren desert filled with howling winds. God became your fortress, protecting you as though you were his own eyes.
  11. The LORD was like an eagle teaching its young to fly, always ready to swoop down and catch them on its back.
  12. Israel, the LORD led you, and without the aid of a foreign god,
  13. he helped you capture the land. Your fields were rich with grain. Olive trees grew in your stony soil, and honey was found among the rocks.
  14. Your flocks and herds produced milk and yogurt, and you got choice meat from your sheep and goats that grazed in Bashan. Your wheat was the finest, and you drank the best wine.
  15. Israel, you grew fat and rebelled against God, your Creator; you rejected the Mighty Rock, your only place of safety.
  16. You made God jealous and angry by worshiping disgusting idols and foreign gods.
  17. You offered sacrifices to demons, those useless gods that never helped you, new gods that your ancestors never worshiped.
  18. You turned away from God, your Creator; you forgot the Mighty Rock, the source of your life.
  19. You were the LORD's children, but you made him angry. Then he rejected you
  20. and said, "You are unfaithful and can't be trusted. So I won't answer your prayers; I'll just watch and see what happens to you.
  21. You worshiped worthless idols, and made me jealous and angry! Now I will send a cruel and worthless nation to make you jealous and angry.
  22. "My people, I will breathe out fire that sends you down to the world of the dead. It will scorch your farmlands and burn deep down under the mountains.
  23. I'll send disaster after disaster to strike you like arrows.
  24. You'll be struck by starvation and deadly diseases, by the fangs of wild animals and poisonous snakes.
  25. Young and old alike will be killed in the streets and terrified at home.
  26. "I wanted to scatter you, so no one would remember that you had ever lived.
  27. But I dreaded the sound of your enemies saying, 'We defeated Israel with no help from the LORD.' "
  28. People of Israel, that's what the LORD has said to you. But you don't have good sense, and you never listen to advice.
  29. If you did, you could see where you are headed.
  30. How could one enemy soldier chase a thousand of Israel's troops? Or how could two of theirs pursue ten thousand of ours? It can only happen if the LORD stops protecting Israel and lets the enemy win.
  31. Even our enemies know that only our God is a Mighty Rock.
  32. Our enemies are grapevines rooted in the fields of Sodom and Gomorrah. The grapes they produce are full of bitter poison;
  33. their wine is more deadly than cobra venom.
  34. But the LORD has written a list of their sins and locked it in his vault.
  35. Soon our enemies will get what they deserve -- suddenly they will slip, and total disaster will quickly follow.
  36. When only a few of the LORD's people remain, when their strength is gone, and some of them are slaves, the LORD will feel sorry for them and give them justice.
  37. But first the LORD will say, "You ran for safety to other gods-- couldn't they help you?
  38. You offered them wine and your best sacrifices. Can't those gods help you now or give you protection?
  39. Don't you understand? I am the only God; there are no others. I am the one who takes life and gives it again. I punished you with suffering. But now I will heal you, and nothing can stop me!
  40. "I make this solemn promise: Just as I live forever,
  41. I will take revenge on my hateful enemies. I will sharpen my sword and let it flash like lightning.
  42. My arrows will get drunk on enemy blood; my sword will taste the flesh and the blood of the enemy. It will kill prisoners, and cut off the heads of their leaders."
  43. Tell the heavens to celebrate and all gods to bow down to the LORD, because he will take revenge on those hateful enemies who killed his people. He will forgive the sins of Israel and purify their land.
  44. Moses spoke the words of the song so that all the Israelites could hear, and Joshua helped him. When Moses had finished,
  45. (SEE 32:44)
  46. he said, "Always remember this song I have taught you today. And let it be a warning that you must teach your children to obey everything written in The Book of God's Law.
  47. The Law isn't empty words. It can give you a long life in the land that you are going to take."
  48. Later that day the LORD said to Moses:
  49. Go up into the Abarim Mountain range here in Moab across the Jordan River valley from Jericho. And when you reach the top of Mount Nebo, you will be able to see the land of Canaan, which I am giving to Israel.
  50. Then you will die and be buried on the mountaintop, just as your brother Aaron died and was buried on Mount Hor.
  51. Both of you were unfaithful to me at Meribah Spring near Kadesh in the Zin Desert. I am God, but there in front of the Israelites, you did not treat me with the honor and respect I deserve.
  52. So I will give the land to the people of Israel, but you will only get to see it from a distance.

    In the previous chapter God told Moses He would give him a song for Israel that would be a witness for Him against the Israelites when they turned to other gods and broke His covenant with them. Chapter 32 is a record of that song. Using song was and is a great way to teach. They did not have the written word to put into the hands of the general populace, but they could learn the song and have the teaching with them at all times.

    In the song, God taught them about His character and of Israel's character. God is The Rock, His ways are perfect, He is faithful, righteous, and true. Israel, on the other hand, was corrupt toward God, a devious and crooked generation.

    God also reminded them in the song of the great things He had done for them. He found them in a desolate land and cared for them as the pupil of His eye. He watched over them as an eagle watches over its young. God gave Israel an inheritance of land among the nations and blessed her with prosperity in this land.

    Then God told them in the song of their coming rebellion and the judgment they would suffer as a result. Once they became prosperous in the land of their inheritance they would scorn "the Rock of his salvation." (32:15) They would do this by turning to foreign gods and sacrifice to demons. In this He was saying that sacrificing to other gods was actually sacrificing to demons. In doing this they would be ignoring the One who gave them birth. Because of this God would hide His face from them and leave them on their own without His protection. Let the so-called gods to which they would turn protect them. God would turn them over to destruction but would fall short of annihilating them for He didn't want Israel's enemies to think this was their doing and that Israel's God was not strong enough to protect her.

    To have the message of this song to carry with them as they entered Canaan to take the land for themselves and to sing it year after year as they enjoyed the land should have been a strong deterrent keeping them from doing what the song says they would do. But they fulfilled the prophecy of the song and suffered all of the consequences described in it. This was not the end of the song, though. Israel also needed to know that even though she would turn from God and suffer much as a result, once she recognized that "there is no God but Me," (32:39) God would avenge her enemies and restore her.

    When Moses gave this song to Israel, he told them, "Take to heart all these words I am giving as a warning to you today, so that you may command your children to carefully follow all the words of this law." Herein is the intent of the song.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 31

    Deuteronomy 31 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Moses again spoke to the whole nation of Israel:
  2. I am a hundred twenty years old, and I am no longer able to be your leader. And besides that, the LORD your God has told me that he won't let me cross the Jordan River.
  3. But he has promised that he and Joshua will lead you across the Jordan to attack the nations that live on the other side. The LORD will destroy those nations just as he destroyed Sihon and Og, those two Amorite kings. Just remember--whenever you capture a place, kill everyone who lives there.
  4. (SEE 31:3)
  5. (SEE 31:3)
  6. Be brave and strong! Don't be afraid of the nations on the other side of the Jordan. The LORD your God will always be at your side, and he will never abandon you.
  7. Then Moses called Joshua up in front of the crowd and said: Joshua, be brave and strong as you lead these people into their land. The LORD made a promise long ago to Israel's ancestors that this land would someday belong to Israel. That time has now come, and you must divide up the land among the people.
  8. The LORD will lead you into the land. He will always be with you and help you, so don't ever be afraid of your enemies.
  9. Moses wrote down all of these laws and teachings and gave them to the priests and the leaders of Israel. The priests were from the Levi tribe, and they carried the sacred chest that belonged to the LORD.
  10. Moses told these priests and leaders: Each year the Israelites must come together to celebrate the Festival of Shelters at the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped. You must read these laws and teachings to the people at the festival every seventh year, the year when loans do not need to be repaid.
  11. (SEE 31:10)
  12. Everyone must come--men, women, children, and even the foreigners who live in your towns. And each new generation will listen and learn to worship the LORD their God with fear and trembling and to do exactly what is said in God's Law.
  13. (SEE 31:12)
  14. The LORD told Moses, "You will soon die, so bring Joshua to the sacred tent, and I will appoint him the leader of Israel." Moses and Joshua went to the sacred tent,
  15. and the LORD appeared in a thick cloud right over the entrance to the tent.
  16. The LORD said: Moses, you will soon die. But Israel is going into a land where other gods are worshiped, and Israel will reject me and start worshiping these gods. The people will break the agreement I made with them,
  17. and I will be so furious that I will abandon them and ignore their prayers. I will send disasters and suffering that will nearly wipe them out. Finally, they will realize that the disasters happened because I abandoned them.
  18. They will pray to me, but I will ignore them because they were evil and started worshiping other gods.
  19. Moses and Joshua, I am going to give you the words to a new song. Write them down and teach the song to the Israelites. If they learn it, they will know what I want them to do, and so they will have no excuse for not obeying me.
  20. I am bringing them into the land that I promised their ancestors. It is a land rich with milk and honey, and the Israelites will have more than enough food to eat. But they will get fat and turn their backs on me and start worshiping other gods. The Israelites will reject me and break the agreement that I made with them.
  21. When I punish the Israelites and their descendants with suffering and disasters, I will remind them that they know the words to this song, so they have no excuse for not obeying me. I will give them the land that I promised, but I know the way they are going to live later on.
  22. Moses wrote down the words to the song right away, and he taught it to the Israelites.
  23. The LORD told Joshua, "Be brave and strong! I will help you lead the people of Israel into the land that I have promised them."
  24. Moses wrote down all these laws and teachings in a book,
  25. then he went to the Levites who carried the sacred chest and said:
  26. This is The Book of God's Law. Keep it beside the sacred chest that holds the agreement the LORD your God made with Israel. This book is proof that you know what the LORD wants you to do.
  27. I know how stubborn and rebellious you and the rest of the Israelites are. You have rebelled against the LORD while I have been alive, and it will only get worse after I am gone.
  28. So call together the leaders and officials of the tribes of Israel. I will bring this book and read every word of it to you, and I will call the sky and the earth as witnesses that all of you know what you are supposed to do.
  29. I am going to die soon, and I know that in the future you will stop caring about what is right and what is wrong, and so you will disobey the LORD and stop living the way I told you to live. The LORD will be angry, and terrible things will happen to you.
  30. Moses called a meeting of all the people of Israel, so he could teach them the words to the song that the LORD had given him. And here are the words:

    Moses' life and leadership of Israel was drawing to a close as was the time drawing near for Israel's entry into the Promised Land. He spoke to the people about this and encouraged them to cross into Canaan and face the nations there with courage, "For it is the LORD your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you." (31:6) Moses had completed giving the law to Israel and then needed to complete writing it down, after which he entrusted the written law to the priests. In doing so, he instructed them to assemble all Israel every seven years at the place God chose to locate the tabernacle for a reading of the entire law. This was so the people would not forget it and the children and foreigners living among them would learn it.

    Then the Lord called for Moses and Joshua to present themselves at the tabernacle so He could commission Joshua to be leader. Before commissioning Joshua the Lord told Moses of the coming apostasy of the Israelites. Though God had just renewed His covenant with Israel and promised to bless them if they were faithful to it, He knew they would not be faithful. In fact, He told Moses that after he was gone the people would "abandon Me and break the covenant I have made with them." When that happened, the Lord said, "I will abandon them and hide My face from them so that they will become easy prey." (31:16, 17)

    In preparation for the time in which the people would break the covenant, the Lord gave Moses a song to write down and teach them. It was to serve as a witness against the people when that time came. Though there was not the means of placing a written copy of the law in the hands of all the people, this song would remain with them to remind them of their covenant with the Lord. After giving the song to Moses the Lord commissioned Joshua.

    We may wonder why God would make a covenant with Israel knowing she would break it. The problem, however, was not God's choice of a people with whom to make this relationship. Regardless of who He had chosen the outcome would have been the same. The Israelites were merely demonstrating human nature and God was demonstrating His nature, and in that was the whole point. Man is sinful and totally incapable of keeping God's laws. Jesus Christ is the only answer, and God's relationship with Israel both demonstrated man's inability to attain righteousness on his own and provided the Messiah (Jesus Christ) who would Himself atone for man's sin.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 30

    Deuteronomy 30 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I have told you everything the LORD your God will do for you, and I've also told you the curses he will put on you if you reject him. He will scatter you in faraway countries, but when you realize that he is punishing you,
  2. return to him with all your heart and soul and start obeying the commands I have given to you today.
  3. Then he will stop punishing you and treat you with kindness. He may have scattered you to the farthest countries on earth, but he will bring you back
  4. (SEE 30:3)
  5. to the land that had belonged to your ancestors and make you even more successful and powerful than they ever were.
  6. You and your descendants are stubborn, but the LORD will make you willing to obey him and love him with all your heart and soul, and you will enjoy a long life.
  7. Then the LORD your God will remove the curses from you and put them on those enemies who hate and attack you.
  8. You will again obey the laws and teachings of the LORD,
  9. and he will bless you with many children, large herds and flocks, and abundant crops. The LORD will be happy to do good things for you, just as he did for your ancestors.
  10. But you must decide once and for all to worship him with all your heart and soul and to obey everything in The Book of God's Law.
  11. You know God's laws, and it isn't impossible to obey them.
  12. His commands aren't in heaven, so you can't excuse yourselves by saying, "How can we obey the LORD's commands? They are in heaven, and no one can go up to get them, then bring them down and explain them to us."
  13. And you can't say, "How can we obey the LORD's commands? They are across the sea, and someone must go across, then bring them back and explain them to us."
  14. No, these commands are nearby and you know them by heart. All you have to do is obey!
  15. Today I am giving you a choice. You can choose life and success or death and disaster.
  16. I am commanding you to be loyal to the LORD, to live the way he has told you, and to obey his laws and teachings. You are about to cross the Jordan River and take the land that he is giving you. If you obey him, you will live and become successful and powerful. On the other hand, you might choose to disobey the LORD and reject him. So I'm warning you that if you bow down and worship other gods, you won't have long to live.
  17. (SEE 30:16)
  18. (SEE 30:16)
  19. Right now I call the sky and the earth to be witnesses that I am offering you this choice. Will you choose for the LORD to make you prosperous and give you a long life? Or will he put you under a curse and kill you? Choose life!
  20. Be completely faithful to the LORD your God, love him, and do whatever he tells you. The LORD is the only one who can give life, and he will let you live a long time in the land that he promised to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

    After outlining to the people the laws of the covenant which included the blessings and curses of keeping the laws or disobeying them, Moses now tells them what more is to take place. He anticipates that they will both enjoy the blessings and suffer the curses. When they suffer the curses they will be driven from the Promised Land that the Lord gave them and scattered among other nations. After a time they will eventually come to their senses and "you and your children (will) return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and all your soul by doing everything I am giving you today." (30:2) When they do this the Lord "will restore your fortunes, have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you." (30:3)

    With the restoration will come a new covenant. Instead of animal sacrifice, this covenant will be established in Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Israel will once again be obedient to the Lord under this new covenant and will enjoy the blessings He promises while their enemies will be the ones to incur the curses.

    Referring back to the covenant Moses had just given them from the Lord, he pointed out that while it was not easy to keep, it was not difficult to understand or inaccessible to them. It was as near as "the tongue in your mouth, as near as the heart in your chest." (30:14 The Message) They just had to do it. There was the difficulty.

    Moses put before them the choice they faced. It was important they understood the implications of their choice. Yes, it was a choice of obedience versus disobedience, but it was also a choice of "life and prosperity," or "death and adversity." (30:15) When understood from this perspective could the choice be too difficult to make? The problem was, and still is, that it is not a one-time choice. It is a choice that is made daily. And depending on the way in which the choice presents itself and the frame of mind we are in when it is presented, we can, at the moment of choice, lose perspective on the real choice being made. This highlights the importance of continual fellowship with the One who enables us to make wise choices.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 29

    Deuteronomy 29 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. So Moses finished telling the Israelites what they had to do in order to keep the agreement the LORD was making with them in Moab, which was in addition to the one the LORD had made with them at Mount Sinai.
  2. Moses called the nation of Israel together and told them: When you were in Egypt, you saw the LORD perform great miracles that caused trouble for the king, his officials, and everyone else in the country.
  3. (SEE 29:2)
  4. He has even told you, "For forty years I, the LORD, led you through the desert, but your clothes and your sandals didn't wear out, and I gave you special food. I did these things so you would realize that I am your God." But the LORD must give you a change of heart before you truly understand what you have seen and heard.
  5. (SEE 29:4)
  6. (SEE 29:4)
  7. When we first camped here, King Sihon of Heshbon and King Og of Bashan attacked, but we defeated them.
  8. Then we captured their land and divided it among the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh.
  9. Israel, the LORD has made an agreement with you, and if you keep your part, you will be successful in everything you do.
  10. Today everyone in our nation is standing here in the LORD's presence, including leaders and officials, parents and children, and even those foreigners who cut wood and carry water for us. We are at this place of worship to promise that we will keep our part of the agreement with the LORD our God.
  11. (SEE 29:10)
  12. (SEE 29:10)
  13. In this agreement, the LORD promised that you would be his people and that he would be your God. He first made this promise to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and today the LORD is making this same promise to you. But it isn't just for you; it is also for your descendants.
  14. (SEE 29:13)
  15. (SEE 29:13)
  16. When we lived in Egypt, you saw the Egyptians worship disgusting idols of wood, stone, silver, and gold. Then as we traveled through other nations, you saw those people worship other disgusting idols.
  17. (SEE 29:16)
  18. So make sure that everyone in your tribe remains faithful to the LORD and never starts worshiping gods of other nations. If even one of you worships idols, you will be like the root of a plant that produces bitter, poisonous fruit.
  19. You may be an Israelite and know all about the LORD's agreement with us, but he won't bless you if you rebel against him. You may think you can get away with it, but you will cause the rest of Israel to be punished along with you.
  20. The LORD will be furious, and instead of forgiving you, he will separate you from the other tribes. Then he will destroy you, by piling on you all the curses in The Book of God's Law, and you will be forgotten forever.
  21. (SEE 29:20)
  22. The LORD will strike your country with diseases and disasters. Your descendants and foreigners from distant countries will see that your land
  23. has become a scorching desert of salt and sulfur, where nothing is planted, nothing sprouts, and nothing grows. It will be as lifeless as the land around the cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, after the LORD became angry and destroyed them.
  24. People from other nations will ask, "Why did the LORD destroy this country? Why was he so furious?"
  25. And they will be given this answer: Our ancestors worshiped the LORD, but after he brought them out of Egypt and made an agreement with them, they rejected the agreement
  26. and decided to worship gods that had never helped them. The LORD had forbidden Israel to worship these gods,
  27. and so he became furious and punished the land with all the curses in The Book of God's Law. Then he pulled up Israel by the roots and tossed them into a foreign country, where they still are today.
  28. (SEE 29:27)
  29. The LORD our God hasn't explained the present or the future, but he has commanded us to obey the laws he gave to us and our descendants.

    Moses had just finished restating the covenant to Israel that God gave them at Sinai. In this chapter he was calling them to a renewing of the covenant. Although they had to this point seen many wonders the Lord had done for them, "the LORD has not given you a mind to understand, eyes to see, or ears to hear." (29:4) That is because they had not opened themselves to receive understanding from the Lord. As Moses had told them repeatedly, they were a stiff-necked people. Among the wonders of God they had witnessed with their own eyes was what the Lord at done to Pharoah and his entire land, how their clothes and sandals had not worn out over a 40 year period, how they had been sufficiently fed though they had no source of food other than what God provided, and how God defeated the kings of Heshbon and Bashan.

    Due to their unfaithfulness to the covenant since leaving Sinai, it was time for Israel to renew the covenant before entering the Promised Land. The ratifying of the covenant was to be not only for those present on that day but for their descendants.  In making this covenant they were not ignorant of the idolatry of the nations around them. They saw it in Egypt and in the nations they passed through or by on their way to Canaan. They should be very cautious that this idolatry finds no root within Israel. If even one individual thinks in their heart they can "follow my own stubborn heart," this will lead to the destruction of the land they are entering.

    If ever Israel were to suffer plagues and sicknesses of the land and people and someone were to ask, "Why has the Lord done this to the land?" The answer would be, "It is because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, which He had made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt. They began to worship other gods, bowing down to gods they had not known." (29:25-26)

    Whether it be idols we credit for what we have or our own abilities or those of another, the result is the same. We have credited what God has provided to another source. He is the creator of all that is. Nothing we have comes from any other source.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 28

    Deuteronomy 28 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Today I am giving you the laws and teachings of the LORD your God. Always obey them, and the LORD will make Israel the most famous and important nation on earth, and he will bless you in many ways.
  2. (SEE 28:1)
  3. The LORD will make your businesses and your farms successful.
  4. You will have many children. You will harvest large crops, and your herds of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats will produce many young.
  5. You will have plenty of bread to eat.
  6. The LORD will make you successful in your daily work.
  7. The LORD will help you defeat your enemies and make them scatter in all directions.
  8. The LORD your God is giving you the land, and he will make sure you are successful in everything you do. Your harvests will be so large that your storehouses will be full.
  9. If you follow and obey the LORD, he will make you his own special people, just as he promised.
  10. Then everyone on earth will know that you belong to the LORD, and they will be afraid of you.
  11. The LORD will give you a lot of children and make sure that your animals give birth to many young. The LORD promised your ancestors that this land would be yours, and he will make it produce large crops for you.
  12. The LORD will open the storehouses of the skies where he keeps the rain, and he will send rain on your land at just the right times. He will make you successful in everything you do. You will have plenty of money to lend to other nations, but you won't need to borrow any yourself.
  13. Obey the laws and teachings that I'm giving you today, and the LORD your God will make Israel a leader among the nations, and not a follower. Israel will be wealthy and powerful, not poor and weak.
  14. But you must not reject any of his laws and teachings or worship other gods.
  15. Israel, today I am giving you the laws and teachings of the LORD your God. And if you don't obey them all, he will put many curses on you.
  16. Your businesses and farms will fail.
  17. You won't have enough bread to eat.
  18. You'll have only a few children, your crops will be small, and your herds of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats won't produce many young.
  19. The LORD will make you fail in everything you do.
  20. No matter what you try to accomplish, the LORD will confuse you, and you will feel his anger. You won't last long, and you may even meet with disaster, all because you rejected the LORD.
  21. The LORD will send terrible diseases to attack you, and you will never be well again. You will suffer with burning fever and swelling and pain until you die somewhere in the land that you captured. The LORD will make the sky overhead seem like a bronze roof that keeps out the rain, and the ground under your feet will become as hard as iron. Your crops will be scorched by the hot east wind or ruined by mildew.
  22. (SEE 28:21)
  23. (SEE 28:21)
  24. He will send dust and sandstorms instead of rain, and you will be wiped out.
  25. The LORD will let you be defeated by your enemies, and you will scatter in all directions. You will be a horrible sight for the other nations to see,
  26. and no one will disturb the birds and wild animals while they eat your dead bodies.
  27. The LORD will make you suffer with diseases that will cause oozing sores or crusty itchy patches on your skin or boils like the ones that are common in Egypt. And there will be no cure for you!
  28. You will become insane and go blind. The LORD will make you so confused,
  29. that even in bright sunshine you will have to feel your way around like a blind person, who cannot tell day from night. For the rest of your life, people will beat and rob you, and no one will be able to stop them.
  30. A man will be engaged to a woman, but before they can get married, she will be raped by enemy soldiers. Some of you will build houses, but never get to live in them. If you plant a vineyard, you won't be around long enough to enjoy the first harvest.
  31. Your cattle will be killed while you watch, but you won't get to eat any of the meat. Your donkeys and sheep will be stolen from you, and no one will be around to force your enemies to give them back.
  32. Your sons and daughters will be dragged off to a foreign country, while you stand there helpless. And even if you watch for them until you go blind, you will never see them again.
  33. You will work hard on your farms, but everything you harvest will be eaten by foreigners, who will mistreat you and abuse you for the rest of your life.
  34. What you see will be so horrible that you will go insane,
  35. and the LORD will punish you from head to toe with boils that never heal.
  36. The LORD will let you and your king be taken captive to a country that you and your ancestors have never even heard of, and there you will have to worship idols made of wood and stone.
  37. People of nearby countries will shudder when they see your terrible troubles, but they will still make fun of you.
  38. You will plant a lot of seed, but gather a small harvest, because locusts will eat your crops.
  39. You will plant vineyards and work hard at taking care of them, but you won't gather any grapes, much less get any wine, and the vines themselves will be eaten by worms.
  40. Even if your olive trees grow everywhere in your country, the olives will fall off before they are ready, and there won't be enough olive oil for combing your hair.
  41. Even your infant sons and daughters will be taken as prisoners of war.
  42. Locusts will eat your crops and strip your trees of leaves and fruit.
  43. Foreigners in your towns will become wealthy and powerful, while you become poor and powerless.
  44. You will be so short of money that you will have to borrow from those foreigners. They will be the leaders in the community, and you will be the followers.
  45. Israel, if you don't obey the laws and teachings that the LORD your God is giving you, he will send these curses to chase, attack, and destroy you.
  46. Then everyone will look at you and your descendants and realize that the LORD has placed you under a curse.
  47. If the LORD makes you wealthy, but you don't joyfully worship and honor him,
  48. he will send enemies to attack you and make you their slaves. Then you will live in poverty with nothing to eat, drink, or wear, and your owners will work you to death.
  49. Foreigners who speak a strange language will be sent to attack you without warning, just like an eagle swooping down.
  50. They won't show any mercy, and they will have no respect for old people or pity for children.
  51. They will take your cattle, sheep, goats, grain, wine, and olive oil, then leave you to starve.
  52. All over the land that the LORD your God gave you, the enemy army will surround your towns. You may feel safe inside your town walls, but the enemy will tear them down,
  53. while you wait in horror. Finally, you will get so hungry that you will eat the sons and daughters that the LORD gave you.
  54. Because of hunger, a man who had been gentle and kind will eat his own children and refuse to share the meal with his brother or wife or with his other children.
  55. (SEE 28:54)
  56. A woman may have grown up in such luxury that she never had to put a foot on the ground. But times will be so bad that she will secretly eat both her newborn baby and the afterbirth, without sharing any with her husband or her other children.
  57. (SEE 28:56)
  58. You must obey everything in The Book of God's Law. Because if you don't respect the LORD,
  59. he will punish you and your descendants with incurable diseases,
  60. like those you were so afraid of in Egypt.
  61. Remember! If the LORD decides to destroy your nation, he can use any disease or disaster, not just the ones written in The Book of God's Law.
  62. There are as many of you now as the stars in the sky, but if you disobey the LORD your God, only a few of you will be left.
  63. The LORD is happy to make you successful and to help your nation grow while you conquer the land. But if you disobey him, he will be just as happy to pull you up by your roots.
  64. Those of you that survive will be scattered to every nation on earth, and you will have to worship stone and wood idols that never helped you or your ancestors.
  65. You will be restless--always longing for home, but never able to return.
  66. You will live in constant fear of death.
  67. Each morning you will wake up to such terrible sights that you will say, "I wish it were night!" But at night you will be terrified and say, "I wish it were day!"
  68. I told you never to go back to Egypt. But now the LORD himself will load you on ships and send you back. Then you will even try to sell yourselves as slaves, but no one will be interested.

    This passage is devoted to an accounting of both blessings and curses Israel could expect if she were obedient to God's instructions or disobedient. The blessings listed are as wonderful as the curses are horrific. One cannot imagine that a people would choose to disobey, taking on the curses along with giving up the blessings. It is unfathomable. The only conclusion that comes to mind as to why Israel might have disobeyed God and risked the curses along with giving up the blessings is that she didn't believe that God would actually curse them. Is this because God had blessed her so much she couldn't imagine Him cursing her?

    Man has the persistent and consistent idea that a loving God cannot allow bad things to happen to people. What is particularly unthinkable about this passage to such a mindset and worldview is that God would not only allow these curses but would even cause them. Such thinking gives no accounting for man's actions and what role they might play regarding blessing or curse. As the saying goes, man wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to do what he wants to do without consideration for God but he also wants God to consider him and bless him regardless. Should God allow or even cause man to be blessed we do not credit Him but if God allows something bad we are sure to blame Him. Though under scrutiny this thinking makes no sense, we are not prone to scrutinize ourselves very closely in such matters.

    The blessings Moses described for Israel if she obeyed God are unbelievably good just as the curses are unbeleiveable bad. He began the passage saying this is what will happen IF you obey or disobey. Partway through the curses passage he slipped into a tone of saying this WILL happen as if knowing Israel would not obey. After leading them for forty years and seeing them disobey over and over even when the Lord repeatedly performed mighty works on their behalf it would be hard to imagine them being obedient for any length of time. In truth, the list of curses was prophetic in that they did come true.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 27

    Deuteronomy 27 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Moses stood together with the leaders and told the people of Israel: Obey all the laws and teachings that I am giving you today.
  2. Soon you will enter the land that the LORD your God is giving to you. He is the God your ancestors worshiped, and he has promised that this land is rich with milk and honey. After you cross the Jordan River, go to Mount Ebal. Set up large slabs of stone, then cover them with white plaster and write on them a copy of these laws.
  3. (SEE 27:2)
  4. (SEE 27:2)
  5. At this same place, build an altar for offering sacrifices to the LORD your God. But don't use stones that have been cut with iron tools.
  6. Look for stones that can be used without being cut. Then offer sacrifices to please the LORD, burning them completely on the altar.
  7. Next, offer sacrifices to ask the LORD's blessing, and serve the meat at a sacred meal where you will celebrate in honor of the LORD.
  8. Don't forget to write out a copy of these laws on the stone slabs that you are going to set up. Make sure that the writing is easy to read.
  9. Moses stood together with the priests and said, "Israel, be quiet and listen to me! Today you have become the people of the LORD your God.
  10. So you must obey his laws and teachings that I am giving you."
  11. That same day, Moses gave them the following instructions:
  12. After you cross the Jordan River, you will go to Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. The tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin will go up on Mount Gerizim, where they will bless the people of Israel. The tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali will go up on Mount Ebal where they will agree to the curses.
  13. (SEE 27:12)
  14. The people of the Levi tribe will speak each curse in a loud voice, then the rest of the people will agree to that curse by saying, "Amen!" Here are the curses: We ask the LORD to put a curse on anyone who makes an idol or worships idols, even secretly. The LORD is disgusted with idols. We ask the LORD to put a curse on all who do not show respect for their father and mother. We ask the LORD to put a curse on anyone who moves the rocks that mark property lines. We ask the LORD to put a curse on anyone who tells blind people to go the wrong way. We ask the LORD to put a curse on anyone who keeps the poor from getting justice, whether these poor are foreigners, widows, or orphans. We ask the LORD to put a curse on any man who sleeps with his father's wife; that man has shown no respect for his father's marriage. We ask the LORD to put a curse on anyone who has sex with an animal. We ask the LORD to put a curse on any man who sleeps with his sister or his half sister or his mother-in-law. We ask the LORD to put a curse on anyone who commits murder, even when there are no witnesses to the crime. We ask the LORD to put a curse on anyone who accepts money to murder an innocent victim. We ask the LORD to put a curse on anyone who refuses to obey his laws. And so, to each of these curses, the people will answer, "Amen!"
  15. (SEE 27:14)
  16. (SEE 27:14)
  17. (SEE 27:14)
  18. (SEE 27:14)
  19. (SEE 27:14)
  20. (SEE 27:14)
  21. (SEE 27:14)
  22. (SEE 27:14)
  23. (SEE 27:14)
  24. (SEE 27:14)
  25. (SEE 27:14)
  26. (SEE 27:14)

    Moses completed delivery of the ordinances of the law in chapter 26 and in this chapter gives directions for a covenant renewal ceremony Israel was to observe after they entered the Promised Land. Two primary observances are described: the erecting of a stone monument which was also to serve as an altar, and a ceremony in which the blessings and curses in keeping the law were to be recited antiphonally.

    Concerning the monument, Moses instructed them to construct it on Mount Ebal using uncut stones, to cover it with plaster, and to write on it, "all the words of this law." (27:8) Mount Ebal is about 35 miles north of Jerusalem and the city of Shechem was located at its base. Shechem was where Abraham built his first altar to the Lord giving added significance to this observance by Israel. This monument and altar was constructed following Israel's second battle in the Promised Land in which they defeated the people of Ai.

    The reciting of blessings and curses was also to take place at Mount Ebal with half the Israelites standing on Mount Ebal delivering the curses and half on nearby Mount Gerizim delivering the blessings. The priests were to stand in the valley between these mountains and direct the recitation. This ceremony took place in conjunction with the construction of the monument to the covenant at Mount Ebal following the battle at Ai. This passage in chapter 27 gives just the curses and is only a representative list.

    The Apostle Paul referenced this passage in Deuteronomy in his letter to the Galatians when he said: "For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written: Cursed is everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law.  Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith."  (Gal 3:10-11)  Though our human inclination, our default system, is to gain God's salvation through our own efforts of keeping some system of rules, the Israelites were a living demonstration that it is not possible. In our own effort it is not possible to keep any set of rules, and as soon as we break one rule the cause is lost. We are totally at God's mercy for His salvation and for deliverance from the law or any system of rules. But God, in His mercy, made this possible for us through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, who served as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sin.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 26

    Deuteronomy 26 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD is giving you the land, and soon you will conquer it, settle down,
  2. and plant crops. And when you begin harvesting each of your crops, the very first things you pick must be put in a basket. Take them to the place where the LORD your God chooses to be worshiped,
  3. and tell the priest, "Long ago the LORD our God promised our ancestors that he would give us this land. And today, I thank him for keeping his promise and giving me a share of the land."
  4. The priest will take the basket and set it in front of the LORD's altar.
  5. Then, standing there in front of the place of worship, you must pray: My ancestor was homeless, an Aramean who went to live in Egypt. There were only a few in his family then, but they became great and powerful, a nation of many people.
  6. The Egyptians were cruel and had no pity on us. They mistreated our people and forced us into slavery.
  7. We called out for help to you, the LORD God of our ancestors. You heard our cries; you knew we were in trouble and abused.
  8. Then you terrified the Egyptians with your mighty miracles and rescued us from Egypt.
  9. You brought us here and gave us this land rich with milk and honey.
  10. Now, LORD, I bring to you the best of the crops that you have given me. After you say these things, place the basket in front of the LORD's altar and bow down to worship him.
  11. Then you and your family must celebrate by eating a meal at the place of worship to thank the LORD your God for giving you such a good harvest. And remember to invite the Levites and the foreigners who live in your town.
  12. Every year you are to give ten percent of your harvest to the LORD. But every third year, this ten percent must be given to the poor who live in your town, including Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows. That way, they will have enough to eat.
  13. Then you must pray: Our LORD and our God, you have said that ten percent of my harvest is sacred. I have obeyed your command and given this to the poor, including the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows.
  14. I have not eaten any of this sacred food while I was in mourning; in fact, I never touched it when I was unclean. And none of it has been offered as a sacrifice to the spirits of the dead. I have done everything exactly as you commanded.
  15. Our LORD, look down from your temple in heaven and bless your people Israel. You promised our ancestors that you would give us this land rich with milk and honey, and you have kept your promise.
  16. Today the LORD your God has commanded you to obey these laws and teachings with all your heart and soul.
  17. In response, you have agreed that the LORD will be your God, that you will obey all his laws and teachings, and that you will listen when he speaks to you.
  18. Since you have agreed to obey the LORD, he has agreed that you will be his people and that you will belong to him, just as he promised.
  19. The LORD created all nations, but he will make you more famous than any of them, and you will receive more praise and honor. You will belong only to the LORD your God, just as he promised.

    Moses in this passage instructs the Israelites to observe a one-time offering of the first-fruits of the new land once they were settled into the land and had their first crops. This offering was to be taken to the place the Lord chose for the location of the tabernacle and presented there to the priest making the statement, "Today I acknowledge to the LORD your God that I have entered the land the LORD swore to our fathers to give us." (26:3) After the priest placed the offering before the altar of the Lord, the one bringing the offering then was to make a lengthier statement giving a brief history of how the Lord had brought them to this land. All of this was acknowledgment and thanksgiving for the Lord's faithfulness in fulfilling His promise to Abraham to give this land to his descendants.

    Following these instructions was a reminder of the tithe they were to give of their produce every three years. This tithe remained in the locale where they lived to provide for "the Levite, the foreign resident, the fatherless, and the widow." (26:12) After distributing the tithe they were to make a lengthy statement in the presence of the Lord stating that they had distributed the tithe as instructed and had not eaten any of it themselves or handled it inappropriately. Instead, they had done all the Lord had commanded them. This statement was evidently made in the home.

    The passage concludes with an encouragement by Moses that they observe all of the statutes and ordinances the Lord had given them. They were also to affirm that the Lord was their God and to walk in His ways. Along with this affirmation by the people was the affirmation by God that they were His special people and He would put them "far above all the nations He has made in praise, fame, and glory." (26:19)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 25

    Deuteronomy 25 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Suppose you and someone else each accuse the other of doing something wrong, and you go to court, where the judges decide you are guilty. If your punishment is to be beaten with a whip, one of the judges will order you to lie down, and you will receive the number of lashes you deserve.
  2. (SEE 25:1)
  3. Forty lashes is the most that you can be given, because more than that might make other Israelites think you are worthless.
  4. Don't muzzle an ox while it is threshing grain.
  5. Suppose two brothers are living on the same property, when one of them dies without having a son to carry on his name. If this happens, his widow must not marry anyone outside the family. Instead, she must marry her late husband's brother, and their first son will be the legal son of the dead man.
  6. (SEE 25:5)
  7. But suppose the brother refuses to marry the widow. She must go to a meeting of the town leaders at the town gate and say, "My husband died without having a son to carry on his name. And my husband's brother refuses to marry me so I can have a son."
  8. The leaders will call the living brother to the town gate and try to persuade him to marry the widow. But if he doesn't change his mind and marry her,
  9. she must go over to him while the town leaders watch. She will pull off one of his sandals and spit in his face, while saying, "That's what happens to a man who won't help provide descendants for his dead brother."
  10. From then on, that man's family will be known as "the family of the man whose sandal was pulled off."
  11. If two men are fighting, and the wife of one man tries to rescue her husband by grabbing the other man's private parts,
  12. you must cut off her hand. Don't have any mercy.
  13. Don't try to cheat people by having two sets of weights or measures, one to get more when you are buying, and the other to give less when you are selling.
  14. (SEE 25:13)
  15. If you weigh and measure things honestly, the LORD your God will let you enjoy a long life in the land he is giving you.
  16. But the LORD is disgusted with anyone who cheats or is dishonest.
  17. People of Israel, do you remember what the Amalekites did to you after you came out of Egypt?
  18. You were tired, and they followed along behind, attacking those who could not keep up with the others. This showed that the Amalekites have no respect for God.
  19. The LORD your God will help you capture the land, and he will give you peace. But when that day comes, you must wipe out Amalek so completely that no one will remember they ever lived.

    Six unrelated regulations are given in this chapter. The first concerns a dispute between two men that could not be settled between them. The dispute was to be taken to court for settlement by a judge and the punishment of the guilty party was to be overseen by the judge to assure it was not overly severe. Flogging was the prescribed punishment and the number of lashes was to match the crime.

    A second regulation required proper treatment of oxen. They were not to be kept from the benefit of their labor but were to be allowed to eat some of the grain they were treading. The Apostle Paul applied this regulation to ministers of the gospel saying they should reap a benefit from their labor in the gospel by receiving pay for their labor from those who were recipients of that labor.

    The lengthiest section in the chapter deals with two regulations relating to the ability to produce heirs. Preserving the family name and property was important. It was important enough that God set aside a regulation that forbid a man from marrying his divorced or widowed sister-in-law and actually required it under specific conditions. Those conditions were when two brothers shared the same property they had jointly inherited from their father and one of them died without a male heir. Under these conditions the surviving brother was required to marry the widow for the purpose of producoing a male heir who would be named after the deceased brother. If the surviving brother refused to marry the widow, she could take it before the elders of the city. The regulation immediately following had a similar purpose. Severe punishment was to be given a woman who stepped in to rescue her husband, who was involved in a fight with another man, by grabbing hold of the other man's genitals potentially threatening his ability to produce children and thus an heir.

    The next regulation had to do with just weights. A person was not to carry two sets of weights so that when it suited them an unfair weight could be used to gain an unfair profit. And finally a regulation was given requiring the Israelites to "blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" once they were settled in their new land and had rest from fighting their enemies. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 24

    Deuteronomy 24 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Suppose a woman was divorced by her first husband because he found something disgraceful about her. He wrote out divorce papers, gave them to her, and sent her away.
  2. Later she married another man,
  3. who then either divorced her in the same way or died.
  4. Since she has slept with her second husband, she cannot marry her first husband again. Their marriage would pollute the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and he would be disgusted.
  5. If a man and a woman have been married less than one year, he must not be sent off to war or sent away to do forced labor. He must be allowed to stay home for a year and be happy with his wife.
  6. When you lend money to people, you are allowed to keep something of theirs as a guarantee that they will pay back the loan. But don't take one or both of their millstones, or else they may starve. They need these stones for grinding grain into flour to make bread.
  7. If you are guilty of kidnapping Israelites and forcing them into slavery, you will be put to death to remove this evil from the community.
  8. I have told the priests what to do if any of you have leprosy, so do exactly what they say.
  9. And remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam after you left Egypt.
  10. When you lend money to people, you are allowed to keep something of theirs as a guarantee that the money will be paid back. But you must not go into their house to get it.
  11. Wait outside, and they will bring out the item you have agreed on.
  12. Suppose someone is so poor that a coat is the only thing that can be offered as a guarantee on a loan. Don't keep the coat overnight.
  13. Instead, give it back before sunset, so the owner can keep warm and sleep and ask the LORD to bless you. Then the LORD your God will notice that you have done the right thing.
  14. If you hire poor people to work for you, don't hold back their pay, whether they are Israelites or foreigners who live in your town.
  15. Pay them their wages at the end of each day, because they live in poverty and need the money to survive. If you don't pay them on time, they will complain about you to the LORD, and he will punish you.
  16. Parents must not be put to death for crimes committed by their children, and children must not be put to death for crimes committed by their parents. Don't put anyone to death for someone else's crime.
  17. Make sure that orphans and foreigners are treated fairly. And if you lend money to a widow and want to keep something of hers to guarantee that she will pay you back, don't take any of her clothes.
  18. You were slaves in Egypt until the LORD your God rescued you. That's why I am giving you these laws.
  19. If you forget to bring in a stack of harvested grain, don't go back in the field to get it. Leave it for the poor, including foreigners, orphans, and widows, and the LORD will make you successful in everything you do.
  20. When you harvest your olives, don't try to get them all for yourself, but leave some for the poor.
  21. And when you pick your grapes, go over the vines only once, then let the poor have what is left.
  22. You lived in poverty as slaves in Egypt until the LORD your God rescued you. That's why I am giving you these laws.

    In this chapter Moses addresses divorce, new marriages, kidnapping, collateral for loans, justice for the oppressed, and generosity toward the poor.

    The topic of divorce provides an example of God making an accomodation for the common, though sinful, practices of His people. Divorce was never an agreeable practice to the Lord. Jesus made it clear, as recorded in Matthew 19:8, that this ruling in Deuteronomy 24 was indeed an accomodation made to Israel because of "the hardness of your hearts." Therefore, this ruling on divorce God handed down through Moses was regulating a practice already occuring rather than establishing an ideal. No definition is provided for what might be considered "improper" and therefore sufficient grounds to write a certificate of divorce. In practice, however, it seems the Israelites were considering even frivolous things as "improper" and grounds for divorce. The regulation this ruling brought to the practice was to forbid a man to remarry a woman he divorced after she had been married to another man and also divorced from him. Such practice was "detestable" to the Lord.

    A newly married man was exempted from military duty for one year so he could be with his wife and bring her joy. Kidnapping was evidently common in the ancient Near East for the purpose of slavery and profit. But the Lord considered it a practice worthy of death and akin to murder. Taking a man's freedom was similar to taking his life. Moses gave three prohibitions regarding security for loans. A millstone was not to be used as such since it was a person's livelihood. Nor was a person's garment to be used for this purpose and kept overnight since it also served as a covering at night. Furthermore, the lender was to afford dignity to the lendee by not entering his house to take whatever he wanted as security. He was to stay outside while the lendee went to get whatever was to be provided as security.

    The last section of the chapter has to do with acting justly toward others. The hired hand was to be paid his wages daily so he could provide food for his family. No one was to be punished for another person's sin. Foreign residents, fatherless children, and widows who were commonly take advantage of, were to be treated justly. Finally, landowners, when harvesting, were not to glean their grain fields, olive trees, or vineyards of all produce. They were to take what they could in a first pass over the field, tree, or vineyard, and not return for a second pass to get what was left. This was a provision for the "foreign resident, the fatherless, and the widow."  It allowed them to provide for themselves without having to beg.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 23

    Deuteronomy 23 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. If a man's private parts have been crushed or cut off, he cannot fully belong to the LORD's people.
  2. No one born outside of a legal marriage, or any of their descendants for ten generations, can fully belong to the LORD's people.
  3. No Ammonites or Moabites, or any of their descendants for ten generations, can become part of Israel, the LORD's people.
  4. This is because when you came out of Egypt, they refused to provide you with food and water. And besides, they hired Balaam to put a curse on you.
  5. But the LORD your God loves you, so he refused to listen to Balaam and turned Balaam's curse into a blessing.
  6. Don't even think of signing a peace treaty with Moab or Ammon.
  7. But Edomites are your relatives, and you lived as foreigners in the country of Egypt. Now you must be kind to Edomites and Egyptians
  8. and let their great-grandchildren become part of Israel, the LORD's people.
  9. When you men go off to fight your enemies, make sure your camp is acceptable to the LORD.
  10. For example, if something happens at night that makes a man unclean and unfit for worship, he must go outside the camp and stay there
  11. until late afternoon. Then he must take a bath, and at sunset he can go back into camp.
  12. Set up a place outside the camp to be used as a toilet area.
  13. And make sure that you have a small shovel in your equipment. When you go out to the toilet area, use the shovel to dig a hole. Then, after you relieve yourself, bury the waste in the hole.
  14. You must keep your camp clean of filthy and disgusting things. The LORD is always present in your camp, ready to rescue you and give you victory over your enemies. But if he sees something disgusting in your camp, he may turn around and leave.
  15. When runaway slaves from other countries come to Israel and ask for protection, you must not hand them back to their owners.
  16. Instead, you must let them choose which one of your towns they want to live in. Don't be cruel to runaway slaves.
  17. People of Israel, don't any of you ever be temple prostitutes.
  18. The LORD your God is disgusted with men and women who are prostitutes of any kind, and he will not accept a gift from them, even if it had been promised to him.
  19. When you lend money, food, or anything else to another Israelite, you are not allowed to charge interest.
  20. You can charge a foreigner interest. But if you charge other Israelites interest, the LORD your God will not let you be successful in the land you are about to take.
  21. People of Israel, if you make a sacred promise to give a gift to the LORD, then do it as soon as you can. If the LORD has to come looking for the gift you promised, you will be guilty of breaking that promise.
  22. On the other hand, if you never make a sacred promise, you can't be guilty of breaking it.
  23. You must keep whatever promises you make to the LORD. After all, you are the one who chose to make the promises.
  24. If you go into a vineyard that belongs to someone else, you are allowed to eat as many grapes as you want while you are there. But don't take any with you when you leave.
  25. In the same way, if you are in a grain field that belongs to someone else, you can pick heads of grain and eat the kernels. But don't cut down the stalks of grain and take them with you.

    Instructions to the Israelites given in chapter 23 relate to those not permitted entry to the Lord's assembly, cleanliness within the military camp, and a section of miscellaneous instructions.

    Those excluded from the Lord's assembly or congregation, included eunuchs, illegitimate persons, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, and Egyptians. Except for the nationalites excluded, reasons are not given for these exclusions so we are left to guess. Our understanding is not required for us to be obedient to God's instructions if we trust the Lord to be loving and merciful and we are committed to being obedient to Him. Our desire to understand before we obey is a desire to have control. If we give in to this desire to have control we close ourselves off from the abundant life God wants to give us.

    The second category, cleanliness within the military camp, had both practical and spiritual implications. Relieving themselves outside the camp and using a shovel to cover the excrement was practical in that it kept the camp sanitary. It was spiritual in that it recognized and honored God's holiness by observing the laws of ceremonial cleanness.

    Within the miscellaneous category, the Israelites were instructed to give asylum to escaped slaves from other countries. They were not to become cult prostitutes and not to make vows they didn't keep. Nor were they to charge interest on loans to fellow Israelites. Permission was given to eat freely from a neighbor's vineyard as long as they were in the vineyard, but they could not take grapes out of the vineyard. The same was true of a neighbor's grain field. While granting permission to the hungry to be fed in this way, these instructions also informed landowners to allow this practice.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 22

    Deuteronomy 22 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. If you see a cow or sheep wandering around lost, take the animal back to its owner.
  2. If the owner lives too far away, or if you don't know who the owner is, take the animal home with you and take care of it. The owner will come looking for the animal, and then you can give it back.
  3. That's what you should do if you find anything that belongs to someone else. Do whatever you can to help, whether you find a cow or sheep or donkey or some clothing.
  4. Oxen and donkeys that carry heavy loads can stumble and fall, and be unable to get up by themselves. So as you walk along the road, help anyone who is trying to get an ox or donkey back on its feet.
  5. Women must not pretend to be men, and men must not pretend to be women. The LORD your God is disgusted with people who do that.
  6. As you walk along the road, you might see a bird's nest in a tree or on the ground. If the mother bird is in the nest with either her eggs or her baby birds, you are allowed to take the baby birds or the eggs, but not the mother bird. Let her go free, and the LORD will bless you with a long and successful life.
  7. (SEE 22:6)
  8. If you build a house, make sure to put a low wall around the edge of the flat roof. Then if someone falls off the roof and is killed, it won't be your fault.
  9. If you plant a vineyard, don't plant any other fruit tree or crop in it. If you do plant something else there, you must bring to the place of worship everything you harvest from the vineyard.
  10. Don't hitch an ox and a donkey to your plow at the same time.
  11. When you weave cloth for clothing, you can use thread made of flax or wool, but not both together.
  12. And when you make a coat, sew a tassel on each of the four corners.
  13. Suppose a man starts hating his wife soon after they are married.
  14. He might tell ugly lies about her, and say, "I married this woman, but when we slept together, I found out she wasn't a virgin."
  15. If this happens, the bride's father and mother must go to the town gate to show the town leaders the proof that the woman was a virgin.
  16. Her father will say, "I let my daughter marry this man, but he started hating her
  17. and accusing her of not being a virgin. But he is wrong, because here is proof that she was a virgin!" Then the bride's parents will show them the bed sheet from the woman's wedding night.
  18. The town leaders will beat the man with a whip
  19. because he accused his bride of not being a virgin. He will have to pay her father one hundred pieces of silver and will never be allowed to divorce her.
  20. But if the man was right and there is no proof that his bride was a virgin,
  21. the men of the town will take the woman to the door of her father's house and stone her to death. This woman brought evil into your community by sleeping with someone before she got married, and you must get rid of that evil by killing her.
  22. People of Israel, if a man is caught having sex with someone else's wife, you must put them both to death. That way, you will get rid of the evil they have done in Israel.
  23. If a man is caught in town having sex with an engaged woman who isn't screaming for help, they both must be put to death. The man is guilty of having sex with a married woman. And the woman is guilty because she didn't call for help, even though she was inside a town and people were nearby. Take them both to the town gate and stone them to death. You must get rid of the evil they brought into your community.
  24. (SEE 22:23)
  25. If an engaged woman is raped out in the country, only the man will be put to death.
  26. Do not punish the woman at all; she has done nothing wrong, and certainly nothing deserving death. This crime is like murder,
  27. because the woman was alone out in the country when the man attacked her. She screamed, but there was no one to help her.
  28. Suppose a woman isn't engaged to be married, and a man talks her into sleeping with him. If they are caught,
  29. they will be forced to get married. He must give her father fifty pieces of silver as a bride-price and can never divorce her.
  30. A man must not marry a woman who was married to his father. This would be a disgrace to his father.

    Chapter 22 -  The instructions of this chapter fall into three categories: love toward the neighbor, sexual promiscuity, and miscellaneous.

    Love toward the neighbor called upon the Israelites to take action when they saw an ox, sheep, donkey, garment, or anything belonging to another that was lost or straying. The instruction was most concerned with inaction. Doing nothing when an animal belonging to a neighbor was found straying. Though keeping a stray animal for oneself might be a temptation, the greater temptation was to not get involved, thus contributing to the neighbor's loss of his animal. This is not love toward the neighbor nor is it doing what one would wish to have done on their own behalf.

    Sexual promiscuity is detestable to God and destructive to a society. As with other destructive actions, capital punishment was prescribed both as a deterrent and to rid society of the "rotten apple" which would spoil the rest of society. Of particular concern in this passage was premarital and extramarital sex and rape.  Promiscuous sex with an engaged woman was treated the same as with one who was married. Stoning was prescribed for both situations. In the case of an unengaged virgin, the man was to marry the woman and had no right of divorce. In the case of rape, two scenarios were considered. If the attack took place in a town where the woman could call out for help and didn't, it was presumed to be consensual. If the woman was married or engaged it called for stoning of both parties. If the attack took place in the open country where no one could hear if the woman called for help, she was presumed to be innocent and the case was considered to be rape. In this case only the man was stoned if the woman was married or engaged. If she was unengaged and unmarried, the man had to pay the bride price to the woman's father and marry her with no recourse for divorce.

    Instructions covered under the miscellaneous category addressed such things as forbidding individuals to cross-dress such as a woman wearing men's clothing and vice versa. Also a person was not to take both a bird and it's eggs or chicks to be eaten. Only the eggs or chicks could be taken and the mother left. Construction of a new house should include a railing for the roof so no one would fall off. Vineyards should not be planted with two types of seed, or an ox and donkey yoked together for plowing, or wool and linen woven together to make clothing. The reason behind these prohibitions is not given. It may simply be good advice. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 21

    Deuteronomy 21 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Suppose the body of a murder victim is found in a field in the land the LORD your God is giving you, and no one knows who the murderer is.
  2. The judges and other leaders from the towns around there must find out what town is the closest to where the body was found.
  3. The leaders from that town will go to their cattle herds and choose a young cow that has never been put to work.
  4. They and some of the priests will take this cow to a nearby valley where there is a stream, but no crops. Once they reach the valley, the leaders will break the cow's neck. The priests must be there, because the LORD your God has chosen them to be his special servants at the place of worship. The LORD has chosen them to bless the people in his name and to be judges in all legal cases, whether property or injury is involved.
  5. (SEE 21:4)
  6. The town leaders will wash their hands over the body of the dead cow
  7. and say, "We had no part in this murder, and we don't know who did it.
  8. But since an innocent person was murdered, we beg you, our LORD, to accept this sacrifice and forgive Israel. We are your people, and you rescued us. Please don't hold this crime against us." If you obey the LORD and do these things, he will forgive Israel.
  9. (SEE 21:8)
  10. From time to time, you men will serve as soldiers and go off to war. The LORD your God will help you defeat your enemies, and you will take many prisoners.
  11. One of these prisoners may be a beautiful woman, and you may want to marry her. But first you must bring her into your home, and have her shave her head, cut her nails, get rid of her foreign clothes, and start wearing Israelite clothes. She will mourn a month for her father and mother, then you can marry her.
  12. (SEE 21:11)
  13. (SEE 21:11)
  14. Later on, if you are not happy with the woman, you can divorce her, and she can go free. But you have slept with her as your wife, so you cannot sell her as a slave or make her into your own slave.
  15. Suppose a man has two wives and loves one more than the other. The first son of either wife is the man's first-born son, even if the boy's mother is the wife the man doesn't love. Later, when the man is near death and is dividing up his property, he must give a double share to his first-born son, simply because he was the first to be born.
  16. (SEE 21:15)
  17. (SEE 21:15)
  18. A father and a mother may have a stubborn and rebellious son who refuses to obey them even after he has been punished.
  19. If a son is like that, his parents must drag him to the town gate, where the leaders of the town hold their meetings.
  20. The parents will tell the leaders, "This son of ours is stubborn and never obeys. He spends all his time drinking and partying."
  21. The men of the town will stone that son to death, because they must get rid of the evil he brought into the community. Everyone in Israel will be afraid when they hear how he was punished.
  22. If a criminal is put to death, and you hang the dead body on a tree,
  23. you must not let it hang there overnight. Bury it the same day, because the dead body of a criminal will bring God's curse on the land. The LORD your God is giving this land to you, so don't make it unclean by leaving the bodies of executed criminals on display.

    God's instructions to Israel through Moses seek to cover all areas of life. If a life with God is to give us a better life than what we have without Him, we must allow his teaching to impact every area of our lives. Israel's lifestyle had to be different than what was true for other nations if they were to enjoy a life of blessing. These instructions show the way.

    Instructions had already been given for dealing with a murderer, but in the case of an unsolved murder, the situation could not simply be ignored.  The guilt of this sin remained upon the land and the people. A procedure of animal sacrifice was prescribed to atone for the sin. It involved the elders of the town nearest the crime breaking the neck of a heifer and proclaiming their innocence of the shedding of blood or of witnessing the crime. To have witnessed it but fail to punish the murderer would bring guilt on their own heads. God teaches through such procedures the value He places on human life which we should also place on it.

    It is the dignity of human life that also lies at the heart of the next topic. However, since God had instructed Israel to annihilate the Canaanites, this does not apply to those people. Women were treated attrociously by victors in battle but these instructions do not permit such action by Israel. If an Israelite man saw a woman captive to whom he was attracted, he was not to violate her or make her his slave. He was to marry her. In doing so, he was to allow her time (one month) to mourn the loss of her family before consumating the marriage. She was therefore to be treated with human dignity.

    Polygamy has never been God's ideal. Though He allowed it, there were always issues that accompanied it. Verses 15-17 address one of those issues. A man with more than one wife is bound to love one more than the other. This not only casused problems in the marriage but with the children of the marriage. This passage instructs those in such situations to honor the laws regarding the inheritance of the firstborn.  Such men will be inclined to favor the children of the wife he loves most. But if a son born to the unloved wife should be the firstborn son, he was not to be denied the inheritance of the firstborn.

    The next instructions concern a rebellious son. They acknowledge that despite good parenting there will be children who are rebellious and will go their own way. Allowing a rebellious son to go his own way and do what he wanted was detrimental to society and therefore could not be allowed. There was to be a cooperation of parents and societal leaders to deal with the rebellious son. The parents were to bring the son to the city elders and they were to examine the situation and stone to death the rebellious son. Not only was such action a deterrent to rebelliousness on the part of children, it was a deterrent to irresponsible parenting. Not only is permissive parenting irresponsible to the children involved, it is irresponsible to society.

    The final instruction concerned the execution of a criminal. Though hanging was not the means of execution used by Israel, they would sometimes hang the body on a tree as a warning against anyone committing the crime. In doing this, however, they were not to leave the body hanging overnight. Those committing a crime worthy of death were under God's curse. Leaving their body hanging overnight was considered a defilement the land.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 20

    Deuteronomy 20 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. If you have to go to war, you may find yourselves facing an enemy army that is bigger than yours and that has horses and chariots. But don't be afraid! The LORD your God rescued you from Egypt, and he will help you fight.
  2. Before you march into battle, a priest will go to the front of the army
  3. and say, "Soldiers of Israel, listen to me! Today when you go into battle, don't be afraid of the enemy, and when you see them, don't panic.
  4. The LORD your God will fight alongside you and help you win the battle."
  5. Then the tribal officials will say to the troops: If any of you have built a new house, but haven't yet moved in, you may go home. It isn't right for you to die in battle and for somebody else to live in your new house.
  6. If any of you have planted a vineyard but haven't had your first grape harvest, you may go home. It isn't right for you to die in battle and for somebody else to enjoy your grapes.
  7. If any of you are engaged to be married, you may go back home and get married. It isn't right for you to die in battle and for somebody else to marry the woman you are engaged to.
  8. Finally, if any of you are afraid, you may go home. We don't want you to discourage the other soldiers.
  9. When the officials are finished giving these orders, they will appoint officers to be in command of the army.
  10. Before you attack a town that is far from your land, offer peace to the people who live there. If they surrender and open their town gates, they will become your slaves. But if they reject your offer of peace and try to fight, surround their town and attack. Then, after the LORD helps you capture it, kill all the men. Take the women and children as slaves and keep the livestock and everything else of value.
  11. (SEE 20:10)
  12. (SEE 20:10)
  13. (SEE 20:10)
  14. (SEE 20:10)
  15. (SEE 20:10)
  16. Whenever you capture towns in the land the LORD your God is giving you, be sure to kill all the people and animals.
  17. He has commanded you to completely wipe out the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
  18. If you allow them to live, they will persuade you to worship their disgusting gods, and you will be unfaithful to the LORD.
  19. When you are attacking a town, don't chop down its fruit trees, not even if you have had the town surrounded for a long time. Fruit trees aren't your enemies, and they produce food that you can eat, so don't cut them down.
  20. You may need wood to make ladders and towers to help you get over the walls and capture the town. But use only trees that you know are not fruit trees.

    Moses' instructions to Israel given in chapter 20 relate to warfare into which they were about to enter. Though no distinction is made between war they entered without consulting God and that they entered at God's leading, this assumes to be war they entered at God's leading. In such cases they should enter war with the confidence that God was with them and they had no need to be afraid. Even if the opposing army was larger than theirs and had horses and chariots, they should not fear them. The Lord who fought for them was mightier than any army that they would encounter.

    To help keep their focus on God as their strength, the priest would address the army before battle quoting from scripture these words: "Listen, Israel: Today you are about to engage in battle with your enemies. Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, alarmed, or terrified because of them. For the LORD your God is the One who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory." (20:3-4) After the priest spoke, the officers would address the army and state the exeptions for which soldiers were released from battle and could return home. These included those who had built a new house, had planted a new vineyard, were newly married, and were afraid. Though these may seem to be rather insignificant reasons for military exemption we have to remember that victory was not dependent on the strength of Israel's army but on God. Going to war need not take precedence over everything. Once the army was prepared spiritually for battle and the men sent home who were exempt from battle, the army commanders were appointed.

    Next, Moses gave instructions regarding how to engage various cities.  There were two main categories of cities: those within the boundaries of Canaan and those outside it but within the territory God had promised Abraham. Those cities within Canaan were to be annihilated. Simply attack and destroy them. Their ways were too detestable to allow their survival and the possible influence of their ways upon the Israelites that could result. As for the cities outside Canaan, they were to approach them with an offer of peace. It was an offer with conditions, though. The conditions were that the people would become their vassals providing labor for them and serving them. These people did not offer the same risk of influencing Israel away from her God. If a city did not accept the offer of peace, then Israel was to lay siege to it killing all the males and taking the women, children, animals, and all else as plunder.

    As long as Israel trusted God and followed His instructions for their warfare, she didn't have to wonder if she would be victorious in war. The outcome in all instances was a foregone conclusion. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 19

    Deuteronomy 19 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Soon you will go into the land and attack the nations. The LORD your God will destroy them and give you their lands, towns, and homes. Then after you are settled,
  2. you must choose three of your towns to be Safe Towns. Divide the land into three regions with one Safe Town near the middle of each, so that a Safe Town can be easily reached from anywhere in your land. Then, if one of you accidentally kills someone, you can run to a Safe Town and find protection from being put to death. But you must not have been angry with the person you killed.
  3. (SEE 19:2)
  4. (SEE 19:2)
  5. For example, suppose you and a friend go into the forest to cut wood. You are chopping down a tree with an ax, when the ax head slips off the handle, hits your friend, and kills him. You can run to one of the Safe Towns and save your life.
  6. You don't deserve to die, since you did not mean to harm your friend. But he did get killed, and his relatives might be very angry. They might even choose one of the men from their family to track you down and kill you. If it is too far to one of the Safe Towns, the victim's relative might be able to catch you and kill you.
  7. That's why I said there must be three Safe Towns.
  8. Israel, the LORD your God has promised that if you obey his laws and teachings I'm giving you, and if you always love him, then he will give you the land he promised your ancestors. When that happens, you must name three more Safe Towns in the new territory.
  9. (SEE 19:8)
  10. You will need them, so innocent people won't be killed on your land while they are trying to reach a Safe Town that is too far away. You will be guilty of murder, if innocent people lose their lives because you didn't name enough Safe Towns in the land the LORD your God will give you.
  11. But what if you really do commit murder? Suppose one of you hates a neighbor. So you wait in a deserted place, kill the neighbor, and run to a Safe Town.
  12. If that happens, the leaders of your town must send messengers to bring you back from the Safe Town. They will hand you over to one of the victim's relatives, who will put you to death.
  13. Israel, for the good of the whole country, you must kill anyone who murders an innocent person. Never show mercy to a murderer!
  14. In the land the LORD is giving you, there are already stones set up to mark the property lines between fields. So don't move those stones.
  15. Before you are convicted of a crime, at least two witnesses must be able to testify that you did it.
  16. If you accuse someone of a crime, but seem to be lying,
  17. then both you and the accused must be taken to the court at the place where the LORD is worshiped. There the priests and judges will find out if you are lying or telling the truth. If you are lying and the accused is innocent,
  18. (SEE 19:17)
  19. then you will be punished without mercy. You will receive the same punishment the accused would have received if found guilty, whether it means losing an eye, a tooth, a hand, a foot, or even your life. Israel, the crime of telling lies in court must be punished. And when people hear what happens to witnesses that lie, everyone else who testifies in court will tell the truth.
  20. (SEE 19:19)
  21. (SEE 19:19)

    Moses continued to prepare the Israelites for their entry into Canaan by reminding them of the laws they were to observe in the new land. These are laws given them at Sinai when God established His covenant with them. In many instances Moses added points of clarification not found in the Numbers account of these laws.

    The first topic of law in this chapter is the cities of refuge. Moses had already spoken to this since their arrival in the Plains of Moab east of the Jordan where they were presently camped. On this earlier occasion he had them establish three cities of refuge east of the Jordan or in the transjordan area to which it is sometimes referred. On this occasion he is including the territory west of the Jordan. Had Israel obeyed the Lord fully and received the whole territory promised to Abraham, they would have needed t establish three more cities of refuge. But that never occurred. These cities were established for the protection of persons who accidentally killed someone, keeping the family protector of the one killed from avenging the death and killing the one who took the life unintentionally. So, though the killing was accidental, the killer was given a sentence of imprisonment in the city of refuge for what could be the remainder of his life. He could not leave the city without risk of being killed by the family protector. And the protector could legally do so. However, upon the death of the High Priest, the unintentional killer could go free. Therefore, his sentence could be for the remainder of his life or for only a short time depending on the age and health of the High Priest when he enters.

    The other two topics of law addressed in this chapter concern stealing of property and bearing false witness. Regarding the stealing of property, this specifically had to do with the illegal moving of landmarks. Whatever land boundaries were established when the land was first distributed were not to be disturbed. To move a neighbor's boundary marker, or landmark, was equivalent to stealing a portion of his property. This was obviously prohibited. As for the matter of bearing false witness, a bit more explanation is given. It was a multifaceted crime that involved more than lying. It was motivated by malicious intent to harm another person so they were punished for something they didn't do. It also, intentionally or otherwise, made a mockery of the justice system.

    As a safeguard against false witness, no one could be charged with a crime on the witness of only one person. Two or three witnesses were required. However, even if there were only one witness, that person was required to register the charge with the authorities. Having done so, an investigation would be made of the charge. It seems, though, that this investigation was aimed at determining the truthfulness of the witness since the one accused could not be charged of a crime on the witness of only one person. If the investigation found that the witness brought false testimony, they were charged with the punishment that went with the crime - punishment intended for the one against whom they brought false witness.

    A permissive society might consider all of this hateful and vindictive. Certainly not the instructions of a loving God. But a permissive society seems more intent on protecting the criminal than his victim. Subscribing to a philosophy that says, "what's done is done. Don't make it worse by harming the perpetrator."  But our Creator, the One who knows human nature better than any human says, "You must not show pity." Furthermore, He says, "You must purge the evil from you. Then everyone else will hear and be afraid, and they will never again do anything evil like this among you." (19:19-21) Regardless of any human philosophy or theory, God knows that punishment for crime is a deterrent. Failure to punish crime allows it to infect the whole society. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Reflections on Deuteronomy 18

    Deuteronomy 18 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The people of the Levi tribe, including the priests, will not receive any land. Instead, they will receive part of the sacrifices that are offered to the LORD,
  2. because he has promised to provide for them in this way.
  3. When you sacrifice a bull or sheep, the priests will be given the shoulder, the jaws, and the stomach.
  4. In addition, they will receive the first part of your grain harvest and part of your first batches of wine and olive oil. You must also give them the first wool that is cut from your sheep each year.
  5. Give these gifts to the priests, because the LORD has chosen them and their descendants out of all the tribes of Israel to be his special servants at the place of worship.
  6. Any Levite can leave his hometown, and go to the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped,
  7. and then be a special servant of the LORD there, just like all the other Levites.
  8. Some Levites may have money from selling family possessions, and others may not. But all Levites serving at the place of worship will receive the same amount of food from the sacrifices and gifts brought by the people.
  9. Soon you will go into the land that the LORD your God is giving you. The nations that live there do things that are disgusting to the LORD, and you must not follow their example.
  10. Don't sacrifice your son or daughter. And don't try to use any kind of magic or witchcraft to tell fortunes or to cast spells or to talk with spirits of the dead.
  11. (SEE 18:10)
  12. The LORD is disgusted with anyone who does these things, and that's why he will help you destroy the nations that are in the land.
  13. Never be guilty of doing any of these disgusting things!
  14. You will go in and take the land from nations that practice magic and witchcraft. But the LORD your God won't allow you to do those things.
  15. Instead, he will choose one of your own people to be a prophet just like me, and you must do what that prophet says.
  16. You were asking for a prophet the day you were gathered at Mount Sinai and said to the LORD, "Please don't let us hear your voice or see this terrible fire again--if we do, we will die!"
  17. Then the LORD told me: Moses, they have said the right thing.
  18. So when I want to speak to them, I will choose one of them to be a prophet like you. I will give my message to that prophet, who will tell the people exactly what I have said.
  19. Since the message comes from me, anyone who doesn't obey the message will have to answer to me.
  20. But if I haven't spoken, and a prophet claims to have a message from me, you must kill that prophet, and you must also kill any prophet who claims to have a message from another god.
  21. You may be asking yourselves, "How can we tell if a prophet's message really comes from the LORD?"
  22. You will know, because if the LORD says something will happen, it will happen. And if it doesn't, you will know that the prophet was falsely claiming to speak for the LORD. Don't be afraid of any prophet whose message doesn't come from the LORD.

    In this chapter Moses spoke to three concerns: provision for the Levitical priests, avoidance of the detestable customs of the Canaanites, and listening to God's prophet.

    Concerning provision for the Levites, this was another reminder that the Levites would not receive an inheritance of land as would all the other tribes of Israel. They were dependent on the offerings of the people for their sustenance. The Israelites were not to forget this.

    Neither was this the first time Moses had emphasized to the people the importance of avoiding the detestable customs of the Canaanites. But it could not be said too much. Their future was dependent on it. These customs included child sacrifices, divination, omens, sorcery, casting spells, consulting mediums, etc.  All were practices aimed at manipulating their so-called gods for their own purposes. There was no understanding among these people of a loving God who was sovereign and related personally with His people for their good. Nor of a people who responded to their God in love and obedience. Instead, the the Canaanite concept of their gods was of capricious beings who held certain powers that they could unlock for their benefit through certain manipulations. But rather than unlock the powers of their gods, they locked themselves in Satan's power. Israel was to stay clear of any such practices.

    To this point, Moses had been the voice of God to the Israelites. He had served as both prophet and priest in the beginning and later as just prophet. This role as prophet had been at the request of the people at Sinai. They feared direct contact with God saying, "Let us not continue to hear the voice of the LORD our God or see this great fire any longer, so that we will not die!" (18:16) God responded by saying, "They have spoken well. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers." (18:17, 18) This spoke not only of raising up successors to Moses but also of the future Messiah who would be the ultimate spokesperson for God and Mediator for the people.

    If men were speaking on behalf of God, how were they to know if they were truly God's appointed prophets? Moses gave them two criteria of a true prophet: first, his message would not contradict God's word given them in His covenant nor would he try to pull them away from God, and second, the message they spoke would come true. They were to listen to the proclaimed prophets, they were to discern whether they spoke truth, and they were to obey as if the Lord had spoken to them Himself, for He had. The Lord would "hold accountable whoever does not listen to My words that he speaks in My name." (18:19)