March 18, 2015
Scripture and Commentary, March 15-20
Dt. 4:25- 49 Lk 4
Dt. 5:1-21, 2 Thessalonians 1
The second point of Deuteronomy 4 is found in verses 23-49. It is stated in two ways. First, in verse 23 Moses says, “Take heed unto yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which He made with you.” Second, in verse 40, he writes, “Thou shalt keep therefore His statutes.” The application of this sermon to contemporary Christians is easy to see. God has done wonderful things for us in Christ. We have a fuller understanding of God’s grace and plan of salvation. The Tabernacle, priests, and sacrifices were but shadows of the ministry of Christ. Since we have more light, our obedience should be more readily and fully given.
Here begins the second sermon. Still in the plains of Moab, Moses calls the people together again. The Covenant is with you, he tells them. The Covenant is always present in tense. Did our mothers and fathers have a part in it? Yes. God grant that our children, and their children, and their, and theirs and theirs will also. And to each generation the Covenant is present tense. For, to each generation the privileges and obligations are for them. Whether their ancestors were faithful or not, whether their children will be or not, they should and must be.
The Ten Commandments are stated again as the foundation of Israel’s obligation to God. These commandments are the heart of God’s Law. In a very real sense, everything else, all the religious and civil laws found in the Pentateuch are explanations and applications of these basic Laws. This is why our Lord Himself said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; thou shalt love by neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” This is the heart of what God wants for you and from you. We could say the Commandments reveal the heart of God.
Dt. 5:22-33, Lk. 5
Dt. 6, 1 Thes. 2
If the commandments reveal God's heart, the rest of chapter 5 reveals what He would like to see in your heart. “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever” (vs. 29). God wants you to have a heart devoted to Him. He wants you to want to keep His commandments. The desire of God's heart is also our well-being. He wants us to keep His commandments that it might be well with us and with our children forever.
The famous words of Dt. 6:5 were repeated by Christ as the greatest of all Commandments. The rest of Dt. 6 is an explanation of what it means to love God: keep His commandments. The chapter makes it clear that God wants much more than mere mechanical, rote obedience. He wants willing, happy obedience. Perhaps you have worked with surly people who do only what they have to do, and cooperate only as much as they have to, but whose demeanor is rude and uncooperative. This is not what God wants from you. He wants willing and happy obedience out of love for Him.
The result of happy obedience is more happiness, more contentment in God, more fulfillment in life. Many people think the Commandments of God are shackles and chains to keep us from enjoying life. In reality they are the way to enjoy life. They are for our good (vs. 24), and the Lord preserves those who keep them.
Dt. 7, Lk. 6:1-19
Dt. 8, 2 Thes. 3
“Utterly destroy them.” “Make no covenant.” Why would God command such a thing? The answer is given in verse 4: the Canaanites “will turn away thy sons from following me.” We have already seen the results of becoming too friendly with pagan tribes (Num 25 and 31). God wants no repeat that tragedy.
There is a second reason, too. We read in Genesis 15:13 that Abrams’ descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and whose people will afflict them for four hundred years. The land is Egypt, and the affliction is slavery. Why didn’t God just give the land to Abraham then? Why did He make the Hebrew people endure slavery and affliction? Because He intended to use those four hundred years to mold and shape Israel. Thus, bitter as it was, their affliction worked for good to the Hebrew people (see Rom. 8:28). Also, when God spoke these words to Abram the iniquity of the Ammorites was not yet full (Gen. 15:16). At that time, the Ammorites dominated Canaan, and most of the Canaanite tribes were simply subdivisions of the Ammorites, just as the twelve tribes of Israel were sub groups of the Hebrew people. The Ammorites were a fierce and aggressive people who loved war. Like many others, the Ammorites were polytheistic. Their chief gods and goddesses were called Baals and Ashteroth, and their rites and rituals were intended to convince the gods to enable the crops and herds to reproduce in order that they may have food. Baalism, then, was a fertility religion, and its rites and rituals were essentially drunken orgies. Its temples employed ritual prostitutes, in the belief that sexual relations with them would induce the gods to give fertility to land, animals, and people. Many young Canaanite girls were sold to the temple for that purpose. The gods required other offerings also, and sacrifices of crops and animals were given at various festivals and rituals. One of the most tragic rituals was the offering of infants and children. The children were bound and placed inside a bronze bull. A fire was built under the idol, and the children were slowly roasted alive. For these reasons God wanted the Ammorite religion removed from the face of the earth.
The heart of chapter 8 is the exhortation to remember God when the Hebrews dwell in peace and prosperity in Canaan. They face the danger of making their new prosperity the focus of life. They face the danger of forgetting God. There is a warning in verse 5 that as a man chasteneth his son, “so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee.”
Dt. 9, Lk. 6:20-49
Dt. 10, 1 Tim. 1
Verse 9 reminds Israel that they receive God’s benefits because of His grace, not their righteousness. They are, in fact, not righteous. They are a stifnecked people (vs. 6), like a horse that refuses to turn or stop, and hardens his neck against the rider. They have provoked the Lord “from the day that thou didst depart out of the land of Egypt, until ye came into this place, ye have been rebellious against the Lord.” There is an important point being made here. Israel deserves the same fate as the Ammorites. Israel deserves the same fate as the people they are going to overcome and drive out of the land. All people deserve that fate. The wonder is not that God punishes sinners, but that He saves sinners. The wonder is not that God has wrath; it is that God has mercy.
Moses again recalls the gracious acts of God in giving the Commandments. They are not shackles, they are life. They are not given to harm you; they are given for your good. We see another, wonderful summation of the desire and intent of God in verses 12 and 13. “What doth the Lord thy God require of thee?” He requires only good things. Fear Him in respectful knowledge of His great majesty and power, which He can use against you as well as for you. Walk in His ways by ordering your life according to the letter and spirit of His commandments. Love Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. Do this, and everything else will follow.
Dt. 11, Lk. 7:1-35
Dt. 12, 1 Tim. 3 & 4
Moses now recounts God’s punishment of Egypt and of the rebellious Hebrews in the desert. He reminds them again that “Your eyes have seen all the great acts which He did.” Many who were children in Egypt are now in adulthood. They lived through the deliverance from Egypt and the events of the desert. Let the fact that they have seen these things with their own eyes move them to fervent and grateful obedience to God.
Yet God gives another reason for obedience. Yes, He has done wondrous things for them in the past, but even more lie ahead of them. He will drive the Canaanites out of the land before them (23). “Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread shall be yours” (24).
Some of the most significant words in the Bible are found in verses 26 through 28. There is a promise of blessing, and a warning of curse. The blessings are for those who love the Lord, walk in all his ways, and cleave unto him” (22). The curse is for those who obey not, turn aside out of the way, and go after other gods (28).
The chapter ends optimistically: “For ye shall pass over Jordan to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God giveth you, and ye shall possess it, and dwell therein. And ye shall observe to do all the statutes and it judgments which are set before you this day.”
It is easy to imagine people like Cain and Esau attempting to justify themselves by inventing gods of their own liking. But God demands that every remnant of Baalism be destroyed in Israel. The altars, where the children were sacrificed, the pillars of their temples, where they fornicated, even the trees under which they conducted their orgies and sacrifices, are to be completely destroyed. Why? To remove their temptation from Israel.
Especially are they not to be used as places to worship God. God will choose a place for His Name to reside (5). God knows all things, and He knows where that place will be. In His time He will reveal it to His people, but we already know it as Jerusalem. There will also be local places within each tribe’s land where they can bring their offerings and worship God (12). He directs where He will be worshiped, just as He directs how He will be worshiped. He leaves none of this up to human imagination. He counts the worship practices of Baalism, and all human innovation, as strange fire (see Lev. 10:1-3). He also directs how the Levites, who conduct the worship are cared for (18-19).
Dt. 13, Lk. 7:36-50
Dt. 14, 1 Tim. 4
People will arise, who will call themselves prophets of God, but will preach false doctrines to Israel. There will always be people who will try to entice people away from God’s clear teaching with fanciful gimmicks and smooth words. And there will always be sincere, but deceived people who think they know more about God than the Biblical people, including Christ, knew. Old Testament Israel paid dearly for listening to false prophets. New Testament Israel received the Word of God at great cost, and orthodox Christianity has been preserved at the cost of countless faithful lives. Let us not surrender this precious legacy.
The cuttings and baldness between the eyes were practiced by the pagans as part of their religious rites and as body ornamentation. Both are forbidden. The people of God are to glorify God in all things, including our bodies. Just as we do not defile ourselves by giving our bodies to people who are not our spouses, so also we do not give our bodies to those who are not our God. This principle even applies to what we eat. The laws of clean and unclean food are restated, along with the command to care for the Levites. We do not listen to false prophets. We do not dress like those who follow false prophets. We do not abuse our bodies like those who follow false prophets. We do not eat like those who follow false prophets. We do not support false prophets with our money.
We do honour God by devoting ourselves to hearing and keeping His word. We do honour God by dressing and caring for our bodies in ways that identify us as His people. We do honour God by supporting His Church and ministers.