Have you noticed some common themes as you are reading? There are decrees to be followed…all the time. When God’s people are obedient God will richly bless them. But being disobedient means blessings will be forfeited. Some food you may eat and other food, not so much. And when you kill an animal to eat you must always drain the blood on the ground because you cannot eat the life. And the life is in the blood. Being cut off from the people is not something that you want because it means you will be stoned to death. In 13:5 we see for the first time a sentence that will be repeated often. “You must purge the evil from among you.” God will always be their God. He will always be holy. And He cannot dwell where there is uncleanness or sin. Worshiping foreign gods will lead God’s people away from Him. The Levites do not have a land inheritance so the people must always make sure to provide for them. God will choose the place for His name to dwell and that is the place the Israelites are to bring their tithes and offerings. We will see most of these reminders again as we move through the Book of Deuteronomy.
As we look at the way Moses has structured his farewell address there is a pattern here. The first five chapters deal with the past and helping the new generation know the Lord. He is teaching them to appreciate who God is and what God has already done for His chosen people. Chapters 6-11 instructs the people in how they are to respond to the goodness of God, and why they should be obedient to Him. What Moses is doing is trying to help the people develop hearts for the Lord, hearts that will obey Him simply because they love Him. Again, we see Moses repeat the covenant promises to the people but now he also reminds them of the consequences if they disobey. Moses’ goal is really no different than that pastors of churches today. We seek to help people grow in their faith and draw closer to their Lord. We interpret His Word, teach and lead. Moses was fearful for the people and wanted them to grow in faith so that they could enter the promised land and prosper.
Beginning with today’s reading Moses takes the covenant and the Law and begins to apply it to life in the new land. They had the history, and the theory. Now it was time for practical application. They had heard the Word of the Lord. Now it was time to act. The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt but now they would become residents of this new land. They would be land holders though Moses would remind the people that God really owned everything, and they were His stewards…just like us! Moses set forth the requirements and responsibilities they had to fulfill to be successful and prosperous in this land. The first hurdle was to be obedient and listen to the Lord. They were to enter the land, conquer the current inhabitants, and purge the land of all evidence of idol worship. The instructions were very specific. Totally destroy the places on the high mountains and hills and under every tree where the pagans had worshiped. Break down all their altars. Smash their sacred stones. Burn their Asherah poles. Asherah was the female counterpart of the Canaanite god Baal. Cut down any idols and wipe their names from the places. In other words, leave no evidence of any worship other than the worship of the Lord.
Of everything Moses said to the people, this was the biggest deal. God is Holy. He is just. He is Sovereign. And He is jealous. He does not want to share His people…then or now…with any other god or idol. So, what would you have to get rid of in your life that might be considered an idol or god? Not only were the people to rid the land of idols and foreign gods, but they were not to worship the Lord in the same way the pagans did. God had given them specific instructions for worshiping Him. There was no room to make changes to that. The Canaanites had many places to worship a variety of gods and idols. God was specific about where Israel would worship. It would be the place God Himself chose, and no other. Moses speaks not only about giving of sacrifices and burnt offerings. He also speaks of giving a tithe, ten percent of the grain, oil, and wine. As far back as Abraham, God’s people were tithing. Most people today bring an offering of money, not produce. Paul laid out the plan for Christian giving in 2 Corinthians 8-9. Tithing is not mentioned but if the folks under the old covenant gave ten percent, how much more do we have to be thankful for? And, while many see that ten percent as the ceiling for giving, others see it as the base and add to it as their blessings dictate.
Moses also warns that many will try to tempt the Israelites away from God to worship idols and pagan gods. And some of the tempters may be friends, fellow tabernacle goers and even close family. But God’s people are to resist and even more so, they are to participate in the punishment of those trying to lead others astray. The punishment is severe. They are to be stoned to death and the one who pointed them out is to cast the first stone. This was to prevent people from making false accusations because they didn’t like someone. Casting the first stone would make them think about their accusation. Everyone was involved in the stoning. It was like casting a vote against idol worship. Because, either one person’s sin affects the whole nation, or the whole nation must deal with that one person’s sin.
Chapter 14 begins with a reminder. The Israelites are children of the Lord, creator of the heavens and the earth. Often the Israelites are reminded that it was the Lord who brought them out of Egypt. The same is true for us as well. We can never take for granted that we are the beloved sons and daughters of the Lord of lords and the King of kings. This is a privilege we do not deserve and could ever earn. Instead, we enjoy this privilege because of God’s love, mercy, and grace. Just like the Israelites.
The last thing I want to look at is the sabbath year and the Year of Jubilee. Both of these years were part of God’s plan to balance the economic scales in the nation so that the rich could not exploit the poor or, the poor take advantage of the rich. But God knew there would always be poor in the land because the Israelites would be disobedient. For the most part, the Israelites did not observe either the seventh year sabbath or the Year of Jubilee. Because they failed at this, they paid a great price. Their 70 years of Babylonian captivity gave the land the rest it had not received during all the years of disobedience. The seventh year sabbath was a test of faith, and a test of love. Lending money to a fellow Israelite was to be a ministry, not a business. If the wealthier Israelite closed his heart and his hand to the needy man, he would hurt his brother and grieve the Lord who had given him all the wealth he had. So, he was to open both his hand and heart to help his brother and the Lord would see to it that he was compensated for his generosity.
Again, much to remember for the Israelites. But if you were to put things into a couple of sentences it would be this: love The Lord and love His people.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.