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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Update at December 9 2014

Hello Readers,
Next week, 17 December, I will be having a procedure done on my shoulder. Because of this, I will not be able to use my left arm/hand to type and thus I won't be adding any new Bible studies to this site for about 4 weeks.


Take the time to go through some of the older studies and devotions. There may be some you missed or have forgotten.


May the LORD bless you this holiday season as you take the time to remember why we celebrate Christmas - the birth of the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.


Gail

Friday, November 28, 2014

Following the Leader (part 2) Deuteronomy 18


Deuteronomy 18

INTRODUCTION

            God created the nation of Israel from the smallest of people groups and took them from out of one of the largest people groups in the world around 1440BC. He established this nation and set up its codes of moral, spiritual, and civil law. God taught through Moses about the leaders the people would need to appoint and follow, too. Last week, we read about the judges, officers, and kings. This week our reading tells us about priests and prophets. In our present day and age, a distinct difference between civil and religious judges and kings exists. In the time of Israel’s foundation, judges and kings presided over the people using God’s laws to guide the moral, civil, and spiritual aspects of society. Today, we rarely find out about a country that does not separate church and state issues. From the current separation of church and state, judges and kings only rule on issues of civil law. In this study, the position of prophet will be considered again, as in Deuteronomy 13, but it will be juxtaposed with the secular form of prophets at the time – witches, sorcerers, et.al. Let us now look at Deuteronomy 18.

LEADERS

Priests

            Eight verses in Deuteronomy 18 speak of priests, but we know more about them from 245 other references in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible). Verse 1 begins, “The Levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel.” The word for priest is kohen. It means priest, principal officer, or chief ruler. The word kohen came to mean, over time, the line of priests descended from Aaron, the grandson of Levi. Yet, when  Moses taught the Israelites before crossing the Jordan River, kohen meant every Levitical priest. Moses denoted it with the dependant clause in verse one. No distinction is obvious between kohanim and levi’im (the other tribes of Levi not from Aaron’s line) during the early days of the nation of Israel. The people of Israel recognized, in time, Aaron’s line as the high priests in the house of God.

            God did not give the Levitical priests an inheritance of land as He did the other eleven tribes of Israel. He said, in the latter half of verse one, “They shall eat the LORD’s offering by fire and His portion.” The Levitical priests received the burnt offering the Israelites offered at the sanctuaries and later at the temple. The “portion” of which Moses spoke was their inheritance or share of the bounty for the year that the Israelites took to the temple or sanctuaries. Deuteronomy 10:9 says, “Levi does not have a portion or inheritance with his brothers; the LORD is his inheritance.” 1 Corinthians 9:13 says, “Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar?” Moses reiterated Deuteronomy 10:9 in 18:2. God promised the Levitical priests an inheritance from His portion. He said this to Aaron in Numbers 18:20, too. God was specific in verse three about what part of the burnt offering and sacrifices the priests received. In the first part of the sentence of verse three, Moses spoke of the priests’ due. “Due” comes from the Hebrew word mishpat and means proper, fitting, measure, and plan. He said they received the shoulder, two cheeks (jaws), and the stomach (see Leviticus 7:32-34). Other passages in the Pentateuch speak of what is due to the priests. Leviticus 7:32-34 says food was to come from the peace offering (the thigh) and from the wave offering (bread). In Numbers 18:11-12, the priests received from the wave offering the best of the fresh wine, grain, and first fruits. Deuteronomy 18:4 speaks of first fruits, new wine, oil, and the first shearing of their sheep, too. (The first shearing was most often the softest.) God ensured the Levitical priests had enough to eat, a place to live, and wool from which to make cloth.

            Why did the Levitical priests get the first and best of what the other Israelites grew and raised? The main answer is because the LORD chose and set them apart to serve Him alone. Because of Aaron’s faithfulness to God, God chose the tribe of Levi to serve Him. Exodus 29:9 says that God chose them as priests by a perpetual statute. The priests’ service to Him was to be single-minded. For priests, serving God was their sole duty whether they lived in Jerusalem or in an outlying town serving in the tabernacles/sanctuaries (pre-temple). God provided for the priests who journeyed/moved from towns to Jerusalem to serve in the temple, too. He considered no one priest or group of the priests any better than another. He did, though, give priests from Aaron’s line a more sacred duty, that of being chief priests. Whether the priests came from outlying towns or Jerusalem, God told them they each would eat equal portions (18:8). He, too, allowed the priest whose father’s estate had value to receive and keep the money from that estate. Since they did not own land, the estate value came from the animals and personal property his father owned. The important point is that one person was not greater than another was. Service to the LORD was different for just a small few.

            God created each person equal to the others. None of them had more worth than any other. The difference lay just in the service God had them offer. Their service to Him did not make him have more worth. Even today, one person is not more worthy than another based on their humanity. Each person deserves food, shelter, and clothing. For God, this meant life. When the Israelites kept their covenant with God, God kept His covenant to them and gave them prolonged life in the land of Israel. When the people did not keep their covenant with God, His promise of a curse fell upon them. The curse was death - immediate or delayed. By keeping covenant with God, the Israelites kept His laws (the Ten Commandments), statutes, and ordinances.

Spiritism

            Moses began the next section with negative commands reminding the Israelites of earlier commands and teachings he gave them. He began with the command to serve the LORD alone by not doing specific abominable acts (Deuteronomy 18:10). God said doing abominable things was rebellion against Him. The Israelites should remember He rescued them from slavery, brought them to the Promised Land, and promised to be there for them if they kept their covenant with Him. God cared about them so they should love Him and be obedient to His laws.

            Moses did not speak in generalities, but in specifics in verses ten through eleven. He said,

There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. [NASB]

When he told them not to pass their child through fire, he alluded to the religious ritual of neighboring nations of appeasing Molech/Baal (see Deuteronomy 12:31). The people of the nations thought offering a living sacrifice to this god ensured a fruitful harvest. Since God cherishes human life, humankind should, too. Besides this, burning a person has no effect on a harvest. God determined the harvest based on the Israelite’s faithfulness to His covenant. Faithlessness led to death – no harvest, starvation, and death – and faithfulness led to life, the opposite of death.

            Since Moses recognized the sanctity of life and the importance of remaining faithful to God’s covenant, he spoke of seven acts/roles involved in spiritism that God called abominable. He spoke against divination, witchcraft, omens, sorcerers, casting spells, mediums, spiritists, and calling up the dead. To understand this better, let us define each of these. Divination is seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown through supernatural means. Divination is interpreting omens - observing signs and taking them as omens. A sorcerer is one who uses magic or witchcraft to do spells or enchant. The attempt to influence nature or people through magic (being a sorcerer or witch) is what Moses called casting spells. A medium is a person who mediates between the dead or a deity to a living person to communicate with them. A spiritist is similar a medium and is a person familiar with the dead. The final act, witchcraft,  is the practicing of magic, divination, spiritism/being a medium, sorcery, conjuring (doing tricks), and casting spells. As you realize with this list, witchcraft encompasses each of the six of the other acts of spiritism on which Moses spoke. Moses spoke earlier in Exodus 22:18 and in Leviticus 19:26, 31 and 20:6 against these practices. He said they would defile the person who did them and the LORD would find them abominable. God would turn His face from them, Moses said. Jeremiah 27:9-10a spoke on point when he said,

Do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers who speak to you saying ‘You will not serve the king of Babylon.’ For they prophesy a lie to you in order to remove you far from your land. [NASB]

If God removed a person from the Promised Land, that meant the person or people were unfaithful to their covenant with Him. So if a person did something to be removed, then the one who instigated their unfaithfulness - Satan and his followers - was the antithesis to God. Hence, these seven things of which Moses spoke against and God considers abominable are from Satan.

            What is the punishment for doing these detestable things? Separation from God - death. Moses stated it for the Israelites in verse twelve. He said God would drive out from the Promised Land those who did these detestable things. Moses gave this as the reason God removed the Canaanites’ from Canaan when the Israelites moved into the land in Leviticus 18:24. On the positive side, Moses said in verse thirteen, “You shall be blameless before the LORD your God.” God encouraged them to stay faithful to their covenant with Him, which would make them blameless. The word “blameless” is the Hebrew word tamiym. It means to be complete, perfect, and innocent. As we know, though, the Israelites and the rest of humanity through the ages were never blameless. The writer of Genesis used the word “blameless” to describe Noah in Genesis 6:9 and Abraham in Genesis 17:1. They rebelled against God, as humankind does, but they repented and returned to God. In Matthew 5:48, Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that people are to be perfect (blameless) just as the heavenly Father is perfect.
            As we comprehend from the reading of our Bibles and as Jews and Christians realized, nothing a person does can make him or her perfect. Only the perfect sacrifice can make that happen. God offered the perfect sacrifice through the life, death, and resurrection of His only Son, Jesus Christ. For the Israelites 1400 years before Christ’s birth, the means God gave them to be blameless was to follow His commandments and be faithful to their covenant with Him. God said the Israelites would dispossess the nations who practice these detestable things. He did not allow the Israelites to follow them (18:14-15). God had something better planned for them.

Prophets

As the alternative for following the practices of the surrounding nations, God promised to “raise up” a prophet for them, similar to Moses, from within their nation. God had this same requirement for the leaders He allowed the people to have in Deuteronomy 16:18-17:20. Moses commanded in Deuteronomy 18:15 that they listen to the future prophet. “Listen” comes from the Hebrew word shama, which comes from the same root word as shamar. It means to hear, listen, and follow. The Canaanites attempted to get advice by speaking with their gods, dead leaders, and dead loved ones by using witchcraft and sorcery. The people of Canaan did what these prophets of Satan required instead of what God required. God promised to give the Israelites a prophet who would be like Moses. Moses was their leader, mediator, intercessor, judge, and prophet. In Matthew 21:11, Luke 2:25-34, 4:19, 7:16, and John 1:21, 25, and 4:19, people speak of the prophet of which Moses spoke. The Israelites feared God when they heard His voice and saw the fire on Mount Sinai/Mount Horeb. Because of that, they requested Moses as the mediator between them and God (Exodus 20:18-19, Deuteronomy 5:23-27). God said they spoke well when they asked Moses to be their mediator with Him (Deuteronomy 18:17, 5:28). The Israelites awe and fear of God continued through history and they still required a mediator to go between them and God. God fulfilled Moses’ prophecy in verse fifteen about the future prophet many times through Old Testament prophets and through Jesus Christ. Moses was a foretaste of Jesus Christ. He was a visible representation of what Jesus Christ would be for humankind.

In verse 15, Moses spoke to Israel while in verse 18, Moses reminded the Israelites of what God said in Deuteronomy 13. He proved the appointment of prophets in chapter 18 came from God by referring to what He said in chapter 13. In verse 18, Moses recalled God said, “I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth and he shall speak to them all I command him.” Many prophets came before Jesus speaking for God. They reminded the Israelites what God required of them, what His condemnation would be, and their need to return to their covenant with Him. Verse 18 ultimately alluded to Jesus Christ.

Moses said in verses 19-20 God had one requirement for the people of Israel and two for His prophet. The first of the two rules for the prophet was he had to speak what God required of him (vs. 19). The second requirement God gave was he speak just what God commanded and not speak for himself or other so-called gods (vs. 20). The one requirement God gave the Israelites about prophets was they listen (shama – hear, listen, and obey) to what the prophets told them. God demanded their obedience and promised life if they obeyed and death if they did not. This harkens back to the law of the ban earlier in Deuteronomy when God told the Israelites to remove every trace of the Canaanites and their worship.

            With this warning in the Israelites’ minds, Moses realized the people might question how they could tell if a prophet spoke for the LORD. He reminded them that if a prophet prophesied something in the name of the LORD and it did not occur, then the LORD did not speak it (vs. 22). From Deuteronomy 13, we learned other ways to decide if a prophet is from God. If a prophet, friend, or family member says to serve other gods, that person is not from God (Deut. 13:6-8). In Deuteronomy 13:12-15, Moses said if a person in another town or city says to the town’s residents, “Let us go and serve other gods,” you shall not believe him or her, but shall put them under the law of the ban. So if a person says to follow and serve other gods or if what the prophet says does not come true, the person is not a prophet from God. To the Israelites’ fear of being punished by God if they do not listen to and obey a prophet, Moses told them, they need not be afraid (vs. 19, 22) of not following a false prophet.

CONCLUSION

            God established the new nation of Israel. They were a religio-political state. Their judges gave verdicts based on God’s laws, statutes, and ordinances. The kings read and lived by God’s laws. The officers ruled under the leadership of the judges. The priests were the intermediaries between the people and God. They were the role models and enforcers of what God required of the people in their spiritual lives. The prophets were the voice of God calling people to obedience, to return to God, and telling of His punishments on the people. Because God established this nation from a people He called His own, His laws for governing society were moral and spiritual. When people transgressed a moral/civil law, they disobeyed God. Disobedience is rebellion against God and the breaking of covenant with Him. The people knew in advance what the blessing and curse of faithfulness and unfaithfulness to the covenant would be. They acknowledged it when they pledged themselves to God.

God provided these five different leaders to remind the people of their covenant and call them back to Him. He wanted everyone to be in relationship with Him. He did not and does not want anyone cursed with death. Death is eternal separation from God. When Moses said, “The LORD will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you,” he meant ultimately the LORD would send His perfect prophet, mediator, leader, priest, and sacrifice – Jesus Christ (Deut 18:15). Isaiah spoke of this prophet, Jesus, in Isaiah 40:3-5.

God’s hand is visible to everyone. People do not have an excuse to say they did not know about God. At Jesus’ birth, wise men and shepherds noticed He was God’s Son. At his death, some soldiers, Jews, and one of the thieves noticed He was the Son of God. At Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples, women, and a multitude of people saw Him and noticed He is the Son of God. Since then, millions across the ages and the world recognized and called Him the Son of God. Moses was the precursor of the future High Priest, Prophet, Savior, and Son of God. He was the precursor of Jesus Christ. God gave the Israelites a glimpse of the perfect Savior, Priest, and Salvation through Moses’ life. We in the 21st century have more than a glimpse. We have the testimony of eyewitnesses, Christians for twenty centuries, and our own experiences of God. We know Him firsthand. Can we turn our backs on this evidence? Can we say no to the perfect sacrifice who came to make us blameless similar Noah and Abraham (Deuteronomy 18:13)? Jesus can and wants to make us perfect, complete, and whole again. What keeps you from seeing and giving Him your imperfect life? What keeps you from abundant life?

           

Friday, November 21, 2014

Following the Leader (part 1) Deuteronomy 16:17-17:20



Deuteronomy 16:18-17:20

INTRODUCTION
            When God chose a people, the Israelites, from among another nation, He created a new nation with one of the smallest people groups. When nations begin, foundations must be laid – laws, covenants, leaders, structure, etc. Moses spent a large amount of time teaching God’s laws, commands, statutes, and ordinances to the Israelites. In the next two chapters, he will declare to them God’s means of ensuring order, righteousness, and fairness. Moses spoke in Deuteronomy 16:18-18:22 about the leaders God ordains to keep His order within the nation He created. These leaders are judges and officers, kings, priests, and prophets. Most of them are not new to the Israelites, but in these chapters, God proclaimed them as ordained leadership positions. This week we will study through chapter seventeen reading about judges, officers, and kings.
RULERS
Judges
            Moses dedicated almost a whole chapter to the role of judges and officers. The judge was a particular leader who would have profound impact on the social structure of Israel – civil and religious. God’s ordained judges and officers were men who judged righteously (16:18). Since Israel was a nation created by God, the nation’s base was religio-political. God’s laws undergirded every statute, ordinance, and judgment. So though this Bible passage does not state the judges and officers are ordained, because God founded the nation, the officers and judges were to be men of God.
Another aspect of this passage needs clarity. The word “judge” comes from the Hebrew word shaphat. It means judge, governor, and ruler. This person’s duty was to be a lawgiver and decider of controversies – civil, religious, political, and social. Judges enforced the law, too. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, introduced Moses to the leadership style that used judges and elders to manage minor disputes. Moses decided major disputes (Exodus 18:22). Since Moses was the God-ordained leader of the people, he based his decisions and rule on the laws and commandments of God. He was the first example to the Israelites of a religio-political leader – judge, priest, and prophet. Moses solved religious and societal disputes using God’s guidance. Jethro gave the first substructure to law making, decision making about laws, and enforcing of the law in Exodus 18. Deuteronomy 16:18-17:13 gives us God’s system for this, which is very similar to Jethro’s.
The other leader Moses mentioned in Deuteronomy 16:18 was officers. The word “officer” comes from the Hebrew word shoter. It means official or officer. The usage of this word in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy give a better understanding of what this person did. These men held positions where they worked as foremen (Exodus 5:6, 10, 14, 15, and 19); subordinate officers in matters judicial, civil, and military (Deuteronomy 1:15); minor or under-judges (Deuteronomy 1:15 and 10:5, 8, and 9); and overseers (Deuteronomy 16:18). In Deuteronomy 29:10 and 31:28, Moses listed officers in rank order of importance. Officers ranked above captains of tribes and elders, notice not above priests, judges, prophets, and kings. Officers were people who upheld the verdicts of the judges, led companies of people, and judged over smaller matters than judges, like junior judges.
As is noticable in verses eighteen through twenty, Moses spelled out the basis for the position of judge and officer. God gave the Israelites the ability to appoint/employ judges and officers. Moses said the purpose of the judges was to judge/govern the people. The mandate from God for the judges was that they were to do their jobs with righteousness (vs. 18c). He stated explicitly what He meant by saying they were not to pervert justice (case decisions) with partiality or bribe taking (vs. 19). Moses told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 10:17 that God does not show partiality or take a bribe. Since that is the case, they, as God’s judges for His people and nation, must live by the same standard. Exodus 23:2 and Leviticus 19:15 speak about not perverting justice or being partial to one person or group over another. This way of life was not new to the Israelites. Solomon said in Proverbs 23:23, “To show partiality in judgment is not good.” Verse 19d of chapter sixteen says, “A bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.” A judge’s righteousness is so important that Moses repeated this requirement a second time and included God’s promise with it. In verse twenty, Moses said, “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue that you may live in and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” This shows that justice and righteousness are tied to their covenant with God. It carries the formulation of Old Testament covenants and carries great weight. The men appointed as judges and officers must be righteous to be in covenant with God and receive His blessing of life.
From Deuteronomy 16:21 through 17:13, Moses reminded the Israelites how to handle conflicts and disputes. He taught them when to seek the counsel of a higher judge, rather than using God’s commands and laws by one’s self. In these verses, Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s commands not to set up Asherah poles or sacred pillars because the LORD hates them. Deuteronomy 7 and Leviticus 26 noted this, too. God was to be their only God. He commanded the ox or sheep they offered to Him not have any defect – sickness or disease. God should receive the best of the produce and animals they received from Him that year. (We know from our studies in the New Testament God gave a perfect sacrifice for the sins of humanity through His Son, Jesus Christ.) Moses said God finds a blemished sacrifice detestable – abominable and disgusting. So far, Moses reminded the Israelites their worship of God was to be unadulterated and pure. Next, he recalled for them that no evil should live among them for they are a holy people set apart for God. If they found out about a person who is evil – transgressing God’s covenant (Deut. 13:6-11), serving and worshipping other gods, and serving and worshipping the sun, moon, or the heavenly host – that person was to be stoned to death. Moses reminded them of the rules God provided for inquiry and resolution so they maintained order. He told them to inquire thoroughly (Deut. 13:14) into the matter. If true, then the person was to be stoned at the town’s gates on the evidence of two or three people, never based on one testimony (Deut. 17:4b-7a). By doing these things, they would purge evil from among themselves. These are things individual and community elders and priests can judge for themselves.
When the conflict or problem in the community, tribe, or nation involved difficult cases – homicide, decisions of lawsuits, assaults, and cases of dispute – then the people involved were to take the matter to the Levitical priest or judge in office. God differentiated between a lawsuit and cases of dispute. The first involved a dispute over law while the latter dealt with quarrels and strife. Haggai mentioned the latter in Haggai 2:11 and told the people to ask a priest for a ruling. God planned for when Moses would be dead. He provided for a high court to decide and enforce a verdict. Deuteronomy 17:8-13 speaks of these difficult cases and what the Israelites were to do if a person did not abide by the verdict. Moses told them if anything surpassed their understanding of the law or was extraordinary, then the people were to take their claim to the place where the LORD chose – the temple where the men of higher learning and discernment were – to inquire of God what to do. Deuteronomy 12:5 and Psalm 122:5 speak of the thrones that God set up for judgment. Verse 9 alludes to and supposes the verdict given by the Levitical priest or judge would come from consultation with God. The Levitical priests knew more about the laws of God than anyone else in Israel did. They, too, were the ones who mediated between the people and God about sins and forgiveness, health, protection, and provisions. When a problem was too big for humans to decide, the obvious recourse was to seek the mind of God on the matter. As the intermediary between God and humanity, the Levitical priests were the ones to seek.
When a person sought recourse, more than one party was involved. Generally, two or more people and a mediator were part of the process. In Israel, God provided for this and His will superseded and interposed on the proceedings. As such, each party to the dispute and judgment held responsibility to abide by the judgment. Moses couched the command to do according to the terms of the verdict in the command from God that they carefully observe (shamar) what the priest/judge dictated as resolution. This drew attention to the fact that the judgment was not a choice, but a demand. The decision of the priest/judge was paramount as if God spoke it. It carried that much weight. Moses told the Israelites, “You shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or to the left.” If the person chose not to follow the verdict of the priest, judgment fell on him or her. Because the person acted arrogantly and presumptuously by not listening (shama – hearing and obeying) to the priest, who stands over the case to serve the LORD, that person must die and not receive the promise of the LORD, life (vs. 17:12). People were to consider the disobeying person evil. God commanded them to purge the evil person from Israel because he or she chose to go his or her own way instead of the way God told the priest/judge to command the parties of the case. Moses told the Israelites in Numbers 15:30, “The person who does anything defiantly, whether he is a native or alien, that one is blaspheming the LORD and that person shall be cut off from among His people.” Why did God cut off a disobedient person from His people, from life? Moses explain it in verse thirteen when he said, “Then all the people will hear (shama) and be afraid and will not act presumptuously again.”
God required obedience just as a parent does. God is not the author of chaos. His laws established peace and righteousness among humanity if they chose to be obedient and live by them. To make sure the people of Israel understood the validity and weight of the verdicts given by the Levitical priests and judges, God had Moses say that obeying the judgments of the priests and judges was equal to obeying Him. God established Israel and created a system of laws, statutes, and ordinances to keep it peaceful and set apart for Him. To keep it that way, He provided judges for the people to help solve conflicts and enforce the laws of God. The priests and judges are the governors of God’s laws upon the people. They are God-ordained. Their verdict carries the weight of God’s when they decide the cases with righteousness and justice, not perverting justice or accepting a bribe.
Kings
            God preferred He be the only King of Israel. He knew, though, that the people would want a king of their own like the countries that surrounded Israel. In 1 Samuel 8:7, God told Samuel, His prophet, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.” He told Samuel this was like the deeds the Israelites did since He brought them out of Egypt. They chose to follow their own wills and submit to a willful, human king. In Deuteronomy 17:14-15, God provided the choice of a human king to rule Israel. The Hebrew word used for king in this passage and most of the Old Testament is melek.
The king of Israel was supposed to be a visual representation of the heavenly King. God gave two commands about who could be king of Israel. The primary requirement is that the LORD would choose the king of His people vs. 15a. The second is that the king would be an Israelite (vs. 15b). God did not want a foreigner to be king of His people because he would lead the people to stop following Him with all their hearts. They risked following other gods and ways of life if that happened.
Added to this, God gave four things that the king could not do and two He required the king to do. Each of these the king must or must not do to keep Israel safe from being unfaithful to their covenant with God. God said the king must not multiply horses, cause the people of Israel to return to Egypt, have multiple wives, and increase his gold or silver for himself (vs. 16-17). The Egyptians bred horses used to pull chariots. God wanted Israel to have no dealings with Egypt. He went so far as to say they must not cause the people to return to Egypt. The value of these horses was high and nations often traded their people for horses and chariots from Egypt. God fiercely protected His people and mandated the king and Israel have no relations with Egypt. God protected the king from the influence of the beliefs and cultures of other nations by commanding he have just one wife (vs. 17). The way to protect a nation’s foundation is to protect the leaders of the nation so their beliefs are not softened and eroded by ideas from other nations. David’s heart turned from God by his want of multiple wives and their influence upon his life (2 Kings 5:13, 12:11). The final thing God commanded a king not to do involved his treasure. God mandated the king not want to increase his wealth (vs. 17c). His seeking for more gold or silver would remove his focus from God to worldly, created things. God’s command was prevention against the erosion of the king’s trust in God by trusting in himself and his wealth.
God gave two positive commands for a king who presided over His people. In verse eighteen, He said, “He [the king] shall write a copy of the law (Torah) on a scroll in the presence of a Levitical priest.” Why would that be important? God told why in verse nineteen. He said it was because the king must read it every day of his life so he can learn to fear/revere the LORD by doing what God commanded. This is why Christian leaders teach other believers to have a quiet time or devotion time every day with God. When people read God’s Word every day, their hearts become inclined to follow God every day. The word Moses used in verse nineteen to mean obedience is one of the favorite words in Deuteronomy, shamar. It means to hear, listen, and obey. When reading God’s Word, a fear and reverence of the LORD grows in the person so that the person desires to show his or her love for God with obedience. So a king who reads the laws of God every day would revere and obey the LORD and then lead the people of his nation in the LORD’s way. It keeps the king’s heart focused on God and the good of the people instead of himself (vs. 20). That provides the second reason the king must read God’s law every day. The final reason God commanded the king to read His law every day was so the he would not turn away from God’s commandment, the mitzvah. Moses said this in Deuteronomy 5:32 and the royal chronicler said it of David in1 Kings 15:5.
 As an encouragement, God gave a promise to the king who followed His commandments closely. He said that the king who did this and his sons would continue in the kingdom of Israel. Moses used the word ‘arak in verse 20c. The English words in this verse, “continuing long,” do not adequately rephrase ‘arak. ‘Arak means to be long, prolonged, and grow long. This word gives the gist of the promise God gave to the Israelites. God’s promise was for the present day and would go into the infinite future. This meaning goes along with the prolonged life in Israel God promised to the Israelites who remained faithful to Him (Deuteronomy 4:40, 5:16, 5:33, 6:2, 11:9, 22:7, 25:15, & 32:47). Prolonged life meant eternal life with God for the Israelites. A king who followed God’s commands would have prolonged life with God and would lead the Israelites to have it, too.
Conclusion
            God chose the Israelites, the smallest people group of the time, to be His people. From them He made a new nation. The foundation of this nation was the LORD God. Because of this, the nations’ foundation rested on the standards of God and required faithful commitment to their covenant with Him. The covenant established a just and right social and religious code. These codes of law and life led to a peaceful, just, and ordered nation under God. If the people kept their covenant with God, God promised them life. Life meant sufficient food and drink, protection from enemies, a deep relationship with God, and the provision of all other needs. This defines fulfillment on all levels - physical, spiritual, and emotional. God appointed leaders for the Israelites. These leaders, when they followed the commands of God in chapters sixteen and seventeen, would give a visual, godly role model for the Israelites. This would encourage, lead, and require the people to stay faithful to God.
            God calls each person to be in relationship with Him. He allows each person to vote or appoint people as their leaders. When people vote or appoint a person who follows God’s laws, statutes, commands, and ordinances, they are most likely to stay faithful to their commitment to God. God still gives the promise of eternal life with Him to everyone who believes in Him and accept the salvation His Son’s death and resurrection provides.
If you are currenly a believer in Jesus Christ and have accepted Him as your LORD and Savior, it is still important to stay faithful to Him. As Christians, God assures people of eternal life with Him. Their faithfulness to Him in this life determines if they will have abundant life. Abundant life is joy in knowing God protects and provides for them now. It brings the promise of life with Him in heaven into their present reality so they have hope in the midst of their day’s walk – good and bad days. Abundant life is knowing nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God. Romans 8:35 says, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword?” The answer comes in verses thirty-seven through thirty-nine. It says,
“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth not any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
If you are not a Christian, God’s promise awaits you. What keeps you from accepting His gift of forgiveness and salvation from your wrongdoings in life? Why do you hold on to your life as if you have ultimate and eternal control over it? God is the Creator and almighty one. There is no one and nothing greater than He is. He is the one who controls life. God gives life now on earth and He offers life for eternity with Him in heaven. What are you allowing to keep you from abundant life now and eternal life with God? You get to make the choice. You decide for yourself; no one can make you decide. It is up to you. What do you choose?


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Holy People, Holy Festivals: Giving Thanks Deuteronomy 16:1-17


Deuteronomy 16:1-17

INTRODUCTION

            Remember, Moses preached Deuteronomy to call God’s people back to faithful service. He preached the sermons before their entrance into the Promised Land to remind the Israelites of God’s guidance in the past, His covenant with them, and the outcome of their obedience or disobedience. The laws spoken of were not new laws, but the restating of God’s original laws to His people. Moses reapplied them to the people as they faced new circumstances, the inhabiting of Canaan. Deuteronomy is a book of revival. When we consider this and the promises of God to prosper them for their faithfulness to their covenant with Him, we understand more about why debtors, the poor, and slaves arose among the Israelites. These three classes of people arose because of the Israelites’ unfaithfulness to their covenant with God. We understand why God commanded they help their brothers and the foreigners among them who were in need. God planned to make them prosperous. Even when the Israelites failed in their faithfulness to Him, God had mercy on them and provided a way by which they could keep their inheritance and have what they needed (see chapter 14:22-15:23). Given that God promised to water the land from His heavens and make them prosperous, would the Israelites automatically praise and thank God for His blessing of the work their hands? Since the Israelites were human, a possibility existed in which they would not praise and thank God. Because of that, God commanded three festival pilgrimages be made each year by the males to the temple. God mandated these three festivals/feasts along with regular temple visits to give thanks and praise God with their sacrifices and offerings as noted in chapter 12. Let us now read and learn about these three pilgrimages.

PILGRIMAGES

Feast of Passover

            The first pilgrimage mentioned in Deuteronomy 16 was the Feast of Passover. Originally, the Israelites celebrated this feast/festival in remembrance of the Spirit of God passing over their homes in Egypt. Those in Egypt, pre-exodus, who did not put lamb’s blood on their doorposts and lintels, woke to find their firstborn dead. Exodus 12 teaches the institution of the Feast of Passover. Leviticus 23:4-8 and Numbers 28:16-25 teach about the Passover feast, too. Because the Israelites knew of the Passover feast from Moses’ earlier teachings, at the time of Deuteronomy, Moses just reminded them of the main points of the feast. He told them to observe the whole month of Abib, now Nissan in the Jewish calendar, late March or early April on today’s calendar. “Observe” in verse one comes from the Hebrew word shamar, which means to hear, listen, and obey. The whole month of Abib was a time to remember God’s greatness in choosing and protecting them from the Spirit of death that fateful night in Egypt when firstborns of the unfaithful died.

Though Moses commanded them to remember the Passover the whole month, he told them to celebrate it just one week of the month. Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers explain the celebration began on the fourteenth day of the first month of the year. On the tenth day of the month, the Israelites were to set aside for slaughter an unblemished, year-old lamb or goat. Moses told them to slaughter the Passover animal on the fourteenth day of the month (Exodus 12:3-6). The Hebrew word for “Passover” is Pesach. Pesach means Passover, sacrifice of Passover, or the animal sacrifice of the Passover. We must note in Deuteronomy 16:2, the people were to offer the sacrifice at the “place where the LORD establishes His name.” For the pre-temple Israelites, the place was their territorial tabernacle/sanctuary. After Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem by order of God, the place for these sacrifices was the temple.

Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy each mandate eating unleavened bread from days fifteen to twenty of Abib. Leviticus and Numbers call this the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This part of the Passover celebration reminded the people they left Egypt in a hurry and did not have time for dough rise. Instead, the Israelites ate flat bread made of flour and oil (Exodus 13:3 & 34:18). Moses called this bread the bread of affliction because they had to leave Egypt in haste (Deut. 16:3).

In addition to slaughtering an animal on the fourteenth day to enable the Israelites to spread the blood on their doorposts and lintels, the Israelites were to slaughter animals for the feast for each of the seven days of the festival. Yet none of the flesh sacrificed to God each night was to remain from one night to the next morning (16:4). “Morning” in Hebrew is boqer and means break of day or dawn. Exodus teaches this, too. Next Moses reminded the Israelites the sacrifice was to occur at the place the LORD chose - in the local tabernacle (before Solomon built the temple) or at the temple (after Solomon built it). They were not to offer the sacrifice in the towns where the people lived once Solomon built the temple, the place where God chose His name to abide. The people were to slaughter, cook, and eat the sacrifice at the place God chose, and then return to their tents at sunrise, boqer.

The final instruction about the Passover Moses gave the Israelites was they were to have a solemn assembly on days fourteen and twenty-one of the first month. An assembling of people for the first slaughter and the final day of celebration was to occur. They were to do no work on those two days.

As the Israelites continued to live in Canaan, the time of the Feast of Passover celebration became the beginning of planting season for them. The planting season came after the winter rains. This meant the Feast of Passover celebrated God’s hand in saving them from the Spirit of death and Egypt and it celebrated the beginning of the growing season. Celebrating the Feast of the Passover as a historical and agricultural event is a festival of giving thanks to Yahweh for His provision for His children.

Feast of Weeks

            This feast was to occur seven full weeks after the second day of Passover. The counting of weeks provided the name Feast of Weeks to the festival. Moses gave the command for this festival as a way to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest from what the Israelites sowed near Passover time. Because shabuwa and shavu’ot are Hebrew for “weeks,” the Israelites named the festival the Feast of Shavu’ot. The counting of the days and weeks showed the anticipation of the first fruits of the Israelites’ labor. Moses taught everything about this feast in Leviticus 23:15-21 and Numbers 28:26-31. Deuteronomy 16:9-12 is a synopsis of the earlier two teachings.

            Deuteronomy 16:9-12 teaches what Moses commanded of the Israelites. Moses reiterated the timing of this feast in verse nine. He explained what the offering was to be - a freewill, nedebah, offering to the LORD (vs. 10). This offering represented God’s sufficiency to the Israelites and His blessing of their work, which was sufficient for their celebration. The peoples’ freewill offerings were a gift back to God for His blessings of them. As the people came together to give their offerings to God, they were to rejoice with their household, the Levite of their town/city, the orphan, widow, and stranger in their town/city.

            Just as the Israelites celebrated the Feast of Passover to remember of God’s aid to them, the Feast of Weeks celebration occurred because of the Israelites’ remembrance of God’s help. The Feast of Weeks was a day set apart for the Israelites to remember they were slaves in Egypt. God chose them to be His people and to make a nation from them. He redeemed them from slavery and blessed them with a fruitful land. Because of this, they must celebrate the first fruits of the harvest and rejoice with their neighbors at what God did for them. Later, the Israelites added a spiritual element to this celebration. They celebrated this feast as the day God gave them their Torah from Mount Sinai. The Israelites felt the Torah redeemed them from spiritual bondage to idolatry and immorality. For these reasons, Moses repeated his command of shamar from verse one when he said in verse 16, “carefully observe these statutes.” The Israelites were to hear, listen, and obey this command from the LORD. Moses commanded they carefully observe this feast to celebrate God’s blessings and give thanks.

Feast of Booths

            Moses taught the Israelites to celebrate the harvest in verses thirteen through fifteen. He taught this earlier in Leviticus 23:33-43 and Numbers 29:12-38. Moses told them, “You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat” (Deut. 16:13). The Leviticus and Numbers passages command this feast begin on the fifteenth day of the seventh month for seven days. Tishri is the seventh lunisolar month in the Jewish calendar and occurs during September or October of today’s calendar.

The word “booths” is cukkah and sukkot in Hebrew. Its definition is thicket, booth, or temporary shelter made of brush. Booths are what the Israelites lived in when God brought them out of Egypt. The Feast of Booths celebrated God’s food and protection for the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. This feast had a spiritual and agricultural part to it, like the other two feasts. As stated before in this paragraph, the spiritual part was that God chose, provided for, and protected the Israelites in their wandering years. The agricultural part attached to this feast was that the Israelites reaped their last harvest seven days before the Feast of Booths. They celebrated their harvest at this feast.

Moses, in Deuteronomy, expressly stated the feast begin seven days after the harvest. In Leviticus and Numbers, Moses stated a specific date for its beginning - the fifteenth day of the seventh month, Tishri. The feast lasted seven days. On the first and eighth days, a holy assemblage of men occurred to present an offering of fire to the LORD. The Israelites did not work on these two days (Lev. 23:35, 36, & 39). Both Leviticus and Numbers specify the exact number of each animal, and the amount of grain, oil, and drink offering Moses told the people to offer to God on each day of the festival. Deuteronomy states God would choose the place at which the feast was to occur. Moses commanded the people make booths in which to live during the festival at the beginning of the festival (Lev. 23:40-42).

The overarching reasons Moses gave the Israelites for celebrating this festival were to rejoice with other people over what God blessed them with and so the LORD would “continue to bless them in all the work of their hands” (Deut. 16: 14-15). As stated earlier, this festival had a spiritual and agricultural basis to it. Moses commanded them to rejoice at God’s blessing of a bountiful harvest.

Recap

            Moses recapped God’s commands regarding the three mandated feasts or pilgrimages each year in verses sixteen and seventeen. The three main points of God’s commands about the feasts included:

1. “All males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place He chooses at the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths.”

2. “They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed.”

3. “Each man shall give as he is able according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.”

Notice the feasts are mandatory, not optional. Notice, too, every man must give according to the gifts God gave him, as a token of dependence and gratitude to God. These feasts were the only mandated pilgrimages for Israelite men. In case the Israelites forgot from where their blessings came, God provided three established feasts to help them stop, recall, rejoice, and praise Him, the fount of their blessings.

CONCLUSION AND RELEVANCE

            God expected His people, the Israelites to be faithful to their covenant with Him. The laws, commands, and statutes He declared presumed their covenant faithfulness. Because God knows the sinful nature of humankind, He provided in His covenant for both blessing on the faithful and a curse on the unfaithful. Added to this and because God knows the hearts of humankind (we often become arrogant, self-centered, and keep the glory for prosperity for ourselves), God provided and commanded the people pilgrimage three times a year to the place where His name and glory resided. The Israelites were to rejoice at what God did for them in Egypt, during the exodus, and what He did for them that year when He provided the produce from their land and animals.

            The festivals provided an additional benefit. It allowed them to strengthen their national identification as a religious community. Before this, they were a people too small to be a nation. The descendents of Abraham lived through drought, famine, and enslavement. God gathered them out of another nation and made them a people/nation for Himself. At that point, He called them His people, blessed them, and gave them another commonality, celebrations of His blessings and their prosperity. They no longer had a history of misery. They had a present experience of blessings and hope for more with the God they learned to trust, serve, and love.

            Today, we can look back and see the hard times we experienced, just as the Israelites did. We can look back to see the blessings of God, too. God wants to bless us. He wants us to share His blessings and rejoice with our families and neighbors about His blessings. We must recognize that the joy and blessings we receive come from God’s hand, not our own. God blesses the work of our hands. You may say, “I have received no blessings. Does God not love me?” The answer is that He does love you. God created you and chose you for a purpose, to be in a relationship with Him. He does not force Himself upon any of us. God gives us freewill to do what we want in our lives. He lets us choose Him or ourselves to lead our lives. When you choose to give your life to God, He receives you with open arms, forgives your sins, and promises you life. According to our studies in Deuteronomy, life has two elements – physical and spiritual. Our earthly life includes what we need for physical existence. Added to this, our spiritual life is that part of ourselves that continues to exist after our physical death – our souls/spirits. When we give our lives to God, He gives us hope. We have hope because we know we will live with Him in heaven when our time on earth is finished. We can live with God for eternity. God re-forms our hearts and renews us in His image, the way He intended, not as the sinful, willful person we were before we gave our hearts to Him.

God leaves the decision up to us.

What do you choose?

To whom will you give praise and glory?

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Holy People: Caring for Others Deuteornomy 14:22-15:23


Deuteronomy 14:22-15:23

INTRODUCTION

Last week, in Deuteronomy 14:1-21, we read and studied about the food laws God gave the Israelites. We learned that as children of God, a nation He created and called His own, the Israelites were to obey God’s food laws not because they could get sick, but because He said so. When God calls things detestable, His children are to call them detestable, too, even if we do not understand His reasoning. We learned that the food laws of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 pertaining to clean and unclean food are no longer relevant since Jesus Christ’s time on earth because He came to fulfill the Law and establish a new covenant. He fulfilled the old covenant. The problem from this week’s lesson centers on differing levels of prosperity and poverty in Israel. Let us read this passage of Scripture and then see what God told the Israelites through Moses.

Background

            The first thing we must notice is that Moses encapsulated the teaching in this passage with reminders about giving a tithe to the LORD God. What is the purpose for his using this literary technique? Moses used the technique to draw attention to the blessings God bestowed upon the Israelites and therefore have to give to the needs of the poor around them. If you will remember from Deuteronomy 12, God told the Israelites to take a tithe of their wine, grain, oil, herds, and flocks to the temple each year. He told them they were to give a portion of it to Him. The rest they were to eat with their household, servants, and the Levites in their town while rejoicing in their undertakings in which the LORD blessed them (Deuteronomy 12:6-7, 11-12, & 17-18).

            How do we know the land of the Canaanites, which God gave to the Israelites, would be profitable? How do we know they would have a tithe to take to the temple and about which they would rejoice? God spoke to the Israelites several times about the land of Canaan. He called it a land flowing with milk and honey in Exodus 3:8 and 33:3. When the twelve spies returned from spying in Canaan, they spoke of a land that flowed with milk and honey as evidenced in the huge fruit (Numbers 13:27). When the Israelites waited at Beth-peor to enter Canaan to receive their inheritance from God, God told them the land would be plentiful as long as they stayed faithful in their covenant with Him. He said, “He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain and your new wine, and your oil” (Deuteronomy 11:13-14). Remember, the Old Testament covenants carried a promise of a blessing and a curse for the people in the covenant. In the Mosaic covenant, if the Israelites were faithful to their covenant, they would receive the blessing of the covenant. If they were not faithful, they would receive the curse of the covenant. God’s promised blessing was life – abundance, the resultant prosperity, and life (Deuteronomy 28:1-15). The promised curse was death – drought, famine, and death (Deuteronomy 28:16-63).

            From this, we see why God instituted the tithe as part of the Israelites religious celebrations. God expected them to stay faithful to their covenant with Him. He planned on it and created a law about the tithe. The tithe would be their gift to God for His love and providing for them. They would rejoice and praise Him while taking care of the people around them. So having the teaching of the tithe encapsulate God’s law on caring for other people makes sense since it speaks of sharing in one’s abundance by giving part back to God, sharing in the worship and praise of God for his provision, and providing food for their whole household, servants, and the Levites in their town. Now, let us look at the rest of the teaching in Deuteronomy 14:22-15:23.

Reminder

            Moses reminded the Israelites they were to give a tenth of their produce from what they sow each year, of their new wine, and the firstborn of their herd and flock. This is not a new teaching as noted in the earlier section. Moses reminded them, too, that if the distance was too great between their home and the temple where God set His name, they could sell their tithe, carry the money to the temple, and buy whatever their heart desired. With their purchase they could worship before the LORD and rejoice with their household, servants, and the Levites of their town because of what the LORD’s hand provided for them (Deut. 14:23-27). Moses explained why the people were to give their tithe to the LORD. In verse 23b, he said they were to do this so they may learn to fear/revere the LORD God always. Verse 26b said they were to offer their tithes so they could rejoice together at God’s providing for them.

EXPANSION OF THE LAW

Caring for the Town

            Deuteronomy 14:28-29 expand the law of the tithe. It says,

At the end of every third year, you shall bring out all the tithes of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town shall come, eat, and be satisfied.

The Hebrew word for our English word “bring” is yatsa. It means to come forth with a purpose. The purpose of the Israelites’ tithe in their town/city in the third year was to rejoice in what God provided for them. They celebrated in their town and provided food for everyone in the town – Israelite and alien. Remember, God made sure the Levites had food because He did not give them land for their tribe. He made them a people who worked for and served Him (Deuteronomy 10:8-9). The Levites in the towns and cities did not receive as much from the Israelites offerings and tithes once God established His temple in Jerusalem. The law God gave the Israelites provided them with their food and other needs. They did not eat the entire tithe that God instructed the Israelites to deposit in their own towns in one day. They used it during the three-year period for the inhabitants of the town/city. God named the inhabitants included to be recipients of the tithe – aliens, orphans, and widows. Aliens were temporary inhabitants of Israel. They were foreigners and non-Israelite. Deuteronomy 16:11 & 14 and 26:12 speak of this. Deuteronomy 24:19-21speaks of assisting these peoples, too. The Jews, over time, consolidated this list to mean “neighbors,” which then meant Israelites in their minds. When Jesus ministered on earth, He redefined “neighbor” for the Jews. He said, in Luke 10, anyone around you is your neighbor. This included the ritually clean and unclean person as Deuteronomy 12:15 says.

Debtors

            In Deuteronomy 15:1-3, Moses taught the Israelites to release debtors from their debt every seven years. He said,

Every creditor shall release what he has loaned his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the LORD’s remission has been proclaimed. From a foreigner you may exact it, but your hand shall release whatever of yours is with your brother. (Deut. 15:2-3 [NASB])

Notice that “neighbor” does not include foreigners, just Israelites. The word “neighbor” in the Hebrew is rea and means a friend, companion, or fellow citizen. In the Luke 10:25-37 passage mentioned earlier, “neighbor” came from the Greek word plesion. Christ used it to mean any human with whom we meet or live despite his or her religion. For the Jews and for the law in Deuteronomy 15:2-3, neighbor meant an Israelite with whom they lived. Hence, every seven years, the Sabbatic year, God instructed the Israelites to release from debt any Israelite’s debtor. Because God gave land to each Israelite in Canaan according to his tribe and because He considered each of them equal, God commanded the removal of debt they incurred. The incurring debt created levels of society. Verse 3, though, says the Israelites could exact a debt from foreigners.

The Poor

            God re-iterated in 15:4-11 there would be no levels of society with his “poor” law. God’s covenant with the Israelites said He planned to bless each of them in the land they inherited. He noted this when He told them they will possess the land which they inherited from the Abrahamic covenant when they fulfill their part of the Mosaic covenant. All Israelites were equal and shared in the blessings of God from the Mosaic covenant. Moses stated this in verses 15:4-5 when he said,

However, there will be no poor among you since the LORD will surely bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if you only listen obediently to the voice of the LORD your God to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today. [NASB]

Moses stated this truth in earlier chapters of Deuteronomy – Deuteronomy 7:12-26 and 11:13. Later, Moses said this in Deuteronomy 28:1 & 8. He used the now familiar word, shamar, meaning to listen, hear, and obey. Moses emphasized this point when he told them to “listen obediently.” He made sure the Israelites knew what he said about the poor was from God and must be obeyed to stay within their covenant with God. He told them, because God promised to prosper them, other nations would seek loans from them. Yet, they must not take loans from other nations because those nations would rule over them (vs. 6). Because they stayed faithful to their covenant with God, His blessings meant they would not need loans. If they found they needed loans, then they would know they had not kept faithful to their covenant with God. Because God knew they would break covenant, He provided this law about loans and the poor. The Israelites would have poor among their people because of being unfaithful to God (Leviticus 25:35). Moses said, “They will never cease to be in the land” (Deut. 15:11). God told them what to do about their poor kindred. He told them not to harden their hearts or close their hands, but to give freely and generously sufficiently from their supply (Deut. 15:7-8). This hardening of the Israelites’ hearts means being obstinate in sharing and the closed hand shows they were not to shut their hands when their poor brothers needed them. Moses said the Israelites were to open their hands to their poor brothers and lend generously to them. Their lack of faithfulness to God brought on themselves the lack of blessing from God. The poor would be among the Israelites. They must give what they need as gift or loan. Added to giving what the poor needed, God commanded the Israelites to give with a good heart. They were not to consider the number of years before the Sabbatic year of remission to determine if the income was worth giving a loan to someone. The imminence of the Sabbatic year must not keep a person from helping their kinsman. Instead, God commanded them to give generously to the poor brother to keep the giver’s heart from being grieved. The latter is one of the reasons the Israelites should help the poor. Verse 10b is the other place that mentions it. The LORD God will bless them in all their work and undertakings. Moses said this in verse 4b, too, when he said, “The LORD will surely bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess.”

 Moses was right, the poor continued to be in Israel. The Israelites were unfaithful to their covenant with God. God wanted to bless them and gave mercy to them often. In the time of Jesus’ ministry, He noted that the poor were from and living in Israel (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8).

Servants

            The poor continued to arise in Israel. To ease their dire financial straits, some poor sold themselves as bondservants to other people. Becoming a bondservant enabled the repayment of their debt. Verses 12 through 18 speak to this issue. God did not create differing social ranks of people. Everyone is equal in God’s eyes and He treats them that way. God provided relief for the poor by telling Israelites to take care of their brothers via handouts or loans. He provided relief for them by telling creditors to release the debtor from their debts every seven years. In the same way, God gave relief from the debt of servitude by providing the servant’s release every seven years, the Sabbatic year. Notice in verse twelve the bondservant is a kinsman/relative, an Israelite/Hebrew. To pay the debt of a family, families sold men or women of the family into servitude to another Israelite. The length of a person’s servitude must not be longer than six years according to God’s law here. If the Israelites kept their commitment to their covenant with the LORD, God promised them bountiful fruit from their harvest of grain, wine, oil, and animals. Because they proved unfaithful to God, God withheld His blessings. Because of His love and mercy, He had a plan for the release of the servant, debtor, and poor from their situation. God loves all His children equally and provides an equalizing factor every seven years.

            Another provision for bondservants in the Sabbatic year release was furnishings from their kinsman/master. The one who paid the debt of the bondservant must not send them away empty-handed according to verse thirteen. God provided a new beginning for the newly released bondservant. He commanded the master give from his flock, threshing, floor, wine vat, to the bond servant upon his or her release just as the LORD gave to the master (vs. 15:14). God’s reasoning to the master is that they must remember that God redeemed Israel from their slavery in Egypt. Because of this, they must release their bondservants.

God gave one exception to the redemption of bondservants. If the bondservant says he or she loves the master and will not go away from him since he fares well with him, then the master could make the bondservant a servant forever. They denoted this relationship by piercing the servant’s ear (vs. 15:16-17). For each of these commands about servants, Deuteronomy 15:18 expresses God’s overarching reason. God commanded through Moses, “It shall not seem hard to you when you set him free, for he has given you six years with double the service of a hired man; so the LORD your God will bless you in whatever you do.” Again, following God’s command leads to blessing.

Tithe Reprise

            Though a reprise of God’s command about the tithe, a noticeable difference appears. In Deuteronomy 14:22-27, God told them what to tithe and what to do if they lived too far away from the temple to take their tithe. In the tithe passage of Deuteronomy 15:19-23, the focus is on the consecration of the firstborn of the herd and flock. Consecration comes from the Hebrew word qadash and means to dedicate, set apart, and make holy for the LORD. By consecrating a male lamb or bull calf, the owner intentionally set aside his offering to the LORD from the bounty the God gave to him. This action provided focus on the visible results of intentionally consecrating a part of the herd and flock. As the owner did not shear or work with the consecrated animal, the animal(s) became visibly obvious to the owner as set apart for God. It was a visible reminder to the owner of his covenant with God. Just as writing on the gates and doors reminded the Israelites of their covenant with God, the consecrated sheep or bull bore the visible effects of not being used or employed and became a reminder of their covenant with God. Remember, this sheep or bull God commanded they set apart for Him and take to the temple every year. They would eat in communion with God, the owner’s family and household, and with the Levite in his city or town. These people would witness to and rejoice at the blessing and bounty of the LORD. It was a cause for celebratory worship of God.

            God gave one proviso though. If a firstborn male of a ewe or heifer carried any defect such as lameness or blindness or any other serious defect, the owner was not to sacrifice it to the LORD God. Thank offerings and tithes to the LORD must come from the best of the produce/animals produced during the year. If the animal set apart to God had a defect, the people of the town/city - the ritually clean and unclean – were to eat the animal in the town or city of the owner’s home. This command is like the law God gave to the Israelites about eating meat outside the temple celebration in Deuteronomy 12:15-16, & 22. The clean and unclean persons of the town/city could eat meat whenever they wanted outside the temple celebration as long as they poured the blood of the animal on the ground like water (Deuteronomy 15:23; Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 7:26, 17:10, 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23).

In each of the other sections of today’s study, God gave a reason He commanded what He did. Deuteronomy 15:19-23 does not have an explicit reason. Yet we know the answer why God told the Israelites to consecrate the firstborn males. Moses stated it the first time in Deuteronomy 14:29, “In order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.” Faithfulness to your covenant with God brings God’s blessing. Moses stated it in Deuteronomy 14:29, 15:4b, 10b, 14b, & 18b. God wanted the Israelites’ faithfulness to His covenant with them. Along with blessing the Israelites, Moses gave four other reasons for them to do what God commanded – 1) that they may learn to fear the LORD (14:23); 2) to be in the presence of the LORD and rejoice (14:26b); 3) the LORD said so (15:2b, 15:11, & 15:20); and 4) to remember they were slaves in Egypt and God redeemed you (15:15).

RELEVANCE AND CONCLUSION

            God was not overbearing with the Israelites. Considering He chose to love them and make them His people, they should have been happy to respond to Him with love. Considering God rescued them from slavery and created a nation from them - a people too small in number to make a nation - they should have been grateful and praising Him. Considering that God promised them a land of unending bounty and prosperity, they should have listened to and obeyed Him. We in the twenty-first century see that from our 3400-year hindsight. How are we doing, though, in our commitment to God? Yes, Jesus changed the way the Israelites interpreted neighbor when he spoke with the Pharisee in Luke 10. Even though God provided for the aliens living in Israel, the Israelites chose not to help them. Jesus confronted the Pharisee with the parable of the Good Samaritan. We should not consider people our kinsman and neighbor just by genetics, but by our Creator. Our genetics come from our Creator. God created each person to be equal with all others. This means that someone who does not live in our country is just as worthy to have enough to live on and with as us. When we see or hear of another human being starving, God commands we, as his or her brother or sister, give, with a grateful heart, from the bounty God bestowed upon us. This applies to shelter, clothing, education, and freedom from the bondage of slavery, too.

            What then, faced with these facts, will we do? I hope and God commands we stay faithful to our covenant with Him and do as Jesus taught through His life, words, and ministry on earth. The LORD stated specifically in Matthew 25:31-46 what we are to do. We are to give drink, food, clothing, shelter. Added to this, we are to invite people into our homes and visit them in prison. God will judge us based on our giving and doing for our brothers, even the least of them, just as Christ did. Who are our brothers? Jesus answered that, as did I earlier. They are all people, not just our national citizens, kinsmen, brothers in faith, or biological siblings. Because God is the ultimate Father, all humans are our brothers and sisters. From the first question, what will we do?

We must decide for ourselves. Will we accept God’s provision of redemption from slavery to ourselves and the deception of Satan? If so, we must decide if we will be faithful to our covenant with God through Jesus Christ to live as He taught, lived, and commanded – to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus gave just two commandments. Matthew, the apostle, recorded it in Matthew 22:36-39. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the LORD with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Will you choose to follow God’s command and Jesus’ commandment? Will you choose to give your life to be God’s son or daughter? The choice is yours. What will you decide?