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Thursday, September 25, 2014

God's Love and Our Unworthiness Deuteronomy 9:1-10:11


Deuteronomy 9:1-10:11


Chapters 9 and 10 continue Moses’ sermon on the Ten Commandments, most specifically on the First Commandment, which says, “You shall have no other gods before” (Exodus 20:3 and Deuteronomy 5:7). The thematic verse of chapter eight is verse eleven, which says, “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today.” In chapters 9 and 10, Moses spoke about righteousness and the Israelites lack of it through five examples. The theme of these two chapters revolves around the word “possess.” Moses used the word repetitively, as well as its opposite, “dispossess.” You find these two words nine times in these verses of chapters nine and ten. As you read these two chapters, another key word encountered is “righteous.” “Righteous” and “upright” occur four times and their opposite, “wickedness,” “stubbornness,” “rebellious,” and related terms occur eighteen times. The verses state the result of their stubbornness, such as “destruction,” nineteen times. From such extensive use of these words, Israel’s stubbornness and sinfulness juxtaposes with the word “possess” and the First Commandment. If the Israelites worshipped and trusted the one true God instead of their selves, then God would have called them righteous. Today’s study today shows they were not righteous. The Israelites’ disobedience and fear showed their lack of reverence of God and doubt in His supremacy. They did not believe Deuteronomy 6:4 wholeheartedly, which says, “Hear O Israel, the LORD is God, the LORD is one.” Moses gave five commands in these forty verses and they each occur within the first seven verses of chapter nine. Verses 1 to 3 include the two commands “Hear O Israel” and “know.” The first three verses are the call to holy war with God as the Israelites’ leader. In the first verse, Moses spoke as if the Israelites were the ones to route the nations in Canaan. He said, “Hear, O Israel, you are crossing over the Jordan today to go into dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, great cities fortified to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of Anakim, whom you know and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’” He clarified what he said in verse three. First, though, let us look at these two verses closer.

In the first verse, the command “hear” comes from the same root word as the word “keep” (shamar) and it means to hear and obey. In these two verses, Moses did not give them instructions for how God wanted them to defeat the nations. Moses reminded them of the bigger and stronger nations in Canaan with the giant people the twelve spies encountered (Numbers 13:28 & 33) forty years ago. These giant people were from the tribe called the Anakim who come from the descendents of Anak, the son of Arba (Joshua 15:13 and 21:11). The Anakim were giants among men. Their name means “long-necked.” In Hebrews, the writer recorded them as descendents of Anok who lived near Hebron before the Israelites conquered them. They were the descendents of the Nephilim who dominated the pre-Flood world (Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33). Only God could give the Israelites victory over nations bigger and mightier than they could. The size of this tribe of people frightened people. Still, though, God did not tell them how to defeat them. They were still to “hear,” which includes obey, so they must still listen and follow God.

To make sure the Israelites did not interpret the command of verses one through two wrong and go in and route the Canaanites their own way, Moses told them in verse three, “Know therefore today that it is the LORD your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the LORD has spoken to you.” This verse gives the “how” of the Canaanite peoples’ destruction. The LORD will consume them. The Israelites’ obedience included following God into Canaan. (Remember in Deuteronomy 8:2, when God said He led them, the word “led” is halak in Hebrew and means He walked with them.) God did not tell them to cross the Jordan River without Him. He was with them every step of the way. God gave them victory over Egypt, the desert, and the Amorites. He would give them victory over the Canaanites. God receives the glory, not the Israelites. If the Israelites thought they were the ones defeating the Canaanites or feared that they were to defeat them by themselves, then they usurped God’s place of preeminence and worship in their lives. Their fear dethroned God in their lives. If the Israelites thought afterwards that they destroyed the Canaanites, Moses made sure they understood God crossed over the Jordan River before them to consume and destroy the Canaanites. The Israelites were foot soldiers in God’s army. They were one part of God’s plan. Remember in chapter seven God spoke of using hornets and confusion to defeat the Canaanites. Knowing (yada) God in the way Moses stated meant that, through time and their relationship with God, they perceived, then recognized, acknowledged, and confessed God was almighty God, the one true God, just as the Shema states in Deuteronomy 6:4. By knowing God in this way, they could have said as Paul did in 2 Timothy 1:12, and as we do in a hymn, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.” This depth of knowing God came during their forty-year wilderness experience. God took the time to discipline them, to know them, and they to know Him (Deuteronomy 8:2-5).

In verse four, Moses commanded them a third time in this chapter. He said,

Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you. [NASB]

When the Israelites, in their obedience, drove the Canaanites out and destroyed them, they were an arm of God. The word “drive” in this verse comes from the same Hebrew word, yarash, as “possess” and “dispossess” and means to take possession of something or dispossess someone. By dispossessing the Canaanites, the Israelites were gaining the inheritance of Abraham from God. God fulfilled His covenant with Abraham in this way. Moses said this in Deuteronomy 7:24. He warned the Israelites that their human nature would encourage them to think they routed the Canaanites by themselves and that God gave them the land because they were righteous. Moses, in later verses, showed them they must not determine their righteousness based on the Canaanite nations’ unrighteousness, but on God’s righteousness. God’s righteousness is based on His right acts in His works and judgments (Genesis 18:25, Deuteronomy 32:4, et al). The Israelites experienced God’s righteousness when He, in faithfulness, kept His covenant with Abraham. Moses brought to the Israelites’ memory their unrighteousness as compared to God’s righteousness.

In verse five, Moses told the Israelites that the wickedness of the nations dispossessed them from their own land, not the righteousness of the Israelites. The LORD drove out the Canaanites for another reason. He drove these nations from Canaan because of their unrighteousness. The other reason God gave Canaan to the Israelites was that He “confirmed” His oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God fulfilled His covenant with them (Genesis 12:7). In verse six, Moses commanded them, “Know (yada), then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people.” In this emphatic reiteration of verse five, Moses told them precisely what God judged in them that kept them from righteousness, their stubbornness. God knew the Israelites to be stubborn or stiff-necked (Deuteronomy 9:13, 10:16, 31:27). They provoked God to wrath.

In verse seven, Moses commanded them to remember and not forget they provoked God to wrath from the day they left Egypt. He said they were rebellious. In earlier chapters, Moses commanded the Israelites to remember God provided for them, rescued them, and loved them. He commanded they remember and keep their covenant with God from Mount Sinai, too. In this verse, Moses reminded them of their faults and rebelliousness, their unrighteousness. Sin is unrighteousness. Sin is rebelling against God. They provoked the LORD to wrath in the wilderness because of their rebelliousness. They displeased God and made Him angry at their disobedience. Remember, God’s characteristic of righteousness has another side. The other side is judgment. God cannot be in the presence of sin. As a loving Father, He must give judgment on the sinner. The word “rebellious” in verse seven is the Hebrew word marah, which means contentious and disobedient. If the Israelites complained or griped against God, they contended with God. When they chose to follow God in their own way, they were disobedient. This still happens today. God may tell someone He has called him or her into the ministry. They may hear that and then run with it on their own. The fruit of their ministry is not godly fruit, but instead selfish and greedy seeking for aggrandizement and material gain. God must guide each step of life not just the first step when He tells you where He wants you to serve Him. As another example, a parent tells his or her child, “Do not let me see you doing that anymore.” The child decides to follow the parent’s command literally and does what he or she wants, but not when the parent is watching. Each of these examples shows contending and disobedient people sidestepping the will of God.

Moses, in the next twenty-two verses, reminded the Israelites of five instances where they disobeyed their covenant with God and where they provoked God to anger against them. In verses eight through twenty-two, he reminded them of the golden calf they made and worshipped when he was on Mount Sinai forty days and nights with God in which time God inscribed the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets (vs. 8-11). After those days, God told Moses, “Your people whom you brought out of Egypt have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them; they have made a molten image for themselves” (vs. 12). First, note God no longer claimed the Israelites as His people. They were now Moses’ people. Second, notice they broke the First Commandment within forty days after making their covenant with God. Third, God wanted to destroy them and make a new nation from Moses’ family. The Israelites did not keep their covenant with God. They heard God speak the Ten Commandments from the mountain that was on fire, but were too afraid to go up the mountain and meet with Yahweh God, so they sent Moses as their representative. Within forty days, the Israelites showed their faithlessness. From this point, Moses took on a new role. He interceded for them with God and became a savior for them. This was the first image of a messiah the Israelites had. Moses descended the mountain, destroyed the calf, reminded the people of their covenant with God, proclaimed their rebelliousness against God, destroyed their idol (just as God commanded the Israelites do to the gods of Canaan in chapter 8), smashed the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments that represented the broken covenant, and then ascended the mountain again to intercede, mediate, and save the Israelites from God’s wrath. The second time up the mountain was the second time he interceded for the Israelites (vs. 18-19). The third time of intercession occurred when the LORD wanted to destroy Aaron for leading the Israelites astray by breaking the First Commandment and by taking God’s glory for himself at Meribah (Numbers 20:8-12). Moses recorded Aaron’s death in Deuteronomy 10:6. While the Israelites waited to cross the Jordan River, Moses recalled to them their molding a god for themselves while he was on Mount Sinai. He told them it was a disobedient and rebellious act against God.

Added to this instance, Moses recalled four other instances of the Israelites’ wickedness/unrighteousness/rebelliousness. He reminded them of their time at Taberah when the greedy rabble-rousers instigated the people to complain to God (Numbers 11:3). Their complaining showed their rebelliousness, fear, and greed. They did not trust God. They tested Him with their complaining and God’s anger burned against them. Moses interceded for them and the fire died. At Massah, which means temptation, the people complained to God and tested Him about providing food and drink for them. They said He brought them from Egypt to the desert to make them die of thirst (Exodus 17:1-7). The people tested God and complained. They did not trust the LORD to give everything. He was not a god to them. Again, in Kibroth-hattaavah, which means graves of greediness, when God supplied quail for them, the people in their greed collected more quail than they could eat before it spoiled (Numbers 11:22 & 34). Their greed showed their fear and that they did not look to the LORD as the one true God. The Israelites’ fear and stomachs became their god. The final instance of which Moses reminded the Israelites of their wickedness and unrighteousness occurred when they camped at Kadesh-barnea in the extreme south of Judah (Numbers 13:26; 32:8; Deuteronomy 1:2, 19-25; 9:23). From this place in southernmost Judah, Moses sent twelve spies into Canaan to scout the land and people. When the spies returned, ten of them convinced the Israelites the people of the land were giants and they could not defeat them. The Israelites’ fear made them disobey God when He told them to go into the land He was giving to them in fulfillment of His oath to their forefathers. The LORD burned with anger then and Moses interceded for the people so He would not destroy them. Moses told God the nations around them and Egypt would laugh at the Israelites and their God because He took them out of Egypt to destroy them (Deuteronomy 9:23-29). God’s anger relented, but He said those who were adults at that time would die before He gave the Promised Land to the Israelites.

Chapter 10 gives more detail of what occurred when Moses descended the mountain a second time with the Ten Commandments (vs. 1-5). God enacted his punishment on Aaron of not entering the Promised Land (vs. 6). God set apart (consecrated) the tribe of Levi to be His priests and declared their inheritance (vs. 7-9). Verses 10-11 give us more detail of what occurred after Moses descended Mount. Sinai the second time, placed the tablets in the art of the covenant, and set apart the Levites. The LORD listened to Moses’ intercession for the Israelites and did not destroy them. He gave His blessing for the Israelites to go in and possess the land.

Many times, the Israelites broke covenant with God. The righteousness of God requires judgment be administered when wickedness and disobedience occur. Moses reminded the Israelites of five times they rebelled against God and deserved His judgment. The Israelites were not righteous by God’s standard. Because of this, they did not deserve God’s blessings - the Promised Land and its wealth. Yet because of God’s faithfulness to His covenants and promises to their forefathers, He gave the Israelites the Promised Land. He fulfilled His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Israelites were stubborn and not worthy of God’s blessings. They lived in a way that said God was not big enough to give them what they needed, He could not take them into Canaan, and He could not route the nations there. Fear became one of their gods. God was not their one God. Their fear removed God from the premier spot in their lives. God is worthy of complete devotion, love, reverence, and obedience as Moses taught them in chapters six through eight. He is one as Deuteronomy 6:4 says. God’s love for the Israelites was due to His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and nothing to do with the Israelites’ worthiness. His election/choosing of every person has nothing to do with the person’s worthiness and everything to do with His love and grace.

God does not give blessings because of what a person is or has done. He gives blessings because of who He is and His love for humankind. Every person has rebelled against God and His rules. Everyone deserves judgment. God loves humankind so much that He had a plan from the beginning of time to rescue us from our sin and the future that brings. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to take the penalty of every person and pay the redemption price for our lives with His life. In this way, God made a way for us to be with Him forever. This shows His great love and grace. We do not deserve God’s love, but instead deserve punishment. As the loving Father, He created the way for us to return to Him. Our inheritance with Him is completely about His love and has nothing to do with our worthiness. God says this in John 3:16.

God waits for you to come to Him. He will not push you to give your heart and life to Him. God promises in Matthew 7:7-8 that when we seek Him we will find Him. The hymn, “The Savior is Waiting,” comes to mind when I think of God wanting and waiting for us to ask, seek, and knock for Him. Will you ask Him to come into your life?


The Savior is Waiting

Time after time, He has waited before

And now He is waiting again,

To see if you’re willing to open the door,

Oh how He wants to come in.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Absolute Allegiance Calls for Commitment - Deuteronomy 8


Deuteronomy 8

            Chapter 8 of Deuteronomy continues Moses’ sermon on the First Commandment, which says, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). With the end of Deuteronomy 8, Moses reached the middle of his sermon on the First Commandment. He spoke about this commandment from chapters five through eleven. Within chapter eight, the thematic statement is verse eleven. It says, “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today.” Verse 11 is not the only time Moses stated this commandment in chapter eight. He iterated and expanded on it in verses one, six, eleven, and eighteen. Moses used the word “shall” seven times in both a positive (vs. 1-2, 6, 10, and 18) and negative format (11 and 19). You will notice, too, that the thematic statement (vs. 11) is in a negative format as a warning. Through the verses where God, through Moses, gave commands using the word “shall,” an outline appears. First, we must remember that the word “keep” in Hebrew is shamar and it means to listen (hear and remember) and obey (act and do). This means the first commandment encompasses hearing, acting upon, remembering, and worshipping the only LORD God. From this, we can go to the outline.

Vs. 1--------shall do the commandments

Vs. 2--------shall remember the ways the Lord led

            Remembering the LORD’s provision for them from Egypt until that point in time:

 (vs. 3-5) [Past]

Vs. 6--------shall keep the commands of the LORD to walk in them and fear/reverence Him.

(“Keep” is listening, remembering, and doing. (from vs. 1-2))

            Hearing how God will bless them in the Promised Land: (vs. 7-9) [Future]

Vs. 10------shall bless the LORD (“Bless” from the Hebrew means to praise and worship.)

Vs. 11------shall not forget the LORD by not keeping His commandments (negative wording of vs. 1, 2, 6, and 10)

            What will happen to their minds and hearts if they do forget the LORD is their

                Savior and Provider: (vs. 12-14a, 17) [Future]

            Keep remembering what God did: (vs. 14b-16) [Past]

Vs. 18------shall remember the LORD

Vs.19------shall come about if you forget the LORD, go after, serve, and worship other gods

– the curse 

The LORD will make you perish (vs. 20) [Future]


Moses said in verse one, “All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do that you may live and multiply and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your forefathers.” [NASB] Remember the word “shall” is an imperative command for the future. From earlier lessons, we learned about the verbs. The word “live” comes from the Hebrew word chayah, which means living beings or having life. Since God is the creator of all life, He is the one who determines the end of each life, too. Yet, we need to look at this another way. God decides the beginning and end of life; He can use life as a disciplining tool, as well. If the Israelites did not follow His commandments, their covenant with Him voided and they would not live long and multiply. In essence, He could end their lives because they chose not to follow Him as they promised in their covenant. We need to remember this point for when we study verses nineteen and twenty. God is the one who is in charge of life and death and He is the one who gives everything - material, spiritual, and mental blessings. The first generation of Israelites broke faith with God and perished before God gave the Promised Land to the Israelites. The point is that God controls who lives. “Multiply” means to become great or increase, and is God’s promise to the Israelites that they would not be the smallest nation on earth. His benefits to them included more people, might, and wealth. In chapters six and seven, we learned the Israelites inherited the promise God made to Abraham that He would give them a land of their own. So the “going in” part of verse one is God’s faithful fulfilling of His promise to Abraham. The Israelites “possessing” the land would come about because of their faithfulness to their covenant with God. The Ten Commandments was their covenant with God. Deuteronomy 8 is an expansion on the first commandment, the primary commandment upon which all the others hang. By commanding us to have no other gods, God set up the absolute basis of the covenant relationship. Following this commandment is forward-looking as well as current and past. It involves the future – life, growth, and possession. To get life, growth, and possession, God must will it and a child of God must give absolute allegiance to the LORD - to worship, obey, and follow Him.

            Whereas the first verse commands the Israelites to follow God’s commands, the second verse commands them to remember God and how He led them in the wilderness. This verse says, “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” [NASB] First, Moses commanded the Israelites to remember what God did for them in the wilderness. Next, he told them God led them through the hard times to humble, test, and teach them. Let us look at a couple definitions. “Led” comes from the Hebrew word halak, which means to walk with a person or people. The Israelites did not walk alone in the desert, but God walked with them. “Testing” comes from the Hebrew word nacah, which means to test, try, prove, or tempt. God disciplined the Israelites in the desert so they would know that when times got hard, if they remained in covenant with Him, He would give what they needed. They learned to trust in God. This same disciplining is what a parent gives their child to help them grow. Many people today consider disciplining to be a negative punishment, but the opposite is true. Disciplining is teaching and making a person strong. Athletes discipline their bodies, as do soldiers. Punishment is the negative side of discipline. When a person does not grow, they fail. His or her punishment is failure and the results of the failure. In the desert, God used the forty years to discipline the Israelites. He wanted to know them, wanted them to know themselves, and what they could be as faithful children of God. God used the remembering of His faithfulness to the Israelites, which was their testing, to teach them He is the one true God who will stand up for them. This led to their knowing and learning that He tested them by leading them through the desert. He tested and disciplined them just as an earthly father disciplines his child.

The Israelites knowing God in this way developed their faith in Him. Their testing and growth of faith resulted in obedience to God’s commandments. This explains verses three through six. Verses three through four remind the Israelites of their hardships in the desert. It reminds them, too, of God’s love and provision for them in the desert. God provided manna and water in the desert of which they and their fathers did not know. This taught them to trust in God’s provision and to trust that man cannot live by bread alone, but by everything that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Humankind lives because God created them. God determines when they die, too. He determines who will live eternally with Him, as well. By His breath, God created humans. By His word, humans die. By His Word, humans can have eternal Life. The manna came by God speaking it into being. God’s speaking brought life to the Israelites who were starving then. God’s speaking brought us life in the beginning and gives us Life through His Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:1). Verse 3 says, “man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.” Verse 4 reminded the Israelites that God ensured their clothes and sandals did not wear out during their forty year wandering. God takes care of every need – food and clothing for physical life and salvation for eternal life. Because the Israelites learned about God and grew to trust in and rely upon Him, they gained conviction about the LORD God. Their conviction led them to have faith in Him. The writer of the book of Hebrews put it succinctly when he said, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). With this growth of faith in the hearts of the Israelites, they learned to love and revere the LORD. The lesson on chapter six taught us that the ultimate expression of love and reverence for God is obedience. Moses made this point again in verse six of this chapter when he said, “Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.” [NASB] These are the three steps to a perfect response to God’s command in verse one and in response to the first commandment. It requires your attitude to be reflected in actions.

            Moses explained to the Israelites what the LORD was giving them because of His faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham. The Israelites would inherit a good land full of water, fertile soil, and land rich in ores (vs. 7-9). Their natural response to God because of this should be blessing. Moses stated in verse ten, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.” The word “bless” comes from the Hebrew word barak, which means to kneel, bless, and praise. Moses commanded the Israelites to praise, worship, and revere the LORD. By acknowledging that every good thing comes from God, their relationship with, conviction of, and faith in God increased. By the time they traveled with God for forty years, they should have been at the place where blessing God was automatic and would not need to be commanded. It makes you wonder how we could not praise and worship God for every blessing He gives us today. Many people see blessings as coming from their own hands and brains. We no longer praise God for them. Have we forgotten the Father who disciplined us?

            Verse 11 is where Moses warned the Israelites to keep God’s commandments. He gave the first commandment in a negative way. Moses said, “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today.” [NASB] You may say, “This is not the first commandment.” We must remember that the word “forget” comes from the Hebrew word shakach, which means to ignore, forget, and cease to care about. The first commandment says, “You are to have no other gods.” When a person turns away from God by ignoring or ceasing to care for Him, the person has put something else in God’s place in their life. God is not being worshipped, loved, revered, and obeyed. Moses told the Israelites not to forget the LORD by not obeying Him. So by not obeying, a person is ceasing to care about and ignoring God. This is the thematic statement for the chapter. When a person follows the commandment in verse one, he or she remembers (vs. 1) and does not forget (vs. 11).

            The next thing Moses said to the Israelites concerns us still today. If they did not remember the LORD and keep His commandments, they would become proud and would forget the LORD. The Israelites would say their wealth and material things came from their own hands (vs. 12 &13). They would deny that God gave them their power and strength and would become proud of self (vs. 17). Added to this, they would forget the LORD. They would ignore Him and cease to care about Him because they considered themselves self-sufficient, not needing God. The Israelites would not remember what He did for them in their past – saved from scorpions and serpents and gave water to drink and food to eat (vs. 14-16). People today fall into this trap. When life is going very well, a person believes he or she provided everything he or she needed. The person becomes self-satisfied and is tempted to say they do not need God anymore. The big issue, though, is how self-sufficient is a person? God created, chose, saved, provided, and directed the Israelites. Were they truly self-sufficient? The Israelites fell into this same trap many times. Each of these times, they failed in keeping the first commandment because they made their selves and their wealth into gods and forgot the LORD God. The humility God taught them while wandering in the wilderness forty years should have been visible even during their prosperous years. We, today, are no more self-sufficient than the Israelites and should keep our humility when living in prosperous times. God continues to be Provider today.

            Moses reiterated the commandment strongly in verse eighteen. He said, “But you shall remember the LORD your God for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers as it is this day.” The Hebrew word for “giving” means bestowing, granting, permitting, and entrusting you with. God did not give the Israelites anything He could not take away if they failed to keep His commandments. He gave them the Promised Land to fulfill His covenant with Abraham. The Israelites did not get the land because of their worthiness. If the Israelites remained true to their promise with God, the Ten Commandments, at Mount Sinai, they would possess the land and be His people.

            There was always a curse connected with Old Testament era covenants should one party fail to fulfill their side. The curse for failing to fulfill this covenant with the LORD is in verses nineteen and twenty. Moses said,

It shall come about if you ever forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so you shall perish because you would not listen to the voice of the LORD your God. [NASB]

This curse spells out what God considers as forgetting Him. God said going after (following), serving, and worshipping other gods is shakach, forgetting, Him. In verse six, God stated what following Him means. He said keeping (listening and obeying) His commandments means walking in His ways and fearing Him. Verse 19 speaks of doing (serving) and worshipping (fearing and revering) as the way a person follows other gods. The actions for God are the same as if people go after other gods – following, serving/doing, and fearing. By this reasoning, if Israel “forgot” and turned their back on God by following other gods, the LORD would “make them perish” just as He made the nations that lived in Canaan before them perish.

Turning one’s back on God leads to death – physical and spiritual. Forgetting God leads to drying up, shriveling, and dying. God made this happen to other nations who chose not to live in relationship with Him. Following God and His commandments leads to a blessed, full, and joyous life – physically and spiritually. Israel was different from other nations as long as they followed God and obeyed Him. When they abandoned Him, they were no longer different and suffered the same consequences. 

God still offers life to people who follow and obey Him. Through Jesus Christ, He gives spiritual Life forever to those who follow Him. God still gives blessings. His blessings are sometimes material. They are sometimes spiritual, too, and lead us to new growth and joy. Whenever and however God chooses to bless His children, He does not do it because a person is worthy. God blesses because of His love for humankind. What was His greatest gift? His greatest gift was the life of His only Son, Jesus Christ, given to die for our sins so that we would not have to die forever as the punishment for them. He felt the pain, guilt, and anguish of each of our sins then suffered and suffocated on the cross.

We do not have to accept God’s gift, His salvation from our penalty. We do not have to follow, obey, and worship Him. We do die; that is the great equalizer of humanity. What happens after our physical death is the choice of each person for him or herself. God gave the perfect sacrifice for our penalty. We choose if we will accept it and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as our Savior. By doing this, we choose to follow, obey, and worship God only. It is your choice.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Absolute Allegiance and the Law of the Ban - Deuteronomy 7



Deuteronomy 7 


            Deuteronomy 6 commands following the first commandment in a positive way with the conditional statements of what will occur if a person does not obey it. Deuteronomy 7 speaks about the commandment in a negative way and introduces the law of the ban. This law of the ban is the prohibition of the worship of idols. Though the writer included God’s blessings and a war speech, he focused on the prohibition of idols. So, this chapter is a sermon on the theme of the first commandment, just as chapter six is, but composes it with the focus on what not to do. Three times and in three ways in chapter seven the writer expressed the ban, in verses one through six, sixteen, and twenty-five through twenty-six. In respect of other gods and idols, God declares a holy war on other gods and idols. He leads and wins the war in this instance. There are times in the Israelites lives where they chose not to follow Yahweh and He did not win. People through the ages have chosen to follow their own will and place someone or something higher than Yahweh. At that time, God’s will did not occur, but we believe God’s will prevails at the end. He will be victorious because He is more powerful than idols/gods made by humans and instigated by Satan.
            The first ban in this chapter begins by reminding the Israelites which nations God will clear away before them. As this roll call of nations proceeds, we remember the history of the people. As we read of the nations and recall their history, we will understand why God refused to make them a part of His chosen people. First, Moses mentioned the Hittites. This nation of people descended from Heth, the second son of Canaan, the son of Ham (Genesis 10:15). Ham was the youngest son of Noah who found his father drunk and naked in his tent and made fun of him. When Noah heard about it, he cursed him and his descendents (Genesis 9:21-23). The Hittites lived in the mountainous region around Hebron and before that lived in current day Turkey and, later, northern Lebanon. The Girgashites were descendents of Canaan, the son of Ham, too. They lived east of the Sea of Galilee when the Israelites entered the Promised Land. The Israelites encountered the Amorites when they battled Kings Og and Sihon earlier. Other Amorites lived on the western side of the Dead Sea in the mountains. The Amorites came from the Babylonian Empire that ruled the west and east of the Jordan River several centuries before the Israelites arrived. The Canaanites were direct descendents of Canaan. They lived near the Mediterranean Sea in Phoenicia, Tyre, and Sidon. The Perizzites are relatively unknown. Their name means “villagers” and they lived in un-walled towns and in southern Canaan. The Hivites descended from Canaan, too. They lived in northern Canaan near Ebal and Gerizim, extending toward Hermon. The Jebusites descended from the third son of Canaan, Jebus. They lived near the place later named Jerusalem. What is most important in this list of nations is that they were bigger and stronger than the Israelites. Moses highlighted this fact to them. The Israelites would not win any battle with them on their own. Moses made his point in verse two, “the Lord your God delivers them before you and you defeat them.” The Canaanites outnumbered the Israelites, but with God as the Israelites' deliverer, the seven nations could be defeated.
            God did not want them just defeated, He wanted the seven nations “utterly destroyed,” as Moses stated in verse two. The word “destroy” in this verse is the Hebrew word charam, which means complete devotion to ban or extermination. Moses began commanding the law of the ban in verse two. Added to this, God forbade the Israelites from making covenants with the seven nations, showing them favor, or intermarrying with them. God specifically prohibited making marriage covenants with any people of the seven nations. Why did God erect such a high wall around the Israelites. Moses explained what God said in verse four. God said, “For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods, then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.” God, the one true God, demands absolute allegiance to Him. He proved Himself to the Israelites as their Savior from Egypt and their desert wandering. No other god the Israelites knew of could do what Yahweh God did and promised to do. God chose the descendents of Abraham to receive His grace. As is noted in Deuteronomy 6, He is a jealous God who is a fierce protector of His treasured possession, the people of Israel. The one true God demands absolute allegiance and the Israelites joined Yahweh in covenant at Mount Sinai when they agreed to the Ten Commandments. The first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before Me.” God gave them the Promised Land because He had promised it to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is always faithful to His promises. The Israelites would “possess” the Promised Land by keeping their covenant, the Ten Commandments, with Yahweh. They promised to love, revere, and obey Yahweh. By routing and destroying the seven nations, God removed all influence of the gods of these nations from around the Israelites so they would not be enticed to worship them. The first commandment is a command, but God gives humankind freewill. Should a person not choose to give God absolute allegiance, then the other side of the conditional statement occurs -  judgment: God will destroy them (vs. 4).
            God did not give vague instructions to keep the Israelites from worshipping the gods of Canaan. He specified what He wanted the Israelites to do when they destroyed the seven nations. To guard against idolatry, God commanded them to (notice the word “shall”) “tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.” Their altars were their places of worship, their temples. These places of worship could be in buildings, but often they were in fields, olive groves, and forests. The sacred pillars were the places on which the idols sat. The Asherim was a Babylonian-Canaanite goddess of fortune and happiness and the consort of Baal. The word  “Asherim” referred to the many gods, too. The idols of these gods were most often wooden tipped in gold or silver. They burned easily. Interestingly, during the Reformation, the Scottish reformers did this and people of the time called them vandals. God’s purpose, though, is to keep His people set apart for Him because He chose/elected them for His own.
            The last verse of the writer’s first stating the law of the ban is verse six and it says, “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God: the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” To be holy is God consecrating and setting apart a person or people for His purposes. The word “chosen” is the Hebrew word bachar, which means to choose, elect, decide for, and select. God selected the Hebrew people not because they were the largest and most important nation. On the contrary, they were one of the smallest nations in the world at that time. He chose them because of His faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham, a man God called His friend (Genesis 15:5-6 and James 2:23). Because of Abraham’s faith in God, God considered him righteous and called him friend. God chose the Hebrews because of Abraham’s righteousness and because God is faithful to His promises. When God chose the Hebrews, He called them “His treasure.” The word “possession” in Hebrew means valued treasure. The Hebrews were God’s special treasure out of all the people on the earth (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20, 14:2, 26:18; Psalm 135:4; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9). As inheritors of sonship through Jesus Christ, God calls believers/Christians today His special treasure, too.
            God placed a prohibition on idolatry so the people would just worship the LORD. By doing this, they would fulfill the most important part of the covenant, the first commandment. Anyone who reads the Bible notices this prohibition was difficult for the Israelites. One generation after another fell and worshipped other gods. We today have this same problem. We have distractions that lead us to put more importance on things and people other than God, who requires absolute allegiance and single-minded devotion.
            What enables a person or people to stay strong in their devotion is recounting the blessings God gave him, her, or them. Moses recounted for the Israelites in verses seven through fifteen the blessings from God. Verses 7 and 8 told the Israelites and tell us today “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept an oath which He swore to your forefathers.” As stated in earlier paragraphs, God chose them because of His love for them and His oath to Abraham. God blessed them with His love and faithfulness. He blessed them, too, with His strength and power with which He redeemed (ransomed, rescued, and saved) them from slavery, Egypt, and Pharaoh (vs. 8b).
Moses continued and highlighted these blessings again in verse nine. He said, “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God (Deut. 6:4); the faithful God who keeps His covenant and loving-kindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” The word “know” in Hebrew is yada, which means to perceive, recognize, acknowledge, and confess. Notice a continual and expanding knowledge of something occurs with knowing. When a person first encounters a new idea, teaching, or leader, they know about them. As they study it or the person more, they begin to recognize its/his/her influence in their world. As they recognize more, they acknowledge their recognition and then confess to follow the idea, thought, or leader. Moses meant this when He said, “Know therefore that the LORD your God; He is God.” The Israelites had forty years of personal acquaintance, knowledge, and experience of the LORD and His commandments. They had testimony of Him in their lives. Now, Moses said, it was time for them to confess that the “LORD your God, He is God!” On the other side of “knowing the LORD is God,” we find God meted out judgment on those who hate Him. The haters are the ones who choose not to confess the LORD is God. Verse 10 states this judgment by saying, “But [God] repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face.” The Israelites knew about this part of the covenant. There are always two sides to an agreement or promise – the part when both parties meet their obligations and the part where one party does not receive what was obligated by the faithless party. For the Israelites, they inherit the Promised Land because of God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Abraham. In chapter six, the Israelites will "possess" the land when they meet the obligations of their covenant with God. That covenant is the Ten Commandments. If they are not faithful to their covenant with God by obeying the Ten Commandments, God can dispossess them from the Promised Land just as He planned to dispossess the Canaanites. Where expectation is, at least two possibilities are – the fulfillment of the expectation and reward or the lack of fulfillment and punishment. Moses reminded the Israelites of this in verse ten.
Because of this covenant via the Ten Commandments, Moses commanded,
Therefore, you shall keep the commandments and the statutes and the judgments, which I am commanding you today, to do them. Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them that the LORD your God will keep with you His covenant and His loving-kindness, which He swore to your forefathers. (7:11-12 [NASB])
God, as the loving Father, told His expectations and made known what would occur if they obeyed or not. Because they realized the outcome of faithlessness, Moses believed the Israelites would obey God and keep His commandments. That is why he commanded them to keep and do them in verse eleven. Remember, “keep” in Hebrew is shamar and it means to listen and do/obey.
            Verses 12 and 13a same the same thing as verses nine through eleven except in reverse order. Moses said, “Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you His covenant and His loving-kindness which He swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you.” God’s love and faithfulness to the Israelites calls the reply to Him with their love and faithfulness expressed in their obedience to His commandments. God’s keeping the covenant conditions is comparable to Israel keeping God’s laws. By obeying God, people show their love and reverence for Him. God’s love for the Israelites was due to His faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and nothing to do with the Israelites’ worthiness. God’s election/choosing of every person has nothing to do with the person’s worthiness and all to do with His love and grace.
            The blessings of God Moses reminded the Israelites continue through verses thirteen to fifteen. God will love, bless, and multiply them – their womb, the produce of their ground, and the womb of their animals. Moses specifically stated they and their cattle would not be barren (vs. 14). In addition to this, Moses said, “The LORD will remove from you all sickness and He will not put on you any of the harmful diseases of Egypt, which you have known, but He will lay them on all who hate you.” The people, the land, and their animals would be fruitful. God would protect them from the diseases the Israelites learned of in Egypt. The illnesses and diseases indigenous to Egypt were dysentery, smallpox, opthalmia, and the plague.
These blessings God gave them and promised to give the Israelites if they remained faithful to their covenant with Him. The greatest commandment is to love the LORD God only and absolutely. The other nine commandments hinged on this one. Should the Israelites have forgotten, Moses reminded them of the ban again in verse sixteen and God added that they shall not serve other gods. Verse 16 says, “You shall consume all the peoples whom the LORD your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, nor shall you serve their gods for that would be a snare to you.” Serving other gods is the heart of what God is protecting the Israelites from when He issued this law of the ban. The destruction of the gods of the land of Canaan and their influence to lead the people to idolatry is the center of this law. The Israelites could cross the Jordan River, defeat a few of the nations, see the wealth and splendor of the land and think, “The gods of these people are why the land is plentiful and the people wealthy; therefore, we should worship their gods, too.” God commanded the destruction of the idols to pre-empt this temptation/snare.
In the next section of this chapter, verses seventeen through twenty-four, the writer wrote in a different style. The purpose of these eight verses is to inspire warriors to battle. Should the Israelites consider themselves too small and insignificant to defeat the Canaanites, they should remember what God did to Pharaoh and Egypt (vs. 17-19). Should they still consider they are not able to defeat the nations, they can be assured God will use means they have not considered, such as the hornet (vs. 20). God used hornets at other times, too (Exodus 23:28 and Joshua 24:12, past and future). God uses obvious and unusual means to make His will occur. Moses told the Israelites they “shall not dread them for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God” (vs. 21). The Israelites could not drive the people out of Canaan with their own strength. They were too small in number. The only way the Hebrews could be victorious was through God’s strength and wisdom, wisdom that included other things in its arsenal besides people. The resources of their selves are not what the Israelites should focus on, but, instead, on the LORD and His power as He showed them in Egypt. Since God could defeat one of the mightiest nations at the time, He could defeat seven smaller nations. The Israelites must not despair because God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm would strike the people and cause fear in the hearts of every person (vs. 21). Moses told them the LORD would clear the nations before them little by little because “the wild beasts would grow too numerous” (vs. 22). The Hebrew word used as “wild beasts” is chayah and means living things. We then can interpret this verse in one of two ways. The "wild beasts" could refer to the people of Canaan who would be too numerous for the Israelites to defeat quickly. That being so, God would whittle away at the people of the seven nations. Alternatively, as a few commentators think, the "wild beasts" are literal animals. The Israelites would defeat only a small number of people at a time because the carcasses of the dead people would become too great and attract too many predatory/carrion animals to the vicinity where the Israelites were at the time. Either interpretation shows God’s genius in making the plan. He did not want to overwhelm the Israelites with the enormous size of the task of claiming the Promised Land in too short a time. Another tactic of God’s war plan was to throw the nations into confusion until their destruction (vs. 23). God used confusion for His benefit many times, such as the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:19, the confusion of the Egyptian army in Exodus 14:24, the confusion of the Philistines in 1 Samuel 7:10, as well as in Joshua 10:10, 2 Chronicles 20, Esther 3:15, and Acts 21:31. Through God’s use of these and other tactics, the Israelites would destroy kings and nations and the Promised Land would be won and given to the Israelites. Moses made sure they understood God would bring the victory. He said, “He will deliver the kings into your hand, make their name and reputation vanish on earth. No one man will be able to stand before you until you have destroyed them” (vs. 24). The fear of the Israelites and their God preceded them and God assured them of the victory.
After His war speech, Moses encapsulated this sermon on the ban with a stronger restatement of it. He strengthened it by saying the images are banned. As we see in verse twenty-six, Moses used the word "ban." The Hebrew word for the English word “ban” is cherem and means curse and devote to destruction. This, then, means God bans, curses, and wants the destruction of the idols and they shall not be in one’s house or life. Verses twenty-five through twenty-six say,
The graven images of their gods you are to burn with fire; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared for it is an abomination to the LORD your God. You shall not bring an abomination into your house, and like it come under the ban; you shall utterly detest it and you shall utterly abhor it, for it is something banned. [NASB]
God commanded the complete destruction of the idols, as well as the gold and silver on them. They must not be coveted or included in one's life. God commanded this because they could trap and tempt the Israelites to worship them instead of the Him. Moses called them an abomination - disgusting, wicked, detestable, and in a religious ritual sense, unclean. God taught the Israelites the idols are cursed. The Israelites must destroy them. Banned means this - unclean and set aside for destruction.
            That the law of the ban encloses the blessings of God and the war speech may appear odd. Considering the Israelites would doubt their ability to defeat the Canaanites and they would face temptation to incorporate the Canaanite way of life with their own, placing the ban around this whole chapter is appropriate. How many times are we encouraged when we remember God’s strength and presence in our lives? How many times are we encouraged when we count our blessings and revere the One giving the blessing instead of revering the blessing itself? The whole chapter revolves ultimately around the first commandment. Moses reminded the Israelites to stay faithful in their covenant with Yahweh God because He is the one who chose them and loved them even though they were unworthy of these actions of God. They were not worthy of God’s salvation from Egypt or the wilderness. Neither were they worthy of God’s blessing of the Promised Land. God’s blessings and love, though, are not about us, but about Him. God is the reason we understand about love and experience it. He is the source of blessings. We would not know God’s love or blessing or experience them if He did not give them, but He did give them. From the beginning of time, God created us to be in a relationship with Him (Ephesians 1:4, 2:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). He created us to know, want, and give love. Knowing this, how can we not love the LORD God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? This makes following the first and successive commandments simple. As chapter six taught, obedience of the commandments of God is the most perfect expression of our love of Him.
Because He loves us so much as to want us even though we are unworthy, how can we not choose to follow Him? God loves us so much that He sacrificed His Son, Jesus Christ, so we can be redeemed from our sin and its penalty. Because we know this great love is there for our asking, what stops you from calling to God and accepting His love and grace? Jesus paid the ransom price for your sin so you can be in a love relationship with the Father. What greater love is there? Jesus said ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7-8). When you are ready to receive God’s love and love Him in return, then ask, seek, and knock. God promises He will be found by you.