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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Covenant Renewal and Obedience - Deuteronomy 26

Introduction

As we arrive at Deuteronomy 26, we near the end of Moses’ second sermon/speech to the Israelites at Beth-peor before they cross the Jordan River into Canaan. This second sermon began with the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5. With chapter twenty-six, the sermon’s conclusion begins with a reminder to be obedient, recognize the LORD God as the source of their blessings/produce/profits, and renew their covenant with the LORD God. Deuteronomy 27 and 28 end this second sermon. The last two chapters of the second sermon bring to blazing recall God’s reward of blessing for faithfulness to Him and His commandments and the curse for faithlessness.
Today’s study includes remembering and worshipping the LORD God by giving Him the first-fruit tithes, by caring for the poor with the third year tithes, and by renewing their covenant with the LORD God - recognizing He is their God and promising to obey Him. In this chapter we will understand how being faithful to God affects human interpersonal relationships. In addition, being faithful in human relationships shows our faithfulness to God. Neither relationship can be ignored or grown and not affect the other.

Remember and Worship

The first eleven verses of chapter twenty-six are a profession of faith in action and word. Remember, people show their love and faithfulness to God by obeying His commandments, statutes, and laws. One of the areas of life God gave commands concerned giving tithes to Him. Moses taught the Israelites about giving a tithe of their produce to the LORD in Exodus 22 – 23, Numbers 18, and Deuteronomy 12. In these passages, he told them that bringing the tithe to the LORD was worshipping Him. In Deuteronomy 12:7 Moses said, “There also you and your households shall eat before the LORD your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the LORD your God has blessed you.” The Israelites’ bringing their tithe to God’s appointed dwelling place reminded them of who gave them the blessings, returned part of God’s gifts to Him as thanks, gave every person the opportunity to eat, and set aside time to worship the LORD and rejoice.

In verse 1, Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s vow to them. God gave them the land as an inheritance of the promise He made with Abraham. They did not earn it or gain it for themselves, but God’s faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham provided it. Verse 1 reminded them, too, that their faithfulness to their covenant with God allowed them to live in and possess the land. In Deuteronomy 4:5, Moses taught the Israelites that following God’s decrees and laws would allow them to take possession of the land God would give them. In Deuteronomy 5:33, the chapter in which Moses reminded them of their covenant  - the Ten Commandments - with God at Mount Sinai, he said walking in the ways of the LORD would allow them to live, prosper, and prolong their days in the land they would possess.

Because of God’s gift to them - the Promised Land - and His hand upon their work that brought a harvest, Moses taught the Israelites to worship God in action and word. The first and best of their harvest Moses taught them to set aside to give to God. In verse 2, Moses told them to take their first fruit “to the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name.” He said this same statement in Deuteronomy 12:5. Some Bible scholars see this as referring to the temple and so consider this part of Deuteronomy a later writing added to the first writings. Other Bible scholars consider “the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name” refers to wherever the tabernacle resided before Solomon built the temple. What is most important about this passage is not when the writer wrote it - before or after Solomon built the temple, but that the Israelites were to take a tithe of first-fruits to the LORD to thank and praise Him. With this verse, Moses taught them to prefer glorifying God’s name over satisfying their own appetites.

With verse three, a confession of faith begins. Before the Israelites gave a basket of first fruits to the priest, they began their confessions. This confession is like the ones found in Joshua 24 and 1 Samuel 12. The interesting thing to notice in this confession is it does not mention creation or the occurrences at Mount Sinai. The beginning of the confession of faith states that the person offering the tithe received and entered the land the LORD swore to give and gave to the Israelites. The man/tither recognized the LORD gave him the land because of His faithfulness to His promise with his forefathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – not because he or any of the Israelites earned it.

After that first statement, the priest took the basket and set it before the altar of the LORD (vs. 4). From that point, the Israelite continued his confession of faith in the presence of the LORD, at His altar. In verse 5, he said his father was a nomadic Aramean. This showed the lowness of his common ancestor with the other Israelites. They were low, but God chose them and raised them up. The next part of the tither’s confession told of the Israelites’ sojourn to Egypt. There were just seventy of them when they entered Egypt as foreigners fleeing drought and famine (Genesis 46:27). While in Egypt, the Hebrews grew in number (Deuteronomy 1:10 & 10:22). The next part of the confession said the Egyptians made them slaves. The Israelites suffered beatings, afflictions, and hard bondage while in Egypt (Deut 26:6). Yet, they were to remember God chose them when they were low. God set them apart for Himself; He consecrated them.
The next parts of the tithers’ confessions of faith related to God and what He did for them. He became their Savior. By His goodness, He brought them out of Egypt. When the Israelites cried to the LORD God of their fathers, He heard them and saw their affliction, toil, and oppression. Though they were low, He responded to their cries and situation. Verse 8 says, “And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders.” God revealed His might and power for and to the Israelites and to the Egyptians. He chose them, a low people. By God’s choosing them, He exalted them. God raised them above the Egyptians and other people He could have chosen.

Before we move to the next part of the confession of faith, we must note that the recital of the Israelites’ history jumps from God’s taking them out of Egypt to their occupation of the Promised Land. Moses did not mention their Exodus years in this confession, which differs from other confessions of their history. In verse 9, we see the continuation of the confession of faith from verse eight. God brought them from Egypt to “this place” (Canaan) and gave them the land flowing with milk and honey. He brought them out of Egypt and into Canaan. The land was God’s gift to His chosen people. This fact in itself should make the Israelite want to worship the LORD God. Besides this, the land that God gave them provided them with their produce and profits. The Israelites praise to God for the land and the produce could not be contained. Yet, as time went on and the people of Israel took their produce for granted, this teaching of Moses would remind them from whom the produce came and to whom the praise must go. Both the land and produce from the land came from God’s merciful hand. When the people praised and thanked Him for His current mercies, they recalled and thanked Him for His past mercies and for His future blessings they expected.
With verse 10, the Israelites proclaimed the produce they received came from the ground the LORD gave them. They acknowledged the LORD gave them the fruit from the land He gave them. Hence, they brought the first fruit of God’s blessed land back to Him. The fruit was a sign that the LORD kept His promise to them and their forefathers. What they gave to the LORD was part what He gave to them. The writer of 1 Chronicles 29:14 expressed this when he said, “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” True worship of God occurs when we recognize not just the blessing He gave recently, but that everything we have He gave. We recognize, too, through His blessing, worship of Him occurred naturally in thanks for what He gave. They go hand in hand – blessing and worship.

The final part of their giving the tithe to God occurred when they set it before the LORD, worshipped before Him, and rejoiced with everyone who lived among them about the good the LORD gave them (vs. 11). Tithing should not be a rote action based on a law. Tithing should be worshipping the LORD in His presence with others. By doing this, He receives the thanks of His people and they each receive the joy of their thanks and the benefits of the first fruits. Gathering and giving first fruits gave worship to God and worshipping God brings blessings to the worshipper. They are interdependent. The food of the tithe fed everyone in the community so a communal worship with giving and receiving joy occurred.
Worship should reflect about God and affect the worshipper and people around the worshipper to whom God gave blessing. If it does not affect people around the worshipper, we must wonder if it was truly worship of God. Worship includes rejoicing and creates joy. Joy is not something that can be contained, but which overflows and gushes from out of the container into which it flows. In the giving of the tithe, the joy of God’s blessings and rejoicing in thanks overflows to the people around who then become nurtured in their spirits and in their bodies – joy and food. Deuteronomy 12:7 and 16:11 spoke of many people celebrating the harvest festival together. Worshipping, rejoicing, and thanking God should be communal and personal activities. They should affect everyone who surrounds the child of God.

Caring for People

In verses 12 through 15, Moses reminded the Israelites of another tithe and its purpose – caring for people. This tithe, too, would feed the spirit and body of the people involved. The previous tithe, the first fruits tithe or harvest festival, returned praise to God for His mercy and blessing. The tithe of the third year returned praise to God for His blessing and provided food for the poor of the community, not just the household of the tither and the Levite of the town.
Just as Moses taught in Deuteronomy 14:28-29, the Israelites’ tithe came from the produce of their land. God gave both the land and the produce. They offered the tithe to Him as thanks for the land He gave and the blessing He put on the work of their hands in sowing into and reaping from that land. This third-year tithe had a dual purpose. In the third year (remember, the Jews divided their years into groups of seven), the tithe returned to God as thanksgiving (as always), but God, too, meant for it to stay in their towns to feed the poor, not to be given at the tabernacle or temple. This tithe thanks to God provided physical blessing to the people of the tither’s town. The tithes of the third year’s profit/produce Moses taught them to spend at home giving to the poor. God had confidence in the Israelites’ honesty to keep the best for Him and distribute it to the poor of their towns. He trusted they would not give grudgingly and only the worst of the produce since it would not go to the temple or tabernacle. As a safeguard, to keep people honest, God required the third-year tithe to go to the Levite of the town first before being distributed to the poor.

Notice in verse twelve, the Hebrew word for our English word “Levite” is Leviyiy. This “Levite” is not the same Hebrew word Moses used in verse four. In verse 4, he used kohen. Leviyiy refers to every Levite - man, woman, and child. Kohen refers to the priests who interceded for the Israelites before God and who offered their sacrifices to God. Levites lived throughout Israel. Their income came from the LORD’s offerings. Unless they lived at the place of the tabernacle or temple, the Levites tended to be poor. The third-year offering God set aside to feed the poor, including the Levites, of the Israelite cities, towns, and villages. Just as Moses taught in Deuteronomy 14, he reminded the Israelites here the third-year offerings God commanded they use to feed the Levite, stranger (foreigner), orphan, and widow. These people were the lowest and hence, most poor of the community.

Moses taught a confession of innocence be said to avow the sanctity/holiness of the tithe. The Israelites each had solemnly to profess no holy, set apart (sacred and consecrated) thing (produce or profit) was hoarded by himself and none of the tithe was ill-used. In verse 13, the Israelite swore before the LORD, “I have removed the sacred portion from my house and also have given it to the Levite and the alien, and the orphan and the widow, according to all your commandments which you have commanded. I have not transgressed or forgotten any of your commandments.”

We must break this down to understand fully the oath the Israelite took before he gave the food to God and then to the poor. The word “removed” comes from the Hebrew word ba’ar and means to consume or burn. “Sacred” comes from the Hebrew word qadash and means sacred, set apartness, holy. The word “Levite” here is leviyiy, which refers to every Levite - man, woman, and child. “Transgressed” comes from the Hebrew word ‘abar and means done away with or alienated self from God and His commandments. The word “forgotten” comes from the Hebrew word shakach. It means to forget or cease to care about. Now, considering these definitions, verse thirteen can best be understood in this way.

I have burned/consumed/removed/brought the sacred and holy portion from my house and have also given it to all the Levites and the alien, the orphan and the widow, according to all your commandment which you have commanded. I have not alienated myself from God and His commandments or ceased to care about any of Your commandments. [My translation]

In the tither’s mind, when he considered the portion set aside for God as already consumed (given to God), he could not use it for himself or his household. The tither set it aside from himself for God’s holy purpose. By giving the tithe, he pledged to stay in a living relationship with the LORD God and to not forget, but remember and obey His commandments. The worship of the LORD here can be seen to affect the corporate life of the community in body and spirit. One’s worship of God should affect your life and the life of the people you meet each day.

This oath is significant. The giving of the third-year tithe came around twice in a seven-year cycle. Its purpose was to remind the people who gave them the blessing, to whom praise belonged, to renew the people’s oath with the LORD, and to feed the poor. God cared about every person in Israel. He cared about their bodies and their spirits – their relationship with Him, the one who chose them and raised them above other nations.

Moses added to this with verse fourteen. The Israelites, upon giving their tithe in the third year, had to state their loyalty to the LORD and His laws. Their oath had to profess four things – they did not eat the produce while mourning, they removed none of it while they were unclean, they offered none of it to the dead, and they listened to and obeyed God’s commands. Each of the first three God considered profane/unclean. God commanded the Israelites not to be unclean or take unclean things in to the tabernacle or temple when they worshipped Him. Ritual cleanness of the offering occurred when they followed the first three rules (Leviticus 22:3; Hosea 9:4; Haggai 2:11-13). Verse 14 states God accepted only clean gifts, as we know from the other passages noted earlier. In addition, the Israelites could only give clean gifts to the poor. These gifts of produce from the land and the herds fed the bodies of the poor and brought them into the worship and praise of God for His blessings. God cared about the spiritual lives of the poor and the landholders. By following these laws and God’s other commands, the Israelites showed they heard, listened, and obeyed (shamar) God. They fulfilled part of their oath to the LORD.

Added to the oaths above, when the Israelites offered the third-year tithe to the God, they prayed a solemn prayer for God’s people – Israel. Moses taught them to say, “Look down from Your holy habitation from heaven and bless Your people Israel, and the ground which you have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You sore to our fathers.” God taught the Israelites they were to be civic minded and pray for His blessings on the land and the nation. The prayer taught them to look to God for His favor and grace to be enough for the people for he is the one who gives blessings. Being a child of God is not a singular experience, but is expected to be a corporate and plural experience. What one person does in nation and world affects other people in both body and spirit. Our relationship with God affects other people. It may draw them closer to God or alienate them further. Our relationship with God may give physical blessing for people or create more hunger. Our faithfulness or faithlessness to God affects other people. Each person is not an island unto him or herself.

This section of the chapter in which the Israelites learned to pray for the nation reminded them and later hearers/readers that God provided the abundance of their blessings and He deserved their thanks, praise and worship. One of the ways of doing that was to offer a tithe every third year, which God ordained be given to the local poor. The giver of the tithe attested to God’s blessings, affirmed it came from the best of the produce and herd and was clean, and  set apart/holy for God’s service. By doing this, the Israelites remembered God cared about the nation, not just each of them separately. It taught them to pray with a civic and national mind because God’s blessings came to them as a nation when He chose them as His people whom He set apart for His purpose. God’s blessings came on a people whom He called for His purpose to be in covenant with Him. The Israelites were not to think singularly, but taught to seek the good of their nation, the whole people of God – to pray for them and to provide for them – body and soul.

Covenant Renewal

In the earlier fifteen verses, we saw how Moses reminded the people of Israel to be faithful to the LORD God by following His commands and worshipping him alone. The next four verses tell us Moses called them to renew their relationship with God and reminded them of God’s declaration for them.

In verse 16, Moses charged the Israelites to follow the LORD’s commands, statutes, and ordinances without reservation or divided commitment. He told them to “be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul.” These words reminded Israelites of the beginning of Moses’ speeches/sermons. Moses repeatedly told them to be careful to do God’s commands. Shamar expresses this command. Remember, the Jewish idea of hearing requires listening and obedience. One cannot hear without acting upon what hears. Besides this, in Deuteronomy 4:29, Moses said, “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.” To be God’s chosen people, the Israelites had to serve Him with undivided loyalty. They had to serve him with their whole being – heart, soul, and might. Moses taught this in Deuteronomy 6:5 and 10:12, too. The Israelites’ covenant with God obligated them to keep these and all God’s commands.

Moses reminded them what they agreed to in verse seventeen. He told them, “You have today declared the LORD to be your God, and that you would walk in his ways and keep His statutes, His commandments, and His ordinances and listen to His voice.” The two parties to this covenant, God and the Israelites, come together with Moses as the mediator. Exodus 6:7, Jeremiah 31:33, and Ezekiel 36:28, too, include this short formula for the covenant. In Deuteronomy 26:17, the Israelites declared their commitment to be the LORD’s people, which they showed by listening to and obeying/following His commands. This was the Israelites’ covenant with the LORD God.

Verses 18 and 19 show the LORD’s covenant to the people of Israel. Moses said,
 
The LORD has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep His commandments; and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people to the LORD your God as He has spoken. [NASB]

In this brief covenant reprise, God declared He wanted to be Israel’s God. He declared Israel as His people, whom He will exalt and make holy to Himself. Do not we each want this from our God whether we are Christians or of another faith? Can we each truthfully say our God (or god if you are of another faith) honors us with His exaltation and His sanctification (making holy) of us? If not, we must decide if our deity is truly God of all creation.

      Yahweh God, in verses eighteen and nineteen, declared and proclaimed the Israelites His treasured possession. He made this statement to Pharaoh when He caused the plagues to occur. God made this statement in the wilderness when He guided and protected the people by fire, cloud, and His angels. “Treasured possession” comes from the Hebrew word cegullah meaning valued and peculiar treasure. God cherished them as His own treasure. He promised the Israelites, if they kept (shamar) His commandments (the Israelites’ covenant with God), He would set them high above every nation. They who once were low, nomadic Arameans, abused in captivity by the Egyptians, and small in number, would be set high above every nation for praise, honor, and consecration as His people. The Israelites would be held up as a people to be esteemed and looked up to as role models. Their reputation would go before them and they would receive honor from other people and nations. As the set apart people of God, they would be a beacon of the LORD God’s light and love.

      Why would this occur? It would occur because the LORD God chose them to be “consecrated” as His people. God set them apart as holy and sacred to Him. This is not a new idea. In Exodus 19:6, God told the Israelites, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” He restated this in Deuteronomy 7:6 when he said, “You are a holy people to the LORD.” Isaiah 62:12 said they were “the holy people.” Jeremiah 2:3 said, “Israel was holy to the LORD.” Peter carried this idea of Israel’s holiness in 1 Peter 2:9 when he said to every believer in Jesus Christ, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” This is the main point: without God’s choosing of the Israelites to be His chosen people consecrated for Himself, they would be low, unnoticed, abused nobodies. Because God chose them, He lavished, gushed, His love upon them and they had to respond one way or another – as God’s people who followed Him or not.

Recap

      The Israelites’ faithfulness to God wavered over their history, as does that of most of humankind. We cannot judge them without casting the same judgment upon ourselves. The LORD’s mercy is what ensured their continued receipt of His blessings and consecration. When the Israelites were faithful to their covenant with God, they obeyed His commands and laws, which affected themselves singularly and plural, as a congregation of God’s people/nation.

      We see in this chapter a synopsis of the covenants of God to Israelite(s) and Israelite(s) to God. In it, Moses reminds us obedience to God’s commands affects the person who obeys and the whole nation. Hence, the faithfulness to their covenant with God affects the vertical relationship with the LORD and the horizontal relationship with humankind. The Ten Commandments stated this. The first four commandments were commandments about the peoples’ relationship to God. The last six were commandments about each person’s relationship with other people. Within each commandment, the relation between God and man, as well as man and man, occurred. When a person worshipped God alone, he or she praised, adored, thanked, and petitioned God. In that process, the worship overflowed into his or her life and affected other people. The third-year tithes prompted this with the feeding of the poor that created rejoicing together at the blessings from God’s hands. With regards to the commandments about interpersonal human relationships, when a person did not kill another person or steal from a person, etc., that person respected the other and reflected his or her life offered to God. This life people saw by the person living God’s laws visibly in their relationships with other people.

      None of the commandments is just about relationship with God or just with human. They each interweave to affect the other and many more people. The worship of God begins individually within a person and should gush out and overflow onto others so they worship God, too. God’s commandments affect the spiritual side of a person and the bodily side. So when Moses said in verse sixteen the Israelites were to do the commands of the LORD with all their heart and soul and Jesus said to love the Lord God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, they each said following and worshipping the LORD God was to be an undivided, undiluted, unreserved commitment.

Relevance and Conclusion

What does the Israelites’ covenant have to do with us today? The writer of Romans said in Romans 8:14-17,
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God  and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

When we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins and resurrected to beat death (Satan), we become joint-heirs with Christ. We become sons of God. Then we can say as Peter did above in 1 Peter 2:9, we are God’s children, His chosen people, His royal priesthood, His holy people, and His own peculiar possession. This is how we today are like the Israelites God chose. We are His chosen people who are heirs to His kingdom through Jesus Christ’s righteousness that bought our salvation through His death and resurrection. We have this covenant with God to worship Him alone and He will provide for all our needs through His grace and mercy, just as He did for the Israelites. God holds high above all others to be a beacon of His light and love. We follow God’s will because of our love for Him and because our will, when we become His children, aligns with His will so they are the same. The glory of God shows, praise and thanks resound, and people want to know more about Him because they see Him in us – our actions and words. Our actions and words show our love, worship, and faithfulness to God.

      As humans, we do sometimes fail to follow God. God gave us free will to decide for ourselves what to do. As followers of Jesus Christ all our sins – past, present, and future – are forgiven when we confess them to Him. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This differs from the time of the Israelites. They did not have salvation from sin. They had rituals to cleanse them from the stain of sin that kept them from the presence of God. The Israelites did not have salvation - redemption from the power and stain of sin and the judgment of sin. Jesus provided the power to avoid sin and to remove the judgment of death sin required. Sin separates a person from God because God cannot be in the presence of sin. Separation from God is death – now and eternally. Jesus’ conquering of death by the power of His resurrection means that sin no longer has a hold on any of His believers either. This is how we differ from the Israelites. We have the better covenant – the Messianic covenant. The Old covenant – the Mosaic covenant – led the people to God, to look to Him and follow Him. It could not save them from the judgment of sin - death

      The question now is: Do you want to be in covenant with God through Jesus Christ? Do you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God who lived a sinless life, died for our death penalty, and resurrected to beat death to give us power over sin and death? Do you want to receive salvation through Jesus Christ from your sins? When you become a follower of Jesus, you are a child of God, a joint heir of Jesus Christ, part of the royal priesthood and holy nation.
It is your decision. What will you decide?