Wednesday, March 7. Deuteronomy 23 – 25

Ancient Israel differed from all other cultures in many ways, but one of them was their law concerning marriage.  There are no Old Testament passages sanctioning or prescribing divorce.  Marriage was for life.  Nevertheless, the assumption was that people would get divorces and God spoke to the matter.

First, divorce should be a significant matter.  A man could not just dismiss his wife.  He had to go through a legal procedure to give her a certificate of divorce.  Second, should she remarry, she would never be able to go back to nor be taken back by her previous husband.  This ensured the second marriage.

“Sharing” a woman was akin to prostitution and just like prostitution defiled the Holy land in which God and His people lived.  The law served to protect the institution of marriage, which was intimately bound up in the holiness of the nation.

In the Bible, marriage is not a human-made institution.  It cannot be defined as we see fit.  On the other hand, the world can define it any way they like.  It won’t make such definitions acceptable to God.  Christian people, God’s people, must remember that our lives are defined by God and live accordingly.  The fact that God’s people have so ignored and degraded marriage with our own behavior destroys our moral credibility with the world.  We have no right to demand of them what is expected of us when we ourselves have rejected the law of God by our own conduct.

 

Tuesday, March 6. Deuteronomy 20 – 22

Four things catch my attention when reading Deuteronomy 20:

First, that the chapter is devoted to instructions about war.  In fact, you will find a lot of instructions about going to war in today’s and tomorrow’s readings (through chapter 25).  The fact was, war was to be a way of life for God’s people – not because they were to be a people of aggression, but because the world around Israel would not leave God’s people in peace.  As much as it lies with us, we must live in peace – with one another and toward the world.  The world is not our enemy.  Our enemy is Satan, not the people he has deceived.  On the other hand, because Satan is our enemy, we should never expect that the world will live at peace with us.

Second, I wonder how God’s people were supposed to populate an army.  It looks like everyone had an exemption: newlyweds, newly engaged, new home owners, new land holders, and those who were simply afraid to go to war.  All were excluded from military service.  The answer, of course, is that the size of the army did not matter: God would give the victory.  But think about the reasons involved.  First, marriage.  It is such an important commitment that once approached, God would grant special accommodation to assure its success.  Second, dedication.  Houses, and the homes within them, were dedicated to the Lord.  This too was important.  New fields were not to be eaten from for four years, dedicating their harvest to God.  God would not be denied.  And finally, the afraid.  Faithlessness is contagious.  God would not permit such among His troops.

Third, note the difference between how Israel prosecutes war in different places: Within her borders, no quarter was given.  Her enemies were to be utterly destroyed.  Outside those borders however, quarter was to be given and rules followed about who could be taken prisoner and how they were to be treated.  Why the difference?  God lays it at the door of the Canaanites.  They were wicked people and this was His holy ground.  Wickedness was not to be tolerated.

The last thing has to do with trees.  Food producing plants were to be regarded differently than non-producing.  But the bottom line is that the earth is the Lord’s.  A “scorched earth” policy in war was simply inappropriate for the people of God.

 

Monday, March 5. Deuteronomy 17 – 19

God never intended there be poor people among Israel – but there were.

God never intended that Israel have a king – but He knew they would.

And so, in Deuteronomy 17, God laid down specific provisions for the life of a King.

First the king should be one God chooses.  And yet, God choosing him was not a matter of God saying: “This is my king whom I have chosen.”  If that were the case, the second command would have been unnecessary: the king was to be an Israelite.

How would one know that a King was approved by the Lord?

He might make it known by working mightily in His life (as in the case of Saul).  Or he might make it known through a prophet (as in the case of David).  But the sure way to know if a King was approved by God was in the way he behaved.  He didn’t immerse himself in the materialism common to pagan kings.  He didn’t make alliances with other nations.  His libido must be held in check.  Monarchs of the world might fall prey to these temptations, but those ruling the people of God should not.  It was just another way of emphasizing “God’s people are not to be like everyone else.”

 

Sunday, March 4. Deuteronomy 13 – 16

Deuteronomy 15 presents a seeming contradiction:

Verse 4: “There should be no poor among you . . .”

Verse 7: “If there is a poor man among your brothers . . .”

Verse 11: “There will always be poor people in the land . . .”

Which is it?

Verse 4 is not a statement of fact.  It is a conditional statement: Poverty would not exist if Israel would “fully obey the Lord” and be “careful to follow” all His commands.  Verse 11 indicates that God knows, this early in the game, that Israel will not be faithful to Him.  And yet, he continued to love them.

Given that Israel was not going to be faithful, the Lord decreed that she should at least be generous and kindhearted.  When a man became poor among her number, the community was to take care of him.

But of course, if Israel wasn’t going to obey the Lord on other things, why would she obey Him on this?

And her own lack of obedience likely brought out the law of the Sabbath year: Every seven years, all debts were to be canceled and Israelites who had sold themselves as slaves to their countrymen were to go free.  Nothing on this earth belongs to anyone forever, and no debt to any mortal can ever be so great as to be owed forever.  Because all belongs to Him, God can provide everyone with a clean slate and a new start.

It may not make a difference to unbelievers, but when God provides a clean slate to those who are His, all those who belong to Him must recognize it.

 

Saturday, March 3. Deuteronomy 9 – 12

Israel is on her way to invade the land of Canaan.  She will, by divine command and power, displace the nations of Canaan – nations greater and stronger than Israel.

As she does, God warns her about her perspective.

She should never think God has done this for her because she showed the most promise for accomplishing His will.  She is not the largest of nations, but among the smallest (7:7), and shows the least amount of promise.  God is not doing this because she is righteous, or even more righteous than the nations about her – for the evidence to the contrary is piled high to heaven (9:4-6).  In fact, had it not been for the intercession of God’s man Moses – a man they caused no end of grief – they would have been obliterated by God for their hard-heartedness.

There is the chance that Israel will forget the grace given to her by God, growing fat and prosperous and proud – too proud to acknowledge her unworthiness (8:12 – 14).  There is the chance that she will give the credit for her blessings to the gods of the land she is invading (11:16ff).

How we think about ourselves, how we think about our possessions, and how we think about why we are where we are – these very crucial thoughts – must be focused correctly and honestly faced.  Only then can we see God for who He really is, and see ourselves for what He has made of us.  It all begins with the correct perspective.

 

Friday, March 2. Deuteronomy 6 – 8

As I considered today’s reading, what stood out to me was God’s insistence on being obeyed.  While this insistence occurs throughout the book of Deuteronomy, it occurs with the most frequency and variety in chapters 4 – 8.

“Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God”

“Be careful to obey”

“Observe the commands of the Lord your God”

“Fear the Lord your God and serve Him only”

“Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight”

These are just some of the phrases I underscored, but these alone occur nearly 100 times in the book of Deuteronomy.  God is a god of grace and love, but He expects to be obeyed.  Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage did not come because Israel “obeyed” God.  God provided deliverance first.  But having delivered Israel from slavery, God expected obedience.

That outline has not changed with the coming of Christ.  Salvation is not available to us because we are obedient.  God made it available before we ever thought of serving Him – or even, before we were born.  But having provided it to us, and we having accepted it, God calls us to be obedient.  Israel’s future depended on it, and so does our own.  It’s part of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20).  We cannot love Jesus without it (John 14:15), and it is the condition of remaining in Christ’s love (John 15:10).

 

Friday, March 2. Deuteronomy 6 – 8

    As I considered today’s reading, what stood out to me was God’s insistence on being obeyed.  While this insistence occurs throughout the book of Deuteronomy, it occurs with the most frequency and variety in chapters 4 – 8.

“Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God”

“Be careful to obey”

“Observe the commands of the Lord your God”

“Fear the Lord your God and serve Him only”

“Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight”

    These are just some of the phrases I underscored, but these alone occur nearly 100 times in the book of Deuteronomy alone.  God is a good of grace and love, but He expects to be obeyed.  Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage did not come because Israel “obeyed” God.  God provided deliverance first.  But having delivered Israel from slavery, God expected obedience.

    That outline has not changed with the coming of Christ.  Salvation is not available to us because are obedient.  God made it available before we ever thought of serving Him – or even, before we were born.  But having provided it to us, and having accepted it, God calls us to be obedient.  Israel’s future depended on it, and so does our own.  It’s part of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20).  We cannot love Jesus without it (John 14:15), and it is the condition of remaining in Christ’s love (John 15:10).

Sunday, February 26. Numbers 26 – 29

Why are there so many stories about men in the Bible and so few about women?

I don’t know the answer to this.  I don’t, however, believe it exhibits any great preference for men.  After all, most of the stories about men in the Bible are not exactly complimentary ones.  And while there are stories about bad women in the Bible, and questionable ones, there are more about good women than there are about good men.

Here, in chapter 27, we have the stories of five of them – Zelophehad’s daughters.

These women exhibit great courage.  In a society run by men, they appear with their complaint before the Tent of Meeting.  They have prepared themselves well.  Their father died in the wilderness for no special reason other than that was his lot.  It seemed unfair then that he, without a male heir, should lose a part of the land promised to God’s people when no one else did.  Notice that the sisters do not come asking for themselves (though they will surely profit), but for the honor of their father.

Notice also they bring their request to God, believing God will do right.

In the end, God gives them more than they asked for (not apparent in the English text).  They ask for their father’s portion.  God gives them their own portion that they may pass on to their children.

The story also gives us insight to the creation of law.  God didn’t just hand down all the rules from on High.  Some of them had to be worked out as time and circumstance called for them.

 

Wednesday, February 29. Numbers 36 – Deuteronomy 2

Deuteronomy begins with a call to justice and a review of how Israel came to be east of the Jordan river in the territory of Moab.  In chapters 1-4 Moses reviews Israel’s failures and successes and points out that they owe every success to God.  Moses wants Israel to know that God is serious about obedience and reminds them  five times that, despite the fact he (Moses) has been with Israel since they left Egypt, he will not get to enter the promised land.  The reason is due to his own failure, and Israel’s.

Chapters 5-11 set forth the law of God in an abbreviated form (the Ten Commandments) and calls Israel to obedience.  The Ten Commandments serve as a foundation for all the laws of God and all are, in some way, related to one of the ten.  The ten commandments were spoken directly to Israel by God, and written by God personally on stone.

Chapters 12-26 provide an elaboration on the Ten Commandments, showing how the commands apply in a broader sense.

Chapters 27-28 list curses for those who do not follow the law of God, and blessings for those who do.

Chapters 29-34 is a final call to faithfulness and concludes with the death of Moses.

Obedience is paramount in Deuteronomy.  Israel should obey not “in order to receive” the promises, but to keep from losing them.  This is a significant point.  The false doctrine of Salvation by works does not just teach that works are involved in salvation.  It teaches that by his works one can secure his own salvation.  The people of Israel however had already been saved by God’s grace.  If they wanted to stay saved, and wanted their lives to go well, they would have to be obedient.  The same is true of us.  Again, as Peter Craigie puts it: Deuteronomy “provides a paradigm for the kingdom of God in the modern world; it is time for renewing commitment within the New Covenant and turning to the future with a view to possessing the promise of God.”

 

Tuesday, February 28. Numbers 33 – 35

The boundary of Canaan for Israel looked something like the map below (from the Tyndale Commentary on the Old Testament, Numbers, p.  260).  Not all of the cities listed in the text can be located with certainty.  All of the tribes of Israel, with the exception of Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh, would live within these boundaries.  The land was more than sufficient to house all of God’s people, which speaks to the generosity of God in fulfilling his promises.  Leaders were appointed by God for the purpose of allotting the land and their word would be final.  Israel had learned from previous rebellions against leadership that once leaders were selected, rebellion would be fatal.