Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy Introduction & Chapter 1

Deuteronomy means “second law.”  On the plains of Moab, 40 years after receiving God’s law on Mt. Sinai, Moses speaks the law again to a new generation of Israelites in preparation for life in the promised land.  However, this is not dry repetition of God’s law.  Moses preaches and expounds the law to Israel in their current situation (1:5).  

Moses’ preaching in Deuteronomy seems to be in the form of “suzerain-vassal” treaties (i.e. sovereign-subject treaties) that were common in the Ancient Near East:

    1) Preamble (1:1-5)

    2) Historical Prologue (1:6-4:49) -- recounting the history of the Suzerain’s relationship with the vassal nation, in this case God’s faithfulness toward Israel over the past 40 years.

    3) General Stipulations (5-11) — for Israel, the general stipulation is to love.  Love is the basis of God’s covenant relationship with Israel, and He calls Israel to respond in love.

    4) Specific Stipulations (12-26) -- the specific ways that Israel is called to love God and neighbor.  

    5) Blessings and Curses (27-28) — “The curse of God is not something inflicted with vindictive pleasure; rather, it appears to be the inevitable outcome of a life that is lived regardless of God, by rejecting a relationship with God whose essence is love” (Peter Craigie, 44)*.  On the other hand, blessing is the inevitable outcome of remaining united to God.  

    6) Witnesses (see 30:19; 31:19; 32:1-43)

The formal structure of this book seems appropriate given that is comes in the context of a covenant renewal ceremony (29).  Covenant renewal, at this moment, was extremely important not only because Israel is about to have their faith stretched (once again) and begin a new era in their history, but also because Moses is about to die (34).  They must continue to trust the LORD with a new leader (31:1-8).  Finally, the “suzerain-vassal” treaty stresses the reality that Egypt is no longer Israel’s “suzerain.”  They now have a compassionate and gracious Suzerain, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Our God binds himself to us in love through a covenant, full of covenant promises of blessing.  Covenant relationships, marriage being the most obvious human example, also come with great responsibility.  Like all good relationships, there is a commitment to love into the future.  We see this perhaps more clearly in Deuteronomy than any other place in Scripture.  Yes, we fail over and over to love God as we should.  However, Jesus came not only to fulfill our covenant responsibilities and to take the curse for this failure, but also to resurrect and empower us to begin to love God and others as we were created to love — to make us like him!  Am I aware today that I am in a covenant relationship with God, that my baptism was the outward sign marking my entrance into the covenant community, and that the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life is the seal of this covenant?  How does this impact the way I understand my life?

* Peter Craigie’s The Book of Deuteronomy commentary in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament series is probably the most respected commentary on the book in the English language.  It was helpful for this introduction and we will continue to glean from his understanding throughout the book.
 

Deuteronomy 2-3

Remember, the first four chapters of Deuteronomy recount God’s history with Israel since their departure from Mt. Sinai (see Introduction to Deuteronomy). These chapters form the first major section of God’s "suzerain-vassal" treaty with Israel, a treaty through which God and Israel renewed their covenant after the older generation died in the wilderness due to lack of trust (2:14-15; 1:26-36).  Today’s two chapters specifically recount the events of Numbers 20-21 and God's faithfulness in bringing Israel north, out of the wilderness and to the east of the Dead Sea and Jordan River.  Here, they skirted around the Edomites, the descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau (2:1-8), and avoided war with the Moabites and Ammonites, descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot (2:9-23), though not without incident (Numbers 21-25).  God had provided lands for these nations and Israel was not to tamper with God’s provision (2:4-6,9,19).  On the other hand, the time of judgment had come for the Amorite kings Sihon and Og (2:24-3:11).

These two chapters do not simply recount Numbers 20-21 but actually provide more insight into what was happening.  The passage highlights God’s sovereignty in bringing Israel to the edge of the promised land, but finds no tension between God’s sovereignty (2:7,19,21-22,24-25,30-33,36; 3:2-3) and human responsibility (2:8,13,26-29,34; 3:4-6,8-9).  As Peter Craigie says regarding the defeat of the Amorite king Sihon, “In the account in Numbers 21:23, Sihon’s actions are attributed to unfriendliness.  But beyond the event, it was possible to look back and see the event in the context of the plan of God.  Thus the statements about Sihon (the Lord your God had made his spirit stubborn …) do not reflect a view of determinism, but reflect rather a part of Hebrew theology of history.  Man is free and responsible in action, but the actions of all men are set within the sphere of history, and God was the Lord of history" (116).  This is the lesson for Joshua, isn’t it?  Joshua is called to act in faith (3:22) because God is sovereign (3:21)!

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How does God’s faithfulness to our forefathers in the faith assure you and call you into action?  Israel’s battles were God’s battles, establishing and expanding his kingdom on earth.  Under the new covenant, or New Testament, the church's battles are not with flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:12).  How is God calling you to trust him, stepping into places of darkness in order to bring the light of his kingdom?  

 

Deuteronomy 4

A weighty chapter, our passage is replete with Moses’ awe over God’s mercy and revelation of himself to Israel.  “Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of?  Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived?" (4:32-33).  Throughout the passage, Moses calls Israel to this reverence for God as the one and only God:  “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below.  There is no other” (4:10,39).  Life may be found only in God (4:40).  These themes of reverence and trust in the life that God gives resound throughout the passage and are the basis of Israel’s obedience to the law, which Moses will begin to expound in the next chapter.  But Moses’ desire is not only for Israel.  He desires that the surrounding nations will see the wisdom of God in the life of Israel (4:6).  From the very beginning, God chose Israel to be a blessing to all peoples (Genesis 12:1-3).  

Our passage does not continue the chronological history of God’s relationship with Israel from previous chapters.  Rather, as the final chapter in the historical prologue (see outline in Introduction), it provides a summary of their relationship as Moses weaves in and out of recent and past events.  He refers back to creation (4:32), slavery in and rescue from Egypt (4:20), the giving of the law and God’s awesome presence at Mt. Sinai (4:11-19), Israel’s lack of faith and God's judgment (4:21-22), and recent rebellion with the Baal of Peor in Moab (4:3-4). Through this summary, Moses implicitly warns Israel against future rebellion, but his warning is also explicit as he prophesies about exile, should Israel forsake God’s laws (4:25-28).  As the only One worthy of our worship and devotion, and the only One able to fill our hearts and lives, God is jealous for his people (4:24).  It will not go well for Israel if they commit adultery against the Lord of life, but Moses also speaks of a day when God will forgive his people if they repent (4:29-31).

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Look back over the passage and allow the expressions of reverence and awe to work their way into your heart.  What would it look like for me to live my life in reverence and awe?  
     
  • In what ways am I looking for life, this week, outside of the Lord of life?
     
  • Am I believing, today, in God’s mercy toward those who repent and turn back to him?

 

Deuteronomy 5-6

“Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever” (5:29).  Here, we see clearly God’s heart for his people.  It is a heart of love — a desire to see his people flourish, and it is the basis of the law.  Accordingly, God’s people are called to respond from the heart in obedience (6:5-6).  The spiritual disciplines (6:7-9) must always serve the purpose of love.  

At the beginning of chapter 5, Moses says, “It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us …” (5:3).  Quite literally, it was with the people’s fathers that God made the covenant, but Moses is stressing the present nature of the covenant for the next generation, which had survived the 40 years in the wilderness.  The covenant was for them, too, and they are the ones called to embrace the covenant in the moment.  They, too, spoke with God “face-to-face,” and this, too, is not literal (4:12).  “Face-to-face” is a Hebrew idiom for person-to-person or direct communication (Craigie, 148).  They spoke with God and, in his mercy, they lived (5:24-26).

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • There is no more convicting verse in Scripture than the greatest command, to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (6:5).  We get so caught up in measuring ourselves against others or against relative standards of obedience.  Our spiritual disciplines can become means of simply wanting to be more knowledgeable or feeling more worthy.  Yet the greatest command also liberates us from these self-imposed laws, reminding us why we were created and why Christ died for us.  How does the great commandment reframe your approach to today?
     
  • Just as God’s covenant was for the children of Moses’ generation (5:3), so God’s covenant of love is for us, God’s people, today.  Just as God called his people on the edge of Jordan to embrace the covenant, He calls us to embrace the covenant today.  If you are “in Christ” by faith, are you embracing, today, the reality that the Spirit of God has sealed you in God’s eternal covenant through the blood of Christ?


Deuteronomy 7-9:6

Why did God choose to make Israel his chosen people, his treasured possession?  Why did He love them?  This passage answers this question:  God loved them because He loved them.  He loved them because He chose to love them (7:6-8).  There was absolutely nothing special or better about Israel that caused God to pour out his love on them (7:7).  In 9:4-6, God reminds Israel three times in three verses that He is not bringing them into the good land (8:7-10; 7:13-14) because of their own righteousness.  This is the offense of the gospel.  We want to think that there is something that sets us apart from others, that makes us particularly lovable.  But the cross tells us that this is not the case.  The cross calls us to die to our desire to be accepted and loved because of our own goodness, a desire that ultimately enslaves, and to simply receive the forgiveness and love of God.

Only after we have been brought into the love of God are we able to truly respond in love, and God does call Israel to respond.  Israel is uniquely called to be the agents of God’s righteous judgment against Canaanite nations who would also turn Israel’s hearts away from God if these nations survived (7:1-5,16,25).  In the midst of this unique calling, Israel is called to trust in their “great and awesome God" (7:17-24; 9:3).  Of course, Israel also receives the common calling of all God’s people, which is obedience to God’s ways of love (8:1-8).  They are again called to humble trust even when the Lord blesses them immensely (8:10-20, esp. 17-18).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Where do I see myself seeking acceptance and love based on my own goodness (in whatever form “goodness” may take)?  Take time to reflect on the perfect, unchanging, never-ending love of God, most fully displayed in the cross of Christ.
     
  • In what ways am I taking credit for blessing in my life instead of giving praise to God (8:17-18)?

 

Deuteronomy 9:7-10:22

The story of the stone tablets (9:7-10:5) is a picture of the gospel.  The ten commandments, inscribed on the tablets, reflect the holy character of God.  Likewise, we are to reflect the holy character of God as his image and likeness in the world, not only for God’s glory but also “for [our] own good” (10:13).  Just as sin breaks humanity and destroys our lives, so the tablets are shattered because of the sin of Israel, along with their idol (9:17,21).  Yet through the intercession of Moses (9:18-21,25-29), God has mercy on Israel (10:1-5,10-11).  The tablets are, in a sense, broken in Israel’s stead, and God rewrites the tablets.  Likewise, Jesus, who is the perfect embodiment of the law, is broken in our stead.  Through his resurrection, God rewrites our lives and rewrites his law, not on stone tablets, but on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).

God has always desired the hearts of humanity (10:16), never rote obedience.  He calls Israel to fear, walk, love, serve, observe, and hold onto him from the heart (10:12-13,20).  For He is majestic (10:14,17) yet tender and compassionate toward the vulnerable (10:15,18-19), worthy of being the sole object of our praise (10:21).  However, only through union with Jesus will our hearts be fully won over to God.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How has God started to rewrite my life?  Where do I need to continue to trust in God’s love and power to rewrite the story of my life through Christ in me?  
     
  • Do I love God’s law today?  Is He "my praise”?  In what places in my life do I need God to renew my heart with a love for his law and a longing for his praises to be sung?

 

Deuteronomy 11

The promised land is to be a new “Garden of Eden” where the fullness of God’s blessing is experienced (11:10-12,14-15), where He is trusted and obeyed (11:8-9,13,16ff.), and where God’s people are sent out to be a light to the world (Genesis 1:28; 12:3).  In his mercy, God is re-creating a people for himself through Israel and giving them a land that is (somewhat) free from the effects of the fall (esp. 11:11-12).  If Israel obeys, they will continue in God’s immense blessing (11:13,18-27).  If they forsake the Lord, they will incur the curse of God (11:16-17,28).  There is no other way, for lasting blessing and fullness are found in God alone.  Every good and perfect gift comes from him (James 1:16-17).

We know how this plays out in the life of Israel.  Just as Adam and Eve failed to trust in the Lord, so does Israel.  Adam and Eve are cast out of the garden.  Israel is cast out of the promised land (many hundreds of years after they enter the land).  But the mystery of the gospel is that God does not ultimately turn his back on his people.  He sends his Son, who lives in God’s ways in order to bring God’s people back into his blessing, and who takes the curse for disobedience on himself.  All who are united to his Son by faith are included in his death, so that the curse for our disobedience is fulfilled; and we are included in his perfect obedience, so that we are brought back into the life of God and into a garden-city that is better than Eden (Revelation 21:1-22:5)!  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How am I looking for life, blessing, and fulfillment outside of God and his ways?  
     
  • Today, am I believing that Jesus actually took the curse for my disobedience?  He has!  
     
  • In what ways do I see Jesus bringing me into his life?  

 

Deuteronomy 12 & 13

These are the first two chapters of the specific covenant stipulations (see outline in Introduction) and they have one resounding theme.  Israel is not to be enticed into worshipping false gods or even distorted versions of the true God!  First, they are to “destroy completely” all the shrines and altars of the false gods of the nations (12:1-7), for if they “worship the LORD your God in their way” then they are susceptible to adopting false ideas about God and evil practices (e.g. 12:31).  Second, they are to offer God’s prescribed offerings and sacrifices in “the place the LORD your God will choose" (12:4,11,18,21) under the ministry of the Levites.  Not only would this central location continually strengthen the unity of God’s people, it would also keep “everyone [from worshipping] as he sees fit” (12:8).  Again, the concern is that people would adopt false ideas and evil practices if left to their own inventions.  Finally, Israel is to show no mercy toward anyone, no matter how esteemed his position (13:1) or close his relation (13:6) or powerful his influence (13:12-13), who leads the people to worship false gods.   

Under the Old Covenant, worship was centered around God’s special presence with them in the tabernacle/temple.  Under the New Covenant, worship is to be centered around God’s presence with us in the person of the Son, who is the fulfillment of the temple and all of the sacrifices.  Israel could only come to God through the tabernacle/temple.  The new Israel only comes to God through Christ.  

While most of the commands in this passage are negative, seeking to prevent false worship, the purpose of the commands could not be more positive.  The refrain, “There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you put your hand to ...” is repeated three times (12:7,12,18).  “Everything” that Israel did, including all the labor of their hands, was to be worship.  Likewise, in Christ, all of our work and play may be worship as we are purified and empowered by him.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Jesus gives a similar command to the “destroy completely” command of 12:1-7 when He says that we are to cut off anything that causes us to sin (Matthew 5:30).  What temptations in my life am I willfully allowing to have a continuing influence or sins am I willfully holding onto?  
     
  • What unbiblical practices/inventions or voices in my life that are shaping me?
     
  • Am I finding my worth and confidence before God in Christ alone?
     
  • In what areas of my life am I rejoicing before the LORD in all that I put my hand to and in what areas of my life do I need to rejoice before the LORD?  

 

Deuteronomy 14 & 15

Moses reminds this generation of several specific stipulations that were first mentioned in Leviticus and Numbers (e.g. 14:1-2 & Leviticus 19:28), but new insights and aspects of the law are provided.  In 14:28, the “third-year tithe” or “poor tithe” is introduced as part of the seven-year cycle (15:1-3).  In the third and sixth years of the cycle, the tithe should not be brought to the tabernacle but rather stored in the towns for the “Levites . . . and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns” (14:28-29).  The communal nature of the tithe “in the presence of the LORD” (14:23) stands in contrast to many modern experiences of tithing that are disconnected from worship and community, and the concern for the poor emphasizes that the community ought to include every believer, not just those with material resources.  There was, in fact, no need for anyone to be poor in the promised land (15:4-6), yet due to sin some would remain poor (15:10-11).

The “third-year tithe” not only served a practical need of providing for the poor, it also serves as a periodic reminder that Israel is to be constantly vigilant in showing generosity toward the poor (15:7-10).  Patience in waiting on the repayment of debts is one of ways that this generosity ought be expressed.  Peter Craigie argues that “The Year of Release” from debts (15:1-3,9) probably does not mean the cancellation of debts, but rather the suspension of repayment:  “in the seventh year, when the land was fallow, many people would not have been in a position to repay a debt because of the temporary interruption of their normal source of income … [so] the creditor would have a longer time to wait before he could recoup his expenditure …" (236-238).  Only a posture of generosity would prevent hesitancy in lending money as the Sabbath-year drew near.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How should the communal experience of the tithe in Israel shape the way we understand our giving to the LORD?  How should the “third-year tithe” for the poor shape the way we understand our giving to the LORD?
     
  • God commanded Israel to lend money generously even when repayment might be inconveniently delayed.  How does this speak into my own terms of generosity?

 

Deuteronomy 16 & 17

Most of this passage summarizes commands elaborated upon in Leviticus and Numbers, but the anticipation of a day when Israel would ask for a human king is new material (17:14-20).  Six stipulations for kingship are given, all of which are aimed at keeping Israel’s trust in God.  The first two stipulations relate to the selection of a king (17:15); the other four relate to the decisions of the king himself (17:16-20).  The command regarding the accumulation of horses concerns Israel’s trust in battle (17:16).  Horses meant military strength (Exodus 15:1-4; Judges 4:3,7,13,15-16), but God is Israel’s strength (Craigie, 255).  The prohibition against the taking of many wives is of course wise in any circumstance (17:17a), but it also refers to political treaties confirmed by marriage (e.g. 1 Kings 3:1; Craigie, 256).  Again, such treaties demonstrate reliance on worldly strength.  Finally, the prohibition against reliance on the comforts of wealth (17:17b) and the command to write and continually read God’s law in humility (17:18-20) are clear.

When Israel’s future kings fail to follow God’s commands, the kingdom begins to unravel. These failures may be most poignantly seen in King Solomon (1 Kings 10:26-11:8; see also 1 Kings 3:1; 6:38-7:1) and the results are not good (1 Kings 11:9ff.).  The many failures of Israel’s human kings lead us to look ahead for a godly King, a God-man King, who will restore Israel’s trust in God.*

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How am I trusting in worldly strength instead of God’s strength?  How am I seeking worldly comforts above the kingdom of God and his righteousness?
     
  • Am I looking to human leaders or my identification with human leaders for hope, or is my hope today in the King of Kings?

 

Deuteronomy 18-19

Deuteronomy points ahead to future kings who are to lead the people in faith and righteousness (see yesterday’s devotional) and to future prophets (18:14-21) who will speak the words of God to his people.  While Israel saw several godly kings and a number of godly prophets, both the kings and the prophets find their fulfillment in Jesus.  This is why Matthew and Luke stress Jesus’ descendancy from King David and the kingly tribe of Judah (Luke 2:4; 3:31-33; Matthew 1:4,6; 2:1-6; see also Genesis 49:10).  This is also why Peter quotes Deuteronomy 18 in connection with Jesus’ arrival as the prophet of God (Acts 3:17-26; esp. 3:22-23).  Just as Moses mediated the “old covenant" as a prophet to Israel, Jesus mediates the “new covenant” (the fulfillment of the old covenant) as a prophet to the new Israel, the people of God from every tongue and tribe and nation (Hebrews 1:1-2; 3:1-6).  

Peter Craigie offers helpful wisdom in understanding Moses’ injunction against false prophets (18:20-22):  “It would probably be wrong to take these criteria as rules to be applied rigidly every time a prophet opened his mouth.  When a prophet announced God’s coming judgment and called for repentance, it would clearly be pointless to wait first to see if the judgment actually came to pass, and then to repent (too late!).  Rather the criteria represent the means by which a prophet gained his reputation as a true prophet and spokesman of the Lord.  Over the course of a prophet’s ministry … the character of a prophet … would begin to emerge clearly” (263).  Clearly, over the course of Jesus’ ministry, his divine character emerges.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Before Peter quoted Deuteronomy 18 in his post-resurrection sermon (Acts 3:22-23), he had already acknowledged Jesus’ office as the prophet of God.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).  To whom am I listening?  To whom or to what am I going for words of life?

 

Deuteronomy 20-21

The future of Israel is at stake.  God is calling Israel to be the instrument of his judgment against the nations that currently inhabit and pollute the promised land through their “detestable” practices  (20:16-18), that they might worship him as God.  It may be surprising, then, that God provides several exemptions from battle, including a recent marriage, a new home, and a new vineyard (20:5-7).  Why would God allow such exemptions?  They are an affirmation of the goodness of creation and of God’s good intentions for his people.  As Peter Craigie puts it, “… the importance of the land … was that Israel was to live and work and prosper in it.  The building of homes and orchards, the marrying of a wife, and other such things were of the essence of life in the promised land, and if these things ceased, then the wars would become pointless.”  He goes on to say that “this somewhat idealistic approach (in modern terms) was possible only because of the profound conviction that military strength and victory lay, in the last resort, not in the army, but in God” (274; see also 20:1). 

At the same time, this passage (20:5-7) may help us understand the apostle Paul’s somewhat perplexing warnings, in the New Testament, against being quick to marry or being engrossed in the things of the world (1 Corinthians 7:25-31).  As C.S. Lewis says in his “Learning During War-Time” sermon, “Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.”  Christians recognize the goodness of creation, even the permanence of creation (e.g. Acts 3:21; Romans 8:21), yet we also know there is ongoing battle that will end in a refining fire and a new form to creation (e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:11-14; 7:31b).  There are many times (day-to-day, and in the big picture) when believers are called to postpone the enjoyments of creation that they might be more fully deployed in fighting back the darkness of the world (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).  In his warning, Paul acknowledges the goodness of marriage and the freedom of believers to enjoy marriage, but also points out the many advantages of singleness in serving the Lord.  Today's passage brings this tension into sharp contrast.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How does God’s affirmation of creation and his kindness toward these potential soldiers speak to into my life?  Am I believing in and enjoying God’s goodness to me today?  
     
  • In what ways am I clinging too tightly to the world in its present form?  In what ways might God be calling me to postpone the enjoyments of creation in order to be more fully engaged in his service?

 

Deuteronomy 22-23

Where do we begin with a passage that touches on so many different areas of life, some of which are foreign to us?  Deuteronomy provides laws for a number of specific situations that were not-so-uncommon in Israel.  They address honesty and conscientiousness in handling the personal property of others (22:1-4; 23:24-25); gender identity (22:5); “conservation of food supplies” (21:6-7; Craigie 288); protection of human life (22:8); sexual purity and the sanctity of marriage (22:13-30; 23:17); relations with surrounding nations and purity in worship* (23:1-14, 17-18); protection for runaway slaves/refugees (23:15); generosity in lending to fellow believers (23:19-20); faithfulness in fulfilling vows (23:21-23); and a few for which we are unsure of the context (22:9-11 — likely related to ritual purity and foreign/Egyptian practices; Craigie, 290).  The marriage practices are particularly foreign to our current experience, but note God’s utter hatred of adultery as well as concern for the protection of both the husband and wife’s honor.  Also note one beaming exception to the prohibition against Moabites and Ammonites in the assembly of the Lord (23:3).  Ruth, by faith (Ruth 1:16), is scandalously welcomed into the people of God, even though she is a Moabitess.  Even the enemies of God’s people could be welcomed into the people of God through faith.  They, too, would begin to wear the tassels that were to be a continual reminder of God’s laws, that they, too, might love and serve him wholeheartedly (22:12; Numbers 15:37-41; Craigie, 291).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Take a few minutes to think through the various topics that are touched on in this chapter.  Try to put them in a modern context or scenario (remembering that the ritual purity laws are no longer in effect, having been fulfilled in Christ).  Pray through ways in which God may be calling you to greater love for him, for neighbor, and for the world.  What are the “tassels" in my life serving as a continual reminder of God’s presence and holiness?
     
  • Christ alone is our holiness before.  The ritual purity laws only served as a temporary sign of holiness until the Holy One had come.  Consider the scandal of God welcoming sinners and self-made enemies like us into his family.

* Concerning 23:2, “It may refer to children who were born as a result of incestuous relationships.  It is possible, however, that something more specific is intended:  the term mamzer might refer to children born  to cult-prostitutes (see vv. 18-19, below).”  In addition, 23:3 may be tied to God’s prohibition against incestuous relationships as “the Moabites and Ammonites were believed to be descendants of the incestuous relationships between Lot and his two daughters (Gen. 19:30-28; Craigie, 297).

 

Deuteronomy 24-25

Today’s passage continues the miscellaneous commands of chapters 22-23.  We find more commands regarding marriage and divorce (24:1-5; 25:5-10), concern for the vulnerable (24:6-7,10-15,17-22), relations with surrounding nations and purity in worship (24:8-9; 25:17-19), as well as commands regarding the exercise of justice (24:16; 25:1-3,11-12); the treatment of animals (25:4), and honest business practices (25:13-16).  Again, some of these commands are quite foreign to us and raise questions in our minds.  For instance, does God tacitly approve of divorce in this passage (24:1-4)?  Peter Craigie says that “… the intent of the legislation seems to be to apply certain restrictions on the already existing practice of divorce.  If divorce became too easy, then it could be abused and it would become a ‘legal’ form of committing adultery” (305; see also Mark 10:1-9).  Or what about the command stating that each person is die for his own sin (24:16), when the second commandment states that children will be punished to the third and fourth generation (5:9)?  These commands seem to distinguish between the liability for an offense, which is clearly not to be placed on the child, and the inevitable repercussions of sin against the LORD that ripple out far beyond the offender’s own life.  

Other commands show remarkable sensitivity to the dignity and welfare of the poor.  Millstones were not to be taken as pledge on a loan because they were “a basic and essential part of culinary equipment” (24:6; Craigie, 307).  Lenders were also not to “go into [a borrower’s] house to get what he is offering as a pledge” (24:10-11).  “This requirement protects the privacy of the receipient’s home and leaves to him the choice of the article to be given as collateral … It means that a man can borrow with honor, without having his personal possessions made open to a creditor …” (308).  In addition, Israelites and resident aliens alike were to be paid each day, if they were poor (24:14-15).  If they were not paid fairly and promptly, their cries would be heard by the Lord.  Many are such cries around the world today!  Finally, landowners were to provide for the poor in such a way that they “could maintain their honor and self-respect” and “not have to beg” for food “(24:17-22; Craigie, 311).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Take a few minutes to think through the various topics that are touched on in this chapter.  Try to put them in a modern context or scenario (remembering that the ritual purity laws are no longer in effect, having been fulfilled in Christ).  Pray through ways in which God may be calling you to greater love for him, for neighbor, and for the world.  

 

Deuteronomy 26

This chapter marks the end of the “specific stipulations” section of God’s covenant renewal with this generation of Israel (chapters 12-26), but this chapter is unique.  We have heard of the Feast of Firstfruits (e.g. Leviticus 23:4-16) and the third-year tithe for the poor (14:28), neither of which would be celebrated until entering the land, but the accompanying recital of God’s saving acts has not been mentioned until now.  The firstfruits recitation stresses the good land that God has given them (26:9-11) in stark contrast to the “wandering” of their father Jacob and to their experience under Egypt, where they were forced to suffer (26:5-7).  Year after year, Israel would recount God’s mercy and goodness to them through the act of bringing their full baskets and by speaking their story.  

The “specific stipulations” section of the covenant renewal concludes with a summary statement (26:16-19).  The LORD has declared that Israel is his “treasured possession,” set apart as “a people holy to the LORD.”  He has re-created them, giving birth to their nation and forming them into his people.  Israel has declared, in response, that they will live as his people.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Try to put yourself in the sandals of an Israelite: memorizing this story (26:5-11), presenting your basket, and speaking the story year after year.  How might that have impacted you?  What does it look like for you to bring a basketful of firstfruits and to regularly recite God’s saving acts?  Is there a sense in which you are experiencing this every Sunday morning?  
     
  • What does it look like to live in the reality that I am God’s treasured possession (along with all of his people), bought back from death at the cost of Christ’s body and blood, and set apart as holy to him?  What great the love the Father has for us!  Is there anything that I am trying to hold back from the One who has bought back my life?  

 

Deuteronomy 27-28

You’ve probably heard the quote about leaning your ladder against the wrong wall in the climb to success.  When you get to the top, you may realize that you climbed the wrong wall.  Just so Israel is clear about which way leads to life and which way leads to death, the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience will be differentiated, not by two walls or ladders, but by two mountains staring at each other across a valley.  

We delight in hearing the fullness of life that comes with God’s blessing.  The curses, on the other hand, are terrible, and they serve a unique purpose.  The curses represent and even cry out for the reality that God’s judgment will come on the disobedient, even when those sins go undetected by humans and human courts.  The curses also show the complete disintegration of life — physical health, mental health, community, family, international relations, vocational fruitfulness, etc. — apart from the blessing of God.  It’s possible to grow overly comfortable with the idea of death, but reading of the chaotic dismantling of life in the curses reveals the unnaturalness and horror of death.  In our own “wisdom,” all of us have climbed the hill of God’s curse.    But for those who repent and trust in the Son, God’s curse has come upon him who climbed the hill of curse, Golgatha, on our behalf.  In his victory over death, He sets our feet upon the mountain of God and leads us up in his strength without fanfare or human praise.  Thankfully, God’s blessing, too, comes upon those who obey in secret . . . especially on those who obey in secret.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • In what ways am I concerned that my “righteousness” be seen by human courts?  Am I content with God’s approval, trusting fully in him for life and blessing?  
     
  • In what ways have the ways of blessing and the ways of cursing become unnecessarily confused or fuzzy in my life?   Take time to consider the heart, or timeless truth, behind each of the curses/commands in 27:15-26).  
     
  • Take time to confess and thank Jesus for climbing the mount of God’s curse on our behalf and for setting our feet firmly on the mountain of God’s blessing.  Ask him, in specific ways, to lead you on in obedience to God’s good commands.

 

Deuteronomy 29-30

The reader may be wondering how long it takes to wrap up a covenant renewal ceremony (29:12-15)!  But be careful not to skim past today’s passage too quickly.  Crucial aspects of the covenant are described and important questions are raised.  Is God’s covenant made with individuals or communities?  What is the “unforgivable sin”?  Does God doom his people to rebellion and judgment?  

First, we receive insight into the relationship between the community and the individual within God’s covenant (29:18-21).  Some would be tempted to think that they will be blessed simply because of their blood relationship with Israel (29:19).  Craigie comments, “It was the community as a whole which was bound to God in the covenant … Yet the health and vitality of the the whole community depended on the health and vitality of the religious commitment of each individual within it” (359).  So the covenant is communal in nature — God calls us into a family of believers, but not at all to the exclusion of individual responsibility.  

Second, there is mention of sin that the LORD will not forgive (29:20).  Jesus also speaks of sin that will not be forgiven (Mark 3:22-30; Matthew 12:30-37), as does Hebrews 10:25-29.  These passages raise eyebrows, but today’s passage sheds some light on this sin.  It is not a single act of disobedience that one might inadvertently commit, but rather the persistent, willful rejection of God’s ways and his grace.  Notice the word “persist" in 29:19.  In the gospels, Jesus is speaking to well-informed Pharisees who persistently reject him and persistently attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan.  In Hebrews, the author speaks of those who "deliberately keep on” sinning after knowing the truth.  If someone is deeply concerned that they have sinned against God in this way, that is almost a sure sign that he or she has not sinned in this way, since the deliberate, "high-handed” sinner is not remorseful or repentant.  

Third, many wonder why God would paint such a bleak outlook for the future (29:21-28).  Is Israel doomed to this future?  Always remember God’s words through the prophet Jeremiah:  "If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned” (18:7-8).  Only the LORD knows the “secret things” of the future, but all that Israel needs to know for obedience and life has been revealed (29:29; 30:11-14, also see Romans 10 devotional). 

Finally, it is clear that the LORD plans to restore his people, should they rebel and later repent (30:1-5).  This is not new, but today’s passage hints toward something more.  In 10:16, God called Israel to “circumcise" their hearts, but today’s passage says that God will circumcise their hearts (30:6), enabling them to love and obey him.  This points toward the greater restoration of the new covenant, many hundreds of years before the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke of the same heart-transformation (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:24-28).  (Remember that circumcision is a sign pointing toward Abraham’s promised offspring or “seed," cleansing through blood/sacrifice, and separation unto God - see Genesis 17 devotional.)  In the new covenant, God circumcises rebellious hearts, enabling us to see that Jesus is Abraham’s promised offspring, cleansing our hearts through his blood, and enabling us to live and love as his set-apart ones.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • The person in 29:19-20 is only concerned about himself, his comfort, and his autonomy.  How am I serving the covenant community of God?  Am I recognizing my responsibility to live faithfully, to serve, and to help others grow in their faith?  How have I seen God transform my heart toward him and his people?  In what ways do I need him to continue to transform my heart this week?  

 

Deuteronomy 31-32

There is no way around it.  Human beings are sinful … "prone to wander” as the song goes.  Today’s passage repeatedly makes this clear through private conversation with Moses and Joshua (31:14-16)*, a larger audience with the Levites (31:24-27), a song (32:5-6,15-17,21,28-29), and direct reminder (32:50-51).  We were not made for sin.  We were made for life in God’s ways (32:46-47).  God’s holiness will not tolerate our sin, and our relationships, our bodies/souls/minds, and our world cannot bear the devastating effects of sin (31:17-18; 32:19-27).  If we know how true this is and how prone we are to wander in our own age, in which we have the fullness of the Spirit through union with Christ, how much more true was it before Jesus came and broke the bonds of death!

Yet, when our “strength is gone” and our gods have proven empty and worthless (32:36-38), God has compassion and saves his people (32:36).  He alone created Israel as a nation (32:10-12**).  He alone will “make atonement” for them and re-create them (32:39-43).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Sometimes we grow comfortable with both our sin and our “righteousness.”  Maybe some more blatant sins in our life have been put to death (or not), and we think we are getting along pretty well.  The cross is not very big in our eyes.  But unfaithfulness, idolatry, self-promotion and self-centeredness, betrayal, and rebellion are never far away, this side of heaven.  We are constantly in need of the forgiveness and power of Christ.  In what ways have I become comfortable with my sin or my “righteousness”?  Do I tend to measure my maturity or “righteousness” by how I am doing in a few specific areas?  Have I substituted a different standard in place of God’s holiness/Christ’s perfection?
     
  • How have my “gods” proven empty and worthless (32:36-38)?  How have I seen God’s compassion and re-creating strength through Christ in my life?

* Note that this very specific foretelling of Israel’s seemingly certain future rebellion comes in the context of a private meeting with Joshua and Moses.  The other warnings in these chapters, given to larger audiences, are more general in nature.  

** Note the Genesis 1:2 creation language in 32:10-12.  The “howling waste” of 32:10 is the same word as “formless” or “chaotic” in Genesis 1:2.  The Spirit “hovers" over the chaotic waters in Genesis 1:2 as God “hovers” over his newborn people in Deuteronomy 32:11.  Clearly, God's creation of the nation of Israel was a new beginning.  

 

Deuteronomy 33-34

Just as Jacob blessed his sons, who became the heads of the tribes of Israel, before his death (Genesis 49), so Moses assumes the role of a father in blessing the tribes of Israel, for “he had acted as a father to them" (Craigie, 393).  Some of the blessings are difficult to interpret and understand, but we will highlight a few:  

  • Judah:  In Numbers 2:9, we’re told that the tribe of Judah "was to march at the head of the army as the vanguard.”  Through his blessing, Moses called upon God to be Judah’s strength, that they might be victorious and return safely from their position at the head of the tribes (33:7; Craigie, 394-395).  
     
  • Levi:  The blessing of Levi recognizes the Levites’ willingness to bring God’s judgment to bear on their own brothers after Israel worshipped the Golden Calf (33:9; Exodus 32:26-29).  Moses invokes God’s blessing (33:10-11) on the Levites' primary responsibilities of teaching (33:10a), leading worship (33:10b), and providing guidance (33:8; see note below on Thummim and Urim*; Craigie 395-396).  
     
  • Joseph:  This blessing speaks to Joseph’s abundant land as well as his strength in battle.  In the promised land, the one who temporarily lost his portion after being sold as a slave is given a double-portion.  Both of his son, Ephraim and Manasseh, receive an inheritance.  However, just as Jacob receives the blessing of the firstborn instead of his older brother Esau, so the second-born Ephraim receives the greater blessing (“ten thousands”) ahead of Manasseh (“thousands") in 33:17 (see also Genesis 48:12-20).

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • It is extremely clear from Moses’ blessings that the source of all blessing is the sovereign power and goodness of the Lord (33:2-5,7,10-13,26-29).  There is no one like him, “who rides on the heavens to help you” (33:26).  To whom are you looking for blessing in your work and service, in spiritual battle, in all of life?

* According to OT scholar Dr. Bruce Waltke in Finding the Will of God,  “The priest could use the urim and thummin to determine God’s will in a particular situation. We are not exactly sure what the urim and thummin were, but the priest carried in his breastplate perhaps two sticks or stones, one white and the other black, that would give a yes or no answer to a specific question. Should Israel be preparing for battle, they would somehow shake or toss the sticks. If they turned up black the Israelites would not go to battle, and if they turned up white they would proceed into battle with the knowledge that they were in the will of God. That is one form of divination that God allowed in the Old Testament" (62-64).