Snapshots: Day 75

Snapshots: Day 75

The Snapshot: “These are the laws you are to set before them.” (Ex 21:1) Many people don’t like ‘laws’ but the Laws of Moses are a sign of God’s love. They were clues to how He had designed us to live, how a community can live at peace, how things can be put right when we mess up, how to live differently and distinctly from the pagan nations surrounding them, how to live healthily dealing with various health problems that crop up in this fallen world  and, of course, how to relate to Him. They were specifically for Israel (and not us – many people don’t realize this), an agrarian society that was uniquely called to be God’s people. As Christians we have different ‘laws’ in the New Testament, all enhancing the wonder of our relationship with God through Jesus.

Further Consideration: We have been considering the ‘rules’ we find in the New Testament that guide us in our walk with Christ, rules which, I would suggest, reflect the laws of Moses in their purposes. They tell us how He has designed us to live in Christ, (e.g. Eph 2:1-10) forgiven and cleansed by his work on the Cross, now empowered by His Spirit. They show us how to be put right with God when we mess up (1 Jn 1:9, 2:1,2), how we can live differently from our neighbors (Rom 12:2), how to deal with health issues (Jas 5:14-16) and how to relate to Him (e.g. Phil 4:6,7). As you read through your New Testament watch out for these things and you will see many more instances of each of them. But there are two important things to be said.

First, keeping these laws or rules are not what enables us to be a Christian. We do not earn our salvation by rule-keeping; we receive it by believing in Jesus, that he is the Son of God who has died and risen again and is seated at the Father’s right hand, ruling in the midst of his enemies. The ‘rules’ are just ways we live out this new relationship with God that Jesus Has earned for us.

Second, these ‘rules’ distinguish us from our non-Christian neighbour and our call to him or her is not to follow the rules but to believe in Jesus. Our ‘rule-keeping’ is to demonstrate the wisdom and way of God that has been opened up to us through Christ. Don’t expect your unbelieving neighbour to follow and understand these same rules, because they cannot do that except as an outworking of the faith they have come to accept (hopefully) in Christ. The Laws of Moses and the rules of the New Testament reveal the love, goodness and wisdom of God. Some of those laws are strange to us because they reflected the pagan lives and practices around them to be avoided. Another reason why they are not for us. We have our own in Christ.

25. Values

Meditations in Meaning & Values  25. Values

Gen 26:2-6    The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “…. I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”

We have so far in these meditations focused mainly on meaning and purpose with little emphasis on values although they are inherently there embedded in so much of what the world says or the Bible says.   Look up ‘values’ and you come across such words as principles, standards, morals, ethics and ideals. Values are what underpin our thinking and then subsequently our behaviour, our words and our actions. Values today, tend to be a little like justice which we considered in an earlier meditation, they appear hidden for much of the time and some people even deny they are there until suddenly it becomes personal and we hear the cry, “It’s not fair!” and someone is appealing to a supposed set of standards or expectations.

I looked up the word ‘laws’ in a concordance and our verses above came up as the very first reference in the Bible. Now I find these words above (and they are God speaking to Isaac) surprising because whenever I have read the earlier chapters of Genesis involving Abram, later renamed Abraham, I have not been aware of loads of laws being laid down by the Lord for Abram. But the Lord doesn’t only refer to laws for we also see Him referring to “my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”  Now ‘requirements’ are easy, simply meaning things God wants of him. ‘Commands’ are stronger – specific instructions of things he is to do, for example, Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1). ‘Decrees’ tend to add a sense of official governmental requirement to a command. A command is simply an instruction to do something, whereas a decree is a declaration of governmental order. ‘Laws’ are established rules for living.

Now values are the things that underpin all these so we may say we value human life and so establish a law, “You shall not murder”.  The law follows from the values held. Similarly we might say we hold the value that any personal property that an individual has either personally made or has legitimately bought with their own money, belongs to them and may not be taken from them without their permission, and thus we find the law, “You shall not steal”.

So, we may have started from the thought that laws are the expression of our principles, standards, morals, ethics and ideals, but we have come to see that perhaps there is more value (sorry for the pun) in looking behind the laws to the values that create them. We so often focus on the law, whereas we might do better to ponder what is behind the law. This is why a consideration of values is important.

Now there are, I suggest, two important things about values to be considered now we have seen that they outwork in law, and those are first, what the value is and second, why such a value exists. Now this is going to take us into deeper philosophical thinking! But the moment I write these two things down I realise that the second thing is even more important than the first, because without some originating cause (why the value exists) the first thing (the value itself) cannot exist.

So why do we have values?  We all do in some shape or form but why do we have the values we have? In this meditation we will now only consider wrong ways of having values and then in subsequent ones consider better ways, Biblical ways, and why they are better, but until we see the wrong ways we work, we won’t see the point in turning to the Bible.

Here is a quote from a book called Blue like Jazz by Donald Miller: “We were sitting around in my friend’s living room and talking about it and she was in a huff and at one point raised her fist and said, ‘Down with Bush!’ After that I didn’t have a crush on her anymore. It wasn’t because she didn’t like George W. Bush, it was because she had no idea why she didn’t like George W. Bush. She only went to a rally and heard a good band and saw a lot of cool people with cool clothes and hippie haircuts. She decided what to believe based on whether other people who believed it were of a particular fashion that appealed to her.”

The first way people so often hold to the values they think they have, is simply because they follow someone else and their values, not questioning whether there is a good base or not for their values. In the example above the girl in question held shallow views based on those held by the ‘stars’ in her thinking.

In his book, ‘How Should We Then Live’, Francis Schaeffer wrote: “People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world-view, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. ….  “Most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society the way a child catches measles. But people with more understanding realise that their presuppositions should be chosen after careful consideration of what world view is true.”

These ‘presuppositions’, these starting values that people hold, are responsible for the laws we write and the lives we live. In the previous study we considered the apostle Peter’s failure in denying Jesus three times, and I spoke about his fear. Now it wasn’t only fear of being branded with Jesus and possibly suffering what Jesus might suffer, but it was also surely the same as that which each of us so often suffers – the fear of being seen to be different. We don’t like being branded oddities, we want to be loved, liked, accepted and so we try to avoid controversy. That is why many people hold to the values they hold, to go along with the crowd. That is not a good reason to hold on to values that may be shallow or even bad. This is an area that needs some thinking about. if we can be clear in our own minds, we might be better at convincing other people. Are we ready to look at that we think, what our values are and why we hold them?

1.6 God’s Will and Purpose

Meditating on the Judgments of God: 1.6  God’s Will & Purpose

Rom 12:2  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We’ve just noted in the previous meditation that God rules on a throne in heaven and a ruler rules with a purpose always. He establishes laws and seeks to maintain order in his kingdom. Now I’m told that painters using water colours lay a background ‘wash’ on the paper, let it dry and then start the painting proper with all its details on top of the wash. As we approach the whole subject of God’s judgments there is a background factor which is easy to forget but which should be held in mind at all times, and that is that God has a will, a purpose, i.e. God has desires, wishes, plans, purposes for His world, things He wants to happen. These are the things that form the basis of His rule from His throne in heaven.

Now we have already considered some of the characteristics or attributes of God – love, goodness, wisdom, perfection etc – and His will is simply an expression of all these, and having just considered the fact that God rules on a throne from heaven, we noted that He works to bring righteousness and justice, although previously we didn’t have time to think much on them.

So God works to bring righteousness on the earth. What actually is that?  If it is His will to bring about righteousness on the earth we ought to understand what that means. Let’s give a very simple definition:

  • righteousness is behaviour that conforms to the way God has designed us to live.

 When He created the world we read it was “very good” (Gen 1:31) – including us.  He made us to live in harmony with Him and in harmony with each other and with His world.  Now any behaviour that is contrary to that is unrighteousness.

Now of course we live after the Fall and so God’s will and God’s activities are given over to seeking to restore us to the place we were in before the Fall. Of course He starts by having to work with sinners, those who have fallen, and even after He has saved us we will still be battling against that old life.  God’s way of redeeming us, or buying us back from that old sinful, unrighteous life, was to send Jesus to die for us to pay the penalty for every sin we’ve ever thought, said or done, and then when we repented and received that work for us personally, He put His Holy Spirit within us and we were born again – washed, cleansed, forgiven, adopted and empowered to live the new life.

Once that has happened His intent is to help and encourage us to live out that life, a life living in harmony with Him, with other people and with His world, i.e. to live righteously because we have been restored to the position of righteousness. Thus when you read in the Bible references to ‘the righteous’, that is us Christians.

Now it may be that you are thinking, ‘Hold on, what does all this to do with God’s judgment?’ Well perhaps there are two answers to that. First, when we are thinking of God’s activities, and especially when we are focusing on this subject, we can become judgment-focused and that is all we see – an angry God who deals with the sin of the world by bringing judgments – but that is only part of the picture. The ‘wash’ in the background on which all else is painted, is God’s will which is to bless and restore whoever will come.

God’s word through Jeremiah, although first meant for another context, is applicable here: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:11-13)  That does sum up God’s will for each one of us – to prosper us and give us hope and a future. That hope and future is about living righteous lives, lives lived in accord with God’s perfect design for us.

But there is a second answer to that question about blessings being spoken of in the same sentence as judgment, so to speak. In that previous study on the throne of God there were two words that go together that we noted above: righteousness and justice.

  • Righteousness is for those who will respond to God and repent and turn to Him to receive all of His goodness.
  • Justice is for those who refuse to heed Him and turn back,

and that’s where judgment so often comes in. It is a necessary part of bringing justice.

We need to reiterate what we said in that previous study to ensure we take it in. In His role as Judge we may suggest that:

  • 1) He assesses all that happens and determines whether it was righteous or unrighteous (i.e. conforming to His original design, or not!),
  • 2) He decrees what should happen in respect of those events, and specifically in respect of the people involved, and
  • 3) He then acts in accordance with that decree, and this we see as the act of judgment that appears in the records of Scripture.

When He assesses, decrees and acts in judgment, it is to

  • bring justice in respect of the offender and
  • also for the rest of the world.

In other words, justice brings right order and outcome to the offender and everyone else. As we will see as we progress through these studies, acts of judgment come with a variety of reasons or anticipated outcomes:

  • to stop wrong behaviour in an individual,
  • to punish an individual,
  • to correct the individual, and
  • to act as a warning and teaching to all onlookers.

When justice has been done, we can say, ‘The right thing has been done!’, it was just and fair and right. That is justice and it helps bring righteousness to God’s world.

But remember, the focus is not on the hard aspects of the judgment, but on God’s blessing of His world. We may not have seen this before, but judgment also is blessing. The removal of a terror or threat of evil by the judgment, blesses the world by leaving it free from the effects of that terror or evil. It stops and removes that terror or evil and leaves the world open to be blessed by all of God’s goodness. Evil prevents God’s goodness flowing and so sometimes it has to be removed so that His goodness can be received. That we will see in future studies.

8. Motivation

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 2 :  8 :  Motivation

1 Thess 1:3   We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

We said in the previous meditation that we would consider in Part 3 of these mediations in this particular series, the instructions that come in this letter to work out your Christian life and we noted a number of verses that cover such things. However, before we do that, here in the  second part we will consider a number of principles that come in verses in this little book and to start, in order to avoid falling into the trap of legalism, we need to consider the whole subject of motivation. Legalistic Christians take the instructions found in the Gospels and letters of the New Testament and turn them into ‘laws’ to be followed. The problem with trying to keep laws, as Paul found and showed in Romans 7, is that we constantly fail to keep them and failure produces a sense of guilt and guilt stifles a relationship with the Lord.

So how are we to see such instructions? Well, they should come as guidelines that come AFTER we have committed our lives to God through Jesus. The Christian life starts from a point of surrender. At conversion, or rather leading into it, there has to be repentance and confession and a willingness to throw yourself entirely on the mercy of God, putting yourself into His hands for Him to lead and guide you through the rest of your life. Anything less than this causes problems.

So, we put ourselves into His hands for Him to bring us into a good place with Him through the work of Jesus on the Cross. He forgives us because He justifies us and He adopts us. From that point on He is working into our lives to bring good to us; He is bringing blessing upon blessing into our lives, His decrees of goodness for us. Because we are so tainted with Sin we struggle to believe this but it is true. He is working to restore us to Himself and to the image of the person He has designed us to be. Within that overall process He has given us many what I have called guidelines because they are indeed instructions on how to live a life where His goodness and blessing flow. They are NOT the means of our salvation and keeping them does not mean He loves us more and failing with them does not mean He loves us less.

It is important to understand that we don’t keep these instructions to win His approval or win His love. We don’t keep them to make ourselves feel more approved or more loved or more worthy of His love; we keep them simply as a means of developing our relationship with Him, so that His blessings can flow more and more in our lives. We are, after all, talking about a relationship with the One who has given His one and only Son to bring us to Himself so He can love and bless us. As the apostle John wrote, This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10) Our love is a response to His love.

And so we come to this verse which is all about motivation, at the beginning of the letter which speaks of “work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” We have noted it previously but we need to think more about it now. We have three end products – work, labour, endurance and each of them is brought about or motivated by something else – faith, love, hope. The Greek word for ‘work’ is the general term for work or business, employment, task. The word for ‘labour’ means toil or hard work. It is easy then to see the flow to ‘endurance’ or ‘tough struggle to keep going’ in our work. What we find, therefore, is Paul moving on from easy work to tough work or toil to really tough work or a struggle to keep going. That is how life can be sometimes.

If the outworking of the Faith is work (meaning any expression or outworking of the life of Jesus in and through us) and we also know it is a battle, sometimes, as the Thessalonians well knew, it could be really tough. But at whatever level we are at, there is something provided for us that helps and motivates us. Initially whatever we do is a response to what we have heard from God (which may come through His word or through His Spirit.) That response is faith because Paul tells us that faith comes from hearing (Rom 10:17). So initially we start off motivated by what we have heard from God, but then, perhaps, the going gets a little harder and we have to toil at the Christian life it seems. But now there comes an awareness of the love of God. That had been there at the beginning but now we seem to appropriate it more fully. Aware that we are loved we find strength to continue.

But then the opposition digs in and we find ourselves seeking to look beyond the present circumstances to the long-distant future when God will come and deliver us for eternity. It is what Paul does again and again in the letter as he talks of the Lord’s second coming which, as we have seen previously, he does to take their eyes off the present and realise they are in it for the long haul which WILL mean good. The writer to the Hebrew showed this is how Jesus worked: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame.” (Heb 12;2)  As he faced the Cross with all of its awfulness, Jesus looked beyond it focusing on the wonder that would be on the other side of it. Thus we look beyond the present trying circumstances to realise that one day we are going to be with Him and all these present things will be dealt with by Him.

So here we find examples (and there are more in Scripture) of things that will motivate us on. It’s not by ‘trying harder’ but by receiving the grace and goodness of God by word and by the Spirit, and so we prevail and overcome Hallelujah!

38. The Law

Meditations in Malachi : 38.  The Law

Mal 4:4   Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

If Christians get confused over any issue, I would say it is the issue of the Law of Moses and the position of the Law as far as we Christians are concerned in everyday life. Here in the verse above, we find the Lord calling to Israel to “Remember the law.” Remember means more than just bring to recollection; it means bring it to recollection and then follow it, do what it says.

So why did God give Israel the Law to start with? Well He gave it to them at Mount Horeb, otherwise known as Sinai, at the time when He called them into being as a nation. But they weren’t just any nation, they were His nation, His special people called to receive all the goodness of His love and thus become a light to the rest of the world to reveal Him. The Law would help them do that.

So what do we find in the Law? First of all we find guidance on how to live as a community of God’s people, instructions about how to hold a right attitude about God (Ex 20:3-7).  Second, comes guidance on how to live as a community, relating to one another. (Ex 20:8-17).  Third, we find the ordering of that society and the recognition that people will do wrong, and so what should happen in such circumstances. i.e. how to ensure justice is seen to prevail. (Ex 21-23).  There is a recognition within this of the sinfulness of mankind, and the fall of human beings that needs to be taken into account. Fourth, there were rules for establishing a meeting place with God (Ex 25-27) and then a priesthood to administer it (Ex 28-29). This was to establish a procedural basis for the way Israel as a whole would worship the Lord. Fifth, there were extensive instructions for bringing offerings and sacrifices to the Tabernacle as expressions of their love for God and for their penitence after sinning (Lev 1-7). Sixth, there were what we might summarise as dietary or health laws (Lev 11-15) designed to maintain good health among the community. These are the basic laws; there are others but they will either fit the above descriptions or are repeats of the above.

So how might we summarise the Law?  Jesus summarised it for us: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40)  From the above we see the ‘loving God’ parts being expressed in the first part of the Ten Commandments, the establishing of the Tabernacle and Priesthood, and the law of offerings and sacrifices. The ‘love your neighbour’ part was expressed in all the rest of the laws.

So does the Law apply to us today? The Ten Commandments certainly do for they are general laws applicable to any community anywhere in the world and without them such a society becomes superstitious and turning to idolatry and the occult, and then anarchistic, harmful and destructive. The rest of the ‘society’ laws were specifically for Israel as a unique but primitive agricultural society in that land in that part of history. The ‘worship’ laws depended on the existence of the Tabernacle and then the Temple, and a priesthood, none of which exist now. Moreover the New Testament tells us that Jesus is the fulfilment of all of the sacrifices, so we no longer have to offer sacrifices for our sins. The law is useful however to show us that by keeping rules we simply fail again and again, and therefore we have to turn to God for some other way of being right with Him – and that, of course, is through His Son, Jesus Christ.

So do we no longer have laws that apply to us today? Change the word ‘laws’ for ‘instructions’ and you will find that the New Testament is full of them in the Gospel but mostly in the Epistles. There are there to act as guidelines for us. We aren’t saved by keeping them, only by turning to and trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross, but they are there for guidance for daily living. Some are specific and some are general: “Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat (Specific). And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.” (General) (2 Thess 3:12,13). The epistles are full of such instructions and they are things to be followed as we work out our relationship with the Lord on a daily basis. And they are there to bless us, because they come from a God of love!

10. Shutdown

Meditations in Malachi : 10. Shutdown

Mal 1:10  “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

I was amazed when I first studied the Law – well no perplexed first, actually.   Why were those long dreary chapters at the beginning of Leviticus about different sorts of offerings, and why were there those tedious chapters in the latter part of Exodus about the Tabernacle and the priests? None of it seemed relevant to today, so why was it there, and then eventually I understood. This was the Lord recognising that His people would get it wrong so that they would feel guilty and then feel at a distance from the Lord, this was the Lord making a way back for such people. This was also the Lord making provision for those whose hearts might overflow with love for God who just wanted to bring Him a gift.

That was what all those laws were about, about regulating how those things might happen through the sacrifices. That was what the Tabernacle and then later theTemplewere about. They were places of focus on the Lord, places where the Lord initially made His presence known, places that He filled with His glory, places of fellowship with God and places of reconciliation with God and restoration of a relationship with the Lord. That was what the Temple was all about. It was for the people to come and do two things: offer sacrifices and pray (remember Jesus called it a house of prayer). The Tabernacle and then the Temple were all about relationship with the Lord which is why, when the Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 587BC, it was so devastating for Israel. When Jeremiah spoke about restoration after seventy years, that seventy years was the period between the destruction of the Temple and the completion of its rebuilding, exactly seventy years!

But God isn’t fooled by play acting. That had been going on before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah parodied their reliance upon the presence of the Temple (Jer 7). Now the same thing was happening again. The apostle Paul prophesied about the last days: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:1-5) There is the same thing: there will be a form of religion (godliness) while all the time men and woman are living lives that are very different from God’s design for them.

The people of Malachi’s day were declaring that they were godly because they were performing religious acts and then comes this terrible word of judgment through Malachi: “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”   Shut down all this religious nonsense, is what the Lord is saying, for that is actually what it is – religious nonsense!  Did God want His people to perform religious acts in the Temple with no meaning behind them? No! God’s intent had been to provide channels for blessing Israel, for making ways back to Him and for legitimizing their gifts to Him. The Temple was for prayer and worship and reconciliation and those things, to be genuine, have to come out of wholeheartedness.

The Lord is concerned more what goes on inside a person than the things they do outwardly. Outward acts can be pure pretense. In medical terms, sometimes people come out in a skin rash and it is a sign of tension or stress within. It is the reality of the inner life that God is concerned with, not the charades that people put on. Who are they kidding? Do they think they will make God think well of them? Does “going to church on a Sunday morning” make God feel good about us? No, it should be an expression of the love we have for Him on the inside.

Around the world, often the churches with the greatest reality are those in countries where the church is persecuted and driven underground. When those people gather together under threat of arrest, there is a reality and a depth of love not found in the West. How tragic it is that our love is only proved real when it is challenged! When will we come to our senses and call out to the Lord for a reality of relationship? Will the Lord have to shut our churches down before that has to happen? May it not be so!

33. Established Religion

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 33 :  Established Religion

(Focus: Deut 12:1-7)

Deut 12:1,4 These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess–as long as you live in the land. ….. You must not worship the LORD your God in their way.

There is something very specific about the instructions that Moses now gives, something that we have seen again and again but not made much note of. It is that the laws that he is sharing are for this nation in THIS specific land. The rest of the world may be doing something quite different but in THIS land this is how Israel are to live. It is this thing about them being a unique nation in the world, and they are unique because of their relationship with the Lord and because of the guide rules (the Law) that He has given them to follow as they establish their life as a nation in this particular piece of land.

Note also the use of the words, “decrees and laws”. A decree is simply a royal declaration of intent. For instance we have said that a “blessing” is God’s decree of good and a “curse” is God’s decree of bad. When God ‘decrees’ something it is a statement of His sovereign will, which WILL then happen. A law is simply a rule that is to be followed. So God decrees His will and expresses it in the form of individual rules or laws that Israel are to follow. All of the blessings and curses of chapter 28 are examples of decrees.

Note also that the call is for them to “be careful to follow” all these decrees and laws “as long as you live in the land”. These are for the whole of their existence. They are not just for the first couple of years; they are for all time that they are this nation in this land. Then comes the specific things that Moses has in mind and in this part of his speaking: it is all about their worship or their religion (I am using ‘religion’ here to denote the way they express their faith and their obedience to God) when they go into the land. First of all it is about establishing it: Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.” (v.2,3)

We saw this exact same command in chapter 7 which was followed by the reason for it: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (7:6) Part of that is similar to what we have above when Moses speaks of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess.” It is a reminder that they are what they are and where they are because of the Lord. They belong to Him and owe their existence there to Him, and they are to stick to him and not succumb to the worship practice of the occultic, pagan, idol worshippers in the land. To ensure they do that they are to remove every sign of their religious practices from the land the moment they enter it.

Moses sums it up: “You must not worship the LORD your God in their way.” This is both a summary of God’s intent and a preamble to what is about to come. They are not to follow the practices of the people of this land in any way. Now comes a specific way that their worship is going to be very different: “But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go.” (v.5). This is going to be where the Tabernacle is going to be set up. The big difference is that they are only going to have ONE place of worship whereas the occupiers of the land worshipped all over the place, making their own religion.

No, with God, it is going to be clearly established that they will go to the Tabernacle and “there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you.” (v.6,7) In the book of Leviticus Moses has enumerated all the laws regarding how to bring sacrifices and offerings and hold feasts to the Lord.

These are the very basic ‘ground rules’ for their worship of the Lord. Worship was expressed formally first, not as singing (although David later established that) but as bringing offerings as a tangible expression of their love for God, or sacrifices as a tangible expression of their penitence when they had done wrong. A number of times a year they would gather to worship the Lord in the form of celebrations of the Lord’s goodness. These were the ‘feasts’. These ways would be at the heart of their worship. It is clearly prescribed activity to be the expression of their hearts. No longer do we have such offerings and sacrifices for Jesus has become THE sacrifice and no longer are they needed, but today our hearts are still to be the arbiter of our worship. If it is not heart worship, it is not worship. That bears thinking about!

 

21. Obedience

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 21 :  Blessings of Obedience

(Focus: Deut 7:12-16)

Deut 7:12,13 If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers.

Remember the context. Drive out the inhabitants of the Land and their religion (7:1-6) for you are a holy, unique people. God chose you to be this because He loves you (7:7-11) so hold on to His laws. Note the inter-linking of Moses’ argument: you are a specially chosen, holy people, so have nothing to do with the people in the Land, but instead live the lives that God lays out for you in the Law. Remember we also said that everything Moses says here is to encourage Israel to follow that Law in the centuries to come. Now he gives them an additional motivation – the good that will come if they do follow the Law that God has given them.

He starts with this general call that we have noticed before: If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them.” (v.12a) Paying attention means making sure they hold a central place in your life as a nation, and that means more than merely paying lip service to them; it means carefully following them. Now that is the condition for what follows and we need to remind ourselves that it IS a condition and without it the following will NOT happen!

The blessing of obedience is first simply stated generally: “then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers.” (v.12b) i.e. you do your side of the covenant and the Lord will do His. Note again it is described as a covenant of love. It is God’s way of being able to express His heart of love to this people. Now when God speaks about His love these aren’t just words, for God will DO specific things to bless Israel. This is so obvious when we read it, that we need to slow down and take it in.

First, “He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers.” (v.13a) Humanly speaking there is no reason why they should flourish but God is going to decree blessing for this people and its outworking is going to be clearly visible. It is NOT merely a natural thing for it could so easily be the opposite. But this ‘increasing in numbers’ is going to happen in specific ways: “He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land–your grain, new wine and oil–the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land that he swore to your forefathers to give you. You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor any of your livestock without young.” (v.13b,14) God’s blessing, His decree of good, is going to affect the way women conceive, the harvest, and their herds and flocks, i.e. all life is going to be blessed.

Now we need to realise that this is God’s enabling, it won’t happen without Him. It doesn’t take a very clever person to look at the way our world works to realise that infertility, cattle disease and poor crops are not unusual. In a Fallen World, as we so often say, things go wrong, but for Israel, if they hold fast to the Lord, things will not go wrong. To the contrary, things will go very right because God has decreed that it will be like that and when He speaks, it is done. Now we have just said that all Israel need to do is hold fast to the Lord, and the way that they do this is by holding on to and keeping all the laws and instructions that God has given them.

These laws will enable to them to live in peace and harmony within the nation and in so doing, they will be demonstrating their love for God. Keeping close to Him means that His life can be imparted to them and that is then seen in the ways we have just read. The laws in themselves will not bring about those things, but the blessing of God will come when they do live like that, demonstrating His wisdom to the rest of the world, and then revealing His blessing on them to the rest of the world. Possibly the best example of this working out is the Queen of Sheba coming to view the blessing that God has bestowed on Solomon and Israel, and we read when she saw it, “she was overwhelmed.” (1 Kings 10:5) and went on to declare, “Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9) She understood the source of Solomon’s blessing!

Those are the positive sides of God’s blessing, but it also comes in another way: “The LORD will keep you free from every disease. He will not inflict on you the horrible diseases you knew in Egypt, but he will inflict them on all who hate you.” (v.15) Not only will they be fruitful but the Lord will also keep them healthy and they will not suffer the diseases that come in this Fallen World that others suffer. Those who hate and oppose them will suffer those things, but not Israel!

So, Moses returns to his original theme of obedience and especially in respect of dealing with the inhabitants of the Land: “You must destroy all the peoples the LORD your God gives over to you. Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you.” (v.16).  This is the command and failure to keep it will mean loss of the blessing that we have just considered.

It maybe that we who are Christians today need to realise afresh the blessings that are promised us in the word of God in return for our obedience. As you read the New Testament, look for it.

 

16. Conditional Future

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 16 :  Conditional Future

(Focus: Deut 6:1-3)

Deut 6:1,2 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.

There is a repetition in Deuteronomy which, for anyone less than a genuine seeker of God’s truth, will appear tedious, but it only goes to show Moses strong desire to convey to Israel the importance and significance of what he is saying.  Let’s see this in a number of instances.

1. The laws. For instance the opening sentence in chapter six has already had a number of echoes of the same thing:Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you.” (4:1), keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you..” (4:2), “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it.” (4;5), “And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (4:14), “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today.” (4:40), “This is the law Moses set before the Israelites. These are the stipulations, decrees and laws Moses gave them when they came out of Egypt.” (4:44,45), “Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today.” (5:1), “stay here with me so that I may give you all the commands, decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving them to possess.” (5:31) i.e. at least eight times in two chapters he speaks about these commands or decrees or laws that the Lord had given them to follow in their new land.

2. Pass it on. It’s not only for them but also for future generations. Again the reference here to children and future generations has come before: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (4:9) , “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” (4:10) These laws aren’t just for now; they are for the whole future of Israel.

3. The Conditional Outworking. The fruit or outworking of keeping these laws is also another subject that keeps appearing, seen in 6:2 as so that you may enjoy long life.” and in the following verse it continues, “Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.” (6:3)  We saw this previously: “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time.” (4:40). It also appeared in the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (5:16) Yet further, “Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess,” (5:33) which then brings us to chapter six: Their future blessing will be conditional on obeying these laws; that is how important they are and Israel need to realise that.

There is an additional motivating factor in our verses today: so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live.” (6:2) Yes, we’ve seen that in the previous chapter as well: “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)  This awesome respect grew out of their experience of the Lord, seeing the things He did to deliver them out of Egypt, seeing the fire and hearing His voice at Sinai, and experiencing His discipline when they refused to enter the land originally. All of these things appear in the earlier chapters and this awesome respect which had grown through these things is now to be one of the motivating factors that helps Israel obey all the laws.

No less today, our blessing is determined by how we love and follow Jesus, obeying the instructions we find in the New Testament and responding to the prompting of his Holy Spirit. May we understand these things and follow them!

 

14. Ten Commandments

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 14 :  The Ten Commandments

(Focus: Deut 5:6-21)

Deut 5:6,7 The LORD spoke to you ….And he said: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.

Thus, at last, Moses starts restating the Law. It begins with what we call the Ten Commandments. These are clearly the fundamental or basic laws that, I would suggest, would apply to any godly nation. I use the word ‘godly’ because, contrary to popular perception, the first four commands are all about honouring God. But before we get to the details, observe again both here as in the Exodus 20 original account, the commands are put into an historical context.  They flow out of their relationship with the Lord which was established when He delivered them from Egypt. That is the starting place for both accounts.

Now a comparison between this account and the original one in Exodus 20 is interesting. For instance the first three and commands 6 to 9 are identical in both passages. Moses has them on the two slabs of stone being kept in the ark and presumably quotes directly from them. We might ask, therefore, why there are slight variations in the others. The answer has to be that as Moses reads them out he goes to make particular and special emphases as different points to make them clearer and stand out even more. Let’s see if that works.

In the fourth command, in the Exodus account, we read, Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” In the present account it reads, Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.” The word ‘observe’ seems stronger and emphasizes that the Law isn’t to be just known, but obeyed. The addition, “as the Lord your God has commanded you”, emphasizes that this is not Moses’ law but the Lord’s and that demands obedience. In the ‘explanatory part’ of that command, Moses now adds in , “nor your ox, your donkey.” possibly to make it all inclusive with no get-out clauses and he adds at the end, “so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.” Again it emphasizes that everyone is to be able to rest; something we have lost entirely from modern life today. The biggest change comes, however, in the reason that is given at the end of that command. In the Exodus account it was a reference to the fact that God rested after six days of Creation, but here it is explained as, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” The focus is, as it has been many times so far in this book, on responding to God because of what He has done for you in delivering you and making you the people that you are. Indirectly it acknowledges that we are a fallen human race and therefore what has happened to Israel is even more wonderful, and they should let that motivate them to be obedient.

In the fifth command, to honour parents, Moses adds, “as the LORD your God has commanded you,” and then also as a reason, “and that it may go well with you” in the land. Again there is the added emphasis about it being God’s command and the way it will work out in the Promised Land ahead of them. It fits better in the present historical context.

In the last command there is a slight change in order of the words and Moses says, “You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house,” which is perhaps a more simple way of saying ‘don’t covet.’

In each of these instances Moses simply reinforces the original command and puts it more into the present context. It is interesting to note that he feels he has this freedom to do this. He is God’s representative and obviously feels he has God’s approval to do this. These are not casual mistakes but purposeful reinforcing and emphasizing to a people who have been through forty years of discipline and who need that refocusing as they prepare to enter the land.

The Ten Commandments still stand as a beacon in a dark world, as God’s ‘design-rules’ for an orderly society. They begin with commands about holding to the truth of who God is and not varying from that, to simple absolutes that delineate right from wrong. It is wrong to murder, steal etc., so why do people foolishly say that we no longer need the Ten Commandments? The truth is that it isn’t to do with those obvious laws for a peaceful and harmonious society; it is to do with the ones that speak about relationship with God! That is the issue in the debate!

We might ask a final question. Are the Ten Commandments all we need? As basics for a wise and godly society yes, but as far as helping a society in a fallen world, no!  Part of the Law was to do with the sacrificial system and that was all to do with putting people right with God after they had done wrong. Part of the Law was to do with putting things right within society and that also is needed in a fallen world where mankind does not always do what is right. Both of these areas covered the fallen nature of humanity. The Ten Commandments cover neither. They are the starting point for a godly society but they do not deal with the fallen side of humanity. A study of all aspects of the Law given through Moses will help us understand mankind very much more. Let’s learn!