Friday, August 31, 2007

Deuteronomy 14:22–29

Deuteronomy 14:22–29: Tithes

Synopsis

This passage gives some rules for tithing; I don’t know if all of these rules are recaps, or if some are new.

  • Each year, the Israelites are to set aside a tenth of all of the produce from their fields. They are to bring it to the place God chooses as “a dwelling for his Name” (verse 23)—that is, the Tabernacle, or the Temple, when it is built—and eat it there, in His presence.
    • Verse 23 says that they are to do this so that they will learn to revere the LORD.
    • If the Tabernacle/Temple is too far away from a particular family, and they’re not able to carry their tithes that distance, they can exchange it for silver (i.e. sell it), go to the Tabernacle/Temple, and then use the silver to buy whatever they like; “cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish” (verse 26).
  • The Levites are not to be neglected, either.
    • Every three years, the Israelites are to bring their tithes to be stored in their towns, for the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows.
    • Verse 29 says that if they do this, the LORD will bless the Israelites in all the work of their hands.

Thoughts

I don’t have too much to say about this, because it mostly seems pretty straightforward.

I do notice an emphasis on rejoicing, in this passage, which I didn’t pick up on when tithing was talked about in previous books. It seems that the tithes they are bringing to the Tabernacle/Temple are more than just a “gift” for the LORD, they’re a celebration of what the LORD has provided; they’re not just bringing the tithes there and leaving the food on the doorstep, they’re actually eating the food, in what must surely be a pretty good feast. (It is, after all, a tenth of the year’s produce.) Verse 26 specifically says that the Israelites are to eat in the presence of the LORD “and rejoice.”

I don’t remember the rule about bringing their tithes to their towns every three years, so it might be new—or I just might not remember it.

The idea of allowing the Israelites to sell their tithes, so that they could more easily travel to the Temple and re-purchase food to eat in the LORD’s presence, is a good one. (I suppose it’s no great revelation to say that the LORD’s idea is good…) However, as we see in the New Testament, this practice was eventually warped, and the money changers in the Temple started taking advantage of Israelites who lived far away. The human heart is wicked, and even the best laws can be taken advantage of, and corrupted.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Deuteronomy 14:1–21

Deuteronomy 14:1–21: Food, and worship

Synopsis

This chapter rehashes some more rules that the Israelites have been given, mostly to do with dietary restrictions.

  • When mourning, the Israelites are forbidden to cut themselves, or shave the front of their heads, for the dead. They are to be holy to the LORD, because He has chosen them from out of all of the peoples on the face of the Earth, to be His treasured possession.
I’m assuming that this is in reference to practices of the nations currently living in the Promised Land. I’m guessing that it was part of their cultures—and/or their religions—that when someone died, they would cut themselves, and/or shave the front of their heads. If this assumption is correct, then the LORD is setting down a law which is specifically intended to set the Israelites apart from the other nations, and not fall into their practices.

  • The Israelites are not to eat any “detestable” thing. This is clarified further:
    • They are allowed to eat:
      • ox, sheep, goats, deer, gazelle, roe deer, wild goats, ibex (whatever that is), antelope, and mountain sheep
      • animals that have a split hoof divided in two, and that chew the cud
      • creatures that live in the water, and have fins and scales
      • verse 11 says that they may eat any “clean” bird, and verse 20 says that they may eat any clean “winged creature”—where “clean,” in this case, is defined by what it is not. see below for “unclean” birds/winged creatures.
    • They aren’t allowed to eat:
      • animals that don’t chew the cud, or that don’t have a split hoof; examples are given of animals are forbidden because they have split hooves but don’t chew the cud, or chew the cud and don’t have split hooves
      • creatures that live in the water but don’t have fins and scales
      • “unclean” birds, which are:

        …the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, the black kite, any kind of falcon, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the cormorant, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat. (verses 12–18)
      • any flying insects that swarm
      • any creature—clean or unclean—that is found already dead. They are allowed to give the animal to an alien, living in their midst, and they’re even allowed to sell it to a foreigner, but the Israelites are not allowed to eat it.
I don’t have much to say about this (other than whatever I wrote in the Thoughts section, below).

  • The Israelites are not to cook a young goat in its mother’s milk
This is a rule I’ve never fully understood, except that it just seems kind of cruel, to me, to cook a goat in its own mother’s milk. I don’t know if that’s the reason for this rule or not. But it is stated a number of times in the Old Testament, so it was obviously worth repeating. I’m wondering if there is something culturally significant about this rule, that I just don’t know about.

Thoughts

This isn’t really related to the chapter, but I’ve been trying to use proper tenses, in blogging through the Old Testament books; for example, when going through the laws, I usually used the past tense, and tried to say "the Israelites were not to do this, and they were not to do that.” However, when blogging about events, I was using the present tense, such as “Moses then approaches the burning bush, and says something.” I probably made lots of mistakes, but that’s what I was trying to do. (I felt that the summaries flowed better, if they were in the present tense, but the reason for putting the laws in the past tense is that I don’t want there to be confusion, since some of the laws were intended just for the Israelites, and no longer apply to the modern-day Christian.) But in the book of Deuteronomy, I’ve been trying to use the present tense, even when Moses is reminding them about laws, because it’s really a speech that Moses is giving to the Israelites. That may not make sense to you, but it makes sense in my head…

It might seem odd to have a rule about cutting yourself for the dead in a section which is mostly concerned with dietary restrictions, however, I believe the intent of all of these rules is the same: The Israelites are not to worship the LORD the way that the surrounding nations worship their gods—and they are definitely not to worship other gods. It’s not stated here, but there is a theory that some or all of these dietary laws were intended to separate the Israelites from the other nations, and their religious practices. e.g. if there is a rule about not eating certain animals, it’s quite possible that it’s because those particular animals would be associated with certain religious practices of the other nations.

Even if these rules were not specifically religious, it’s possible that they were cultural. God makes it clear in numerous places that He doesn’t want the Israelites mixing with the other nations, because He knows that if they do, they will be pulled into those nations’ idolatry as well. So even if these rules were not directly religious, they may have been indirectly concerned with worship.

Or, they may have had nothing to do with worship at all. In which case it really is odd that the rule about cutting yourself for the dead is included in this section.

As I said, there are a few theories as to why some of these laws are included in the Old Testament. If you come across someone claiming to have the reason, take it with a grain of salt—it’s a bit more contentious than the person is letting on.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Deuteronomy 13

Deuteronomy 13: Worshipping other gods forbidden

Synopsis

This chapter can be broken down into three sections, but each of them is, in a nutshell, saying the same thing: The Israelites are not to worship other “gods.”

The first section of this chapter, in verses 1–5, talks about prophets. If a prophet ever comes to the Israelites, and prophecies something which comes true, but that prophet then tries to entice the Israelites to follow other gods to worship them, the Israelites are not to listen to him. Instead, they are to put him to death, for preaching rebellion against the LORD, “who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery” (verse 5). If this happens, verse 3 says that it’s happening because the LORD is testing the Israelites, to find out whether they love Him with all their hearts. According to verse 5, this is to be done to purge the evil from among the Israelites.

The next section, in verses 6–11, talks about close relatives. We already know that the Israelites are not to worship other gods, and the punishment for that sin is to be death, but in this section, the LORD goes so far as to say that even if a very close relative—“your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend” (verse 6)—tries to entice you to follow another god, that person is to be put to death. Not only that, but your hand should be the first to put that person to death. As verse 11 says, “Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.”

The third section, in verses 12–18, talks about the case where an entire Israelite town has fallen into idol worship. If the Israelites find out that an entire town has fallen into idol worship, they are to wipe that town out—men, women, children, and even livestock. In fact, even the plunder from the town is to be burned; the Israelites are not allowed, in such a case, to keep for themselves anything from the town, it’s to be destroyed completely. And, once it is destroyed, they are never to rebuild on the town’s ruins again. However, the Israelites are not to just go willy-nilly destroying towns; verse 14 says that they are to “inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly,” to find out if it’s really true, before they do anything.

Thoughts

Hopefully, by this point in the Old Testament, you’re getting the idea that there is no other god but God, and that He will not tolerate His people worshipping other gods—giving the love and attention that they should be giving to Him to “gods” that aren’t even real.

In the first section in this chapter, we come across a concept that I’ll probably write about numerous times (and I think I’ve already mentioned in the past): God “testing” His people. What does it mean that God “tests” people? Doesn’t He already know whether the people love Him as they should? And my answer to that question would be that of course He does—so what’s the deal with a “test?” My take on this is that when God “tests” someone, it’s not so that He can find out if that person is really faithful, it’s to show the person whether or not he is faithful. If God ever allowed a prophet to come to the Israelites, enticing them to follow other gods, and the Israelites were led astray, it would be a sign for the people that they are not following God as they should. God would definitely not be in Heaven saying “Oh no! I thought they were My people, but it turns out that they’re not!”

The second section in this chapter probably feels a bit too reminiscent of the Nazis for our liking, what with people commanded to turn in their own families for idolatry, but the point God is making is that He should have a higher priority in the Israelites’ lives than anything—and that includes family. Jesus said something similar in the New Testament, when he said:

Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37–38)

The point is not that we’re not to love our relatives, friends, and dear ones; we quite clearly are supposed to love these people. But we are to love God more.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Deuteronomy 12

Deuteronomy 12: One Place of Worship

Synopsis

In the last chapter, the Israelites were once again urged to love and obey the LORD. In this chapter, Moses hands down some additional rules about their place of worship.

First of all, the Israelites are to remove the current places of worship in the Promised Land, where the current residents worship their gods. They are to

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. (verses 2–3)

Remember that “Asherah poles” were items used for worshipping the goddess Asherah, which was very common, in those days. (I mentioned this briefly in the post for Deuteronomy 7.)

The Israelites are not to worship the LORD in the same way that other nations worship their gods; in fact, He is going to give them one specific place, where He will put His Name, and they are to worship Him there. That one place is the place where they are to make their sacrifices, and bring their offerings.

Currently, the Israelites’ worship of the LORD is a bit more haphazard; people are worshipping “everyone as he sees fit” (verse 8). God is allowing this because they haven’t yet reached the land that He is giving them. But when they get there, this is no longer to be the case; once they have crossed the border into the Promised Land, and the LORD has given them rest from their enemies, they are to do their worshipping at the place where He will put His Name.

And there rejoice before the LORD your God, you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns, who have no allotment or inheritance of their own. Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. Offer them only at the place the LORD will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you. (verses 12–14)

Of course, the Israelites will still be allowed to slaughter animals for food wherever they are—they won’t have to go to the central worshipping place for that. (Moses does remind them, however, not to eat the blood from the animals, as prescribed in Leviticus 7.) But outside of the central place of worship, they are not to eat: their tithes of their new grain, wine, or oil; the firstborn of their flocks and herds; anything they have vowed to give to the LORD, or their freewill offerings. These things are to be eaten at the place of worship.

After giving these rules, Moses reiterates them for the Israelites:

When the LORD your God has enlarged your territory as he promised you, and you crave meat and say, “I would like some meat,” then you may eat as much of it as you want. If the place where the LORD your God chooses to put his Name is too far away from you, you may slaughter animals from the herds and flocks the LORD has given you, as I have commanded you, and in your own towns you may eat as much of them as you want. Eat them as you would gazelle or deer. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat. But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. Do not eat it, so that it may go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is right in the eyes of the LORD.

But take your consecrated things and whatever you have vowed to give, and go to the place the LORD will choose. Present your burnt offerings on the altar of the LORD your God, both the meat and the blood. The blood of your sacrifices must be poured beside the altar of the LORD your God, but you may eat the meat. Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the LORD your God.

(verses 20–28)


The LORD is about to drive out the people currently living in the Promised Land, but the Israelites have to be careful not to become ensnared by the gods these people worship. The Israelites are also not to worship God in the same way that these other gods are worshipped, because worship of these gods involves “all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates”—including the sacrifice of children (verse 31)!

Moses ends the chapter with a final thought:

See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it. (verse 32)

Thoughts

The Israelites already have the Tabernacle, which is a big portable temple they bring with them. The Israelite camp is arranged around the Tabernacle, so that it is always at the centre of their camp. (See Numbers 2.) But when they reach the Promised Land, they will have something more permanent; first, the Tabernacle will be set up at one particular, permanent place, and, eventually, it will be replaced by a permanent Temple, where the LORD will “put His Name.”

Which brings us to another point: What does it mean that the LORD will “put His Name” there? What does Moses mean when he says in verse 5 that this central place of worship will be the LORD’s “dwelling?” Since God is the God of the entire universe, and exists everywhere, how is the Tabernacle/Temple any different? Is the LORD somehow more present at this place? Does His Presence exist there more than it does in other places in the world?

My answer is that I don’t think so. I think this is a symbolic thing. As King Solomon said, when he dedicated the Temple:

But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! (1 Kings 8:27)

So I think it’s symbolic, but there may be more to it than that—especially since the Israelites were to treat the Tabernacle/Temple as if the LORD did, physically, live there.

In future chapters and books, I’m sure I’ll be thinking about this a lot more.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

John Calvin on the “Prosperity Gospel”

I’ve been on vacation for a while, and have been neglecting my blogs. But I came across a post on the Pure Church blog today, about John Calvin on the “Prosperity Gospel,” and I thought I’d share it.

My favourite quote from this quote is:

The good things given by God are but a path to lead us to him, a ladder to ascend on high, not a tomb in which to bury ourselves.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Deuteronomy 11

Deuteronomy 11: Love and Obey the LORD

Synopsis

This passage continues on from the last passage; Moses is continuing to urge the Israelites to obey the LORD, to follow His decrees, and to love Him. As he says in verse 1, “Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.”

Moses reminds the Israelites that although they have seen and experienced “the discipline of the LORD [their] God” (verse 2), their children haven’t. Their children didn’t see:

  • the things He did in Egypt
  • how He brought them through the desert
  • how He punished Dathan and Abiram (see Numbers 16)

Therefore, they are to obey the commands that Moses is passing along, so that they will have the strength to go in and take possession of the Promised Land—“a land flowing with milk and honey” (verse 9)—and so that they will live there for a long time. And they have a good reason to want to live there, too:

The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. (verses 10–12)

No wonder they wanted this land!

So the Israelites are to be careful, lest they are turned to obey other gods. If they do, the LORD’s anger will burn against them, and he won’t send the rain in its season—the land will no longer be as wonderful as it is today. They are to remember all of the words of His law:

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth. (verses 18–21)

If they obey the LORD, then He will drive out the nations currently living in the Promised Land, even though they’re larger and stronger than the Israelites. Every place where the Israelites set their feet will be theirs (verse 24), and all of the people currently living in the Promised Land will be terrified of them.

To sum up, Moses says that he is presenting the Israelites a blessing and a curse: a blessing if they obey the LORD’s commands, and a curse if they don’t, and if they turn after other gods And, as a reminder of this, when the Israelites enter the Promised Land, as they pass between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, they are to have people standing on those mountains, proclaiming the LORD’s blessings from the one, and His curses from the other.

Thoughts

I found this next passage very interesting:

So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul—then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. (verses 13–15)

I find this passage interesting because this is Moses speaking. There aren’t any quotation marks, indicating that the LORD is now speaking; so what’s with the use of the word “I”? Moses won’t be sending rain in its season; Moses won’t be providing grass for their livestock. But this just goes to show—at least, in my mind—that when Moses is speaking to the Israelites, it’s really the LORD speaking to the Israelites. So much so that he doesn’t even feel the need, sometimes, to say “the LORD says this,” and “the LORD says that.” It’s just understood: When Moses is speaking, he’s speaking on behalf of the LORD.

I find it very interesting that the LORD commands the Israelites to pass between two mountains, on their way into the Promised Land, from which His blessings and curses are proclaimed to them. Apparently, God is a big believer in the carrot and the stick: He wants the Israelites to know the rewards they will get, for following His commands (and by avoiding worship of other gods), but He also wants them to know the punishments they will receive for not following His commands, or for going after other gods.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Deuteronomy 10:12–22

Deuteronomy 10:12–22: Fear the LORD

Synopsis

Since this is another short passage—and since I like the way that Moses worded it—I’m just going to quote it verbatim again. (I’m going to get so sued, one of these days…)

And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

(verses 12–22)

Thoughts

It’s easy to get caught up in the details of the LORD’s law, and forget to see the big picture. He wanted the Israelites to obey His law out of love for Him; he wanted them to obey His law because it was for their own good. Circumcision wasn’t just to be circumcision of the flesh, but of the heart; a spiritual thing. In addition to the physical act of circumcision, all Israelites—men and women, children and adults—were to be spiritually circumcized; their hearts were to be committed to obeying God.

Modern-day Christians might be caught up on the term “fear the LORD,” since it’s not a way that we’re used to talking these days. It was tempting, when I first became a Christian, to consider this an “Old Testament” way of thinking, but the term is actually used in numerous places in the New Testament, as well. For example:

  • In Luke 12:4–6, Jesus tells his listeners that they shouldn’t fear men, but that they should fear God.
  • In numerous places, people who believed in God are called “God-fearing,” or variations thereof. (See, for example, Acts 2:4–6; 10:21–22; numerous places in Acts 13)
  • In Acts 9:31, the church is strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, and grows in numbers, “living in the fear of the Lord.”
  • In Acts 10:34–36, Peter comes to the realization that salvation is not just for the Jews, but that God will accept people from every nation who “fear him and do what is right.”
  • In Romans 3:9–20, when Paul is showing that no one is righteous, one of the things he points out is that there is “no fear of God before their eyes” (verse 18). (Although this is actually an Old Testament quote, of Psalm 36:1, Paul is using it in a New Testament context, in a way that indicates that it’s still valid.)
  • In 2 Corinthians 5:11, Paul says that since we “know what it is to fear the Lord,” we should try to persuade others as well.

So “fearing the Lord” is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. On the other hand, does this mean that we are to be afraid of God? Well, in Romans 8:15, Paul says that we received a spirit of sonship, not a spirit that makes us a slave to fear. And in Luke 1:67–79, which is Zechariah’s song, we are told that God will rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and “enable us to serve him without fear” (verse 74). So we are to fear Him but not fear Him?

I think that context is important here; I think that the word “fear” is being used in a couple of different ways. (So, in a way, we are to fear the Lord without fearing Him, where I’m using the word “fear” differently in those two places…)

The usage of “fear” that we’re probably more familiar with is the way it’s used in Romans 8:15 and Luke 1:74. As Christians, we are not to “fear” the Lord in the sense that we are not to be afraid of Him. It’s true, at one time God was against us—as some versions of the Bible put it, we were at enmity with Him. (See, for example, the NKJV of Ephesians 2:14–18, which mentions that Christ put that enmity to death.) But now that He has saved us, there is no need to be afraid of Him; Jesus has paid the price for our sins, and when we stand before God the Father, at the end of our earthly lives, all He will see is Christ’s righteousness, not our sinfulness.

But the other usage of the word “fear” is the usage we’re not overly familiar with, in the 21st Century. And this is where I’m probably going to have to start splitting hairs, because there are, I think, subtle shades of meaning happening here, that aren’t fully being translated into English. Basically, this word is incorporating aspects of awe, reverence, devotion—and fear. I don’t have to be afraid of God, because I know that my sins are forgiven, but at the same time, I also have to recognize who God is—He is not someone to be treated lightly! The Creator of the entire universe, who could, if He chose, wipe it away with a swipe of His hand. And that does entail an amount of fear.

I mentioned this concept of “fearing the Lord but not fearing Him” to my pastor the other day, and he said that “fearing the Lord” also includes the concept of being afraid of disappointing Him; I know that He’s not going to punish me for my sins, because His Son took the punishment for me, but that doesn’t change the fact that I fail Him on a regular basis.

I decided to go online and try and find websites/articles/whatever that talked about the concept of “fearing the Lord,” and didn’t find a lot. (Which surprised me, because this seems, to me, like one of those “big can of worms” type of issues), but I did find a couple. First, an article that claims that “fear” is really a bad translation; the guy who wrote this believes that the phrase “fear the Lord” could be better translated as “delight in honouring the Lord,” or something similar.

However, this other article is having none of that, and believes that the phrase “fear of the Lord” really does include fear. But the article also goes off into a strange tangent about the Wizard of Oz.

So, when the Bible talks about “fearing the Lord,” is it really talking about fear? Well… not exactly, but yes, sort of.