This section of Deuteronomy can understandably be difficult to read. Chapters 19 through 26 consist of various laws that often do not correlate to what comes before or after them. It truly is simply the law book of Israel. I don’t want to comment on every law, or this would be a several-thousand-word post. But there are a few passages that warrant some closer examination.
Deuteronomy 21:22-23 is important because it explains why the religious leaders demanded that Jesus be removed from the cross immediately after he died. They truly believed Jesus to be cursed for dying the way he did. This passage is quoted by the apostle Paul in Galatians 3:13. Paul writes, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
At the cross, there was a double imputation, meaning a transfer of qualities. Our sin was imputed, or transferred, to Christ. He truly bore the curse that was rightfully ours. And his righteousness was imputed to us, righteousness that was not rightfully ours. By dying for all those chosen before the foundation of the world, the promises of God would be made available to everyone, Jew and Gentile, who believed.
Laws concerning who can wear what clothes might seem odd, but they are about upholding the original purposes of creation (22:5). We should not try to blur the lines between male and female by what we wear. While this does outright condemn practices such as crossdressing, we should not culturally overextend the law to say things like women can’t wear pants. Every culture has customs that identify menswear and womenswear. Cultures that campaign to intentionally blur those lines do so in order to displace the good order of creation.
All I want to say about the other laws through chapter 26 is that each of them is given in order to uphold the good order of creation and to identify the boundaries between God’s people and those who are outside of Israel.
In chapter 27, Moses and the elders tell the people to build an altar on Mount Ebal across the Jordan. They will write the words of the law on those stones. Moses then has the priests tell the people the series of curses that will come upon them for breaking the law. These curses summarize all the punishments of breaking the law. Each curse follows the pattern of beginning with “Cursed be the man/anyone…” One one side of the mountain, the priests shout the curse. From the other side of the mountain, the people respond with, “Amen.” These are curses for individual sins, not for the nation as a whole. That will come in the next chapter.
Chapter 28 confirms both the blessings and the curses on the entire nation for obedience and disobedience. Sin has both individual and cultural consequences. But keep in mind that these specific blessings and curses are in the context of a very specific covenant with God’s people, not all nations everywhere.
The blessings are generally about protection from surrounding nations and God supplying all the needs of the people. The nations will fear the Israelites and will know that God is the one, true God of all people.
The curses essentially undo the blessings. They have corollaries to being removed from Eden. God will frustrate their work. Instead of blessing from the ground, work will produce thorns and thistles. And ultimately, disobedience will result in expulsion from the land, just like it did in Eden. They will go into exile, and a foreign king will rule over them. Not only will the Israelites in Israel have a foreign power over them, but God will scatter many of them to faraway places around the world.
As they affirm that they will do all that the law commands, Moses renews the covenant in Moab. Moses tells the people that “to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear” (29:4). The law does not bring about repentance or a new nature. Only the Spirit of God can do that. Never has the law been intended to redeem mankind. The law is intended to shine a light on our sin and God’s righteousness. Again, Moses recounts the years of journeying through the wilderness. As they are approaching the end of these forty years of wandering, the people need consistent reminders of their past behavior and God’s provision.
Ultimately, Moses tells the people that they will choose either life, through obedience, or death, through disobedience. It will be their choice. The law will not bring life, but they do have the choice to obey this law or not. Moses urges the people to choose life and obedience.
As they approach the promised land, Moses has been told that his time is short. He is going to appoint Joshua as his successor, as God has told him to do. If the people follow Joshua as they have followed Moses, they will have success in their taking of the land. But if they follow Joshuas as they have actually followed Moses, they will struggle and bear the curses.
Luke constantly reminds us of exactly who Jesus is. Jesus heals a Gentile’s son, showing that he is the Savior of all those who turn to him in faith. Jesus raises a dead man, showing that Jesus is God incarnate. When he raises the dead man, Luke interprets the event by using the same language as when Elijah raised another widow’s son, showing Jesus to be the true and better prophet. When John the Baptist questions the identity of Jesus, Jesus responds by saying that he is the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah, shown that he is the mediator of God’s eternal plan of redemption. Later, Jesus’ miracles of calming the storm, raising Jairus’ daughter, and stopping the woman’s 12-years of bleeding prove his authority over nature.
Jesus then contrasts himself with John. John practiced abstinence from most of life’s pleasures, while Jesus had no issue with enjoying the simple pleasures of life (7:33). John was a strong man who lived outdoors and spent his life prophesying all around the area. John called sinners to repentance, and many people were therefore prepared for the hard truths that Jesus taught. But the religious leaders of the day did not want to believe John, because he didn’t preach the same message that they did. Both of them couldn’t be right. It was when the people heard John and Jesus teach that they believed the words of God, not the Pharisees. And when Jesus forgives sins, which cements his divinity, the Pharisees know that Jesus is going to be a threat to their authority.
Parables are Jesus’ primary public teaching devices. The parable of the sower teaches that people will respond to the gospel in a variety of ways, but there is one response to that leads to life. Essentially, it teaches the same truth as James: faith without works is dead. Living faith produces a hundredfold. Living faith produces endurance and perseverance regardless of life’s circumstances.
Jesus gives the twelve disciples a chance to put his teaching into practice. He sends them out with authority to cast our demons and heal the sick. But the point of this time was to preach the kingdom of God; the miraculous serve to confirm the message. This activity will also teach them to depend on God’s provision in a way that an apostle will be be required to do, in a way that exceeds even those of an ordinary believer. Mark’s gospel records Jesus permitting the disciples to take a staff while Luke’s does not. But in the same way that Jesus tells them not to take two tunics (9:3), he is probably just prohibiting taking an extra or doubles. Divine dependence is the game. Because of the disciples did what Jesus sent them to do, they caught the attention of Herod. He is now interested in hearing more about Jesus’ teaching. Again, the miraculous serve to confirm or draw attention to the message, not the miracles themselves. This is a kind of a test-run; later Jesus will send out seventy-two disciples instead of twelve.
One of Jesus’ most famous miracles is that of feeding the five thousand. Though Jesus wanted to debrief the twelve disciples in private, he never neglected teaching in public. Even in a desolate area (9:12), Jesus is able to miraculously bring forth provision. This harkens back to God providing manna, quail, and water in the wilderness for the wandering Israelites. Luke uses every opportunity to provide confirmation of who Jesus is: God in the flesh.
But if Jesus is God, then it has consequences for this life and the hereafter. That fact requires that we deny ourselves, take up our own cross, and follow Jesus. There is no via media when it comes to Christ. We deny ourselves by practicing self-control and prioritizing the lives of others, we take up our own cross by such faithfulness that dying for Christ is never off the table, and we follow Jesus by obeying his commandments and joining other Christians in the same pursuit. Later in chapter 9, Jesus will confirm that following him comes at a great cost. Everyone and everything else must become irrelevant in comparison to obedience to him.
Before Jesus continues healing and exorcising demons, the transfiguration takes place. Luke’s account is remarkably similar to Matthew and Mark. As Luke continues to tell us who Jesus is, he see that Jesus is accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Jesus is the true and better prophet. As at his baptism, the very voice of God the Father speaks and confirms Jesus’ sonship.
Psalm 66: The works of God should lead us to rejoicing.
Psalm 67: May everyone everywhere see the goodness of God.
Psalm 68: God will strike down his enemies but uphold the righteous.
Psalm 69: Lord, save the righteous from evil (v.9 is quoted in John 2:17).
Psalm 70: May God’s deliverance come soon.
Deuteronomy 5 repeats the ten commandments from Exodus 20. Many have seen how the chapters that follow the ten commandments, in both places they are written, simply expound upon them. Christian tradition has seen the ten commandments as a sort of preamble to the law given at Sinai.
Depending on where you come from, you might have learned a different ordering of the ten commandments. What Protestants classify as two commandments (1 and 2), Catholics and Lutherans read as one. The same goes for the ninth and tenth commandments; Protestants combine all of the coveting prohibitions into one commandments, and Catholics and Lutherans read them as two. It doesn’t change the interpretation of individual commandments as much as it does show how we read the passages.
It’s noteworthy that Deuteronomy 5:1-5 speak of a relationship between God and Israel that predates the law, even the ten commandments. The law was never meant to be what forms the relationship but what honors it. By being obedient to God’s law, God’s people honor the Lord and live in a way that brings about peace and prosperity.
After the second announcement of the ten commandments, Moses gives what’s called the “shema”, or the primary creed of the Hebrews and modern-day Judaism. Deuteronomy 6:4 reads, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Verse 5 reads, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” When Jesus is later questioned about the greatest commandment, he simply quotes Moses.
It might seem as though Jesus plays around with the text, because in Mark 12:30 he actually says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” It simply has to do with the range of meaning of words between two languages. The Hebrew that the early Israelites spoke would have included the idea of “mind” when it spoke of “heart”. First-century Greek-speakers and modern-day Westerners think of the heart of the seat of the emotions, but to the Hebrews the heart was the seat of the intellect. For us, we think of the gut as the seat of the precognitive intuition, or the mind. These are similar to some of the considerations that translators have to make.
Scripture consistently puts the onus for passing on the faith upon the parents. Moses says, “When your son asks you in the time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies…’”, that it is the parents who are to give a response. Moses supplies the response parents are to give, but it is to come from the parents. There are some truths that must be presented by parents for it to be meaningful.
Moses then gives the people rules for how the actual conquest of the promised land should go. The conquest serves two purposes: Israel will receive Abraham’s promised inheritance, and the people currently living in the land will receive judgment for their sins, as promised back in Genesis 15:16. We must keep that in mind as we think about contemporary reactions to destruction, violence, and God commanding the killing of certain people. God graciously permitted their sin to continue for four-hundred years so that if they continued in their child sacrifice, idolatry, fornication, and other sins, he would be just to take their lives. God has never destroyed an innocent life.
Not only are the Israelites to destroy the people, but they are to also destroy their religious artifacts. That would mean the destruction of idols, poles, temples, and anything related to paganism. Not only is God jealous, but he will give the people boundaries to help keep them from turning to the same sins of the people they are setting to destruction.
The next greatest threat to the Israelites will be their pride. Moses warns them about both flirting with disaster by accommodating paganism within the land and by ever thinking that they pushed the people out of Canaan by their own power. The Lord is who has saved Israel out of slavery, and he will be the one who pushes the evil out of the land.
And in chapter 9 we read that successfully inhabiting the land will definitely not be because of the personal righteousness of Israel. It will be because of the wickedness of the Canaanites. In fact, Moses reminds the people of their stubbornness all throughout the wilderness period. For forty years, the people constantly complained before God and Moses about how better the food was back in slavery. In fact, God, nearly destroyed the people because of their griping. Let it be known that griping and complaining nearly warranted the complete divine razing of an entire nation.
When the people formed a golden calf as an idol to worship, God said that he was ready to destroy the people. Moses petitioned God on behalf of the people, as he often did. Moses insists the people remember what they have done. After Moses destroyed the first two tablets in response to the idolatry of the people, God wrote on two more tablets the same commandments.
What the people have always needed is not some outward sign of the covenant but a new heart. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant for Israel. While that was a sign of obedience, what God actually wants is actual obedience. That requires a new heart, or as Moses says, a circumcision of the heart, which he defines as no longer being stubborn. God’s ways are not just good, but they’re better than anything we could ever concoct.
Chapter 12 begins the second speech or sermon from Moses to the people. If the first several chapters were a call to remember, the second set of passages teach the people where and how to worship. God will choose a place to center his worship. It won’t happen for a few hundred years, but eventually God will choose Jerusalem for his temple. Until that time, judges and prophets will perform sacrifices throughout the land. But once centralized worship is established, and especially once the monarchy is established, the king will be responsible for tearing down all decentralized places of worship throughout Israel. This will be the downfall of many future kings.
We are once again reminded that the land boundaries are not fixed. In Deuteronomy 12:20, God says that at some point he will enlarge the territory of Israel as he promised to Abraham. But once God does that on behalf of the people, they must not get lazy with his laws. Also, any person who claims to have a new word or vision from God that leads people away from his already disclosed will and word must be put to death. Whether rebellion comes from the inner man or from outside forces, it must be squashed.
The food/kosher laws are difficult to understand if we try to find a pragmatic reason. What is clean about an ox that’s not clean about the rock badger? Is there a theological component to cloven hooves? It is better to see the kosher laws in line with the rest of the law and fulfilling the same purpose. The people are to be set apart and distinct from the rest of the surrounding nations. Their diet won’t give them superpowers, but they will refrain from the sorts of eating habits that identify their neighbors.
Tithing worked quite differently then than it does today. In fact, it’s difficult to make a case for tithing as a condition of the new covenant. Sacrificial generosity, yes; principled tithing, no. In fact, it would be impossible to be obedient to the Old Testament tithing laws in the church. Old Testament tithing looked like taking the best from your field or flock, sacrificing it at the place of God’s choosing, then eating it afterward. If the distance to the temple was too great to warrant bringing as much as you had to give, you were permitted to sell it for money, take that money to Jerusalem, then buy whatever you wanted as long as it was equal to the amount of money. They could purchase “oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves.” Another component of the tithe was to care for the priests and the disadvantaged. This specifically included the sojourner, the orphan, and the widow.
Some have argued that the laws for the sabbatical year (every seventh year) are inconsistent. Deuteronomy 15:4 says, “But there will be no poor among you”. But verse 11 then says, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land”. Is the evidence of multiple authors and a lack of Holy Spirit inspiration, therefore a black eye on Scriptural authority?
Absolutely not. Verse 4 is a command for generosity, made clear by the context of the release of any debts owed you by your fellow Israelite. If a person becomes poor, it is up to the one who is owed to release that debt during the sabbatical year. Verse 9 also warns against manipulating the system in order to not have to lend to one in need because the sabbatical year is close and you will be obligated to forgive it.
Verse 11 is an account of reality. There will always be those who struggle to get be, whether through circumstances beyond their control or by self-inflicted pain. The command is to be generous to your fellow man, because the Lord has been generous to you (v. 11).
As a reminder about destroying all pagan forms of worship, Moses warns the people of its consequences. If any of the Canaanite practices are mixed with the Israelite practices, the malefactors must be investigated and charged only by multiple eye-witnesses. But that charge is not be treated lightly; it ends in death. And to prevent false charges, the first witness to come forward must throw the first stone. The goal of such a harsh punishment is to “purge the evil from your midst” (17:7). We cannot take idolatry too lightly.
God never said that Israel would never have an earthly king. He promises it to Abraham (Genesis 17:6). But Israel’s kings will have specific laws. He must be a natural Israelite, and he must not treat the people like slaves. That means no huge amount of horses, no polygamy, and no obscene wealth. Every king will write his own copy of the law of God. He will be the primary covenant-keeper in Israel; therefore, he must know it quite well.
The law especially protected the priests. Unlike the other tribes, the tribe of Levi did not have their own set-apart land. They lived off of special cities in each of the remaining eleven plots of land. They would also eat from the tithes and offerings of the people.
Israelites were commanded to avoid the religious practices of the Canaanites, but in chapter 18 Moses calls out the practices of child sacrifice and necromancy. The law of God protects life. Necromancy attempted to receive special information from ancestors or spiritual beings, which of course they would not have. Only God knows and reveals mysteries and the future.
Moses told the people that there would be a succession of prophets throughout the time of Israel. In 18:18, God promises a future Moses, one better than Moses. That promise would not be fulfilled until the coming of Christ.
As in the other gospels, after Jesus’s baptism, he is taken into the wilderness. Along with his baptism, we can say that the testing in the wilderness was preparatory work for his ministry. There is not a secret Bible code where letters and numbers reveal a hidden message. But numbers do carry well-known and easily identifiable meanings. Forty is the number for testing, not because of some mystic secret, but because Israel was tested in the wilderness for forty years. So Jesus being tested in the wilderness for forty days reveals that he is to be seen as the new Israel. Jesus’s testing is about whether or not he will be faithful where Israel was not. The devil offered Jesus what he could not give. That’s the essence of idolatry, which Israel failed to defeat over and over again. The devil will continue to be an opponent to Christ’s ministry, but he has sufficiently shown himself to be the true son of Israel.
The first act of ministry Jesus performs is preaching. We’re told that going to the synagogue was his custom as he grew up. Good Christian parents would do well and get their children to worship and among God’s people. He reads from Isaiah 61, which speaks of the coming servant of God. As he preaches, he claims to be the one of whom this passage speaks.
The people are surprised to hear someone speak with such authority. It was customary for teachers to simply regurgitate teachers of the past, but Jesus actually turns to the biblical text itself. The people are not warming up to Jesus that well, so he reminds them of what happens to Israel when they reject the prophets. He uses the ministries of Elijah and Elisha to warm them that rejecting him will lead to their own downfall. This harsh reminder leads to the first time that the people attempt to kill Jesus.
Luke constantly describes Jesus’s ministry as healing and teaching. Early on, Jesus takes on the role of a rabbi and calls a few disciples. He will call the rest of his disciples in chapter 6. We have already addressed the context of Jesus calling ordinary men to be his disciples when we read Matthew and Mark, so as a refresher all I’ll say is that being called by a rabbi in your early adult years was similar to being offered a full-ride scholarship to Oxford that no reasonable person would turn down.
A pattern of calling and healing continues throughout chapter 5. When Jesus calls Peter, he shows himself to be divine when he tells Peter where to fish. Peter does not believe that he is suitable for being a disciple of this great man. If Peter is unqualified to be a disciple, then Levi surely is unqualified. But even more quickly, Levi (Matthew) drops everything to follow him. It was calling Levi that got the attention of the Pharisees and the scribes. But that gives Jesus the chance to announce to them why he has come: to call sinners to repentance.
The Pharisees take the chance to send a series of questions Jesus’s way. Fasting was not legislated very often in the Mosaic law, but a brand of traditions arose. It became quite common among ordinary Jews by the first century. Since John the Baptist’s disciples still fast, why does Jesus not command his disciple to fast?
Through parables about fabrics and wineskins, Jesus tells them that the old covenant and the new covenant are not the same. There will be both continuity and discontinuity. Fasting was just one example of the old wineskins.
Different groups of Christians have understood the continuity and discontinuity differently. A field of theology called “covenant theology” emphasizes the continuity between old and new. Most Christians who hold to some form of classic covenant theology are Presbyterians, or those who understand baptism to have simply been an “administrative change” to circumcision (this is a small component of classic covenant theology). Others Christians who hold to what’s called “dispensationalism” emphasize the discontinuity. Some dispensationalists see Israel and the church as completely distinct, the church was a new component of God’s plan unknown to God’s people before the time of the apostles, and Jews and Christians will have different destinies (Jews on earth, the church in heaven).
While both of these theologies (and their varieties) are attempts to be faithful to the text, both of them have their faults. Both overemphasize some components while neglecting others. Myself, I hold to a form of covenantalism called progressive covenantalism. Don’t let “progressive” fool you. All it means is that God has always worked through covenants with his people, and each covenant needs to be taken on its own terms. Each covenant has moved the history of redemption forward, hence “progressive”. Progressive covenantalism recognizes how Christ fulfilled the law, formed a new covenant, and made one new man out of Jew and Gentile. It affirms the continuity between the people of God (always by grace through faith) and discontinuity with how different covenants worked.
Chapter 6 consists of many of Jesus’s teachings, which is Luke’s form of the sermon on the mount. Throughout Luke, Jesus is will be questioned many times about how he observes the Sabbath and understands its meaning. When Jesus is plucking grain, he is breaking no such Sabbath law, which did prohibit the use of farm equipment. The Pharisees cast doubt on Jesus’s reputation, but Jesus corrects their misunderstanding. When Jesus heals a man with a weak hand, the Pharisees are enraged solely because it took place on the Sabbath. They miss the point of the healing completely.
When it comes to the crowds, Jesus is loved early on. He teaches with authority and heals the sick. Similarly to Matthew 5-7, Jesus gives the beatitudes, pronounces woes, teaches on loving enemies and proper judgment, and building a life on his words. While it is much shorter, Luke’s sermon on the mount follows the same general outline.
Psalm 61: I will take refuge in God’s house.
Psalm 62: God is the only one who makes salvation possible.
Psalm 63: God is more satisfying than anything this world offers.
Psalm 64: God guards his people from wickedness.
Psalm 65: The God of creation is the God of salvation.
Beyond the regular sacrifices, there were a goodly number of offerings that people could make for a variety of reasons. This also ensured that there were continual sacrifices taking place in the tabernacle or later in the temple. A lamb would be slaughtered every day and on every Sabbath. Multiple animals were sacrificed throughout the month. Every holy day had its own set of sacrifices. The Feast of Booths by far had the most amount of animal sacrifices. Many animals were sacrificed, but there were well over 1000 lambs sacrificed alone.
God takes truth quite seriously, and everything his people say should be true. Therefore, he takes vows quite seriously. God’s people do not lie. Men and women were given different particulars for rules concerning vows, but the point was the same: do not commit yourself to anything you do not intend to carry out. Fathers guarded their young daughters from making hasty vows, and husbands, who were the heads of the homes, could annul his wife’s vow if it proved impossible to keep or cost too much, for example. Basically, young girls and wives were guarded from the consequences of hasty vows, but they were not kept from making them in general.
In Numbers 25, Midian had tricked many of the Israelites into idolatry. It has resulted in this battle. Phinehas was the son of the high priest, so he went out among the soldiers in his father’s stead. This prevented the high priest from being ceremonially unclean when around any fallen soldiers. As awful as it may sound, the Midianite women were guilty of idolatry and bringing the Israelites along for the ride. So, they were not spared from the invasion.
When the army returned, a quick headcount proved that not a single Israelite soldier had died in battle. The plunder taken by the soldiers was turned over to the priests to be used to make honorable vessels for the tabernacle.
The tribes of Reuben and Gad decide that the land in which they want to settle actually lies outside of where the rest of the tribes will settle. They land they want is west of the Jordan river, so the Jordan would separate these tribes from the rest. Is this a problem?
Though it comes as a shock to Moses, it is not unreasonable. The promise made to Abraham was that he would have as many descendants as there is sand on the shore. Paul says is Romans 4:13 that Abraham knew he would one day inherit the whole world. So there is no theological issue with some tribes settling apart from the others.
Moses recounts for the people the journey they took to get to the ends of the promised land. Remembering the history of God’s activity among his people is a common yet critical component of the Christian life. We do not have a “fidiest” faith, or blind faith. We can look back and see God’s hand, which prompts us to faithfulness in the present and the future.
God then gives Moses the boundaries for the land they will initially occupy. This should not be thought of as a final boundary. Throughout the time of the monarchy, up until the exile, the land possessed by the Israelites would wax and wain depending on their faithfulness. When a foreign power took control, Israel would lose land. Especially after the exile, the arrangement of the land look completely different.
The promise to Abraham included, ultimately, the whole world. Paul made this claim in Romans 4:13. So changing boundary lines should not surprise us, and we should not think that the limits placed on the land in Numbers 34 are final. We should also make sure that when we read about the promises made to Israel concerning the land that we recognize they are fulfilled in Christ and the church. Yes, there is absolutely a future to ethnic Israel in the millennial kingdom; otherwise, Romans 11 is unintelligible or has to be spiritualized away. But when Paul says that all of God’s promises find their fulfillment in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20), he truly means all.
Part of the boundaries include cities for the Levitical priests. Priests were not to have their own land inheritance but would live off of the tithes and offerings from the people. That would be their portion. When in came to their dwellings, instead of having their own tribal allotments, they would have cities within the various tribes. The priests would be spread throughout the nation. There would be forty-eight total cities for the priests, and six of those would be shared as sanctuary cities.
You’ll recall that in Numbers 27, the daughters of Zelophehad went to Moses to say that without fathers or brothers, they would have nowhere to live if they did not receive their father’s inheritance. So, consulting with the Lord, Moses said that they should inherit what a son typically would. The issue was not that women were bad at inheriting land, which is ridiculous, but that inheritance through the patriarchs ensured no fighting about who owned what land.
This is precisely the issue that is addressed in Numbers 36. If the women married men from other tribes, how would land be distributed upon someone’s death? To guard against imminent feuding, Moses said that the daughters of Zelophehad could only marry men within their tribe. That way, at the year of jubilee when land went back to its original owner, there would be no bickering between tribes about inheritance.
Deuteronomy is either one sermon or a series of sermons Moses gave in Moab before the people officially enter the promised land. The introduction of the sermon is another historical account of God’s benevolent activity among the people. Three chapters are devoted entirely to the history between the exodus and arriving in Moab. We must be people that remember!
Moses begin to reiterate the importance of obedience to the law. The law is a part of the covenant between God and the nation of Israel, and with the law comes blessings and curses. He spends considerable amount of time forbidding idolatry, of which they have been guilty several times already. And idolatry will be their undoing. It will be because of idolatry that after the nation splits into two kingdoms that they both are taken into exile.
Each of the four gospels begin in their own way for their own purposes. Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus, Mark begins with John as an adult, Luke begins with John’s parents, and John begins with an extended theological statement about the eternal Word.
If I were to recommend a gospel to really understand who Jesus is, I would recommend Luke. Luke was a gentile, so he writes from a gentile perspective. He includes plenty of Jewish information, because it’s necessary, but he also explains it. He makes note of how his writing is informed by eyewitness testimony and his own investigation. Luke interprets Jesus’s life as he writes about it.
He begins by recounting how John the Baptist was born. He must begin before the birth of Jesus, because God’s plan has been at work long before. John will be a prophet, which is exciting for the Jew who has waited for 400 years since the last prophet. This means that God is active and has not abandoned his people, no matter what comes next.
Zechariah and Elizabeth are elderly, simply meaning beyond the normal child-bearing years. Zechariah is a priest, and during his regular service he is confronted by an angel of the Lord. The angel tells him that his prayer for a child has been heard, and it will be answered. This child will be used mightily by God in calling his people to repentance, the common work of a prophet. His ministry will be marked by preparing the people for the coming of the messiah.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent to the virgin Mary. Mary is frightened, but she is ready to be obedient. Here virginity is actually quite important. Some have argued that the Old Testament word simply means a young woman. Context, however, makes that unlikely. While that word has a wide range of meaning between “virgin” and “young woman”, the Greek word that Luke uses definitely means “virgin”. It could even be used for men who were virgins. So, “young woman” is definitely not what the author or the Spirit intends. Mary’s virginity becomes even clearer when she asks the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” It would make no sense for Mary to ask how she could be pregnant just because she’s a young woman. Who else can get pregnant? It’s a sign rightly because she is a virgin.
The relationship between Mary and Elizabeth is close but uncertain. They could have very well been aunt and niece, or maybe even cousins with a considerable age difference. So John and Jesus will have some kind of family relation, likely cousins.
Mary’s song has been called her Magnificat. She focuses her song on the mercy and greatness of God, not on herself. If Mary is a leader in anything, it is in right worship of God.
When John is born, Zechariah is inspired to prophecy. He praises God for what he has done and what he will do through his son. John will remind people that God’s promises are sure, and one who sits on David’s throne is close at hand.
After John is born, Joseph and Mary are forced to Bethlehem for a census. Some historians have taken issue with Luke’s dating and mention of a census brought during the time of Quirinius. Archaeological evidence has shown a census by Quirinius, but it is several years later. Several options are available to square what Luke writes with extrabiblical sources. The most convincing is that the phrase “when Quirinius was governor” could just as well be translated “before Quirinius was governor”. It’s a matter of which subordinating conjunction properly is best in context, because “when” is not in the original text. Some conjunction must be assumed when the phrase is translated into English.
Luke tells the story quickly. He spends more time on the various travels the family makes. Thousands (multitude) of angels announce to the shepherds nearby that Christ the Lord is born. They are to visit him immediately and tell Mary and Joseph what the angels had told them, namely that this child will be for the salvation of all peoples.
In keeping with the law, Jesus is presented at the temple on the eighth day. Mary and Joseph offer their sacrifices. This time is when Simeon and Anna get to see the Christ child. More and more people are assured that this child is the promised Messiah of God.
Luke skips twelve years of Jesus’s childhood. The reasons are not clear, but we should not worry that there are truths we do not know for which we are responsible for knowing. There were attempts in later centuries to create fantastic tales about Christ’s upbringing that the gospels do not give. One such fabrication is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. The earliest copies we have of this is from the sixth century, and no serious Christian has ever accepted it as remotely true. It’s quite short. In one section, Jesus is five-years-old and fashions twelve sparrows from clay. When he is questioned about why he did this on the Sabbath, he claps his hands and they come to life and fly away. Then, another child bumps shoulders with Jesus as he’s running, and Jesus curses the boy to die. You know, typical Jesus-stuff.
But anyway, while at the temple, Jesus is asking the teachers questions. Asking questions was a common form of teaching, so it might be that what astonishes the teachers is how much this child already understands. One common question is if Jesus knew, or when he knew, what obedience to the law of God would get him. Or, when did Jesus know that he would die for the sins of the world? That seems like an awful lot to expect a twelve-year-old to carry. Whatever Jesus knew and when, he knew before age twelve that God was his Father. He knew what he meant, but his parents did not. By Luke pointing out that contrast, it seems that Jesus knows more than we might expect.
Luke goes to great lengths to date exactly when John began his ministry. John was a traveling preacher who called the people to repentance. He would baptize people upon repentance, not before. John didn’t baptize babies.
God’s kingdom is a kingdom of righteousness, not of the proper genealogy. It is not a kingdom of good behavior. When people came to John to be baptized who were living as the pagans do, he knew that what they wanted was easy access to good living in God’s kingdom. The wrath of God was indeed coming, and no one could flee from it. It was inevitable. And an outward rite of baptism would do nothing to save you from it. What John demanded was repentance, followed by the image of death to self and resurrected life through baptism.
So why was Jesus baptized? What did he repent of? In the same way that Jesus died on behalf of his people, Jesus repents on behalf of his people, of which baptism is the sign. The Holy Spirit descends on him, and the Father speaks. As a man, Christ lived in the power of the Spirit, just as we do.
Luke is definitely a gospel for everyone, Jew and gentile alike. Instead of focusing on the Jewish nature of Jesus’s family line, Luke goes all the way back to creation. He shows that Jesus is the savior of all people, since he descends from the same two parents that we do.
Psalm 56: God is to be trusted.
Psalm 57: God will save the faithful from their enemies.
Psalm 58: Vengeance belongs to the Lord.
Psalm 59: God’s strength protects his people.
Psalm 60: God both judges and saves his people.
Korah and his crew believe that the whole nation should share in Moses’ authority and that Moses has taken a place of authority that is not his. However, Moses has not taken anything that God has not given him. Remember how hesitant he was when God spoke in the bush. Remember how resistant he was to speaking to Pharaoh, making excuses about his ability to speak well. Moses has risen to the call of God, but he has not done so with a proud spirit.
Moses orchestrates a brief ceremony where God will make the final decision about whether or not Moses will continue as the leader of the people. Korah and Aaron will take their censers (for burning incense), along with all their followers or fellow priests, and they will burn incense before the Lord. Long story short, God judged Korah and his followers by opening up the earth to have them fall in, then the earth closed over them.
There are regular attacks on Moses and his God-given authority to lead. The point of the story is not Moses’ authority but that God has sent a prophet among the people. To reject the prophet is to reject God. These stories are precursors to the final prophet, Jesus Christ. In a way far greater than Moses, to reject Christ is to reject God. These stories about rejecting God’s anointed point us forward to how people will reject Christ.
The same sort of story takes place when Aaron’s staff buds. It is to show that Aaron is the father of the priesthood. Aaron’s staff is to be “a sign for the rebels” (17:10). It is to legitimize the priesthood. When the priesthood is shown to be legit, a lengthy passage about the responsibilities of the priests and purification laws follows in chapters 18 and 19. The point is to show the people that this law is from God, not from men.
Again the people grumble about having no water. This a regular complaint from the people, which comes again in chapter 21. Moses does the right thing and goes before the Lord at the tent of meeting. God tells Moses to speak to the rock, and it will yield water for the people. Take note of the command; it will become important later. Moses goes back before the people, strikes the rock with his staff, and more than enough water flows out of it. Then God says that Moses did not believe him. Why? Didn’t water still come from the rock?
Throughout the wilderness wanderings, the point again and again has been the specificity of the commands and how the law must be obeyed perfectly. God told Moses to speak to the rock; Moses instead struck it with his staff. There is always the temptation to contribute to the word of God, when what God demands is perfect obedience. Not only will Moses not lead the people into the promised land, but Aaron will die beforehand, as well.
Believe it or not, the people that have complained every step of the way are still complaining. God still offers mercy to the people, but his mercy always comes in the context of judgment, because he is both just and merciful. God sends serpents among the people to bite and poison them (judgment), but he also permits Moses to create a serpent statue to which the people can set their eyes and be saved (mercy). It’s a beautiful picture of salvation. The people are worthy of severe judgment, but in his mercy, God gives them an object on which they can rightly place their faith. As the serpent was raised up, so Christ was raised up. The weakest faith is still saving faith if its object is Jesus Christ. And some people say the gospel isn’t preached in the Old Testament!
After defeating the Amorites in battle, the people move on to Jericho. King Balak is fearful of the Israelites because of how easily they defeated the Amorites. He sends for Balaam, a diviner who might be able to help with the battle. However, God has told Balaam that he is not to speak a poor word against the Israelites. God permits Balaam to go with the messengers back to King Balak, but he is to say only what God tells him to say. We are not sure how much of the one true God Balaam knew, but it was enough to obey him.
Balak is trying to bribe Balaam with money to curse the Israelites. God permits Balaam to go see Balak as long as he will only do what God says. In his heart, Balaam still wants the money. So God sends an angel to warn Balaam. Only the donkey can see the angel, and three times he stubbornly refuse to keep going. Once Balaam beats the donkey, unaware of the presence of the angel, the angel speaks through the donkey. While it’s clear the donkey did in fact speak, we can also say that the angel spoke through the donkey. The angel nearly duplicates the questions the donkey asks. Apparently Balaam needs another reminder in verse 35 that he is only to say what God says. 2 Peter 2 makes this point, that Balaam was greedy for money, which is why the angel spoke through the donkey. This is another good example of letting the New Testament help us more clearly interpret the Old Testament. We get a good sense of irony in 22:38, when Balaam tells Balak that he can only say what God has put in his mouth.
The asinine motivation proved fruitful. Three times Balak asked Balaam to curse Israel, while Balaam would only bless Israel four times. In his final oracle, Balaam prophecies about the Davidic dynasty (24:15-19). And because of the covenant made with David yet in the future, it should also be read, through a new covenant lens, as a prophecy of the coming messiah. David would not be more than a few hundred years from Balaam’s time. Christ would be roughly 1400 years after Balaam.
In an unbelievable turn of events, after Balaam blesses Israel in battle, the Israelites turn to Baal worship. God orders that Moses kill all the chiefs, because that is who has led the people in to idolatry. It turns out that intermarriage between Israelites and pagans was at the root of the problem. Once those who had introduced more idols into Israel were killed, the plague that God sent to kill the people was taken away. The apostle Paul uses this specific story to illustrate the extreme danger of sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 10:8. There, he says that 23,000 fell in a single day, while Moses says that 24,000 fell in total.
Moses takes a census to decide which tribes will get what parts of the land. Notice that while nearly 2.5 million people left Egypt, there are only 601,730 people now. Many of them have died because of unfaithfulness. Just think for a minute about how much God cares about holiness.
Once the land grants are put out, a group of Zelophehad’s daughters are concerned about their inheritance in the land. Their father has died, and they have no brothers, husbands, or sons. Will they have their own inheritance if the family lines are typically passed through the fathers? To care for the women who are on their own, God permits Moses to pass the family inheritance through the daughters in cases where there are no fathers or brothers.
It may seem that the women were left out of the deals. Before thinking that God did not care about women, it’s important to note that family inheritance was passed down through the men because men married women from other families. While women were not usually involved in land deals, it was to have a clear, uniform way of passing inheritance from generation to generation. If siblings from two different families were involved in divvying up land, both brothers and sisters who now belong to their own families, no one would agree on anything.
Joshua is chosen to succeed Moses. Joshua and Caleb were the only two of the twelve spies to give a favorable report of the promised land. To avoid another Korah-like situation, God has Moses be there when Joshua is installed as his successor. No one should be confused about who their next leader will be.
More offering instructions continue, which we will talk about more next week with chapter 29.
Jesus tells the disciples that the temple will one day be destroyed. When they ask when this will happen, Jesus says that there will be worldwide cataclysmic events that some will want to interpret as the signs that he is about to return (v.6, “many will come in my name”). Some things will simply continue to happen, such as wars and natural disasters. That means if you find Russia and Apache helicopters in the Bible, you’re reading it wrong. There are a few ways of understanding the timeline of Christ’s return. Let’s be frank and say that this is a difficult subject to fully grasp. Everyone uses the same passages to determine their position, which only complicates things. But Jesus does tell us that the only perspective that is out of bounds for the Christian is the belief that he has already returned.
Persecution will also increase as the world rolls on in sin. Whenever that happens, the Holy Spirit will equip every believer with exactly what he or she should say (or not say). Even family members will hate their own if they believe in Christ. We see this today in extreme situations where a Muslim converts to Christianity and is exiled by their family. We also see difficult situations where a person is converted and no longer think and behaves like their family, with severe consequences. But there is a promise: “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (v.13).
Many have tried to interpret “abomination of desolation” throughout history. This phrase is borrowed from Daniel 9 and 11. Before the time of Jesus, the Jews were attacked by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 168 B.C. A statue of Zeus was placed on the altar, and a pig was sacrificed. Is this surely not what Daniel had in mind? Apparently not, because Jesus says that the fulfillment of that prophecy had not happened yet.
And yet, Jesus tells the people to flee. So this must not be the absolute end of days, because where the people flee when the world ends? Mark also includes the note “let the reader understand”, which makes me think that anyone who reads this book should already know what Mark is referring to. Jesus would not have said this parenthetical line to his disciples, but it is as inspired as what Jesus did say to them. It is for us. This implies that what Jesus is referring to is still yet to come.
The only rebuilt temple Jesus ever spoke of was himself after his resurrection. He himself is the temple. Some have argued (some better than others) that there will be a rebuilt temple during the millennial kingdom. I do not reject the notion completely, but I think it is more of an inference than a direct teaching. Some say that for the man of lawlessness to take his place in the temple of 2 Thessalonians 2 requires a rebuilt, future temple. That’s what I mean by inference and not a clear teaching. Paul consistently refers to Christ and the church as Israel and the temple. I am of the mind that when Mark writes about the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (or, “usurping a place that is not his”), he is simply referring to a future antichrist. The Reformers, as do modern Lutherans, used this passage to argue that the pope was/is the antichrist.
Another inference not clearly taught in Scripture is a pretribulational rapture, which means a secret rapture. Jesus could not be clearer that his return is singular, and it will by no means be quiet. The lights in the sky will darken, and “they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds”. Jesus also says “after that tribulation…” which implies that the rapture takes place after the horror of those days. A pretribulational rapture might be inferred, but it requires a lot of extra harmonization and a particularly odd way of reading prophecy. Why else would Jesus warn believers what to expect if believers who have read this passage will not experience it?
The image of the fig tree is to show that when these signs happen, his return is imminent, but not until then. The world will go on as it always has until we see the sky fall (Old Testament imagery for the doom of nations). The important thing is that it is sure to happen. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
These will be the signs that take place within a generation, so the scope is rather broad. But when Jesus gets specific, he says that “concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (v.32). Once the antichrist appears, the roll-on to the end will quickly appear. But in terms of a date and time, he gives us no indication. Instead, his constant refrain is to “stay awake”.
The religious leaders want Jesus dead, but they cannot have him killed during the Passover. They must hurry. An unknown woman anoints Jesus for burial as a prophetic statement about his upcoming crucifixion. It is right to use our precious possessions in worship of God. And of course, because we are writing about the woman right now, Christ’s words about her have been fulfilled time and time again.
Judas sets up his scheme with the priests. Jesus and the disciples have the Passover meal together, and Jesus calls out one of them as his betrayer. Jesus institutes the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36. Mark moves quickly through the Lord’s Supper while the other gospels give it more space. But Mark’s purpose is to get to the arrest quickly. They move on to the prayer in Gethsemane. Jesus prays for strength to fulfill his final act of obedience.
We call this the “passive obedience” of Christ. His active obedience was his perfect life of adherence to the law in order to fulfill it. Christ’s passive obedience was his act of dying on the cross as the propitiation for our sins. He lived a perfect live in the power of the Spirit, and he died a substitutionary death at the hands of God.
Jesus is arrested and taken before the Jewish council. Several aspects of his trial were illegal, mainly that it took place at night with disagreeable witnesses. Jesus is charged with blasphemy for alluding to Daniel 7 and saying that it referred to him and his kingdom. He would be the one ascending to the Ancient of Days and being handed authority.
Jesus is delivered to Pilate and does not give him satisfactory answers. He is in complete control. The crowd demands his death and mocks him.
The sixth hour would be noon. Darkness covers the land for three hours, at the end of which he cries out to God one last time. The confusion about whether or not Jesus is calling for Elijah (or Elias) comes from the fact that the name for God (pronounced el-o-we) sounds remarkable like Elias or Elijah (pronounced el-ee-as). From a distance, with a crowd surrounding you, you’d be forgiven for mishearing.
With that final cry, Jesus died. There were two curtains in the temple, and it’s not immediately clear which curtain to which Mark is referring. One curtain divided the sanctuary from the outer court, which would have been a public sign. The second curtain divided the holy place from the holy of holies, which would have only been visible to the high priest. More likely, the curtain that was torn was the outer curtain visible to all. Later writings speak of a miraculously torn curtain as a sign of the temple’s destruction. This correlates nicely to Jesus being charged just a few hours earlier with saying that he would tear down one temple and rebuild another—himself.
Not all of the Jewish council hated Jesus. Joseph from Arimathea approached Pilate about giving Jesus a proper burial. All that Mark says is that Joseph covered Jesus in a shroud and placed him in a tomb with a stone laid in front.
Chapter 16 is interesting for a coupe of reasons: the resurrection passage is extremely brief, and vv. 9-20 are likely a later addition to the text.
On the third day, three women go to finalize the burial process of adding spices to the body. They arrive early in the morning and notice the stone is already gone. Mark notes that the women see a man clothed in white sitting inside the tomb. White clothes are almost always a sign of an angel. Different gospels give different numbers of angels. However, if one gospel only mentions one and another mentions two, then it stands to reasons there were at least two. Mark only mentions the angel who speaks. Two witnesses were important for a proper testimony, but Mark only records the conversation.
There is no debate about who Jesus is: he is Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. And though he was dead, he is risen. The gospel ends abruptly, but many argue that a quick ending lends to its credibility. It’s all the information you need in order to believe in this Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified but is now risen.
There are many conjectures on why vv. 9-20 were added to the gospel of Mark. Perhaps the most impressive is simply that because the gospel ends so abruptly, a scribe felt it needed additional information. But the earliest copies of the book do not have this section. And because we have so many thousands of copies that date so early, we know quite well what the originals contained.
Psalm 51: God cleanses us with righteousness.
Psalm 52: God breaks down evil and raises up the good.
Psalm 53: All people are sinners.
Psalm 54: God helps his people in times of trouble.
Psalm 55: The Lord saves those who call on him.
Confession should be a regular practice of the Christian. In the Old Testament, confession was more than admitting fault, either to God or to the offended person. Confession also required repayment, or restitution. If the debt could no longer be paid to an individual, the same amount would go to the priests in the temple. There were no loopholes for righting a wrong. We can learn a lot about repentance from Old Testament writings on confession and restitution.
Adultery was as common in Moses’ day as it is in ours. Punishments for adultery depended on a variety of circumstances. If a husband believes his wife has been unfaithful, there were protocols to protect her if she was innocent. The extended ritual of Numbers 5 is one example. If she is innocent, the ritual will be ineffective. She will be proven innocent and will conceive more children through her husband. If she was guilty, she suffered physically for her sin. Note: there were other passages dealing with a man’s infidelity; they were not off the hook.
The Nazirite vow is interesting because it shows up throughout both testaments. Samson, for instance held a Nazirite vow all of life. The apostle Paul seems to have taken a short-term Nazirite vow. The purpose was to set aside yourself to the Lord for whatever purposes he might have for you. It was a special kind of cleanliness. The vow involved avoiding anything fermented or grown on the grapevine. He could not shave his head. He could not touch a dead body. The vow ended with a special sacrifice and shaving his head. The whole idea was that a person felt compelled to devote himself to the Lord for a specific purpose or time. It was a vow, and breaking it involved severe consequences. Think of what happened to Samson for an example.
The tabernacle is finally finished, and it is time to consecrate it for its purpose. The dedication ceremony took place over the course of twelve days, likely one day for each tribe of Israel. There were all sorts of twelves throughout the ceremony. The tabernacle was where God’s presence would specially dwell. As Moses approached the tent, he heard God’s voice from above the ark, from the mercy seat.
God told Moses from the mercy seat to set up the seven lamp stands. Remember, the tabernacle is a picture of the perfect state of Eden when God dwelt among Adam and Eve in complete peace. The lamp stand is designed to resemble a tree, such as the tree of life from which our first parents were guarded from eating. But now, God has made a way of being in his presence. The gold and the details of blossoming buds are all reminiscent of how things once were and how things will be again.
Chapter 9 would be the first Passover celebration. One of the stipulations for celebrating the Passover was that you must be ceremonially clean, part of which meant not touching a dead body. Some of the people had recently done so and would not be clean in time to celebrate. In order to keep the Passover, God permitted those who were unclean to celebrate the Passover one month late. It was not intended to be a loophole but a means of dealing with the reality that someone might be unclean too soon to the festival to participate. This was the passage that, in my mind, permitted the church to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in our homes on Good Friday during the beginning months of the pandemic. The logic was similar. It was a temporary, extreme circumstance. It is not to be the normal way of celebrating. Communion is something the church does, wait for it, in community.
The cloud, which symbolized the presence of God, descended on the tabernacle. Once the presence moved, the people picked up the tabernacle and moved with God. The trumpets alerted the people that they were about to move. The first move happens as the people leave the wilderness of Sinai.
The people set out and immediately begin complaining. They have been rescued from slavery, seen miracle after miracle, built the ark and a tabernacle for God, and they have even seen his glory fall in their camp. And what do they miss? The food they ate in Egypt. Moses is so fed up that he wants to die. He’s angry at the people, and he’s angry at God for having him deal with the incessant griping. To help Moses, God permits Moses to appoint 70 elders to help with the workload.
There is an interesting scene where Miriam and Aaron want some of Moses’ glory. The bottom line is that God has not anointed them as prophets like he did with Moses. It seems as if Miriam is the ringleader in the cabal against Moses, and she is chastised by God with temporary leprosy. She will be healed, but she will also understand that she is not Moses.
As the people are about to go into the promised land, Moses sends twelve spies in to get a sense of strategy. They have God’s assurance, but that does not therefore mean they can just waltz in and command the people to bend the knee. Caleb, and later we find out that Joshua, are the only two of the twelve that are not frightened by what they see, namely, the sons of Anak, whom they call the Nephilim.
Now before we go all midnight-on-the-History-Channel, let’s be clear about what the text says in reference to the Nephilim. When they are mentioned in Genesis 6, we saw how Scripture always uses the phrase “sons of God” when referring to angelic beings. The Nephilim were the offspring of angels and human women. But, they were wiped out during the flood. The Anakim are part of the tribe of Rephaim who live in Canaan. Deuteronomy 3 says that the king of the Rephaim, King Og, had a 13-foot-long bed. He was no shorty. Joshua 11 says that some of the Anakim were left in Gath after the Israelites wiped them out of Israel. And who would be an inhabitant of Gath but the most famous giant in the Bible, the mighty Goliath himself. It stands to reason that calling these naturally oversized people Nephilim was hyperbole. There are a few theories as to why these people were 8-10” tall, but that’s beyond the scope of this little blog post.
Divorce, children, rich young ruler, foretell death a third time, James and John, blind Bart, triumphal entry, fig tree, cleansing the temple, authority questioned, parable of tenants, taxes, Sadducees and the resurrection, great commandment, David and the Christ, beware of scribes, widow’s offering.
Jesus continues to teach, now about divorce. Jesus does not offer anything new, but he is correcting Pharisaical convictions about the practice. The problem of the Pharisees is their selective teaching on divorce. Instead of having a whole-Bible approach to any particular issue, the Pharisees decided to pick-and-choose to suit their wishes. Instead of quoting an Old Testament passage that directly addressed divorce, Jesus went back to creation to show how God’s intention clearly preceded the law. If we extend this beyond divorce, then any issue concerning marriage should ultimately have the pattern given to us at creation as its main reference point.
Jesus urges children to worship him. Only those who look to Christ with simple faith will inherit the kingdom of God. The story of the rich young ruler follows this interaction, so we should not read them as isolated events. Jesus says that child-like is required for entrance into the kingdom, and what is the young man using to try as his key to enter in? His own works! So when Jesus then says how difficult it is to enter the kingdom, we should not be surprised that those who attempt to work their way in are dismayed.
Many of the healings and teachings are clear enough. As Jesus is entering Jerusalem, he does so in a way that makes a reader of the Old Testament perk up. He is acting out Zechariah 9 by riding in on a colt. In Zechariah 9, the enemies will be stripped of their power, the messiah will enter Jerusalem, and the people will be saved. By coming to Jerusalem to die, Jesus is doing exactly that.
As he enters again on the following day, he curses the fig tree, which was a symbol of religious authority. The Jewish age is coming to an end, and Jesus pronounces that in metaphor. This is immediately followed by the cleansing of the temple. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all place the cleaning in the same place: the end of his ministry. John, however, places it early. It’s not a discrepancy, because John is organizing his gospel for his own purposes. Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7 as he turns the tables. This is the final straw for the priests. Jesus must die.
Selling in the temple was not sinful. As people made long journeys to make their sacrifices, many would have rather purchased their sacrificial animals in Jerusalem to ease the burden. The temple tax would require a customs exchange. None of this was unlawful. Pigeons, though, were for the poorest of the poor. These people were extortionists, not worshipers. When the priests confront him about why his has done this, he corners them on John the Baptist. If they can explain why they rejected John, then he’ll explain why he turned the tables.
By way of reminder, the parables are always about the kingdom of God. The parable of the tenants teaches that the Jews are not in the kingdom by virtue of being a part of ethnic Israel. The apostle Paul would later say as much, when he says the not all born in Israel are actually Israel (Romans 9:6).
The leaders need a good reason to trap Jesus, so they incorporate politics and taxes. Jesus does not play in to their games, and actually undermines their power. Jesus says to pay your taxes, but more importantly, give your rightful sacrifices to God.
If undermining distorted readings of Scripture is a theme for Jesus’ ministry, then it makes sense of why the interaction with the Sadducees is next. The Sadducees were well-known for rejecting traditional readings of Scripture, which resulted in a rejection of most supernatural beliefs. Naturalists believe that everything in the universe can be explained by what is already in the universe. Supernaturalists believe that there are truths that can only be explained by forces outside of the known universe. Christians, with several caveats, would fall in the supernaturalist category. The Sadducees reject the resurrection because it would require a supernatural explanation. But Jesus turns again to Scripture to show that supernatural explanations are well within the belief in a transcendent God.
This interaction leads to another. A scribe is surprised at Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees, so he asks Jesus about the greatest commandment. This was a regular question posed to well-respected rabbis of Jesus’ day. It functioned like a litmus test for how a teacher interpreted the rest of Scripture. There were some pretty standard answers, which Jesus gives. In sum, the greatest commandment is actually two: love God, love neighbor. It’s easy to see how the 10 commandments, which function like the preamble to the entire law, can be divided into two section, one on loving God and the rest on loving people. Therefore, we must be told what love is, or else we will turn to either sentimentalism or some other distortion of real love.
The most oft-quoted Old Testament passage in the New Testament is Psalm 110. Jesus quotes it when he is teaching in the temple. He then give some extended teaching on how even King David looked forward to a Messiah who would be one of his descendants. The point of the law is to direct our hope toward God’s promises. Instead, the scribes twist the law to point to their own righteousness. Jesus warns the people about being drawn to their displays, which distract you from God.
Psalm 46: God is our strong protector.
Psalm 47: God is the God of all nations.
Psalm 48: God’s city is eternal.
Psalm 49: God cares for me in my trouble.
Psalm 50: God is the righteous judge of all people.