Week 13, March 28-April 1
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.
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