Walk in My Ways

37 The Lord said to Moses, 38 “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. 39 And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. 40 So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. 41 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”  Numbers 15:37-41 ESV

This is a rather strange and seemingly out-of-place passage. Why did God choose to give Moses these odd-sounding instructions at this particular point in time? It’s clear from the book of Deuteronomy that this was not the first time that God had issued this command.

“You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself. – Deuteronomy 22:12 ESV

But what was the purpose behind this non-negotiable piece of fashion advice? As the text points out, they were to serve as a kind of memory enhancer.

“When you see the tassels, you will remember and obey all the commands of the Lord instead of following your own desires and defiling yourselves, as you are prone to do.” – Numbers 15:39 NLT

As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The tassels were to be an ever-present visual reminder to keep the commandments of God. It would be like someone tying a string on their finger in order to remind them of something important.

“These tassels were to act as reminders to be totally loyal to the Lord…” – Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries

It seems that every time an Israelite looked down at his feet, he would see the tassels and be reminded to “walk” according to the will of God. They would recall God’s command to their patriarch, Abraham.

“I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless…” – Genesis 17:1 ESV

The Hebrew word is הָלַךְ (hālaḵ), which can mean “to walk,” but can also refer to conducting one’s life. Abraham had been commanded to live his life blameless, in full view of God Almighty. There was to be no compartmentalization or hidden areas in Abraham’s life. No aspect of his life was off-limits to the all-knowing, all-seeing God. And God was demanding that Abraham live the same kind of life that Noah had lived.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. – Genesis 6:9 ESV

And Noah was following the example of his ancestor, Enoch, who had also “walked with God” (Genesis 5:22). And when Jacob was blessing his son, Joseph, he spoke of how his father and grandfather had “walked” with God.

“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day…” – Genesis 48:15 ESV

Because the tassels were located on the hem of the garment, they would be in clear sight every time an Israelite looked down to determine his or her next step. When the prepared to ascend a set of stairs, they would see the tassels and be reminded to consider their steps. When they looked down to assess the ground beneath their feet, the tassels would prompt them to take special care of their spiritual footing. They were not to stray from God. They were to remain on the straight-and-narrow.

The prophet, Isaiah, would later warn the people of Israel to watch their step.

Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.” – Jeremiah 6:16 ESV

They were to seek directions so that they might not take a wrong turn and end up in the wrong destination. But, sadly, Jeremiah points out that the people of Israel refused his advice.

“But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” – Jeremiah 6:16 ESV

They ignored the tassels, forgot to obey God’s commands, and ending up losing their way. And rather than seeking help, they stubbornly persisted in following their own misguided directions. The apostle Paul describes the destiny of all those who take their eyes off the tassels and forget to walk in obedience to God.

They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. – Philippians 3:19 NLT

In the book of Numbers, God warns what happens when His children follow their own desires: They end up defiling themselves. They replace God’s will with their own and step off the path that He has chosen for them. God’s choice of words is strong. He compares their disobedience to adultery or prostitution. The Hebrew word is זָנָה (zānâ), and it means “to be a harlot, act as a harlot, commit fornication.” And this description was meant to stand in stark contrast to their calling as God’s people. He had set them apart as His own, declaring them to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

There is a huge difference between a priest and prostitute, or there should be. And to drive home the concept of the priestly status, God commanded that they were to use blue threat to attach the tassels to their garments. Blue was the color of royalty and divinity and its presence on their garments would to signify their position as servants of the King. This symbolism would not have escaped them because the ark of the covenant, over which God’s glory rested, was to be covered with a blue cloth everytime it was transported (Numbers 4:6). According to God’s instructions, “a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen” was to hung between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle (Exodus 26:31, 36). Even the robe of the high priest was to be made of royal blue (Exodus 28:31).

Each and every Jew was to consider themselves a priest of God and, as such, they were expected to live in obedience to His commands. The tassels were intended to serve as reminders of their status as His chosen people.

“The tassels will help you remember that you must obey all my commands and be holy to your God.” – Numbers 15;40 NLT

Their lives were to match their calling. Set-apart people are expected to live set-apart lives. Unlike the man who willingly violated the Sabbath and was stoned to death, they were to walk according to God’s commands. Each time they prepared to take a step, they would see the tassels on the hem of their garments and be reminded to tread carefully and obediently.

Not long before his death in the wilderness, Moses had delivered a lengthy and passionate speech to the people of Israel. Because of his own disobedience, he would not be entering the land of Canaan with them. So, motivated by his own failure to fully obey the Lord, he called the people to “walk” before the Lord all the days of their lives.

“You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.” – Deuteronomy 5:32-33 ESV

Moses longed for the people of Israel to enjoy all the blessings that God had in store for them. But he knew it would require obedience.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

“The Lord will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways.” – Deuteronomy 28:9 ESV

But Moses also warned them about the consequences of disobedience. Failure to “walk” with God would prove costly, even catastrophic.

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV

“All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you.Deuteronomy 28:45 ESV

It pays to obey. Walking the talk has its benefits. God wanted the Israelites to know that conducting one’s life in keeping with God’s commands wasn’t just good advice, it was a matter of life and death. And the Israelites received a much-needed reminder to consider the source of the commands they were called to keep.

“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt that I might be your God. I am the Lord your God!”Numbers 15:41 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

Blessed In Order To Bless

1 Woe to those who devise wickedness
    and work evil on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
    because it is in the power of their hand.
They covet fields and seize them,
    and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house,
    a man and his inheritance.
Therefore thus says the Lord:
behold, against this family I am devising disaster,
    from which you cannot remove your necks,
and you shall not walk haughtily,
    for it will be a time of disaster.
In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you
    and moan bitterly,
and say, “We are utterly ruined;
    he changes the portion of my people;
how he removes it from me!
    To an apostate he allots our fields.”
Therefore you will have none to cast the line by lot
    in the assembly of the Lord.
Micah 2:1-5 ESV

Micah has already made it clear that the fate of Israel and Judah rests on their wicked behavior. Their destruction is coming upon them from the hand of God but because of their rebellion against Him. They were living in direct violation of the covenant agreement they had made with God and had repeatedly disobeyed the Mosaic Law.

And why is this happening?
    Because of the rebellion of Israel—
    yes, the sins of the whole nation.
Who is to blame for Israel’s rebellion?
    Samaria, its capital city!
Where is the center of idolatry in Judah?
    In Jerusalem, its capital! – Micah 1:5 NLT

Now, in chapter two, Micah gets more specific regarding the exact nature of the sins of the southern kingdom of Judah, where he served as a prophet. He specifically calls out those who have made a habit of scheming against the less fortunate among them.

What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night,
    thinking up evil plans.
You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out,
    simply because you have the power to do so. – Micah 2:1 NLT

There is a premeditated nature to their sin. Their desire to take advantage of others has kept them awake at night, dreaming up ways to use their power and influence to increase their wealth through unjust means.

When you want a piece of land,
    you find a way to seize it.
When you want someone’s house,
    you take it by fraud and violence.
You cheat a man of his property,
    stealing his family’s inheritance. – Micah 2:2 NLT

These people were never satisfied. Enough was never enough. They lived their lives motivated by greed and driven by a love of self. And this kind of behavior was an afront to God, who had blessed the people of Israel by redeeming them out of slavery and graciously giving them the land of Canaan as their inheritance. They had been the undeserving recipients of God’s love and He expected them to extend the same kind of treatment to one another. And to make sure they understood just how different their behavior was to be, God had given them very specific regulations concerning their interactions with one another. Leviticus 19 provides a partial list:

“Do not steal.” – Vs. 11

“Do not deceive or cheat one another.” – Vs. 11

“Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.” – Vs. 13

“Do not make your hired workers wait until the next day to receive their pay.” – Vs. 13

“Do not insult the deaf or cause the blind to stumble. You must fear your God; I am the Lord.” – Vs. 14

“Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.” – Vs 15

“Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people.” – Vs. 16

“Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord.” – Vs. 16

“Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. Confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.” – Vs. 17

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” – Vs. 18

Notice that each of these laws govern human relationships. They are intended to reflect God’s desires concerning the interactions of those who bear His name. How the people of God treated one another would have a direct bearing on the character of God Himself. They were not free to treat one another according to worldly standards. They were not to be motivated by greed, jealousy, self-interest, and personal gain. And three different times God provided the only reason they needed to hear for obeying His commands: “I am the Lord.”

None of this was left up to negotiation or presented as an optional choice. These were the commands of God. And God expected His people to fear Him and obey Him. To reject His commands was to reject His authority over their lives. And God had repeatedly articulated His commands to His people, ensuring that they were without excuse when it came to what He expected of them.

“And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.” – Deuteronomy 14-29 ESV

“But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today.” – Deuteronomy 15:4-5 ESV

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. – Deuteronomy 15:7-8 ESV

“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” – Deuteronomy 15:11 ESV

God had a passion for the helpless and the downtrodden. He was a friend of the needy and the neglected. And He expected His people to share His love for the less fortunate among them. He was blessing them so that they might be a blessing to one another. In verse 4 of Deuteronomy 15, God says “there will be no poor among you.” But then, in verse 11 of the same chapter, He states, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land.” Well, which is it? Will there be poor in the land or not? What God seems to be saying is that the category of the poor will be an ever-present reality among God’s people. But they will not remain poor because the rest of the nation will see to it that their needs are met. God will bless the people so that they can be a blessing to others.

And all of this makes Micah’s indictment of the people of Judah that much more egregious. They are living in direct violation of God’s commands concerning the poor and needy. In fact, they are taking advantage of the less fortunate in order to line their own pockets. And Micah delivers a somber warning from God.

“I will reward your evil with evil;
    you won’t be able to pull your neck out of the noose.
You will no longer walk around proudly,
    for it will be a terrible time.” – Micah 2:3 NLT

God is going to pay them back for what they have done. They may have chosen to neglect the needy, but God will not allow the innocent and the helpless to go undefended. He will defend their cause or bring judgment against those who have violated their rights.

God will turn the tables on those who have taken advantage of the needy. Those who stayed awake at night scheming ways to cheat and defraud the less fortunate will suffer a similar fate. They will become the laughing stock of their enemies, having to listen to songs being sung that mock their untimely reversal of fortunes.

“We are finished,
        completely ruined!
God has confiscated our land,
        taking it from us.
He has given our fields
        to those who betrayed us. – Micah 2:4 NLT

These wicked people who had used their power, influence and financial strength to serve themselves will become the needy and neglected. The dreams of more land will turn into a living nightmare of financial loss and ruin. Everything God had given them to enjoy and to share with those around them would be taken away from them.

Others will set your boundaries then,
    and the Lord’s people will have no say
    in how the land is divided. – Micah 2:5 NLT

They had used the gracious and undeserved blessings of God for selfish purposes. They had taken the gifts of His goodness and turned them into self-centered tools to profit themselves. And in doing so, they revealed that they loved self more than they loved others. And their love of self was really a reflection of their lack of love for God. He had become little more than a means to an end. They had taken His gifts and used them to satisfy their own selfish desires, all the while neglecting and abusing the helpless and hopeless among them. And God would not tolerate such behavior among His people.

The actions of the people of Judah stood in direct opposition to the will of God. Their behavior failed to reflect His desires for them. They had fallen in love with the world and the things it could offer. Power, possessions, prominence, and pleasure had taken precedence over the will of God. And James describes a similar problem among the people of God in his day.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. – James 4:2-4 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Courtesy and Common Sense

1 “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again.

“A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.

“If you come across a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long.

“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.

“You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, lest the whole yield be forfeited, the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard. 10 You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. 11 You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together.

12 “You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.– Deuteronomy 22:1-12 ESV

Let’s face it. These are some strange-sounding commands that appear to have little or nothing in common. They come across as a set of random rules dealing with a set of seemingly disconnected circumstances. After all, what does returning your brother’s lost ox have to do with building a parapet on your roof? And what do the verses which seem to be addressing cross-dressing have to do with the proper procedure for gathering eggs?

As Moses has revealed before, God was deeply concerned about all aspects of His chosen peoples’ lives. He has provided the Israelites with little leeway. And while many of these commands begin with the familiar phrase, “you shall not…,” they come across less as hard-and-fast prohibitions forbidding certain behaviors than they do as common-sense advice for living. And while, at first glance, they may appear to be somewhat heterogeneous in nature, they share a common theme.

Life within the nation of Israel was to be communal. God had declared the entire nation to be His chosen people. Each of the 12 tribes with each of their various clans formed a collective whole. And within that community, God expected His people to live together in unity, expressing their love for Him through acts of compassion and concern for one another.

Earlier on in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses gave the people of Israel the following command, which became the central part of the Shema, the daily prayer of the Jewish people.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV

Love for God was a central tenet to the Hebrew faith. But that love had to have an outlet. It had to be expressed in acts of obedience. And many of the commands God gave to the people of Israel were other-oriented. In other words, they dealt with the interpersonal relationships between fellow Jews. The way they treated one another would be a powerful and visible expression of their love for God.

That is why, when Jesus was asked by the Jewish religious leaders to name the greatest of all the commandments, He stated: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38 NLT). But then, He quickly added, “A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39 NLT). Then Jesus summed up His answer with the following point of clarification: “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40 NLT).

It is impossible to love God without expressing love for others. And the apostle John makes that distinction quite plain.

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? – 1 John 4:20 NLT

That simple, yet profound message seems to be at the core of all the commands found in this section of Deuteronomy. For the most part, they are all horizontal and interpersonal in nature – they flow from one individual to another. And yet, they are concrete expressions of love for God. They display concern for His creation, whether it’s your brother who lost his ox, the ox itself, a bird in its nest, a guest in your home, or the animals used to plow your fields.

Verses 1-4 seem to be dealing with issues concerning common courtesy. If your neighbor has lost his ox, you should show concern. This is nothing more than the Golden Rule lived out in real life. Jesus Himself expressed this sentiment when He said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NLT).

The Mosaic law put a high priority on the personal interactions between fellow Jews. In fact, Leviticus 19:18 contains the following command: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” That’s fairly straightforward and, apparently, not up for debate. To show disregard for your neighbor by neglecting to return his lost ox would be a blatant display of hatred toward God. That’s a convicting and condemning thought.

Even the verses dealing with women and men wearing the clothing of the opposite sex seem to be dealing with interpersonal relationships. It most likely has to do with deception. While there is an obvious moral component to these verses, the context has to do with love for one another. A woman dressing in the clothes of a man would have no implications unless her actions were meant to deceive others. She would be attempting to portray herself as something other than what she really was. And the same would be true of a man who dressed as a woman. For either to do so would be considered an abomination, a disgusting and immoral act. But again, the emphasis in the verses seems to be on the interpersonal relationships between individuals.

The inference seems to be that a woman who dresses as a man is trying to deceive others. She would be attempting to cover up her true, God-given identity, with a false one. And the same would apply to a man who dressed in a woman’s clothing.

Verses 6-7 veer in what appears to be a totally different direction, dealing with the collection of eggs found in a nest. This seems to deal with the proper treatment of God’s creation. God made man to be the steward over His creation.

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” – Genesis 1:28 ESV

The plants, birds, and animals were to serve as sources of sustenance for mankind, but they were to be treated with proper care and concern. Man was not free to abuse God’s creation. So, if someone discovered a bird’s nest containing eggs or recently hatched chicks, they were free to take the eggs or chicks, but they were not to take the hen. This would allow the hen to produce future eggs. Proper care for God’s creation would have long-term benefits. “Do this so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life” (Deuteronomy 22:7 NLT).

The building of a parapet or safety wall around the roof of a home was just another common-sense practice that expressed concern for others. While it might require added construction expense, it would be the right thing to do. If it could prevent the inadvertent death of an innocent individual, any additional cost in money or time would be well worth it. What price can you put on a human life?

In verses 9-11, we have a series of commands prohibiting the mixing of seeds, animals, and fabrics. Again, at first blush, these rules seem odd and unnecessary to us. But they display God’s concern for every aspect of Israelite life. While these restrictions may come across as petty to us, there was a method to God’s seeming madness. All of these things are tied to the pagan practices of the Canaanites. So, while these restrictions have practical applications tied to them, they are really designed to separate the Israelites from the nations around them. The blending of two types of seeds was a common practice among the pagans, because they believed doing would have a mystical benefit to crop production. The combining of dissimilar things was thought to have magical benefits. But God would not allow the Israelites to do things the world’s way. And from a practical standpoint, the combining of these things was ineffective and unhelpful. An ox and donkey will not plow well together. Two different types of cloths will not wear well together. Two different types of seeds will produce a less-than-perfect harvest. So, the Israelites were to do things God’s way.

The final command contains a reminder, not a prohibition. This verse sums up all that Moses had just told them by reminding the Israelites to live their lives set apart unto God.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel: Throughout the generations to come you must make tassels for the hems of your clothing and attach them with a blue cord. When you see the tassels, you will remember and obey all the commands of the Lord instead of following your own desires and defiling yourselves, as you are prone to do. The tassels will help you remember that you must obey all my commands and be holy to your God.” – Numbers 15:37-40 NLT

Every area of their lives was to be different and distinct. From the way they treated one another to the way they interacted with God’s creation. As His chosen people, they were to live distinctively different lives – for their own good and His glory.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A People Holy to the Lord

1 “You are the sons of the Lord your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

“You shall not eat any abomination. These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain sheep. Every animal that parts the hoof and has the hoof cloven in two and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. Yet of those that chew the cud or have the hoof cloven you shall not eat these: the camel, the hare, and the rock badger, because they chew the cud but do not part the hoof, are unclean for you. And the pig, because it parts the hoof but does not chew the cud, is unclean for you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch.

“Of all that are in the waters you may eat these: whatever has fins and scales you may eat. 10 And whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.

11 “You may eat all clean birds. 12 But these are the ones that you shall not eat: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, 13 the kite, the falcon of any kind; 14 every raven of any kind; 15 the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind; 16 the little owl and the short-eared owl, the barn owl 17 and the tawny owl, the carrion vulture and the cormorant, 18 the stork, the heron of any kind; the hoopoe and the bat. 19 And all winged insects are unclean for you; they shall not be eaten. 20 All clean winged things you may eat.

21 “You shall not eat anything that has died naturally. You may give it to the sojourner who is within your towns, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God.

“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. – Deuteronomy 14:1-21 ESV

The people of Israel had been set apart by God. They had been created as a nation by His divine will and, by virtue of that fact, they belonged to Him. As His chosen possession, they were to reflect His character and glorify His name through their lives. They were expected to return His love for them by obeying His commands and willingly submitting to His plans for them. God had set them apart from all the other nations of the earth and had given them His law as a clear indication of just how separate and distinctive their lives were to be.

Upon entering the promised land, the Israelites had a God-ordained obligation to completely eradicate the Canaanites, the collective name used to describe the land’s current occupants. This divine dictate, while seemingly harsh, was necessary because God knew the people of Israel would be highly susceptible to the sin of compromise and prone to take the easy road of assimilation. But He had called them to live separate and distinctive lives. They were to have nothing to do with the Canaanites or their pagan practices. Every command God had given the Israelites was intended to set the Israelites apart, creating a glaring contrast between themselves and the rest of the nations.

In this chapter, Moses outlines a series of prohibitions, each of which is tied to the subject of food consumption. Even the diet of the Israelites was intended to separate them from the rest of the world. God required them to be holy, not unholy and clean rather than unclean. Everything about their lives was to reflect their set-apart status, from the way they dressed to the food they ate, from the manner in which they worshiped to the way they treated their own bodies. Which is why Moses starts out this portion of his message by warning them:

Since you are the people of the Lord your God, never cut yourselves or shave the hair above your foreheads in mourning for the dead. You have been set apart as holy to the Lord your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure.” – Deuteronomy 14:1-2 NLT

Don’t do as the Canaanites do. That’s the basic message Moses was trying to get across. They were not to adapt or adopt the ways of the Canaanites. And yet, cultural assimilation is not only easy, it’s also preferable. Standing out from the crowd can be difficult while blending in can make one’s life much simpler and less complicated. But God was not interested in a people who were indistinguishable and unremarkable. He had chosen the Israelites as His own special treasure and expected them to shine as lights in the darkness.

Even the food they consumed was intended to distinguish them from the pagan nations of the earth. Every single command regarding their diet was meant to identify them as God’s people. And while the commands found in these verses are all tied to food-consumption, they are really associates with the third commandment.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” – Deuteronomy 5:11 ESV

We tend to associate this command with the sin of cursing or using God’s name flippantly or disrespectfully. And while these actions can and should be avoided, the real point behind this command is that of behavior that contradicts our expressed belief in God. When the command states, “you shall not take…”, it is really communicating the idea of bearing something. The Hebrew word is nasa’, and it can be translated “to bear” or “to carry.”

It seems that God was telling the Israelites not to bear or, to put it another way, to wear God’s name in a vain or false manner. As His chosen possession, they bore His name. They were His special treasure. And they were to treat their designation as His people with property dignity and respect. They bore His name. They were His earthly representatives. But if they were not careful, the manner in which they lived their lives could end up giving a false perception of who He was. Their actions and behaviors could end up casting a negative reflection upon God’s character.

Even the food they consumed could end up painting a false view of God. While bearing His name, they could do damage to His reputation by defiling their bodies by eating food He had deemed as unclean and unacceptable. And it is important that we note that all the food items that God had declared as off-limits to the Jews were fully acceptable to the Canaanites.

God’s rules regarding diet were not intended to be about the denial of certain foods, but the distinctiveness of the Israelites. The primary issue was not to be, “you shall not…” but “you shall be…” God wanted the Israelites to be holy, distinctive, different, set apart – even when it came to the kinds of food they could eat. And He was very specific. Why? He gave them the answer: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 14:21 ESV).

The Hebrew word translated as “holy” is qadowsh, and it simply means “sacred” or “set apart.” They belonged to Him and their lives were to reflect their unique status as His people. They were not to be anything like the nations around them. Their lifestyle was to be markedly different, from the food they ate to the way they worshiped. Everything about them was to be distinctive, setting them apart as belonging to God. They bore His name, and they were not to do anything that would reflect negatively on His character.

If an Israelite disobeyed God’s commands concerning dietary restrictions, he or she would end up bearing God’s name in vain. They would display a false idea of what it means to be a child of God. By eating like the Canaanites, they would dilute the differences between them. In a sense, accommodation would be a form of abomination. For someone bearing the name of God to attempt to blend in with the prevailing culture would reflect falsely on the character of God. Their distinctiveness would be lost. Their uniqueness would be compromised and the integrity of God’s character would be jeopardized.

All of this had less to do with food than about faithfulness. At the end of the day, these commands were aimed at the heart. Were the people of Israel willing to love and trust God, accepting His commands as being just and right? Would they do what He said out of love for who He was?

While these dietary laws come across as restrictive and even a bit arbitrary to our modern sensibilities, they were designed to reveal the true nature of the heart. Hundreds of years later, Jesus would declare that the problem with man stems not from what goes into the mouth, but what flows from the heart.

“It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.”  – Mark 7:15 NLT

And when His Jewish disciples shared their confusion over His statement, He added provided them with clarification.

“Don’t you understand either? … Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes). – Mark 7:18-20 NLT

The willingness of the Israelites to obey God’s command would reflect the true condition of their hearts. They bore His name, but would they willingly bear the call to obey His commands?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

No Peace For the Wicked

12 “Listen to me, O Jacob,
    and Israel, whom I called!
I am he; I am the first,
    and I am the last.
13 My hand laid the foundation of the earth,
    and my right hand spread out the heavens;
when I call to them,
    they stand forth together.

14 “Assemble, all of you, and listen!
    Who among them has declared these things?
The Lord loves him;
    he shall perform his purpose on Babylon,
    and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans.
15 I, even I, have spoken and called him;
    I have brought him, and he will prosper in his way.
16 Draw near to me, hear this:
    from the beginning I have not spoken in secret,
    from the time it came to be I have been there.”
And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit.

17 Thus says the Lord,
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
    who teaches you to profit,
    who leads you in the way you should go.
18 Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!
    Then your peace would have been like a river,
    and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;
19 your offspring would have been like the sand,
    and your descendants like its grains;
their name would never be cut off
    or destroyed from before me.”

20 Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea,
    declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it,
send it out to the end of the earth;
    say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob!”
21 They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts;
    he made water flow for them from the rock;
    he split the rock and the water gushed out.

22 “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.” – Isaiah 48:12-22 ESV

That last line is a virtual promise from God and it is all-encompassing in its scope. As the book of Isaiah has made painfully clear, God was going to deal with the wickedness of His chosen people. He would no longer tolerate their blatant acts of spiritual infidelity and moral compromise. They had sinned against Him, and they were going to suffer the consequences. And God has revealed that His chosen method of punishment would be the Babylonians. Just as He had chosen Israel to be His prized possession, He had chosen Babylon to be His preferred means of punishment. He would use King Nebuchadnezzar and his army to invade the land of Judah, destroying its cities and taking captive its people. Babylon’s victory over the people of Judah would be according to the will of God. In fact, according to the prophet Jeremiah, God decreed that their rise to global dominance would be His doing.

“With my great strength and powerful arm I made the earth and all its people and every animal. I can give these things of mine to anyone I choose. Now I will give your countries to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who is my servant. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control. All the nations will serve him, his son, and his grandson until his time is up.” – Jeremiah 27:5-7 NLT

But notice that God puts a time limit on Babylon’s rule. And it will be because they act wickedly, punishing the people of God disproportionately and wrongly taking credit for their success.

“I was angry with my people;
    I profaned my heritage;
I gave them into your hand;
    you showed them no mercy;
on the aged you made your yoke exceedingly heavy.” – Isaiah 47:6 ESV

They would let their many victories go to their heads and assume that they would remain in power forever. They would get cocky, claiming, “I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children” (Isaiah 48:8 ESV).

But as God has promised, “There is no peace for the wicked.” He would bring judgment against the Babylonians, and Jeremiah makes that fact plain.

“Then many nations and great kings will conquer and rule over Babylon.” – Jeremiah 27:7 NLT

And God has already decreed that His chosen instrument for bringing judgment on the Babylonians will be King Cyrus of the Persians.

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
    whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
    and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
    that gates may not be closed:

“For the sake of my servant Jacob,
    and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
    I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God;
    I equip you, though you do not know me.” – Isaiah 45: 1, 4-5 ESV

God would punish wicked Judah by using the Babylonians. Then He would repay the Babylonians for the wickedness by using the Persians. And God would use Cyrus, the Persian king, to return the people of Judah to the land of promise.

And in verses 12-21 of Isaiah 48, God calls His people to recognize His hand in all of this. He has told them all that is going to happen, long before any of it has begun. He has predicted their fate, including their fall at the hands of the Babylonians and their eventual restoration to the land. And two times, God calls on the people of Judah to pay attention to what He is saying.

Listen to me, O Jacob,
    and Israel, whom I called!” – Isaiah 48:12 ESV

“Assemble, all of you, and listen!” – Isaiah 48:14 ESV

Draw near to me, hear this…” – Isaiah 48:16 ESV

But the people of Judah suffered from a severe hearing problem. God even laments, “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea…” (Isaiah 48:18 ESV). If they would have listened to what He had said, obeying His commands and living in keeping with His divine decrees, things would have been markedly different. But listening proved difficult for them. And, through His prophets, God had continually called to them, begging for them to heed what He had to say.

“Listen, you foolish and senseless people, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear. Have you no respect for me? Why don’t you tremble in my presence?” – Jeremiah 5:21-22 NLT

The root of their problem was rebellion, fueled by a lack of fear of God.

“But my people have stubborn and rebellious hearts. They have turned away and abandoned me. They do not say from the heart, ‘Let us live in awe of the Lord our God.’” – Jeremiah 5:23-24 NLT

And God reminds the people of Judah that He has been there from the beginning. The one who created the world, had called them and made them His own. He had been beside them all along the way. He had spoken to them, provided for them, and guided and protected them. They had no reason to doubt His goodness or question His word, and now He was telling them that King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians were coming. But He was also letting them know that He had plans for the Babylonians as well.

“I have said it: I am calling Cyrus!
    I will send him on this errand and will help him succeed. – Isaiah 48:15 ESV

God was going to punish Judah for their wickedness, but He was also going to redeem and restore them. And to make sure they understand the inevitability of His plan, He speaks of it in the past-tense, as if their exodus from Babylon has already taken place.

“Yet even now, be free from your captivity!
    Leave Babylon and the Babylonians.
Sing out this message!
    Shout it to the ends of the earth!
The Lord has redeemed his servants,
    the people of Israel.” – Isaiah 48:20 ESV

God’s word is irrefutable and unchangeable. His prophecies are not wishful thinking or some form of positive motivational, name-it-and-claim-it rhetoric. He is the God of the universe who is all-knowing and all-powerful. His word always comes to fruition. Which means, had the people of Judah done what He had said and lived in obedience to His commands, their “peace would have been like a river.” But, instead, they would learn the painful lesson that “there is no peace for the wicked.”

Taking God at His word is difficult. We are wired to doubt. Just as Eve allowed Satan to cast doubt on the word of God and cause her to disobey His command, we are prone to hear the promises of God and question their validity and credibility. Not only do we wonder whether God will do what He has said, we find ourselves questioning whether He can. And when we do, we fail to live in awe of the Lord our God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson