The God of the Land

19 Judah also did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. 20 And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight.

21 When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. And Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord and made them commit great sin. 22 The people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did. They did not depart from them, 23 until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.

24 And the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel. And they took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities. 25 And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the Lord. Therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the god of the land. Therefore he has sent lions among them, and behold, they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there, and let him go and dwell there and teach them the law of the god of the land.” 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the Lord. 2 Kings 17:19-28 ESV

The northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC, and as verse 18 indicates, the defeat of the ten northern tribes left only the southern kingdom of Judah. Yet none of this should have come as a surprise. God had repeatedly sent His prophets to warn of the coming fall of Israel. Even the prophets like Micah, who ministered to the southern kingdom of Judah, were ordered to declare God’s words of judgment against Israel’s capital city of Samaria.

“So I, the Lord, will make the city of Samaria
    a heap of ruins.
Her streets will be plowed up
    for planting vineyards.
I will roll the stones of her walls into the valley below,
    exposing her foundations.
All her carved images will be smashed.
    All her sacred treasures will be burned.
These things were bought with the money
    earned by her prostitution,
and they will now be carried away
    to pay prostitutes elsewhere.” – Micah 1:6-7 NLT

And Isaiah, another prophet to the southern kingdom, had also predicted the fall of Samaria.

What sorrow awaits the proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel.
It sits at the head of a fertile valley,
    but its glorious beauty will fade like a flower.
It is the pride of a people
    brought down by wine.
For the Lord will send a mighty army against it.
    Like a mighty hailstorm and a torrential rain,
they will burst upon it like a surging flood
    and smash it to the ground.
The proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel—
    will be trampled beneath its enemies’ feet. – Isaiah 28:1-3 NLT

But God had also sent His prophets directly to the people of Israel. Despite their apostasy and unfaithfulness, He continued to raise up men like Amos, to deliver His message of pending judgment for their sins.

Announce this to the leaders of Philistia
    and to the great ones of Egypt:
“Take your seats now on the hills around Samaria,
    and witness the chaos and oppression in Israel.”

“My people have forgotten how to do right,”
    says the Lord.
“Their fortresses are filled with wealth
    taken by theft and violence.
Therefore,” says the Sovereign Lord,
    “an enemy is coming!
He will surround them and shatter their defenses.
    Then he will plunder all their fortresses.” – Amos 3:9-11 NLT

Hosea was another prophet to the northern kingdom who had also clearly communicated God’s displeasure and His intention to punish them for their rebellion.

…they have deserted the Lord
    to worship other gods.

“Wine has robbed my people
    of their understanding.
They ask a piece of wood for advice!
    They think a stick can tell them the future!
Longing after idols
    has made them foolish.
They have played the prostitute,
    serving other gods and deserting their God.” – Hosea 10-12 NLT

Decade after decade, the kings of Israel had led the nation down a path of destruction. They had been warned but had refused to listen. And the author of 2 Kings reminds his readers that the Israelites had no one to blame but themselves.

Jeroboam drew Israel away from following the Lord and made them commit a great sin. And the people of Israel persisted in all the evil ways of Jeroboam. They did not turn from these sins until the Lord finally swept them away from his presence, just as all his prophets had warned. – 2 Kings 17:212-23 NLT

The fall of Israel should have been a wake-up call to the people living in Judah. As they witnessed the fall of their northern neighbor, they should have recognized it as the hand of God Almighty. “But even the people of Judah refused to obey the commands of the Lord their God, for they followed the evil practices that Israel had introduced” (2 Kings 17:19 NLT). It was God’s desire that Judah would take notice of Israel’s fall and refuse to follow their example of idolatry and apostasy. The prophet Hosea shared God’s heart when he wrote, “Though you, Israel, are a prostitute, may Judah not be guilty of such things” (Hosea 4:15 NLT).

But the handwriting was on the wall. The fate of Judah was sealed. God knew exactly what was going to happen. The people of Judah would fail to learn from Israel’s mistake.

“The arrogance of Israel testifies against her;
    Israel and Ephraim will stumble under their load of guilt.
    Judah, too, will fall with them.
When they come with their flocks and herds
    to offer sacrifices to the Lord,
they will not find him,
    because he has withdrawn from them.
They have betrayed the honor of the Lord,
    bearing children that are not his.
Now their false religion will devour them
    along with their wealth.” – Hosea 5:5-7 NLT

It would be just a matter of time before Judah experienced a similar fate. While they had enjoyed a limited degree of spiritual success due to the efforts of a few of their kings, they were still guilty of emulating the sins of Israel. A love affair with false gods would continue to plague the nation, leading them to turn their backs on Yahweh. Though they continued to offer their sacrifices at the temple, the day was coming when God would no longer tolerate their hypocritical displays of faithfulness. That is why Hosea wrote, “When they come with their flocks and herds to offer sacrifices to the Lord, they will not find him” (Hosea 5:6 NLT).

It was the prophet Isaiah who declared God’s displeasure and disgust with Judah because their worship of Him was and meaningless. They were just going through the motions.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

The people of Judah had ring-side seats to the divine destruction of Israel. After witnessing the fall of their northern neighbor, they must have realized that the king of Assyria would not limit his conquest to the capture of Samaria. He would continue south and they would likely be his next victim.

After having conquered Israel, the Assyrians took many of its citizens as captives. Then they began a repopulation campaign, importing people from other conquered territories like Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim. These non-Jews were forcibly relocated into the towns of Samaria, filling the vacancies left by the exiled Israelites. The Assyrians expected these migrant workers to tend the land in order to maintain its production capacities. But God had other plans.

Because these foreigners knew nothing about Yahweh, they continued to worship their own gods. But they were now living on land that belonged to the God of Israel. Just because the people of Israel were gone did not mean that God had vacated the premises. It had been His land all along, and the Israelites had been nothing more than His stewards. In their absence, God was going to protect the integrity of His name and the sacredness of the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was holy land because He had consecrated it and set it apart. And God was not about to let it revert to its former state. When God had given the land to Joshua and the people of Israel, He had tasked them with the removal of all the pagan nations that currently occupied its borders. And He was not about to let the land revert to its former state of pagan idolatry. So, when the new arrivals began to worship their false gods, Yahweh sent lions to attack them. The news of this divinely ordained act of judgment reached the king of Assyria.

“The people you have sent to live in the towns of Samaria do not know the religious customs of the God of the land. He has sent lions among them to destroy them because they have not worshiped him correctly.” – 2 Kings 17:26 NLT

Amazingly, the pagan Assyrians recognized the hand of God in all of this. They were more attentive to the actions of Yahweh than the people of Israel had ever been. And the king of Assyria took immediate action.

“Send one of the exiled priests back to Samaria. Let him live there and teach the new residents the religious customs of the God of the land.” – 2 Kings 17:27 NLT

It’s interesting to note that this lone priest was sent to Bethel, one of the two cities where King Jeroboam had placed his golden idols (1 Kings 12:25-30). Perhaps the king of Assyria knew that this town had become a key focal point of pagan worship. It would have made sense for these idol-worshipers to seek out those places within Israel where they could offer sacrifices to their false gods. And because Jeroboam had erected shrines in Bethel and Dan, these would have been attractive destinations for these newly arrived occupants who were looking for something that would remind them of home. So, the priest was sent to Bethel which, in Hebrew, means “house of God.”

This priest was tasked with instructing the new residents in the proper worship of God. Don’t miss the irony in all of this. The people of Israel, who had been chosen by God, had refused to worship Him. So, He had removed them from the land. The king of Assyria sent foreigners to replace the exiled Israelites and then ordered that they be instructed in the proper worship of Yahweh. This pagan king did what none of the kings of Israel had ever done, and it was all the work of God.

But as will become clear, these new converts to Judaism would prove to be no different than the Israelites. Unwilling to give up their idols, they would simply add Yahweh as another option in their arsenal of deities. And the pattern of syncretism and unfaithfulness would continue. The land had new occupants, but it was the same old story. Their worship of God would be nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. Like the Israelites before them, they would just be going through the motions.

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

 

 

The Real Work Has Just Begun

1 As soon as Solomon had finished building the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all that Solomon desired to build, the Lord appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. And the Lord said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the Lord has brought all this disaster on them.’” 1 Kings 9:1-9 ESV

Twenty years into what would prove to be a 40-year reign, Solomon received a second vision from God. Having completed all the major building programs he had initiated, including the temple, Solomon was ready to focus his attention elsewhere. So, God revealed Himself to Solomon in a dream, just as He had done at Gibeon 20 years earlier.

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night – 1 Kings 3:5 ESV

In this divinely inspired dream, Solomon heard God reaffirm His commitment to honor the temple by gracing it with His presence. In doing so, God would be setting the temple apart or making it holy.

“I have heard your prayer and your petition. I have set this Temple apart to be holy—this place you have built where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart. – 1 Kings 9:3 NLT

At the dedication of the temple, when the fire had come down from heaven and consumed the sacrifices, God had demonstrated His acceptance of both the offering and the temple. And the cloud of His presence had taken up residence in the Holy of Holies. These actions signified that the building Solomon had constructed had been consecrated to God and were now deemed for His use alone. The temple, its grounds, and all the furniture and utensils contained within it belonged exclusively to God. He affirmed His love for the temple and His willingness to grace it with His presence, power, and protection. But He also expected them to treat the temple with a requisite degree of reverence and awe.

Next, God turned His attention to Solomon. It was not going to be enough to have a temple dedicated to the service and worship of God. Yahweh was also expecting His king to live a life that was totally set apart and consecrated to Him. So, He gave Solomon a sobering reminder of His expectations.

“As for you, if you will follow me with integrity and godliness, as David your father did, obeying all my commands, decrees, and regulations, then I will establish the throne of your dynasty over Israel forever. For I made this promise to your father, David: ‘One of your descendants will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 9:4-5 NLT

Notice the conditional nature of this statement. God says, “if you will…then I will.” The promise that God had made to David had been conditional. David could expect to have a line of descendants to sit on his throne, but God expected those men to live in faithfulness and obedience to Him. And as the first son to inherit the crown from his father, Solomon was expected to live a life marked by integrity and godliness. God was demanding that Solomon follow in the footsteps of David who, throughout his life, had displayed a commitment to living and leading in godliness. The psalmist reminds us that David had been chosen by God to shepherd His people and David had done his job well.

He chose David His servant and took him from the sheepfolds;  from tending the ewes He brought him to be shepherd of His people Jacob, of Israel His inheritance. So David shepherded them with integrity of heart and guided them with skillful hands. – Psalm 78:71-72 BSB

Now, it was Solomon’s turn. He had done a great job in constructing the temple, but now it was time to lead the people with integrity of heart and to guide them with skillful hands. As God’s appointed and anointed king, he was to be an example for the nation, displaying a commitment to God that revealed his consecrated status. Like the temple, Solomon belonged to God. He had been dedicated to God’s service and was expected to shepherd God’s people. And God warns Solomon of the severe consequences he or any of his descendants will face if they fail to remain faithful.

“But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations.” – 1 Kings 9:6-7 NLT

If you know anything about the history of Israel, this warning from God is far more than prescriptive, it is also prophetic. In other words, God is not only giving Solomon a list of prohibitions, He is providing him with a glimpse into the future fate of the nation. Despite all He had done for them, the people of Israel would end up turning their backs on Him. And it would begin with their kings, the very men whom God had promised to bless if they would follow Him with integrity and godliness.

Look closely at what God says He will do.

I will uproot Israel from this land… – Vs. 7

I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name… – Vs. 7

I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations… – Vs. 7

If Solomon or any of his descendants failed to keep their covenant commitment to God, the nation would suffer the judgment of God. They would forfeit the inheritance they had received from Him. Rather than living in the land of promise, a land flowing with milk and honey, they would find themselves eking out an existence as exiles in a foreign land.

Even the majestic temple would become an eyesore, prompting people to question what could have happened that caused God to bring such a calamity upon His house and His people.

all who pass by will be appalled and will gasp in horror. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’ – 1 Kings 9:8 NLT

And in his dream, Solomon receives the sobering answer to their question.

“Because his people abandoned the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why the Lord has brought all these disasters on them.” – 1 Kings 9:9 NLT

Because the author of 1 Kings already knows the rest of the story, his inclusion of this incident is meant to foreshadow and explain all that is to come. His audience will be reading this chapter long after Solomon is gone and his successors have begun to reveal their penchant for disobedience and unfaithfulness. The final verses of the last chapter end on a sad and sobering note.

Ahaziah son of Ahab began to rule over Israel in the seventeenth year of King Jehoshaphat’s reign in Judah. He reigned in Samaria two years. But he did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, following the example of his father and mother and the example of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had led Israel to sin. He served Baal and worshiped him, provoking the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, just as his father had done. – 1 Kings 22:51-53 NLT

By this time in the story, the nation of Israel had suffered a civil war that left it divided into two competing kingdoms: Israel and Judah. And both are characterized by wickedness and idolatry. Nearly all of their kings have displayed a blatant disregard for God, violating His commands and failing to shepherd His people with integrity of heart or to guide them with skillful hands. For the most part, they turn out to be lousy shepherds who refuse to keep their end of God’s covenant agreement. And, as a result, the whole nation will suffer.

Solomon’s dream was meant to be a warning. God wanted His king to understand that a temple was not going to be enough. A place to worship God would prove to be insufficient if the heart of the king remained uncommitted to God. And years later, God would speak through the prophet Isaiah, declaring the blatant hypocrisy of His people, who confused the ritual of worship with the reality of heartfelt devotion to God.

 “These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
    is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. – Isaiah 29:13 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

The Set-Apart Life

20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:20-26 ESV

Quarrelsome words. Irreverent babble. Gangrenous talk.

Paul pulled no punches when describing the erroneous teaching that was influencing and infecting the church in Ephesus. As far as Paul was concerned, it was all like a deadly disease slowly spreading its way through the congregation, upsetting the faith of some by raising doubts about their true spiritual condition. The doctrinal errors being propagated by individuals like Hymenaeus and Philetus were contrary to the message Paul had preached concerning the truth of the gospel. And Timothy had the unenviable, but necessary responsibility of addressing this problem by “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV).

Paul encouraged Timothy to do his job with an eye towards seeking the approval of God and not men.

Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. – 2 Timothy 2:15 NLT

Telling people what they want to hear might help Timothy win over some of the dissenters in the congregation, but it would not score him any points with God. As a minister of the gospel, Timothy had a responsibility to teach the truth, regardless of how his audience responded. He answered to God. And Paul reminded Timothy that “God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and ‘All who belong to the Lord must turn away from evil’” (2 Timothy 2:19 NLT).

There was confusion within the congregation in Ephesus. With men like Hymenaeus and Philetus teaching contrary doctrine and sowing seeds of doubt and dissent, it had become difficult to tell who was telling the truth. But Paul emphasized that God knew. The Shepherds knows His sheep. And all those who belong to the flock of God were expected to “turn away from evil.” As in any congregation, the fellowship in Ephesus was going to be comprised of both the faithful and the unfaithful. There would be those who adhered to the truth of God and sought to abstain from evil, and there would be those who “swerved from the truth” (2 Timothy 2:18 ESV) and, in doing so, embraced wickedness.

This fact led Paul to use yet another illustration to help Timothy understand what he was facing in Ephesus.

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. – 2 Timothy 2:20 ESV

This simple analogy was intended to expose the diverse composition of any local congregation. Within any church, as with a fine home, it would be only natural to find both honorable and dishonorable vessels. This is not a reference to those who are saved and those who are lost. Paul’s point has to do with honor, a word which in the Greek language refers to value or esteem.

Paul’s point seems to be that those who rightly divide the word of truth are deemed as honorable by God. They meet His approval. But those who twist and distort the truth, while still HIs vessels, are viewed as dishonorable or unworthy. A wealthy homeowner would not use clay dishes to serve his dinner guests. To do so would dishonor himself and his guests as well. And God will not use those individuals who distort the truth of the gospel because to do so would bring dishonor to His name.

The primary issue here is that of holiness or the state of being set apart. Those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ have been set apart by God for His use. Having been saved by God through the sacrificial death of His Son, they now belonged to Him.

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

Those who belong to God are expected to honor Him. But when a believer embraces teaching that is contrary to God’s truth or commits sins that are unacceptable for God’s children, he renders himself unfit for service. Paul is not teaching that a believer can lose his salvation. He is simply stating the very real fact that even a Christian can fail to live a set-apart life by choosing to follow the desires of their sinful nature. And when they do, they disqualify themselves from service to God. But don’t miss the point that disqualification can also result from believing or teaching false doctrine. Paul insists that this “irreverent babble…will lead people into more and more ungodliness” (2 Timothy 2:16 ESV).

The word “irreverent” is actually the Greek word bebēlos, which refers to something that is “common” or “unholy.” It stands in direct opposition to the idea of being set apart by God for His honor and glory. In veering from the truth of God and encouraging others to follow suit, a believer renders themself unfit for service. They become common rather than holy. They become a vessel for dishonor rather than honor.

And just to ensure that Timothy doesn’t miss his point, Paul puts his warning in practical, everyday terms that his young disciple can understand.

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts. – 2 Timothy 2:22 NLT

Paul is essentially challenging Timothy to live a set-apart life. He needed to live in a way that reflected his status as a new creation in Christ. And he was to seek the company of those who shared his desire to live a holy life.

But Paul wasn’t telling Timothy to form a “holy huddle,” an elite group of super-serious Christians who chose to sequester themselves away from the less honorable members of the congregation. Paul wanted Timothy to teach and train up a group of believers who would positively influence the rest of the church body through their words and actions. Rather than pick a fight with those who disagreed with them, they were to “Gently instruct those who oppose the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25 NLT). The goal was to provide loving instruction with an eye toward reconciliation.

Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. – 2 Timothy 2:25-26 NLT

In Paul’s mind, the “dishonorable” vessel was not doomed to remain that way. He could be renewed and restored. And it was the responsibility of every believer to compassionately care for their wayward brother or sister in Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. – Galatians 6:1 NLT

Take note of those who refuse to obey what we say in this letter. Stay away from them so they will be ashamed. Don’t think of them as enemies, but warn them as you would a brother or sister. – 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 NLT

Paul greatly desired that the church be marked by a spirit of unity and solidarity. But he knew that the sin natures of those who made up the church would make that difficult at times. But he also knew that the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer provided an ample source of power to overcome sin and resist the lies of the enemy. But Timothy, as a minister of the gospel, was going to have to set the example, modeling the life of an honorable vessel, “set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 ESV).

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

More and More

1 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 ESV

Paul had an overwhelming desire to see the Thessalonian believers face-to-face. But this was about far more than a chance to reconnect and get reacquainted with old friends. Paul had something far more important in mind. As he told them in the previous section of his letter, the motivation behind his desire to see them again was that he “might supply what is lacking in your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV). He had sent Timothy “to establish and exhort” them in their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:2 ESV). 

And while Paul has confessed that Timothy’s good news regarding their faith and love had brought him comfort, he still felt the pressing need to see them so that he might “fill in the gaps” of their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:10 NLT).

It seems quite obvious that Paul loved these people. He had a pastor’s heart that cared for their spiritual well-being. And while their faith was strong, even in the midst of trying circumstances, Paul knew that there was much they needed to know if they were going to remain strong in the days ahead. The battle was far from over. The enemy had not thrown in the towel. The opposition had not given up their efforts to demoralize the sheep and discredit the shepherd.

So, Paul feels compelled to share with them one final word of counsel. He has complimented them on their faith and love. He has described them as “standing fast in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:8 ESV). But there is one more thing they need to hear him say.

we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God. – 1 Thessalonians 4:1 ESV

Paul was not admonishing these people or demanding that they correct their sinful behavior. In fact, he added the statement, “…just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 ESV). They were already living in a way that pleased God. But Paul wants them to know that they were going to need to do so “more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 ESV).

In the short time Paul and Silas had spent in Thessalonica, they had instructed them how they ought to walk and please God. The Greek word translated as “walk” is peripateo, and it was a favorite term of Paul’s. It could be used to refer to the physical act of walking, but Paul commonly used it as a metaphor for spiritual life. When he used the term “walk,” he was referring to the daily conduct of one’s life. In those days, the average person went from place to place by walking. It was the primary mode of transportation. You couldn’t go anywhere or conduct your life without utilizing walking. So, Paul used this normal, everyday means of mobility as an analogy for living the Christian life. And he used it often.

who walk (peripateo) not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit… – Romans 8:4 ESV

Let us walk (peripateo) properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. – Romans 13:13 ESV

Only let each person lead the life (peripateo) that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. – 1 Corinthians 7:17 ESV

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk (peripateo) in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called – Ephesians 4:1 ESV

walk (peripateo) in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.  – Colossians 1:10 ESV

As followers of Christ, their spiritual walk or manner of life was to be distinctively different than that of their lost friends and family members. They were to live set-apart lives, marked by holiness and righteousness. But their spirituality was never meant to remain in a static state. Being saved was never meant to be a one-time event but was to be an ongoing, regularly occurring, and lifelong transformational process. The apostle Peter referred to it as growing up in salvation (1 Peter 2:2).  Paul told the Ephesians believers to “grow up in every way into him” (Ephesians 4:15 ESV) – referring to Christ.

There is no place for complacency in the Christian life. At no point are we to become satisfied with the status quo. We are not the ones who get to determine whether we have successively achieved spiritual maturity. And Paul makes that point perfectly clear to his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification – 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV

Paul put it in blunt terms. What God wanted of them and for them was simple: Their sanctification. But what did he mean by this? The Greek word he used is hagiasmos, and it can be translated as “holiness.” It derives from another Greek word, hagiazo, which means “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God.” To be holy was to be set apart or consecrated for a specific purpose. In the case of a believer, they were set apart to God. To be sanctified is the process of being constantly and consistently set apart for God’s use. It involves a separation from all that is ungodly or unrighteous. Or as Paul liked to put it, it involves putting off the old and putting on the new.

 …put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22, 24 ESV

Just a few verses earlier in his letter to the Ephesian believers, Paul challenged them: “you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do…” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV). They were not to conduct their lives in the same way they had before. In fact, in chapter two of Ephesians, Paul pointed out the stark difference between their new life in Christ and that of their old, pre-salvation nature.

…you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked (peripateo), following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. – Ephesians 2:2-3 ESV

But Paul stressed the change that had taken place in their lives.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved… – Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV

The lives of the Ephesians believers had been radically changed when they placed their faith in Christ. The same thing was true of the believers in Thessalonica. And that change was to be tangible and visible. It was to be evident in their behavior and in every facet of their daily lives. And just to make sure they understood the non-negotiable and all-pervasive nature of this change, Paul provided them with the details.

God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 NLT

There was to be no compromising of their faith. There was no place for their old habits in their new life in Christ. Or as Paul put it to the Corinthian believers:

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT

The old adage, “something old, something new” wasn’t going to cut it with God. He expected life transformation and had provided His Holy Spirit to make it possible. A life marked by sexual sin and immorality was unacceptable for the Christ-follower. It violated the will of God and failed to model a life of holiness. In the Greek culture of that day, sexual promiscuity was an accepted way of life. It was Demosthenes, a Greek statesman and orator who wrote:

“We keep prostitutes for pleasure; we keep mistresses for the day to day needs of the body; we keep wives for the begetting of children and for the faithful guardianship of our homes.” – Demosthenes

In a culture marked by self-indulgence and the willful gratification of all sexual desires, the Christian was to live in such a way that distinguished them as having been set apart or consecrated to God – separated from the profane and dedicated to His glory. To do so, Paul states would require self-control. They would need to control their physical passions and desires, choosing instead to “live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways” (1 Thessalonians 4:4-5 ESV).

And, once again, Paul puts his thoughts in simple, easy-to-understand terms:

God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. – 1 Thessalonians 4:7 NLT

Not a lot of wiggle room there. Paul leaves no room for negotiation or debate. God’s will was their sanctification. His expectation was holiness, not impurity. He was interested in set-apartness, not sameness. And if anyone rejected this idea was not rejecting the teachings of Paul, they were actually disobeying and, ultimately, denying the will of God Almighty.

Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. – 1 Thessalonians 4:8 ESV

Paul was teaching the need for ongoing life transformation. The Thessalonian believers were to walk and please God – more and more. There was to be no end to their spiritual journey. At no point were they to assume that they had arrived. Salvation was to result in ongoing sanctification – a never-ending, Spirit-empowered conformity to the image of Christ.

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

Our Wholly Holy God

4 Who will not fear, O Lord,
    and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
– Revelation 15:4 ESV

11 “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? Exodus 15:11 ESV

13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
    and cannot look at wrong… – Habakuk 1:13 ESV

God is holy. In fact, the seraphim who surround God’s throne describe Him as holy, holy, holy. The prophet Isaiah was given a glimpse of that heavenly scene and he provides us with a vivid description of what he saw.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” – Isaiah 6:1-3 ESV

The apostle John was also given an opportunity to peek behind the heavenly curtain and see the throne room of God. And his description is very similar to that of Isaiah.

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come!” – Revelation 4:8 ESV

These heavenly creatures weren’t content using one “holy” to describe God. They made sure to use the word three times and to do so without ceasing, day and night. This three-fold repetition is called a trihagion, and it was a common literary and linguistic tool used by the Hebrews to provide emphasis and force to a statement. It was like saying, “God is super holy.” Or “He is holier than holy.”

But what does it mean to say that God is holy? We’re familiar with the word, but do we fully understand the significance of what it says about God? In some ways, the word holy has become overly familiar to us. And yet, biblically, holiness is considered one of the primary and self-defining attributes of God. Tony Evans defines God’s holiness as “His intrinsic and transcendent purity; His standard of righteousness to which the whole universe must conform” (Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On).

The Hebrew word that is used most often to describe God’s holy nature is qodesh. It means “set-apartness” or “separateness.” God is unique and without equal. But it’s not just that God is one-of-a-kind. As Tony Evans points out, God’s holiness is tied to His purity. So, it’s not enough to say that God is different. What makes Him different is that He is holy – thoroughly righteous, without sin, and intrinsically pure in every way. He is The Holy One. As A. W. Pink puts it, “He is so because the sum of all moral excellency is found in Him. He is absolute Purity, unsullied even by the shadow of sin” (A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God).

But there is more to God’s holiness than His moral perfection. When the seraphim shout “holy, holy, holy” they are declaring far more than just His sinlessness. And they are not simply stating His separateness. There is no doubt that God stands alone, having no equal and being incapable of duplication or emulation. Man may have been created in God’s image, but that doesn’t make man a god. God remains set-apart and distinctly different from all that He has made. Which means He is transcendent.

When we speak of the transcendence of God, we are talking about that sense in which God is above and beyond us. Transcendence describes His supreme and absolute greatness. The word is used to describe God’s relationship to the world. He is higher than the world. He has absolute power over the world. The world has no power over Him. Transcendence describes God in His consuming majesty, His exalted loftiness. It points to the infinite distance that separates Him from every creature. He is an infinite cut above everything else. – R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God

To consider and treat God as holy is to revere Him for who He is. It is to acknowledge His infinite greatness and incomparable otherness. “God’s holiness unlocks the door to understanding and making sense out of everything else about Him. This attribute infiltrates all the other attributes” (Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On).

To treat God as holy is to recognize and revere His otherness – His set-apartness. It is to lift up and celebrate His extraordinariness. But if, in our attitudes and actions towards Him, we give the impression that He is ordinary in any way, we profane His character and defame His holy name.

When God consecrated Aaron and his sons to serve as priests before Him, He commanded them “to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” (Leviticus 10:10 ESV). Later on, God would give a similar command to the Levitical priests: “They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 44:23 ESV). They were to teach the people about what God meant by holiness or set-apartness. The tabernacle was to be considered holy. The sabbath was to treated as holy. They were to be a holy nation. God had set them apart for His service. They belonged to Him. And their lives were to reflect their unique status as His chosen people.

But back to God and His holiness. Unlike the tabernacle or the sabbath, God has not been set apart by someone else. He simply is set apart. He didn’t have to be consecrated, He always has been. God stands completely apart from the rest of the created order. Whether we are talking about angels or atoms, planets or people, there is nothing and no one who compares with God.

That is why it is why considering God as common or ordinary is one of the greatest sins a human can commit. Even worse yet is the audacity to treat God as non-existent. The great King David described the idiocy of discounting the existence of God.

Only fools say in their hearts,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!

The Lord looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
    not a single one! – Psalm 14:1-3 NLT

How stupid can you be? And yet, we all have moments in our lives when we act as if God does not exist. We fail to acknowledge Him. We refuse to turn to Him. Rather than go to Him for strength, help, and hope, we ignore Him, relying on our own power, or placing our trust in someone or something else. God becomes a second- or third-tier option on our list of saviors, just another common and pedestrian source of potential rescue.

During the period of the judges, God got fed up with Israel’s propensity to treat Him as ordinary rather than extraordinary. They had treated Him with disdain, acting as if He was no more set-apart and holy as all the gods of the Canaanites. So, when they found themselves in trouble and called out to Him, He decided to refuse their cries for help.

“Yet you have abandoned me and served other gods. So I will not rescue you anymore. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen! Let them rescue you in your hour of distress!” – Judges 10;13-14 NLT

If they weren’t willing to treat God as extraordinary and holy, they could seek help from one of their many false gods. Yahweh was not willing to play second fiddle to some pagan deity. And He wasn’t going to allow His people to treat Him as some ordinary, run-of-the-mill God. He was God Almighty, the Holy One.

When Isaiah was given the privilege of seeing the throne room of heaven and catching a glimpse of the seraphim pronouncing the holiness of God, he was awestruck and filled with fear. He was seeing the unimaginable and incomprehensible.  He describes the impact this vision had on him.

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” – Isaiah 6:4-5 ESV

Witnessing the holiness of God was too much for him. In the presence of the all-powerful, perfectly pure God of the universe, Isaiah was immediately struck with his own sin and insignificance. He was nothing when compared to God, the Holy One. In the presence of unblemished purity, Isaiah recognized his own sinful state and his unworthiness to stand before the throne of God. But, amazingly, the Holy God did a wholly unexpected thing.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” – Isaiah 6:5-7 ESV

The holy and wholly righteous God of the universe graciously atoned for Isaiah ’s sins, setting him apart for His own use. And when God asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”, Isaiah responded, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8 ESV). And the Holy One simply said, “Go!”

Understanding God’s holiness is essential to our own usefulness. Until we fall on our knees before Him in awe of His holiness and in recognition of our own sinfulness, we will never be awed by His amazing grace. That the set-apart One would set us apart for His use should leave us stunned and yet stammering the words of Isaiah, “Here I am! Send me.”

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

Protections For Man and Beast

1 “If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight.

“You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ 10 And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.’– Deuteronomy 25:1-10 ESV

It would be difficult to ignore the extreme specificity of many of these laws. Moses brings up a wide range of scenarios that deal with some of the most peculiar and particular situations imaginable. In these ten verses alone, he shifts from talking about just punishment for the guilty to the proper treatment of domesticated animals.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he brings up the law concerning levirate marriage.

While these three topics appear to have no common link to bind them together, they each fall under the overarching topic of justice. God demanded that His people live together in a society marked by justice and righteousness. It was essential that they treat one another well, exhibiting respect and reverence for every one of God’s chosen people, regardless of their social status or financial condition. God even placed a high regard on the ethical treatment of animals, expecting His people to care for them as exactly what they were: Blessings or gifts from His gracious hand.

In the case of a dispute between two individuals, they were instructed to go before the appointed judges and present their evidence. The judges were charged with acquiting the innocent and condemning the guilty. In prosecuting the case, if it was determined that the guilty party’s crime required a public beating as punishment, there were to be limits placed on the number of stripes delivered. The punishment must fit the crime. There was to be no abuse of the guilty through excessive discipline. In fact, Moses indicated that no more than 40 stripes or lashes were to be allowed. Obviously, this is dealing with crimes undeserving of capital punishment. But the guilty were to be justly tried, convicted, and disciplined for their crimes. But it was important that criminals not be degraded through excessive and unnecessary punishment. Even while meting out justice, the judges of Israel were expected to treat the guilty with dignity and respect.

At this point, Moses makes another one of his seemingly awkward transitions as he shifts his focus from dealing with criminals to the proper care of farm animals. Oxen played a vital role in the agrarian culture of the Israelites. In this case, they were used to tread the grain in order to separate the wheat from the husk. The basic idea was that, if the ox was forced to tread the grain, it should also be allowed to graze at it labored. Even animals should be treated fairly.

The apostle Paul would use this very law as an argument for the financial support of those who were called by God as ministers of the gospel.

For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? – 1 Corinthians 9:9-12 ESV

He would bring this topic up again in his first letter to Timothy.

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” – 1 Timothy 5:17-18 ESV

According to Paul, the underlying principle behind this law had to do with fairness. A criminal was to be treated with dignity and respect, and so was a common farm animal. There was no place for abuse or mistreatment of man or beast.

In the third scenario, Moses brings up the case of a woman whose husband dies unexpectedly. This law deals with what has become known as the levirate marriage. This term comes from the Latin word levir, which refers to a husband’s brother. If a man died without having an heir, his widow could appeal to one of his unmarried brothers, requesting that he marry her. The purpose behind this union was to preserve the  deceased man’s legacy through the birth of a son who would bear his name.

It seems clear from the text that this regulation concerned two brothers who shared the same home. And since the Mosaic law prohibited polygamy, it would seem obvious that the brother of the deceased would have to be unmarried to fulfill his commitment to the widow. But if the man was unwilling to marry his dead brother’s wife, there was a process she was to follow. She was to take the matter before the elders of the city, who were then required to approach the reluctant brother and give him a second opportunity to do what was right and just. Should he persist with his refusal to marry her, the woman was required to  “go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face” (Deuteronomy 25:9 ESV). And this physical display of humiliation was to be accompanied by a verbal curse: “So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house” (Deuteronomy 25:9 ESV).

From that point forward, the brother would be forced to carry the reputation of one who refused to do the right thing. He had shown justice to his widowed sister-in-law. And this was a serious issue in the culture of that day, because a widowed woman was considered damaged goods. She would have a difficult time finding a husband and, in most cases, would end up living in poverty. So, for this brother to shirk his responsibility to perpetuate his brother’s name was a serious issue that could have dire consequences for the widow.

As with the other scenarios covered in this section, this is all about justice. God was extremely concerned about how His people treated one another. They were not free to do as they wished. Yes, the brother could refuse to marry his widowed sister-in-law, but not without consequences. A man could refuse to allow his ox to eat from the grain it was threshing, but this would be considered inhumane and limit the effectiveness of the animal.  A guilty man could be given more punishment than he deserved, but it would be unjust and, ultimately, non-productive.

God had His ways of doing things and He expected His people to abide by His will. If they did, it would go well with them. If they refused, they would have to reap the results of their stubbornness. Ultimately, all their behavior, whether good or bad, reflected back on God because they were His chosen people. They represented Him on earth and all that they did was intended to reflect His glory. Which is why Moses spent so much time addressing these highly specific situations that dealt with every area of daily life. Nothing is unimportant to 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

Deadly Serious About Marriage

22 “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.

23 “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

25 “But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, 27 because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.

28 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.

30  “A man shall not take his father’s wife, so that he does not uncover his father’s nakedness.” – Deuteronomy 22:22-30 ESV

God had provided Israel with laws concerning every aspect of life, including marriage. And, because God knew the hearts of His people, His laws covered virtually every conceivable circumstance that might arise. He knew that, in their fallen state, they would be constantly tempted to find loopholes that would allow them to circumvent His laws. That’s why the Mosaic Law contains such explicit instructions regarding the sexual relationship between a man and a woman.

“If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins.” – Exodus 22:16-17 ESV

For one thing, these kinds of laws reveal God’s perspective on marriage. His chosen people were not free to let their base sexual passions dictate their behavior. Physical desires, while instilled by the Creator, were not to dictate human interaction. The fall had damaged mankind, leaving behind a natural proclivity to serve self at all costs. And the unequivocal prohibitions God gave the people of Israel were designed to curb their predisposition to allow their basest needs to drive their behavior. So, two of the ten commandments God gave to Moses contained restrictions regarding marriage and sex.

“You shall not commit adultery. – Exodus 20:14 ESV

“You shall not … covet your neighbor’s wife.” – Exodus 20:17 ESV

These two commands are inextricably linked. Coveting, the attraction to something you do not possess can quickly move from an emotional appetite to a physical action to satisfy that appetite. While the concept of coveting is not always negative, in this context, it carries the idea of desire for something that is off-limits. It is a greed-driven craving for that which has been forbidden. If you covet your neighbor’s wife, it won’t be long before that inappropriate desire manifests itself in action, and the coveting takes the form of adultery.

So, here in Deuteronomy 22, we find Moses providing additional instructions regarding marriage and sex. The very fact that God had Moses go into such great detail reveals the extent of Israel’s love affair with sin and selfishness.

In verses 22-30, there are five specific scenarios outlined that deal with the unseemly topics of adultery and rape. That God had Moses go into such vivid detail reveals the extent of human sin and its infectious nature. While the people of Israel had been set apart by God as His chosen possession, they still suffered from the effects of the fall and were going to find themselves constantly struggling to stifle their naturaul inclination to satisfy self at all costs.

First of all, adultery was a serious matter punishable by death. The marriage union was not something to be taken lightly or treated flippantly. When God said the two shall become one, He meant it. And while man’s sin nature would constantly entice him to replace God’s will with his own self-centered desires, there would always be consequences – deadly serious consequences.

Marriage was so important to God that even the betrothal or engagement stage of the marriage union was protected by His laws. The betrothal period was considered sacrosanct and was to be treated with an appropriate degree of reverence. Even though the betrothed couple had not yet consummated their marriage, they were considered as one in the eyes of God. They were bound together by a covenant agreement. So, if it was discovered that a betrothed woman had sexual relations with a man other than her husband-to-be, she was to be put to death, along with her partner.

But Moses provided a mitigating circumstance. What if the woman had been unwillingly raped by another man? He paints the scenario of a man sexually assaulting a woman in the middle of nowhere, where her screams for help go unanswered. In that case, the man is to be stoned to death for rape and the woman is to be exonerated.

Then, Moses provides one final case involving a man who forcibly rapes an unbetrothed virgin. In this instance, the man is responsible to marry the woman and to pay a proper dowry to her parents. In God’s eyes, the man is guilty of having stolen something of great value: the young woman’s virginity. But he is also guilty of depriving the girl’s parents of their right to a dowry. In the ancient economy, a daughter could bring a family much-needed revenue in the form of money or livestock. A son could work in the fields and help maintain the family’s resources, He could also inherit all that belonged to the family, ensuring that the legacy of his father was continued. But a daughter brought value to the family through marriage. So, if a man raped a virgin, he was obligated to marry her and to provide her family with an appropriate dowry to compensate for his sin.

The final case most likely involves a son marrying his own stepmother. The text describes her as “his father’s wife,” not as his own mother. So, it seems that the circumstance to which Moses refers involves a son marrying the widow of his deceased father. This was considered to be a case of incest, even though the woman was not his actual birth-mother. While the Mosaic Law allowed for a widow to remarry, it was not appropriate for a son to marry his widowed step-mother. Moses describes it as “uncovering his father’s nakedness.”

The apostle Paul had to address this very issue taking place within the church in Corinth.

I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship. – 1 Corinthians 5:1-2 NLT

God has standards. And He requires that His people live up to those standards. As a holy and righteous God, He cannot allow those who bear His name to conduct themselves according to their own whims. Their sin natures will always lead to moral compromise and result in the defamation of God’s reputation. As His image-bearers, they were to honor His reputation through the way they conducted their lives.

The righteous behavior of God’s people is designed to display His righteousness to the world. They are to outwardly manifest His holiness through their willing obedience to His divine decrees. The laws governing their behavior came from a holy God. Their adherence to those laws was to be a visible expression of their love for Him.

Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV). Their obedience was less about displaying their own righteousness, than about expressing their love for the One who is righteous. Living set-apart lives, according to the righteous standards of a holy God, is a tangible way in which the people of God display for their love for Him.

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

You Shall Be Blameless

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this. – Deuteronomy 18:9-14 ESV

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Which is to say that if someone mimics your actions or behavior, they are expressing admiration for you. And while there may be some truth to this idiom, in far too many cases, imitation can be a dangerous game to play. Failure to consider the character of the one you seek to emulate can result in far-from-flattering or beneficial outcomes. Seeking to pattern your life after someone else can be driven by all kinds of unhealthy motives. It is far too easy to focus on the external fruit of their behavior; such as success, wealth, and popularity, while failing to closely examine what they had to do to achieve those results. Did their path to success require that they cut corners, bend the rules, compromise their convictions, or sacrifice their integrity? Better yet, will imitating their lives require those things of you?

As the time approached for the people of Israel to enter the land of promise, Moses spent a great deal of time and energy attempting to prepare them for the formidable task that lay ahead of them. They were entering a new stage in their relationship with God that would be like nothing they had ever experienced before. Their faith in God would be tested in ways they could not even begin to imagine. Their willingness to remain faithful to God would come under constant attack.

Compromise would become a daily temptation. Complacency would be a constant threat to their commitment to God. Remaining set apart to God would be far more difficult than they could know. Maintaining their distinction as God’s holy people was going to require diligence and a determination to remain uncompromisingly committed to Him. Moses had repeatedly communicated their unique status as God’s chosen people.

“But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.” – Deuteronomy 4:20 ESV

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV

“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. – Deuteronomy 14:2 ESV

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. – Deuteronomy 14:21 ESV

The Hebrew word for “holy” is qadowsh, and it means “sacred” or “set apart.” The Israelites had been separated out by God and consecrated as His possession. They belonged to Him. Like Adam and Eve, the Israelites had been created by God and set apart for His glory. But their status as His chosen possession was going to require that they live according to His holy standards. They were not free to live as they wished. They could not follow the ways of the world. And God expected them to make the land of Canaan a veritable island of holiness in the sea of wickedness that covered the world.

Three times in five verses, Moses uses the Hebrew word, tow`ebah, to describe the ways of the people occupying the land of Canaan. They were an abomination to God because their ways were morally repugnant to Him. Their behavior was unacceptable to a holy God. So, Moses warns the Israelites from following their “abominable practices.” And he makes it clear that anyone among the Israelites who imitates their ways will be “an abomination to the Lord.”

Rather than mimic the ways of the Canaanites, the people of God were to do everything in their power to remain set apart and distinct. Moses put it in very stark terms.

“You shall be blameless before the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 18:13 ESV

The Hebrew word for “blameless” is tamiym and it carries the idea of wholeness or completeness. It is the very same word God had used when addressing Abraham nearly half a millennium earlier.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.” – Genesis 17:1 ESV

While tamiym can be translated as “perfect” or “unblemished,” God was not demanding sinlessness from Abraham. But He was expecting Abraham to live his entire life in keeping with His ways. Abraham was to live an integral or whole life, dedicated to God and set apart for His glory. And Moses was trying to convey the same thought to the people of Israel. He was not expecting them to remain totally free from contamination by the world. That would have been impossible, given their sinful natures and the ubiquitous nature of evil in the world. But Moses wanted them to fully understand just how dangerous compromise with the world would be.

And while most of the abominable practices that Moses pointed out had to do with witchcraft, sorcery, divination, and the occult, all of these things were associated with Canaanite religious practices. Moses knew that the Israelites would be tempted to weave these morally reprehensible practices into their own worship of Yahweh. Compromise would be a constant threat for the Israelites, resulting in their failure to remain tamiym – unblemished and unstained by the world.

God expected His people to live as who they were: His chosen possession. Their lives were to reflect their unique status as His set-apart ones. Enjoying their status as God’s children came with a non-negotiable requirement that they honor the distinctiveness of their position by living holy lives.

There was no room for compromise or complacency. They were to share God’s disgust and disdain for the ways of the Canaanites. They were to resist exposure to and contamination by the abominable practices of the Canaanites. And they were to never forget that God’s will was the complete eradication of the Canaanites and their unholy ways from the land.

When it comes to holiness, imitation of the world is not flattery, it’s idolatry. Compromising our convictions by copying the ways of the world is unacceptable for God’s people. We have been set apart. We belong to Him. As His children, we are to reflect His character and bring glory to His name by the way we live our lives – wholly unto Him.

The religion of the Israelites was totally unique and prescribed by God. It was not the result of man’s imagination and was not to reflect the practices of the pagan nations of the world. God had set Israel apart positionally and practically. Their status as His people was to show up in everyday life, especially when it came to their worship of Him.

There are all kinds of religions in the world, but only one brand of religious activity is acceptable to God. And James describes this kind of religion in very plain terms.

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. – James 1:27 NLT

And, as Paul told his disciple, Titus, the people of God are still expected to live distinctively different lives, not emulating the ways of this world but reflecting our status as God’s chosen people.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. – Titus 2:11-13 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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

The Great, Mighty, and Awesome God

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. 22 Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven. – Deuteronomy 10:12-22 ESV

Moses has more than established Israel’s unrighteousness and God’s holiness. They were undeserving of their status as His chosen people. And he has proven it by citing well-documented examples of their stubbornness toward and rebellion against God. Yet, in spite of their serial unfaithfulness, God had displayed amazing patience and unwavering faithfulness.

Now, as the people of Israel prepared to enter the land of Canaan, Moses attempts to provide them with some context. They were fortunate to be where they were. Their very existence as a nation had been up to God, not them. Like the creation itself, God had formed them out of nothing. He had chosen a man named Abram and had promised to make of him a great nation, a people to whom God would give the entire land of Canaan as their inheritance. From that one man, who wasn’t even a Jew, God created the Hebrew nation and, as Moses reminds them, “Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven” (Deuteronomy 10:22 ESV).

This detail is confirmed in the book of Exodus, where Moses recorded the arrival in Egypt of Jacob (Israel) and his family.

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons. – Exodus 1:1-4 ESV

More than 400 years earlier, the small and insignificant family of Jacob (Israel), had made their way to Egypt in order to escape a devastating famine in the land of Canaan. But by the time they left Egypt four centuries later, they would be a massive nation that numbered in the millions. And this was the fulfillment of the promise God had made to Abraham.

And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. – Genesis 15:5-6 ESV

Now, the nation of Israel was about to enter the land of Canaan, and, this time, there was no famine. It was a country flowing in milk and honey, rich in produce, and filled with well-fortified cities and furnished home that would soon belong to the people of Israel. God was about to bless the people of Israel, not because of them, but in spite of them. And, with this amazing fact in mind, Moses asked them a sobering question:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you…?” – Deuteronomy 10:12 ESV

In light of the fact that they were about to re-enter the land their forefathers had left four centuries earlier and reap a harvest of blessings they didn’t even deserve, what should their reaction be? What was it that God expected in return for His undeserved blessings? Moses provided a clear and non-debatable answer:

“…to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good.” – Deuteronomy 10:12-13 ESV

God expected full-blown and unwavering allegiance from His people. First of all, they were to have a healthy and well-deserved fear of Him. He was holy and all-powerful, and they were well-documented sinners who fully deserved His righteous wrath, but had been shown mercy and grace.

They were to “walk” or conduct their lives according to His ways and not their own. They were to live by His rules in every area of their lives, refusing to compromise their convictions by following the ways of the Canaanites.

And their love for God was to be evidenced by tangible and visible displays of service and obedience. God wasn’t going to be satisfied with robotic-like rule-keeping. He wanted obedience that flowed from the heart and soul and was a byproduct of their love and affection for Him. He desired that they keep His commands because they loved and trusted the giver of the commands.

And, just in case they had missed the point in all that he had said to them, Moses reminded them one more time of the unique privilege they enjoyed as God’s chosen people.

“Look, the highest heavens and the earth and everything in it all belong to the Lord your God. Yet the Lord chose your ancestors as the objects of his love. And he chose you, their descendants, above all other nations, as is evident today. Therefore, change your hearts and stop being stubborn.” – Deuteronomy 10:14-16 NLT

Again, notice the emphasis on the heart. Their problem was not an ignorance of God’s laws. They knew them well. They were suffering from a heart problem. And it would prove to be a long-term, hereditary ailment that plagued the nation of Israel for generations. Hundreds of years later, God would indict them for their heart-less worship of Him.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

And centuries after that, Jesus would use this very same passage to call out the Jewish people of His own day.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

God demanded heartfelt obedience, not ritualistic, and legalistic adherence to a set of rules. And Moses reminded the Israelites that their God wasn’t going to allow them to simply go through the motions.

“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed.” – Deuteronomy 10:17 NLT

They weren’t going to be able to fool God with their outer displays of conformity to His laws. He could see into their hearts, and He would know whether they were acting out of love or legalism. Their actions, if from the heart, would display the character of God, including His love of justice and mercy.

He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. – Deuteronomy 10:18 NLT

One of the ways they could prove their love for God was through acts of love and mercy to the needy and neglected in their midst. When they had been without food and water in the wilderness, God had provided for them. God had prevented their clothes and sandals from wearing out. He had protected and provided for them for more than four decades. And now, they were to extend that same level of love, justice, and mercy to others.

Hundreds of years later, the prophet Micah would document this divine expectation on the people of God.

He has shown you, O mankind, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 BSB

God expects His people to love as they have been loved. He demands that they extend to others the same level of grace, mercy, justice, and love that they have received from Him. And, as Moses made clear, God also expected that His people remain committed to Him and Him alone.

“You must fear the Lord your God and worship him and cling to him…He alone is your God, the only one who is worthy of your praise.” – Deuteronomy 10:20, 21 NLT

He is great, mighty, and awesome. He is loving, gracious, and kind. He is just, holy, and righteous. And He longs for His chosen people to reflect His character in all that they do.

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