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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Covenant Renewal and Obedience - Deuteronomy 26

Introduction

As we arrive at Deuteronomy 26, we near the end of Moses’ second sermon/speech to the Israelites at Beth-peor before they cross the Jordan River into Canaan. This second sermon began with the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5. With chapter twenty-six, the sermon’s conclusion begins with a reminder to be obedient, recognize the LORD God as the source of their blessings/produce/profits, and renew their covenant with the LORD God. Deuteronomy 27 and 28 end this second sermon. The last two chapters of the second sermon bring to blazing recall God’s reward of blessing for faithfulness to Him and His commandments and the curse for faithlessness.
Today’s study includes remembering and worshipping the LORD God by giving Him the first-fruit tithes, by caring for the poor with the third year tithes, and by renewing their covenant with the LORD God - recognizing He is their God and promising to obey Him. In this chapter we will understand how being faithful to God affects human interpersonal relationships. In addition, being faithful in human relationships shows our faithfulness to God. Neither relationship can be ignored or grown and not affect the other.

Remember and Worship

The first eleven verses of chapter twenty-six are a profession of faith in action and word. Remember, people show their love and faithfulness to God by obeying His commandments, statutes, and laws. One of the areas of life God gave commands concerned giving tithes to Him. Moses taught the Israelites about giving a tithe of their produce to the LORD in Exodus 22 – 23, Numbers 18, and Deuteronomy 12. In these passages, he told them that bringing the tithe to the LORD was worshipping Him. In Deuteronomy 12:7 Moses said, “There also you and your households shall eat before the LORD your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the LORD your God has blessed you.” The Israelites’ bringing their tithe to God’s appointed dwelling place reminded them of who gave them the blessings, returned part of God’s gifts to Him as thanks, gave every person the opportunity to eat, and set aside time to worship the LORD and rejoice.

In verse 1, Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s vow to them. God gave them the land as an inheritance of the promise He made with Abraham. They did not earn it or gain it for themselves, but God’s faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham provided it. Verse 1 reminded them, too, that their faithfulness to their covenant with God allowed them to live in and possess the land. In Deuteronomy 4:5, Moses taught the Israelites that following God’s decrees and laws would allow them to take possession of the land God would give them. In Deuteronomy 5:33, the chapter in which Moses reminded them of their covenant  - the Ten Commandments - with God at Mount Sinai, he said walking in the ways of the LORD would allow them to live, prosper, and prolong their days in the land they would possess.

Because of God’s gift to them - the Promised Land - and His hand upon their work that brought a harvest, Moses taught the Israelites to worship God in action and word. The first and best of their harvest Moses taught them to set aside to give to God. In verse 2, Moses told them to take their first fruit “to the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name.” He said this same statement in Deuteronomy 12:5. Some Bible scholars see this as referring to the temple and so consider this part of Deuteronomy a later writing added to the first writings. Other Bible scholars consider “the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name” refers to wherever the tabernacle resided before Solomon built the temple. What is most important about this passage is not when the writer wrote it - before or after Solomon built the temple, but that the Israelites were to take a tithe of first-fruits to the LORD to thank and praise Him. With this verse, Moses taught them to prefer glorifying God’s name over satisfying their own appetites.

With verse three, a confession of faith begins. Before the Israelites gave a basket of first fruits to the priest, they began their confessions. This confession is like the ones found in Joshua 24 and 1 Samuel 12. The interesting thing to notice in this confession is it does not mention creation or the occurrences at Mount Sinai. The beginning of the confession of faith states that the person offering the tithe received and entered the land the LORD swore to give and gave to the Israelites. The man/tither recognized the LORD gave him the land because of His faithfulness to His promise with his forefathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – not because he or any of the Israelites earned it.

After that first statement, the priest took the basket and set it before the altar of the LORD (vs. 4). From that point, the Israelite continued his confession of faith in the presence of the LORD, at His altar. In verse 5, he said his father was a nomadic Aramean. This showed the lowness of his common ancestor with the other Israelites. They were low, but God chose them and raised them up. The next part of the tither’s confession told of the Israelites’ sojourn to Egypt. There were just seventy of them when they entered Egypt as foreigners fleeing drought and famine (Genesis 46:27). While in Egypt, the Hebrews grew in number (Deuteronomy 1:10 & 10:22). The next part of the confession said the Egyptians made them slaves. The Israelites suffered beatings, afflictions, and hard bondage while in Egypt (Deut 26:6). Yet, they were to remember God chose them when they were low. God set them apart for Himself; He consecrated them.
The next parts of the tithers’ confessions of faith related to God and what He did for them. He became their Savior. By His goodness, He brought them out of Egypt. When the Israelites cried to the LORD God of their fathers, He heard them and saw their affliction, toil, and oppression. Though they were low, He responded to their cries and situation. Verse 8 says, “And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders.” God revealed His might and power for and to the Israelites and to the Egyptians. He chose them, a low people. By God’s choosing them, He exalted them. God raised them above the Egyptians and other people He could have chosen.

Before we move to the next part of the confession of faith, we must note that the recital of the Israelites’ history jumps from God’s taking them out of Egypt to their occupation of the Promised Land. Moses did not mention their Exodus years in this confession, which differs from other confessions of their history. In verse 9, we see the continuation of the confession of faith from verse eight. God brought them from Egypt to “this place” (Canaan) and gave them the land flowing with milk and honey. He brought them out of Egypt and into Canaan. The land was God’s gift to His chosen people. This fact in itself should make the Israelite want to worship the LORD God. Besides this, the land that God gave them provided them with their produce and profits. The Israelites praise to God for the land and the produce could not be contained. Yet, as time went on and the people of Israel took their produce for granted, this teaching of Moses would remind them from whom the produce came and to whom the praise must go. Both the land and produce from the land came from God’s merciful hand. When the people praised and thanked Him for His current mercies, they recalled and thanked Him for His past mercies and for His future blessings they expected.
With verse 10, the Israelites proclaimed the produce they received came from the ground the LORD gave them. They acknowledged the LORD gave them the fruit from the land He gave them. Hence, they brought the first fruit of God’s blessed land back to Him. The fruit was a sign that the LORD kept His promise to them and their forefathers. What they gave to the LORD was part what He gave to them. The writer of 1 Chronicles 29:14 expressed this when he said, “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” True worship of God occurs when we recognize not just the blessing He gave recently, but that everything we have He gave. We recognize, too, through His blessing, worship of Him occurred naturally in thanks for what He gave. They go hand in hand – blessing and worship.

The final part of their giving the tithe to God occurred when they set it before the LORD, worshipped before Him, and rejoiced with everyone who lived among them about the good the LORD gave them (vs. 11). Tithing should not be a rote action based on a law. Tithing should be worshipping the LORD in His presence with others. By doing this, He receives the thanks of His people and they each receive the joy of their thanks and the benefits of the first fruits. Gathering and giving first fruits gave worship to God and worshipping God brings blessings to the worshipper. They are interdependent. The food of the tithe fed everyone in the community so a communal worship with giving and receiving joy occurred.
Worship should reflect about God and affect the worshipper and people around the worshipper to whom God gave blessing. If it does not affect people around the worshipper, we must wonder if it was truly worship of God. Worship includes rejoicing and creates joy. Joy is not something that can be contained, but which overflows and gushes from out of the container into which it flows. In the giving of the tithe, the joy of God’s blessings and rejoicing in thanks overflows to the people around who then become nurtured in their spirits and in their bodies – joy and food. Deuteronomy 12:7 and 16:11 spoke of many people celebrating the harvest festival together. Worshipping, rejoicing, and thanking God should be communal and personal activities. They should affect everyone who surrounds the child of God.

Caring for People

In verses 12 through 15, Moses reminded the Israelites of another tithe and its purpose – caring for people. This tithe, too, would feed the spirit and body of the people involved. The previous tithe, the first fruits tithe or harvest festival, returned praise to God for His mercy and blessing. The tithe of the third year returned praise to God for His blessing and provided food for the poor of the community, not just the household of the tither and the Levite of the town.
Just as Moses taught in Deuteronomy 14:28-29, the Israelites’ tithe came from the produce of their land. God gave both the land and the produce. They offered the tithe to Him as thanks for the land He gave and the blessing He put on the work of their hands in sowing into and reaping from that land. This third-year tithe had a dual purpose. In the third year (remember, the Jews divided their years into groups of seven), the tithe returned to God as thanksgiving (as always), but God, too, meant for it to stay in their towns to feed the poor, not to be given at the tabernacle or temple. This tithe thanks to God provided physical blessing to the people of the tither’s town. The tithes of the third year’s profit/produce Moses taught them to spend at home giving to the poor. God had confidence in the Israelites’ honesty to keep the best for Him and distribute it to the poor of their towns. He trusted they would not give grudgingly and only the worst of the produce since it would not go to the temple or tabernacle. As a safeguard, to keep people honest, God required the third-year tithe to go to the Levite of the town first before being distributed to the poor.

Notice in verse twelve, the Hebrew word for our English word “Levite” is Leviyiy. This “Levite” is not the same Hebrew word Moses used in verse four. In verse 4, he used kohen. Leviyiy refers to every Levite - man, woman, and child. Kohen refers to the priests who interceded for the Israelites before God and who offered their sacrifices to God. Levites lived throughout Israel. Their income came from the LORD’s offerings. Unless they lived at the place of the tabernacle or temple, the Levites tended to be poor. The third-year offering God set aside to feed the poor, including the Levites, of the Israelite cities, towns, and villages. Just as Moses taught in Deuteronomy 14, he reminded the Israelites here the third-year offerings God commanded they use to feed the Levite, stranger (foreigner), orphan, and widow. These people were the lowest and hence, most poor of the community.

Moses taught a confession of innocence be said to avow the sanctity/holiness of the tithe. The Israelites each had solemnly to profess no holy, set apart (sacred and consecrated) thing (produce or profit) was hoarded by himself and none of the tithe was ill-used. In verse 13, the Israelite swore before the LORD, “I have removed the sacred portion from my house and also have given it to the Levite and the alien, and the orphan and the widow, according to all your commandments which you have commanded. I have not transgressed or forgotten any of your commandments.”

We must break this down to understand fully the oath the Israelite took before he gave the food to God and then to the poor. The word “removed” comes from the Hebrew word ba’ar and means to consume or burn. “Sacred” comes from the Hebrew word qadash and means sacred, set apartness, holy. The word “Levite” here is leviyiy, which refers to every Levite - man, woman, and child. “Transgressed” comes from the Hebrew word ‘abar and means done away with or alienated self from God and His commandments. The word “forgotten” comes from the Hebrew word shakach. It means to forget or cease to care about. Now, considering these definitions, verse thirteen can best be understood in this way.

I have burned/consumed/removed/brought the sacred and holy portion from my house and have also given it to all the Levites and the alien, the orphan and the widow, according to all your commandment which you have commanded. I have not alienated myself from God and His commandments or ceased to care about any of Your commandments. [My translation]

In the tither’s mind, when he considered the portion set aside for God as already consumed (given to God), he could not use it for himself or his household. The tither set it aside from himself for God’s holy purpose. By giving the tithe, he pledged to stay in a living relationship with the LORD God and to not forget, but remember and obey His commandments. The worship of the LORD here can be seen to affect the corporate life of the community in body and spirit. One’s worship of God should affect your life and the life of the people you meet each day.

This oath is significant. The giving of the third-year tithe came around twice in a seven-year cycle. Its purpose was to remind the people who gave them the blessing, to whom praise belonged, to renew the people’s oath with the LORD, and to feed the poor. God cared about every person in Israel. He cared about their bodies and their spirits – their relationship with Him, the one who chose them and raised them above other nations.

Moses added to this with verse fourteen. The Israelites, upon giving their tithe in the third year, had to state their loyalty to the LORD and His laws. Their oath had to profess four things – they did not eat the produce while mourning, they removed none of it while they were unclean, they offered none of it to the dead, and they listened to and obeyed God’s commands. Each of the first three God considered profane/unclean. God commanded the Israelites not to be unclean or take unclean things in to the tabernacle or temple when they worshipped Him. Ritual cleanness of the offering occurred when they followed the first three rules (Leviticus 22:3; Hosea 9:4; Haggai 2:11-13). Verse 14 states God accepted only clean gifts, as we know from the other passages noted earlier. In addition, the Israelites could only give clean gifts to the poor. These gifts of produce from the land and the herds fed the bodies of the poor and brought them into the worship and praise of God for His blessings. God cared about the spiritual lives of the poor and the landholders. By following these laws and God’s other commands, the Israelites showed they heard, listened, and obeyed (shamar) God. They fulfilled part of their oath to the LORD.

Added to the oaths above, when the Israelites offered the third-year tithe to the God, they prayed a solemn prayer for God’s people – Israel. Moses taught them to say, “Look down from Your holy habitation from heaven and bless Your people Israel, and the ground which you have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You sore to our fathers.” God taught the Israelites they were to be civic minded and pray for His blessings on the land and the nation. The prayer taught them to look to God for His favor and grace to be enough for the people for he is the one who gives blessings. Being a child of God is not a singular experience, but is expected to be a corporate and plural experience. What one person does in nation and world affects other people in both body and spirit. Our relationship with God affects other people. It may draw them closer to God or alienate them further. Our relationship with God may give physical blessing for people or create more hunger. Our faithfulness or faithlessness to God affects other people. Each person is not an island unto him or herself.

This section of the chapter in which the Israelites learned to pray for the nation reminded them and later hearers/readers that God provided the abundance of their blessings and He deserved their thanks, praise and worship. One of the ways of doing that was to offer a tithe every third year, which God ordained be given to the local poor. The giver of the tithe attested to God’s blessings, affirmed it came from the best of the produce and herd and was clean, and  set apart/holy for God’s service. By doing this, the Israelites remembered God cared about the nation, not just each of them separately. It taught them to pray with a civic and national mind because God’s blessings came to them as a nation when He chose them as His people whom He set apart for His purpose. God’s blessings came on a people whom He called for His purpose to be in covenant with Him. The Israelites were not to think singularly, but taught to seek the good of their nation, the whole people of God – to pray for them and to provide for them – body and soul.

Covenant Renewal

In the earlier fifteen verses, we saw how Moses reminded the people of Israel to be faithful to the LORD God by following His commands and worshipping him alone. The next four verses tell us Moses called them to renew their relationship with God and reminded them of God’s declaration for them.

In verse 16, Moses charged the Israelites to follow the LORD’s commands, statutes, and ordinances without reservation or divided commitment. He told them to “be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul.” These words reminded Israelites of the beginning of Moses’ speeches/sermons. Moses repeatedly told them to be careful to do God’s commands. Shamar expresses this command. Remember, the Jewish idea of hearing requires listening and obedience. One cannot hear without acting upon what hears. Besides this, in Deuteronomy 4:29, Moses said, “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.” To be God’s chosen people, the Israelites had to serve Him with undivided loyalty. They had to serve him with their whole being – heart, soul, and might. Moses taught this in Deuteronomy 6:5 and 10:12, too. The Israelites’ covenant with God obligated them to keep these and all God’s commands.

Moses reminded them what they agreed to in verse seventeen. He told them, “You have today declared the LORD to be your God, and that you would walk in his ways and keep His statutes, His commandments, and His ordinances and listen to His voice.” The two parties to this covenant, God and the Israelites, come together with Moses as the mediator. Exodus 6:7, Jeremiah 31:33, and Ezekiel 36:28, too, include this short formula for the covenant. In Deuteronomy 26:17, the Israelites declared their commitment to be the LORD’s people, which they showed by listening to and obeying/following His commands. This was the Israelites’ covenant with the LORD God.

Verses 18 and 19 show the LORD’s covenant to the people of Israel. Moses said,
 
The LORD has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep His commandments; and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people to the LORD your God as He has spoken. [NASB]

In this brief covenant reprise, God declared He wanted to be Israel’s God. He declared Israel as His people, whom He will exalt and make holy to Himself. Do not we each want this from our God whether we are Christians or of another faith? Can we each truthfully say our God (or god if you are of another faith) honors us with His exaltation and His sanctification (making holy) of us? If not, we must decide if our deity is truly God of all creation.

      Yahweh God, in verses eighteen and nineteen, declared and proclaimed the Israelites His treasured possession. He made this statement to Pharaoh when He caused the plagues to occur. God made this statement in the wilderness when He guided and protected the people by fire, cloud, and His angels. “Treasured possession” comes from the Hebrew word cegullah meaning valued and peculiar treasure. God cherished them as His own treasure. He promised the Israelites, if they kept (shamar) His commandments (the Israelites’ covenant with God), He would set them high above every nation. They who once were low, nomadic Arameans, abused in captivity by the Egyptians, and small in number, would be set high above every nation for praise, honor, and consecration as His people. The Israelites would be held up as a people to be esteemed and looked up to as role models. Their reputation would go before them and they would receive honor from other people and nations. As the set apart people of God, they would be a beacon of the LORD God’s light and love.

      Why would this occur? It would occur because the LORD God chose them to be “consecrated” as His people. God set them apart as holy and sacred to Him. This is not a new idea. In Exodus 19:6, God told the Israelites, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” He restated this in Deuteronomy 7:6 when he said, “You are a holy people to the LORD.” Isaiah 62:12 said they were “the holy people.” Jeremiah 2:3 said, “Israel was holy to the LORD.” Peter carried this idea of Israel’s holiness in 1 Peter 2:9 when he said to every believer in Jesus Christ, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” This is the main point: without God’s choosing of the Israelites to be His chosen people consecrated for Himself, they would be low, unnoticed, abused nobodies. Because God chose them, He lavished, gushed, His love upon them and they had to respond one way or another – as God’s people who followed Him or not.

Recap

      The Israelites’ faithfulness to God wavered over their history, as does that of most of humankind. We cannot judge them without casting the same judgment upon ourselves. The LORD’s mercy is what ensured their continued receipt of His blessings and consecration. When the Israelites were faithful to their covenant with God, they obeyed His commands and laws, which affected themselves singularly and plural, as a congregation of God’s people/nation.

      We see in this chapter a synopsis of the covenants of God to Israelite(s) and Israelite(s) to God. In it, Moses reminds us obedience to God’s commands affects the person who obeys and the whole nation. Hence, the faithfulness to their covenant with God affects the vertical relationship with the LORD and the horizontal relationship with humankind. The Ten Commandments stated this. The first four commandments were commandments about the peoples’ relationship to God. The last six were commandments about each person’s relationship with other people. Within each commandment, the relation between God and man, as well as man and man, occurred. When a person worshipped God alone, he or she praised, adored, thanked, and petitioned God. In that process, the worship overflowed into his or her life and affected other people. The third-year tithes prompted this with the feeding of the poor that created rejoicing together at the blessings from God’s hands. With regards to the commandments about interpersonal human relationships, when a person did not kill another person or steal from a person, etc., that person respected the other and reflected his or her life offered to God. This life people saw by the person living God’s laws visibly in their relationships with other people.

      None of the commandments is just about relationship with God or just with human. They each interweave to affect the other and many more people. The worship of God begins individually within a person and should gush out and overflow onto others so they worship God, too. God’s commandments affect the spiritual side of a person and the bodily side. So when Moses said in verse sixteen the Israelites were to do the commands of the LORD with all their heart and soul and Jesus said to love the Lord God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, they each said following and worshipping the LORD God was to be an undivided, undiluted, unreserved commitment.

Relevance and Conclusion

What does the Israelites’ covenant have to do with us today? The writer of Romans said in Romans 8:14-17,
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God  and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

When we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins and resurrected to beat death (Satan), we become joint-heirs with Christ. We become sons of God. Then we can say as Peter did above in 1 Peter 2:9, we are God’s children, His chosen people, His royal priesthood, His holy people, and His own peculiar possession. This is how we today are like the Israelites God chose. We are His chosen people who are heirs to His kingdom through Jesus Christ’s righteousness that bought our salvation through His death and resurrection. We have this covenant with God to worship Him alone and He will provide for all our needs through His grace and mercy, just as He did for the Israelites. God holds high above all others to be a beacon of His light and love. We follow God’s will because of our love for Him and because our will, when we become His children, aligns with His will so they are the same. The glory of God shows, praise and thanks resound, and people want to know more about Him because they see Him in us – our actions and words. Our actions and words show our love, worship, and faithfulness to God.

      As humans, we do sometimes fail to follow God. God gave us free will to decide for ourselves what to do. As followers of Jesus Christ all our sins – past, present, and future – are forgiven when we confess them to Him. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This differs from the time of the Israelites. They did not have salvation from sin. They had rituals to cleanse them from the stain of sin that kept them from the presence of God. The Israelites did not have salvation - redemption from the power and stain of sin and the judgment of sin. Jesus provided the power to avoid sin and to remove the judgment of death sin required. Sin separates a person from God because God cannot be in the presence of sin. Separation from God is death – now and eternally. Jesus’ conquering of death by the power of His resurrection means that sin no longer has a hold on any of His believers either. This is how we differ from the Israelites. We have the better covenant – the Messianic covenant. The Old covenant – the Mosaic covenant – led the people to God, to look to Him and follow Him. It could not save them from the judgment of sin - death

      The question now is: Do you want to be in covenant with God through Jesus Christ? Do you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God who lived a sinless life, died for our death penalty, and resurrected to beat death to give us power over sin and death? Do you want to receive salvation through Jesus Christ from your sins? When you become a follower of Jesus, you are a child of God, a joint heir of Jesus Christ, part of the royal priesthood and holy nation.
It is your decision. What will you decide?

      

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Justness and Judgment - Deuteronomy 25

Introduction

In the earlier chapters of Deuteronomy, God gave laws to the Israelites to keep them clean and pure so He could be among them. The laws He gave were to keep them righteous and pure. Deuteronomy 25 approaches purity from a different angle. It considers justness, dishonor, abomination, and judgment.
Before we get into the study, we need to understand the definitions of these four words. The word “just” in this chapter of Deuteronomy comes from the Hebrew word tsedeq. Tsedeq means rightness in speech and action and justice in case or cause. Justness is righteousness. The character and will of God are the foundation for righteousness and justice. Righteousness requires justice and judgment for it to continue in the human realm. This explains the other side of God’s righteousness, judgment on those who are not right or just.
Judgment, as said above, comes from God’s character of righteousness and justice. Sinfulness brings God’s condemnation, His condemning of sin. God’s righteousness and justice brings condemnation of sin, which brings judgment. Judgment is the punishment for sin that God proclaims against the sinner. It is the necessary requirement to remove evil or to discipline a wayward person. Punishment/judgment either brings the person back to God or casts the final judgment of death and eternal separation from God.
The word “abomination” comes from the Hebrew word tow’ebah. It means a disgusting thing in the sense of wickedness or ritual uncleanness. Abomination is loathing or detesting. When God called something abominable, He considered it detestable and loathsome. God cannot be in the presence of people when they do or have done abominable things or when detestable things are around them. For God to be among people, they must be clean and pure. Cleansing from the dirtiness of abominable acts had to occur for the Israelites via judgment and the sacrifice of animals. When they enacted judgment or offered sin sacrifices, they would be ritually clean.
The last word needing defining is “dishonor.” Moses did not write this word in Deuteronomy 25, but implied it several times. Dishonor means to bring shame or disgrace upon someone. It means to fail to observe or respect a person or law, too. Knowing these words, let us now get into the study.

Disputes

Each of the four sections Moses dealt with in this chapter about justness teaches about different kinds of disputes. There are fine nuances between them so we can consider them this way: criminal dispute (vs. 1-3), family dispute (vs. 5-10), civil dispute (vs. 11-12), and business dispute (vs. 13-15). Moses used the analogy of how much they were to care for their animal when he clarified how to treat people. In verse 16, Moses wrote the thematic statement of this chapter and defined the word “evil.” In verses 17-19, he showed them how far God goes in judging people to remind them of the seriousness of His requirement for justness/righteousness.

Criminal Dispute.

In verses 1-3, Moses gave an example of two men in dispute going to the court to decide their case. The word “dispute” in verse one comes from the Hebrew word riyb, which means controversy, quarrel, or strife. In Deuteronomy 19:16-17, Moses used riyb when he spoke about criminal disputes. Commentators often consider the dispute in Deuteronomy 25 a criminal case. Moses said in this chapter, when the men take their dispute to court and the judges decide their case, the judges will “justify the righteous and condemn the wicked.” Justifying the righteous meant declaring to every person listening, including the two men, who was right, correct, and lawful. Condemning the wicked meant the judges declared to every person listening, which man they found guilty of a crime/sin. That is what Moses meant by justifying and condemning. They were public pronouncements so every person would know who was right in the dispute and who was wrong. In addition, their pronouncement gave witness to God’s righteousness, His requirements for purity, and His judgment on people who sinned against Him or other people.
What was the judgment given to the one who the judges condemned as evil? Moses said in verses two and three,
Then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt. He may beat him forty times but no more so [lest] that he does not beat him with many more stripes than these and your brother is degraded in your eyes. [NASB]
A couple important things arise in these two verses. First, beatings did not occur for every criminal action. The verses said “if the wicked man deserves to be beaten.” God trained the judges to know His ways. He taught them His laws and judgments. Not every criminal dispute required the judgment of lashes on the back.
      The second important thing to notice is that God cared for the man found guilty of wickedness in this passage. How do we know that? Moses said in verse three not to beat him over forty times so they he is not degraded [read that as dishonored] in your eyes. God cared that a person, whether justified or condemned, kept his honor in the eyes of the judges. To beat over forty lashes was to treat the person as less than an animal. How do we know this last part? Verse 4 tells us. It says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” Since the Israelites were to treat the ox well while he was working, how much more were they were to treat a fellow man well even while administering punishment. The condemned man still had to live among them and work with them after his punishment. If the judgment dishonored the man, people would be less inclined to work with him. The outcome of that was that he and his family might starve or become poor because of the excessive lashes/dishonoring he received. A person punished excessively does not see their wrongness, but becomes embittered and cynical. In ancient Mesopotamian cultures, the maximum number of lashes a person could receive was one hundred. God was the God of Israel, not Mesopotamia. He wanted the Israelites to stand out as different from surrounding nations and cultures. God instituted a maximum of forty lashes.
      Another factor we should note is that the number forty in the Bible showed a time of trial or preparation. Consider these people and their times of preparation and trial – Moses (in Egypt, in the desert shepherding, in the Exodus), Jesus (in the wilderness), the Israelites (Exodus journey), Nineveh (40 days to destruction), and Ezekiel (laid on his right side 40 days to symbolize Judah’s sins). The pattern of forty shows days or years of trial and preparation or deliverance. With forty, hope remained. Deliverance and redemption from trouble occurred after the forty days or years. So the forty lashes were a punishment and a message to change his behavior. The judges did not decree them to bring destruction on the man, just punishment. They ruled that the criminal could live and hence he needed his honor, not defamation. God’s judges rendered the judgment and led the people to a state of rightness and righteousness. They dealt with the sin by rendering the just punishment and the people returned justness before God.

Family Dispute.

Verses 5 through 10 imparted God’s will in particular family disputes. These kinds of disputes continued even to Jesus’ day as we read in Matthew 22:23-33. The basic law here is when a man died having no heirs, his unmarried brother must marry the widow and lie with her until he produces an heir for his brother. This was the levirate law. The firstborn son of the brother-in-law and widow received the name of the deceased brother. He received the deceased brother’s inheritance, too. This law assured the family line of the dead brother continued (“his name not be blotted out” vs. 6), his inheritance from God continued in his family line, and his widow received care throughout her life.
The dispute in these six verses arose when an unmarried brother did not desire to take his brother’s wife for his wife. The word “desire” in Hebrew is chaphets and means take delight in, take pleasure in, or be pleased with. Maybe the brother did not want to marry the widow because she was not pleasant. Whatever the case, if the brother did not marry her, she would be shamed and could not marry anyone outside the family. Added to this, it would be unjust because her husband’s line would end and his inheritance be given to someone else. Finally, she would have no one to take care of her – food, lodging, and care in old age.
This must have occurred often because an established process of rectifying the problem existed. From verse 7 through 10, Moses declared certain steps to follow that allowed the widow legally to marry outside the family. First, as in each of these disputes, she presented her case to the elders at the city gate. She explained her case – her brother-in-law refused to marry her and perform the duty of a husband’s brother. If you have read the story of Ruth, you read Boaz did this before he married Ruth (Ruth 4:5-6). Here is where the justice part of the law begins - where the judges get involved. Next, the elders of the city summon the unmarried brother to speak to him. If he persists and still does not want to marry the widow, the final part of this law occurs. Verse 9 says,
Then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face and she shall declare, “Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house. In Israel his name shall be called, ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed.’” [NASB]
For fair treatment, the widow had legal recourse. By law, she married into her husband’s family. If the dead husband’s brother would not give her an heir for her husband to assure the future for him and take care of her, she could legally remove herself from the family and seek another man to marry. This was a common enough occurrence. Yet, still, verse nine seems odd to us in the twenty-first century. Let us try to understand it.
      Historical writings say that the judges had a sandal made for this purpose of this levirate law. To free himself from marrying his dead brother’s wife, the brother-in-law put on the sandal, tied the laces, and stood firmly in it. The widow bent down loosened the straps and removed the shoe from his foot. She tossed it away onto the ground and then spit on the ground in front of him. After that, the judges gave her a certificate that allowed her to marry whomever she wanted in Israel. The symbolism is what is important in these actions. Remember, when a man married a woman, she was his skirt. She became the closest covering/garment for him. In this instance, the sandal represented the reproductive organ of the woman and the man’s foot represented his reproductive organ. By publicly removing the man’s sandal from his foot, she removed herself from him as his sandal. The brother-in-law allowed this to show he gave up his rights to her. This method showed her reproach of him. He did not deserve her as his sandal. In addition, the widow’s removing of his sandal signified he did not deserve to be considered a free man, but of servants and slaves. (Slaves did not have shoes.) Spitting in a person’s face or towards him showed contempt of that person and was a way of shaming and disgracing a person. It was a sign of abhorrence and defamed him (Isaiah 50:6). The judges offered justice and returned the people involved to a relationship of justness and rightness.

Civil Dispute.

Verses 11 through 12 handled civil disputes, most particularly a wife’s involvement in it. Moses said, “If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand.” [NASB] First off, this judgment seems drastic when reading it in English. We need to look closer at the Hebrew words to understand it better. On top of this, we need to understand the finer nuances of this case.
In verse 11, the word “hand” comes from the Hebrew word yad and means hand, strength, and power. The word “hand” in verse twelve is the Hebrew word kaph, meaning the palm of the hand. If Moses intended this judgment literally, he would have used yad in both verses. The Jews from the beginning interpreted this law to mean the judgment was the payment of a monetary fine to the man she seized. Jewish leaders ruled this way because kaph means the palm of the hand and, from the palm of the hand, people gave money.
The notable point of this law is the modesty and decency of the wife and the honor of the men in the fight. When the wife entered the fray to rescue her husband, she dishonored her husband in front of people. She, in essence, said he was not strong enough to win his battles. Added to this, by grabbing the other man’s genitals, she dishonored him and dishonored her husband. The dishonor to her husband was like she cuckolded him. The dishonor to the other man came from her indecency. It, too, could have affected the man’s ability to have offspring to whom to pass his inheritance. The woman was not just or right in her handling of the problem. She was immodest and indecent. The wife dishonored/defamed both men and herself. The judgment of the woman required her to pay a punitive fine to the man whose genitals she grabbed. Moses declared no pity was be shown to a woman who did this. The judges’ judgment restored rightness and justness. Their addressing the case rectified the problem and removed the abomination.

Business Disputes.

In verses 14 through 15, Moses told the Israelites to be fair and just in their business dealings. In that time, people used stones of specific weights to sell their products. Each size stone was to weigh a specific amount, the standard for the time. In these verses, Moses told them not to use weights less than the standard amount to measure out goods sold. He told them not to have a large and small weight in their pouches - the large to measure the amount sold to someone and the small to measure what they themselves bought from someone. They were to use the same measure for both transactions. The word “measures” in verse fourteen referred to a volume amount. “Measures” comes from the Hebrew word eyphah. An eyphah was equal to ten omers, about nine gallons or forty liters. The word “weight” in verse fifteen is the Hebrew word ‘eben, which means stone. This referred to the weight of products. To sell the products at a standard and just weight, the seller used the measuring stones according to the standard.
Why was this important to God? God is righteousness and justice. To be a people of God, the Israelites were to be a people of righteousness and justice. Moses said in verse fifteen, “You shall have a full and just weight; you shall have a full and just measure.” The word “full” is shalem and means complete and at peace. “Just” comes from tsedeq and means rightness and righteousness in speech and action. The Israelites were to measure out complete measures, not steal from others. By doing this, they would be righteous, as God is righteous. By this, they would be at peace because they did not sin.
Moses gave the biggest incentive for being righteous the Israelites could have. At the end of verse fifteen, he said, “That your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” (See Exodus 20:12, too.) Moses reminded them of their first promise and covenant with God from Mount Sinai. God promised this blessing to the Israelites if they were faithful to their covenant with Him. God gave the laws to keep them righteous tied and promised this blessing for their faithfulness to Him. Their faithfulness to God meant they were righteous in God’s eyes. When people followed God and His laws, God blessed them with a prolonged life in the Promised Land; He blessed them with life.

Judgment for Unjustness/Unrighteousness

In the first fifteen verses Moses dealt with specific acts requiring justice and the administration of judgment. These judgments rendered by God’s judges “justified the righteous and condemned the wicked” (vs. 1). They set one against the other so the Israelites could learn and know what was just and right and what was unjust and unrighteous, wicked. This allowed them to pursue righteousness and be righteous before God. In verse fifteen, Moses reminded the Israelites of their covenant with God and His blessing on them if they were faithful to it.
Verse 16 explains the opposite, what God considers people who act unjustly. Moses said, “For everyone who does these things, everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God.” In this verse, Moses defined the word “evil.” The word “unjustly” comes from the Hebrew word evel, which means injustice and unrighteousness. God is just - righteous and right. He cannot be in the presence of injustice and unrighteousness - evil. Because of this, He provided judgments for people who were unjust/unrighteous - evil. The judgments were disciplining (so the person would return to the LORD) and actions to serve as an example to the people (to keep them walking in God’s righteous ways). Judgment could be the unrighteous person’s removal so he or she would not lead people away from God. In verse sixteen, we hear that God called anything unjust an abomination, something disgusting and loathsome. The choice to follow God and His laws or not to follow Him is for each person to decide. If a person acts unjustly or unrighteously (evel-ly), he or she chooses not to follow God. God’s metes out His judgment upon him or her. Remember what God does to an abomination. He issues judgment that are either discipline or as destruction of the person - the Law of the Ban.
How do we know this? Moses outlined God’s judgments for disputes in the above situations. His judgments for different acts of sin are in the earlier chapters of Deuteronomy. Moses added more to this chapter in verses seventeen through nineteen to remind the Israelites of God’s seriousness about sin, an abomination. Moses said,
Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary and he did not fear God. Therefore, it shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget. [NASB]
Moses reminded the Israelites that God’s ultimate judgment, His curse for unrighteousness, is death. Earlier in Deuteronomy, God told the Israelites when they entered Canaan, they were to destroy the people, the worship places, the worship idols, and everything related to their worship of false gods. They received God’s ultimate judgment – the Law of the Ban.
      In verses eighteen and nineteen, Moses reminded them God still judged people for their unrighteousness via His curse for unfaithfulness. That ultimate judgment was death. The Israelites remembered that when Moses told them God’s judgment on the Amalekites. Because the Amalekites attacked the Israelites when they crossed the Red Sea and were at their weakest and because the Amalekites attacked them from the rear where their weakest people were, God’s judgment on them was death. When God in later years told the Israelites to attack and kill the Amelekites, He said they would blot out the Amelekites from the memory of humankind forever. The English verb “blot out” comes from the Hebrew word machah, which means to wipe out, to obliterate. God commanded the destruction of the Amelekites almost 400 years after the Israelites settled in the Promised Land. The Amelekites had those 400 years to repent and did not. God told Saul to kill them (1 Samuel 15). Saul spared some of them. David destroyed more of them. The Simeonites in Hezekiah’s time killed the rest (1 Chronicles 4:43).
      God renewed his Law of the Ban when He issued the order to kill the Amelekites. He reminded the Israelites He expected faithfulness to Him. God reminded them He would bless or curse when He reminded them of the Amelekites. Moses’ final statement in this chapter was, “You must not forget.” “Do not ignore nor cease to care about your covenant with the LORD your God” is what he meant.

Recap

God issued each of His laws, statutes, and decrees to help keep the Israelites righteous and pure, not to be a tyrant. In verse 16 this week, we find the theme of this chapter, “Everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God.” God offered a blessing or curse for a person’s faithfulness or unfaithfulness to his or her covenant with Him. The blessing for being just, Moses stated was, “That you days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you” (vs. 15). Life was the blessing. The curse, as stated in verse sixteen, was death. In this chapter, Moses taught how to resolve disputes in most areas of the Israelites’ lives. He taught that God wanted each person to keep their honor and not be shamed or disgraced even if they received disciplining by the judges. By doing this, Moses taught that God cares about every person and each animal. God wants people to be righteous and just, not unrighteous and unjust, which God calls an abomination. He detests sinfulness and cannot be in its presence.

Relevance and Conclusion

God knew humans would sin. He is all-knowing. God gave each person the opportunity to decide for him or herself. He allowed each person a choice to be in a relationship with Him. God created us to be in a relationship with Him. He knew we each would sin and choose to go our own way. God created the Old Covenant from Mount Sinai to establish a theocracy and to teach the people how to be righteous, pure, and just. It led the Israelites to God. The covenant provided a way to remove sin, though temporarily, so God could be among His people. The sacrifice for sin was not perfect and did not cover sin for all time.
From the beginning of time, God knew humans would sin and go their own way. He provided from the beginning the perfect sacrifice to take away every sin from people forever. The perfect sacrifice came through God’s own perfect being, the birth of his Son on earth to live a sinless life. Only the sacrifice of a sinless, perfect being could save people from their sins forever. God provided this perfect sacrifice because of His love. Jesus’ death only needed to happen once because by coming back to life, He beat death and sin forever. When a person believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God who lived, died, and was resurrected for his or her sins and then confesses his or her sins to God, he or she becomes a clean child of God. Death does not have power over the person anymore. Jesus’ power over death transfers to His brothers and sisters so they have victory over sin and death, too. As brothers and sisters of Christ, they are joint heirs with Him in God’s kingdom and will live forever with God in heaven after their lives on earth.
Each of us has this opportunity. The opportunity gives us forgiveness of our sins, power to resist temptation, and power to overcome death to live with God in heaven. God provided this. We did nothing to get it or deserve it. God gave it because of His love for each person He created.
Will you accept God’s gift of love – salvation and forgiveness?

It is up to you.