For the many Chronological Bible readers at Immanuel this past month (and a half) has had its many tedious moments. Yet I have always had enough “pearls” to talk about on Monday nights that I find myself running out of time. The irony of the reading is that the majority of the text has been repetitive and tedious and quite frankly boring. But then there are the moments of direct connection to the New Testament and to promises fulfilled in Christ. It has been good to discover the pearls even when our minds are numb and our hands are sore from shucking oysters.
God’s Continuing Instruction
I mentioned that the Book of Deuteronomy (Second Law) is misnamed in a way that betrays a legalistic bias. In Hebrew it is simply, “these are the words…” One should not read it only looking for a second restatement of the Ten Commandments. This does occur (Deuteronomy 5) but it is followed with a much better and more succinct summary of the Instruction of the Lord that is emphasized by Jesus.
“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:4,5
“Teacher, which is the most important
commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37
Jesus will then, at his Last Supper further extend this teaching, asking His disciples to do what he will do through the Cross,
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
God’s Providence in Mercy and in Grace
Later, Moses reminds Israel of God’s sovereignty, love and providence:
“The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and serve him.”
Without saying it directly, Moses makes it clear that the possession of Israel is a gift that Israel has not earned. The covenant asked of Israel is straight forward and simple: avoid idolatry, worship the LORD and follow his way.
The harshness of the possession of Canaan is difficult to read with our modern sensibilities. It looks so much like genocide that we find it illegal and immoral. What one has to focus on is that these people have rejected the LORD and engaged in idolatry exceeding sexual immorality to the act of the ritual sacrifice (immolation) of children. They are to be destroyed so that Israel does not adopt any of these practices, especially the sacrifice of children. They have been judged fairly by God in their sins to the death penalty.
“After the Lord your God has done this for you, don’t say in your hearts, ‘The Lord has given us this land because we are such good people!’ No, it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he is pushing them out of your way. It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land. The Lord your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness, and to fulfill the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You must recognize that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not—you are a stubborn people." Deuteronomy 9:4-6
Tithing/First Fruit Giving
What I noticed about the lesson on tithing was its effect on the tither:
“You must set aside a tithe of your crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year…
Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored—and eat it there in his presence. This applies to your tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the firstborn males of your flocks and herds.
Doing this will teach you always to fear the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 14:22-23 (emphasis mine)
One cannot make a direct linkage to the tithing practices of an ancient near-east theocracy (there isn’t even a King yet for Israel) to our current practices for tithing to church as a non-profit within a secular government. What is universal is the principle represented: the act of tithing teaches the tither. Giving is a spiritual discipline that applies the instruction of the Lord to life and builds a spiritual life in the disciple. The act of first fruit giving is intended for the benefit of the giver as the Lord doesn’t really need all of that livestock, oil and wine (but the Levites do!)
The Poor, the Abandoned and the Lost
Even as idol worshippers are condemned harshly the Lord insists upon justice for the poor, the widows and the foreigners living among them:
“But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them… Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need.” Deuteronomy 15:7,10-11
“When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don’t go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all you do. When you beat the olives from your olive trees, don’t go over the boughs twice. Leave the remaining olives for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. When you gather the grapes in your vineyard, don’t glean the vines after they are picked. Leave the remaining grapes for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 24:19-22
We will soon celebrate Easter. I would note that the event of the Passover is the defining ritual event of Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. It is the event that draws together Jesus and His disciples in The Last Supper. When I teach about the Lord’s Supper this is where I begin because this is where it begins! We do not engage in the many archaic (even for Judaism) ritual sacrifices anymore. There is no Temple to sacrifice in anyway because it was destroyed and its necessity ended with the Cross— the sacrifice for our sins completed for all time. We don’t need to literally carry Scripture on our bodies (even though carrying a Bible is quite fine!) because we have the Holy Spirit within us. But we do recall the Passover in every Divine Service. It is the sacrifice of the Lamb whose blood saves Israel from death. It is the sacrifice of the Lamb of God’s blood that saves us from death.