We started this series of posts looking at satisfying videos, thankful for them, but noting that they cannot satisfy the soul. We talk about our phones yesterday and how they promise so much, but they, too, don’t satisfy the deepest longings of our souls. What can satisfy the soul? We found one answer: only God can satisfy. We found that Moses tells the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 12 to take dramatic action to make sure they find their satisfaction in God alone. That dramatic action carries on into chapter 13. We’re not going to read chapter 13, but instead we’re going to look at its structure.
In chapter 13, Moses talks about three groups of people.
- Prophets who teach false gods in verses 1-5.
- Family members who teach false gods in verses 6-11.
- Wicked towns who teach worship of false gods in verse 12-18.
And what does God say the people should do to each of these three groups? Eliminate them.
In chapters 16:21-17:7 this theme continues. “Purge the evil from among you.” These are brutal passages, I know. God is talking about stoning people, totally destroying them, even people from within one’s own family. It raises up inside some of us those difficult questions about violence in the Old Testament and why God would ever command that kind of purge.
I listened to an Old Testament scholar recently remark that when he hears concerns about the violence in the Old Testament, it is often from people who have ingested probably hundreds of hours watching violent movies and television shows, and they seem not to have a problem with that media. The scholar makes a good point about the irony or possibly hypocrisy of people who would be disgusted with violence in Deuteronomy 13 on Sunday morning, only to go and choose to spend money watching a violent film that same afternoon.
But one might respond, “Wait a minute, in those violent films, it is not God doing the violence, but in Deuteronomy 13 it is.” Is it, though? Or is God responding with loving protection for his people?
We can hardly imagine what it was like in ancient pagan cultures, and for those with a slave mentality. We simply have to go back to the fact that a nation of slaves needs to have a dramatic and decisive kind of protection, and that could require total elimination of all evil influences, even from within the nation and from within one’s own family. Can’t stomach it? Me neither. I don’t like Deuteronomy 13 at all. I’m glad we live in a different time and under a different covenant.
We need to remind ourselves that what we are reading is God’s covenant treaty with Israel, and it is not for us. We are under the New Covenant, and we are not bound to follow the rules of the Old Covenant. We need to hear that clearly. These rules are not for us.
So is there any principle from Deuteronomy 13, 16 and 17, that can carry over to those of us under the New Covenant? I think there is!
Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5? “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to lust, gouge it out.” Now was Jesus speaking literally? When I mentioned this live in my sermon, I asked everyone to hold up their hands. I didn’t see any chopped off hands or gouged out eyes. If we were taking Jesus literally, there should have been some evidence of chopping and gouging! We are right not to take Jesus literally, as he was using figurative language to make a point. Jesus was saying “Take drastic action.”
We simply must be lovingly, graciously, restoratively concerned for purity and holiness in our own lives and in a church family. And we must take dramatic action to get there. Ask yourselves the question: what dramatic action in your life in order to pursue God’s ways? What are strongholds that you need to destroy? What are your high places?
Media? Sports? Addictions?
Are you trying to find satisfaction in your life from sources that cannot satisfy? Much of media and sports are neutral. I’m thankful the Redskins have what looks to be a somewhat competitive team this year. I also enjoy a number of television shows. But those things cannot provide satisfaction, except temporarily. Our inner selves are longing for something more, and God knows this. He instructs the Israelites to worship him only, and not other false gods, because those false gods cannot satisfy.
He instructs Israel to worship him in his ways. Not in their ways. God has their best interest in mind. He wants to preserve their newfound freedom. He wants them to enjoy the abundance of the Promised Land. God also is a God of justice, as we saw a few weeks ago, and he wants to eradicate the unjust and detestable practices found in foreign lands, and to do all that, Israel must stay true to him. They must find their satisfaction in him, and not be lured into the false religion of the powerful, unjust nations around them.
I encourage you examine your own life. What will it look like for you to pursue finding satisfaction of your deepest desires in God alone? What do you need to stop? And what do you need to start? Do you spend time with God? Do you need to open up space in your life to drink deeply from the well of his Word, of listening for his voice in prayer?