Tag Archives: deuteronomy

Grim last words from a beloved leader? [How God feels about our fear – Deuteronomy 31-34, part 2]

19 Feb

Photo by Carlos Arthur M.R on Unsplash

Have you felt the sting of words that make you want to hide your face? Words have great power to wound, and power to heal. Last words are particularly meaningful and impactful. Maybe you’ve heard someone give their last words before death. More than likely you still remember them. What do you want your last words to be?

Remember that Deuteronomy has been a last word of sorts from Moses to the people of Israel.  They have been on a long journey, starting about 40 years prior.  40 years before this moment, 40 years before the events of Deuteronomy 31-34, the people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt, and it was as horrible slavery, a persecution, in which they had no hope.  A prince of Egypt named Moses, though, came to them and revealed that he was actually a Hebrew like them. In a strange twist of events, he kills an Egyptian who was mistreating a Hebrew slave, flees into the desert, is away for awhile, and then returns from the desert saying that God had spoken to him and given him a mission to confront the Egyptian king, the Pharaoh, to let Israel go free. 

The story of Israel’s exodus or leaving from Egypt is one of high drama, involving astounding acts of God’s mighty power.  But through it all, Moses emerges as an imperfect but effective leader of the people.  They do leave Egypt and head out on a long journey to a new land.  As they follow God to this Promised Land, both the people and Moses commit grave mistakes and have moments of astounding faithfulness along the way.  Through it all Moses grows in stature and reputation.  But now the time of Moses’ death is at hand. 

As I mentioned yesterday, this is our final blog series studying Deuteronomy, and it focuses on chapters 31-34. That’s a lot of material, I know, but as you follow post by post, I think you’ll see why I grouped it together.  To get some context, my opinion is that it is best to start at the very end, Deuteronomy 34:10-12.

There we learn the preeminence of Moses in the eyes of the people.  He was a George Washington type in that he was a founder of the nation who led them through a difficult trial. But Moses was far more than Washington, as Moses spoke with God face to face. Did you notice how the writer of these verses describes the power of God that was resident in him?

We also need to remember what was said of Moses in Numbers 12:3.  He was a very humble man, the most humble on the earth. 

It is true that David was Israel’s greatest King, and David’s son Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, leading Israel to heights of wealth and influence.  But there is no one in the history of the nation of Israel that is as important as Moses.

Not only did Moses lead the nation from slavery, but Moses was also the one to whom God gave the Law.  Yes, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Joseph, along with his brothers are the historical patriarchs of nation.  Jacob was renamed Israel, which is where the nation got its name.  The twelve tribes of Israel, therefore, are named after Jacobs 12 sons.  But even those important factors pale in comparison the position that Moses has in the hearts and minds of the people. 

And now he is passing on. 

What we see, then, in chapters 31-33 are Moses’ actual last words.  Sure, the whole book of Deuteronomy is Moses giving the people a retelling of the covenant.  But here in chapters 31-33, we get his final words. 

Now turn back to the beginning of chapter 31.  In verses 1-8 Moses tells the people that his time is up.  Their invasion of the Promised Land of Canaan is about to begin in a short matter of time.  But Moses will not be joining them.  Instead he turns leadership over to Joshua. And he has some special words for the people and Joshua: He tells them that the Lord will be with them and will go before them, so they should be strong and courageous, they should not be afraid or discouraged.  These are powerful last words that we will return to in future posts in this series.

Next in verses 9-13, Moses one last time commands them to remain familiar with God’s Law.  He tells them to make a practice every 7th year in which they come together as a nation to read the Law of God out loud, so that they, their children, and even the non-Israelites among them can remember to obey God.

These last words of Moses are so encouraging thus far. But starting in chapter 31:14 and continuing most of the way through chapter 32:52, things get grim again.  Remember the curses we studied in chapters 27-28?  Chapters 29-30, the renewal of the covenant, also include strong cautions about disobedience.  Once again, scan through chapters 31-32 and once again God is warning the people about disobedience. Are Moses’ last words going to be a smackdown? Check back in to part 3 to find out.

An embarrassing dream told me the truth about my life [How God feels about our fear – Deuteronomy 31-34, part 1]

18 Feb

Photo by Ben Maguire on Unsplash

I want to tell you about a dream I had this week.  I’ve had a similar one before.  Maybe you’ve had one like this too.  My dream started as I was sitting in a chair at a pool party at a place I didn’t recognize.  At the party were some of my kids’ friends and their parents.  It was a fun event, like a birthday party.  But as I looked around, I realized to my horror, that I didn’t have any clothes on.  Instantly, I was super-embarrassed and used my hands to cover up, frantically looking for a towel.  It was a moment of sheer terror. 

Ever had a dream like that?  It is astounding what our brains and emotions can create in our minds when we are asleep.  The images are so vivid.  And often it is not hard to figure out why we had certain dreams.  Our fear and anxiety comes out, right? 

So apparently, I’ve got some fear going on in my life.  What am I afraid of?  Well I’ll tell you.  Since 2011 I have been an adjunct professor for Lancaster Bible College teaching online Bible courses.  The course I have taught most often is a six-week intensive about how to study the Bible.  During those six weeks my life can be crazy busy.  Normally, I can swing it, but last fall I started doctoral studies, taking two classes of my own. So in November, right in the middle of teaching one of those six-week intensives, I said to my wife that it was too much, and after the new year I wanted to look into different options.  My sister teaches online for Eastern University, so maybe they had something more suitable. Two weeks later, Messiah College contacted me out of the blue, asking me to teach a section of their intro Bible course.  I couldn’t believe it.  I hadn’t even thought of Messiah, though my two oldest sons are students there, and it was well before the New Year.  The Bible department chair got my name from his colleagues who lead the Clergy Leadership Program of Central PA, of which I was a participant in 2015-17. One thing led to another, and I was hired.  We started telling our older boys about it, and our second son, a sophomore, wrote back and said, “I think I’m in that class!”  And sure enough he was!  It was amazing how God answered my prayer far beyond what I expected or asked for.  So I have started teaching for Messiah. 

And that is where the fear comes in. The Messiah class is not online, but in class.  A few weeks ago it hit me, I’m going to have to stand in front of a class, including my son, and actually have something to say.  Online classes had none of that.  As of this writing, I have finished two weeks of the Messiah class, and I think it is going okay, but I can tell you that you I’ve had anxiety and fear about it!  Additionally, this past week I was up at my seminary three days for my doctoral residency, and there, too, I can feel very intimidated surrounded by really smart and amazing people, all thinking about doctorates and dissertations. Put together, it can feel overwhelming.

I’m almost certain that is what led to my embarrassing dream! 

In this final series of posts in our study through Deuteronomy we are going to meet someone who also faced what could easily seem like an insurmountable situation.  A guy named Joshua.  He was about to enter into the top leadership role in the nation of Israel, following in the giant footsteps of Moses.

Have you ever experienced a transition of leadership where a long-time leader was concluding their time as leader, and a new person was stepping into that role?  It may be a company you work for.  It may be a volunteer organization.  A church.  A family.  Might be in government.  A Coach.  Recently here in our school district we’ve had a couple long-time leaders move on.  Some elementary school principals.  Then the superintendent of the district retired two years ago. 

These transitions evoke all kinds of emotions don’t they? People miss the previous leader.  People are afraid that the new leader will mess things up. 

Transitions are hard.  They raise fear in us.  Transitions can make it seem like the foundations are shaking.  When there are pastoral transitions, some statisticians say, on average, 25% of the congregation will leave.  Usually not all at once in some big exodus, but often gradually, over a few years.  Why? We get scared, fearful. 

And you know what, the new leader is scared too.  Fearful. And it comes out in our dreams, in bodily anxiety, panic. How do we deal with this?  

In Deuteronomy chapters 31-34 we’re going to learn about a leadership transition, and a bunch of people that could be fearful. Check back in for part 2 of the series!

Practices for a blessed life [Deuteronomy 26-28]

7 Feb

Today we’re talking about practice.  At the time of the interview above, Allen Iverson was taking heat for skipping practice.  We’re going to find that being committed to practice can save us from a whole bundle of trouble.

Turn to Deuteronomy.26:16-19.  This little section at the end of chapter 26 will transition us to the conclusion of Deuteronomy. From chapter 10, 11 and 12 all the way through chapter 26, Moses has been retelling the stipulations of the treaty or covenant that God had made with the people of Israel.  Now here in 26:16-19 he adds a few words of review.

In Verse 16, God commands Israel to follow the law with all their heart and soul.

Next in Verse 17, Israel declares that YHWH is their God and they will obey him.

Then in 18, YHWH declares that Israel is his people who will obey him.

Finally, YHWH in verse 19 promises to honor Israel above all other nations, that they are holy to him.

So in just a few short words, they have a summary of their agreement with one another.  Israel will obey God as their only God, and God will honor Israel above all nations.  But notice what is central to this entire treaty.  Obedience.

It is obedience with heart and soul.  In this short section, look how many times obedience is mentioned.  I count seven, one of which is the very last phrase: “you will be a people holy to the Lord your God.”  That phrase doesn’t explicitly the word “obedience,” or even a synonym, but it is there alright because it is impossible for Israel to be holy without obedience. As we continue on, let’s keep this theme in mind: for Israel, obedience to God honors their relationship with him.

Turning to chapter 27, we discover that the short review we just read at the end of chapter 26 was not the end of the matter.  Not even close.

Read Deuteronomy 27:1-8. What we see here is a description of a memorial altar that God wanted the people to build. These are what some call stones of remembrance on which they wrote the law.  This is not the stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments.  Those were stored in the Ark of the Covenant.  These were to be memorial stones, a monument to help the people remember what is true.

In my family, my wife Michelle has stones of remembrance in our house.They are coffee mugs, each from a place we have visited. We need these reminders, as they help us remember the blessing of our travels. Do you have stones of remembrance? For ancient Israel, these monuments were designed to help them remember the covenant they made with God. 

Christians often display crosses to help us remember our relationship with Jesus.  Sometimes on necklaces.  Often on the walls of our homes and churches.  Some churches are built the shape of a cross.  These are monuments, big and small, to help us remember what Jesus did for us.  By amazing love, through his sacrifice, we can have forgiveness and hope and a home with God.  Furthermore, the cross reminds us that we are to live like Jesus, what some would call a cruciform, or cross-shaped life.  Christians are called to follow the way of Jesus.  In the midst of our busy lives, in the midst of the pressure from our culture to be consumers, to pursue entertainment, we can forget the mission of God’s Kingdom.  We can forget our calling.  Sometimes stones of remembrance can help remind us of what is true, and thus we can reorient our lives around the truth. I often think that life is a nonstop series of reorientation.  Because we so quickly forget. 

In Psalm 78:41-42 we are reminded that Israel forgot.  The psalmist tells us “They did not remember his power.”

What have you forgotten that you need to remember?  Do you need to look again at your stones of remembrance?  When I drink coffee in the morning from our mugs, I rarely think about the place names on them.  I just want to drink coffee!  I could make a practice of looking at the place name, thinking about our time there and praising God for all we experienced and learned. 

Do you have a practice of stones of remembrance?  While this law is not our law, we can see the wisdom in it.  You might want to start a practice of remembrance.

I love the practice that comes next.  Look at Deuteronomy 27:9. Moses and the priests tell all the people to be silent and listen.  This is another excellent practice to consider adding to our lives.  Again, it is not our law, but it is something that we would do well to add to our relationship with God.  In a relationship with someone, it is vital that we spend time listening to them.  If we don’t listen to them, our relationship with them will be likely be over pretty fast, or if it isn’t over, it will be miserable.  Likewise, we need to listen to God.  That means we need to take time and be silent.  Turn off the radio, the TV, the music.  Turn off the noise, and listen for God to speak.  In Israel’s case, they were to listen to two truths.  One at the end of verse 9, and one in verse 10.

In verse 9 they are to be silent and listen to the truth about their identity.  They are the people of the Lord their God.  They are not slaves in Egypt.  They are not a wandering people with no nation.  They are not weak.  They are not small.  There are numerous descriptions that they could be tempted to give themselves.  But the one truth about their identity is that they are the people of God.  They are in a special relationship with God.  It is a personal relationship with God.  God loves them.  That is their identity.

What is the truth about your identity?  We Christians, we disciples of Jesus, are loved children of God.  We need to be silent and listen to the truth of our identity.  We are not failures, we are not misfits, we are not pathetic, we ARE dearly loved children of God.  My suspicion is that most of us, me included, do not take enough time to be silent and hear that truth from God.

That is the first truth they are to listen to.  The second truth is found in verse 10. It is a repetition of what we have heard already in chapter 26:16-19: they are to obey God and follow his commands.  No surprise there.  But then the passage takes a turn, a turn that is very much connected to the idea of obedience.

In verses 11-14 Moses tells the people that after they cross the Jordan River they are to gather together, the whole nation.  Remember that the entire book of Deuteronomy is Moses giving the people a second telling of the law before they take full possession of the Promised Land of Canaan.  They have just barely entered the eastern side of the Promised Land, had some battles, and set up camp.  The next step is the large scale invasion of the land on the western side of the Jordan River.  If you jump ahead into the next book of the Bible, the book of Joshua, you can read the story of this invasion.  For now, Moses is saying to them, when you do start the invasion, you will eventually come to two mountains facing each other.  Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim.  Six of the tribes, or half the nation, is to face Mount Ebal, and the other six tribes are to face Mount Gerizim.  In this ceremony, the one tribe, the Levites, the priestly tribe, was then to read a group of curses and a group of blessings. 

If you look at Joshua 8:30-35, you will see that the people actually did perform this ceremonial reading of the blessings and curses. The two mountains are fairly close together, and Joshua 8 tells us that they likely were in a large group with the Ark of the Covenant in the middle, and six tribes faced Ebal which is rocky and harsh, and six tribes faced Gerizim which is lush and fertile.  So they were essentially back to back.  Turn again to Deuteronomy 27-28, and we get to hear all the curses and blessings.  Scholars note that this was a momentous event in the life of the nation.  If you look on a map you will see the people are essentially standing in the heart of the land, with a very vivid image before them. “Disobey and you will be cursed, and go the way of rocky, harsh Ebal.  But obey and you will be blessed, going the way of lush, fertile Gerizim.”

First, let’s look at the Curses section: Deuteronomy 27:15-26, and we notice a pattern.  The Levites read the curse, and the people respond with “Amen!”  This is not like “Amen” at the end of a prayer, when we just tack the word onto the end without thinking about it.  Instead it is “Amen” when we agree with what has been said.  “Amen” means something like “True!” or “That is a trustworthy saying.”  Or as the kids say nowadays, “Facts!” 

So the Levites would read the curse, and all the people would say together, “Amen!”  That would be quite a powerful scene, wouldn’t it?  Imagine the sound of maybe a million people facing one mountainside, and another million facing the other mountain, hearing that crowd shout “Amen!” 

But what were these Curses that they were saying “Amen” about?  What kind of curse are we talking about here?  There are many ways to use the word curse.  Swear words or bad words comes to mind, but hat’s not the cursing here.  Or is this like a Satanic curse, like witchcraft or sorcery?  Is God putting an evil curse on people? 

Imagine a wizard with a wand, shooting out a magic power that binds up a person, like Sleeping Beauty cursed into a sleep that never ended until she was kissed by the prince.  Or like the man who was cursed to be in the form of a beast until the beauty truly loved him.  Is that the kind of curse God is doing?  Or is these curses in Deuteronomy 27 maybe referring to consequences or punishment? 

The verb itself is translated “to bind with a curse,” but what does that mean?  Is all hope lost for this person?  Can the curse be broken?  One author I read said that word “curse” means the person who commits the offense is “destined for divinely imposed disaster.”  So while the person is not zapped by a magic wand, they clearly don’t want to be in a position where they are destined for divinely imposed disaster. 

Take note of the curses, and what God says can get Israel in a position of being cursed.  In verse 15, it is idolatry.  In verse 16, dishonoring your parents.  In verse 17-19, three kinds of injustice.  In verses 20-23, four kinds of sexual impurity.  In 24-25 murder and bribery. Finally in 26, a concluding summary curse for not obeying the Law.  Then all the people cry out together, “Amen” affirming that they agree and they bind themselves to this covenant. So the curses are life choices that result in divinely imposed disaster.

That leads us to the Blessing section, Deuteronomy 28:1-14. These blessings are amazing!  Every part of Israel will be blessed.  God promises that if Israel is obedient he will honor them and lift them high and make everything go wonderful for them.  He will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, for them.  Wow!  You almost feel a little embarrassed, or even guilty because Israel will be so blessed.  It reminds me of my daughter’s soccer games a few weeks ago when they were beating the other team so bad, the staff stopped keeping the score on the scoreboard.  When my daughter scored a goal I wanted to cheer for her, but the score was already something like 17-0, and we didn’t want to make the other team or their spectators feel bad, so I had to do a quiet cheer. 

It’s kinda like that with Israel.  If they obey God says they will be in a place of unimaginable blessing.  The nation of Israel would eventually see this blessing under the reigns of King David and Solomon.  People from foreign countries wanted to visit Israel to see with their own eyes the fabulous wealth and wisdom of the Israelite King.  They would come and actually experience Israel and King Solomon, and they would leave saying, “His wealth and wisdom are greater than I was told.” 

The collection of poems that we call Psalms starts with Psalm 1, a wisdom psalm that talks about these blessings and curses, and it points to another practice.  Basically the psalm says that if we follow the way of wickedness we will be cursed, but if we meditate on God’s Word and do what it says, we will be blessed.  We need to be a people, therefore, who practice meditation on his Word.  This meditation is more than reading. It is instead a deep thinking upon, a desire to understand and apply God’s teaching to our lives, and then to live them out. 

Initially as I studied the blessings and curses in Deuteronomy 27 & 28,  I thought, “I love that he focuses on blessing second.  In other words, God finishes with a vision of how good things can be!!!”  But then in chapter 28, verse 15 arrives, and, surprise, we’re back at the curses.  Scan from verse 15 to the end of the chapter.  What do you notice? 

It is a long chapter.  He goes on and on and on about how awful it will be for Israel if they do not obey God. Did God get stuck a rut of curses?  We’ve already had curses back in chapter 27.  But now in chapter 28 there’s an explosion of curses.  Start with verses 15-19.  You’d think these four additional curses, along with what we already read in chapter 27 would give the people the idea that God really wanted them to obey, and if they didn’t obey, they were in big trouble. 

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  The picture God paints starting in verse 20 and continuing all the way to verse 68 is off the charts. 

Look at verse Deuteronomy 28:26 for example.  There God is telling Israel what will happen if they disobey him and then try to go to battle.  Read verses 26-29 and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s so bad it’s almost humorous.  I am not making light of it as this is serious stuff.  But my goodness, does it ever stop?  It gets disgusting and vile at some points.  Seriously.  And why? I think the point of it all is actually to totally revile the people.  If this was depicted on a video, most of us would have to turn our heads.  God is saying to Israel that if they disobey him, they will face utter and total ruin in every facet of their lives: nationally, individually, emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually.  He covers it all. 

Right in the middle of this passage, though, God shares his purpose for this horrible news.  Look at verses 45-47. God wants Israel to be clear, abundantly, excruciatingly clear, of what is at stake here.  They are his people, and he is their God, and they will have such wonderful blessing if they obey him.  But if they don’t, it will be so, so bad for them.  The curses and the devastation that will erupt on them because of their disobedience will be a sign, for them and their descendants, not that God is brutal, but that Israel was unfaithful. 

Look especially at verse 47 which gives us another practice.  “Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity.”  God envisions for them the time of blessing in the Promised Land, and is saying that the time of blessing is when they should serve God joyfully and gladly.  That is a great message for us.  I know life in these United States has its really difficult aspects.  But we also have much blessing.  In the midst of blessing, we too must serve God joyfully and with gladness.  Yet how easy it is to complain and get fussy. 

I recently heard of a church that created a no complaining rule.  How about your church? Will you ban all complaining?  In Philippians 2:14-16, Paul says that we should do everything without grumbling and complaining because we hold out the word of life to the world around us.  Who in your community would want to be part of God’s Kingdom if the your church is known for being complaining and fussy?  Instead, let us serve God joyfully and gladly! Even when life gets tough, even when people tick us off.  Let’s be joyful in our obedience to God.

Sadly, Israel would totally throw their relationship with God in the trash.  They disobeyed so many times, and God allowed the consequences of their disobedience to fully impact them.  This happened periodically in the nation in small ways throughout their history, but the disobedience got so bad at that eventually, he allowed them to be defeated by foreign enemies and re-enslaved in those foreign lands.  Israel felt the divinely imposed disaster of the curse.

Look at Deuteronomy 28:68. That’s re-enslavement happened to Israel.  What we see, then, is that there is a side to this covenant that is conditional.  It is an If-Then statement.  If you obey, then you will be blessed.  If you disobey, then you will be cursed, and we see that throughout these chapters.  But there is also a side of the covenant that is unconditional.  Fast-forward with me through the centuries.  As I mentioned, Israel disobeyed and God allowed them to be captured and re-enslaved.  But God is faithful and forgiving.  Amazingly so.

One of Israel’s prophets, Zephaniah, depicts this.  In Zephaniah 3, God, after all that pain of Israel’s unfaithfulness and exile, comes back to them with a vision of grace and blessing for Israel.

“Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel!  Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Amazing, God’s faithfulness to Israel!  But how does this connect with the New Testament?

We are not Israel, and we are not under this covenant.  So first we must ask, what did this mean to them?  God faithfully loved and provided for Israel, he rescued them from slavery and set them on a path of freedom, gave them a land of their own, and promised to bless them if they obeyed.

Next we seek the underlying principle: When we obey God, we are following the best possible way to live.  This is not a promise of a perfect life, as if there will be no trials and struggles and difficulties for those who obey God.  Sometimes following God will make life harder. Think of those Christians around the world who are persecuted for following Jesus.  Think of the fact that following God means he asks us to practice self-control that we sometimes don’t want to use.  God calls us to restrain our lusts and desires, and not just indulge them, and that can be hard.  Clearly, God’s desires in all these blessings and curses is that he wants his people to experience blessing and he wants them to avoid curses!  He wants his people to have the best life possible.  So there is a sense in which he wants to entice them with a glorious vision of the blessed life, and he wants to caution them with a vision of the pain of the cursed life.  God wants to protect his people.

Finally how can we Christians apply this to our lives? Obedience starts with choosing to trust in and follow the way of Jesus.  His grace has forgiven all our sin.  But we don’t abuse his grace.  Instead we choose to obey.

Jesus taught us in John 14:15-24, “If you love me, keep my commands.” Paul likewise taught us in Titus 2:11-15, “God’s grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness, and to live holy lives.”

In another place Jesus also says, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Following the way of Jesus takes practice.  Self discipline.  One of my children is taking guitar class at school, and it is hard when you are first starting out to make your fingers work the strings.  In guitar class he is not saying “this yoke is easy and burden light.”  But ask me about how he uses the controller for his Xbox video games.  He has practiced that a lot, and his fingers fly over the controls with ease.

We can and should live a well-practiced life.  Practices or habits help us follow the way of Jesus.  They help us obey and live the life he desires for us. 

Learning God’s heart [Should Christians Observe the Old Testament Law – Deuteronomy 21-25, part 5]

1 Feb
Image result for god's heart

Hey Christians, how do you feel about the Old Testament? Often we Christians find the New Testament to be relevant and easily applicable to our lives, while the Old Testament is foreign, difficult, often boring and long. All those laws, some of which seem bizarre or even wrong. They can leave us with a feeling that the Old Testament is utterly irrelevant for us. So let me say very clearly: The Old Testament matters to New Testament Christians! In this series of posts we have been learning David Dorsey’s four-step method that guides Christians to apply every OT Law to our lives. Finally, we come to step 4: How can we apply a law’s theological principle to our lives?  So if you haven’t read the four previous posts in this series, please go back and read them first: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

One law we’ve talked about is when God tells the people to build parapets, walls, around their roofs. In the previous posts you can read how to filter that law through Dorsey’s first three steps. When we did that, in Step 3 we saw that God has a heart for people to practice safety.  While we Christians are not going to make new laws about this, Dorsey’s Step 4 guides us in how we can apply the principle based on God’s heart.  You see God’s heart for reflected in all sorts of safety rules and regulations that just make sense.  Wear your seat belt when riding in a car.  Use smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in your homes.  We could go on and on about guiderails, airbags, and sprinkler systems.  But know that when we are applying these principles, we Christians are not making new laws for the church or for disciples of Jesus.  Sure, our nation might have laws for the common good, and those we must obey, but just because we understand God’s heart doesn’t mean we are to make new laws. 

Instead we can learn God’s heart and apply it to our own lives, without making a law that is binding on others.  The difficulty that Christians have had with this process, though, is that many of the OT Laws have been wrongly applied for a long time, to the point where they seem to be Christian New Covenant standards. 

I’ve heard it said many times, for example, “Christians should not charge interest to other Christians.”   That is clearly what God says in the Old Testament in his covenant with Israel.  Israelites were not to charge interest any other Israelites.  That was part of God’s covenant for them.  It is not for us. 

So what was is for us?  The New Testament, which is God’s covenant with the church. So we have to ask is there any place that the New Testament talks about charging interest?  I encourage you to search the NT for yourself.

If the NT does not ban us from charging interest of our Christian brothers and sisters, then how do we apply this OT law?

We can learn the principle behind the OT rule, and seek to apply it to our lives.  What do we see of God’s heart in this law about interest?  There are potentially a number of ideas: Christians should practice love, care, kindness, and generosity.  We see God asking us to trust him rather than the ability to make money.  We see him saying, trust your brothers to pay you back, to treat you well.  That leads to a key question which will help us apply the principle: how can we express generosity to others?

We can choose to make a personal decision to not charge interest.  But if we do so, we must be very careful not to think of it as the best choice, and everyone else should do it as well, and get self-righteous about it, as if we are more spiritual, more committed to God than others.  We can even start to think that everyone else is wrong or sinful if they charge interest.  And then we have moved far away from God’s heart.  We must stay humble.

Through this process, Christians can learn about God from every single OT Law, while at the same time, clearly realizing that we are not bound to follow the letter of that law.  But don’t be discouraged…you don’t need to do this three-step for every law to be a good Christian.

God loves roof fences? [Should Christians Observe the Old Testament Law – Deuteronomy 21-25, part 4]

31 Jan

See the roof fence in this picture? It’s called a parapet. Did you know that God’s heart beats for parapets? Or does it? Does God care about that kind of thing? What does God’s heart beat for?

Do you know God’s heart? What makes God’s heart beat? Even in ancient laws created for the people of Israel over 3000 years ago, laws that might seem bizarre or even wrong upon first reading, we can and should find God’s heart under-girding those laws.

In this series of posts, we’re looking into how Christians can interact with the Old Testament Law. After introducing this topic in part 1, we began applying David Dorsey’s four steps that a Christian can use to interpret and apply every Old Testament Law. Step 1 was to remember that this law is not for us. Step 2 invites the Christian to do an investigation into the historical, cultural situation of the Israelites, so as to understand better what that law meant to them. Once we do the historical work, we arrive at Step 3, and that is to answer the question: What is the theological significance of this law?  In other words, what does that law show us about God’s heart?  Here we have to do a bit of creative thinking.  It can be easy to get way too literal. 

We’ve been referring to Deuteronomy 22:5 throughout this series of posts. There God says that it is detestable for women to wear men’s clothing, and for men to wear women’s clothing. Step 1 reminds us that this law is not for us. Step 2 revealed that Canaanite worship including cross-dressing, and God very much wanted Israel to steer clear of anything remotely connected to false worship. Now in Step 3, what does this reveal to us about God’s heart?

We could simply say, it reveals to us that God really wants men to wear only men’s clothing, and women to want only women’s clothing. But as I said before, that misses the heart of what he was hoping to accomplish in the lives of the Israelites.  Instead, what he really wanted was for them to remain faithful to him, worshiping him, and not getting mixed up in pagan religious practices.  His heart was for their purity and faithfulness to him. 

And that heart is something that we can carry over to our lives. 

Let’s try this method out with another law.  A few verses after the cross-dressing law, in Deuteronomy 22:8, God requires the Israelites to build parapets around their roofs.  Step 1 puts us in the right frame of mind: this law is not for us. Step 2, what it meant to them was that most dwellings in ancient Israel were built with flat roofs, and the people often used them as living space.  In the evening they would sleep there to get out of the sweltering heat inside.  As you can imagine, a flat roof is dangerous, especially for kids, and other accident prone people, because you can easily fall off the roof.  So the remedy is to build a fence around the roof, a barrier to keep people from falling off.  Was God concerned about fence building?  No.  He was concerned about their safety.  His heart was for the health and life of his people.  He didn’t want needless accidents.   Now that heart is something that we can carry over too.

See how we can learn God’s heart behind what seem to be strange laws? That brings us to step 4.  How can we apply that principle to our lives?  Check back in to part 5 of our series for that!

Hunger is the best pickle? [Should Christians Observe the Old Testament Law – Deuteronomy 21-25, part 3]

30 Jan
Photo by Jonathan Pielmayer on Unsplash

Hunger is the best pickle? Do you know what that means? Have you ever heard that saying before? Don’t google it just yet. Instead you’re going to need to time travel!

Think time travel is not possible? What we’re going to discover today is this if you want to understand the Old Testament Law, you need to travel back in time. Maybe not through a time machine, but certainly through research. While we might never be able to attain 100% understanding of the historical and cultural society of ancient Israel, we can and should learn about it if we want to understand the Old Testament Law. In this five-part blog series on the various laws in Deuteronomy 21-25, we are seeking to learn and apply David Dorsey’s four-step method for how Christians can interact with the Mosaic Law. After getting a firm grasp on Step 1, the idea that these laws were not meant for us, we now go to Step 2 asking, what did the law mean to the people of ancient Israel?  We have to investigate and seek to understand their time period, requiring some work, requiring removing, as much as possible, our contemporary filters, and stepping into the ancient world. We need time travel!

Michael Cosby illustrates this in his book Interpreting Biblical Literature when he mentions the quote above: “Hunger is the best pickle”?  Again, don’t google it yet!  Just look at it on screen.  Do you know what it means?  To understand what it means, it would help to know who said it.

Let me give you a clue: If you lived in the United States 250 years ago, you would probably know who said it, and you would know what it means. 

Ben Franklin said it.  One of our founding fathers, Franklin is famous for his humorous and wise sayings.  You can probably say a few yourself.  A penny saved, is a _____ ______?  But what about this one? “Hunger is the best pickle?”  What in the world is he talking about?

To understand what Franklin was talking about it would be really helpful to know something of the era that he lived in.  What about hunger and pickles is significant in the world of 1750s America?  Actually, we have a reference point right here in the county I live in, Lancaster, PA, in 2019.  If you live here, or if you have ever been here, you might have eaten at Isaac’s restaurants. What do they serve before the meal?  Little bowls of pickles, and pickled vegetables.  Most restaurants in our day and age, however, and most people in their homes, do not serve pickles as an appetizer.  Isaac’s does.  What you need to know to understand Franklin’s saying “Hunger is the best pickle” is that in his day and age in the American colonies that would become the USA, it was common practice for pickles to be served as an appetizer.  And what is the purpose of an appetizer?  To increase your appetite for the meal!  Now is the saying starting to make sense? 

Hunger, Franklin is saying, is the best appetizer!  He is kinda making fun of the whole practice of appetizers.  But you can’t know that unless you do a little work to understand Franklin’s time and culture. 

This practice of cultural investigation happens in our world today regularly.  When Michelle and I, and our son Connor, visited Michelle’s sister and brother-in-law and their family in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016, I experienced it.  My brother-in-law is the pastor of an international church there, and he asked me to speak, which was quite an honor.  I decided to adapt a sermon that I had preached here.  There was no way I could preach that sermon as is, even though I was preaching to Christians there just as I did here.  There, many of the people in the congregation are not from America.  In fact, they have 25 different nationalities in their congregation, speaking 40 different languages!  So I had to go through the sermon and remove a bunch of references to American or Lancastrian culture that they would not understand.  After the sermon, I got talking to an Iranian Christian, and our conversation eventually made its way to our cultural differences.  I told him that I had changed the sermon.  He asked me to give him an example of a change, to see if he could understand it.

I told him one, and I want to see if you can understand it.  Here’s what I said to him, “at one point in the sermon, I was talking about how it seems to me that the Apostle Paul is going down a bunny trail.”

Do I have to explain to you what a bunny trail is?  Nope.  You know it.  First of all, you are likely very familiar with rabbits.  You might have rabbits in your yard, and you might even have bunny trails in your yard.  You can picture it in your head.  When rabbits start hopping away from a perceived threat, they speedily dart around all over the place.  That is the literal depiction of bunny trails.  But you are also familiar with the figurative use of the concept.  Just like bunnies dart all over the place, we describe people who in their flow of thought or talk, get off track from the main idea, as going down a bunny trail.  If you are in school, you might have a teacher who loves to go down bunny trails.  Sometimes, students pick up on this, and try to get the teacher off track!  When I am talking about that kind of teacher, even though I am using the phrase “going down a bunny trail”, you know that I am no longer talking about actual bunnies and hopping.  Without having to explain all that to you, you have already made the jump from the literal image to the figurative application.  

Why am I saying all this about pickles and bunnies?  Because when we are trying to understand these Old Testament Laws, our first step is to remember that they are not for us, and our second step is that we have to figure out what they meant to the Israelites in their day and age and their culture! 

Let me give an illustration of this.  In part 1 of this series, I referred to Deuteronomy 22:5, the law that men should not wear women’s clothing, and women should not wear men’s clothing.  How should Christians interact this law?  It would be wrong for us to simply say, “Ok, I guess we Christians have follow that law,” because Dorsey’s Step One is “that law is not for us!”  Because it is not for us, we go to Step Two and ask what it meant to the ancient Israelites who were under a treaty and covenant with God.  This is when the historical work must happen.  What we find out when we do a bit of digging into their culture is that some of the pagan religions practiced by the people around them, the Canaanites, would sometimes cross-dress in their worship to false gods.  As we have seen, God wants Israel to have nothing to do with pagan religion.  His law for them, therefore, is no cross-dressing.  But take notice: God prohibits Israel from cross-dressing, not because God wants to create rules and regulations about what men and women wear, or because he is somehow preserving gender roles, but because he doesn’t want them to associate with pagan practices! 

If we Christians look at this law using our contemporary filter, we could easily believe that it tells us about how God feels about gender roles. We could very easily view a discussion that is happening now in our culture and apply it to Israel in a way God never intended.  That is dangerous.  If we did that, it would be called eisegesis.  That means “putting something into the text” that wasn’t originally there.  Instead we should practicing exegesis, which means “out of the text.”  That is when we do the work of discovering the message that comes out of the text.  In other words, we seek to answer, “What is the author trying to communicate to the original audience?”  That information is what we should be looking for.  That takes work sometimes, an investigation into the historical and cultural situation occurring when it was original written. The work, the investigation is worth it.

When we Christians seek to interact with each OT Law, after reminding ourselves of Step 1, that the law is not for us, we then move to Step 2, seeking to determine the historical and cultural situation that led to the creation of that law. After Step 2, we will be ready to proceed to Step 3, which we look at next in part 4 of our series.

The OT Law is not for us [Should Christians Observe the Old Testament Law – Deuteronomy 21-25, part 2]

29 Jan
https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/ten-commandments-stone-tablets.jpg

Are Christians supposed to follows the laws found in the Old Testament? In part 1 of this series on the various in Deuteronomy 21-25, we saw that there are some very curious and bizarre laws, leaving us wondering why God would want his people to observe those laws.  Thinking about all the laws in the Old Testament and how they might apply today, why do Christians follow some and not others?  In part 1, I introduced David Dorsey’s four-part method which helps Christians understand every law in the Old Testament.  Today we look at Step 1.

Step 1: This law is not for us.  This law is part of God’s covenant with the ancient Israelites.  We are not them.  We are Christians, part of the body of Christ, the church, and we are under a different covenant with God.  Our covenant is called the new covenant. 

During worship at Faith Church on most communion Sundays I read from 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. In this text, written by one of Jesus’ earliest followers, Paul, we find Paul reflecting on Jesus’ words to the disciples at their last supper together before Jesus was arrested and crucified.

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Did you hear that?  Jesus was saying that through his blood shed for us on the cross he was enacting a new covenant.  That means that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we, his disciples, his church, are in a new covenant relationship or agreement or treaty with God through him. 

What is that New Covenant?  The book of Hebrews talks about it a bit more, and I think it is important that we read this.  Turn to Hebrews 8:6, where we are jumping into the middle of a longer discussion about Jesus’ role as priest and how he compares or contrasts with the priests of Israel who were under the Old Covenant.  I would encourage you to read Hebrews chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10 at some point. But before going any further with this post, please quickly glance through Hebrews 8:6-13.

The New Covenant is God’s agreement to transform our lives, as we believe in and follow him, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  What that means is that we have a whole new agreement with God.  As the writer of Hebrews clearly says in 8:13, the Old Covenant is obsolete.  It does not apply to us.  We Christians need to hear that clearly.  We are not bound by the terms of the Old Covenant.  Any and every law in the Old Testament is obsolete for us.  The Old Covenant was in force for Israel, until Jesus died and rose again.  There is not a single law in the Old Testament that we have to follow, simply because it is in the Old Testament.  We follow the terms of the New Covenant, which is the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament. 

Normally, when Christians here this, their first reaction is, “Well, yeah, that’s pretty much what we were always taught.  What’s the big deal?”  But then they start thinking about it a bit more.  They remember that I said above, “There is not a single law in the Old Testament that Christians have to follow.” 

They think, “Wait, you don’t mean the Ten Commandments, right? We certainly have to follow them.”  And I respond, just as Dr. Dorsey said, that the Ten Commandments were part of God’s covenant with Israel.  We do not have to follow them.  We are not bound by the Old Covenant.  Usually people hearing this are shocked at this point, still not sure if I’m serious.  But I’m serious.  Hebrews 8:13 leaves no wiggle room. The old is obsolete.  And that goes for every single part of the old. 

So am I saying that it is okay to murder or steal or lie, to break the Ten Commandments?  No, I am not saying that.  Here’s why: nine of the Ten Commandments are reaffirmed in the New Testament!  There is one that is not, though.  You know which one?  Sabbath.  Jesus actually gets into an argument with the Pharisees about the Sabbath Law.  He says that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for Sabbath.  Jesus’ point is that, even for Israel, God never intended Sabbath to be some rigid rule that he wanted his people to follow.  Yes, there were some clear specifics, like no working from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. But at the heart of the law was God’s desire for Israel to rest and trust in him.

Christians have no comparable Sabbath law.  If we say that Sunday is the new Sabbath, we are misinterpreting God’s word.  Therefore it was wrong for Christians, now and in the past, to say that it was sinful for Christians to work on Sundays.  If a person chooses not to work on Sunday, that is certainly up to them.  But Christians should not be judging or condemning one another for working on Sunday.  Many simply have job schedules that require Sunday work.  Further, the same goes for doing the laundry or mowing the grass on Sundays.  For some, doing those chores is actually restful. 

So when it comes to any Old Testament law, we simply have to go back to Dr. Dorsey’s Step 1, that every single one of the Old Testament laws are not for us.  They were, however, part of God’s covenant with Israel.  So no matter what rule you are reading about, parapets on roofs, tithing, charging interest, any of the 600+ laws in the OT, those rules are not part of our new covenant simply because they exist in the Old covenant. What Dr. Dorsey says, then, is that we can’t leave it there.  After getting a firm grasp on the idea that these laws were not meant for us, we now go to Step 2. More on that in our next post.