Tag Archives: God’s heart

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.

Can we learn God’s heart from a ritual for a dead body? [Crime & Punishment – Deuteronomy 21, part 3]

16 Jan
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Imagine the scene. In ancient Israel, a murdered body is found in a field, and no one knows who committed the crime. Who should deal with the body, and how does God want the people to deal with the blood guilt? In this series we’ve been exploring the fascinating ritual God commands the people to follow. Read part 1 and part 2, covering verses 1-5, and the beginning of the ritual. What happens then in verses 6-9 is the remainder of the ceremony. Thus far, the nearby towns have measured the distance from the body to their towns. The closest town has jurisdiction, and the elders from that town must take a young heifer to a wadi with a flowing stream, and there they break the neck of the heifer with priests observing them. The elders, then, ritually wash their hands over the dead heifer and they recite a prayer to God declaring on behalf of the people that they are innocent, and they ask God to consider them now atoned for. 

This ceremony has led to some amazing speculation as to what was going on with all these unique features.  Ancient Rabbis, one scholar reports, said that “the ceremony [was] an act of punitive magic. A swarm of worms from the heifer finds the killer and seizes him so that the authorities can bring him to justice; [another Rabbi said] the worms themselves kill him.”[1]  Notice that the text says nothing about these magical worms!

So what is the meaning of the wadi with the stream, the heifer, the neck breaking and the hand-washing?  There are numerous views, and one scholar I listed above suggests that we should see the ritual “as a reenactment of the murder…, since it…suggests a reasonable explanation of why it must take place at a barren wadi: that is, so that the imitation blood guilt is kept far from civilization. Nevertheless,” the scholar says, “this view is far from certain.”[2]

But what is certain, is what happens at the end of the ritual.  The prayer.  By going through this ritual, verse 9 tells us, the people will have purged themselves and the land of guilt from bloodshed, declaring that they are innocent, and they are declared as having done what was right in God’s eyes. 

Fascinating ritual, isn’t it?  It is a unique section of Scripture, but what does it matter to us?  What do we see of God’s heart in this passage? 

Through it all, we see God’s heart for purity.  Even when a crime is committed and though they don’t know who the guilty party is, Israel still needs to atone for it.  Purity in the land, and purity in his people is vital before God.  Tomorrow we add to this theme in part 4 as we have two more illustrations of crime and punishment, through which we will learn more about God’s heart.


[1] Tigay, Jeffrey H. Deuteronomy. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996. Print. The JPS Torah Commentary.

[2] Ibid.

Justice [God’s heart for good government, part 2]

13 Nov

Imagine you were creating a new nation, and you were responsible for writing a document that would become the guiding principles for this whole new society.  What would you include?  If you could narrow it down to just a few key ideas, what is necessary?  What is the basis of good governance?

As we saw yesterday in the first post of this series on Deuteronomy 16:18-20 and 17:8-20, God’s heart for Israel was to have good governance, starting with the people choosing wise local judges.  But how were these judges to handle their position? Look at chapter 16, verses 19-20, and we see that justice is to be primary.  The New International Version, and many other versions of the Bible translate the first phrase as, “do not pervert justice.”  I prefer the New American Standard, which translates the phrase, “do not distort justice.”  The Hebrew word here can be translated, “to stretch out” or “twist”. It is an image of changing something into what it was not meant to be. 

God wants governance where justice is clear and unchanged.  But what does that look like?  Thankfully he gives the people some examples.

First in verse 19, he says, “Do not show partiality.”  Who normally receives partiality?  Think about our day and age.  White people. Rich people.  The principle is clear.  No matter who you are, you should be treated the same. Justice is impartial

Next he says, “Do not accept bribes.”  Who do bribes favor?  Those with the ability to pay them.  The rich. Bribes also favor those in positions of power who can receive the bribes, usually government officials.  Justice should not be for sale.

He further explains this in verse 19 saying, “bribes blind the eyes of the wise and twist the words of the righteous.”  That’s an accurate image.  One scholar I read said that this could also be translated, “bribes subvert the cause of those who are in the right.”  Bribes do that.  They take a situation that is supposed to be based on justice and righteousness and twist it, and subvert it, making it unjust. 

Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve had the opportunity to give a bribe?  I have, in places like Jamaica and Guyana.  Bribes were/are a part of their culture.  Go to the DMV, for example, and unless you wanted to wait in line forever, you would give a bribe.  Or what if you get stopped by the police, but you weren’t doing anything wrong?  You knew what they were looking for.  Give them a bribe and you have an easy day.  Don’t offer a bribe, and you get a ticket for a false violation.

The Lord repeats, therefore, his heart for just governance in verse 20, “Follow justice and justice alone.” So what is justice?  He has already illustrated it two ways: it is not showing partiality, and it is not taking bribes.  But what about the word itself? In these verses, there are actually two words for “justice.”  Let’s look at both.

In verse 19, he uses a word which refers to a just decision in an individual case.But in verse 20, he uses a word which is the abstract quality of justice – what is right, often translated “righteousness.”

There is a famous verse, Amos 5:24, that  includes both words: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

I know the USA is not perfect, but we do believe in justice as the foundation of society.  It is in the last line of our pledge of allegiance. “With liberty and justice for all.” Think about that.  It really matches up nicely with what we just read.

When is the last time you read the Declaration of Independence?  What you’ll find is that justice is all over the place in the text.  A major concern of our founding fathers was that the Colonies were being treated unjustly by the British King and government.  After winning independence, those same founding fathers crafted our Constitution, and the opening sentence, the preamble, says this:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The United States was created on a foundation of justice. 

But remember that what we are reading in Deuteronomy is not God’s covenant with America. It is God’s covenant with the ancient people of Israel.  God doesn’t have a covenant with America.  But we can learn his heart, his desires for how his people should live. God is saying that justice is the best foundation for society, and so it is best for any nation to make justice the foundation of their land. 

Here in America, ours has been a roller coaster history of trying to live up to the idea of justice for all.  How just was it for Europeans to sail to Native American lands and take possession of the land by force or by unfair purchases?  How just was it for Americans to enslave millions of people from Africa, people who had been ripped from their homeland and shipped perilously to ours?  While we can proud of our American ideal of justice for all, we must also confess there are many ways we have allowed massive injustice to reign. 

That is why God had Israel to set up law courts in all their towns.  Because he knows there will be injustice. There will need to be wise, godly judges who have the authority to bring justice to any situation where there is injustice. 

So in Israel’s local law courts, and in their whole nation, justice rules. Check back in for the remaining posts in this series, as we will look at God’s heart for justice in our world.