Deuteronomy 17:14-20

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 17:19 (CSB)

19 It is to remain with him, and he is to read from it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to observe all the words of this instruction, and to do these statutes.

Reflection/Application:

This pericope is concerned with the appointment of a king of Israel. Monarchies are interesting, and especially so here.

  1. It would seem that the monarchy is something positive, or at least something God is intimately involved in. The statement that the king should be someone that “the Lord your God chooses,” suggests that God is playing the key role in deciding who should be king. Therefore it seems hard to imagine that God is not “on board” with the monarchy to begin with.
  2. The king should be an Israelite. The obvious assumption here, I think, is that the king should be someone who knows God, and would be, in theory, someone who would seek to follow God’s law. This seems like a safeguard, to ensure some of the following points, which all hinge on the king being one of God’s people. Heck, even the US requires the President to be a citizen, why would we expect something different for the leader of God’s people?
  3. This king is not to be like the stereotypical king we might think of: grossly wealthy, greedy, and steeped in debauchery. Instead, God provides some guidelines: avoid the amassing of those things that define power and wealth. The message here seems clear: do not become indulgent and become a slave of power and wealth, rather than a follower of God and servant of his people.
  4. The prescription in Deut. 17:18-19 should have been something our founding fathers had instituted! But, just like Israel failed to adhere to it, I’m sure the US would have failed as well. But again, this was a command that was designed to keep the king in touch, and in line, with God. Honestly, we as believers would be well to put a variation of this in practice in our own lives: after all, do we “observe all the words of this instruction, and do these statutes”? Are we impressed by, and with, God’s word, and is it informing and molding all of our decisions? Kings are people just like us: children of God, and his word is the same life giving source for them as it is for us.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for a design to pass your rule through those you appoint. We have mucked it up, as usual. And I am part of the problem! I vote for who I think might serve me best, which isn’t always the person who will serve you best. I pray for us to make sound decisions in our leadership, at all levels, so that our nation might be led to you, rather than away from you like it has been for so long. Amen.

Deuteronomy 17:8-13

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 17:11 (CSB)

11 You must abide by the instruction they give you and the verdict they announce to you. Do not turn to the right or the left from the decision they declare to you.

Reflection/Application:

This passage continues from the previous, and from the third pericope previous. What is described here is a method of judiciary hierarchy, and a way that justice can be adjudicated in Israel.

We might be tempted to wonder why a system of courts would be needed in a nation of God’s people, led directly by God; shouldn’t it be straightforward to implement God’s law and commands? Well, we could probably say the same thing about any number of theological issues, many of which have differing interpretations between denominations. Yet these varying theological stances are all supposedly based upon the word of God, and simply cannot mean some of these diametrically opposed stances simultaneously. So if we, as the church, cannot “get” the word of God, the most studied book in history, why would we think every local level court would be able to handle every case they might have?

Instead, God puts in place a system that allows for the majority of cases to be handled at the local, or lower, levels, and only those that prove too difficult to be moved on to the next higher court, eventually culminating at the highest court. And when the highest court makes a decision, as the judicial voice of God, it is settled.

Still the goal of God here is to save us: to “purge the evil”. A judicial system that ensures justice, as a reflection of God’s justice, is a part of that goal.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for creating a model for us in this judicial system that reflects your desire for justice. Unlike you, we are flawed, sinful people, and we need these safeguards and systems to protect the innocent and thwart those that would choose to abuse others. I pray for our nation to return to you, and your principles of justice. Amen.

Deuteronomy 17:2-7

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 17:7 (CSB)

7 The witnesses’ hands are to be the first in putting him to death, and after that, the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from you.

Reflection/Application:

Before addressing what would probably be the most popular objection to this passage, I would like to note a few interesting things.

  1. It is worthwhile to note that the offender is located in a town which God has given the Israelites. And they are breaking the covenant established between God and them. And that violation is not trivial, but it is a rejection of God as God, through the worship of false gods.
  2. Nothing here is rash. The offense is to be “investigated thoroughly”. The “you” in Deut. 17:4 must refer to the Israelites as a whole, so this is a community endeavor, not an individual witch hunt or vendetta.
  3. God has built in a system of protecting his people, and having a check in place to mitigate false accusations and condemnations. Deut. 17:6 outlines how there must be testimony by multiple witnesses. And, those witnesses are to be the ones who lead in the execution.
  4. Just as the community as a whole is responsible for investigating, it is also responsible for carrying out the punishment. How much more effective would our message be if we were to not just speak against sin, but also battle and destroy it? There is an investment here that we can sometimes lack.

So the obvious objection today would be the idea of executing someone for a different belief system. Obviously we do not stone people for being Muslim, Hindu, or even atheist, nor should we suggest or condone such behavior. But this does not mean that during a time when God dwelt among his people, in a manner such as a king, that the penalty outlined here would not be appropriate. To worship false gods as a member of God’s people, in God’s kingdom, was unacceptable. Just as nations consider treason a major crime, carrying maximum penalties, why wouldn’t God consider this similar, and thus carrying a similar penalty? And we must also remember what happens when God’s own people worship false gods here, the stakes are high: not only do the Israelites fall away from God, but non-Israelites never see a picture of the real God among his people.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for providing for us, for placing us amidst your creation, and for sustaining us. I do a bad job of honoring you, and I am sorry. I often think of you only as the loving god, one that I morph into a push-over sometimes, and can forget about honoring you and your power. Help me to know the full you, as much as I can, and convey you to the world. Amen.

Deuteronomy 16:21-17:1

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 16:21–22 (CSB)

21 “Do not set up an Asherah of any kind of wood next to the altar you will build for the Lord your God, 22 and do not set up a sacred pillar; the Lord your God hates them.

Reflection/Application:

After touching on justice among the Israelites, and the appointment of officials to ensure the administration of it, Moses now shifts to address a spiritual justice of sorts. I think there are two points made here.

  1. Nothing is equal to God, or even comes close to him. The command about erecting an Asherah or pillar is not about aesthetics of the altar, or even some sort of negative trait inherent to a pole or pillar itself. The issue is what these items represented: false gods. The issue is that nothing should be equivalent to God in our lives, in our worship. To set anything alongside God suggests that we think God is lacking somehow, and this other god will somehow complement or complete him. No wonder God “hates them”!
  2. Nor does God need anything to elevate him. I do not know for sure what the pillar referred to in Deut. 16:22 is, but the image that comes to my mind is a pillar that the altar to God would be placed upon… in other words, some structure that would elevate God further. Now God should be worshipped, absolutely, but God does not need us to make him worthy of that worship by placing him on a pillar… God is worthy of worship in and of himself! So just as no false god can complement God by being alongside him, no false idol can raise God to be better than he already is.
  3. Ok, three points… if our worship is not in line with how it is prescribed by God, it is detestable. I think we touched on the “defect” in an animal thing before, and I still do not think it is as much about the animal having a “flaw” as much as it is giving up what we prize the most. If God is not worthy of our best, then who is? When we withhold our most prized possessions, which are leased to us by the way, from God, then we are actually saying that we are more deserving than he is… we worship ourselves, we make ourselves that false god that we set next to, or even above, God.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for being the only, perfect, awesome God! I am sorry for putting my idols alongside you, and sometimes even placing them ahead of you. I pray for a heart that worships only you Lord, above all else, and for you alone. Amen.

Deuteronomy 16:18-20

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 16:19 (CSB)

19 Do not deny justice or show partiality to anyone. Do not accept a bribe, for it blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.

Reflection/Application:

The chapter shifts gears here, as Moses moves from the observance of festivals to outlining a system of judges for Israel as they enter Canaan.

The high level view of this system is the establishment of “judges and officials” in all the towns that the Israelites will settle in Canaan. These judges “are to judge the people with righteous judgment,” so it seems clear that they would be Israelites, and obviously those capable of making “righteous” decisions.

I find Deut. 16:19 to be the most interesting of the three verses in this pericope.

First, we as Christians, just as the Israelites, should be just to all people, not just believers, not just our friends, or any other subgroup that we might choose. And isn’t this the model God established for us? Christ died for all people, so that anyone might be saved through him. Further, God’s justice is perfect, and perfectly applied to all. We should not confuse righteous consequences for injustice. It is a false argument to say that since people will be lost and spend eternity separated from God, that God is somehow unjust.

Second, the effects of accepting a bribe are nasty. Wisdom is made blind, and righteousness is twisted by it. When someone is bought they no longer see the truth, the see their payoff. When someone is bought their judgment is no longer righteous, it stands on greed. We recognize it in our politics today, and God warned about it thousands of years ago.

And the result of pursuing only justice? The Israelites take and live in Canaan, the land that God is giving them. And for us, we would be wise to follow the same examples, and elect those that pursue justice alone, and not some perverted form of it, but true justice, based upon God’s ways.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for guidance in establishing our judges and officials: our governments. I pray that we as a nation would seek officials that represent a pursuit of true justice, and justice alone, and that justice is based upon you and your word. Amen.

Deuteronomy 16:13-17

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 16:17 (CSB)

17 Everyone must appear with a gift suited to his means, according to the blessing the Lord your God has given you.

Reflection/Application:

This pericope contains the overview for the third and final festival outlined here, as well as a summary of the three.

The final festival, the “Festival of Shelters”, occurs at the close of the farming season, when all the crops have been harvested. Very similar to the previous Festival of Weeks, this festival is to be a celebration in recognition of God’s provision. One thing I think is neat, is how Deut. 16:15 suggests this is a rejoicing of a future event, of what God will do: “because the Lord will bless you […], and you will have abundant joy.” We should always have a gratitude for what God has already done for us, and what he is currently doing for us, but we also should be thankful for the future blessing he will be showering upon us!

The final two verses are a summation of the three festivals. And the take away here is this: everyone is to come before God, with an offering in line with his means and in line with what God has blessed him with. And when we appear before God, to offer back to him according to what he has given to us, nobody should be empty handed. Think about that: all of us have been blessed with something! What a great truth that no matter how bad we might think things are, we are blessed by God.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for blessing us. We may not think we are, because we can be so blind and broken, jaded and narcissistic, but we are blessed. I pray for a grateful heart, and thankful attitude, which glorifies and praises you. Amen.

Deuteronomy 16:9-12

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 16:10 (CSB)

10 You are to celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the Lord your God with a freewill offering that you give in proportion to how the Lord your God has blessed you.

Reflection/Application:

The Festival Weeks is the second festival outlined here, after the Passover festival. There is not a lot to the description of the festival, as the passage is only four verses, but there a couple interesting things to note.

  1. The offering here is a “freewill offering”. This is an offering without a specified amount, or a prescribed animal, to offer to God, but instead it is an offering freely given by the individual. Exodus 35:29 describes the freewill offering as something given back to the Lord in thanks for all he has done for us. And the offering is to be “in proportion to how the Lord your God has blessed you.” This appears to be taken in a literal sense, based upon the provision of wealth, livestock, or crops.
  2. This is to be a celebration, a thanks giving. And it should be enjoyed and participated by all. We see in Deut. 16:11 that even children, slaves, and aliens, among others, are included. We should not keep our thanks and praise of God to ourselves, shrouded, it should be shared and shouted to all.

And again, just as Passover, this is a festival to serve as a reminder of God’s provision for his people. Deut. 16:12 reminds the Israelites that they “were slaves in Egypt.” And it reminds us that we were slaves to sin. But God rescued us all.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your provision. I don’t deserve your blessing, yet you bless. I don’t deserve your gifts, yet you give. I don’t deserve your salvation, yet you save. I want to return to you what is already yours, what you’ve given to me, in a huge proportion, to honor and praise you. Help me to put you first and honor you. Amen.