(read over the next three days)
(written in 2008, prior to my angioplasty)
We are continuing with societal regulations through Deuteronomy 26 with the ending of Moses' second address. Deuteronomy 27 begins Moses' third address with a command for a renewal of the covenant.
This chapter deals with those who were excluded from the assembly of the Lord, uncleanness in the camp, escaped slaves, prohibition of temple prostitution, lending and charging interest, vows, and eating in a neighbor's field. Just one comment of note here is that in regards to the escaped slaves, the slaves were not Israelites. They were people from other countries who had sought refuge in Israel. The command to not hand them over to their master was not a normal practice in the ancient Near East. Treaties usually included a stipulation that escaped slaves be returned.
This chapter deals with divorce and marriage, pledges, kidnapping, skin diseases, collecting a pledge, paying workers, responsibility for guilt within the family, and treatment of the alien, fatherless, and widow.
This chapter contains a key passage on divorce and remarriage. Divorce was widespread in the ancient Near East, but God hated it (Malachi 2:16). These commands were given to regulate what was already a practice in the culture. A remarriage to a former husband was legal, but it was considered detestable to the LORD. This law discouraged divorce for frivolous reasons. Jesus also interpreted this passage and implied that divorce was not God's ideal solution (Matthew 19:3-9). But divorce does happen, and God is always on the side of the innocent. Please read the background study on Matthew 19 for more information on that subject.
This chapter also shows us that God is compassionate toward the oppressed. (This includes those who have been through difficult divorces. Please read the Matthew 19 post.) Israel was to remember that they were slaves in the land of Egypt, and this should invoke their compassion toward the helpless.
The chapter deals with the prosecution of criminals by judges in order to regulate capital punishment, kindness and fairness to animals, levirate (levir in Latin means "brother-in-law") marriage for the continuation of a family line, stopping a fight, being totally honest in business practices, and the destruction of the Amalakites.
A note on muzzling the oxen in 25:4, Paul quoted this verse in 1 Corinthians 9:9, and it is not meant to imply that God did not care about animals! Paul was saying that if God cares for a working ox, He certainly cares for a human being laboring for the kingdom of God!
In regard to the levirate marriage in 25:5-10, we have already read an example of this with the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38!
Regarding stopping a fight, this is the only example where physical mutilation served as a punishment for an offense. This is contrasted with the ancient Near Eastern practice provided for a wide range of physical mutilations for crimes. For example, in Assyrian law, a man who kissed a woman on the street who was not his wife had his lip cut off with a sword.
This chapter explains the liturgy for two ceremonies to be performed when they entered the Promised Land: the first fruits and the tithe. This first fruits ceremony is not to be confused with the first fruits ceremony that was to be celebrated on a yearly basis (Exodus 23:16-19, 34:26; Leviticus 23:10-11; Numbers 15:18-20). The ceremony here is so beautiful. I can envision the bringing of the first fruits of the new land, and the recounting of the story of Israel from the wandering Aramean, Jacob, who had wandered from southern Canaan to Haran and back (Genesis 25-35), migrated to Egypt (Genesis 46:3-7), married an Aramean woman (Genesis 28:5; 20:16,28), and went from a small nation to a great one (Exodus 1:5; 1:7). It is a recounting of God's faithfulness to His chosen people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. This recounting would lead them to worship before the LORD their God (26:10).
This chapter concludes with a calling forth of a total commitment to the Lord and His commands and a reaffirmation of God's commitment to Israel. It might be called a "ratification" of the covenant between the Lord and Israel covering Israel's responsibilities and the Lord's responsibilities.
This chapter is the beginning of Moses' third address to Israel that will go through 29:1 and discusses the consequences of obedience and disobedience. Moses commanded the Israelites to set up stones with the law on Mount Ebal along with an altar for burnt offerings. He also commanded them to OBEY! It did not do any good to just know the words of the Law. They needed to obey them. This is a great word for us when it comes to the study of the Bible. D.L. Moody said, "The Scriptures were not given to increase our knowledge but to change our lives." The only way to do that is through obedience to it!
The chapter concludes with a series of curses that were to be spoken by the priests and affirmed by the people and followed by an Amen that meant "So be it."
REFLECTION - "Remembering" (2008)
My mind focused on two different passages that have a common theme of remembering.
In Deuteronomy 24, my heart camped on God commanding Israel to be compassionate toward the alien, orphan, and widow by reminding them of their own slavery in the land of Egypt:
But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. (24:18)
You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. (24:22)
I was losing a grip on my compassion for her in the midst of the conversation until God spoke to me very clearly, "Carol, remember when you used to feel paranoid and get frustrated and angry just like this woman? Do you remember the times when you were all alone and defenseless? You had the same reaction this woman is having right now."
This gentle word from the LORD allowed me to put myself in this woman's shoes. I could say, "I can see how you could feel this way. I remember feeling the exact same way in the past. I can begin to understand your fear."
Instead of becoming defensive and angry, all of this came because God simply asked me to "remember" back to a time, not too long ago. How easy it is to forget these things when we are doing well! I could speak words of compassion and love to her because I remembered that I had once been there too. Even though I was FREE from the slavery of it, I still needed to remember what it was like to be there so I could minister healing words of encouragement and hope to her instead of reacting to her. It set a very good direction in our relationship that continues to this day. Remembering is a key part of compassion.
Now, I am called upon to literally have compassion on a friend who is recently widowed, and I cannot even begin to comprehend what that would be like because I have not experienced it, but I can "remember" what it was like to go through a rough period of transition or what it was like to be alone. This helps me to have compassion on her.
Deuteronomy 26 also touched my heart, and I did a little meditation using the "Loyola Method" where I imagined myself in the scene of bringing the basket of first fruits and telling, in front of the LORD my God, the story of my spiritual journey from slavery to freedom.
Doing this helped the Israelites to remember what God had done for them, and it can help us too. What is the history of your relationship with God? Can you find a friend in which you can share your spiritual journey? It may seem awkward to do it, but please try it! It is SO encouraging to do this! This helps to cement your story and to "remember" all that God has done for you.
Do you need to have compassion for someone? Maybe you can remember what it was like to be lost, lonely, afraid, or poor? Does this remembering help you to put yourself in the other person's shoes?
Share your story with God today. I plan on doing this today after I am done with this post. Although the risk is low, my blood clot and/or this procedure tomorrow are potentially life-threatening. I have great peace, but I think it will be really helpful for me to "remember" God and His dealings with me in my "spiritual history" so far.
Another thing about remembering your journey out loud: the devil is overcome by it: "They overcame him (the devil) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death" (Revelation 12:11, NIV).
So, say it out loud and silence his accusations today! I guarantee that you will be encouraged by remembering out loud!
One last thing, there is a wonderful summary of the laws we have just covered in Deuteronomy called the "Major Social Concerns in the Covenant" in the Zondervan's NASB or NIV Study Bible, and I found it online. It is Table 3:
"Major Social Concerns in the Covenant"
It is a valuable conclusion to this section of Deuteronomy.
Lord, Your word is "living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as division of soul and spirit, of both joint and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). Thank You that no part of Scripture is separated from Your character, and we can learn from all of it. I thank You for blessing my heart today in the pages of Deuteronomy, reminding me to "remember" in order to have compassion for others who have been in similar forms of bondage that I may have experienced in the past, to give worship and praise to You for what You have done in my life, to encourage my heart when I am down and facing an uncertain future, or simply to give the devil a good swift kick. You use it all to teach me to love You with more of my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and I thank You for the gift of each and every new day to live for You. I ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.