Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Daily Bread for Mar 5, Dt 17-20

Today’s reading is Dt 17-20.

God continues to review and embellish the guidelines for His children. Much of this was covered in Exodus and Leviticus but this time we see more detail. God is establishing tenets of judicial & social order, worship, and cultural identity. A system of judges is prescribed (Dt 17:8-13). A method to appoint a king is detailed albeit for a time in the future. (Dt 17:14-20). Israel’s king will follow God’s law rather than go the way of worldly kings who enforce their own, man-made laws.

With the judicial/governmental/religious structure in place, Dt 18 turns to practical living and how God’s people will navigate the pitfalls of daily life. The priests and Levites will be provided for by the communities in which they live (Dt 18:1-7). All ungodly or anti-godly behavior will be most severely punished by the community (Dt 18:9-14). No one will be allowed to speak for God but Himself and those He succinctly appoints (Dt 18:15-22). Cities of refuge will be provided so that murderers and manslayers may get a fair hearing (Dt 19:1-13). All land is given by God; no one may alter the boundaries of the area they’re given (Dt:19:14). The courts will function based on the words of more than one witness with the judges accountable for a fair hearing. Liars will be dealt with harshly (Dt 19:15-21).

There are guidelines for warfare established. They include the promise that God will give the victory regardless of the odds or size of the opposing army (Dt 20:1-4). This is so surely guaranteed, that a list of reasons some warriors can remain behind is given, making Israel’s army even smaller (Dt 20:5-9) thus making it clear that God is the one who wins the battle, not the size or strategy of the army. The people living in the conquered cities are to be either subdued or executed (Dt 20:10-18). Israel is not to destroy trees that are sources of food as they are a provision from the Lord (Dt 20:19-20). Their fruit will be a reminder that God has given them the land.

All these guidelines will be important to Israel as they settle into their new home and begin lives as a royal priesthood, serving as examples to the entire world of what holy living should be like. All the while, God is revealing His character and nature, rolling out the templates He will use in redeeming lost souls, structuring His Church and its ministry in a fallen world.

We have the advantage of hindsight. The Jews are unaware of the bigger picture. They're hearing these things for the first time, absorbing the parts they are given, embracing - in faith - the promise of things yet to come. Like children, they will do well at times, and stumble and fall at others. God has not yet revealed the full plan of redemptive history. It is enough, at this time, that His people are obedient. It is not necessary for them to know why only that God "is" and has called them to do some things.

We would do well to learn from them. The Jews are faithful for no other reason than He is God. Yet sometimes they demonstrate imperfection and at others, breath-taking disobedience. Through it all, God remains a constant presence, a consistent discipline, a fount of grace and mercy, bringing His children, step by step, into the fullness of His promise.

He asks the same of us -- not our perfection, but our desire to come closer, to know Him better. He asks us to repent when we stumble but never expects us to walk perfectly without stumbling. The Law is there to show us the same thing it showed the Jews; we are unable to avoid stumbling. We all need a savior.  With the benefit and blessing of the full counsel of Scripture, it is easy for us to see that Christ is our only savior. He is the only acceptable perfection for God's holy standards. In Him, we are being perfected...but, like the Jews, each of us has a way to go.

Daily Bread for Mar 4, Dt 14-16

Today's readings are Dt 14-16.

Dt 14:1-21 reminds God's people that they are to be set apart from the world. They are not to engage in pagan cultic practices like ritual cutting or shaving (Dt 14:1). This is not a warning against routine shaving. Instead, it’s a caution against ungodly worship practices. Similarly, Israel’s use of animals as a food source was to be by God's clear and detailed instructions. This is mandated not so much as a control on their diets or because there was anything evil about the prohibited animals, but as a demonstration of loyalty and obedience to Him (Dt 14:3-21). 

The Jews’ reverence for God and their gratefulness to Him will manifest itself in their tithes, offerings and their support of the priests who serve Him (Dt 14:23-29). The tithes are also an acknowledgment that all they have has come from Him. As such, the very first of their crops and livestock are to be devoted to Him.

Dt 15:1-6 puts on display the freedom God’s people have. All slaves and debts will be released every seven years. This periodic emancipation shows that only God permanently owns His people. They are eternally indebted to no one other than Him. Anything yoking them to another man or woman will be declared null and void by God’s commandment every seven years. In a broader application of the same principle, as a nation, Israel may lend to other countries but may not borrow from them.  Like the individual people, the nation is to be indebted only to God.

Dt 15:7-11 tells us God's chosen people will have concern for the poor and oppressed. This is more than an encouragement for His people to be altruistic. It is an expression of the gift of grace God gives His people. They are to distribute the same type of grace to people who receive little or no consideration or compassion from the world. God's people will be set apart by their willingness to show grace to the poor.

But, who are the poor? Later in Scripture, we will see that "the poor" are not all inclusive of people without assets or means. Proverbs will frequently speak of the sluggard who is not worthy of help because he refuses to work. Even further on, we will hear that the one who does not work does not eat. With these exceptions in mind, we see that the poor become those who are unable, not unwilling, to support themselves.   

We also see that slavery for God's people is a temporary condition in Dt 15:12-18. Freedom is a promise to them. That promise is represented every seven years as those who have sold themselves as slaves to other Israelites are set free. 

Dt 16 documents appropriate offerings during the festivals and in the sanctuary. Each of the offerings is symbolic of the things God has done for Israel in delivering them out of Egypt. For instance, the Passover feast (Feast of Unleavened Bread) is instituted (Dt 16:1-8) as a way of remembering that God took every firstborn Egyptian in the tenth plague while the firstborn of Israel were spared. In an annual expression of thanks, every Jewish family is to dedicate the firstborn of their livestock to the Lord.

The Feast of Weeks celebrates the early harvest and gives thanks for God’s provision (Dt 16:9-12). The Feast of Booths celebrates the late harvest and looks back on Israel's time spent in the wilderness when all food came directly from God (Dt 16:13-17). Everyone participates “as he is able” because everyone has been blessed with what God has given them.

Dt 16:18-22 shows that God's people will be overseen by righteous judges. They are to judge in a godly manner because God judges in a righteous and godly manner. The judges of Israel are meant to reflect Israel's true judge. They are to show the world that God's people can govern with integrity, justice, and impartiality.

The chapter ends with forbidden modes of worship (Dt 16:21-22), another reminder that worship is mandated, guided by and focused on God and never at the whim of the worshiper nor for the benefit of any other being.

Daily Bread for Mar 3, Dt 11-13

Today's readings are Dt 11-13.

God has formed a covenant with His people. In Dt 11:1-7 we hear that its distinguishing characteristics are love and obedience to His statutes. In support of both conditions of the covenant, Israel is reminded of her past where the consequences of disobedience were harsh. 

In Dt 11:8-11, we see that the blessing of God is abundant for those who abide by the covenant. The Hebrews are to keep this in mind as they move into the Promised Land. Many people today understand the love part of the covenant but have chosen to ignore the obedience part of it thinking somehow that God no longer requires the obedience of His people to enjoy His fullest blessing. They embrace the "two greatest commandments" (Mt 22:36-40) and ignore 1Jn 2:3-4. Some say, as a way of denying the call to obedience, 1 Jn 1-2 is written to unbelievers, a claim that is refuted in 1 Jn 2:12-14.

Canaan was replete with shrines to a multitude of gods. 
Dt 12 tells us there should be one sanctuary for God's people devoted to the one true God. This sanctuary will be determined by God (Dt 12:11) and will become a central location for His children to worship Him and present their offerings. At first in the wilderness, this site will be the Tabernacle. When they get to the Promised Land, it will become the Temple.  The principle being taught here is that there is only one place for acceptable worship, one way to gain access to God. We see it in how the tabernacle is used for sacrifices and offerings, then later in how the temple is used the same way. Both the tabernacle and temple point toward the one eternal way God’s people will worship Him, in and through Jesus Christ.  

In Dt 12:8-19, we hear that God not only chooses the place of worship but the manner and content as well. God makes provision for Israel to worship regardless of where they are and makes it clear that there is no excuse to neglect worship. Another point made plainly evident is that worship is all about God and not the personal preferences of His people. It is to be a sweet aroma to Him, not an "experience" for us.  

Dt 12:29-13:18 cautions against false teaching, idol worship and drifting away from God. This admonishment to eschew false teaching will be a recurring theme throughout the Bible. God warns against it because it leads His people astray and causes them to focus on anything but the commandment to “Love the Lord your God,” which appears four times in the three chapters (Dt 11:1,13,22; 13:3). Anyone or anything that comes between God and His people is to be ruthlessly eradicated from among His children. Anyone who leads them astray or worships another god is to be executed. Once again, we see God’s attitude toward sin. It is an affront to His holiness, in direct opposition to His purity and perfection. It is a cancer that is to be eliminated at all costs.

Daily Bread for Mar 2, Dt 8-10

Today's readings are Dt 8-10.

Dt 8:1-10 serves as a reminder that God has been with His people throughout their time in the wilderness. Furthermore, the reason for their wanderings has been to teach them to depend solely upon Him. They are warned against turning away from God and worshiping the idols of the pagan land.

God knows His people can be fickle, crying out to Him when they are in need or in trouble, then turning their backs on Him or taking Him for granted when things improve. He has shown them that He is able to sustain all their needs. God wants them to learn these lessons and bear them in mind when they occupy the new land.

In Dt 9:4-5, Moses makes it clear that any blessing or victory the Hebrews receive is not because of their righteousness. The Hebrew word for “righteousness” means “justice, right action, and right attitudes.

Regardless of how they may feel about themselves, their hearts and their behavior are not just, righteous or pure. They are in fact, stubborn people. He runs down a list of things they've done to support His accusation. All were an offense to God. Still, God is faithful and has promised they would have the Promised Land. The victory will go to the Jews not because of their own goodness, but because of the goodness of God and the wickedness of their enemies. This should make Israel realize that the only true difference between them and their enemies is the goodness of God in choosing the Jews as His people.

Moses reminds the Jews of their insolence and his position as he stands between them and God, once again establishing their need of a mediator (Dt 9:13-26). We see God's inimitable grace in that He provides new copies of the Law to replace the ones Moses shattered (Dt 10:1-5). The Jews remain His children. The Law is there to sanctify, not control (Dt 10:13). The Law is a gift to those who belong to God, reminding them that there is still heart-work that needs to be done if they are to be the holy people God calls them to be (Dt 10:15-16).

Moses also reminds them that they are to love God as part of the covenant He has formed with them. Their love for others will be evidence of their love for God (Dt 10:17-22). It's a pertinent reminder for us as believers today. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Daily Bread for Mar 1, Dt 5-7

Today's readings are Dt 5-7.

Moses repeats the Ten Commandments in Dt 5:1-21. Some are complex, and some quickly understood even if not so easily observed. Still, God leaves no room for misinterpretation. The message the commandments send is this, He is holy, and His people are called to be a holy people.

The commandments serve three purposes. First, they are a description of His perfection and holiness. Second, they will show His people that they need a savior. Third, once the need for a savior is realized, the ongoing need for sanctification will become apparent. The commandments are not calling His people to perfect behavior. They are there to reveal that His people are human and unable to live perfect lives on their own. They need God as an active, guiding, daily presence in their lives, helping them to become a godly people.

When Israel was still at Horeb (Sinai), the commandments were given to show that God's people, being unique among nations, are to be set apart as a holy people (Dt 5:22-27). This singular calling will become the hallmark of how they are to take possession of Canaan (Dt 5:28-33).

In Dt 6:1-3, we see that the commandments as an expression of that holy calling. They are enduring statutes, to be handed down from generation to generation. Obedience will bring blessing, disobedience will net hardship. The commandments are to be followed diligently and are not subject to changing times, developing situations, or advancing cultures. God is unchanging, His holiness is immutable, as are His guidelines. His people are not to question them or test them (Dt 6:16-19). The commandments also serve as a constant reminder of His power to deliver His people and His grace in doing so.

All the teaching about God and Israel’s relationship with Him begins to converge in Dt 7:1-26 as the nation moves into the Promised Land. All vestiges of the pagan world, gods, and their worship are to be ruthlessly obliterated. At these initial stages, there is to be no interaction, no intercourse with the people of the land. Any contact with them runs the risk of God's people becoming like those they associate with and less like God. God's people are set apart and called to a higher standard than the world. As the narrative develops, we will see that this by no means requires total isolation. Once they have occupied the Promised Land and have established a firm foothold, as God’s children they are “in the world but not of it.” The call is for His people to be those who influence rather than those who are influenced.

A few spiritual truths governing God’s children are made evident. If they are obedient to the word, they will be blessed. If not, they will fall on rough times. Neither affects their calling. God’s faithfulness to Israel is perfect and complete. He will fulfill His promises because of who He is rather than who they are. If they become discouraged, if the circumstances begin to look overwhelming, they are to remember how far God has brought them and how faithful He is to His promises.

All these instructions and guidelines have meaning and purpose for us today. Sin is to be ruthlessly obliterated from our lives, but it can only happen by God's power, not ours. Allowing the world to permeate and influence our lives can lead us down the wrong path and should be avoided. When we strive to obey God's word, we will be blessed. If we rebel against it, times will get tough. Dwelling on God's word and His promises will get us through intimidating times.

One day, all this will be made perfect, and all the promises of God will come to fruition. Meanwhile, like the Jews, we have His word, His promises, and His commandments to live by. As we strive to abide by and in them, we come to the growing realization that we are unable to keep them on our own and need help, an advocate, a mediator, a savior. However, though we are saved, we continue to struggle, just as Israel will continue to struggle once they enter the Promised Land. As we see God unfailingly demonstrating His grace toward the Jews, we will know that He does the same for us regardless of our ups and downs, our successes and failures.

These hard lessons Israel is learning will lead to a time when they can rest in the Promised Land. For us, they point to a time when all striving will cease. We're not there yet, just as God's work among the Hebrews was not yet complete simply because His people entered Canaan. There was work to be done. For them, the victories before crossing the Jordan were a shadow of what was to come. Their successes and cautions pointed to the prospect of a promise fulfilled.

Even though we have a better and more complete understanding of God's plan of redemption, we too live in a shadow of what is to come. Just as Canaan was the promise of a beautiful and bountiful new home, we have His promise of an eternal home that is free from sin and corruption. His Son has gone there to prepare a place for us. That is a promise to all believers. God is true and faithful to His promises!