(The earlier 10 “best things” can be found on our blog, www.joemckeever.com, by scrolling back a few days. Permission is given to use any of this in any Christ-honoring way you please.)
11) BLESSING AND CURSE SET BEFORE YOU. YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE.
You get to choose; you have to choose. Every generation lines up and repeats the process.
“Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse; the blessing, if you obey…and the curse, if you do not obey….” (Deuteronomy 11:26ff.)
When Israel came into the Promised Land, they drew near to Jacob’s Well and parked for a religious ritual. One group of priests walked over to Mount Ebal while others walked over to nearby Mount Gerizim. The mass of citizens stood around in the middle, close enough to hear both groups. And the priests did a reading.
Deuteronomy 11:29 says, “When the Lord your God has brought you into the land which you go to possess, that you shall put the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal.”
Joshua 8:30-35 gives the short version of that experience. The longer account is found in Deuteronomy 27. Ebal represents cursing; Gerizim represents blessing. (Think of it as “Ebal” = evil and “Gerizim” = good.) To this day, when you visit Israel, your tour bus stops at Jacob’s well for you to get a drink and perhaps buy a little piece of pottery containing water for you to bring home and put on the mantlepiece. (Mine had leaked out by the time we got back to Mississippi.) Now, glance across the way and there are the two small mountains, right where they’ve always been. But I want you to notice something. Ebal is mostly bald and ugly, while Gerizim is lush with greenery. That feels like a permanent illustration of the blessing and cursing attached to obedience and rebellion.
One day, our Lord sat at that very well and encountered a Samaritan woman. In the John 4 account, they spoke of Mount Gerizim, which lies just behind where they stood talking. The lesson on the living water Jesus gave her continues to bless us today.
As a teenager, my son was trying to decide whether he would obey his father or not. Ever the pastor, I said to him, “Son, in Isaiah chapter 1, God told His people, ‘If you are willing, you shall eat the best of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.’ They had to make a tough decision. Just as you do.”
We all do. We get to decide; we have to decide. And not to decide is to choose wrongly.
12) DECIDING WHETHER TRUTH IS NARROW
“You shall not do as we are doing here today–every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes–for you have not arrived yet” (Deuteronomy 12:8ff. My paraphrase.)
You are to worship “in the place where the Lord chooses to make His name abide” (12:11,14,18). You shall worship Him the way He says (12:12ff.).
People say, “Well, this feels so right it can’t be wrong.” Or, “That may be true for you but not for me.” As though Truth were arbitrary, relative, or up for a vote.
Several times in the book of Judges, we’re told that “in those days there was no king in Israel and every man did what was right in his own sight.” (See Judges 17:6 and 21:25, as well as 18:1 and 19:1.)
Relativism is the philosophy of most Americans today. To them, there is no absolute truth. But as Paul Copan demonstrates in his book “True For You, But Not For Me,” pluralism and relativism can be as dogmatic and as absolute as the narrow-mindedness they claim to be rejecting. The Unitarian Church claims to have a wide-open door which welcomes anyone and everyone of all doctrinal convictions. However, the one group not welcome are those who worship Jesus Christ exclusively as the only Way to salvation.
God’s people must come to terms with the narrow, exclusive claims of the Lord Jesus. Was He speaking Truth when He said, “No one knows the Father except Me and those to whom I reveal Him”? (Luke 10:22) Did He tell the truth when He said, “No one comes to the Father except by Me”? (John 14:6)
The one thing we are not allowed to say is that while Jesus was wrong about this, He was still a great Teacher and moral leader. As numerous Christians have pointed out, notably C. S. Lewis, “moral leaders” and “good people” do not make such grandiose claims in which they lie. He was either Who He claimed to be or a charlatan.
If one is fuzzy on this, if he decides that Jesus is Truth in some areas but not others, that other religions are true also, then nothing else matters and he has no gospel. The best recipe for tragedy in life is for “every man to do what is right in his own sight.”
13) DEALING RUTHLESSLY WITH HERESY
“If you hear someone in one of your cities saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ then you shall check into it. And if it’s true, then you shall destroy that city. Gather all its plunder into a pile in the street and burn it. Torch the whole place. Then, leave it as an ash heap. Do not rebuild the city, but let its charred remains stand like a tombstone.” (My paraphrase of Deuteronomy 13:12ff.)
The point–and we must not miss this–is that Israel might have to do this once, but never again. Once the nation demonstrated a willingness to obey such a stringent law, no one would dare cross that line. It’s like the command to stone a son who curses his parents. Do that once, and no one would ever do it again. Think of the thousands of lives that would be saved in the long run.
We must not get hung up on judging God for not meeting our (ahem) high standards of morality. This would be funny if it were not actually happening every day. This command was a law for Israel in Canaan. We have no idea whether any subsequent generation of Israelites ever actually did this. The plan was to draw the line so distinctly, with consequences so severe, that it would shut down the tendency of wayward citizens to dabble with other religions.
For Christians, the point here is to deal firmly with sin in our own lives, and to take a strong stand against the sources of temptation. “A heart of fire toward God, a heart of flesh toward one another, and a heart of iron toward myself.” That’s the plan.
14) YOU SHALL TITHE.
“You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain…” (Deuteronomy 14:22).
Leviticus 27:30 says, “All the tithe of the land…is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord.”
Is tithing for Christians today? Answers vary.
There is no question but that proportionate giving is taught in the New Testament (see I Corinthians 16:2). And generous, sacrificial giving is the standard. (See Luke 6:38 and 2 Corinthians 8:1ff.) Steadfast, generous giving builds up “treasure in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-21).
But are we commanded to tithe our income, to give one-tenth in the same way Jews were? No, not the same way. However, there is Matthew 23:23 (“these you ought to have done”) and Matthew 5:20 says if our righteousness does not exceed that of the (tithing) scribes and Pharisees, we should not expect to get to heaven.
But that still does not satisfactorily settle the matter. What settles it for many believers is Genesis 14:18-24, where Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek, identified as both the king of Salem (Jerusalem) and “priest of the God Most High.” The point here is not that this man represents Jesus, in the way Hebrews 5 says, but that we have Abraham (okay, Abram) here tithing a long, long time before God delivered the Law to Moses at Sinai. So, tithing is not a creation of the Law, but predates it.
Even so, I do not know of a single New Testament teacher or pastor who rigorously imposes the tithe on God’s people in the way the Jews punctiliously observed this requirement. Personally, I give a tithe of my income into the offerings of my church, and everything I do to the other ministries I support (my seminary, my colleges, Global Maritime Ministries, etc) is over and above. That seems right to me, although I have no exact scripture saying “this is the way, walk in it.” No one from my church has ever contacted me to say my giving is down a little this year and to inquire if I was still tithing. Church leaders–deacons, teachers, etc.–are expected to tithe, but no one checks up on them.
15) THE YEAR OF RELEASE.
“At the end of every seven years, you shall grant a release of debts.” (Deuteronomy 15:1).
Some writers say this teaching is the best thing in Deuteronomy. The rest of chapter 15 is truly amazing for its time and setting. (Remember the cruelties of so many civilizations even in recent times, with their debtors’ prisons.) The God of Israel is looking out for the poor among the people.
The Gospel of Luke makes a big deal of Jesus’ love for the poor. See Mary’s song in 1:46ff, the poor offering Mary and Joseph gave in 2:21-24, Jesus’ mandate to “preach the gospel to the poor” in 4:18, the “blessed are you poor” of 6:20, and “the poor have the gospel preached to them” in 7:22.
God’s people must be predisposed toward the poor. Tilted toward them, biased, if you will. And yet, over a half-century of pastoring, I have seen so much hard-heartedness among the Lord’s people concerning the poor. “They don’t deserve help.” “Let them get a job.” “They’re running a scam.”
Our Lord left us no wiggle-room on this matter. “Give to every one who asks of you,” He said (Luke 6:30). In leading my churches to minister to the needy, I’ve directed them to this command from our Lord, then added, “He did not say we have to give them what they’re asking for or as much as they ask. But give what you can.”
I’d rather err on the side of grace than miserliness.
“Fear not, little children. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). “He who did not spare His only Son, how shall He not also with Him freely give us all things” (Romans 8:32). “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
Let’s go set people free, and not, in the spirit of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:4) load people down with additional burdens.
(There is so much in Deuteronomy. More to come.)