(Following are 16-20 of “the best things in Deuteronomy.” To see the earlier ones, go to www.joemckeever.com and scroll back a few days.)
16) THE LORD IS YOUR INHERITANCE. YOUR PORTION. (10:9 and 18:1-2).
“The Levites will not be getting a portion or inheritance in Canaan; the Lord is his inheritance, just as the Lord your God promised him” (10:9).
In Numbers 18:20, the Lord told Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land (i.e., Canaan), nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel.”
Members of the tribe of Levi (Numbers 18:2), Aaron’s descendants were the priests for all future generations. All the other tribes of Israel received territorial allotments when Joshua led them to conquer Canaan. But not the Levites. The priests were to scatter throughout the countryside, live among the other tribes, and receive their living from the tithes and offerings. (Sound familiar, preachers?)
Israel’s songwriters liked the concept of the Lord being our portion, and worked it into three psalms (Ps. 73:26; 119:57; 142:5).
Quick testimony here. In the year or two leading up to my retirement (June 2009), I was growing anxious. Would I get invited to preach anywhere and would we be able to live on our income? So many unanswered questions pestered me. One day, the Lord spoke to me: “I am your portion.” That’s all, just those words. From that time to this–I’m in my sixth year of retirement–He has been my Portion and has provided magnificently. My preaching calendar is filled. I do admit to monitoring my retirement account with Guidestone, our denominational annuity program. But my faith is in the Heavenly Father and in no investment scheme of man.
For now and eternity, the Lord is my portion. (See Philippians 1:21.)
17) THE VERY WORST SIN IMAGINABLE. (18:9-14)
Throughout the history of Israel, one sin stood out in the minds of everyone as the most wretched thing imaginable: sacrificing your child by fire to an idol. The few times it happened forever lingered in the minds of all who knew about it, and the prophets never let Israel forget it. (King Manasseh did this during his reign. See 2 Chronicles 33:6. “So Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel.” v.9)
The fiery sacrifice of a child is generally referred to as “the sin of Moloch,” that being the pagan idol who required such. (see Jeremiah 32:35).
But God forgave Manasseh for even this, according to 2 Chronicles 33:12ff, although it required a severe humbling for the Lord to get his attention.
The prophet Micah had this in mind when he gave us this unforgettable passage. “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the Most High God?….Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:6-7). He answered his own question: “He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (v.8).
God would not be requiring brutal child sacrifice.
The story of Abraham “sacrificing” Isaac fits here (Genesis 22). Regardless what one makes of the story, clearly the object was to confirm to everyone involved–God as well as Abraham himself–that pagan idol-worshipers who sacrificed their children did not love them any more than Jehovah’s people loved Him. While God would not be requiring such of His people, nevertheless the devotion He demanded was no less total and absolute. In a similar vein, the Lord said, “Unless your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will be no means enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
18) TWO PROPHETS, ONE OF WHOM IS SPECIAL (18:15-22)
“The Lord your god will raise up for you a Prophet like me…. When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”
Moses does not know everything on the Lord’s future calendar, but he has learned that God will raise up a special Prophet at some distant time who is like him. Where did Moses get this idea? Easy. The Lord told him. “The Lord said to me, ‘I will raise up for them a Prophet like you….'” (v.18) “Him, you shall hear” (v.15).
That would be Jesus.
Four traits of a true prophet are found in this text. A genuine prophet:
–a) Comes from God (he did not volunteer; see what Amos said about his call in Amos 7:15).
–b) Speaks the Lord’s message (not his own; see what Paul had to say in 2 Corinthians 4:5; and not someone else’s message; see Jeremiah 23:30.).
–c) Declares all that the Lord commands him, not just the pleasant parts (see what Paul says would happen in the last days, in 2 Timothy 4:3).
–d) And–this is the biggie–what a true prophet says will come to pass (the standard is 100% fulfillment).
When I pointed out to a Mormon that his prophet Joseph Smith had predicted the moon to be inhabited with a race of giants dressed as Quakers, this man–who was a college professor with a Ph.D. and so not lacking in brain-power, just judgment–answered, “He clearly was not speaking as a prophet, but just giving his opinion.” So, let’s see how this works. If his prophecy is accurate, he is speaking as a prophet. Otherwise, not. Take this formula and no one would ever be accused as a false prophet!
Jeane Dixon (1904-1997) was an astrologer who made all kinds of prophecies and forecasts, a few of which came true. She is said to have predicted the assassination of JFK. She may or may not have done that, but the fact is she predicted a myriad of things that did not come to pass. Biographers said an adoring public and a gullible press turned her into a phenomenon. I imagine if we grade on the curve, she might have scored higher than you or I would have. But by the standard God gives–nothing less than perfection–she was an imposter and “you shall not be afraid” of her.
19) WHAT IS IT WITH BOUNDARIES?
“You must not move your neighbor’s boundary marker” (19:14).
Proverbs has a thing about boundaries. “Don’t move an ancient property line that your fathers set up” (Proverbs 22:28). This is repeated in Proverbs 23:10.
Property lines were big deals in agrarian societies where land was everything. Today we have surveyors and deeds that clearly delineate these things, although once in a while the law courts have to settle such matters. In the countryside, farmers can usually take you to corners of their property and show markers that have been driven deeply into the ground, making them more or less permanent and difficult to remove. As I recall, my friend Don Davidson, pastor of Alexandria Virginia’s First Baptist Church, says the ancient marker that sets out the southernmost corner of the District of Columbia can be found on their property.
Not tampering with boundaries is about respecting the rights of others, honoring the property of a neighbor. How many family feuds, we wonder, had their beginning by a controversy over a property line.
When the young man was mowing my lawn for the first time, he left a thin unmowed strip facing my neighbor’s house. He explained, “Your property line stops here.” I said, “Yes, but let’s be a good neighbor. Cut the whole strip.” Ever since, whether my neighbor is mowing his yard and we are doing mine, we cut the whole patch. Being neighborly is always a good idea.
Someone wrote to the Progressive Farmer. “My pond is almost totally enclosed by my property. However, about 50 feet of it fronts on my neighbor’s land. And he’s taken to fishing it, even though I stock it and I feed the fish. What can I do to put a stop to this?” The editor surmised that he had several choices, including erecting a fence in the water to keep his fish inside. I would have suggested that a few fish is a small investment in a good relationship with his neighbor. Some rights we do not enforce to keep the peace.
20) LEAVING THE GLEANINGS FOR THE POOR.
“When you reap the harvest in your field, and you forget a sheaf in the field, do not go back to get it. It is to be left for the foreign resident, the fatherless, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you knock down the fruit from your olive tree…..” (24:19-22).
Take care of the poor.
When I was a kid growing up on the small Alabama farm, Dad would send us over the cotton field a second time for the small amount that had ripened since the first picking. This was harder, slower, and less productive since the sharp empty burrs pricked your hands and the cotton was sparser. But our Dad was not so interested in growing cotton as he was in raising six children, so our protests fell on deaf ears.
In biblical times, that second picking was left for the poor of the land. Likewise, the last few rows planted on any field tend to produce poorly, and they too were left for the poor. This is the background of the story of Ruth (In Ruth 2, she “gleans” after the reapers, picking up what they drop. Boaz, who had taken a liking to this young widow, instructed his workers to “let grain from the bundles fall purposely for her; leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her” 2:16).
This is clearly a level of poverty we know nothing of today. Travelers crossing a field were allowed to eat whatever they could strip with their hands. The disciples were doing this, in Matthew 12:1.
Anyone reading the Proverbs quickly notices how Scripture shelters the poor. “The one who shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will himself also cry out and not be answered” (Pr.21:13). Likewise, see Proverbs 14:31, 17:5, and 19:17.
The Lord Jesus said, “Give to everyone who asks from you” (Luke 6:30).
Over the years, I’ve been distressed to find in every church I pastored a small contingent of members whose hearts were hardened toward helping the poor. They resented the government “handouts” and welfare programs, and insisted that churches were enabling scam artists by assisting the poor. Jesus said “The poor you have with you always,” they protest.
Maybe so. But how we treat the poor says a great deal about whether the Lord Jesus has changed our hearts. “When you give a party,” He said, “invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13). Do this and “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (v.14).
That should be enough for any child of God.
(One final installment on Deuteronomy to follow.)