False Prophets (Deuteronomy 18:22)

When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

Deuteronomy 18:22

I love how straightforward God is in determining the validity of a prophet. If the prophet says, “Thus says the LORD ….” but the prophet’s words turn out to be false, then the prophet was speaking on his own accord; he was just making stuff up. In that case, I don’t need to worry about what that prophet has said in that prophecy.

This got me wondering: Can a prophet be restored to his office? I mean, apostles were restored and even judges can be restored. But can prophets? The only instance of a prophet not saying and doing what God said how God said is Moses. Moses is told to go talk to the rock and get water for Israel and Moses thwacks the rock with his stick. God doesn’t unseat Moses as the leader of Israel, but Moses also is not allowed to enter into the Promised Land because of that disobedience. Was Moses restored? Was he ever taken out of office as a prophet?

The question is not a personal one as I am not and do not claim to be a prophet. But there are those who do. And, while I can get behind restoring a teacher or pastor, I have a little trouble with the idea of restoring a prophet. Every prophecy from that moment onward is suspect. Where I can check The Bible in order to validate what a teacher is saying and a pastor can be held accountable to other pastors and to his congregation, there is a distinct lack of method for determining immediately whether or not a prophet’s words should be heeded. Especially since prophecy is, by its nature, a future tense proclamation. God’s method for determining whether or not to listen to a prophet is to check his prophecy against the facts. Did the prophecy happen? If yes, still a prophet. If no, not a prophet; don’t listen to the quack anymore.

This, to me, means that there are several dozen so-called prophets that I should be ignoring. The dude who claimed that Jesus was coming back in <fill in the blank year>? Ignore. Those who have predicted some sort of calamity and it never happened? Ignore. I don’t know that I’ve ever paid these frauds much attention (Jesus told me to ignore them – said they’d be coming), but there are plenty of my fellow believers who do. So how do I apply this to my walk?

Two things. First, I keep on ignoring the false prophets. Jesus said they’d be coming and they’re here. They keep saying, “Jesus is here!” and “Jesus is coming back this day.” but Jesus says that no man knows the hour or the day — that includes those false prophets. Second, I need to pray for those false prophets. To speak in the name of God and have it not come to pass is heavy stuff, but heavier is the discipline that comes with having done so. Moses spoke in the name of God and did it wrong and it cost him passage into the Promised Land. What might it be costing these false prophets? What blessings might be forfeit them because of their disobedience and presumption? They, like everyone, need prayer.

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Fear, Humility, Obedience (Deuteronomy 17:18-20)

Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel.

Deuteronomy 17:18-20

Moses has come to the part where he tells Israel that they are going to reject God ruling over them and will want a human king instead. It doesn’t take long for the people to want a king, but God does not choose a king for Israel until the tenure of the prophet Samuel.

The requirements for becoming king were set out in previous sections and boil down to “God will choose your king.” This is not a divine right to rule given to kings, but rather a divine exception to how Israel was meant to be ruled. Israel, like all human kind, was meant to be ruled by God. But, because they would want a king and would not relent until they had one, God sets down the criteria ahead of time.

I find it curious that this process is not mentioned in any of the coronations that I’ve read in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. The books of history do not, to my recollection, recount even a single king making a copy of The Law. I think it likely that David did so, being a man after God’s heart. But I have my doubts about the rest of the kings.

God even goes so far as to explain Himself (something He is by no means required to do) with regard to why the king should make his own personal copy of The Law. The reasons are (1) that the king learns to rightly fear the Lord; (2) that the king does not become proud or lifted up above the people; (3) that the king would be obedient to God’s Law.

We all need to rightly fear the Lord. Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Other passages say that the fear of the Lord is pure and clean and altogether good. There is not one thing wrong with being rightly afraid of God. When I was a child, I was afraid of my parents. Not when I was being an obedient son, but when I was flirting with wrong-doing (or outright doing wrong). So it is with God. We are only really afraid of Him when we are doing something that is wrong or doing something for the wrong reasons. When we are doing the right thing for the right reasons then there is no terror in God. He is, in that moment, our greatest ally and supporter. We have placed ourselves on His side and so we have no fear. But fear of Him as a Father Who must discipline disobedient children is the right kind of fear for a believer to have. God is our Father and He will discipline those who are His.

Pride is a danger to everyone, not just kings. There was a man who was described as a humble little man with much to be humble about. If we’re honest, that (minus the “man” part … some believers are women, after all) describes all of us. But those in authority — kings, for example — are especially susceptible to the siren song of pride. To avert this looming catastrophe, God tells the king to copy down the entire Law and read it daily. James would later say that looking into The Law is like looking in a mirror and that those who walk away knowing that they need fixing and looking to God to do that fixing are those who have used The Law for its intended purpose. A mirror does not make me presentable. Going to the barber makes me presentable. I’ve tried cutting my own hair, it is almost always a tragedy. This is a perfect parallel to our own efforts. At best, they’re a mockery. At worst, they’re a tragedy. We need The One Who knows how to fix the tangled mess of crazy that is us and that is shown to us by The Law. The king was required to make his own personal copy and read it daily. A daily look in the mirror to remind the king that he was still not presentable to a holy God and that he was still no better, ultimately, than his subjects.

The king, as all believers, needs to be obedient. It has been said that those who want to exercise authority must first learn to submit to it. The king is no different. Every person is under the authority of another. The CEO of a multibillion dollar corporation may have authority over hundreds, even thousands of workers, but she is under the authority of the shareholders and regulators. No matter how powerful a person becomes, there is always someone more powerful. We need to learn to be under authority before we can be trusted with authority. God knows this and so commands the king to make a copy of The Law so that the king learns obedience.

The result? If the king rightly fears God, studies The Law intently, and learns obedience to God then his kingdom may continue a long time.

All that is well and good, but how does it apply to me as a believer today? All of the things that the king needed to be, I need to be. I need to rightly fear God and let that fear guide me. As a child, my fear of my parents kept me from some pretty serious problems. My fear of the Lord will do likewise. I need to remain humble. I am no better than the worst sinner anyone would care to name. The quantity of sin is not the issue, it is the quality of the sin. Whether I pour out a bag of fertilizer or ski down Bandini Mountain (Google it, young ‘uns), I am still dealing with manure. Sin is sin, regardless of how much and it is just as offensive to God in small doses as in large. I need to let The Bible act as my spiritual mirror and send me to my spiritual barber (Jesus) to be cleansed and made presentable to a Holy God. And I need to be obedient. My flesh will rail against it; my sinful nature will rage within me; the world will try to persuade me otherwise. Only when I have become obedient can I speak with authority and be taken seriously.

As He Is Able (Deuteronomy 16:17)

Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.

Deuteronomy 16:17

When I was going through the program to get a teaching credential, one of the instructors brought up the concept of equity. In teaching circles, the concept of equity is that all persons are not equally capable and that people — due to factors such as background, learning style, home life, age, and so on — learn different subjects in different ways. I should rant some other time about the inherent folly of trying to standardize education when people don’t come in standard, but that would be a huge digression here. The educational concept of equity, getting back on track, is that each student gets what he or she needs to be successful in learning the material. This means that some students will seem to get less time than others and, quantitatively, the perception would be accurate. However, in an equitable classroom the student who receives less attention from the teacher is the one who needs less attention from the teacher. Some students thrive on the independence of the teacher telling them what to do and then leaving the student to do it. Some students need to be shepherded through the entire process of completing the assignment. Equity gives to each what is needed. God, when it comes to sacrifices, is equitable in this definition.

The command is for every man to give as he is able. There are standards — the offering must be without blemish, it must be offered in a certain way (depending on what is offered), and so on — that apply to the how and what and why and where, but the “how much” is according to the blessing of the LORD. Has God blessed me abundantly? Then God wants to receive an abundance back from me. Has God’s blessing been meager? Then God does not expect very much from me. As is said elsewhere in scripture: to whom much is given, much is required.

At this point, lots of folks (Americans, in particular) get twitchy about “their money” and how it should be spent. I will consider that particular “blessing” last of all, because I think it the most cumbersome of blessings. In my case, God has blessed me with a believing wife. God tells me to love her as Christ loves His church. And my obedience, according to Samuel, is better than sacrifice. Am I loving my wife, who is an astonishing blessing, as I am commanded? God has blessed me with a beautiful daughter. Am I loving her as my Father in Heaven loves me? Am I modeling the love our Father has for us to her? Am I teaching her God’s truths and ways? Granted, she’s young yet, but am I, in essence, offering her back to God by the way that I love her and teach her and discipline her? God has blessed me with a job that I mostly enjoy (except when I’m bored, but that is the exception, not the rule). Am I working as unto the Lord? Am I giving my work to God as an offering? I have family and friends. Do I love them and pray for them and model Christ to them? This can go for pages. Every blessing God has given begs the question of whether or not I am offering it back to Him. I have a clear mind and working hands, hence I take time to write and pray that God receives my meager verbal offering according to the heart that offers it (and sometimes has to wrestle the mind into focus). Food on my table, clothes on my back, freedom to fellowship with other believers without fear, a healthy and fully functional body — the list of blessings is so extensive that I could begin counting them now and still be here when exhaustion claimed me. Last on the list of blessings is money. Why last? Because money is one of those things that ensnares. Jesus said we cannot serve God and Mammon and Mammon (money) SCREAMS at Americans to bow at its altar. There is always something that I think I need and, rather than pray and ask God to provide it if I really need it, I scrimp and save or splurge and buy. Did I need that thing? Unlikely. Despite its insidious ability to undermine my trust in God, money is capable of great good when placed into the hands of God. Yesterday, I remembered a time when the abundance of money God provided allowed my wife and I to help some of those with whom we fellowship. Money can do great good when it is put in its right place. Its right place is at the feet of God; at God’s disposal — the self same place where I belong.

How am I able to bless God? What am I able to offer up? If I have time, He will gladly accept it. If I have talents, He gave them to me to be invested in His kingdom (see the parable of the talents). If I have people to love, He wants to make me able to love them in such a way that they see Him and are drawn to Him. It may not seem like an offering at first blush, but it is. God wants me to give to Him according to my ability and with a cheerful heart.

The Poor Will Never Cease (Deuteronomy 15:11)

For the poor will never cease in the land; therefore I command you, saying, “You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.”

Deuteronomy 15:11

This statement stirs up a fair bit of controversy in Christian circles. The idea that there will always be poor people does not sit well with some folks and those people chafe at the fact that Jesus echoes this statement in the NT, leaving us no way around the truth: There will always be poor people while we live on this fallen Earth.

God’s solution to the problem of poverty was to command His people to lend to their brethren. This command comes in the context of speaking about the Sabbatical Year, the seventh year that would erase all debts. God says, in essence, “Don’t worry about how near or far off the debt erasure is, I will repay you.” There’s an issue of trust involved in that God tells Israel to wipe the slate clean every seven years and not to worry if the seventh year starts in a month, but to lend to the poor anyway. That God adds the statement that He blesses Israel; gives them an abundance for that very reason emphasizes the trust component. Do I really believe that God is going to meet all of my needs and the needs of my family? If so, then I will lend without worry.

One thing that bears note — to me, at least — is that God commands Israel to take care of their brothers; other Israelites. Recently, there has been a push of what I’ve heard called the “social gospel”; the gospel of feeding the hungry and helping the poor and all those good things. The “social gospel” ignores, however, the fact that God’s command to Israel and, in context, Jesus’ command to His disciples, is to take care of their own. The disciples were all Jewish (at the beginning, non-Jews joined later) and would have been giving alms as part of this command right here. Their giving to the poor would have included: other Jews. Paul would later speak with the various churches about their desire to lend aid to the church in Jerusalem when they were going through a rough patch, financially. This was not giving to any and all poor, but to those who were within the church and needed assistance.

I am totally open to the notion that I am simply missing it, but I cannot, at the moment, recall the verse where Jesus tells me to give to the non-believer. I remember being commanded to go and make disciples, at which point I would be commanded to help them. I can recall very clearly Jesus echoing the statement made in this verse that there will always be poor people. I do not want to imply that the church should not give food or help to those in need, regardless of their belief or lack thereof. I do, however, think that the emphasis is placed on taking care of believers first and non-believers after.

Before my daughter was born, my wife and I lived with rather an abundance. We were able to store away money for a nice vacation and pay down our debts and begin saving for a house. We were given a financial abundance. During that time, there were folks in our fellowship who came on hard times and we became aware of it. By the blessing of God, we had more than enough to lend and provide help for our brethren and still, somehow, had an abundance afterward. This is not to boast in the greatness of my wife or myself (I’m not great. My wife is better, but still not great), but to boast in the greatness of God in making good His promise that He will repay what is loaned to our brethren.

So I suggest the following application. I suggest that my alms; my giving to support and help the poor should be to believers first. If I still have an abundance and am still moved to give when all the needs of my brethren are met, then I should look outside the family to see where I might help. But help, I think, starts at home; with the family; with my fellow believers.

You Shall Not Add to Nor Take Away from It (Deuteronomy 12:32)

Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.

Deuteronomy 12:32

NOTE: In response to well-expressed concerns by a loving reader and good friend (good friends are those who call us to account), portions of the original post have been redacted.

This command is given in the context of God — through Moses — instructing Israel not to even ask how the nations that lived in the Promised Land before them worshiped. He warns that those practices are not acceptable to Him and that what He is commanding is what He wants them to do. Israel did not pay attention and their worship would become polluted over and over again.

Something similar happened in the Christian realm when the Catholic church began expanding into new places. Local religious practices would often be added into the church calendar and their attendant rigamarole would come along for the ride. So Christmas, a day that should be celebrated, manages to occur in December — a time when scholars are pretty consistent about saying Jesus was not born — and brings along with it all the trappings of Saturnalia and Yule and various other pagan festivals that occurred in December at around that same time. Easter, while remaining where it belongs on the calendar, picked up all sorts of trappings of pagan festivals along the way to the point where a Christian parent is hard-pressed to explain to their child what eggs and rabbits and rabbits that lay chocolate eggs (what comes out the back of a rabbit may look like chocolate, but it definitely is not) have to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And Pentecost falls through the cracks of the non-denominational denomination rather often.

But this needs to go deeper than what the church as a collective does or does not do with regard to assimilating pagan practice into itself. This needs to come home to me, personally. Am I assimilating the practice of the unbelieving world around me into myself and my worship of God or am I being careful to do all that He commands me — no more and no less. Some years ago, I was involved in a relationship and things happened that I now understand were wrong. But hindsight is clearer than looking around in the hazy now. I was, at that time, not careful to do what God had commanded me. And I still carry within me the consequences of that. My mind is indelibly imprinted with the recollection of those things. And I struggle with keeping memory at bay some days. Had I been careful to do what God commands, then I would not have this portion of my memory haunting me. That was a case of “adding to” what God commands, I think. I added my own context and interpretation of God’s command and I allowed — even invited the culture of my time to weigh in on matters best left to God.

Lest I think that this warning applies only to the OT peeps, a similar warning is repeated at the tail end of Revelation. God wants to make very sure that I know His Word is complete. It does not need me adding to it. It is quite complete. It does not need me to subtract from it. There is no fluff in the Word of God. In those times when I have done either — add or subtract from the Word of God — I have done so to my detriment. James will echo this statement in another form when he writes that the one who knows the good he ought to do and does not do it sins. Most, if not all, believers agree that doing something that violates God’s Law is wrong, but we sometimes forget that not doing the good thing that God commands is just as sinful. I know I forget. I imagine I am not alone in that.

 

Father God, thank You for  Your grace that covers those times when I have done, to my hurt, more than what You commanded or have neglected Your command. Please work in me the desire and the ability to not only know Your will but to do it.

God Will Choose (Deuteronomy 12:4-5)

You shall not act like this toward the LORD your God. But you shall seek [the LORD] at the place which the LORD your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come.

Deuteronomy 12:4-5

I suspect that this is the verse that folks who assert that we must meet in a church building would cite. Trouble with that reasoning is that we would all be making trips to Jerusalem to worship, if it were the case. Good for Jerusalem’s economy. Bad for all those folks who think they’ve stumbled on to the verse that gets them out of attending a small group or home study because it’s not the place God chose.

What this verse, as far as I can see, is saying is that there is a right and a wrong place to worship God. The right place to worship God is wherever He tells you it’s right to worship Him. The wrong place is wherever He has not told you to worship. In the context of the chapter and Moses’ discourse in whole, that understanding holds up. So, where does God tell me to worship Him or pray to Him or praise Him?

The Bible is chock full of places where I can praise, pray, and worship (which includes both of the foregoing and more). A read through the psalms reveals that the psalmists believed we should praise God at any time and any place. In bed? Praise God. At work? Praise God. Breathing? Praise God. What about prayer? Jesus said that I should pray (and do my good deeds like giving to the poor) in secret and my Father, Who sees what is done in secret, will openly reward me. I don’t think Jesus means I can never pray in public, only that my deepest and most intimate moments with God — like my deepest and most intimate moments with my wife — do not belong on a street corner. My wife and I talk wherever and whenever the need arises, so, too, should I talk with God (pray). However, when it comes time to bare my soul and empty the contents of my heart onto the floor, then my relationship with God is best served by me being in a quiet, secret place. About worship…? Well, Israel was told to worship in the temple — that’s where the sacrifices and festivals and all that took place. Paul’s writing to the Corinthians says that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit and Jesus (more important than Paul, by FAR) says that those who worship the Father must worship in spirit and in truth. My spirit also lives within me, so it stands to reason that Paul is agreeing with Jesus when he says that we are the temple; the place where God should be worshiped.

So, where should I worship God and pray to Him and praise Him? Here. Wherever I am is where God wants me to praise Him and pray to Him and worship Him. My most intimate moments with Him should be in private — He is not an exhibitionist — but my relationship with Him should be as public as the fact that I am married.

Think and Do (Deuteronomy 11:18)

You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.

Deuteronomy 11:18

What would it actually take to impress words on our heart and soul? Aldous Huxley seemed to think it would take “One hundred repetitions three nights a week for four years … Sixty-two thousand four hundred repetitions make one truth.” There is research out that says repeating a thing often enough will eventually make us believe that it is true. While I’ve repeated and heard that assertion multiple times, I’m still skeptical.

But God, through Moses, speaks to the question. The instruction is that Israel would bind God’s commands as a sign on their hands and their forehead; that they would talk about them with their children morning, noon, and night; that they would write them on their doorposts and gates. The short version of that is that they were commanded to surround and fill themselves with the Word of God.

For the record, I don’t think that God was being literal when He said they should bind His Word as a sign on their hands and forehead. History tells us that the pharisees did and walked around with little scripture boxes strapped to themselves. This is also — for Israel, at least — not a command to tattoo verses on themselves. Israel had been commanded not to write on themselves (tattoo themselves) the same way that the nations around them did. I’m not sure what the nations around them were doing, but they were forbidden from doing the same thing. I also do not know whether or not this is a prohibition against all forms of tattoo. I have a tattoo, so it’s pretty clear that I do not believe the prohibition applies to Christians. But I also did not have the standard things tattooed on me: loved one’s names, sports team, band logo, etc. I had tattooed the beginning of a verse from The Bible as a reminder of how I came to be. One day, I’d like to complete the verse, but there are better ways of investing money, at the moment. Probably will be in perpetuity.

What I do think God is getting at is that our actions and our thoughts should be bound by the Word of God. Our hands are, to this day, symbolic of our actions. The front of our brain is where all our conscious thinking takes place. I think God is saying: Do the things I tell you. Think about the things I tell you. He doesn’t want one without the other. He doesn’t want me to do what He says, but not to think about what He said or why He might have said it. My phone hears and obeys, but cannot (at the moment) think about why I tell it to call my wife every day when I’m leaving work. That’s not what God wants for me. God also doesn’t want me to think without doing. Lots of folks do this. There is even a cliched contention that teachers do this. As a credentialed teacher who hasn’t taught in four years due to doing the things I taught, I’m going to call shenanigans on that old cliche. Though I will admit that doing what I’m doing now and teaching was difficult for the three months or so that I did both.

Back to God, He wants me to think about what He commands me and to do it. Thinking about it allows questions and leads me to the inevitable conclusion that God has given these commands for my own good (as was mentioned yesterday). Doing the things God commands allows me to prove out by experience that they are, in fact, for my own good. But more, thinking about what He has said is one of the hallmarks of a relationship. I think about the things my wife says to me and the things my family say to me and the things my friends say to me. These are people with whom I have a relationship and their words carry weight with me. So I consider them.

There are more verses that give more scope to what God wants me to do with His Word: talk about it with others during everyday tasks; talk about His Word morning, noon, and night; display His Word prominently in my home as a reminder of what I am commanded to do. But I’m going to leave off with these. To think and to do. Doing without thought is automation. Thinking without doing … sounds a lot like politics. But to think and to do results in a righteous life and a friendship with God.