SOAP Journal – 31 May 2017 (Deuteronomy 20:1-4)

When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots [and] people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you. When you are approaching the battle, the priest shall come near and speak to the people. He shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, you are approaching the battle against your enemies today. Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’

Deuteronomy 20:1-4

I love how straightforward this morning’s verses are. The Israelites know that they are going into a populated land and that there are battles ahead. God warns them in advance that they will see horses and chariots [and] people more numerous than [them]. This is made clear by the word that begins the passage: When.

The battle is not a hypothetical. The odds are not hypothetical. God knows full well that He is sending the Israelites into a situation where their only hope of victory is Him. And He instructs the priest to be in the battlefield and to encourage the troops with a reminder: the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you. OR, to use the phrasing of another verse: the battle belongs to the LORD.

As a believer, I, too, will encounter horses and chariots [and] people more numerous than [me]. Not physical horses or chariots, but spiritual and emotional and mental. I have sometimes heard the emotions compared to wild horses. The comparison is apt. Sometimes unbidden thoughts come in armored transports (chariots) and I have to fight them differently than I combat other thoughts. And always I am faced with the fact that I am one against however many the enemies may be. Lustful thoughts and angry thoughts and prideful thoughts and pride itself and anger itself and discouragement, just to name a few.

In the face of overwhelming odds, I am not [to] be fainthearted … not [to] be afraid, or panic. I am to gird myself up as a man and face the battle, because the LORD [my] God is the one who goes with [me], to fight for [me] against [my] enemies, to save [me]. The battles I fight are not mine alone. I fight them with my God, Who is ready to fight for me. Am I outnumbered? God goes with me and it is now my adversaries that are outnumbered. Am I fighting alone? God goes with me into my battles, even when no one else does or can. Am I too weak to fight anymore? God will fight for me. God will save me.

Life is not always easy. It is often difficult. And the Christian life has the added difficulty of working out my salvation with fear and trembling and of standing in opposition to the lusts of the eyes and of the flesh and the boastful pride of life. I often feel outnumbered, outclassed, and wearied from the fight. But the LORD [my] God is the one who goes with [me], to fight for [me] against [my] enemies, to save [me].

Father, thank You for fighting for me. Thank You for standing with me when no one else will and when no one else can. Thank You for saving me. Please keep me mindful of to Whom the battles in my life belong and remind me to stand and see what You will do.

SOAP Journal – 30 May 2017 (Deuteronomy 19:16-21)

If a malicious witness rises up against a man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who will be [in office] in those days. The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness [and] he has testified against his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you. Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

Deuteronomy 19:16-21

Jesus quoted the last bit of this passage to a crowd. He told them that they had heard that it was said eye for eye, tooth for tooth, but that He said something different (Matthew 5:38-43). I have often heard that passage in Matthew taught in the context of not seeking vengeance or trying to get your own back. But the context of the phrase in Deuteronomy seems to put Jesus’ statement in a different light.

The full context of the old eye for eye, tooth for tooth thing is that the justice system of the time was to administer the punishment that would have fallen on the falsely accused on his accuser. That is to say that a person accusing his neighbor of theft would have the punishment for the alleged theft leveled at him if the charge was false. Since the punishment for theft was often a repayment with some serious interest — up to seven times the value of the original item stolen — a person falsely accusing his neighbor of theft would have a lot to think about before making the accusation. I suspect that the modern justice system would look very different if a similar law were in force. The passage says The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you. And there is good reason to believe that it is true. Once word got out that suing your neighbor could result in you paying the proposed damages if the suit was frivolous, there would be some serious thought going into whether or not to sue someone. I have heard that the modern British courts have a law similar to this on the books and that the results are as described. I have not researched the topic, though. Perhaps I should.

As I reflect on this, I think that the application for me is not in the jurisprudence of the thing, but in the spirit of it. Of what am I accusing people? Not necessarily in courts — I have only ever been to court as a potential juror and as a mock attorney —but in conversation. Have I accused people of wrongdoing in my conversation? If yes, then I had better make sure that what I have said is true. And, in future, I had best be certain that anything I plan to say is true — especially as pertains to leveling accusations. It may seem a draconian requirement, but the alternative is to potentially destroy a person’s reputation … possibly my own.

Father, thank You that You act in mercy if only I ask for it. Thank You for this reminder that words are dangerous things. Please bridle my tongue and teach me to speak the truth in love.

SOAP Journal – 25 May 2017 (Deuteronomy 18:9)

When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations.

Deuteronomy 18:9

There is an interesting implication to this command. This command forbids learning to imitate the detestable things done by non-believers. And the implication that I see is threefold.

First, there are sinful practices that are common to everyone. God has given prohibitions against these sins on their own, making no note about how anyone might need to learn to do those things. For example, one needs no instruction to lie; to bear false witness. My daughter lied before she knew what lying was. No learning involved, except the instruction that my wife and I had to give about what lying is and why it should not be done.

Second, there are sinful practices that are not common and that require a bit of learning. For example, one does not just launch out into burning their child alive (the first thing the are told Israelites NOT to do after this verse). Parental instincts generally drive a parent to preserve their child’s life, so one must learn to do something as horrific as sacrificing their child.

Third, it is perfectly acceptable for me to emulate the virtues of anyone — believer or not. Is someone honest? I should emulate that. Is someone a person of their word? I should copy that habit. Where virtues are concerned, God is not worried that there will be overlap between those who are His and those who are not. God loves honesty and keeping one’s word, so there is no issue there. It is when the believer begins to copy the non-virtuous behaviors of unbelievers that a problem arises.

Who am I emulating? Whose behavior am I copying?

Father, thank You for this reminder that some wrongs are learned. Thank You that what has been learned can also be unlearned. Please keep me from the things that would drive a wedge between You and me and show me those — like Your Son — whose behavior I can emulate.

SOAP Journal – 23 May 2017 (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 brothers 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

These verses round out a portion of Moses’ instruction about the future king of Israel. There are a few things said that bear note.

First, Moses states that the king must copy down The Law of God in the presence of the priests. There is good reason for this. The priests are the keepers of The Law, so the master copies would be with them. The priests are also responsible for studying and understanding The Law, so they would be able to answer the king’s questions as he was copying and he could make notes off in the margins.

Second, the king is to keep that copy of The Law with him and read it all the days of his life. This keeping and reading comes with purpose. In point of fact, the rest of the verses are the promise that comes from keeping God’s Law with him and reading it daily.

The effects of daily reading of The Law and keeping The Law ready to hand constantly is threefold: (1) that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, (2) that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, (3) that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left.

The Bible tells me that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Keeping The Law with him and daily reading it will cultivate wisdom in the king. And kings need wisdom to rule well. So [fearing] the LORD his God is a good place for the king to begin.

The second effect is humility. The verse says that constant contact with The Law and daily reading will yield the result that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers. The king needed to remember that he has been chosen by God from among God’s Chosen people to lead them. He was no better than his brothers and sisters. He was entrusted with an office.

The third effect is obedience. It is stated that the daily exposure to The Law may have the result that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left. In God’s view, the ruler must be ruled. In context, the king must submit to the authority of God and of The Law. By submitting himself to God, he becomes one to whom others can readily and willingly submit themselves.

While this may seem woefully disconnected from me, as a believer, it is not. Revelation includes a moment when those redeemed by Christ sing a song that includes the declaration that Christ has made the redeemed kings and priests (Revelation 5:10). Peter’s first letter calls the believers a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). In short, the instructions given to the king can be applied to me. And they are excellent practice, regardless of where I sit in the social hierarchy.

This morning, the focus is on having The Law ready to hand at all times and reading it daily. I have the daily reading part going on Monday through Friday, but I only read it the one time in the morning and I tend to skip Saturday and Sunday (unless I count reading during the church service). So I could do with more consistency in my reading.

But I need to watch for those three effects mentioned: fear of the LORD, humility, and submission to God.

Does God’s Word produce a holy fear in me or do I walk away thinking that I read something wonderful every morning? I am told to work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). There is a fear that is holy and right and I must have it.

Does God’s Word humble me and remind me regularly that I am a sinner, just the same as every other sinner I see around me? If not, then I am reading my Bible wrong.

Do I submit myself to what I have read or do I nod agreement then go off and live in contradiction? Submission is active, on my part. While I can learn to fear God without any real action on my part and can be humbled without doing much, submission requires me to do something. Submission requires me to recognize my will and God’s will and to voluntarily pursue God’s will, even and perhaps especially when my will disagrees with it.

Fear of the LORD. Humility. Submission.

Father, thank You that these traits are not limited to kings and priests and people with a special calling on their life, but are the province of all believers. Please foster these in me. I know that I have room to grow in each and every one and that my life will only be better and more blessed by pursuing them.

SOAP Journal – 22 May 2017 (Deuteronomy 16:20)

Justice, [and only] justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you.

Deuteronomy 16:20

Sandwiched between Moses reminding the Israelites to regularly observe the Feasts of Passover, Weeks, and Booths and a prohibition against planting “sacred groves” around God’s altar is a reminder to appoint judges and a brief bit of guidance for those judges.

Moses could have gone on at length giving guidance for the judges, but there was very little reason. While the Israelites had been wandering in the wilderness, there had been judges settling disputes. Less complex matters were handled by those judges and more complex matters were brought to Moses who would then put the question to God directly. The system had been in place and working for 40 years or thereabouts.

But the judges who had been deciding things in the wilderness had been vetted by God. The people had put them forward, but God had confirmed the choices by putting some of the Spirit that had been in Moses into those men. Moses states that the Israelites will appoint their own judges when they get into the Promised Land. No mention is made of whether or not the people will seek God’s approval of these men. Just as Moses gives instruction about what a king should and should not do — despite the Israelites having no king over them when the instruction is given — he also gives instruction about what the judges and officers are to do when they are appointed.

What does this instruction to judges and officers have to do with me?

It is good practice. Moses instructs the future judges and officers to pursue … justice. They are not to take bribes or the apply one standard to one person and another standard to another. They are, simply put, to be consistent.

As a believer, I, too, am told to be consistent. I am not to tell someone that a thing is wrong, then turn around and say that it is okay for me. If it is wrong, then it is wrong. If it is wrong for my children to be disrespectful to my wife and me, then it is just as wrong if my wife or I were to be disrespectful to our parents. If it is wrong for my children to spend too much time in front of a screen, then it is also wrong for me to do so. I cannot be inconsistent with my standard. If I have inconsistent standards, then I proclaim with my life that morals and ethics and rules in general are relative. And that simply is not true.

Let me live consistently, applying the same standard to all and sundry.

Father, thank You for Your consistency. Thank You for being the Righteous Judge and for showing no partiality. Please work the same heart in me, that I might be consistent in all my dealings and apply Your Law to myself in the same way I would apply it to others.

SOAP Journal – 18 May 2017 (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

As Moses reviews with the Israelites the three times a year that the men are required to show up in Jerusalem — called the place which He chooses in this chapter — Moses mentions that they are not to show up empty-handed.

It is a comfort that every man shall give as he is able. There are plenty of teachings about how much people should give and when and how and so on and so forth. From the mouth of Moses, the answer to how and what a person should give to God is that every man shall give as he is able. This means that some people will bring much and others will bring little. The important thing is the recognition of God’s blessing by not coming empty-handed. By bringing as he is able, a person shows how he estimates the financial blessing of God in his life and demonstrates his trust in God’s provision when he is only able to bring a little and brings it.

My family is in a place where we must reevaluate how much we give to God’s work monetarily. Our gross income has not decreased, but our necessary expenditures have which means that our net income is decreased. So the amount given needs to be revisited and consideration given to what our current expenses are. In addition, we can still give of our time and abilities.

Father, thank You for not demanding that we all give the same, but telling us to give according to how we are able. You know our hearts and what resources are at our disposal. Please make my heart generous toward You and my mind receptive to know Your will. Thank You.

SOAP Journal – 17 May 2017 (Deuteronomy 15:1)

At the end of [every] seven years you shall grant a remission.

Deuteronomy 15:1

Moses commands the Israelites to grant a remission … every seven years. This is a kind of miniature Jubilee that Moses is commanding them. In the Year of Jubilee, all debts were forgiven and all land except as prescribed otherwise reverted back to its original owner. This miniature Jubilee was limited to fellow Israelites. There was nothing in this about how to treat those outside the nation.

There are similar injunctions for Christians. Time would fail me to write them all down, but I am told to love my brothers and sisters in Christ and by that love to be known to the world.

But I am going to apply this by taking a step back and being a bit more liberal with how I view the injunction given here. Instead of continuing on and seeing that Moses limits the debt forgiveness to fellow Israelites, I am going to stop with the command that I am to forgive; to grant a remission. I am going to view this through the lens of Jesus Christ commanding me to forgive as I wish to be forgiven — that is, to do to others as I would have done to me.

Father, thank You for forgiving me my debt to You. Please make my heart as forgiving as Yours.