Monday, December 11, 2017

Why Is Christmas So Important? Long-Awaited Messiah and King Comes

1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea (Judah), during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men (Gentile astrologers, Magi) from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We saw His star as it rose, and we have come to worship Him.” 3 King Herod was deeply disturbed (troubled) when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.

 4 He (Herod) called a meeting of the leading (chief) priests and teachers of religious law (scribes) and asked, “Where is the Messiah (Christ) supposed to be born?” 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: 6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least (insignificant) among the ruling (chief) cities of Judah, for a Ruler (Leader) will come from you who will be the Shepherd for My people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod called for a private (secret) meeting with the wise men (Gentile astrologers, Magi), and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared (in the east). 8 Then he (Herod) told them (wise men), “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the Child. And when you find Him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship Him, too!”

9 After this interview, the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided (went before) them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the Child with His mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had (divinely) warned them in a dream not to return to Herod. Matthew 2:1-12 (NLT)

Christmas is truly the most wonderful time of the year! During the Christmas season, we celebrate the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah and King coming to earth in the Babe, the Lord Jesus. For centuries, everyone in the whole world – Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) – were awaiting the arrival of the Messiah (also known as Christ) and the great King of the World. The Old Testament prophecies predicted the coming of the Messiah (Christ) and a great King from the family line of King David, who was Israel’s greatest king (e.g., see 2 Samuel 7:11-16; Isaiah 7:14-16; Isaiah 9:1-7; Micah 5:2). With the arrival of the Babe Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah and King had come (e.g., see Matthew 1:1, 17; Matthew 2:2; Luke 1:32-33, 69; Luke 2:4-7)! At the Lord Jesus' birth, the earth and heavens celebrated and worshiped the newborn King and Messiah with great joy and excitement - the heavenly angels, shepherds, the Gentile wise men, Simeon, and the prophetess Anna (see also, Luke 2:8-38).

The Lord Jesus was born in the small town of Bethlehem located five miles south of Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1; see also Luke 2:4-7, 15). Bethlehem was in Judah, also known as Judea, in the southern land of Israel (see Matthew 2:6). Many years earlier the Old Testament prophet Micah predicted a great Ruler would come from Bethlehem of the tribe of Judah (see Micah 5:2). Bethlehem was the also the birthplace of King David, Israel greatest and most respected king (see 1 Samuel 16:1; 1 Samuel 17:12, 15; Luke 2:4, 11; John 7:42).

At the time of the Lord Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, wicked Herod was king in the Judea region (Matthew 2:1; see also Luke 1:5). He was born into an Idumean family, who were descendants of Esau (Edom). Herod was an able and strong man, but he was evil, very cruel, and ruthless as well as mentally unstable. He permitted no one, not even his own family, to interfere with his kinship. In fact, historians discovered that Herod had his wife and her two brothers killed because he suspected them of treason. Moreover, historians reported that Herod was married at least nine times. Nonetheless, Herod increased greatly the splendor of Jerusalem by erecting the Temple that was the center of Jewish worship at the time of our Lord Jesus’ birth. Herod ruled from 37 to 4 BC, so many scholars believe the Lord Jesus was born about 6 BC.

After the Lord Jesus’s glorious birth, some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem (see Matthew 2:1). These wise men, also called Magi, were Gentile astrologers from the east. No one knows much about these wise men because the Biblical text does not give much background. The Holy Scriptures do not state where the wise men came from or how many there were. Many biblical scholars believe these Gentile wise men were from Parthia, near the site of ancient Babylon, later known as the Persian Empire. In addition, tradition says that there were three wise men, and they were kings, but we do not know that with certainty. Nonetheless, the Gentile wise men were seeking the newborn King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2; see also Matthew 27:11, 37; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:38; John 1:49; John 18:33-37). Thus, many biblical scholars believe Herod was threatened when the wise men asked about a newborn King of the Jews (see Matthew 2:2).

From the Old Testament, the prophets had repeatedly predicted the living LORD God would rise up a King from David’s family line (e.g., see 2 Samuel 7:11-16; Isaiah 9:6-7; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jeremiah 30:9, 21; Ezekiel 34:23; Zechariah 9:9; John 7:41-42). King David was one of Israel’s greatest kings who faithfully loved the LORD God, and the Lord Jesus was his descendant (e.g., see 1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Kings 15:3; Matthew 1:1; Matthew 9:27; Acts 13:22-23; Romans 1:3-4). Although David fell into grievous sins with Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 11:1-27), David repented of his sins, and he never turned his allegiance from wholehearted devotion to the living LORD God (e.g., see 2 Samuel 12:13; Psalms 51). King David enjoyed God's favor because of his love and faithfulness the LORD God (see Acts 7:46). Because of David's love and faithfulness, the living LORD God promised David that He would rise a wise and righteous King from his family line that will shepherd, love, and protect God’s people (see 2 Samuel 7:11-16). Since this prediction, the prophets anticipated the arrival of the Great King from the family line of David (e.g., see Psalm 89:3-4). The New Testament book of Matthew opens with the grand announcement that the long-awaited Great King has finally come in the Person of Jesus (see Matthew 1:1, 17; Luke 1:32-33, 69). The Lord Jesus' earthly parents, Joseph and Mary, were both from the family line of David (e.g., see Matthew 1:16, 20; Luke 1:26-27).

When the Lord Jesus finally arrived to earth in a modest stable, the heavenly skies were filled with singing angels (see Luke 2:9-14). Clearly, something was brewing on planet Earth! Among the dreary villagers in a remote corner of the Roman Empire, something climatically good was bursting out from Bethlehem that would change the whole world. The Lord Jesus' birth literally split history into two parts, and we memorialized this event whenever we write a date, B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (after Christ). Even now, almost 2,000 years later, the celebration of the Lord Jesus' birth still causes great joy (see Luke 2:10-14)! During the Christmas season, we celebrate the remarkable moment when God in human flesh had come to earth as a Babe in the small town of Bethlehem (see Isaiah 9:6-7; Matthew 1:23; John 1:1,14). 

To announce the arrival of the Great King, the living LORD God, who is the Father of the Lord Jesus, gave a special sign. This special sign was a miraculous star that announced the birth of the Messiah and King, the Lord Jesus (Matthew 2:2; see also Revelation 22:16). The Gentile wise men saw the King’s great and special star in the east at its rising, and they came to worship the true King not only of the Jews but the world (see Matthew 2:2, 9). Amazingly, these Gentile wise men sensed God’s guidance to Bethlehem and followed the great star of the Lord Jesus. Scientific scholars have offered various explanations for the unique star's appearance at the birth of the Lord Jesus such as the joining of planets Mars, Saturn and Jupiter around 7 BC or perhaps the appearance of a comet in 5 BC. However, the Old Testament had predicted a star would appear at the coming of the Great King (see Numbers 24:17). The living LORD God used His heavenly creation to introduce His eternal Son the Lord Jesus to earth. The Lord Jesus’ great star led the Gentile wise men to the small town of Bethlehem located five miles south of Jerusalem.

Keep in mind that these wise men were Gentiles. From the very beginning, the Lord Jesus came to be “the Savior of the world” to save the world from sin through faith in Him (e.g., see Matthew 1:21, 23; John 1:29; John 3:16-17; John 4:42; 1 John 4:14). On the first Christmas night, the heavenly angel announced the Good News and source of joy for all the people (see Luke 2:10, 32). Yes, all people! Regardless of our nationality, race, religion, culture, sexual category, or financial status, the living LORD God sent His only begotten Son to be born in Bethlehem to save and redeem the world from sin through faith in Him  (e.g., see Luke 1:68, Luke 2:11, 21, 30-32; John 4:42; Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 John 4:14-16). The Lord Jesus was not intended for Israel alone but for the whole world and among all nations  (see also Matthew 28:18-20; Philippians 2:9-11)! 

Upon hearing the news of another King, evil Herod was deeply disturbed, as was everyone in Jerusalem (see Matthew 2:3). Therefore, evil Herod called a meeting of the leading chief priests and teachers of religious law and asked them, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born” (see Matthew 2:5, NLT). The leading priests and teachers of religious law informed evil Herod of the Old Testament prophecies from Micah 5:2 that the Messiah and King would be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:5; see also Numbers 24:19; 2 Samuel 5:2; John 7:42). The prophet Micah from the Old Testament wrote:  “And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a Ruler will come from you who will be the Shepherd for My people Israel” (Matthew 2:6, quoting Micah 5:2, 4).

Afterwards, evil Herod called for a secret meeting with the Gentile wise men, and Herod learned from them the exact time when the Lord Jesus’ star first appeared in the heavens (see Matthew 2:7). Then evil Herod deceptively told the Gentile wise men, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the Child and when you find Him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship Him, too” (see Matthew 2:8, NLT).

After this secret meeting with evil Herod, the Gentile wise men went their way seeking the true and great King of the World (see Matthew 2:9). Finally, the Lord Jesus’ star the wise men had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem and stopped over the exact place where the young Child lived with His earthly parents, Joseph and Mary (see Matthew 2:9). When the Gentile wise men saw the Lord Jesus’ star over His earthly home, they were filled with great joy, happiness, and excitement (see Matthew 2:10)! The Magi traveled thousands of miles to see the true King! By now, Joseph had moved Mary and the Lord Jesus from the temporary stable where the Lord Jesus had been born into a local house in Bethlehem (see Luke 2:7, 16). Thus, the traditional manger and stable scene that assembles the shepherds and wise men are not true to the Holy Scriptures, since the Gentile wise men arrived much later.

Then, the wise men entered Joseph and Mary’s house and saw the young Child, and they bowed down and worshiped Him with great joy (see Matthew 2:11). Truly, these Gentile wise men and many others knew this young Child was the long-awaited Messiah and King of the World! At that moment, the wise men opened their treasure chests and gave the Messiah and King gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh (see Matthew 2:11). The early church fathers understood the gold to be symbolic of the Lord Jesus' kingship, the frankincense of His holiness, and the myrrh of His coming death (since myrrh was used for embalming).

Upon their departure, the living LORD God divinely warned the wise men through a dream not to return to evil Herod but return to their own country by another route (see Matthew 2:12). Moreover, the LORD God sent a heavenly angel to warn Joseph in a dream to take the Lord Jesus and His mother Mary and flee to Egypt (see Matthew 2:13). Sadly, evil Herod had implemented a search for the Child to murder Him (see Matthew 2:13). The wise men and Joseph's divine dreams confirmed the LORD God's power over human rulers and His ability and commitment to His Child, the Lord Jesus. Even more, the whole episode is a good example of how the LORD God leads, guides, and protects His people.

The Lord Jesus along with Joseph and Mary stayed in Egypt until evil Herod’s death (see Matthew 2:15). Jesus' departure to Egypt fulfilled what the living LORD God had spoken through His prophet: “I called My Son out of Egypt” (Matthew 2:15; see also, Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1). Nationally, Israel was the LORD God's "son" (e.g., see Exodus 4:22; Romans 9:4-5). However, the Lord Jesus was the living LORD God's greater "Son" (e.g., see John 1:18; John 3:16).

When evil Herod heard the Lord Jesus along with the wise men had fled, he became furious (see Matthew 2:16). The Magi's news troubled Herod because he knew that the Jewish people expected the Messiah to come soon (Luke 3:15). Most Jews expected the Messiah to be a great military and political deliverer, like Alexander the Great. Evil Herod sent soldiers to kill all young boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the Gentile wise men’s report of the Lord Jesus star’s first appearance (see Matthew 2:16). No wonder evil Herod ordered all the baby boys in Bethlehem murdered (see Matthew 2:13, 16-18). Evil Herod alone wanted to bear the title "King of the Jews" even though he deceptively informed the wise men that he wanted to the Child (see Matthew 2:8). Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what the living God had spoken through His prophet Jeremiah: “A cry was heard in Ramah — weeping and great mourning, and Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead” (Matthew 2:17-18, quoting Jeremiah 31:15).   

After evil Herod’s death, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph while in Egypt and instructed Joseph to return the Lord Jesus along with His mother Mary back to Israel (see Matthew 2:19-20). However, when Joseph returned to Israel, he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s evil son Archelaus (see Matthew 2:21-22). Historians have noted that Archelaus was just as cruel, evil, and ruthless as his father, Herod. Once again, the living God divinely warned Joseph in a dream to turn away from Judah and to into Galilee, which is located in northern Israel (see Matthew 2:22). In the region of Galilee, Joseph returned to Nazareth with Mary and the Child Jesus (see Matthew 2:23). Jesus grew up in the small town of Nazareth – the hometown of Joseph and Mary (see Mark 1:9; Mark 6:1; Luke 2:39, 51-52; Luke 4:16, 23; John 1:45-46)). Even more, Joseph's return to Nazareth also fulfilled another Old Testament prophecy that the Messiah would be called a "Nazarene" (see Matthew 2:23). The term "Nazarene" was applied both to Jesus and His followers (see Acts 24:5); and the Lord Jesus was often called "Jesus of Nazareth" (e.g., see Matthew 21:11; Matthew 26:71; Mark 14:67; Luke 2:39; John 18:5, 7).

References
Amplified Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987).
Apologetics Study Bible: Understanding Why You Believe (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2012).
ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008).
Life Application Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005).
New Student Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).
Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Why Is Christmas So Important? God Visits Earth

Apostle Paul and Timothy: 15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, 16 for through Him (Christ) God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we cannot see — such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through Him (Christ) and for Him (Christ). 17 He (Christ) existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together. 18 Christ is also the Head of the church, which is His body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So He is first in everything. 19 For God in all His fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20 and through Him (Christ) God reconciled everything to Himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the Cross. Colossians 1:15-20 (NLT)

Christmas is truly the most wonderful time of the year! During the Christmas season, we celebrate the living God coming to visit earth through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (see Matthew 1:21-23; Luke 1:31-32, 35; Luke 2:10-12). The Lord Jesus Christ was not simply a “man who fell to earth,” but the Son of the living LORD God, sent to do the work of His Father (e.g., see Matthew16:16; Matthew 26:63-64; Mark 1:1; Luke 1:35; John 1:1-5, 14, 18, 49; John 17:3; John 20:31). In the Lord Jesus Christ was true life and light that gives life and light to everyone who accepts Him by faith (e.g., see John 1:4, 9; John 8:12; John 9:5; John 11:25-26; John 12:46; 1 John 1:2; 1 John 5:11). Everyone who genuinely and wholeheartedly comes to the Lord Jesus Christ no longer stays in darkness (see John 12:46). Even more, the Lord Jesus Christ is our Savior because He was born to save humanity from our sins through faith in Him (e.g., see Luke 2:11; John 3:16-17; Acts 4:10-12; Acts 5:31; Acts 13:23, 38-39). The name Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, which means the Lord saves. For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all humanity through the Lord Jesus Christ (see Titus 2:11).

The Holy Scriptures does not reveal the exact date of the Lord Jesus Christ’s birth. Only the Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell the story of the Lord Jesus Christ’s miraculous birth by God’s Holy Spirit (see Matthew 1:18-2:12; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-20). The Gospels of Mark and John do not give a birth narrative of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospels of Mark and John, there are no Christmas scenes: any stables, shepherds, or wise men. Only the Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell of the Lord Jesus Christ’s birth and youth. The Gospels of Mark and John introduce the Lord Jesus Christ as the adult Son of God (see Mark 1:1; John 1:1-5).

In the first century, the early church celebrated the Lord Jesus Christ’s birth on many different days such as January 6, April 18, and May 20. However, the early church eventually settled on December 25 to celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ because this date also coincided with the pagan festival celebrating Saturnalia and the winter solstice. The early church presented the Lord Jesus Christ at the Sun of Righteousness, replacing the sun god, Sol Invictus, celebrated during these pagan festivals (see Malachi 4:2).

Now, many Christians around the world celebrate December 25 as the day the living LORD God Almighty came and visited earth as a human and lived among us humans through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (e.g., see John 1:1-5, 14, 18; Romans 1:3; Philippians 2:7-8; Hebrew 2:14, 17; 1 John 4:2)! Biblical scholars refer to the Lord Jesus Christ coming to earth as Man the Incarnation. In the Lord Jesus Christ, the fullness of God lived in a human body, and the Lord Jesus Christ is the exact likeness and visible image of His Father, the living LORD God Almighty (Colossians 1:15, 19; see also John 14:9-11; Colossians 2:9-10).

The Lord Jesus Christ is Emmanuel, which means “God with us” (see Matthew 1:23), and He radiates the glory and expresses the very nature of His Father, the LORD God Almighty (see John 14:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Philippians 2:6; Hebrews 1:3). The Lord Jesus Christ is fully God and fully Man – the God-Man. Even more, the Lord Jesus Christ and His Father, the living LORD God Almighty, are One (e.g., see Deuteronomy 6:4-6; John 10:30; John 17:11, 22-23). The true and living God of heaven and earth is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Colossians 1:3). No one has ever seen the living LORD God (also known as Yahweh, Elohim, the King, and El Shaddai), who is invisible and lives in unapproachable light (e.g., see Exodus 33:20; John 1:18; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:16; 1 John 4:12, 20). However, the Lord Jesus Christ radiates the very glory and character of His Father, the living LORD God Almighty (e.g., see John 14:9-10; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Hebrews 1:3).

The Son of God existed long before anything was created on earth as the Lord Jesus Christ is the first born of all creation, and He is supreme over all creation (see Colossians 1:15, 18). Through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, the LORD God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth because life and the light lived in the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16; see also John 1:1-4, 10; John 11:26; 1 Corinthians 8:6). The LORD God made the things we can see and the things we cannot see — such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world (see Colossians 1:16). Everything was created by the Lord Jesus Christ and for the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16; see also Hebrews 1:2).

Moreover, the Lord Jesus Christ existed before all things and before anything else, and He holds all creation together (Colossians 1:17; see also John 1:1-2; John 8:58; Hebrews 1:3). The Lord Jesus Christ is also the Head of the church, which is His body (Colossians 1:18, 24; see also Ephesians 1:22-23; 1 Corinthians 12:27). Even more, the Lord Jesus Christ is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead; therefore, He is first in everything (Colossians 1:18; see also Revelation 1:5, 8, 17-18).

As mentioned earlier, for the LORD God Almighty in all His fullness was pleased to live in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:19; see also Colossians 2:9). From the fullness of the Lord Jesus Christ’s grace we believers have received one blessing after another (see John 1:16). Through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, the living LORD God reconciled everything to Himself (Colossians 1:20; see also Romans 5:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19). Even more, the living God made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of His Son Christ’s blood and sacrificial death on Calvary’s Cross for the sins of the whole world (see Colossians 1:20).

The Lord Jesus Christ is our confident peace, hope, and joy (e.g., see Luke 2:14; John 14:27; Ephesians 2:14; Colossians 1:5, 11, 27; Colossians 3:15). Through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, one finds complete treasure, wisdom, knowledge, blessings, grace, and salvation (e.g., see John 1:16; Romans 1:16-17; 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30; Ephesians 1:7-8; Colossians 2:3). In other words, we are made complete and find oneness with the living God through our wholehearted faith and obedience to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (see John 14:15, 19-21, 23-24; Colossians 2:6-7, 10). The Apostle Paul wanted to emphasize to all people the Lord Jesus Christ is ENOUGH! Through our faith in God and obedience to His moral commands, God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ comes to live inside all believers, and believers now share in His glory (see Colossians 1:27). Even more, our wholehearted faith and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ rescue believers from the kingdom of darkness and adopts believers into the Kingdom of His dear Son, who is the Light of the World (Colossians 1:13; see also John 1:12-13; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 5:8-14). The Lord Jesus Christ purchased all believers’ freedom, forgave our sins through faith in Him, and now reconciles us to the living God (see Colossians 1:14, 21-22). In the living God’s eyes through faith in His Son the Lord God, believers are declared holy, blameless, perfect, and righteous – without a single fault (Colossians 1:22; see also 1 Corinthians 1:30).  

As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul encourages all believers faithfully to walk and live in all goodness, righteousness, obedience, humility, and truth (Colossians 1:23, 28; see also John 15:4; Ephesians 5:8-14; Colossians 2:6-7; Titus 2:11-14). True wisdom is a godly living! Repeatedly, the Apostle Paul encourages believers to put-off their old sinful nature and walk in godliness (e.g., see Colossians 3:5-10). Our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ should make a difference! A believer’s good and righteous life honors and pleases our Lord Jesus Christ, obey God’s commandments, and produce every kind of good fruit and light as we grow and learn to know the Jesus’ Father, the living God better and better (Colossians 1:6, 10; see also Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21; John 15:5, 8, 16; Ephesians 2:10; Ephesians 5:8-14; Colossians 3:8-10). Sadly, our disobedience and unfaithfulness to the living God and His righteous commandments drive us away from the living God and makes us God’s enemies, separated from Him (Colossians 1:21; see also Ephesians 2:1-3, 12). This Christmas let us all make a wholehearted commitment to walk and live for Jesus Christ!

May God our Father give you grace and peace (Colossians 1:2, NLT).

References
ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008).
New Student Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).
NLT Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House Company, 2001).

Friday, November 24, 2017

Peace and Victory

Moses: 1 “When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you! 2 When you prepare for battle, the priest must come forward to speak to the troops. 3 He will say to them, ‘Listen to me, all you men of Israel! Do not be afraid as you go out to fight your enemies today! Do not lose heart or panic or tremble before them. 4 For the LORD your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and He will give you victory!’” Deuteronomy 20:1-4 (NLT)

In Deuteronomy chapters 19:1 through 22:12, Moses gives Israel instructions to maintain justice, order, and peace in God’s land. The living God wants His people to maintain justice, order, goodness, and peace in His land (e.g., see Psalm 89:14; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 22:3; Amos 5:7, 10-11, 21; Micah 6:8; Zechariah 7:9-10; Matthew 23;23; Luke 11:42). If this section of Deuteronomy emphasizes anything, it is that God wants His people to maintain peace and order among His people, within the home and family, and even respect for natural resources, property, and animals.

This section deals with the five of God’s Ten Commandments: Fifth Commandment (obedience of parents), Sixth Commandment (shall not murder), the Seventh Commandment (maintain faithfulness to your marriage partner), the Eight Commandment (shall not steal from others), and the Ninth Commandment (shall not tell lies and falsehood) (see Exodus 20:12-16; Deuteronomy 5:16-20). This section of Deuteronomy discusses matters that the living God and His Son Jesus Christ condemns and makes a person unclean (unholy) – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander (Matthew 15:18-20; see also Galatians 5:19-21).

In Deuteronomy 19, the living God gave Moses instructions on protecting human life through cities of refugees (see Deuteronomy 19:1-13). When Israel entered into God’s Promised Land, Israel was to allocate three cities of refuge in the land (see Deuteronomy 19:1-2, 7). If the living God enlarged Israel’s territory, then Moses instructed Israel also to designate three additional cities of refuge in God’s land (see Deuteronomy 19:8-9). Israel’s land was the LORD God’s land that He gave Israel as a special possession and inheritance (Deuteronomy 19:1, 3, 10; e.g., see also Exodus 3:8, 17; Deuteronomy 26:9, 15). The LORD God promised to increase Israel’s land as an inheritance based on His promise to His servant Abraham if Israel wholeheartedly obeyed God’s commands — if you always love the LORD your God and walk in His righteous ways (Deuteronomy 19:9; see also Genesis 15:18-21; Deuteronomy 6:4-6, 10-12). Moses had previously instructed God’s people to set aside three cities of refuge on the eastside of the Jordan – that is east of the Promised Land (see Numbers 35:14; Deuteronomy 4:41-43). Now, Moses instructed Israel to do the same in God’s Promised Land – west of the Jordan. In total, God instructed Israel through His servant Moses to set aside six refugee cities for Israelites, aliens, and any other people living among them who needed protection (see Numbers 35:11, 13-15).

These cities of refugees provided safety for anyone who accidentally and unintentionally killed anyone without any forethought, malice, hatred, and enmity, and hostility (Deuteronomy 19:3-5, 7; see also Exodus 21:13; Numbers 35:6, 10-12, 14-15, 22-23; Deuteronomy 4:41-43; Joshua 20:1-3, 9-10). Such unintentional killings were manslaughter or manslayer because such person did not intend to harm another (Deuteronomy 19:3; see also Numbers 35:23). Such cities of refugees prevented an enraged avenger such as a family member from chasing down and killing an innocent person who accidentally caused the death of another without first standing trial (Deuteronomy 19:6, 10; see also Numbers 35:12). Since revenge was common and swift, the living God had His people set apart several these “cities of refuge” until the person could receive a fair trial. The LORD God hates the shedding of innocent blood (e.g., see Proverbs 6:16-17; Jeremiah 7:6). Even more, these cities of refugees prevented God’s people from also being guilty of innocent bloodshed (see Deuteronomy 19:10). If a court found the person innocent of murder, that person could remain in that city and be safe from those seeking revenge. This is a beautiful example of how God blended His justice, fairness, and mercy toward His people.

However, for anyone who intentionally killed another person with premeditation, hatred, malice, spite, and anger, the living God forbid such person from entering one of these cities of refugees and the elders turned such murderers over to the avengers of blood  (Deuteronomy 19:11-13; see also Numbers 35:16-18, 20-21). The living God curses murderers (see Deuteronomy 27:24) because He commanded His people not to murder (e.g., see Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). According to Jesus, murder begins in one’s heart when one hates or becomes anger with anyone without cause (Matthew 5:21-22; see also 1 John 3:15). With murderers, God’s people were not to pity or show mercy because the LORD God did not want Israel to pollute the land with murderers (Deuteronomy 19:13; see also Numbers 35:19, 21, 33-34). The LORD God did not give refuge for someone who is argumentative toward another neighbor and deliberately ambushes and murders His neighbor (Deuteronomy 19:11-12; see also Exodus 21:12, 14; Numbers 35:16-21). Therefore, the living God commanded that if anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death (see Exodus 21:12; Leviticus 24:17, 21; Numbers 35:31). Israel was to purge from its land anyone guilty of murdering innocent people because murderers pollute God’s land with innocent bloodshed (Deuteronomy 19:13; see also Numbers 35:31, 33-34). This section of Deuteronomy emphasizes that God holds human life precious and wants us to treat people fairly, for humans are made in the image of the living God (e.g., see Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 5:1; Genesis 9:6; James 3:9).

Next, Moses gave Israel instruction for a fair trial. To assure a fair trial, the LORD God through His servant Moses instructed Israel to assemble people to judge whether someone is guilty of murder and other charges (see Numbers 35:12, 24-25; Joshua 20:6). The living God required two or three witnesses to establish the guilt of an accused person and never on the testimony of only one witness (Deuteronomy 19:15; e.g., see also Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19). One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. Moreover, God’s appointed elders, judges, and officials were thoroughly to investigate the facts of the case and take the testimony of two or three witnesses to the crime (see Deuteronomy 19:15; see also Deuteronomy 17:6). Nonetheless, the fact that two or three persons bear witness does not guarantee that they are telling the truth (e.g., 1 Kings 21:1-14).

Afterward, God commanded His people never to steal anyone’s land by moving the boundary markers their ancestors set up to mark their property (see Deuteronomy 19:14). Such actions were the equivalent of stealing and violated the Eighth Commandment (Exodus 20:15; see also Deuteronomy 27:17; Proverbs 22:28; Proverbs 23:10). God’s commandment not to steal covers much more territory than just forbidding a thief. Extortion and blackmail are also stealing (see Psalm 62:10), and God condemns officials who make unjust laws to rob the poor and the helpless (see Proverbs 15:25; Proverbs 23:10-11; Ezekiel 22:29).

Then, the living God gave instructions on slander and other false charges such as defamation and libel. If a person comes forward and accuses anyone of an offense, then both parties must appear before the LORD God by coming to the priests and judges in office at that time (Deuteronomy 19:16-17; see also Deuteronomy 17:8-9; Deuteronomy 21:5). The sitting judges must carefully, thoroughly, and prayerfully investigate the case (see Deuteronomy 19:18). If the accuser has brought false charges against his or her fellow neighbor, then Israel must impose on the accuser the sentence intended for the other person (Deuteronomy 19:18-19; see also Daniel 6:24). In this way, Israel would purge such evil and falsehood from God’s land and assure such dishonest witness is punished for such lies, deceit, and trickery (Deuteronomy 19:19-20; see also Exodus 23:1-3; Proverbs 19:5, 9). With such punishment, others potential untruthful witnesses will hear and fear such falsehood and not commit any such evil (see Deuteronomy 19:20). Slanderers and false witnesses rob and steal someone’s good name and reputation (see Deuteronomy 19:16-19; Matthew 15:19-20). Even more, such slander and false charges break God’s commandment not to give false testimony against your neighbor (see Exodus 20:16). 

Finally, Deuteronomy 19 ends with the famous instruction to keep peace and justice in the land once established by God’s appointed elders, priests, and judges with the assembly of people. Moses instructed Israel to show no pity for the guilty but to give out justice “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” – whether rich, poor, native, and foreign (Deuteronomy 19:21; see also Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:17-22). This provision assured the guilty would pay the same price for their crimes and offenses against another and help the court administer punishment. Some people mistakenly believe this section of Deuteronomy allows personal vengeance. However, both the Old and the New Testament NEVER allowed for personal and private vengeance, retaliation, and grudges without the establishment of guilt or innocence by a court of law (e.g., see also Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:38-42; Romans 12:17-21). From the very beginning, the living God instructed His people “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself” (see Leviticus 19:18, NIV2011). By taking personal vengeance in one’s own hands, one could wrongfully kill an innocent person. From a personal standpoint, everyone must return good for evil, love for hatred, and forgiveness for selfishness (see Romans 12:9-16, 21; 1 Peter 2:11-25), and never “evil for evil” (e.g., see Proverbs 20:22; Proverbs 24:29; Matthew 5:39, 44; Matthew 14:19; Romans 12:17, 19; 2 Corinthians 8:21). For the Holy Scriptures are very clear, the living God is Judge, and He will punish all sins and wrongdoing (e.g., see Deuteronomy 32:35; Psalms 94:1-2; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30)!

Next, Deuteronomy 20 gives Israel instructions on warfare against their enemies, both foreign and domestic. The living God through His servant Moses encouraged Israel by saying that when they fight against their enemies and face horses, chariots, and an army greater and powerful than their own, Moses said, “Do not be afraid” (Deuteronomy 20:1; see also Psalm 20:6-7; Isaiah 31:1). The LORD God, who brought Israel out of the land of Egypt, is with His people, and He goes before His faithful people to fight against their enemies (Deuteronomy 20:1; see also Deuteronomy 31:6). Therefore, God’s faithful people can always be strong and courageous because the living God fights for and protects His faithful people (see also Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; 1 Samuel 17:45-47).

Then, Moses instructed the priest to speak to and encourage the troops, when preparing for battle against their enemies (Deuteronomy 20:2; see also Numbers 14:8-9). The priests are to encourage Israel’s troops not to be afraid, lose heart, panic or tremble but fight against their enemies (Deuteronomy 20:3; e.g., see also Joshua 6:4-21; 2 Chronicles 20:14-22). As with the Egyptians, the living LORD God goes ahead of His faithful people to fight and protect them against their enemies, and He will give His people victory (Deuteronomy 20:4; see also Deuteronomy 1:29-31). The LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, is the One who goes before His faithful people to fight and protect His people, who love and obey Him (see also Exodus 14:13-14; Deuteronomy 3:22; Joshua 1:6-9; Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5). For God’s faithful and obedient people, our battles are the LORD’s battles, and the LORD will fight for His faithful people (e.g., see Exodus 14:14; 1 Samuel 17:47; 2 Chronicles 20:15; Psalm 44:6-7; Zechariah 4:6). Therefore, God’s people must always walk and live by faith in the LORD God Almighty and keep our eyes on Him – our Warrior and Protector (e.g.,; see also Deuteronomy 1:30-31; Deuteronomy 6:21-23; Deuteronomy 7:1-2, 20-24; Deuteronomy 8:14-16; Deuteronomy 9:3; Deuteronomy 11:12, 22-25; Deuteronomy 26:6-9; Deuteronomy 31:4; Hebrews 12:1-3).

Moreover, Moses instructed Israel to assign officers of the army and these officers were to eliminate troops from Israel’s army that recently built a new house, planted a vineyard, and engaged a woman for marriage (Deuteronomy 20:5-7; see also Deuteronomy 24:5). Furthermore, Israel’s army officers were to eliminate anyone fearful, afraid, fainthearted, and worrisome army members from the battle because such timid mindset will frighten and discourage the other soldier (Deuteronomy 20:8; see also Judges 7:1-3). Unfortunately, fear is contagious! Fear and faith cannot live together successfully in the same heart (see also Matthew 8:26; Luke 8:25). Sadly, fear and unbelief that caused Israel’s first great failure after leaving Egypt and resulted in 40 years of wilderness wandering (see Numbers 13-14). From the remaining troops, Israel’s army officers are to appoint the unit commanders (captains) to help lead Israel’s army (see Deuteronomy 20:9). The living God wanted to assure He had faithful, committed, and wholeheartedly devoted soldiers in His army, whose minds and hearts were focused on God and His plans (see also 2 Timothy 2:4; James 1:8; James 4:8). Sadly, double-minded, fearful, and unstable people will prevent God’s victory!

Before attacking their enemies, Moses instructed Israel to always first offer its enemies terms for peace (see Deuteronomy 20:10). If Israel’s enemies accepted their terms and opened the gates to Israel, then all the people inside was to serve Israel in forced labor (see Deuteronomy 20:11). However, if Israel’s enemies refused to make peace, then Israel was to prepare to fight and attack their enemies (see Deuteronomy 20:12). When the LORD God hands their enemies over to Israel, the living God gave Israel instructions on their enemies and their enemies’ land (see Deuteronomy 20:13-20). As for the Canaanites, God had already stated that the Israelites’ invasion was a form of punishment for their evil and detestable practices, such as child sacrifice, witchcraft, and sorcery (e.g., see Deuteronomy 7:1-11; Deuteronomy 9:4; Deuteronomy 18:9-14). Most important, Moses reminded Israel not to copy and mimic their enemies’ detestable religious customs in the worship of their gods because such detestable and evil worship would cause Israel to sin deeply against the living LORD God (Deuteronomy 20:18; see also Deuteronomy 7:4; Deuteronomy 12:29-31; Deuteronomy 18:9-14). In this warfare, the living God gave His people two different military approaches, one for the cities in the land of Canaan (see Deuteronomy 20:16-18) and the other for cities outside Canaan (see Deuteronomy 20:13-15). Also during warfare, the living God gave Israel instruction to protect the enemies natural resources for Israel’s use (see Deuteronomy 20:19-20).  

In the remaining sections, Moses gives Israel various other instructions on handling unsolved murders (see Deuteronomy 21:1-9), marriage and family issues (see Deuteronomy 21:10-21), handling capital offenses (see Deuteronomy 21:22-23), protecting animals (see Deuteronomy 22:1-7) and agriculture (see Deuteronomy 22:8-12). The whole earth belongs to the living God, and the people living on God’s earth were His tenants. Our sins not only grieve the LORD God but also dishonor His land. God’s desire for all people is to come to the living God and find life, do what is good and run from evil, and He would protect you and provide for you (see Amos 5:4, 6, 14-15).

First, the LORD God through His servant Moses instructed Israel on atoning for unsolved murders in their land. If someone murdered another person in a community and the criminal got away, the whole community was held responsible for the unsolved murder and had to seek God’s forgiveness (atonement) for the innocent murder (see Deuteronomy 21:8-9). God was pointing to the need for the whole community to feel responsible for one another. Next, the living God protected men from humiliating and mistreating their wives and children (see Deuteronomy 21:10-17). God’s original pattern for marriage was one man and one woman devoted to each other for one lifetime (see Genesis 2:24; Malachi 2:15; Matthew 19:4-5; Mark 10:6-9; Ephesians 5:21-33). Sadly, multiple wives and husbands often complicate the family unit. For instance, Abraham and Jacob discovered that having multiple wives meant competition and friction in the home and brought a great deal of grief into the family (e.g., see Genesis 21:8-21; Genesis 29:15-29; Genesis 37:4, 18).

Then, Moses instructed Israel not to tolerate disobedient, stubborn, and rebellious children, who refuse to obey their parents (Deuteronomy 21:18-21; see also Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16). The point was that Israel was not to tolerate disobedient, wayward, lazy, drunkard, and rebellion children in their homes and communities who dishonor their parents and disgrace the community (see Deuteronomy 21:20-21). Such wicked children refused to work, partied with the drunkards, and contributed nothing to the home or the community. The living God expected parents to be His representatives of authority and discipline at the family level, ensuring that no dysfunctional and destructive influences entered the community of faith on their account. This kind of sin was so dreadful that rebellious and disobedient children were included in the curses (Deuteronomy 27:16; see also Exodus 21:17). Sadly, disorder in the home breeds disorder in society; that is why this was such a serious matter (see also Matthew 15:3-4; Matthew 19:19; Ephesians 6:1-2). Nonetheless, the living God expected parents to forgive any prodigal and wayward child once they return to their sense and return to God (see Luke 15:11-32).

Finally, the living God gives His people various guidelines for respecting dead bodies, respecting animals, and property. If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death, Israel was not to leave the body hanging overnight but bury the body that same day (see Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:23; see also John 19:31; Galatians 3:13). Next, Israel was responsible for returning their neighbor’s animals and other property items to the rightful owner (see Deuteronomy 22:1-3). For God’s people, there is no such thing as, “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” Also, if Israel sees their neighbor’s animal hurt, they were to go and help their neighbor’s animal (see Deuteronomy 22:4). Moreover, the living God wanted His people not to cross-dress. A woman must not wear men’s clothing, and a man must not wear women’s clothing (see Deuteronomy 22:5). God had a purpose in making us uniquely male and female.

In conclusion, these guidelines are specific applications of Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (see also Matthew 5:43; Matthew 19:16; Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). In all we do, we are to love one another!

References
ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008).
Life Application Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005).
NLT Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008).
Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary – Old Testament (Victor Books, 1989).

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Government and Kingdom Officials

15 Moses continued, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet (Prophet) like me (Moses) from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you yourselves requested of the LORD your God when you were assembled at Mount Sinai (Horeb). You said, ‘Do not let us hear the voice of the LORD our God anymore or see this blazing fire, for we will die.’ 17 Then the LORD said to me (Moses), ‘What they have said is right. 18 I will raise up a prophet (Prophet) like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put My words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I (God) command him. 19 I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on My behalf. 20 But any prophet who falsely claims to speak in My Name or who speaks in the name of another god must die.’ 21 But you may wonder (hearts and minds), ‘How will we know whether or not a prophecy is from the LORD?’ 22 If the prophet speaks in the LORD’s Name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the LORD did not give that message. That prophet has spoken without My authority and need not be feared.” Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (NLT)

In Deuteronomy chapters 16:18 through Deuteronomy 18:22, the living God through His faithful servant Moses gives Israel and believers of Jesus Christ instructions on His government and kingdom officials in His land. These government and kingdom officials are judges, officers, priests, kings, and prophets. Notably, in these chapters, the living God saw no separation of church and state as the state and church were to work together to maintain justices and fairness in the land. Furthermore, many biblical scholars see Deuteronomy chapters 16:18 through Deuteronomy 18:22 as linked to God’s fifth commandment with obedience to our mothers and fathers (see Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16). Truly, disorder and anarchy in the home breed disorder and anarchy in society.

The living God appoints government and kingdom officials to govern His people on earth and maintain order (see also Romans 13:1-7; 1 Corinthians 14:40). There is no authority except from God (e.g., see Daniel 2:21; Daniel 4:17; John 19:11; Romans 13:1-2, 4). Without government and kingdom officials, even with all its shortcomings, there would be lawlessness, disorder, and chaos throughout the land. Therefore, the Holy Scriptures instructs God’s people to pray for all these officials in authority and not just criticize them (see Ezra 6:10; 1 Timothy 2:1-2). Besides, those who serve in appointed government and kingdom officials are fully accountable to the living God. Ultimately, the living God and His Son Jesus Christ are the Judge, supreme Legislator, and King of all the heavens and earth (e.g., see Psalms 75:7; Psalm 82:8; Ecclesiastes 12:13; John 8:16, 50; 1 Timothy 6:15; 1 Peter 4:5; Jude 1:15; Revelation 19:16).

First, the LORD God through His servant Moses instructed Israel and now believers of Jesus Christ to appoint local judges and officers from among their people in all the towns the LORD God gives Israel (see Deuteronomy 16:18). These appointed judges and officers are to be trustworthy, wise, and faithful men and women that judges all people equally, honestly, and fairly – whether rich, poor, foreigners, orphans, widows, prisoners, etc. and not follow the crowd by doing wrong and evil (Deuteronomy 16:18; see also Exodus 18:21; Exodus 23:2, 6-9; Deuteronomy 1:16-17; Deuteronomy 27:19; Proverbs 18:5; Isaiah 10:1-2; James 2:1-4). Moreover, these appointed judges and officers are never to twist and pervert justice nor show prejudice, favoritism, and preference (Deuteronomy 16:19; see also Exodus 23:3, 6-9; Leviticus 19:15). Even more, these appointed judges and officials are not to accept a bribe or seek dishonest gain, for such bribes and enticements blind the eyes of the wise and corrupt the decisions of the godly (Deuteronomy 16:19; see also Exodus 23:8; Samuel 8:1-3). Instead, Moses instructed Israel and now the church to appoint judges and officers that will seek only true justice and fairness for all people, so the people may live and occupy the land that the LORD God is giving the people (Deuteronomy 16:20; see also Amos 5:12-14; Micah 6:6-8).

Then, Moses once again commanded Israel and now the church to always exclusively worship and trust the LORD God and give our best sacrifice and offerings to Him (Deuteronomy 17:1; see also Exodus 20:3, 5; Exodus 34:13-14; Exodus 23:24-26; Deuteronomy 5:7-10; Deuteronomy 6:4-6). The LORD God is a consuming fire and a jealous God who demands our wholehearted allegiance, worship, and love to Him first (e.g., see Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 5:9; Joshua 24:19-20; Nahum 1:2-3; Matthew 6:33). In their offering unto to LORD God, Israel and also the church are never to offer unto God our mediocre offerings, worship, and sacrifices to the LORD God for the living God detests such second-rate and shortchanged gifts (Deuteronomy 17:1; see also Leviticus 22:20-22; Ephesians 5:19-20; Hebrews 13:15). We are always to give our first and our best to the living God – time, money, worship, and talents (see Malachi 1:6-14).

Moreover, Moses instructed Israel and now the church to never comingle and synchronize our worship of the living God with other gods and idols (Deuteronomy 16:21-22; see also Deuteronomy 4:25-26; Joshua 23:16). The Old and New Testament prohibits syncretistic practices – cannot serve two gods (e.g., see 2 Kings 21:7; Matthew 6:24). Idolatry violates the very first commandments and the heart of the covenant (see Exodus 20:3-7; Matthew 22:37). The LORD God demands our wholehearted and exclusive worship and allegiance to Him first and exclusively (Deuteronomy 16:22; see also Matthew 6:33; Matthew 22:37; 1 John 5:21). Moses warned Israel and now the church that mixing and synchronizing the worship of the living God with other gods, idols, and the forces of heaven (e.g., the sun, the moon, or any of the stars) is evil and violates the very heart of the covenant (Deuteronomy 17:2-3; see also Deuteronomy 4:15-19; Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Deuteronomy 13:6-14). If such evil and forbidden worship occurs in the land, Moses commanded Israel to investigate the matter thoroughly and interview multiple witnesses to confirm such wickedness and evil (see Deuteronomy 17:4-6). One witness is not enough to convict a person accused of such an evil crime or offense (e.g., see Numbers 35:30; Matthew 18:15-17). Instead, a matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses with a thorough investigation (see also Deuteronomy 19:15-21). If it is true that such forbidden and detestable worship have been done in Israel, Israel was to immediately remove such idolatry from their land (Deuteronomy 17:5, 7; see also Exodus 22:20; Leviticus 24:15-16).

If the case arises for the local judges and officers that are too hard to decide, such as a murder or manslaughter charges, cases involving difficult assaults and lawsuits, then Moses instructed Israel and also the church to take these difficult cases to the judges and the Levitical priests the LORD God will choose – a central court (see Deuteronomy 17:8-9). Then, the God-appointed Levitical priests and the judges will hear these difficult cases, interpret the law, and declare the verdict (see Deuteronomy 17:9, 11). The living God appointed His Levitical priests, who ministered (served) before Him and pronounced blessings in His Name, to decide all legal and criminal cases (see Deuteronomy 21:5). God’s people were to strictly carry out the verdict the God-appointed Levitical priests and the judges announced and the sentence they prescribed (see Deuteronomy 17:10-11). Anyone arrogant and presumptuous enough to reject and not obey the verdict of the God-appointed judges and priests must be removed from the land and be subject to judgment to purge the evil from Israel (Deuteronomy 17:12-13; see also Romans 13:1-2).

Next, Moses gives Israel and also believers of Jesus guidelines for selecting a king in God’s land (see Deuteronomy 17:14). Moses instructed the people to select a leader the LORD God chooses (see Deuteronomy 17:15). Also, the king must be a one of God’s people and a fellow Israelite and not a foreigner (see Deuteronomy 17:15). Unfortunately, Moses was fearful that foreign rulers would lead Israel to worship other gods and idols and not the living God exclusively. Also, Israel’s history revealed that whenever God wanted to punish His people, He would set a foreign ruler over them and let the people experience the contrast between the goodness of God and the oppressiveness of the idolatrous Gentiles (e.g., see 2 Kings 17; 2 Kings 25). Moreover, the king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send the people to Egypt to buy horses, for the LORD has told you, “You must never return to Egypt” (see Deuteronomy 17:16). God’s king must always put his full trust in the LORD God and not depend on horses and armies, foreign alliances, or material wealth (e.g., see 1 Samuel 17:15; Psalm 33:16-20; Psalm 147:10-11; Proverbs 21:31; Isaiah 31:1). Furthermore, the king must not take many wives for himself, because these many wives will turn his heart away from the LORD God (see Deuteronomy 17:1). Also, the king must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself (see Deuteronomy 17:17).

Finally and most important, when the king takes the throne, he must copy for himself God’s laws, ordinances, and decrees on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests (see Deuteronomy 17:18). All God’s laws, ordinances, and decrees are rooted in the Ten Commandments. The king must always keep God’s laws, ordinances, and decrees with him and read and study it daily as long as he lived (Deuteronomy 17:19; see also Deuteronomy 4:9-10; Joshua 1:7-8). Then, the king will learn to fear, honor, and respect the LORD God – the true Great King (see Deuteronomy 17:19). Essentially, the king must be a god-fearing leader and wholeheartedly obedient to God’s Word. The king’s regular reading and studying of God’s laws, ordinances, and decrees will prevent his heart from becoming full of pride and ruling God’s people unjustly (see Deuteronomy 17:20). Even more, reading and studying God’s laws, commandments, and decrees will prevent the king from turning away from faithfully following the living God and His righteous commands (Deuteronomy 17:20; see also Deuteronomy 5:32-33; Joshua 23:6). If the king served the living God with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind and heart, he and his descendants will reign for many generations and prosper in all they do and wherever they go (Deuteronomy 17:20; see also Deuteronomy 4:40; 1 Kings 2:2-4; 1 Chronicles 28:8-10). The living God wanted to assure His leaders would always look to Him regularly for guidance about military and governmental decisions (e.g., see 2 Samuel 5:19).

Sadly, Israel’s history proved that they disobeyed God’s guidelines for selecting a leader and did not trust wholeheartedly in the living God as their true King (see 1 Samuel 8:7-8; 1 Samuel 10:18-19). Samuel warned Israel what would happen if they looked to a human king instead of the living God first as their true King (see 1 Samuel 8:9-18). The command to avoid the amassing many horses and wives was clearly disobeyed by all the kings of Israel and Judah, beginning with David and epitomized by Solomon (e.g., see 2 Samuel 5:13-16; 1 Kings 4:26; 1 Kings 10:14-11:8; 2 Chronicles 1:14, 16; 2 Chronicles 9:28; Nehemiah 13:26-27; Isaiah 2:7; Isaiah 31:7; Ezekiel 17:15). In particular, Solomon violated all three regulations for kingship and he led the nation into sin. Solomon married an Egyptian princess (see 1 Kings 3:1), the first of many political alliances he made by taking foreign wives (see 1 Kings 11:1-6). Also, Solomon went back to Egypt not only for a wife but also for horses for his army, and built “chariot cities” in Israel where he stabled his horses and chariots (see 1 Kings 10:26, 28-29). As for his wealth, it was fabulous and impossible to calculate (see 1 Kings 10:14-25, 27). Out of Solomon’s sinful leadership came the nation’s disobedience, division, and captivity (see 1 Kings 11:9-13). The living God was not against Israel appointing a king but He always wanted the people to faithfully look to Him and Him alone with obedience as the true King of heaven and earth (e.g., see Exodus 15:18; Psalm 10:16; Psalm 45:6; Psalm 146:10; Revelation 11:15). Yet, Israel’s kings did not obey the living and their behavior led to their downfall.

Afterward, Moses gave Israel instructions to remember and care for the Levitical priests—that is, the whole of the tribe of Levi (see Deuteronomy 18:1). The priests and Levites received no allotment or inheritance of land with Israel (Deuteronomy 18:1-2; see also Numbers 18:20; Deuteronomy 10:8-9; Deuteronomy 12:12; Numbers 26:62). The lack of inheritance for the priests and Levites seemed inconsistent with the provision granting them 48 cities throughout the land (see Numbers 35:1-8). The LORD God did not allocate to the priests and Levites a contiguous block of land, as the other eleven tribes of Israel. The priests and Levites’ towns included only a limited agricultural perimeter (see Numbers 35:3-5), so they were dependent on the gifts of the people. Nevertheless, the LORD God Himself is the priests and Levites’ special possession (Deuteronomy 18:2; see also Numbers 3:11-12). The LORD God chose the tribe of Levi out of all Israel’s tribes to minister (serve) in His Name forever (Deuteronomy 18:5; see also Deuteronomy 10:8-9). The priests and Levites served much the same function as our ministers today – to care for God’s sanctuary, preach His Word, and care for His people.

Because the priests and Levites could not own property or pursue outside business interests, God made special arrangements so that people would not take advantage of them. Levi’s brothers – the eleven other tribes of Israel – were to care and share with the priests and Levites (e.g., see Deuteronomy 12:12, 18-19; Deuteronomy 14:27). The living God assigned His priests and Levites to eat from the tithes, offerings, and sacrifices given to the LORD by His people (Deuteronomy 18:1, 3-4, 6-8; e.g., see also Leviticus 7:28-34; Numbers 18:8-9, 12, 20-21, 23; Joshua 13:14; 1 Samuel 2:28; Nehemiah 13:10-14; 1 Corinthians 9:13-14; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). Every third year, the people’s tithe would be distributed to the Levites, the needy, the poor, orphans, widows, and foreigners living within the town (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). Israel was never to neglect the Levites (ministers of God), the foreigners living among them, the orphans, the widows, and the poor in the land (Deuteronomy 14:27-29; see also Numbers 18:20-32). In collecting the tithe for Levites, the foreigners, the orphans, the widows, and the poor, Moses was appealing to Israel and now the church to always help people in need (e.g. see Exodus 22:21; Psalm 146:9; Isaiah 1:17, 23; Romans 12:13; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:6-14; Hebrews 13:16; James 1:27). The living God accepted these gifts from Israel for these people as an offering to Himself. The reasons for such care are given: Israel and now believers of Jesus are to imitate the holy character of God (see Leviticus 19:2), who cares for the poor and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39; John 13:34-35).

Notably, the New Testament acknowledged that those who minister and serve before the living God and preach the Gospel message should live from the Gospel (see Luke 10:7; 1 Corinthians 9:12-14; 1 Timothy 5:18). Yet, the Apostle Paul did not take advantage of this right (1 Corinthians 9:15; see also Acts 18:3). Instead the Apostle Paul proclaimed the Gospel message voluntarily and without compensation so that he would not be a burden to others (see 1 Corinthians 9:17-18, 23; 2 Corinthians 11:9-10).  

Then, Moses instructed Israel that the LORD God will raise up from them a Prophet similar to him from among their fellow Israelites (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18; see also Acts 3:22-23; Acts 7:37-38). Israel was to listen to Him (see Deuteronomy 18:15). Moses was a faithful prophet of God (e.g., see Deuteronomy 34:10; Hebrews 3:1-2). Previously, Israel asked Moses at Mount Sinai (Horeb) for a prophet (messenger) when they heard the voice of the living LORD God Almighty and witnessed His power, majesty, and glory (Deuteronomy 18:16-17; see also Exodus 20:18-21; Deuteronomy 5:23-28). Moses announced to Israel that the living God would raise up a Prophet like him from among their fellow Israelites after his death (see Deuteronomy 18:18). The living God would place His Words in the His prophet’s mouth, and that faithful prophet will tell the people everything He command (see Deuteronomy 18:18). Then, the LORD God promised to personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on His behalf (Deuteronomy 18:19; see also Acts 3:23).

However, Moses warned that any prophet who falsely claims to speak in God’s Name or who speaks in the name of another god must die (Deuteronomy 18:20; see also Exodus 23:13; Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Many people – cult members as well as believers of Jesus Christ – claim that God has spoken to them. Then, Moses gave Israel a test to determine whether a prophet is from the living God (see Deuteronomy 18:21). If the prophet speaks in the LORD’s Name but his prediction does not happen or come true, then Israel will know that the LORD did not give that message (Deuteronomy 18:22; see also Deuteronomy 13:2; Jeremiah 28:9). That false prophet has spoken arrogantly and presumptively without God’s authority and need not be feared (see Deuteronomy 18:22). Not only does a prediction made in God’s Name must, in fact, come true (see Deuteronomy 18:21-22) but also and equally important the prophet always point people to worship and obey the living God and His moral commands (see Deuteronomy 13:1-5, 6, 13).

Through human history starting with Abraham, God has sent His prophets (messengers, servants) to speak His Word into the world (e.g. see Genesis 20:7). Specifically, the living God denied and warned His people to never seek after such individuals as mediums, spiritists, fortunetellers, witches, and other detestable sources to seek His Word and His guidance (Deuteronomy 18:9-14; e.g., see also Leviticus 19:26, 31; Leviticus 20:6; 1 Samuel 28:3-25). For the church, the Apostle Paul specifically listed idolatry and witchcraft among the sins of the flesh (see Galatians 5:19-21). Moreover, the book of Revelation warns that anyone engaging in these evil practices of sorcery, witchcraft, and divination is destined for the lake of fire (see Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:14-15). Such evil messengers are masquerade as people of God but they are false and sent from the Evil One to draw people away from the living God and His moral commands (e.g., see Matthew 7:15; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1). The Holy Scriptures warn that false prophets can perform miracles (e.g., see 2 Thessalonians 2:9) and not everybody who addresses Jesus as “Lord” is a true prophet of God (see Matthew 7:21-23). Therefore, before listening and following any messenger claiming to speak a Word from God, check their words against the Holy Bible. The living God never contradicts Himself and use the Holy Bible to evaluate any prophet’s authenticity of this message. The living God has called His people to hold on to what is good and stay away from every kind of evil (e.g., see Romans 12:9; Ephesians 5:9-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).

Instead, the living God through His Holy Spirit sends His faithful and good prophets to help and build up His people in His moral commands and righteous ways (e.g., see Jeremiah 25:4; Jeremiah 29:19; Jeremiah 35:15; 1 Corinthians 12:7, 10, 28; Ephesians 4:11). Some of these faithful prophets were writing prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel and the “minor prophets” while others prophets are named throughout the Scriptures such as Elijah and Elisha that faithfully spoke God’s Word. These faithful prophets not only scolded Israel for sin and encouraged them in holy living, but they pointed to the coming of the Messiah who would be the Savior of the world (e.g., see Luke 24:27, 45-49). In these faithful prophets, the living God has given His Word to speak to the people (e.g., see Exodus 4:12; Isaiah 6:7; Jeremiah 1:9-10). The living God continues to reveal His guidance today with prophecy to His people through the Holy Spirit (e.g., see 1 Corinthians 12:10). Sadly, many people refuse to listen and pay attention to God’s faithful prophets who speak the Word of God (e.g., see 2 Kings 17:13-14; Jeremiah 7:25-26).

Throughout the centuries, biblical scholars have interpreted Deuteronomy 18:15 to refer to a special prophet who would appear before the Messiah comes to establish His kingdom. From Malachi 4:5, the Jews knew that Elijah would return at the end of the age, and many Jews wondered if the special prophet was John the Baptist, who dressed and ministered so much like Elijah (see Luke 3:1-9; Matthew 3:4). However, John the Baptist specifically denied that he was the special prophet predicted by Moses from Deuteronomy 18 (see John 1:19-21). In one sense, John was an “Elijah” who prepared the way for Jesus Christ (see Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:12; Luke 1:13-17), but John did not identify himself as the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5.

The greatest of all God’s prophets was Jesus the Messiah. Not only was Jesus the Messiah, Priest, coming King, and Son of God (see Matthew 2:2; Mark 1:1; John 20:31; Hebrews 3:1-2; Revelation 19:11, 16), Jesus was the Prophet predicted by Moses who spoke God’s Word faithfully to the people (e.g., see Deuteronomy 18:15, 18; John 12:49-50; John 17:8). The early church believed that Jesus was the Prophet predicted by Moses because He faithfully proclaimed the living God – His Father – in His words, actions, and deeds by the Holy Spirit (e.g., see Matthew 21:11; Luke 24:19; John 1:44-45; John 6:14; John 7:40; Acts 3:22-23; Acts 7:37). Nevertheless, some Muslims believe Deuteronomy 18:15, 18 refer to the coming of Muhammad. However, Stephen among others unequivocally identified Jesus as the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy (see Acts 7:37).

Sadly, in Israel and Judah’s history, God’s people did not follow God’s instructions on appointing judges, officers, priests, kings, and prophets. Because Israel and Judah did not appoint wise judges and faithful officers, rebellion and injustice plagued Israel and Judah communities. Instead, Israel and Judah’s judges, officers, priests, kings, and prophets oppressed the people, took bribes, and deprived the poor of justice in the courts (e.g., see 1 Samuel 8:3; Isaiah 1:23; Amos 2:6-7; Amos 5:12). Israel and Judah’s failure to provide justice and fairness by its judges, officers, priests, kings, and prophets aroused God’s anger and caused His people to be exiled from God’s land (see 2 Kings 17:7-23; 2 Kings 18:11-12; 2 Kings 21:2-16; 2 Kings 25:1-22; 2 Chronicles 33:1-9). Specifically, read 2 Kings 17:7-23; 2 Kings 21:2-16 for all the violations of Israel and Judah that brought God’s wrath on the land. For instance, the priests were not appointed by God but became political appointments and led God’s people away from the living God. Moreover, the courts became corrupt by allowing the rich and wealthy to rob the poor and needy, and the wealthy soon owned great estates and controlled God’s land. Also, many of the prophets in Israel and Judah had “lying” spirits, not the Spirit of God, and predicted falsehood and other deceptions. Even more, many of Israel and Judah’s kings did not follow wholeheartedly the ways of the LORD God and first seek God’s guidance in all matters.

References
ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008).
New Student Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).
NLT Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary – Old Testament (Victor Books, 1989).

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

God’s Holy People



Moses: 1 “Since you are the people of the LORD your God . . . . 2 You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and He has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be His own special treasure.” Deuteronomy 14:1-2 (NLT)

Israel and now all believers of God’s Son Jesus are children of the living LORD God and are set apart as holy to Him as His special treasure (Deuteronomy 14:1-2, 21; see also Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:6; John 1:12-13; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Galatians 3:26; 1 Peter 1:15-16; 1 Peter 2:5, 9-10). Because Israel and now all believers of Jesus are a holy people to God, they were not to imitate the wicked, immoral, and evil practices of the world (pagans) (e.g., see Leviticus 11:44-45; Leviticus 19:2; Leviticus 20:7-8, 26; Romans 12:1-2). As a holy people, God’s Holy Spirit – His Presence – was with Israel and now believers of God’s Son Jesus (e.g., see Deuteronomy 23:14; John 14:16-17, 26; Romans 5:5; 1 Corinthians 3:16-18). The people of God are to “demonstrate the difference” by how they lived and behaved, which brings honor and glory to the living God (e.g., Romans 8:13-14; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:31; James 1:27; 2 Peter 3:14).

In Deuteronomy chapter 14, Moses reminded God’s people of the creatures they were permitted and not permitted to eat to remain holy unto the LORD God (Deuteronomy 14:3-21; see also Leviticus 11:1-43). Many biblical scholars have suggested the dietary laws that prohibited eating certain foods were in some way associated with the pagan worship that Israel was to avoid. However, Jesus and His apostles later declared all foods clean, and the dietary laws no longer make people holy or unholy before the living God (see Mark 7:14-23; Acts 10:9-16, 28; Romans 14:1-15:13; 1 Corinthians 8:8; Colossians 2:16-23; 1 Timothy 4:3-5). Instead, Jesus and His apostles gave God’s people instructions on holy living, which begins with faith in the living God (e.g., see Romans 12:1-13:14; Ephesians 4:1-6:20; Colossians 3:1-4:6; 1 Peter 1:13-25). Now, whether we eat or drink, or whatever you do, we do all for the glory of God with humility and thanksgiving to God the Father through His Son Jesus’s Name (see 1 Corinthians 10:31; Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17; 1 Peter 4:11). Our motive must always be to please God and glorify Him. Nevertheless, the lessons behind these dietary laws remain valid. God’s people still cannot approach Him carelessly, but each person must examine one’s life to be certain that God’s purity is not violated.

Next, Moses instructed Israel to set aside a tithe (one-tenth or 10%) of all their fields produce each year — grain, fruits, vegetables, and animals — as an offering to God (Deuteronomy 14:22-27). Giving a tithe (10 percent) was a practice as early as Abram, so the people would learn to revere the LORD God always (Deuteronomy 14:23; see also Genesis 14:20; Genesis 28:22). Israel was to bring this tithe to the designated place of worship where the LORD God chooses for His Name (Presence) to be honored and the people were to eat the tithe there in God’s Presence with celebration — thanksgiving feast (Deuteronomy 14:23, 26; see also Deuteronomy 12:17-18). God’s people were to bring the whole tithe into God’s designated place of worship where He chooses for His Name (Presence) to be honored so His dwelling may always have food (see Malachi 3:10). The tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belonged to the LORD God and holy to the LORD (see Leviticus 27:30).

In their celebration and giving, the people were not to ignore and neglect the Levites (God’s ministers or servants) who managed God’s dwelling where His Name (Presence) was honored (Deuteronomy 14:27; see also Deuteronomy 12:12, 19). The Levities had no portion or inheritance as the living God Himself was His servants’ inheritance (see Numbers 26:62; Deuteronomy 18:1-2). Instead, the living God gave the tithe to His ministers (servants) as their inheritance in return for their service to Him at His sanctuary (see Numbers 18:20-21, 23; Deuteronomy 18:1, 3-8). The LORD God appointed the Levitical priests—that is, the whole of the tribe of Levi, out of all Israel’s tribes to minister in His Name forever and pronounce blessings in His Name (see Deuteronomy 10:8; Deuteronomy 18:5).

Then every third year, the people’s tithe would be distributed to the Levites, the needy, the poor, and foreigners living within the town (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). At the end of every third year, Moses instructed Israel to bring the entire tithe of that year’s harvest to give the tithe to the Levites, the foreigners living among Israel, the orphans, and the widows in their towns, so they can eat and be satisfied (Deuteronomy 14:29; see also Numbers 18:20-21). Israel was never to neglect the Levites (ministers of God), the foreigners living among them, the orphans, the widows, and the poor in the land (Deuteronomy 14:27-29; see also Numbers 18:20-32). In collecting the tithe for Levites, the foreigners, the orphans, the widows, and the poor, Moses was appealing to Israel and now the church to always help people in need (see also 2 Corinthians 9:6-14; James 1:27). God accepted these gifts from Israel for these people as an offering to Himself. Giving to the poor and needy is giving to the LORD God (see Proverbs 19:17). The principle behind this practice was later powerfully expressed in a parable by Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46), who said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me” (see Matthew 25:40). If God’s people demonstrated concern for the needs of others and His dwelling, God would bless them in all their work and labor (Deuteronomy 14:29; see also Deuteronomy 24:19; Psalm 41:1; Proverbs 28:27; Malachi 3:10; Luke 6:38).

Giving the tithe to the living God was to teach God’s people to always to love, fear, and honor the LORD God (Deuteronomy 14:23; see also Deuteronomy 4:10). As King David said, everything we give to God first comes from His Hand, and it all belongs to Him (see 1 Chronicles 29:16). Truly, the living God is the Giver of every gift – increase, peace, joy, and hope (e.g., see Deuteronomy 8:18; Romans 15:5, 13; 1 Corinthians 3:7; 1 Peter 5:10).

Even more, the New Testament instructs God’s people to give in proportion to the blessings they have received from the LORD God to help those in need (e.g., see Romans 12:13; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Hebrews 13:16). God has always been concerned with the poor, widow, orphan, the alien, prisoner, and needy, and His people are to share God’s concern (e.g., see Exodus 22:21; Psalm 146:9; Isaiah 1:17, 23). Even everyday farming in Israel was to be done in such a way that the poor and the foreigner could fend for themselves (e.g., see Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:19-22). The reasons for such care are given: Israel and now believers of Jesus are to imitate the holy character of God (see Leviticus 19:2), who cares for the poor and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39; John 13:34-35). These regulations were designed to prevent the land from sinking under crushing poverty and oppression (see Deuteronomy 14:28-29).

Next, Moses instructed Israel at the end of every seventh year to cancel the debts, indentures, and loans by fellow Israelites who owed them money (Deuteronomy 15:1-2, 12, 18; see also Leviticus 25:8-38). Loans were to be made at no charge and without interest (e.g., see Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36; Deuteronomy 23:19; Psalms 15:5), or the debtor was to be allowed to work off the debt owed with dignity as bondservants (Deuteronomy 15:12-18; see also Leviticus 25:35-42). Foreigners still had to repay, for unlike sojourners, who were permanent members of the community, foreigners were temporary, commercial visitors (Deuteronomy 15:3; see also Deuteronomy 23:20). The living God did not want any poor among His people (see Deuteronomy 15:4). The LORD God promised His blessings to those who obeyed His moral commands of debt forgiveness and providing for the poor and needy (Deuteronomy 15:4-6, 10; see also Deuteronomy 28:1). The LORD God promised to bless His people and they will be lenders and rulers to many nations around the world (Deuteronomy 15:6; see also Deuteronomy 28:12-13, 44).  

Moreover, Moses instructed Israel and now believers of God’s Son Jesus to share with the poor and needy in our towns and not be hard-hearted, cheap, or tightfisted toward them (Deuteronomy 15:7, 9, 11; see also 1 John 3:17-18). It is a sin to refuse to help the poor and needy and take advantage of those in need (e.g., see Exodus 22:23-24; Leviticus 25:35; Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Psalm 72:4; James 5:4-6). Instead, Moses commanded Israel and now the church to be generous and give to the poor whatever they need (Deuteronomy 15:8-9; see also Matthew 5:42; Luke 6:34-36). God’s people were not to be mean-spirited and stingy but generous and giving to the poor and needy (Deuteronomy 15:9-10; see also 2 Corinthians 9:5). Once again, Moses reminded Israel and now the church that the living God would bless them in everything they do and the work of their hands through their generosity to the poor and needy (Deuteronomy 15:10; e.g., see also Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 24:19; Psalm 41:1; Proverbs 14:21).

Sadly, the living God knew there will always be some in the land who are poor and needy, and that is why He commanded His people to share freely with the poor and God’s people who are in need (Deuteronomy 15:7, 11). God’s blessings in His Promised Land ought to have eliminated poverty – if the people of Israel and now the church obeyed completely. Since some people always fall short, poverty remands a problem. Jesus confirmed Deuteronomy 15:11 in a passing remark regarding poverty. In fact, Jesus spoke harshly against the rich and wealthy who ignored God and the poor (see Luke 12:13-21) and comprised their commitment to the living God (see Matthew 19:16-23). Jesus declared that the love of money and wealth could steal people’s hearts away from the living God (Matthew 6:24; see also 1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19; James 2:5-7). As a result in our time as Moses’ time, generosity is essential for God’s people. The LORD God knew that there would always be poor people in the land (see Matthew 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8) because Israel would not consistently obey these moral commands. The theological point is that there need not be any poor in our communities if God’s people practiced the mutual generosity and kindness to others. God’s people would have to trust Him to continue providing produce – the grain, vegetables, and fruits they needed for themselves and their community.

The living God has always been concerned for the poor and needy – widows, orphans, the aliens, blind, the prisoner, etc. – in both the Old and the New Testament (e.g., see Isaiah 1:15-20; Amos 4:1; Amos 8:4; James 2:14-17). As such, The LORD God wanted everyone to be kind and merciful to one another, particularly opening their hearts and hands to love and help the widows, orphans, the poor, and needy in our towns (e.g., see Proverbs 14:21, 31; Proverbs 19:17; Proverbs 21:13; Proverbs 28:27; Micah 6:6-8; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; 1 John 3:14-18). Even more, the living God did not want the rich and wealthy exploiting and taking advantage of the poor and needy in their community (see James 5:1-6). The LORD God is not advocating laziness and idleness because He wants His people to work hard and be diligent (e.g., see Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13). However, we must never forget the Source and Giver of every good and perfect gift (Deuteronomy 8:10; see also John 3:27; John 15:1-10; James 1:17). The living God is the Giver of all wealth and increase (see Deuteronomy 8:14, 18).

In Deuteronomy chapter 16, Moses described three annual festivals Israel was to celebrate unto the LORD God. These three festivals were the Passover, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), and the Feast of Tabernacles (see also Exodus 23:14-17). All these festivals focused on Israel and their families honoring and rejoicing with the LORD God at a central location where God’s Name (Presence) would be honored (see Deuteronomy 16:1-2, 6-7, 10-11, 15-16). Each year every male in Israel was to celebrate these three festivals and appear before the LORD God with a gift for Him (see Deuteronomy 16:16). Females and children were free to join in these feasts but they were mandatory for all males. All males must give unto the LORD as they are able, according to the blessings graciously given to them by the LORD God (see Deuteronomy 16:17).

First, Israel was to celebrate the Passover (also known as the Festival of Unleavened Bread) (Deuteronomy 16:1-8; see also Exodus 12:14-20; Leviticus 23:4-8; Numbers 28:16-25). Passover was Israel’s “Independence Day” for the nation of Israel as the nation was the birth on the Passover. Passover celebrated the LORD God Almighty’s gracious deliverance and redemption of Israel from Egyptian slavery. In fact, the LORD God came back to this event throughout the Old Testament as a way of describing Himself: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (e.g., see Exodus 20:2, ESV). Israel was to celebrate this annual festival in the early spring, in the month of Abib at the designated place of worship where the living God chooses for His Name (Presence) to be honored (see Deuteronomy 16:1-8). The Exodus was such a significant event in Israel’s history that the month of Abib when the Exodus took place, became the beginning of Israel’s annual calendar usually occurs within March and April (see Exodus 12:2).

In the New Testament, the Passover took on an even broader importance (see John 13:1; John 19:31). During one particular Passover celebration, as thousands of Jews brought their lambs to Jerusalem, the living God selected His Son Jesus as the Passover Lamb to save all humanity (see 1 Corinthians 5:7-8). Jesus Christ is described as the Passover Lamb or the Lamb of God who graciously gave His life for the sins of the world (see John 1:29; Hebrews 9:26; 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 5:12). Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death occurred on Passover outside the city of Jerusalem. The blood shed by many lambs in Egypt delivered Israel on that first Passover night (see Exodus 12:1-13), but the blood of Jesus, slain on the Cross, delivers everyone from God’s judgment who trust in Him (see Romans 3:25; Hebrews 10:1-18; 1 Peter 2:21-25; 1 John 2:6). Today, though Jewish people continue to celebrate the Passover, many believers of Jesus Christ do not. Rather, believers of Jesus Christ have incorporated the Passover celebration into a new one called the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, with Jesus Christ representing the Passover Lamb. When we observe the Lord's Supper (Eucharist), we remember Jesus’ sacrificial death and look forward to His return.

Next, Israel was to celebrate the Feast of Weeks (also known as the Feast of Harvest or Pentecost) to honor the LORD God (Deuteronomy 16:9-12; see also Leviticus 23:15-23; Numbers 28:26-31). The Greek name for this festival is Pentecost, meaning 50 days, counting inclusively, or seven weeks (see Acts 2). This feast celebrated God’s harvest season. Israel was to bring an offering to the LORD in proportion to the blessings they received from Him (Deuteronomy 16:10; see also 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:12). The Feast of Weeks was to be celebrated and rejoiced with family and friends as well as the Levities, the foreigners, orphans, and widows who were living among Israel before the LORD God at a designated place of worship where He chooses for His Name (Presence) lived (see Deuteronomy 16:11-12). Israel was to share what God had graciously given them and feast joyfully before the Lord (see Deuteronomy 16:11).

For believers of Jesus Christ, the Pentecost celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit and the “birthday of the church” (see Acts 2). Before His death, Jesus promised that He and His Father would send the Holy Spirit to all faithful believers (see John 14:16-17). When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, God baptized all believers into Jesus Christ and began a great harvest season for the church (see Acts 1:4-5; Acts 2:38-40; 1 Corinthians 12:13). The Apostle Peter’s message at Pentecost brought 3,000 people to Christ, and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (see Acts 2:41, 47).

Then, Israel was to celebrate the Festival of Shelters (also known as the Feast of Ingathering, the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths) for seven days at the end of the harvest season (Deuteronomy 16:13-15; see also Leviticus 23:34-43; Numbers 29:12-39). This festival was also a joyous and happy time and celebrated the completion of the harvest (see Deuteronomy 16:14-15). As with the Pentecost, Israel was to celebrate this festival with family and friends as well as the Levities, the foreigners, orphans, and widows who living among Israel in their towns (see Deuteronomy 16:14). As with other festivals, this festival was to honor the LORD God for seven days at the place He chooses for His Name (Presence) to be honored to celebrate all God’s blessings (see Deuteronomy 16:15).

As believers of Jesus, Christians have many reasons to celebrate the greatness and goodness of God. The living God has redeemed believers from their sins the blood of Christ (Passover), indwelled and empowered believers with the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), and generously supported believers in our pilgrim journey (Tabernacles).

References
ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008).
New Student Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).
NLT Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary – Old Testament (Victor Books, 1989).