Friday, August 25, 2017

Always Obey God!

Moses:  5 “Look, I now teach you these decrees and regulations just as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy. 6 Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations. When they hear all these decrees, they will exclaim, ‘How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!’ 7 For what great nation has a god as near to them as the LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on Him? 8 And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today? . . . 39 So remember this and keep it firmly in mind: The LORD is God both in heaven and on earth, and there is no other. 40 If you obey all the decrees and commands I am giving you today, all will be well with you and your children. I am giving you these instructions so you will enjoy a long life in the land the LORD your God is giving you for all time.” Deuteronomy 4:5-8, 39-40 (NLT)

In Deuteronomy chapter 4, Moses continues his history lesson he began to teach a new generation of Israelites in chapters 1 through 3. Moses was God's prophet and Israel’s greatest leader (see Deuteronomy 34:10-12). Sadly, the first generation of Israelites leaving Egyptian slavery rebelled and repeatedly sinned against the living God (e.g., see Exodus 32:1-35; Numbers 14:9-12; Numbers 25:1-9; Deuteronomy 1:28; Deuteronomy 9:23-24; Deuteronomy 32:8-14; Acts 7:49-43). Because of their disobedience and rebellion, the first generation of Israelites wandered the wilderness desert for 40 years and eventually died in the wilderness (see Numbers 14:21-23, 28-30; Deuteronomy 1:35-38; Deuteronomy 32:13; Joshua 5:6). Now, a new generation of Israelites listened to Moses’ farewell address as they prepared to enter God’s Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:1-3, 5, 39-40).

Moses began Deuteronomy 4 by instructing Israel to listen and carefully obey all the living God’s laws (see Deuteronomy 4:1, 5). God’s laws given through Moses consisted of various decrees, regulations, ordinances, statutes, and commands given by the living God to His servant Moses to give to His people Israel (see Deuteronomy 4:5). The heart of God’s laws is found most famously in the Ten Commandments (see Deuteronomy 5:6-21), and most succinctly in the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). All other laws of God are interpretations and applications of these primary principles. Jesus Christ our Savior also urged His disciples to keep the Ten Commandments and the demands of the Shema (see Matthew 5:17-20; Matthew 22:37-40) — not to have eternal life but as an expression of commitment and faithfulness to His Father, the living LORD God (see John 14:15, 20-21, 23; John 15:9-10; 1 John 2:3-5; 2 John 1:6).

The essences of the entire Law and the Prophets are to love, obey and worship exclusively the LORD God first and to love one another (Deuteronomy 4:3; see also Leviticus 19:18; Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 5:7; Matthew 7:12; Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:13-14). Loving God and loving others reflect the very nature of God’s Son, Jesus (e.g., see Philippians 2:1-11). Thus, God’s laws are just as applicable today as first given to Israel at Mount Sinai, repeated by Moses in Deuteronomy, and reaffirmed in the New Testament (see Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21; Matthew 19:16-19; Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 12:9-21; Romans 13:8-10). Jesus Christ extended this all-important law to the church – worship His Father, the LORD God (see Matthew 22:37). Israel was never to worship other gods or idols but to seek and worship wholeheartedly the living God (Deuteronomy 4:3-4; see also Amos 5:4-6; Micah 6:6-8; Zechariah 1:3-4). God’s Son Jesus is our primary example to follow because He alone perfectly obeyed all God’s laws and modeled the laws true spiritual intent. Obedience to God’s laws leads to life and possession of God’s good promises (e.g., see Deuteronomy 4:1, 4; Deuteronomy 5:32-33; Deuteronomy 6:24-25; Deuteronomy 8:1; Joshua 1:7-9).

God’s laws and commandments were not burdensome (see Matthew 11:30; 1 John 5:3). However, Israel often broke and disobeyed God and His righteous laws (e.g., see Exodus 32; Jeremiah 11:10-11; Jeremiah 34:18; Malachi 2:8). God wrote His laws given to Moses on stone tablets and not on the human heart. Thus, the old system of the law on stone tablets was powerless to purge away our sins and transform our heart and minds from within (2 Corinthians 3:3, 7; see also Exodus 24:12; Exodus 31:18; Exodus 32:15-16; Exodus 34:1; Deuteronomy 9:10; Romans 8:3). However, the new covenant instituted at Jesus’ sacrificial death brings a new and transformed heart and mind by the Holy Spirit and declares everyone righteous who believe and obey Jesus and the Gospel message (2 Corinthians 3:6-9, 11-12; see also John 3:3-8; Romans 3:28; Romans 5:1-5; Galatians 3:2-5). Through faith in God’s Son Jesus, God has now given all believers of Jesus the Holy Spirit to help us obey His goods laws from our hearts (e.g., see Jeremiah 31:31-34; Jeremiah 32:37-41; Ezekiel 11:19-21; Ezekiel 36:24-27; Hebrews 8:8-12; Hebrews 10:16). In other words, the God’s transforming Spirit gives believers new hearts to obey God and His good Law through our faith in His Son Christ Jesus (e.g., see Acts 1:4-5; Acts 11:16; Romans 1:16-17; Romans 3:30-31; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Philippians 2:12-13). Under God’s new covenant, God’s same laws and statutes are now engraved inwardly onto believers’ hearts and minds and it is no longer an external set of rules and principles (2 Corinthians 3:3-4; e.g., see also Jeremiah 31:31-34; Jeremiah 32:37-41; Ezekiel 11:19-21; Ezekiel 36:24-27). The Holy Spirit works inside believer to activate our consciences, influence our motives and desires, and make us want to obey God (see Romans 8:2, 5). Now doing God’s will is something believers genuinely desire with all our heart and mind (see 2 Corinthians 4:4-6).

Even more, Moses instructed Israel not to add other laws or subtract from theses laws but to obey and do these laws for they are from the living LORD God (Deuteronomy 4:2; see also Matthew 5:17-20; Deuteronomy 12:32; Revelation 22:18-19). God’s laws are righteous, good, and holy because they come from Him (Deuteronomy 4:8; see also Psalm 119:39; Romans 7:12; 2 Corinthians 3:7, 10-11; 1 Timothy 1:8). All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the people of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work for God’s glory (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Sadly, during Jesus’ years on earth, the Jewish religious leaders were guilty of taking away from God’s laws by replacing God’s laws with their own traditions and rituals that were not given by God through Moses (e.g., see Matthew 15:3-9; Mark 7:1-13). Jesus rebuked these religious leaders for adding to God’s laws (see Matthew 23:1-4).

Moreover, Moses instructed Israel that listening, keeping, and doing God’s laws would reveal Israel’s wisdom, understanding, and intelligence to the nations (see Deuteronomy 4:6-8). Moses as well as elsewhere in the Holy Scriptures repeatedly teaches the importance of doing, obeying, and keeping God’s laws (Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-6; see also Deuteronomy 5:1; Deuteronomy 6:3-4; 1 Kings 2:3; Matthew 7:21, 24-27; Luke 8:21; Romans 2:13; James 1:22-23). True wisdom is always linked to obedience to God – obeying the LORD God is the essence of wisdom (e.g., see Deuteronomy 4:6; Joshua 1:8; Psalm 19:7; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 28:7; 2 Timothy 3:15). In listening and doing God’s laws, the people of Israel would not only receive God’s promises and blessings but they would also model God’s wise and righteous Kingdom on earth to the world (see Deuteronomy 4:6-8). True wisdom is the fear and honor of the living God and turning away from evil (e.g., see Job 1:1, 8; Job 2:3; Job 28:28; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10).

Also, Moses reminded a new generation of Israelites that the living God graciously rescued and redeemed Israel from Egyptian slavery so Israel would be His special people and His own inheritance (see Deuteronomy 4:20). God’s repeated call to Israel to remember His past redemptive acts – especially how He delivered Israel from Egyptian slavery – is a common theme in Deuteronomy (e.g., see Deuteronomy 5:15; Deuteronomy 7:18; Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 24:9, 18, 22). The living God graciously delivered and redeemed Israel from Egyptian bondage by His “strong hand and powerful arm” because He wanted a personal relationship, wholehearted love, and faithfulness from Israel (see Exodus 3:20; Exodus 6:7; Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 5:15; Deuteronomy 6:20-22). The LORD God redeemed Israel and brought Israel out of the iron-smelting furnace of Egypt to be the people of his inheritance (see Deuteronomy 4:20). Israel was God’s firstborn son (see Exodus 4:22-23). God promised Israel that if they obeyed Him and kept His laws, Israel would be His own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth and His “kingdom of priests” and God’s “holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6; see also Isaiah 61:6). With the coming of His Son Jesus the Messiah (Christ), the LORD God has extended His kingdom to all believers in Jesus – Jews and Gentiles (see 1 Peter 2:5, 9-10). All faithful believers in Jesus have been grafted into God’s family and descendants of Abraham (see John 1:12-13; Romans 4:11; Romans 8:2, 5-6, 14, 16, 21; Galatians 3:14; Galatians 4:6-7). Furthermore, all faithful and obedient believers in Jesus are “royal priests,” “a holy nation,” and “God’s very own possession” (1 Peter 2:5, 9; see also Romans 12:1-2; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10).

No other nation, great or small, had a God that lived among them and willingly helped them when they called (see Deuteronomy 4:8). The living God is close and hears the prayers of those who faithfully obey Him (Deuteronomy 4:7; see also Psalm 34:15-16; Proverbs 15:8; Proverbs 28:9; Proverbs 15:29; John 9:31; James 4:8; James 5:16-18). So, Moses instructed Israel to make sure they diligently stayed alert and not let their hearts be led away into sin and disobedience against the living God and His covenant (Deuteronomy 4:9, 23; see also Proverbs 4:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Peter 5:8).

Furthermore, Moses warned Israel not to forget God’s miraculous signs, powers, and wonders the living God did on behalf of Israel against the Egyptians (see Deuteronomy 4:9). The living God graciously rescued and redeemed His people Israel from Egyptian slavery by sending terrible plagues, mighty miracles, war, and terror against the Egyptians, right before Israel’s very eyes (see Deuteronomy 4:32). The LORD God was Israel’s Redeemer and Divine Warrior that fought for and protected Israel (e.g., see Deuteronomy 1:30-31; Deuteronomy 6:21-23; Deuteronomy 7:1-2, 20-24; Deuteronomy 8:14-16; Deuteronomy 11:2-7; Deuteronomy 26:6-9; Deuteronomy 31:4).

The living and gracious God promised Israel that if Israel would turn from their sins and diligently seek Him with all their heart and soul, Israel would find Him (see Deuteronomy 4:29-30).  The living God graciously rescued and redeemed Israel from Egyptian slavery by His great power, glory, signs, miracles, and wonders, and then Israel heard the voice of God speaking from the fire at Mount Sinai (see Deuteronomy 4:20, 33-34, 36-37). The LORD God revealed His power and glory to Israel so that Israel would always know He is the only true and living God of heaven and earth (see Deuteronomy 4:35, 39). The God of Israel is the Great King, Redeemer, and Creator (see Deuteronomy 4:32; Deuteronomy 5:6, 15; Deuteronomy 6:12, 21-23; Deuteronomy 9:26, 29). Because of God’s gracious redemption, Moses instructed Israel to faithfully love and worship God and obey His righteous commands (see Deuteronomy 4:39-40). There is only one God, the Father of Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 4:39; see also 1 Corinthians 8:4-6). Love and obedience to the living God would bring Israel and their children God’s blessings, and all will go well with Israel and their children (see Deuteronomy 4:40). Obedience to God brings life (see James 1:12).

Even more, Moses instructed Israel to tell their children and children’s children about God’s glorious miracles, signs, and powers He did in saving Israel (see Deuteronomy 4:9). Israel was to tell their children and grandchildren about the day they stood before the living LORD God at Mount Horeb, also called Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 4:10; see also Exodus 19:9, 16). Mount Sinai is the mountain of God (see Exodus 3:1). At Mount Sinai, the living God called Israel before Him, and He proclaimed to Israel His righteous laws so that Israel would always fear and honor Him (Deuteronomy 4:10; see also Exodus 20:20). Also, the living God commanded Israel to teach His righteous laws to their children and children’s children (Deuteronomy 4:9-10; see also Deuteronomy 6:7; Deuteronomy 11:19; 2 Timothy 2:2).

Moreover, Moses reminded this new generation of Israelites that their fathers stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and visibly witnessed the awesome and glorious Presence of the living God (Deuteronomy 4:11; see also Exodus 19:17-18; Exodus 20:18. 21; Exodus 24:16-17). At Mount Sinai, the living God appeared to Israel with fire, flames, black clouds, and deep darkness (Deuteronomy 4:11; see also Exodus 19:9, 11, 18, 20; Exodus 20:21; Exodus 24:15-16; Matthew 17:5). Biblical scholars called the living God’s appearance on Mount Sinai a Theophany (see also Exodus 3:2; Exodus 13:21). Also, the LORD God spoke to Israel from the fire, and Israel heard God’s Words but did not see God’s form (Deuteronomy 4:12; see also Exodus 20:1, 22). From Mount Sinai, the living God proclaimed His covenant to Israel through His servant Moses that Israel must obey, which included the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 4:13; see also Exodus 20:1-Exodus 23:19). God’s finger personally wrote the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets, which is the essence of God’s covenant with Israel (Deuteronomy 4:13; see also Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 9:10).

Importantly, Moses warned a new generation of Israelites that they must NEVER worship or seek other idols or gods (Deuteronomy 4:23; see also Exodus 20:1-7; Deuteronomy 5:9). Moses reminded a new generation of Israelites that their fathers did not see any form of God on Mount Sinai as He spoke to Israel from the fire (see Deuteronomy 4:12, 15, 33). Thus, Moses warned Israel not to sin against the living God by making any statue, idol, or image of the living God — whether of a man, woman, animal, beast, or bird (Deuteronomy 4:16-18; see also Exodus 20:3-5). No image could capture the transcendent glory and power of the invisible and living LORD God (see also John 4:24; Romans 1:20; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:17). Idols and images would lead Israel to worship the creature rather than the Creator (see Romans 1:23-25). Moreover, Moses warned Israel not to look up into the sky and sin against the living God by worshipping the sun, the moon, or stars (see Deuteronomy 4:19). The sun, moon, and stars were not objects of worship but only creations from the living God (see Genesis 1:14-19).

Moses warned the people that the living LORD God is a devouring fire and a jealous God (Deuteronomy 4:24; see also Hebrews 12:29). The LORD God commanded Israel and Jesus later commanded the church to worship His Father, the living God first and exclusively (see Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Matthew 22:7; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). The LORD God of Israel alone is God, and all else is His creation (see Deuteronomy 3:35, 39; Acts 17:22-29; Romans 1:25). Worshipping other idols and other gods anger and sin against the living God (see Deuteronomy 4:25). Even worse, Moses instructed Israel that worshipping idols and other gods will lead to Israel’s destruction and banishment from His good promises (see Deuteronomy 4:3, 26). God promised to banish Israel from His land and scatter Israel among the nations if they worshipped and served other gods and idols (see Deuteronomy 4:26-28).

Sadly, Moses predictions in Deuteronomy 4 came true, and God banished Israel from His God’s Promised Land because of Israel’s repeated wickedness and worship of others gods. During the closing years of King Solomon’s reign, Solomon introduced idolatry into Israel (see 1 Kings 11). In 722 BC, the Assyrians captured and destroyed the ten tribes that formed the Northern Kingdom of Samaria, and Babylon destroyed and exiled the Southern Kingdom of Judah in 586 BC. Even worse, Israel’s rejection of God’s Son Jesus Christ led to Israel dispersion and Jerusalem’s Temple destruction in AD 70. From AD 70 until May 14, 1948, when the modern nation of Israel was recognized, the Jewish people were dispersed throughout the world and had no national homeland. However, God will fully restore Israel at the second coming of Jesus Christ!

Finally, Moses reminded the people that the LORD God is merciful, and He will never abandon or forget anyone who turns from their sins and seek Him with their whole hearts (see Deuteronomy 4:29-31). The living LORD God is gracious (Deuteronomy 5:10; Deuteronomy 7:9, 12), loving (Deuteronomy 1:31; Deuteronomy 7:7-8, 13), righteous and fair (Deuteronomy 4:8; Deuteronomy 10:17-18; Deuteronomy 32:4), merciful (Deuteronomy 4:31; Deuteronomy 13:17), all-powerful (Deuteronomy 4:34, 37; Deuteronomy 6:21-22), holy (Deuteronomy 5:11), glorious (Deuteronomy 5:24-26), and always faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9, 12). As the only God of heaven and earth, the true and living God deserves our wholehearted love, worship, and honor (see Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 13:2-10; Deuteronomy 29:20). Even more, the LORD God is the Lawgiver (see Deuteronomy 4:2, 8, 10, 14, 40), Warrior (see Deuteronomy 1:4, 30, 42; Deuteronomy 2:15, 21-22; Deuteronomy 7:1-2, 22-24), and final Judge of and Rewarder for evil (see Deuteronomy 1:17; Deuteronomy 4:27; Deuteronomy 8:19-20; Deuteronomy 9:19-20, 25-26). You can always place your trust in the living God!

Life Application Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005).
NLT Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008).
The Living Bible Paraphrase (Tyndale House, 1971).
Merrill, Eugene H. New American Commentary: Deuteronomy (Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing Group, 1994).
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary – Old Testament (Victor Books, 1989).

Friday, August 18, 2017

Deuteronomy’s History Review

21 “At that time I (Moses) gave Joshua this charge: ‘You have seen for yourself everything the LORD your God has done to these two kings (Og and Sihon). He will do the same to all the kingdoms on the west side of the Jordan (Canaan, the Promised Land). 22 Do not be afraid of the nations there, for the LORD your God will fight for you.’ 23 At that time I pleaded with the LORD and said, 24O Sovereign LORD, You have only begun to show Your greatness and the strength of Your hand to me, Your servant. Is there any god in heaven or on earth who can perform such great and mighty deeds as You do? . . . 28 Commission Joshua and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead the people across the Jordan. He will give them all the land you now see before you as their possession.’” Deuteronomy 3:21-24, 28

In the opening chapters of Deuteronomy, Moses gives a new generation of Israelites a history lesson (see Deuteronomy 1:1-4:43). Moses addressed a new generation of Israelites encamped at Kadesh-barnea, the border of the Promised Land (see Deuteronomy 1:1-3). Kadesh-barnea was the gateway into God’s Promised Land. The ancient Israelites’ trip from Mount Sinai, where they received the Law of God, to the Promised Land would have taken only 11 days (see Deuteronomy 1:3). However, the first generation of Israelites spent 40 years wandering the wilderness on a journey that should have lasted 11 days. Sadly, the first generation of Israelites repeatedly rejected God’s love, rebelled against His authority, and ignored His commands for right living (e.g., see Deuteronomy 9:23-24; Psalm 106:24-27). During the 40-year wilderness wandering, the living God punished the first generation because of their unbelief, disobedience, and rebellion.

Deuteronomy gives Moses’ farewell address to a new generation of Israelites on the border of God’s Promised Land. Moses encouraged this new generation of Israelites to faithfully trust and obey God as their only King and true Leader to live successfully in their new land for God’s glory. To help prepare a new generation of Israelites, Moses reviewed Israel’s past, so this new generation will avoid repeating the sins of their unfaithful fathers (see Deuteronomy 1:1-4:43). In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul also reminded the church of Israel’s past so they would avoid the sins of the first generation of ancient Israelites (see Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:1-12).

At Mount Sinai forty years earlier, the LORD God announced to the Israelites leaving Egyptian slavery to go into and conquer God’s Promised Land (see Deuteronomy 1:6). Through His servant Moses, the LORD God announced to Israel that He would graciously give Israel all the land of the Jordan Valley, the hill country, the western foothills, the Negev, and the coastal plain, including the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon all the way to the great Euphrates River (Deuteronomy 1:7-8; see also Joshua 1:4). From the very beginning, the LORD God promised Israel’s ancestors the patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all of their descendants this good land — the entire area from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River (Deuteronomy 1:8; see also Genesis 13:14-15; Genesis 15:18-21; Genesis 17:7-8; Genesis 26:2-5; Genesis 28:12-15; Genesis 50:24; Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

While in Egyptian slavery, the LORD God had graciously multiplied Israel’s population as many as the stars in the sky as He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuteronomy 1:9-10). The living God had previously promised His servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob a multiplication blessing of their descendants (see Genesis 12:2-3; Genesis 15:5-6; Genesis 22:17-18; Genesis 26:2-5; Genesis 28:12-15). Israel’s forefathers went down into Egypt with only seventy people in all, and the LORD God had increased Israel as numerous as the stars in the sky (see Genesis 46:26-27; Exodus 1:1-5; Deuteronomy 10:22; Acts 7:14). There is NOTHING too hard for the living God (see Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17, 27; Matthew 19:26; Mark 9:23). Now, Moses blessed a new generation of Israelites that the living God would continue to multiply Israel a thousand times more and bless Israel as He promised (see Deuteronomy 1:11).

To help manage Israel, God requested Moses to appoint wise, experienced, and understanding leaders to help him manage and resolve Israel’s disputes and problems (Deuteronomy 1:12-15; see also Exodus 18:13-27). In God’s eyes, good leaders are wise, understanding, and well respected (see Deuteronomy 1:13, 15). The living God wanted appointed leaders to judge the people justly, fairly, and equally, whether native Israelites, foreigners, rich, poor, great, or small, because they were judging in place of God (Deuteronomy 1:16-17; see also Exodus 18:13-27; Numbers 11:16-17). If Israel’s leaders made their decisions on the basis of nationality, race, social position, crowd opinion, or wealth, they would sin against God and pervert God’s justice and fairness especially to the poor, widows, orphans, and aliens in the land (see Exodus 22:21-24; Exodus 23:2-3; Leviticus 19:9-10, 15; Deuteronomy 10:17-19; Deuteronomy 14:28-29; Deuteronomy 16:9-12; Deuteronomy 24:17-21). The LORD God shows no partiality, and He defends the cause of the fatherless, the widow, the poor, and the alien (see Deuteronomy 10:17-19).

Then, Israel left Mount Sinai and traveled through the great and terrifying wilderness and arrived at Kadesh-barnea, on the border of God’s Promised Land (see Deuteronomy 1:2, 19-20). Upon arriving on the border of the Promised Land, Moses instructed the Israelites to go and possess the Promised Land and not to be afraid or doubtful (see Deuteronomy 1:21). Moses knew their LORD God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, and His living Presence was going ahead to protect and care for Israel (see Numbers 14:8-9; Deuteronomy 4:31; Deuteronomy 31:8). However, the Israelites requested that first spies be sent into the Promised Land to scout the best route of entry, and to decide which cities to capture first (Deuteronomy 1:22; see also Numbers 13:1-3). Israel selected twelve spies, one from each tribe, and the twelve spies entered and inspected God’s Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:23-24; see also Numbers 13:4-16, 22-27). Joshua and Caleb were part of this group of twelve spies (see Numbers 13:6, 16; Numbers 14:6-7).

When the twelve spies returned, they returned with samples of the local fruit as proof the land was good that the LORD God had given Israel – a land flowing with milk and honey (Deuteronomy 1:25; see also Exodus 3:8, 17; Exodus 33:3; Numbers 13:26-27; Numbers 14:7). Nevertheless, ten of the spies discouraged and placed fear in the Israelites’ hearts regarding powerful giants and large cities (Deuteronomy 1:26; see also Numbers 13:28-33). Because of the ten spies’ fearful and bad report, the first generation of Israelites refused to go into God’s Promised Land and rebelled against God’s command to enter and possess His land (Deuteronomy 1:28; see also Number Numbers 14:9). Even worse, the Israelites began to grumble and complain against the living God and His good Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:27; see also Numbers 14:1-4). The living LORD God promised a good land to Israel (see Genesis 13:14-18; Genesis 15:7-21; Genesis 17:8; Genesis 28:12-15; Exodus 3:8). All Israel had to do was follow God’s orders, and He would give them victory over their enemies. Moses, along with Joshua and Caleb, repeatedly encouraged Israel to faithfully trust in the LORD God Almighty and not to be afraid (Deuteronomy 1:21, 29-31, 33; see also Exodus 14:14; Numbers 14:5-9; Proverbs 3:5-6). Israel’s all-powerful God would protect, care, and fight for them, just as Israel saw God defeat the Egyptians with His miraculous signs, power, and wonders (see also Exodus 14:14; Deuteronomy 1:32-33; see also Numbers 14:10-11; Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 29:2-3; Psalm 78:11, 42). Despite the numerous proofs of God’s power and glory on their behalf, the first generation of Israelites refused to obey and trust in the living God. However, the first generation of ancient Israelites walked by sight and not by faith in God’s promises and let their anxieties paralyze them (sees 2 Corinthians 5:7). At the very border of God’s good Promised Land, the first generation of Israelites cowered at the spies’ report, lost faith in God, and toward away from God’s promises.

The Israelites refused to trust and believe in God despite Moses’ continual encouragement to courageously trust and obey the living God (Deuteronomy 1:32-33; see also Numbers 14:9-11; Psalm 78:11, 42). Even more, the all-knowing living God heard the Israelites’ complaining and became very angry (Deuteronomy 1:34; see also Numbers 14:10-12). Moses interceded for Israel to prevent God’s immediate wrath against the first generation of unfaithful Israelites (see Numbers 14:13-16). Because of Moses’ intercession, the living God forgave Israel’s sins (see Numbers 14:19-20; James 5:16). Truly, the living God is patient, forgiving and full of compassion and mercy (see Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:17-18; Psalm 145:8-9; James 5:11). The living God does not stay angry forever but delights to show His mercy and compassion (see Micah 7:18).

Nevertheless, the LORD God does not excuse the guilty and leave the guilty unpunished (see Numbers 14:18). The living God promised that not one person in that entire wicked generation over the age of 20 who witnessed God’s glory against the Egyptians would live to see and enter His good Promised Land He had promised to their fathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuteronomy 1:35-38; see also Numbers 14:21-23, 28-30; Deuteronomy 32:13; Joshua 5:6). Instead, the living God promised to give His good land to Israel’s children, and that first generation of faithless and rebellious Israelites died in the wilderness desert (Deuteronomy 1:39-40; see also Numbers 14:26-35). In the face of such rebellion, the living God decided to wait for a whole new generation of obedient Israelites to enter His Promised Land. The living God wants obedience to Him (see Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 6:3; 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Jeremiah 7:23). Of the entire first generation of Israelites leaving Egyptian slavery over age 20, God would only allow Caleb and Joshua to see His good Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:35-38). Only Joshua and Caleb followed the LORD courageously and completely (Deuteronomy 1:36, 38; see also Numbers 14:24, 30).

The first generation of Israelites wandered in the wilderness toward the Red Sea, and for many years Israel traveled around the hill country of Seir (see Deuteronomy 1:40; Deuteronomy 2:1). During the 40-year wilderness wandering, the gracious living God continued to watch over Israel and bless their every step and Israel lacked nothing in all that time (Deuteronomy 2:7; Deuteronomy 8:2-4; see also Amos 2:10; Acts 13:16-18). Because of the living God’s great compassion and mercy, He did not abandon Israel during their 40 years wandering in the desert (see Deuteronomy 29:5-6). By day, God’s pillar of cloud never ceased to guide Israel on their path and by night the pillar of fire never ceased to shine on the Israelites’ path (see Exodus 13:21-22; Nehemiah 9:12, 19). The living God gave Israel a good Spirit (see Nehemiah 9:20; Isaiah 63:11-14; Haggai 2:5). Moreover, the living God did not withhold His manna (heavenly bread) from Israel’s mouths, and He gave Israel water for their thirst (see Exodus 16:15; Exodus 17:6; Nehemiah 9:15, 20; John 6:31-33; 1 Corinthians 10:3-4). For 40 years, the LORD God sustained Israel in the desert, and they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen (see Nehemiah 9:21).

Next, the Israelites traveled through the Edom country belonging to their brothers the Edomites (see Deuteronomy 2:4-5, 8, 29). The Edomites were descendants of Esau and therefore thee Israelites’ brothers (see Deuteronomy 2:4, 8; Deuteronomy 23:7). Esau was Jacob’s older twin brother and therefore related to Israel (see Genesis 25:24-26; Genesis 36:8-9). The LORD God had given the descendants of Esau the land of Seir, a mountainous region south of the Dead Sea (Deuteronomy 2:5, 12, 22; see also Genesis 36:1-3, 6-9; Joshua 24:4). God informed Israel not to bother or take the Edomites’ land He had graciously given Esau’s descendants (see Deuteronomy 2:5).

Then, Israel traveled through the Moabites and Ammonites’ lands, who were also relatives of Israel and descendants of Lot (Deuteronomy 2:9, 18, 29; see also Genesis 19:31-38). Lot was Abraham’s nephew (see Genesis 11:27-32). God had previously driven out the people of the land, even giants, to give to the Moabites and Ammonites their land (see Deuteronomy 2:9-12, 18-23).

After 38 years had passed, the living God instructed a new generation of Israelites to now take possession of their Promised Land (see Deuteronomy 2:14-16, 24). By then, all the first generation of Israelites old enough to fight in battle had died in the wilderness, as the LORD God had promised would happen (Deuteronomy 2:14-16; see also Numbers 14:33-34). Only Moses, Caleb, and Joshua remained lived from the first generation of fighting men leaving Egyptian slavery (see Deuteronomy 2:13-16). As with the descendants of Esau and descendants Lot, the living God promised to go before and be with Israel and defeat their enemies (see Deuteronomy 2:25, 31-33, 36). In fact, the LORD God told Moses He would make the enemy nations afraid of Israel (see Deuteronomy 2:25). If God is with you, who can stand against you (e.g., see Numbers 14:9; 2 Kings 6:16; Psalm 118:6; Romans 8:31; 1 John 4:4). The living God goes before His faithful and obedient people to fight their battles and bring them victory (e.g., see Psalm 56:9; Isaiah 41:10; Jeremiah 20:10-12; Hebrews 13:6)!

Indeed, the LORD God would fight for Israel and conquer the lands of the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites and give to His people Israel in victory (Deuteronomy 2:24-36; Deuteronomy 3:1-2, 4-12, 21-22; see also Genesis 15:13-16; Numbers 21:21-32; Deuteronomy 7:1-2). Through His servant Moses, God told Israel not to be fearful and afraid because His mighty hand and outstretched strong arm would guide and lead His people victoriously into the Promised Land (see Deuteronomy 3:2-3). The living God defeated King Sihon and gave King Sihon’s land to Israel (see Deuteronomy 2:31-35). Also, the LORD God helped Israel to conquer Aroer on the edge of the Arnon Gorge, and the town in the gorge, and the whole area as far as Gilead (see Deuteronomy 2:36). No town had walls too strong for Israel (see Deuteronomy 2:36; Deuteronomy 3:5). The fact that Sigon and Og cities had high walls and giants did not create any fear in the new generation of Israelites unlike that the older generation (Deuteronomy 3:5, 11; see also Numbers 13:28-29). God is bigger than the walls and greater than any giants! As with King Sihon, the living God defeated King Og and gave King Og’s land to Israel (see Deuteronomy 3:1-7). Thus, the LORD God defeated King Sihon and King Og and took possession of their lands east of the Jordan to give to Israel (see Deuteronomy 3:8-11). The land previously owned by King Sihon and King Og east of the Jordan, Moses gave the land to the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, Joseph’s son (see Deuteronomy 3:12-13). The new generation of Israelites was quickly discovering that the living God could be trusted to overcome every enemy. All Israel had to do was obey God’s orders, trust His promises, and courageously confront the enemy.   

Then, the sovereign God informed Moses to appoint Joshua as his replacement to lead the new generation of Israelites into the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 3: 21-22, 28; see also Numbers 27:18-23; Deuteronomy 1:38; Deuteronomy 31:14-15, 23; Deuteronomy 34:9). Moses informed his assistant Joshua that he would lead Israel into God’s Promised Land (see Deuteronomy 3:21-22). Most important, Moses instructed Joshua not to be afraid and discouraged but be strong and courageous because the living God will fight and protect him and Israel (Deuteronomy 3:21-22; see also Exodus 14:14; Deuteronomy 1:29; Deuteronomy 31:6-8. The living God protects and fights for His faithful and obedient people, and He will never leave you nor forsake you (e.g., see Deuteronomy 7:18; Deuteronomy 20:1; Deuteronomy 31:6; 2 Chronicles 32:6-8; Psalm 23:4; Isaiah 41:10-14). Joshua had seen what the LORD God had done to those two kings east of the Jordan, Og and Sihon (see Deuteronomy 3:21; Deuteronomy 31:4). So, Moses informed Joshua to be strong and courageous and not be afraid for the living God would also fight for him and lead Israel into the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 3:21-22; see also Deuteronomy 31:1-8; Joshua 1:6-9; Acts 13:19).

Joshua was a man of great faith in the living God and fully qualified to lead God’s people (e.g., see Numbers 13:8, Numbers 14:5-9, 28-30, 36-38). Also, Joshua was a great military leader and political leader, but importantly a man filled with God’s Spirit (see Numbers 27:18). Joshua had served faithfully as Moses’ servant (see Exodus 33:11), a leader in Israel’s army against the Amalekites (see Exodus 17:8-16), and he had been on Mount Sinai with Moses when Moses received the Law of God (see Exodus 24:13; Exodus 32:15-17). At Kadesh-Barnea, Joshua proved his faith and obedience by standing with Moses and Caleb against the ten spies and the whole unbelieving first generation of Israelites (see Numbers 14:6-9). The name “Jesus” is from the Greek and Latin for the Hebrew name Jeshua (Joshua), which mean “the Lord is salvation” (see also Matthew 1:21).  

Next, Moses pleaded with the living God to allow him to enter into the good Promised Land and see the result of God’s greatness and power (Deuteronomy 3:23-25; see also Deuteronomy 1:37). However, the LORD God refused Moses’ requests to enter into the Promised Land because of Moses’ prior impulsive sin of striking the rock instead of speaking to the rock as God commanded (Deuteronomy 3:26; see also Numbers 20:6-12; Numbers 27:12-14; Deuteronomy 31:2; Deuteronomy 32:48-52). However, our gracious God did allow Moses to visibly see the land (Deuteronomy 3:27; see also Deuteronomy 34:4). When God’s Son Jesus came to earth, Jesus spoke with Moses along with the prophet Elijah in the Promised Land (see Matthew 17:3-4, Mark 9:4-5; Luke 9:30). Many scholars believe Moses was one of the great witnesses that will come again at Jesus Christ’s second coming (see Revelation 11:1-13).

Disciple's Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1988).
Life Application Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005).
New Student Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).
NLT Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008).
Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995).
The Living Bible Paraphrase (Tyndale House, 1971).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary – Old Testament (Victor Books, 1989).

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Deuteronomy and Second Law

1 These are the words that Moses spoke to all the people of Israel while they were in the wilderness east of the Jordan River. . . . 2 Normally it takes only eleven days to travel from Mount Sinai (Horeb) to Kadesh-barnea (the Promised Land’s borders), going by way of Mount Seir. 3 But forty years after the Israelites left Egypt, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses addressed the people of Israel, telling them everything the LORD had commanded him to say. . . . 5 While the Israelites were in the land of Moab east of the Jordan River, Moses carefully explained the LORD’s instructions as follows. Deuteronomy 1:1-3, 5 (NLT)

The book of Deuteronomy is one of the greatest books of the Holy Bible. Many biblical scholars view Deuteronomy as a covenant, treaty, or constitution between the living God and His people Israel. Webster’s Dictionary defines covenant as a promise. However, others see Deuteronomy as Moses, one of Israel’s greatest prophets, giving his farewell address to Israel before his death. At the end of his life, Moses gave some important parting words to a new generation of Israel.

The book of Deuteronomy is the last of the first five books of the Pentateuch, a collection known to Jewish tradition as the Torah, which means “Law.” The Law is God’s rule of life for the Jews, and if they obeyed, God would bless them. Of course, believers of Jesus today are not under the Law but under grace (e.g., see John 1:17; Romans 6:14-15), but they still walk in the righteousness of the Law through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God (see Romans 8:1-4). Thus, believers of Jesus now have the indwelling Holy Spirit of God to empower us to obey the Law and do good rather than evil (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Acts 5:32; Galatians 5:22-23, 25; Philippians 2:13).

In Deuteronomy, Moses summarizes the essences of Israel’s religion – a covenant relationship with God. The living God had graciously given His love to Israel’s fathers, also called the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Because of God’s gracious love given to Israel, Moses’ primary concern was that Israel responds with wholehearted love and obedience to God (e.g., see Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Deuteronomy 10:15; Deuteronomy 23:5). At least 15 times in Deuteronomy, Moses repeatedly tells Israel to wholeheartedly love and obey God. Through wholehearted love and obedience to God, Israel would continue to receive God’s life, favor (grace), and blessings (e.g., see Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 6:24-25; Deuteronomy 12:28). Life itself depended on keeping God’s righteous laws (e.g., see Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 5:32-33; Deuteronomy 8:1; Deuteronomy 16:20). Furthermore, Moses instructed Israel to show love and mercy to their fellow brothers and sisters. Thus, many biblical scholars see Deuteronomy not as a list of mechanical rules, but God’s love letter to Israel.

The book of Deuteronomy is an important book to read and study. First, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ quoted from Deuteronomy to disprove the devil (see Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 6:16; Deuteronomy 8:3). Even more, Jesus used Deuteronomy’s teaching to summarize the greatest and first commandment of the Law and the Prophets – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (see Matthew 22:37-38; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:27-28; quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Much of Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plains are restatements of God’s righteous commands (see Matthew 5:1-7:29; Luke 6:17-49). Of the 27 books of the New Testament, 21 books of the New Testament either quote or allude to Deuteronomy. Some especially important Scripture passages from Deuteronomy include Deuteronomy 5:6-21 (the Ten Commandments); Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (the Shema, “Hear, O Israel”); Deuteronomy 13:1-5 (on false prophets); Deuteronomy 18:9-15 (on false diviners) and Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20 (the Palestinian covenant). Finally, the Holy Scriptures repeat many of the righteous commands from Deuteronomy. God wanted to protect life from murder, respect marriage as holy, protect private property, telling the truth, and setting aside a day for worship of God (e.g., see Deuteronomy 5:6-21; Deuteronomy 32:35; Matthew 19:16-19; Romans 12:9-21; Romans 13:8-10).

Thus, God’s biblical law is more than lists of dos and don’ts. Rather, God’s biblical law is God’s expectations regarding belief and behavior that if faithfully obeyed and followed will bring God’s blessing. As a reminder, the Israelites’ exodus from Egyptian slavery freed Israel to become God’s faithful servants to the world – a priestly kingdom and a holy nation (see Exodus 19:4-6; Deuteronomy 4:5-8). God’s law is embodied most famously in the Ten Commandments (see Deuteronomy 5:6-21), and most succinctly in the Shema (sees Deuteronomy 6:4-5). All other laws of God and the Old Testament Prophets are interpretations and applications of God’s Ten Commandments and the Shema. The life that resulted from obedience to the law is not eternal life in the New Testament sense. Instead, this life was God’s promise that if the Israelites were faithful to the covenant, the nation could expect long and prosperous days in the land (see Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 5:16, 33; Deuteronomy 10:8-9). Jesus Christ our Savior also urged His disciples to keep the Ten Commandments and the demands of the Shema (see Matthew 5:17-20; Matthew 22:37-40) — not to have eternal life but as an expression of commitment to Him (see John 14:15-21).

Many biblical scholars believe Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) which includes Deuteronomy. However, over the past 250 years, some biblical scholars have concluded that Moses did not author the Pentateuch and believe the Pentateuch is a collection of four major source documents dating from the 10th to the 15th centuries B.C. This theory is known as the “Documentary” or “JEDP” hypothesis. Central to this theory is the belief that Deuteronomy was the document discovered during Josiah’s reformation in 622 B.C. (see 2 Kings 22:8-11). Moreover, some critics argue Deuteronomy’s recording of Moses’ death suggests that Moses did not write Deuteronomy (see Deuteronomy 34:5-12). However, both Jewish and Christian sources are unanimous in attributing Deuteronomy to Moses. The book of Deuteronomy explicitly references Moses as the author (e.g., see Deuteronomy 1:1; Deuteronomy 4:44; Deuteronomy 31:9, 22; Deuteronomy 33:4). Moreover, the Old Testament reference Moses as the author of Deuteronomy (e.g., see Joshua 1:7, 13; Joshua 8:31-32; Judges 3:4; 1 Kings 2:3; 8:56; 2 Kings 14:6; Kings 23:25; 1 Chronicles 15:15; 1 Chronicles 22:13; 2 Chronicles 25:4; Ezra 3:2; 6:18; Nehemiah 1:7; Daniel 9:11, 13; Malachi 4:4). Furthermore, the New Testament reference Moses as the author of Deuteronomy (e.g., see Matthew 19:7-8; Mark 7:10; Luke 2:22; Luke 16:29; John 1:17; John 7:19; Acts 13:39; Acts 15:1, 5; 1 Corinthians 9:9; 2 Corinthians 3:15; Hebrews 10:28). Finally, the writings of the Jewish rabbis also attribute Moses as the rightful author of Deuteronomy (e.g., Baba Bathra 14b-15a).

Biblical scholars often call the book of Deuteronomy the “second law.” In Deuteronomy, Moses summarizes his teaching and events from Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Deuteronomy repeated verbatim the Ten Commandments and other laws given at Mount Sinai and recorded at Exodus chapters 20 through 24, Leviticus, and Numbers (e.g., see Deuteronomy 4:44 – 5:33). The first generation of Israelites leaving Egypt had received God’s righteous commandments at Mount Sinai (see Exodus 19 – 24). At Mount Sinai, Israel verbally agreed to obey the covenant (see Exodus 24:3). However, this first generation of Israelites rebelled against God’s righteous commands and eventually died off during their wilderness wandering (e.g., see Exodus 21-32; Deuteronomy 9:23-24; Deuteronomy 32:8-14). Lacking faith and obedience to God, the first generation of Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness wandering on a journey from Egypt to the Promised Land that should have lasted only 11 days (see Numbers 14:28-35; Deuteronomy 1:2-3)! The first generation of Israelites that left Egypt refused to believe and trust the living God and accept their inheritance in the Promised Land (see Numbers 13 and 14). They repeatedly grumbled and complained against God (e.g., see Exodus 16:7, 12; Numbers 14:27; Deuteronomy 1:34-35). As punishment for their disbelief in the living God, God punished the first generation of ancient Israelites to wandering the wilderness for 40 years (see Numbers 14:29-30, 33-34; Deuteronomy 2:14-15).

Then on the east bank of the Jordan River, Moses prepared the sons and daughters of that faithless first generation to enter and possess the Promised Land of God. As a new generation of Israelites was about to enter the long-awaiting Promised Land of God, Moses instructed and reminded the people of the living God’s righteous commands. This new generation of Israelites had not personally experienced the deliverance at the Red Sea (see Exodus 13 and 14) or the giving of the Law at Sinai (see Exodus 19 and 20). Moses reminded this new generation of God’s power and God’s moral standards before ending God’s Promised Land.

In the opening verses of Deuteronomy, Moses gave a new generation of Israelites a second chance to believe and obey the living God so they would not repeat the sins of their father. Moses wrote Deuteronomy to review God’s commands and laws for the new generation of Israelites who had survived the wilderness experience. The book of Joshua tells the story of Israel’s second generation under Joshua’s leadership entering and victoriously conquering the Promised Land for God’s glory. Before his death, Joshua reminded Israel to wholeheartedly love and obey God and follow His righteous commands as instructed by Moses (see Joshua 24). However, Israel did not continue to obey God’s instructions. After Joshua’s death, another generation of Israelites returned to disobedience, unfaithfulness, and rebellion against the living God by serving and worshipping other gods such as Baal and the Ashtoreths and disregarded His righteous commands (see Judges 2:6-7, 10-15). Israel’s disobedience angered the living God, and God gave this next generation of disobedient Israelites over to their enemies and brought them defeat (see Judges 2:10-15). The rest of the Old Testament is God’s efforts through His prophets, priest, and servants to return His people to love Him faithfully as their only true God and King and obey His righteous commands.

As a reminder, the land of promise was unconditionally given Abraham and to his seed in the Abrahamic Covenant (see Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:7). However, the Promised Land was under the conditional Palestinian Covenant at Deuteronomy 28 through 30. Utterly violating the conditions of that God’s covenant (promise) caused Israel’s first disruption at 1 Kings 12 with the dividing of the kingdom. Israel’s continual disobedience and rebellion against the living God lead to Israel exile from the Promised Land (see 2 Kings 17:1-18; 2 Kings 24:1 through 2 Kings 25:11).

Deuteronomy gives Moses’ instructions on the importance of wholehearted faithfulness, obedience, and love to the living God and His moral commands. If Israel continued to love and obey God, God promised Israel strength, victory, and peace. However, Moses reminds Israel that rebellion and disobedience against the living God would lead to God’s wrath, destruction, and defeat (see Deuteronomy 28 and 29). Repeatedly, Moses reminds Israel to keep God’s Law! The essences of the entire Law and the Prophets is to love the LORD God first and love others (see Matthew 22:34-40). Deuteronomy is Moses’ repeated call to love, trust, and obey the living God FIRST!

God’s love forms the foundation for our trust in Him. The living God cares for us, and He will protect us (see Isaiah 46:3-4). The God of Israel has no equal, and He is the only living and true God (see Isaiah 46:5, 9). Choosing to love and obey wholeheartedly God benefits us and improves our relationships with others.

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).
Life Essentials Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2011).
New Student Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).
NLT Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008).
Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary – Old Testament (Victor Books, 1989).

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Searching for Elijah

1 When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal. 2 And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the LORD has told me to go to Bethel.” But Elisha replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you!” So they went down together to Bethel. 3 The group of prophets from Bethel came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the LORD is going to take your master away from you today?” “Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”. . . 9 When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.” And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.” 10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you will not.” 11 As they (Elijah and Elisha) were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress. . . . 15 When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him (Elisha) and bowed to the ground before him. 16 “Sir,” they said, “just say the word and fifty of our strongest men will search the wilderness for your master (Elijah). Perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has left him (Elijah) on some mountain or in some valley.” “No,” Elisha said, “do not send them.” 17 But they kept urging him until they shamed him into agreeing, and he finally said, “All right, send them.” So fifty men searched for three days but did not find Elijah. 18 Elisha was still at Jericho when they returned. “Didn’t I tell you not to go?” he asked. 2 Kings 2:1-3, 9-12, 15-18 (NLT)

Where is Elijah? Many people have asked that question. Elijah was taken to heaven in bodily form suddenly when a chariot of fire, drawn by horses of fire, appeared and carried Elijah away by a whirlwind (see 2 Kings 2:11). After Elijah’s departure, a group of mighty men searched diligently for Elijah, but the men could not find Elijah (see 2 Kings 2:16). Therefore, the question remains, “Where is Elijah?”

Elijah was a prophet from Tishbite, who came from the region of Gilead in Transjordan (see 1 Kings 17:1). Biblical scholars have translated the name Elijah to mean, “Yahweh is God,” “the Lord, He is God,” and “the Lord is my God.” The essence of Elijah’s message was to declare to Israel that Yahweh is the only true God of heaven and earth (see 1 Kings 18:21, 39). “Yahweh” is the Name of the living God. In older Christian tradition, the Name of God was pronounced “Jehovah,” although this pronunciation was never actually used in the Biblical period. Most English translations of the Holy Scriptures represent Yahweh as “LORD” (using small capitals). 

Elijah conducted his prophetic ministry in the northern state of Israel from approximately ca. 875-850 B.C., during the Omride Dynasty, principally during the reign of King Ahab and his wicked foreign wife, Jezebel.  In the Old Testament, the principal sources of Elijah’s life are found in 1 Kings 17:1 through 2 Kings 2:12. Elijah is one of the Scriptures greatest prophets. Unlike many other prophets, the Holy Scriptures has no book named after Elijah. Important events in Elijah’s life include raising the widow's son (see 1 Kings 17:17-24), the contest on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal (see 1 Kings 18:20-40), the encounter with God on Mount Horeb (see 1 Kings 19:9-18), and his sudden departure from this world in a chariot of fire (see 2 Kings 2:11-12). The living God sent Elijah to turn Israel’s whole hearts to Him and away from worshipping other gods, such as Baal, and man-made gods, such as the golden calves at Dan and Bethel (see 1 Kings 12:25-33; 1 Kings 16:29-33).

Elijah’s distinguished disciple, Elisha, succeeded him after his departure into heaven (see 2 Kings 2:12-18). Elisha was Elijah's faithful servant and apprentice for probably ten years (see 1 Kings 19:19-21). Some biblical scholars see Elisha as a second Joshua. Elisha’s name means, “God is salvation” or “God saves,” while Joshua means, “Yahweh is salvation.” Elisha was a young farmer living with his parents when he was called to be Elijah’s successor (see 1 Kings 19:19–21). Elijah found Elisha while Elisha was working the fields, and he threw his mantle (some translations say “coat” or “cloak”) across Elisha’s shoulders making Elisha his successor (see 1 Kings 19:19-20). Elijah’s mantle was a symbol of his authority as God’s prophet.  The living God had ordained Elisha to succeed Elijah as a Spirit-powered prophet (see 1 Kings 19:16). Elisha left home and family to faithfully follow Elijah (see 1 Kings 19:20-21). Later, when the transfer of authority was complete, Elijah left his mantle for Elisha at his departure to heaven (see 2 Kings 2:11-14).

Just before Elijah’s departure to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah traveled from Gilgal into Bethel, then Jericho and to the Jordan River (see 2 Kings 2:1-2, 4, 6). During Elijah’s travels, Elisha faithfully accompanied Elijah and never left Elijah’s side before Elijah’s departure to heaven (see 2 Kings 2:2, 4, 6). Elisha wanted to be with Elijah to the very end, listening to his counsel, and learning from him. 

Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan River were important places in Jewish history.  Possibly the author of 1 and 2 Kings wanted to draw attention to the special roles of Elijah and Elisha in Israel’s history. Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan River each carried a significant message. Gilgal was the first city where the ancient Israelites camped after they crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land (see Joshua 4:19-20). At Bethel, Abraham and his son Jacob called upon and worshipped the living God (see Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:3; Genesis 28:11-19; Genesis 35:1-15). Bethel means “house of God.” Unfortunately, evil King Jeroboam also caused Israel to sin by placing a golden calf at Bethel and made Bethel the site of idolatrous worship (see 1 Kings 12:26-32; Amos 3:14; Amos 4:4-6). Jericho was the site of Joshua’s first victory in the Promised Land (see Joshua 5:13-6:27). Finally, the Jordan River is where the Lord God opened the rushing waters to allow the ancient Israelites to enter into the Promised Land and conquer Canaan after living in the wilderness for 40 years (see Joshua 3:1-4:24).

During Elijah and Elisha’s travels before Elijah’s departure, a group of young prophets met Elijah and Elisha from Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan (see 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7). Bible translators also call the group of young prophets a “company of the prophets” or “sons of the prophets.” The group of prophets was like school or seminary of dedicated men called of God to study the Scriptures and teach the people.  The Holy Scriptures first mentions a company or school of prophets in 1 Samuel 10:5, 10 and at 1 Kings 20:35. Samuel led one of the group of prophets at Ramah (see 1 Samuel 7:17; 1 Samuel 28:3). The group of prophets warned Elisha that God was about to take Elijah away from the earth (see 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7). However, Elisha informed the group of young prophets he know the living God was about to take Elijah (see 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7).

While at the Jordan River, Elijah folded his mantle (cloak) together and struck the waters with his mantle (cloak) and the river divided (see 2 Kings 2:8). Fifty of the young prophets stood at some distance from them, as Elijah and Elisha stood by the Jordan River (see 2 Kings 2:7). Elijah and Elisha walked across the Jordan River on dry ground (see 2 Kings 2:8)!

Many scholars note similarities between Moses and Elijah as the two greatest prophets in the Bible. In fact, some scholars identify Elijah as a second Moses. Both Moses and Elijah opened bodies of water – Moses the Red Sea (see Exodus 14:16, 21-22, 26) and Elijah the Jordan River (see 2 Kings 2:7-8). Also, Moses and Elijah called down fire from heaven by God’s power (see Exodus 9:22-24; Leviticus 9:23-24; Numbers 11:1; Numbers 16:35; 1 Kings 18:38; 2 Kings 1:10, 12). Moreover, both Moses and Elijah saw the living God provide food. Through Moses, God provided Israel manna and quails from heaven (see Exodus 16:1-36; Numbers 11:4-35). Through Elijah, God provided oil and flour for the widow and his meals (see 1 Kings 17:1-16). In the land of Egypt, Moses prayed and God altered the weather (see Exodus 9:13-35), and Elijah prayed and God stopped the rain and then three years later started the rain again (see 1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:1; James 5:17-18). Moses gave the covenant of God to the people of Israel, and Elijah called the people to repent and return to the true and living God and His covenant given by Moses (see Exodus 20:1-23:33; 1 Kings 19:10). Both Moses and Elijah were associated with mountains – Mount Sinai (Horeb) and Mount Carmel (see Exodus 19:1-3; 1 Kings 18:20-40; 1 Kings 19:8). Moses and Elijah both made journeys through the wilderness (see Exodus 3:1; Exodus 19:3; Exodus 24:18; 1 Kings 19:4-8). Moreover, Moses and Elijah had unique endings to their lives: God buried Moses in a grave nobody can find (see Deuteronomy 34:1-12) and God carried Elijah to heaven by a whirlwind (see 2 Kings 2:11-12). Both Moses and Elijah had faithful successors to their ministries – Moses to Joshua and Elijah to Elisha (see Exodus 24:13; Deuteronomy 34:9; 1 Kings 19:19-21; 2 Kings 2:14). Finally, both Moses and Elijah were privileged to be present with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36).

When Elijah and Elisha arrived on the other side of the Jordan River, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you” (see 2 Kings 2:9, ESV). Elisha replied to Elijah, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me” (2 Kings 2:9, ESV). One translation says that Elisha requested from Elijah “twice as much prophetic power as you have had” (see 2 Kings 2:9, TLB). The Holy Spirit mightily empowered Elijah, and Elisha realized he could never follow in Elijah’s steps in his human strength. As with Moses, the spirit of Elijah was transferrable to others (see Numbers 11:16–17, 24–26). Elijah informed Elisha, “You have asked a hard thing” (see 2 Kings 2:10, TLB). However, Elijah informed Elisha that if Elisha sees him when he was taken from him, then Elisha will get his request (see 2 Kings 2:10). Nonetheless, if Elisha did not see Elijah, then Elisha would not receive his request (see 2 Kings 2:10). Elisha requests of Elijah what the eldest son would expect of a father in Israel. A “double portion” was the inheritance or spiritual blessings that a firstborn son would receive from his father (see Deuteronomy 21:15-17). Many commentaries see Elijah as Elisha’s spiritual father and personal mentor.

As Elijah and Elisha were walking and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire, drawn by horses of fire, appeared and drove between and separated Elijah and Elisha (see 2 Kings 2:11). Fire in the Old Testament is associated with God’s presence (see 2 Kings 1:10, 12). The chariots and horses belong to the living God (see Habakkuk 3:8). Then, God carried Elijah by a whirlwind into heaven without dying, and Elisha witnessed Elijah’s departure (see 2 Kings 2:11). Because of Elisha’s eyewitness of Elijah’s departure, the Lord God equipped Elisha to continue Elijah’s prophetic ministry. Elijah’s departure into heaven “in a whirlwind” means literally “in the storm of the heavens.”  The whirlwind or storm is associated with God’s presence and activity (e.g., see also Job 38:1; Job 40:6; Jeremiah 23:19; Jonah 1:4-5; Zechariah 9:14).

Elijah is the second person mentioned in Holy Scriptures that did not experience death and was taken bodily by God. Enoch was the first to be taken by God without dying (see Genesis 5:21-24). Like Elijah, Enoch faithfully walked and pleased God and then suddenly went to be with God (see Hebrews 11:5-6). Both Enoch and Elijah illustrate the catching away (rapture) of faithful believers at Jesus’ second coming to earth (see 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Notably, Jesus also was taken to heaven in bodily form after His resurrection from the dead (see Mark 16:19; Acts 1:9). Some theologians believe the two faithful witnesses in Revelation 11 that reappear before Jesus’ second coming is either Enoch and Elijah or Moses and Elijah (see Revelation 11:1-13).

Upon seeing Elijah’s sudden departure, Elisha cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel” (2 Kings 2:12, NIV). Elisha saw Elijah no more (see 2 Kings 2:12). As the chariot of fire drawn by horses of fire disappeared, Elisha tore his robe in utter sadness and distress (see 2 Kings 2:12). The “chariots and horsemen” refer to the Lord God’s heavenly divine army that had come for Elijah and that would also be Israel’s continued defense (see 2 Kings 6:15-17). God’s divine army is forever present (e.g., see Numbers 22:31; Luke 2:13). Also, the “chariot of fire and horses of fire” supported Moses’ ministry (see Exodus 15:1-10). Elijah embodied the strongest instrument of God’s power for Israel because he was the equivalent of a whole army!  Also, Elisha so faithfully followed and pleased God that Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him and cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen” (see 2 Kings 13:14, ESV).

Then, Elisha picked up Elijah’s prophetic mantle (cloak) and returned to the bank of the Jordan River (see 2 Kings 2:13). Elisha struck the Jordan River with Elijah’s mantle and cried aloud, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” (2 Kings 2:14, RSV). Upon striking the Jordan River, the waters parted and Elisha went across the Jordan River on dry ground and without harm as had Elijah (see 2 Kings 2:8, 14). The Holy Spirit who empowered Elijah had now come upon Elisha (see 2 Kings 2:15), and miracles immediately followed Elisha’ ministry (e.g. see also 2 Kings 2:19-22; 2 Kings 4:1-7). Elisha’s prophetic authority and power were immediately demonstrated by three miraculous episodes: (1) the dividing of the Jordan River as Elijah (see 2 Kings 2:8, 13-14); (2) the purifying of the bad waters (see 2 Kings 2:19–23); and (3) judgment on the mocking youths (see 2 Kings 2:23-24). Also, Elisha’s parting of the Jordan River parallels Joshua’s parting of the Jordan, which likewise demonstrated God’s presence with Joshua shortly after he succeeded Moses (see Josh 3:7–8, 15–17).

When the young prophets of Jericho saw what had happened, they shouted, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha” (2 Kings 2:15, RSV). The young prophets went to meet Elisha and greeted Elisha respectfully by bowing to the ground before him (see 2 Kings 2:15). Then the young prophets asked Elisha, “just say the word and fifty of our best athletes will search the wilderness for your master; perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has left him on some mountain or in some ravine” (see 2 Kings 2:16, TLB). However, Elisha told the young prophets, “do not bother” (see 2 Kings 2:16, TLB). Nevertheless, the young prophets kept urging until Elisha was embarrassed and finally said, “All right, go ahead” (see 2 Kings 2:17, TLB). Then, the fifty men searched diligently for three days for Elijah’s location, but the men could not find Elijah (see 2 Kings 2:17). Elisha remained at Jericho (see 2 Kings 2:18). When the fifty men returned to Elisha, Elisha growled and told the men, “Did I not say to you, ‘Do not go’?” (see 2 Kings 2:18, ESV). Finding no physical trace of Elijah confirmed that the living God took Elijah.

In later Judaism, Elijah came to be seen as a forerunner of the Messianic Age based on the prophecy of Malachi (see Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6). In the Old Testament book of Malachi, the prophet predicted that the return of Elijah would come before the “great and terrible day of the LORD” (see Malachi 4:5). John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah (see Luke 1:16-17). Jesus proclaimed that Elijah had already appeared in the person of John the Baptist (see Mark 9:11-13). Indeed, many people believed that Jesus was Elijah (see Mark 8:27-28). At the Transfiguration, Jesus talked with Moses and Elijah, who represented the Old Testament Law and the Prophets. At Jesus’ second coming, Elijah will also reappear (see Revelation 11:6). Thus, Elijah’s life is tied to redemptive history. Without Elijah, there will be no redemption!

Also, Elijah is referred to frequently in the Jewish Talmud and the later mystical writings of Judaism as one who visited the rabbis and mystics, instructing them the meaning of the Torah (the Mosaic Law).  Elijah is believed to be present in the contemporary Jewish ritual of circumcision, and an empty chair is set out for him, his presence symbolizing faithfulness to the covenant. Elijah is also a significant figure in Islam. The Koran of Islam refers to Elijah.  Elijah’s efforts to turn people away from the worship of Baal, back to the true faith in God, is used in Muhammad’s preaching to exemplify true prophecy.

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