Synopsis Deuteronomy 19:14-20:3 3/2/2018
Moses taught the people to not cheat and to not pervert the truth. He forbade them from moving ancient boundary markers. He also made a legal rule where a person could not be convicted on the basis of a single witness. Finally, in order to preserve the integrity of the process, he made the giving of false testimony a crime that was punished by giving the same punishment to the witness that would have been given to the accused if found guilty.
The False Witness
The ideal witness is one who has no self-interest. The ancients recognized that self-interest makes dubious testimony. And this isn’t merely an issue of maliciousness. Ancient wisdom recognized what modern science has proven: human beings interpret circumstances differently over time. Our true motives are often hidden from our conscious thought. This isn’t a choice, but a limitation of our brain’s capacity.
This is why, in the law of Moses, bearing witness was fraught with a downside. If a witness was found to be untruthful, that person was subject to judgement and punishment. The intent of the law is that a witness avoid offering any testimony that wasn’t absolutely certain.
Two or three scrutinized witnesses make a claim true. This isn’t simply a juridical protection against a malicious person who wants to pervert justice for personal gain.
Yet if this God-given standard were the way of our ordinary speech, there would be no fraud, no calumny, no gossip, and no slander.
If the motive for my speech was the truth, my words would be few and lifegiving.
Lord, set a guard over my mouth. Keep a watchman over my lips.
“If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony cannot be verified.” John 5:35
Synopsis Deuteronomy 19:4-13 3/1/2018
Moses reiterated the law concerning inadvertent homicide. A person whose actions cause the death of another person but without malice can escape the “life for life” provision of the law. In order to do so, the killer must flee to a designated city of refuge. In this place, the avenger of blood cannot exact vengeance.
Moses also anticipated that more cities of refuge should eventually be added. As Israel grew in size it was important to preserve this element of both justice and mercy. This provision should not be diluted simply by the length of the distance from the nearest city of refuge.
Jesus as a City of Refuge
I am a refugee.
Jesus died at the hands of human beings. Men and women; people who are just like me. They killed Jesus thinking they were justified. They thought they were right to kill Him.
And Jesus allowed all of this. He accepted their misunderstanding. He accepted their hatred. He accepted their cruelty. And He forgave.
When the people of Jerusalem killed Jesus, they didn’t do it alone. They acted out the core emotion of every man and woman who have ever been separated from the God of creation. They rejected the moral claims of the one, true God.
Like Adam and Eve, they were deceived. They acted out of their fear. They acted out of their mistrust.
And Jesus was dead. He was left hanging on a tree.
They were glad – Glad to be free from the claims of the God of creation. Glad to return to the God they had put in a box, in a temple, in a sacred city. The God who had been tamed.
And I was glad too. Because we all want God in a box, in some far away temple, in some sacred city. Somewhere that doesn’t affect my life too much.
It was a murder in utter ignorance. We called it self-defense. He seemed to attack our very being – everything we once believed was valuable and important.
Hard to believe we could so often be so blind.
Yet even in this – there is a city of refuge. Jesus is the city of refuge. I am a refugee.
“and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” 1 Cor 2:8
Synopsis Deuteronomy 18:15-19:4 2/28/2018
Moses described to the Israelites how God would raise up additional prophets as the community required them. He gave them a process by which they could discern whether a person was actually a prophet of God.
A Prophet Like Me
On the one hand, Moses anticipated that God would raise up prophets to inform the community. He told the people how they would be able to recognize an authentic prophet from a false prophet. There is the sense that this would be an ongoing process from generation to generation.
On the other hand, it seems like Moses was anticipating a particular kind of prophet – someone who was like him. This person would be a mighty worker of miracles and someone who had direct experience with God.
Moses understood the need for such prophets was the awesomeness of experiencing God directly. God was so awesome that none of the Israelites could imagine being in His presence and surviving. The raw glory of God is this overwhelming – that powerful.
Jesus Like Me
Jesus is God incarnate.Fully human. Fully flesh and blood. Fully Divine. Fully God. His claim is outlandish. He promised that if you love Him and keep His word, then the Father will love you, and they will both come to you and make their dwelling with you. (John 14:23 para) The terrible, awesome fear that the ancient Israelites felt has been overcome by love.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” 1John 4:18
Synopsis Deuteronomy 18:3-14 2/27/2018
Moses reiterated the portions of the sacrifices were due to the priests and Levites. He also made clear that a Levite, no matter where he lived in Israel, could attend to the tabernacle and serve there as he desired. For the Levite visiting the tabernacle, he had the full right to eat of the sacrifices.
Moses also warned the people not to practice divination. In doing so, he made a distinction between the role of a prophet and the work of sorcerers and diviners.
Priests, Prophets and Diviners
Priests and prophets were instituted to mediate between God and men. The children of Israel were terrorized at the prospect of dealing directly with the God of all creation. His appearance in smoke and fire, thunder and lightning, showed the power of God. Not everyone was open to a direct encounter with God especially as they began their personal, spiritual journey. Hence, priests and prophets.
But divination is motivated by a different ambition. This is the drive is to gain power aside from God. It comes in lots of forms: the desire for esoteric knowledge, the search for secret principles over the forces of nature, the ability to interact and manipulate in the occultist realm. There is, of course, no power against God. Yet the ambition to circumvent God in order to get power is a denial of everything God is. Those who practice this way of thinking are deeply deceived.
Truth, beauty and goodness. The right ambition is to find value through the ordinary circumstances of life – from what’s actually given.
There isn’t any knowledge that God won’t share – if I listen.
The face of the wicked hardens, but the upright maintains a straight course. No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel prevail against the LORD. Prov 21:29-30
Synopsis Deuteronomy 17:14-18:2 2/26/2018
Although the idea wasn’t promoted, Moses authorized the people to make a king. There were stipulations. The king could only be from amongst the tribes. He had to be a kinsmen. The king should not have a great number of wives, horses or horde extraordinary wealth.
The king had to be knowledgeable about the law Moses had taught. He was required to write out his own personal copy of the law. This was to be his required daily reading, as long as he was on the throne.
Becoming a kingdom was a tricky business for the ancient Israelites. Though it wasn’t obvious, the desire to be “like the nations around them”, made a distinction between the Authentic Community and the social contract communities.
The nations were social contracts run by rulers. The Israelites were a chosen people, a royal priesthood. They were a covenant community whose existence mediated between God and all humanity. Could the nation-state of Israel be anything like the Authentic Community Israel was intended to be?
The Kingship of Jesus
Curiously, the only possible reconciliation of this challenge is if God becomes the head of the community – the king.
But God’s not trying for an earthly theocracy. It was never the goal. Even if this weren’t evident from scripture, it would be from the tragic fails in the church’s collective political history.
He said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” His goal is an Authentic Community. Whatever else it may be, it is transcendent. It is true. And it’s citizen-subjects know who they are and who rules over them.
“So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” John 18:37
Synopsis Deuteronomy 17:5-13 2/25/2018
Concerning the administration of law, Moses commanded that the death penalty required two or three witnesses. This was a minimum requirement. Also, the witnesses who testified in a capital case were required to be the first to impose any penalty.
Additionally, Moses provided a process for appealing cases to a more competent authority if a local judge could not make a determination. Either the Levitical priests or the judge in office would serve the people at the tabernacle. Whoever heard the case was responsible to make their own investigation – not merely rule on the facts already established. They would announce their decision which was final and binding.
Justice and Responsibility
Under the law of Moses, witnesses were required to participate in the execution of justice. It’s a different sort of business than our modern approach.
The process was ordered: Establish the truth of the circumstances. The baffling of a local judge was not the end of the process. The community had to go to a higher judge to establish the truth.But once a truth was established, everyone within the community was required to respond. Responding to the disvalue (or value) created by the situation was an imperative. It’s a curious mandate. Each person needed to engage with the truth. Not responding to the truth was not an option. As a result, truth was never an academic pursuit.
Truth, it seems, comes packaged with a moral requirement to respond.
Truth and Action
So, truth requires a response – an action. This is a non-option. Whether the circumstances are a matter of criminal misconduct or me simply living out my day-to-day experience, the God of all creation says, “Act”.
“Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” 1John 3:18
Synopsis Deuteronomy 16:17-17:4 2/24/2018
Moses directed the Israelites to assign judges for their communities. The judges were to administer justice. These judges were to pursue justice alone and were specifically warned against taking bribes or otherwise perverting justice.
Moses warned the people about keeping their sacrifices pure. They were to never sacrifice a defective animal. They were never to erect or worship Asherah poles or other symbols of idolatry.
It is not fitting that the things of heavens should bow down to the things of the earth.
Made in the image of God, when I bow down to created things, I invert the true order of value. It’s like I’m trying to force the Creator to bow down to the creation. It’s an injustice. It’s a denial of the truth.
If I force the issue, the effort is likely to produce some sparks.
“God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” John 4:24
Synopsis Deuteronomy 16:7-16 2/23/2018
Moses reminded the people of the requirement to meet for the major feasts. These feasts included the Passover, the feast of Weeks and the feast of Booths.
The feasts were to be a time of great joy – an expression of thanks to God for His goodness and faithfulness. The entire family participated, including slaves and guest Levites who lived in the local communities.
The command was that no one should attend a feast empty handed. Everyone needed to bring a sacrifice as a recognition of the good they had personally experienced in their relationship with God.
Each person’s sacrifice was to be proportional to their blessing. Overwhelming abundance was to be met with proportionally abundant offerings and a great, joyous celebration.
So it’s my turn. I come to this feast. I’m distracted. I’m thinking about my day. I’m anxious about a million things. I catch myself looking past the moment to what comes next. I “celebrate”.
I say these words but the truth is, I’m not always into it.
But then, in a subtle mercy, I’m reminded, “Or what can one give in exchange for his life?” Matt 16:26
Saved. I am saved.
What is the proportionate response?
Synopsis Deuteronomy 15:20-16:6 2/22/2018
Moses directed the people to never offer defective sacrifices. Even the first born male from a clean animal could not be offered if it had a serious defect.
Moses also reiterated the command to celebrate the Passover in the month of Abib. It was to be celebrated with unleavened bread. And the location for the feast was wherever the tabernacle was located.
Location of the Tabernacle
Moses directed that the Passover and other feasts should be celebrated only in the presence of God at the tabernacle – wherever the tabernacle might be located.
God had a reason for this. Every major feast was intended to bring the entire community back together. The idea was for all the tribes to physically reunite around the tabernacle. This was a reunion. This was a communion. And as long as they did this, the Israelites remained an integrated people with common customs and culture that emphasized the worship of the one, true God.
Vulnerability of the Law
This was also the vulnerability of the Authentic Community. The temptation for all earthly kings is to use their community for power and gain. And this was the fate of Israel. The nation would one day split over control of the temple. It was a travesty. It was the effort of kings to use worship as a means of controlling the people and bringing wealth to elites. It all but destroyed the community.
By God’s mercy, a remnant survived.
And now we find our communion in the breaking of the bread. The Eucharist. Thanksgiving.
Still around the throne of God and in the company of the Communion of Saints.
“Take and Eat” Matt 26:26
Synopsis Deuteronomy 15:11-19 2/21/2018
Moses commanded that when a slave was released after the maximum six years of service, the slave owner must send the slave out with material goods. He reminded the Israelites that this is how they were sent away from Egypt. Moses also made a special rite as provision for the person who wished to remain a slave because they loved their master.
Blessings for Slaves
Slavery within the Authentic Community had the quality of internship. It wasn’t possible to keep a slave permanently unless that was the slaves desire. The slave owner bought the slave because slave labor was recognized as extremely cheap. But a Hebrew could only be required to serve as a slave for a maximum of 6 years. And at the conclusion of the service, the slave received an endowment.
It all sounds a bit euphemistic. Like a justification for 18th and 19th century American slavery. But in the ancient near-east world, if a person had no resources, or they little ability to manage their resources, then it seems they very often ended up as slaves. The difference between the common practice of slavery and the Hebrew practice was the effect on the slave. For the Israelites, slavery meant that a person with no means or inadequate training in handling resources had six years to figure things out.
It is with this understanding that Jesus described the servants in the parable of the talents. Each given some relatively small charge. Each given the opportunity for industry. Each rewarded in accordance with their merit.
The story was meant for me. I am a servant. I am a slave.
The story was meant for you. The hope is that someday you will rule over cities.
“At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” Heb 12:11