More Deuteronomy Wisdom

Daily Scripture readings for August, set #19:

Deuteronomy, chapters 13-17
Psalm 66
Matthew 27:1-10
Romans 12:1-8

Being this far into Deuteronomy is helping me remember why I liked this book so much when I read it last year. Moses’ words to the people are just PACKED with wisdom, and so much of it seems helpful/relevant to the current day. Today’s readings are no exception, and my notes on these chapters are so dense that I’m once again going to skip over the other texts and just focus on Deut 13-17.

Chapter 13 begins with Moses warning the people that they must ignore any prophet who suggests that they follow other gods than Yahweh. But then Moses says this about the false prophet: “For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (vs 3). Wouldn’t it be sin for a prophet to call the people of Israel away from the one true God and toward false gods? And yet, the false prophet and his actions are attributed to the Lord.

The age-old debate on alcohol and whether consuming it is acceptable for Evangelicals has resurfaced with new vigor recently. I feel like Deut 14:26 should be at least on the table in any discussion about the permissibility of alcohol consumption: “Spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.” Um, did Moses just tell the people to use their tithe money to buy booze? Yes. Yes he did.

Interestingly, Deut chapter 15 gets right in the middle of the Jim Wallis discussion regarding the poor” in Matthew 26, except Moses says what Wallis was unwilling to acknowledge. “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’” (Deut 15:11). Notice that in this text the perpetual existence of the poor is side by side with the call to help the poor (the two realities linked with the word “therefore”).

I mentioned the topic of slavery in the Bible in one of my early posts, but we find it again as we move through Deut 15, and it’s worth pointing out. Verse 16 says this regarding a “slave” that an owner is bound by law to release: “But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he is well-off with you, then you shall take an awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave forever.” So the slave is offered his freedom and doesn’t want it because he loves the master and is treated well. This is pretty definitive evidence that the “slavery” in the Bible is not at all the same as the racist human rights violations throughout the history of the US.

Also, I want to make note of the strict punishments for lawbreakers, mentioned here in Deut 17 and also as we have seen in Numbers and Leviticus. “The man who acts presumptuously by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear and not act presumptuously again” (vs 12-13). Many modern day readers, including myself, cringe at how easily the death penalty is rolled out in these passages. But I noticed something just now that I hadn’t seen before… that the INTENTION behind the death penalty here is not primarily punishment. “Purging the evil from Israel” seems to be the point, as well as a warning for the people. This certainly doesn’t help the dead lawbreaker, but it at least begins to help me wrap my head around God’s strictness.

Lastly, I have both a comment and a question about the laws for Israel’s kings at the close of chapter 17. I had always thought that the Bible was strangely silent about the polygamy of kings like David and Solomon, but it turns out Deuteronomy 17:17 specifically forbids multiple wives for a king. HOWEVER, it’s very strange to me that Moses, just before this in verse 15, actually gives permission for Israel to desire and have kings in the future. I thought I remembered the people telling Samuel that they wanted a king, but God telling Samuel that this was NOT a good idea. I guess we’ll get to 1 and 2 Samuel in a few weeks, so we’ll see what really happens then.

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