May 21, 2019: Day 24 – Deuteronomy 24

There is a theme in these verses and it comes from the Hebrew verb, or command really: zayin.  This means remember.  Moses commands the Israelites after every rule that they are to remember that they were slaves in the land of Egypt and so they must not mistreat others nor must they keep an abomination within the nation of Israel, such as..., well, pretty much a lot.  It seems like we have quite a few strung together commandments, not all of which may make sense.  We can't really take this set of rules and apply them to marriage and divorce, especially since in this time if was the male who was able to write a certificate of divorce pretty much just because he may find "something objectionable about her."   Boy am I glad that my wife isn't given that green light because pretty much every encounter that I may have with her it would be easy to find "something objectionable about him."   But we digress.  There is a ban against taking another Israelite as a slave.  There is a real distinction between what happens to a person who is poor and one who is not poor.  The poor person gets a lot more latitude than one who might be better off.  What an incredible system of grace when we look at it from this perspective.  It must be where Jesus gets his prerogative for the poor.  When we read the parable about the laborers who line up and get their wages (Matthew 20:16), we see that the employer is fulfilling the law according to Deuteronomy.   The last set of verses address how we are able to help the poor and that is by leaving our gleanings in the fields so that they are able to come up behind us after the harvest is completed and take the rest.  Modern day food banks do something very similar as people leave what is left over for them, what they do not need in order to survive in the form of canned goods, so that others are able to partake.  I love the way in which God does not forget the forgotten, those whom others wish weren't around, those whom others wish would just pull themselves up by the bootstraps.  God says you reach out to them, that is your responsibility.
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May 20, 2019: Day 23 – Deuteronomy 23

It might be helpful to read Acts 8:26ff where we see an Ethiopian Eunuch who is converted by Philip on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza.  Keep in mind that the laws which this eunuch would have had to follow would have been these laws in chapter 23 of Deuteronomy.  As a result of his physical condition he would not be allowed to enter into the assembly of the Lord.   This was not just a geographic ban, but it was a ban on fellowship, it was a ban on family life, it was a ban on being an active participant in society.  In Jesus this was torn down and Philip brought this good news to the eunuch. We enter this chapter with an understanding that it is rated - R.  I find it interesting that vs.2 states that no one born of an illicit union was admitted into the assembly and yet Jesus has a prostitute in his descendancy, (Rahab), and a foreigner (Ruth).  Our Savior's lineage is one which makes it obvious that our New Testament understanding, the new covenant that has been established by God through Jesus is completely inclusive, completely.    
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May 19, 2019: Day 22 – Deuteronomy 22

Now we begin to get to those sections that address certain issues that I somehow wish we could skip since they are addressed in pre-BC terms.  But I am not going to skip them, there is some redeeming value to them.  We find the laws of marriage and pre-marriage, and divorce.  But we also find a very important verse which tells us (vs.3): "You may not withhold your help."  If someone is in need then it is a sin to withhold your help. If someone is being persecuted then it is a sin to withhold your help.  If someone is being treated unfairly and you say nothing, your silence is withholding your help.  What a powerful verse that we do not preach often enough. Then we get into marriage and engagement.  If a woman is proven to not be a virgin before marriage then she is to be put to death.  If a man is proven to not be a virgin before marriage then..., well, we don't hear, I guess nothing then.  How often do I hear that what a women wears dictates certain freedoms that a man is able to assume about that woman.  If she wears something too revealing then it means that she must be loose so a man is free to take what he wants.  Saying that a woman somehow deserves certain treatment as a result of what she wears is a sin.  Assuming the worst of a woman because of what she wears is a sin.  This is not Deuteronomy, this is Christian ethics.  We are never to blame the woman in a case where violence is used, even if she doesn't cry out in the city.   As a father of three daughters I want my daughters to have the same freedoms that I have.  I have the freedom to wear what I want to wear and what is comfortable.  I have the freedom to use words and phrases that I want to use and not have to think twice about what I say because men in my presence might interpret it as sexual or as leading them on.  Oh, we set rules on mission trips that limit the freedom of girls on our trips simply because we are responsible for them and we need to make sure they are protected from men who do not have Christian ethics.   Can you imagine a world where we are all judged according to the same standard and the same ethic and that gives us all the same freedom to live out our lives in a way that increases the presence of the kingdom of  God?  That day will come.  It is not here yet and it was not there yet in Deuteronomy.  
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May 18, 2019: Day 21 – Deuteronomy 21

We cover a lot of ground in this chapter.  We begin with the age old question of what do we do when we find a body lying around that no one has taken credit over their death?  Well, that's an easy one.  You gather the elders of the city closest to the body, kill a calf in the river, wash your hands, and you should be good to go.  It's pretty common practice these days, okay, it isn't, but that's what they did many, many years ago.   You then have the directives over what do you do with the women whom you have conquered and you find them pleasing to your sight.  You bring them home, let them mourn for a month, and then they are all yours.  If the one you have taken home no longer pleases you then you can let her go, she is no longer a slave.  As we read this with 21st century eyes I hope, I really I hope that you read it as I do, as words that belong back nearly 1,000 years before Christ.  For when Jesus came he said you shall not divorce your wife, for once a woman was released from her house she had no life.  She had to prostitute herself and she found herself without a means to an income and in much worse state than when she was protected in a household.  Remember, this was nearly 3,000 years ago. Finally, we find what we have to do with rebellious children.  Read this well  and pay attention.  Both mom and dad are to take this rebellious child to the square, tell the elders that he is rebellious, and then they are freed to stone him to death.  So that's how things were handled 3,000 years ago.   Really finally we find the reason why Jesus was not left hanging on the cross on Good Friday.  You read that when "his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day."  Jesus was taken off the cross that same day and buried in the grave of Josephus.  The more we read  the Old Testament the more we understand why people did what they did back then.  Also, the more we realize why we do things differently than how they did it back then.  
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May 17, 2019: Day 20 – Deuteronomy 20

It seems like this is a good cop, bad cop scenario.  The good cop is the priest, the religious leader, the pastor who encourages the troops when they go to battle.  Do not be afraid for it is the Lord who gives you the victory.  That sounds great and that is definitely something that I don't mind telling the troops.  I'm grateful that I wasn't given the role of the official, who is second to talk to the troops as they prepare for battle.  It seems like he has the role of the bad cop.   It is almost as if the roles are reversed.   The pastor gives them courage, the official gives them last rites.  If any of you want to leave, now is the time, leave.   You also have rules of engagement for the towns upon which you come which need to be overtaken.  First you ask them if they want to give up.  If they do, then you spare them.  You make them slaves, but you spare them.  Secondly, and this is very curious and I'm glad to see this, the Israelites were absolutely environmentalists.  They were not allowed to cut down any trees as they besieged a town, unless it had specific usage, and certainly no fruit trees were allowed to be cut down, whether they were useful or not.  Look at vs.19-20 where we read this little known fact.  The Israelites as environmentalists.
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May 16, 2019: Day 19 – Deuteronomy 19

We begin somewhat innocuously, and yet with a theme that is a very hot topic for today.  Sanctuary cities, do you see that the Lord set up sanctuary cities for those who might be pursued because they killed someone by mistake?   So this whole concept of sanctuary cities is absolutely not a new one, it is one that is biblical, and one that is meant to embrace those who are being sought after wrongly.  There was a time when what was called the sanctuary movement was quite popular within churches in the US.  This movement was spearheaded by Presbyterian pastors, my dad was one of them, who would house illegal immigrants primarily from El Salvador which was suffering from a terrible civil war and these immigrants, illegal that they were, would live in the church until their paperwork could be completed.  We housed a family in the church where I grew up in in Pleasantville, NJ.  It was pretty heady stuff.  But the Scriptural backing is there and continues to be there.  Be aware that whatever stance we take, whether morally or politically, must be supported in some way.  It cannot emanate simply from our agenda. We end the chapter with a very famous verse which Jesus used.  In Matthew 5:38-48 Jesus is teaching and he tells the people: you have heard it said..., and he quotes the verses from Deuteronomy, and then he adds: but I say to you - " But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you."  That is a pretty different direction from where Deuteronomy takes us.   Moses tells us that we have to purge the evil doer from our midst.   Jesus says we have to love the evildoer and then maybe, just maybe, they will see the love that God has for them and turn from their evil ways.  I'll take Jesus' approach.
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May 15, 2019: Day 18 – Deuteronomy 18

We learn about the Levitical family which was set apart to do the work of the Lord.  They were not to be paid, they were not to till the land, they were not to do any work except the work of the Lord.  This is a bit of the model that we use in the Presbyterian Church, but we are open to the Anabaptist model of bi-vocational servants of the Lord.  They are not to receive any inheritance, any land, or anything else like the rest of the tribes of the Israel received, simply because they did not need it since they were full time at work for the Lord. It progresses in this chapter from lifting up the Levites to underscoring that the people of Israel asked for a prophet to give them wisdom and insight into what God was doing.  Other people groups around them had sorcerers, diviners, people who could see the future through means which often became perverse.  Not the people of Israel.  They were to rely upon the mouthpieces of the Lord and know that the words which they spoke were given to them by the Lord.  Once again, as Presbyterians we do take this model.  There is a tremendous amount of pressure and responsibility when we take this approach.   The responsibility is two-fold as we have the people who are listening are required to heed the words of the prophet.  If they do not, then they will be held responsible.  We don't know what that means, we don't know what kind of responsibility that would look like, we just know that they will be held responsible if they do not do what the prophet says.  Well, how do you know that what the prophet says is actually the words of God and not their own agenda.  Again, they will also be held responsible, but this time we see how they will be held responsible.  Look at vs.20.   Anyone who presumes and is considered the mouthpiece of the Lord and does not speak the words of the Lord will die.  They will die.  Now that is serious responsibility.
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May 14, 2018: Day 17 – Deuteronomy 17

Once again we address the issue of worshiping other gods and this time  there is an added detail.  You need to have more than one witness who says that they saw a man or woman who worshiped other gods.  Once that is done then the one who accused must be the first to throw a stone.  Sound familiar?  Look at John 8:1-11 and you will see that Jesus asks the accuser, or someone who has not sinned, to throw the first stone.  That is a bit of a difference, isn't it?  It prevented the woman from being stoned.  All of this is done so that you would purge evil from your midst. There is also a provision in this chapter that if the decision is too difficult and cannot be made at the local level that it would then be referred to a higher court, again, sound familiar as far as what happens in our country, and that higher court would be in the place that the Lord God will choose.  This is the same place as the chapter before.  Interestingly enough you see that God gives permission to the people of Israel to set a king over themselves once they settle in the land.   Look at the some of the prerequisites for this king.  I think of Solomon when I read in vs.17: "he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away."  Maybe that was optional for Solomon.  But we do see that the heart of Solomon was eventually turned away and the kingdom was divided.  I also love the image of the servant king that we read in vs. 20 where the king should "neither exalting himself above other members of the community."  That is the model that Jesus exemplified, this servant rule.
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May 13, 2019: Day 16 – Deuteronomy 16

In the past the celebration of Passover was a family affair done in the home.  This is the way that it is celebrated today, in homes.  But here Deuteronomy institutionalizes it and says that the Passover festival must be celebrated in the central place of worship, or as vs. 2 states: the place that the Lord will choose as a dwelling for his name.  The details of which we are somewhat familiar, the unleavened bread which is the highlight of it.   But again, in vs.5-6 we read that Deuteronomy forbids the Passover celebration from being celebrated at home, in the towns where you reside, but rather it became a communal collective event as they were required to celebrate it at the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name (vs.6). We also read the instituting of the pilgrimage three times a year to this same place, remember, the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.  To go along with the command to travel three times a year comes the reminder that judges are to be appointed who will render judgment for the people. There are a lot of commands that we are told to follow, but this one, "justice, and only justice, you shall pursue."  This should stick and be significant.
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May 12, 2019: Day 15 – Deuteronomy 15

So this is the description of the year of jubilee.  Every seventh year the debt that was owed within the Israelite community was forgiven.  This was true both financially as well as those who were slaves.  This is an exceptional model, one that we do not follow, but what a difference this would make.  Look at vs.11 and see if it reminds you of Matthew 26:11 or Mark 14:7 where Jesus says that you will have the poor with you always, so you must always make them a priority.  This is emphasized in Deuteronomy 15:11 where we read  that since we will always have the poor with us then we ought to open our hand to the poor and the needy neighbor in the land.   It says not just in the land, but in your land.  We have the beginning of a fledgling social ministry as we have a food bank and opportunities for people to come in and see if their needs can be met.  But we can do so much more to open our hand for the poor.   There are some disturbing verses about slaves and slavery which I pray we are able to relegate to that which is from well before the dawn of the age where we understood that all people were made from the same mud.  But did you notice that it speaks also very specifically to those who had slaves who were Israelites.  So we know that back then one could become a slave not because they were exported from another country and were of a different race or ethnicity, but rather from the same bloodline.   I'm not sure this makes it better, but slavery back in Moses' day was built around those who were indebted to society for a whole variety of reasons.  Remember a diverse society is a fairly new construct and one that is uniquely American.  Much of our diversity has come from forced migration, but much of it has also come because people have sought our opportunities.  The African American experience is one that has to be revisited because of the forced, violent, barbaric migration that we masterminded.  It will never go away the pain that was caused by this tragedy in history.
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