Purging evil from our midst!

Scripture reading for February 27: Deuteronomy 21-26

One of the most difficult things to do is to change.  We are by nature procrastinators and easily get comfortable with sin and evil in our lives and culture.  We blame others for our bad habits and use the victim mentality to justify our own rebellion.  We easily judge others who are “worse than us” and can see their need to change.  Looking in the mirror and admitting that I need to change is another story.  In today’s reading from Mose’s sermon to the younger generation we can gain insight about the radical methods needed to remove sin and guilt from our lives and community. This blog is inspired by a statement that is repeated many times by Moses: “purge evil from among you”.

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, then his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious.  He will not obey us.  He is a profligate and a drunkard.”  Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death.  You must purge evil from among you. All Israel will hear it and be afraid.”  (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

What is evil?  According to this passage, one form of  it is dishonoring and rebelling against your God-given authority. This is a breaking of God’s law, the only true source of knowing good and evil.   A son who refuses to listen and be corrected by his parents is exhibiting rebellion and evil.  Evil cannot be negotiated with or excused.  Discipline is to be used to remove it or drive it out of one’s home or life.  Evil affects communities and spreads if not dealt with.  It is more than a personal matter.  Sin’s final consequence is death and that can spread to a whole community.

Now, don’t jump to the conclusion that we should stone our children today.  This law was for God’s family under the old covenant.  It is teaching us principles of parenting and community involvement in setting standards for evil and its removal.  If we tolerate evil, it always spreads.  A lack of swift justice or discipline allows evil to grow.  A swift and severe punishment instills a holy fear of God’s Word and reinforces the seriousness of evil as a source of death.  Notice the elders were involved here.  Those with wisdom and maturity helped the family with the rebellious child.  Their goal was removing evil from the midst of the community, not just placating the child or parents.  They cared about all the children and the future.

There are other examples throughout this section of scripture.  The general lesson for us is our need for a clear definition of good and evil in community.  The community working together to purge evil and promote good by respect for God’s law is foundational to God’s blessing of His people.  Contemplate these truths and ask God how to apply them personally and in the community we belong to!

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Instructions for the future!

Scripture Reading for February 26: Deuteronomy 17-20

The passage today is another example of God’s foreknowledge.  In Deuteronomy 17, Moses gives instructions to the Israelites about what will transpire after they enter the promised land.  He said that they would want a king like the other nations around them.  (Deuteronomy 17:14)  We know from history, that is exactly what happened!  God’s Word is always true and is worth listening to!  I believe these passages will help us today.

The first rule of choosing a king, is to appoint one chosen by the Lord Himself!  He must come from his own brothers so he can understand the people and the problems they face.  A foreigner will not have a proper understanding and in the case of Israel, would not understand God’s special dealing with this nation. (Deuteronomy 17:15)  Jesus Christ was God’s chosen ruler to be king over His people!  He is actually king over the universe!  He is one of us, being born of a woman.  He was tempted in all ways like us, yet without sin.  He came from the Father, and knew and willingly did the Father’s will!

Another factor in choosing the proper king had to do with their moral character.  The king was not to gather large numbers of horses or send people to Egypt to get them. This king was not to take a large number of wives, because the wives would lead his heart astray.  Some of these wives might lead the king into idolatry and cause his downfall.  He must not gather large amounts of silver and gold. (Deuteronomy 17: 16-17) These things often lead to idolatry and pride and take the king’s focus off of serving the Lord and the people.  Jesus Christ met all these characteristics!  He did not put his trust in military power and certainly did not lead the people to Egypt.  He also did not marry here, but is still betrothed to a Gentile Bride.  He certainly did not gather silver and gold, but was a man of contentment with whatever was provided here.  He owns the universe and is not greedy or idolatrous!

The last instructions for the king was that he was to write for himself a copy of the law taken from priests.  The purpose was that the king would know the law and Word of God and keep and uphold it in his kingdom.  It was to help him with pride and thinking that he was better than his brothers.  It would help him revere God and honor Him alone.(Deuteronomy 17:18-20)  Of course, Jesus Christ perfectly honored His father and kept the law.  He read the law regularly and identified with his brothers in their need by giving Himself for them. The result is a long reign for eternity!

This instruction is good for any who are in authority!  Pride is a constant temptation and so is greed.  Sexual temptations also beset leaders.  Would that we trust the Word of God! Choose Jesus for your king today!

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What about the poor?

Scripture reading for February 25: Deuteronomy 12-16

In many cultures, the poor and needy are viewed as under the judgment of the gods.  These people are despised and live in the worst conditions on the fringes of society.  Children born in the families are destined to live in poverty, sickness, and usually have an early death. India has millions living in the caste system and viewed as nearly untouchable by their peers. The Hindu religion and the teaching of reincarnation and this caste system keeps the bondage in place.

The God of the Bible, creator of heaven and earth, is compassionate and merciful.  When He formed the nation of Israel and delivered them from slavery, He instructed them in the care of those society had looked down upon.  The orphans and widows were singled out for care by the Lord.   (Deuteronomy 14:28-29)  God promised to bless the Israelites for caring for them.  The alien was also to be cared for, because the Israelites were also aliens and strangers in Egypt and could identify with what it felts like to be in a strange culture and on the outside of the economic and political power system.

God said that there should be no poor among His people, however. (Deuteronomy 15:4)  The reason given was that if they fully obeyed the Lord in keeping all His commands, God would so bless them that they would have an abundance to help others.  They would lend only and not borrow. (Deuteronomy 15:6)  They would also rule and not be in servitude. “The rich rule over the poor, the borrower becomes the slave of the lender.” (Proverbs: 22:7)  This is God’s heart desire for His people. (3 John 2)

God seems to contradict Himself later in Deuteronomy 15:11.  He only seems to because here God is telling the Israelites not all will fully obey.  Some will be poor and they will need help.  Those who are fully obeying the Lord are to be generous with the poor.  They are not to be “tight-fisted” or “hard-hearted” towards their poor brothers, but are to be “open-handed” and “freely lend”.  (Deuteronomy 15:7-10)  God even goes so far as to say it is sin to be stingy toward the poor brother!  He is indicating His care for those who are truly needy. God always pays well when we help the poor.  We can’t outgive God!

“A generous man will prosper and he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25)

“He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker, but he who is kind to the needy honors God.” (Proverbs 14:31)

“He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward him for what he has done.” (Proverbs 19:17)

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The Beautiful Land of Canaan!

Scripture Reading for February 24: Deuteronomy 8-11

In 1995, my son and I went to Israel and Egypt on a three week study tour of the Holy Land plus the route of the Exodus and Egypt.  In Egypt we visited the Great Pyramid, the Sphinx and several museums.  The land of Egypt was primarily desert and dry rocky mountains until we got to the Nile River where the water and irrigation made some green areas and lush groves of tropical plants.  The land was fairly flat and sandy.  Israel, on the other hand was varied in topography and had many different areas of climate and vegetation.  The Jezreel valley was a rich agricultural region with big farms. The vineyard country was terraced and had trees and vines.  The area around the Sea of Galilee was lush and had banana and pineapples growing.  There were herds of cattle and sheep in the Golan Heights.  Shepherds drove their flocks of goats and sheep and camped in tents in the Negev desert.  It was a varied land full of milk (goats and cattle) and honey (bees pollinating vines and flowers).

In our reading today, God describes through Moses in his sermon the land that they are going to.  I thought it was interesting to read Deuteronomy 11:8-12 in light of my own journey to both places. It is a land flowing with milk and honey! (vs.9)   It’s a land of hills and valleys! (vs. 10) God sends the rain of heaven on Israel where in Egypt, by hand and foot, the land had to be irrigated! (vs. 11) In Canaan, God cares for the land and His eyes are upon it to bless His people! (vs.12)

As Marshal and I walked and rode through that land, God’s presence was evident to us.  It is a special land, although it is not remarkable or extraordinary.  God’s presence and His people make it special!  God’s promises to Israel and His love for His people and our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob stand as a testimony of God’s faithfulness.  Four thousand years after Abraham, his descendants are still in that land and are taking possession of it yet!  They have defeated armies more numerous and stronger, because God is with them and His Word is still true.  (Deuteronomy 11:23,25)  They are still being gathered from the nations and settling in that land after years of being scattered!  It is a land that God cares for and His eyes are upon it continually!  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and support God’s land and people!  A blessing is on those who bless Israel!  (Genesis 12:3)

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“Hear, O Israel”

Scripture Reading for February 23: Deuteronomy 5-7

“Hear, O Israel:  The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your foreheads.  Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9

This passage from our reading today is known by faithful Jews as the “Shema”.  This Hebrew word simply means “listen”. The Shema is quoted twice daily by devout Jews around the world reminding them of the importance of a relationship with the one true God.  This passage was quoted by Jesus in part when he was asked which was the greatest commandment.  He answered with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.”  (Matthew 22:37-38)  This ancient word from a sermon of Moses around 1500 years before Christ was foundational in the devotional life of God’s people.  Let’s examine it closer today and seek to apply it to our lives as twenty-first century AD Christians.

First, hearing is important!  God wants us to have ears to hear His voice!  Remember that the nation of Israel did not want to hear God’s voice speaking His commandments.  They had asked Moses to hear for them so they would not die.  Moses was repeating what God had told him.  Faith comes by hearing the Word of God! (Romans 10:17)  God sends His people out to speak His Word to bring faith and obedience and the resulting blessing on His own.

Second, the Lord is one!  There is no other God but God!  He is the creator of heaven and earth.  He is holy and complete in Himself.  He desires the love of His children and loves them infinitely, desiring the best for them.  His love is expressed in his Word and commandments.  When we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, we are actively responding to His Word in obedience.  If we love Him, we obey His commands. (John 15:9-11)  His joy will be in us and our life will be full!

The last point to look at in this devotion is the need to impress these commands of the Lord on our children. If these commands are on our hearts, we will pass them on.  The most effective way to pass them on is to live them out and speak about them in the normal flow of life.  Live them out from morning to night.  Make them the focus of all you do because they are on your own heart!  It’s pretty simple really!  What an impact on the next generation!  Are you listening?

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Sunday Rest and Reflection–Baalam

Greetings! Today is another day of rest and reflection about what God has been saying to us.  Have you enjoyed Numbers?  What have you learned about Jesus Christ through this book?  Do you sense God speaking to you about Christ as you read the stories about Moses and the people of God as they learn to walk with God in their midst?

A story I did not write on comes to mind today.  It’s the story of Balaam.  Balaam was a prophet for hire who was hired by Balak, King of the Moabites.  Balak was afraid of the Israelites and had heard the reports of how they had completely destroyed Sihon and Og, two other kings that opposed them.  God had given them this victory and led them in this conquest.  Balak was trying to get advantage the only way he knew how.  He sent a delegation to hire Balaam to come and curse the Israelites.  Balaam, to his credit, sought God as to what he should do.  God told him not to go and not to curse Israel. (Numbers 22:12)

A short time later, Balak sent more distinguished men and more money to try and entice Balaam to come and curse the Israelites.  Balaam was tempted, but he sought God again on this matter.  Money and men have a way of clouding God’s instructions.  God told him to go, but do only what He instructed him.  This led to the incident where Balaam’s donkey talked to him and warned him about the Angel of the Lord who was waiting on the way to kill him!  God’s mercy and justice are evident here in this tension.

Balaam goes to curse the Israelites and as he stands to act, a spirit of prophesy comes on him.  Each time, he blesses God’s people instead.  These blessings speak of Jesus Christ and God’s desire to bless his people.  Numbers 23:6-10 records the first blessing and verses 18-24 the second blessing.  God has blessed his people, who can curse them?  When God speaks a promise, no one can change it by sorcery!  (Numbers 23:20,23)

The final prophesy of Balaam is recorded in Numbers 25: 14-24.  In this prophesy, Balaam warns Balak of what the Israelites would do to his people in the days to come.  He sees a vision of the Almighty.  This vision is of a star coming out of Jacob and a scepter out of Israel.  It was not now and not near, but would surely come.  He would crush the head of Moab and conquer Edom.  This ruler is Jesus Christ, the star out of Jacob and the one who holds the ruler’s septer!  Jesus would crush the head of the serpent as prophesied in Genesis 3:15!

The tradgedy of Balaam is what he did later.  He evidently figured out a way to help out Balak.  He told them to send in the women and seduce the Israelites and get them into idolatry.  That would bring a curse from God on the Israelites as a consequence of their own sins. (Numbers 31:15-16)  Balaam was a false prophet who met a tragic end! (Numbers 31:8) We must be on our guard!  Our enemy Satan is always trying to seduce us! (Revelation 2:14-16)

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Pastor’s Walk Podcast: Genesis Summary Part 4 (Joseph)

This is the fourth and final podcast on Genesis. In this podcast Pastor John continues to summarize the events discussed in Genesis. Pastor John’s primary focus here is the life of Joseph.

The Next Generation!

Scripture Reading for February 21st: Deuteronomy 1-4

The name “Deuteronomy” literally means “second law”.  Deuteronomy is quoted directly in 17 of the twenty seven New Testament books and alluded to nearly 80 more times.  This book is a record of four sermons given by Moses to the congregation of Israel in the last months of his leadership.  It records lessons he learned and wanted to pass on to the next generation who would possess the promised land.

Moses has led the nation for forty long years around the wilderness.  A journey that should have taken less than two weeks stretched out because of grumbling and complaining and doubt and unbelief.  (Deuteronomy 1:26-27) Moses, himself, will not get to enter the promised land due to his own dishonoring of God at Kadesh. (Numbers 20:8-12)  Moses seems to blame the Israelites for his own sin. (Deuteronomy 1:37)  God does hold leaders to a higher standard because of the revelation and intimacy they share with Him.  Moses is trying to impress upon this next generation why their parents suffered consequences of the wandering and death.

Moses also preaches to this next generation to inspire faith in God.  His questions to them are typical of the Jewish style of teaching.  In chapter 4 he asks them about God.  “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?”  “And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:7-8) The obvious answer is “none!”  They are a special people marked by God traveling with them.  They are marked by the holiness and love of God’s law which sets them apart from all other nations!  They must be careful to teach these truths to their children and grandchildren!

From these first chapters of Deuteronomy, I see several key lessons for us today.  First, a record of the past history of God’s dealings helps the next generation learn faith.  Moses wanted to pass on the lessons he learned so his children and grandchildren would enter in and possess all God intended for them.  We must honor our elders and learn from them.  Secondly, the Law, represented by Moses cannot take us into the promised land on our own effort. We need grace and faith in the sacrifice for sins and cleansing.  Moses, himself, disobeyed God’s holy Word and was forbidden to enter Canaan.  Third, God promises victory to His followers.  He disciplines and warns them of potential trouble so that they might succeed.  God is truly for his people!

“Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth below.  There is no other.  Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.” Deuteronomy 4:39-40

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Promises from God!

Scripture reading for February 20: Numbers 34-36

The God we serve knows everything!  When He speaks, He speaks truth that we can take at face value.  God told Moses in today’s reading about the boundaries of the land He was giving them and how to divide it when they took possession of it.  (Numbers 34:2) They had yet to own any of it.  These instructions were words to inspire faith in God’s people.  They were to cast lots for their portion in the land.  (Numbers 34:13) God decided by lot who would get what.  “The lot is cast into the lap, but it’s every decision is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:33)

As the Israelites entered the land and took possession of it, God had Moses appoint a leader from each tribe to oversee the assignment of the inheritance.  The only name that stands out in this list is Caleb.  He and Joshua are the only ones left from the generation 20 years old and older who had not perished in the wilderness on the way to the promised land. These two are examples of  the veracity of God’s promises.  “God is not a man that he should lie.” (Numbers 23:19) God alone knows the end from the beginning and He speaks to His people to build their faith.  This faith will inspire them to act on God’s Word and take what belongs to them.

In these last chapters of Numbers, we find provision for cities of refuge.  God knew that his people would need mercy.  Emotions get out of control and things happen.  Revenge instincts are strong and sometimes violence  that causes death erupts.  The cities of refuge were scattered throughout the land and provided a place where someone who had killed another could flee from the avenger of blood.  (Numbers 35:6)  These cities were Levite cities.  The Levites had no inheritance but were given cities and pastureland throughout the promised land to use and to minister to the people.  Six of these forty eight towns were cities of refuge. They were to mediate these serious situations when someone came for refuge.

What lessons can we get from these final chapters of Numbers?  First, our God does know everything and has good plans for us. (Jeremiah 29:11)  He wants us to know those plans and walk by faith and claim our inheritance!  He has provided a refuge for any who sin.  We can flee to Jesus Christ, our rock and redeemer and find grace and help in time of need!  (Hebrews 4:14-16)  He mediates all our sins and provides refuge and mercy to those who repent!  Take time today to ponder some of these promises and by faith possess those that you need today!  Our God is on your side!

“What, then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:31-32

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You can be sure. . .!

Scripture Reading for February 19: Numbers 31-33

As our last two adopted children were growing up, I had them write scriptures as a discipline for doing wrong.  This helped them in several ways.  They needed to learn to write English and it helped with that.  They needed to learn the Word of God and build their faith.  It helped with that.  After writing the verse, they needed to explain what it meant to them. Some of the things they did were normal childish things, but some were willful. They obeyed to a point, but always looked for a way to get around true obedience by twisting our instructions or taking it out of context.   One of the scriptures that we used was this simple warning found in Numbers 32:23: “you can be sure your sin will find you out.They wrote this verse dozens of times!

In our reading today, the context for this verse was a warning given by Moses to the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh.  These tribes petitioned Moses to be able to stay on the east side of the Jordan River and not enter the promised land with the rest of the tribes.  They were lured by the lush pastures and the potential to make money with their large flocks and herds of sheep and cattle.  They were going to have a great life without their rightful inheritance promised by God.  They were satisfied with what they could see–why take a chance on what they might get?  They promised to fight and help their brothers take their inheritance, however.  So Moses warned them against failing to fulfill their promise to fight. It would be a sin that would find them out!

We have lots of people today like these tribes of Israel.  They experience the blessings of God’s deliverance from sin and see the miraculous daily supply of God.  They agree that a full inheritance is fine for others, but they are satisfied with what they can have right now.  They want the easy life and are not sure that what God promises is worth the chance or the effort.  They choose to go part way with God’s people, but want what they can see themselves, not what is promised!

The end of these tribes proves God’s Word is true again!  (1 Chronicles 5:24-26)  They were later unfaithful to God and prostituted themselves to other gods.  God gave them over to their enemies and they went into captivity!  They were faithful for a time, but in the end going just part way was not enough!  They sinned against God and their sin found them out!  God tried to warn them.  In his love, he tried to help.  But we often don’t learn from the warnings and have to be ‘found out”!  Don’t let this happen to you!  Take time today to be honest with God!

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