Thursday, September 27, 2007

Deuteronomy 17:8–13

Deuteronomy 17:8–13: Difficult cases of law

Synopsis

In this passage, Moses outlines rules for situations where the judges—discussed in Deuteronomy 16:18–20—are not able to decide cases, because they’re too difficult.

In this situation the case is to be brought to the Levites, who are ministering at the Tabernacle/Temple. They will provide a verdict for the case. When this happens, Moses warns the Israelites that they are to be very careful to follow the judgments of the Levites—as, indeed they are to be careful to follow the verdicts of “regular” judges—and be careful not to “turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left” (verse 11).

Anyone who “shows contempt” for a judge or a priest is to be put to death:

The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the LORD your God must be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel. All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not be contemptuous again. (verses 12–13)

Thoughts

I don’t really have much to say about this passage; seems pretty straightforward.

Regardless of how we might feel about the death penalty, it certainly appears in the Old Testament laws—very often in respect to laws that have to do with blasphemy against the LORD, directly or indirectly. Treating the LORD with the proper respect is probably the most important thing the Israelites were commanded to do. (Actually… not “probably,” definitely. The most important commandment is to love the LORD with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. See, for example, Mark 12:28–34.)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Deuteronomy 16:21–17:7

Deuteronomy 16:21–17:7: Worshipping Other Gods

Synopsis

In this passage, Moses reminds the Israelites of some rules about worshipping other gods.

First of all, they are not to erect any Asherah poles, nor any “sacred stones” (verses 16:21–22). Actually, it specifically says that they are not to set up any Asherah poles beside the LORD’s altar, but of course they aren’t supposed to set up Asherah poles anywhere. But this just leads me to believe that the LORD knows that the Israelites are going to be tempted to mix worship of Him with worship of other gods. I don’t know what “sacred stones” are, specifically, but I know that Asherah poles are used in the worship of the goddess Asherah.

Moses also reminds the Israelites, in verse 17:1, that when they sacrifice to the LORD, they are not to use animals that have defects, “for that would be detestable to him.”

Finally, if any Israelite is caught worshipping other gods—or worshipping the sun, moon, or stars—that person is to be put to death, by stoning, to purge the evil from the nation of Israel. However, before any person can be put to death, the matter is to be investigated thoroughly, and there must be at least two witnesses to the crime. In fact, the witnesses are to be the first people to begin stoning the person convicted of the crime.

Thoughts

As mentioned, Asherah poles were used in worshipping the goddess Asherah. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but this comes up over and over again in the Old Testament; worship of Asherah was a problem for the Israelites for most—if not all—of their Old Testament history.

Notice my assumption above, that the LORD specifically tells the Israelites not to put the Asherah poles next to the altar because He knows that they are going to mix their worship of Him with worship of other gods. It’s not good enough for the Israelites to worship the LORD, they have to do it properly, by following all of His rules perfectly; but even if they do that, it’s still not good enough—they also have to make sure that they’re worshipping Him and Him alone. Even if the Israelites follow all of the rules and regulations, and observe the feasts and festivals, if they’re also worshipping other gods, they’ve broken the first commandment, and their worship is not acceptable. Remember, as He said in Exodus:

Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14)

Which, really, shouldn’t be that much of a hardship, when you consider that there are no other gods, besides God Himself. In modern-day 21st Century North America, it’s hard for us to get our heads around idol worship; we understand things like pride, which is itself a form of idolatry, but actual worship of other gods, we don’t get.

On another note, the reason it would be “detestable” to the LORD for the Israelites to offer a blemished animal as a sacrifice is that they would not be giving their best to Him. They should not be giving Him second best, while keeping the “good” animals for themselves. Which sounds all very well and good, but I’m sure it would have been extremely tempting for them to do so; when the animal is simply going up in smoke—literally—I’m sure it wouldn’t really have seemed worthwhile give God the very, very best. Why not get rid of the lame animals that way, and save the good animals for where they could be put to use, or sold? Not that I’m justifying Israelites for doing so; I’m just saying that I understand how tempting it would be.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Deuteronomy 16:18–20

Deuteronomy 16:18–20: Judges

Synopsis

In this passage, Moses instructs the Israelites to set up judges in every town in the Promised Land. These judges are to be impartial, not perverting justice, and they are not to accept bribes, “for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous” (verse 19). They are to “follow justice and justice alone” (verse 20), so that the LORD will continue to allow them to live, and possess the land He is giving them.

Thoughts

This is a short passage, and I don’t have much to say about it.

In this case, Moses isn’t giving a recap of existing rules. This is the first time he’s talking to the Israelites about setting up judges, in the Promised Land.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Deuteronomy 16:13–17

Deuteronomy 16:13–17: Feast of Tabernacles

Synopsis

In this passage, Moses reminds the Israelites about the Feast of Tabernacles.

They are to celebrate this feast every year, seven days after they have “gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress” (verse 13). The feast is to be a time of joy; why?

For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete. (verse 15b)

Sounds like a pretty good reason to me!

Moses concludes this passage—although, to Moses, this wasn’t a “passage,” it was just part of a longer speech—by reminding the Israelites that there are three feasts they are to celebrate every year: the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. And any time the Israelites come to these feasts, they are to come bearing gifts for the LORD—in proportion to the way He has blessed them.

Thoughts

This was a very short synopsis; you can get more details about the Feast of Tabernacles in Numbers 29, and Leviticus 23.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Pastor Anyabwile

I had previously written that we had Pastor Anyabwile as a guest preacher. According to his blog, he enjoyed his trip.

I’ll post a quote in which he talked specifically about the people at my church:

It was a great privilege to “bunk” with Ellen and Anand, transplanted Trinidadians who opened their home and literally showered me with generosity. Despite Anand’s crazy work schedule, he and Ellen were tremendous hosts, and I won’t soon forget their kindness.

My official Canadian tour guide and historian was Pastor Ken Davis, pastor of Thistletown Baptist Church. Ken is about as close to walking laughter and Christian joy as you’ll find. And I love his deep love for his people at Thistletown. Saying he has “a pastor’s heart” is too much of a cliche. He loves the people of the church and the community. It was a privilege to preach at Thistletown Baptist, a very diverse congregation that loves God’s word and each other. They know how to make a brother feel right at home.


I agree with Pastor Anyabwile’s comments. Ellen and Anand are extremely friendly; I have the pleasure of worshipping with Anand in our church’s worship team, on Sunday mornings, and he’s full of the LORD’s joy. And there are many, many more in the church who, like he and Ellen, are about as friendly, helpful, and loving as any human could hope to be.

And I very much agree about my pastor, Ken Davis. Rarely do you meet a man who cares about God’s Word so deeply—you will never hear a sermon from Pastor Davis which is not steeped in Scripture—and yet, at the same time, has a true, deep love for the members of his church. Many pastors care about the Scriptures but aren’t loving, and many others love to the exclusion of the Word, but Pastor Davis loves because he has the Word of God in him.

I wish I could say, to paraphrase Paul, that I “never cease to thank God” for the church He has placed me in, but I have to admit that I do sometimes cease to thank Him for it. Nevertheless, I am deeply thankful that He has placed me where He has; I believe that it’s a rare blessing to be in such a church as Thistletown, where I’ve been placed.

Deuteronomy 16:9–12

Deuteronomy 16:9–12: Feast of Weeks

Synopsis

In this passage, Moses reiterates some of the rules for the Feast of Weeks, which is—I believe—a celebration of the harvest.

Seven weeks after the Israelites begin the harvest each year, they are to celebrate this feast. They are to give God a freewill offering—“in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you” (verse 10)—and rejoice before the LORD. This is to take place at the Tabernacle/Temple. All of the Israelites are to take part, including their servants.

Verse 12 is an interesting sidenote to these rules:

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.

Thoughts

Moses originally handed down these rules in Leviticus 23. I don’t normally give these back-references, but in this case, this passage is a very high-level summary of the rules. (Even more so than usual.)

Here are my thoughts on verse 12, which I quoted above: I think this feast is meant—at least in part—to remind the Israelites how good they have it, with the LORD as their provider. When they have a feast, celebrating all of the goodness He has bestowed on them, and then look back and compare it with what their lives used to be like in Egypt, they are directly able to compare the good with the bad. (I don’t think I phrased that very well.) I do find it interesting, though, that even in the context of a celebration, Moses has to command the Israelites to be very careful to follow the rules as God has handed them down.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Deuteronomy 16:1–8

Deuteronomy 16:1–8: Passover

Synopsis

In this passage Moses reiterates the rules for celebration of the Passover. I’m not necessarily presenting them in the order that Moses did, in this passage.

  • Passover is to be celebrated on the anniversary of the day the Israelites left Egypt (in the month of Abib).
    • The Passover starts on the anniversary of the day they left Egypt, and goes for seven days. The sacrifice (described next) is to happen on the evening of the first day.
  • They are to go to the Tabernacle/Temple, and sacrifice the appropriate animals there.
    • They are to eat the animals with bread made without yeast (“unleavened” bread). In fact, they are to eat unleavened bread for seven days—they’re not even to have yeast in their possession, during this time. They are to do this to remind themselves that they had to leave Egypt in haste.
    • They are to eat all of the meat on the first day of Passover; none of it is to remain until morning.
  • On the seventh day, they are to hold an assembly, and do no work.

Thoughts

I believe that the fact that the bread is unleavened symbolizes the haste with which they left Egypt; I guess if you were going to make bread in a hurry, you’d do it without yeast. I have to admit, though, that I know absolutely nothing about making bread. So I’m just inferring.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Deuteronomy 15:19–23

Deuteronomy 15:19–23: The Firstborn Animals

Synopsis

This is a short passage, in which Moses reiterates (or hands down) rules for firstborn animals.

All firstborn animals from the Israelites’ flocks and herds are to be set aside for the LORD, and are not to be put to work. (Sheep are not to be sheared, either.) Each year, the Israelites are to go to the Tabernacle/Temple, and eat these animals in the presence of the LORD.

If any of the firstborn animals have some kind of a defect—e.g. the animal is blind, or lame—the Israelites are not to bring them to the Tabernacle/Temple; instead, they are to eat the animal in their own towns. I’m inferring, from this, that the animals are still not to be put to work, but the text doesn’t specifically say that. In this case, if the Israelites are eating a firstborn animal which has a defect, anyone can eat it, regardless of whether they’re ceremonially clean or unclean. (Which reminds me that the Israelites who eat the “non-defective” firstborn animals, at the Temple/Tabernacle, do have to be ceremonially clean. It’s not stated in this passage, but it’s part of the law that has already been handed down to the Israelites.)

The passage ends with the now-familiar command that the Israelites are not to eat the blood of the animals; it is to be poured out on the ground.

Thoughts

I don’t know anything about farming, or raising livestock, so I’m not sure how many firstborn animals an average Israelite family would have, over the course of a year. I find myself wondering how big of a sacrifice—and subsequent feast—they’d be having every year, when they went to the Tabernacle/Temple with these animals.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Deuteronomy 15:12–18

Deuteronomy 15:12–18: Freeing [Israelite] servants

Synopsis

The world being what it is, the LORD knows that Israelites are sometimes going to fall on hard times, and they may be forced to sell themselves into slavery to their fellow Israelites. However, Israelites are not to remain permanent slaves to other Israelites—unless they want to—and, in this passage, Moses hands down rules for freeing slaves.

  • Israelites who become servants to fellow Israelites are only to remain in servitude for a maximum of six years; in the seventh year, they are to be set free.
    • When a “master” (my term, not the text’s) releases his servant, he is not to “send him away empty-handed” (verse 13); he is to provide for him, to help him get started as a free man. After all, the “master” has obviously been blessed by the LORD, if he can afford to have a servant, so he should share that wealth with the man.

      Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today. (verses 14–15)
  • If a servant doesn’t want to leave his master, in the seventh year, he isn’t forced to. The master can take an awl, and push it through the servant’s ear lobe, into the door of his house. The servant will then be a servant for life.
    • The same rule applies for maidservants.

The Israelite “masters” are not to begrudge the fact that they have to give up their servants:

Do not consider it a hardship to set your servant free, because his service to you these six years has been worth twice as much as that of a hired hand. And the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do. (verse 18)

Thoughts

I find myself wondering, when I read these rules, how often in the Israelite history—if ever—these rules were followed. Did Israelite servants really get freed after six years of service? I’ll never find the reference, but I’m sure I remember one of the prophets berating the Israelites for not freeing their servants, according to these rules—so I know that it didn’t always happen. But I’m wondering if if ever happened!

And even if Israelite servants were freed, according to these rules, did their masters supply them with livestock, and grain, and wine, as prescribed here? Maybe I’m just cynical, but I find myself doubting it…

Monday, September 10, 2007

Guest Preacher

Yes, I know, I haven’t found time to update this blog for a few days, to continue on with Deuteronomy. (Even though I did somehow find time to post a huge rant…) I’m hoping to get back on track “soon,” because my Bible reading schedule suffers when I don’t keep up with this aspect of it.

We had Thabiti Anyabwile—the man who maintains the Pure Church blog—as a guest preacher on Sunday morning. He is in Toronto for the Sola Scriptura Ministries conference, and my pastor managed to snag him to give a sermon on Sunday morning.) I’ve always been impressed with Pastor Thabiti’s blog, as he seems to take the Word of God seriously, so I was looking forward to his sermon, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The verse he was concentrating on was from the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

(He also had a complementary verse from the Psalms, but I don’t remember the reference.) His sermon was looking at:
  1. What does it mean to be “pure in heart?”
  2. What does it mean to “see God?”
I won’t bother to try to recap the sermon, but I very much enjoyed it. (When I say that I “enjoyed” a sermon, what I really mean is that he stayed true to the Word, and I felt that I understood things a bit better, when he was done—or that I was reminded of something that I’d previously known, which is also valuable.)

So thanks to Pastor Anyabwile.

And I’ll leave you with a quote—or, at the very least, a paraphrase, since my memory’s not that great—of something Pastor Anyabwile said:

We’re not sinners because we sin, we sin because we’re sinners.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Christian Blog Templates

I must say, I get a little disappointed in the Christian community sometimes.

For example, take Christian software; Bible programs, and whatnot. If you’ve ever bought any, then you probably know what I’m talking about; almost any Christian software I’ve ever bought has been horrendous. It’s usually poor quality, it doesn’t usually have a very good user interface, and documentation is normally non-existent. (One exception to this rule is a company called Laridian, which produces Bible software for various hand-held devices. Their software is excellent. If you count websites as “software,” then of course the Bible Gateway is another example of good Christian software. I’m sure there are other examples of good, quality Christian software too—but they’re in the minority.)

Another example of where the Christian community often disappoints me is in the crass commercialism. And I do mean crass. But I won’t go on about this too much, because I’ve already mentioned it (as an aside) in a previous post. (If you don’t believe me, just walk into any Christian bookstore in the country, and take a look around. How many “What Would Jesus Do?” pencils do you see for sale?)

Another example of where the Christian community sometimes disappoints me is in Christian music. The Christian music industry seems to be just as un-Christ-like as the secular music industry (which makes it more insidious). Some Christian bands—I won’t name any, and I hope they’re in the minority—make it quite clear that they’re only in it for the money, and anything else is incidental. Did you hear a song that you’d like to use in your morning worship? Or for your church choir? Or as part of your Christmas program? Well you ain’t getting it cheap.

I was disappointed in the Christian community again today. I had thought about changing the template of this blog, and I went around looking for ones that I could use. If you want to go looking for blog templates, there are a lot of very nice, high-quality templates that you can download and use for free. For example, some of the ones that I was looking at, from FinalSense—all of which are free—were:I like all of those templates. (Well… Colors might be too colourful for me. But I very much like its layout.) Unfortunately, some of them don’t really fit with the theme of the blog; I mean, what does a coffee cup or a keyboard have to do with a blog on the Bible, right? And then I had a brainstorm: Why not look for Christian blog templates? And I did. And then the disappointment set in, because most of the ones that I saw cost money. And most of which, I must stress, were of lower quality than the ones I saw from FinalSense, that are free.

So here we have the non-Christian community providing blog templates to other bloggers, for free, because on the Internet people have a spirit of sharing. Are there people selling blog templates? Of course! But there are also many sites offering free blog templates. (Do a quick search on Google, to see what I mean.) But do a search for Christian blog templates, and you won’t find a lot of free ones. (I didn’t spend a lot of time on this, but I only found one; and it was from a web site that sells them, and was just giving this one away as a preview.)

To be clear, it’s not the fact that people are selling Christian templates that bugs me, it’s the fact that there are so few people producing free ones. Are there not Christian web designers out there, that want to help out their fellow Christians?

This is especially striking based on what I wrote in my last post, from Deuteronomy 15:1–11:

When the Bible tells us that we’ll always have poor people, it’s not to make us lackadaisical about the situation; it’s to tell us to get ourselves in gear: We have work to do. There are people who are not as well off as we are, so, therefore, we need to help them.

If you substitute “don’t have any visual design skills” for “poor”—which might be a bit of a stretch, I don’t deny it—then you have to wonder why there are so few Christian blog templates that don’t cost money.

I should mention, I fully realize that this post might sound like sour grapes; “serna can’t find any free Christian templates, so he’s going on a tear about how horrible Christians are.” But that’s not it at all. (And I don’t think Christians are horrible, regardless of how much I lament this particular situation.) Frankly, I can use one of the templates from FinalSense, or from Blogger Templates, or from another site that also calls itself Blogger Templates, or from one of the other dozens of sites out there giving free templates. And I know CSS and HTML and XML well enough that I can customize the template, if necessary. (If I was really unhappy with my choices, I could create my own, but I don’t think I’d do it as well; my visual skills are lacking, even if my technical skills are good.) But that’s just me; what about the thousands of other Christians out there, who might want to start a blog, but don’t have any of these skills? Are they forced to use one of Blogger’s default templates, or buy a Christian one?

One final comment, and then I’ll shut up: a lot of the non-Christians providing blog templates are probably web designers, or other types of designers, who are basically creating these templates as their online portfolio. So maybe it’s not so much that they’re giving away their templates because of a “spirit of sharing,” but as a promotional tool—they can go to a job interview, and say, “look at these templates I made, and I can do the same for your web site.” On the other hand, regardless of their initial reasons for doing it, they are giving them away for free. Not only that, but for some of the templates I’ve used in the past, the designers have also provided tech support, for their templates; “if you can’t get it to work on your blog, try changing this line of code to this value.”

And again, I come back to: Why aren’t there more Christians doing this?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Deuteronomy 15:1–11

Deuteronomy 15:1–11: Cancelling debts

Synopsis

In this chapter, Moses reminds the Israelites about cancelling debts. In a nutshell: Every seven years, all debts between Israelites are to be cancelled. If an Israelite has a debt to another Israelite, at the end of the seven years, that debt is to be cancelled. (Debts to foreigners are not included in this, so if a foreigner owes an Israelite, that debt will not be cancelled at the end of the seven years.)

After Moses gives the basics of the rule, he stops to tell the Israelites that if they follow God properly, this law will never be needed, because nobody should be poor:

However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you. (verses 4–6)

If there are no poor, then nobody should need a loan, right? However, knowing that the Israelites will not obey God fully, and that there will be poor among them, he continues…

Moses instructs the Israelites not to be “hardhearted or tightfisted” (verse 7) toward their poor brothers; if someone needs a loan, and they are able, they are to “be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs” (verse 8), even if the seven years is almost up, and they’re afraid that the loan will be cancelled. They are to give generously to their fellow Israelites, and, when they do, God will bless them.

This passage ends with the following verse, the first half of which is very familiar to us:

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. (verse 11).

Jesus also said, in the New Testament, that we would always have poor people; see the Thoughts section for… well, for my thoughts.

Thoughts

Note that debts to foreigners are not included in this law. Among other things, this law is about the Israelites being a separate people, under God. They are to treat each other differently than they treat people in other nations.

It almost makes you want to laugh bitterly when Moses stops the flow of this law, to say, “this law really shouldn’t be needed, because you shouldn’t have any poor, but if you do, this is how it will work.” In fact, much of the laws in the Old Testament have that effect; or, even when the laws don’t, it does when God tells the Israelites, “if you follow Me, you’ll get these blessings, but if you fail to, you’ll get these curses.” It just points out how sinful we are, as humans.

When it comes to this “you’ll always have poor people” thing, Jesus said something very similar in the New Testament; it’s quoted in three of the gospels, so I’ll quote all three:

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. (Matthew 26:11)


The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. (Mark 14:7)


You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. (John 12:8)

It’s easy to see quotes like this, especially out of context—which is peoples’ favourite way of quoting Jesus on this matter—and think, “Wow, Jesus doesn’t care about the poor! And, therefore, we don’t need to either!” (In fact, this is what small-c conservatives often do think.) (Actually, it’s what capital-C Conservatives think, too…) However, this was not Jesus’ point. (It’s not even what Jesus said, but people find it easy to misread, when they want to read something in a text.) Jesus was very focused on helping the poor. He was just saying, in this instance, that worshipping him is even more important than helping the poor. And verse 11 in this passage makes that point clear, too; there will always be poor people, therefore you need to be generous to them.

When the Bible tells us that we’ll always have poor people, it’s not to make us lackadaisical about the situation; it’s to tell us to get ourselves in gear: We have work to do. There are people who are not as well off as we are, so, therefore, we need to help them.