Deuteronomy 13 Study Notes

13:1 The person who arises among you refers to a fellow Israelite. Being the chosen people did not guarantee that no one would ever violate the covenant.

13:2 The genuineness of prophets and dreamers cannot be determined by their ability to perform a sign or wonder (cp. 4:34), but by their commitment to the Lord and their faithfulness in proclaiming his word. The message must validate the works of signs and wonders, and not the reverse. See note at 18:21-22.

13:3 The dreamer’s remarkable ability may originate with the Lord himself to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. Not all such manifestations are from Satan (though surely some can be; cp. Rv 13:2), for the Lord desires to reveal who truly knows and loves him that others might know the true character of those whom they are called to follow. The greatest commandment, the Shema (Dt 6:4-9), instructs God’s people to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength,” exactly the demand made here. A person can profess that kind of love, but sometimes only severe testing can authenticate the testimony.

13:4 To love the Lord is to fear him, to fear him is to love him, and the proof of both is obedience. Jesus linked these together when he said, “If you love me, you will keep my commands” (Jn 14:15).

13:5 The death sentence for false prophets within Israel reflects the severity of their offense. Acts of treason against human rulers and their governments are commonly capital offenses, how much more when seditious disloyalty is displayed against the King of kings? The first of the Ten Commandments states, “Do not have other gods besides me” (5:7). Only by such drastic measures would the nation be able to purge the evil from its midst.

13:6-8 Loyalty to the Lord outweighs loyalty to any other person, family members included. Jesus made this matter clear when he taught his disciples, “The one who loves a father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37).

13:9 Being the first to undertake retribution would likely deter someone from making false accusation and would also underscore the seriousness of the offense. Silence in the face of such egregious violation of covenant would in and of itself suggest implication on the part of the one who refused to testify. Sometimes the cost of loving the Lord might be a willingness to forfeit family in pursuit of a higher good.

13:10-11 The deterrent effect of stoning a covenant traitor to death was to make all Israel . . . afraid so that they would no longer do such evil. If not immediately and consistently applied, such measures are unlikely to have any good effect.

13:12-13 Unpunished individual apostasy is likely to spread near and far like a disease. If wicked men lead the inhabitants of their city astray, other individuals or households will become contaminated. Though Israel was God’s elect covenant nation, the salvation of a chosen people is no guarantee of the salvation of all its members. As Paul put it, “Because not all who are descended from Israel are Israel . . . That is, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but the children of the promise are considered to be the offspring” (Rm 9:6,8).

13:14-16 An Israelite city that tolerated apostasy must be burned to the ground like a pagan city (cp. 3:6; 7:2). The point is that rebellion against the Lord is rebellion, no matter its source. To be the chosen nation did not exempt Israel from God’s judgment should they violate his covenant requirements. The same was true of a single individual or a family (cp. 13:6-11) such as in the case of Achan, who stole goods from the ruins of Jericho that should have been devoted to the Lord (Jos 7). Furthermore, a city once destroyed as an effect of the ban was under a curse and often was never to be rebuilt. This was true of Jericho (Jos 6:26) and Ai (Jos 8:28).

13:17-18 The use of the word commands in v. 18 echoes “command” in 12:32, forming an enveloping device that spans the whole unit.

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