II. The Second Address by Moses —Covenant Obligations (Deuteronomy 4:44–26:19)

4:44–5:2 After summarizing Israel’s history since departing Egypt, Moses began to explain the covenant obligations that Israel owed the Lord. In this long section that comprises most of the book of Deuteronomy (4:44–26:19), Moses reviewed for the new generation God’s laws and commands. They were to learn and follow these statutes and ordinances that Israel had received (5:1-2). Notice the imperatives: Learn and follow.

15:19-23 The following verses deal with giving up possessions to the Lord. Moses had just mentioned the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt (15:15), so they knew well that every firstborn male among their animals belonged to God (15:19). These creatures, the best of the herds and flocks, were to be brought to the sanctuary for sacrifice. Those which had a defect could be eaten at home like any other animal, provided the blood was properly drained first (15:20-23).

16:1-4 There were three festivals on Israel’s annual worship calendar that required all males to make a pilgrimage to the central sanctuary. The first was Passover, the seven-day festival celebrating God’s deliverance of the people out of Egypt (16:1). On it, they were to sacrifice a Passover animal from the herd or flock and eat unleavened bread with it, in remembrance that they left the land of Egypt in a hurry (16:2-3). In this way, they would remember for the rest of their lives the day God set them free (16:3). The command to eat unleavened bread was so serious that there was to be no yeast . . . anywhere in their territory during those days (16:4). The word “yeast” is frequently representative of sin in Scripture.

16:5-7 The command for the men to appear before the Lord at the tabernacle and later the temple in Jerusalem was underscored by the corollary that a Passover celebration was prohibited in any town in Israel except the place where the Lord . . . chooses to have his name dwell (16:6)—which would eventually be Jerusalem. The first Passover and the liberation from Egypt were considered the birth of Israel as a nation, so requiring Passover to be observed as a national holiday reinforced the importance of this festival and God’s deliverance. The tents would have been those erected by the worshipers as temporary quarters during the festival (16:7).

16:8-11 The next national gathering was the Festival of Weeks (16:10), also known as Pentecost (from the Greek term meaning “fiftieth”), which occurred fifty days after the festival of Firstfruits. This was a joyful celebration of God’s abundant provision in the harvest and was marked by a freewill offering given in proportion to how the Lord had blessed them throughout the year (16:10). There was a joyful communal meal at the central sanctuary that was to include the Levites and the marginalized (16:11).

16:12-15 The third pilgrim festival was the Festival of Shelters, also known as the Festival of Tabernacles or Booths (16:13). This was a seven-day observance in which the Israelites were commanded to build and live in temporary shelters as a reminder of God’s care for them during their wilderness wanderings (see Lev 23:42-43). It also celebrated God’s provision in the fall harvest.

16:16-17 Moses’s summary of these festivals reminded the men that, as the heads of their families, they were to lead the way in worshiping the Lord (16:16). (This principle carries over into our time.) They were also to bring a gift in keeping with their means and reflecting how the Lord had blessed them (16:17).

16:18-20 Biblical Israel was a theocracy, meaning that the country had a form of government in which God served as the nation’s King. This meant that the nation’s civil leaders, its judges and officials, were charged with judging the people with righteous judgment (16:18)—just as the Lord would. As a nation in covenant with God, Israel was accountable to the law of Moses, the statutes and commands that God had given the people through his servant Moses. To break God’s holy requirements by, for example, accepting a bribe to pervert justice could cause Israel to forfeit the land God was giving them (16:19-20). God’s leaders—those of yesterday and today—are not to pursue selfish gain but to pursue . . . justice alone (16:20).

16:21–17:1 The theocratic nature of Israel’s government is clearly seen in these verses. Moses suddenly seemed to change subjects from the duties of judges to forbidden forms of worship. But the two topics were intricately related because in Israel, even the civil rulers were responsible for guarding the nation’s purity of worship and punishing offenders. Moses put the leaders on alert to watch for violations of true worship (16:21–17:1).

Israel was the only theocracy ever ordained by God. And as much as some believers might wish it were so in America, this country is not a theocracy. More importantly, our kingdom calling as the church is not to make it so. Nevertheless, we can (and should) call our civil leaders to account based on the righteous standards of God’s Word. If they refuse to acknowledge the objective standards of justice and righteousness set by the Creator, we can seek to replace them with leaders who will.

17:2-5 Since the proper worship of God was the most serious issue in Israel, judging the cases of those accused of violating it was a serious matter. Moses had already established a system of justice in the wilderness to hear and rule on cases, so what he laid out here was not entirely new. An accusation of false worship that came to the attention of the authorities needed to be thoroughly investigated (17:2-4). If the accusations proved true, the guilty party was to be put to death (17:5).

17:6-7 The accused could not be condemned on hearsay or the testimony of just one person. He or she could only be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses (17:6), who not only had to stand by their testimony but also had to take the lead in putting the guilty person to death and purging the evil from Israel (17:7).

17:8-13 As for cases that a local judge felt were too difficult for him to decide, Moses instructed the people to set up something of a supreme court at the central sanctuary in the promised land. There the case would be heard by both the religious and civil leaders, the Levitical priests and the judge who [presided in a given] time (17:9). Their verdict would be final. Moses emphasized this by stating repeatedly that the parties involved in the case must do exactly as instructed, without exception (17:10-11). The leaders were ruling on God’s behalf, so judgment had to be followed. No appeals would be heard. Anyone who failed to listen to the priest or the judge would pay the consequence: death (17:12).

17:14-20 Next God provided instructions for that momentous day when Israel would become a monarchy. That switch in governmental approach, however, wouldn’t mean that God ceased to be Israel’s King. Rather, the divine King would rule through a human king. The Lord would still bless the nation, as long as the king obeyed him and upheld his law. Israel’s history demonstrates that their kings were, for the most part, failures. It would require God himself coming in human flesh to be the King that Israel needs.

In its early years in the promised land, Israel would be ruled by judges and priests. But the book of Judges reveals how imperfectly that system would work. Eventually, Israel would clamor for a king like all the nations around them (17:14; see 1 Sam 8:4-5).

In advance of that day, Moses specified that Israel’s king had to be an Israelite and not a foreigner (17:15). Moreover, he must not acquire many horses—which would require going back to Egypt in violation of God’s command (17:16). He was also not to acquire many wives or acquire very large amounts of silver and gold (17:17). And, most importantly, he was to write a copy of this instruction for himself and read from it all the days of his life so that he would not turn from this command (17:18-20).

Later, King Solomon would be called the wisest man who ever lived. Nevertheless, in his sinfulness, Solomon broke all of these commandments for kings by accumulating horses in the thousands, seven hundred wives who led his heart astray, and wealth that could not be counted. (Just because a person has access to wisdom doesn’t guarantee he’ll use it.)

18:1-8 Levitical priests (18:1) were those men in the tribe of Levi set apart by the Lord to offer sacrifices and administer other duties in the tabernacle (and later in the temple). Not all Levites were priests—only those who were the descendants of Aaron. The others were also consecrated to serve God by assisting the priests with the tabernacle and its furnishings.

Since the Levitical priests received no inheritance of land, they were to be supported by a portion of fire offerings brought by the Israelites (18:1). They were also to receive the firstfruits of their produce and flocks (18:4). If a Levite wanted to go to the central sanctuary to serve, he was entitled to a part of the sacrifices there along with whatever he [might] have received from the sale of the family estate (18:6-8). Though the Le-vites did not receive land inheritance like the other tribes, they were given cities to live in throughout Israel, along with pasturelands for their animals (see Num 35:1-5).

18:9-11 Moses turned immediately from teaching about true worship to warning about that which is false. The various demonically inspired customs of the nations mentioned here were intended to influence or manipulate the gods to act in favor of the person seeking their help (18:9). The most horrific practice of the nations was to sacrifice one’s child in the fire to the gods (18:10). In 2 Kgs 3:26-27, we find an example of this being practiced.

The rest of the forbidden occult practices can be summarized in three basic categories, beginning with divination (18:10). Divination is an attempt to get secret knowledge by interpreting omens or looking to astrology. Lest you think of this as an ancient practice, many people today get up every morning and read their horoscopes before they make any decisions—yet they refuse to seek the guidance of the God who made them, which is found in the Scriptures.

The second category is magic, which includes sorcery and spells (18:10-11). This is not to be confused with the art of illusion practiced by entertaining magicians, like those we see today. Moses was talking about witchcraft, through which humans attempt to accomplish in the spiritual realm what human power alone can’t pull off.

The third category is spiritism, which involves the attempt to get in touch with spiritual intermediaries by contacting the dead or going into some kind of trance or hypnotic state to talk with a spirit guide or some other being on “the other side” (18:11). Holding séances and playing with Ouija boards are modern expressions of spiritism.

18:12-14 All of these practices are detestable to God. These religious acts were the very reason that God was driving out the nations and giving their land to Israel (18:12). Therefore, God called his people to be blameless and not follow the ways of the world (18:13-14).

18:15 In this verse we find a wonderful prophecy: The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. Here Moses told the people that the Lord would provide another mediator after he was gone—an in-between person who would speak on God’s behalf and help the people to access God. But the Israelites who listened to Moses couldn’t have fathomed how God would fulfill this prophecy.

Centuries later, Jesus Christ would rise up from among his brothers, fully human (see John 1:14; Heb 2:14-18). But God the Father also declared him to be fully divine, his own “beloved Son,” and commanded the disciples to “Listen to him!” (Matt 17:5). The apostle Peter declared that Moses’s words were fulfilled in Jesus (see Acts 3:22-23). He is our perfect mediator: “There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).

18:16-19 Previously, when God gave Moses the law, the people were so terrified by God’s voice and his fire that they thought they would die (18:16). And so, God said he would send them a mediator. God warned that he would hold accountable whoever did not listen to this prophet, the Messiah (18:18-19). Indeed, there are serious consequences to ignoring Christ: it’s a matter of life and death.

18:20-22 God also gave Israel a measuring stick to hold up against any prophet who claimed to speak in his name. The Lord assured them that if someone claimed to be his prophet, and yet his message did not come true, he was most certainly not a prophet. Rather than be afraid of such a false prophet (18:22), Israel was to put him to death (18:20).

19:1-3 There were numerous regulations covering every aspect of life that Moses wanted to review with the Israelites before he sent them over the Jordan into Canaan. These chapters cover a wide range of them, beginning with his command to establish three cities (19:2) as “cities of refuge” (see Num 35:6-34; Josh 20:1-9). A person who committed manslaughter (19:3) could flee to one of these cities and be safe from the victim’s relative who was bent on revenge.

19:4-13 Moses then offered an example of someone causing an accidental death without harboring any previous hatred toward that person (19:4-5). By having the three cities spaced throughout the land, Israel allowed the person who committed manslaughter a city of refuge within a close enough distance that he could get to it before being overtaken. By contrast, someone who had clearly hated his neighbor and killed him in cold blood was to be given no refuge. That person was to be put to death in order to purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood (19:11-13).

19:14 Moving a neighbor’s boundary marker was a serious offense. To do so was to encroach upon someone else’s rightful property, essentially stealing land that God himself had allotted to the tribes of Israel (see Exod 20:15). Anyone who dared take land that God had given as a gift to someone else was under God’s curse (see 27:17).

19:15-21 Moses had already established the principle that the testimony of two or three witnesses was necessary for a suspect to be condemned (19:15). But there must have been cases in which only one witness was available. And if a sole witness insisted on bringing a case to Israel’s leaders at the central sanctuary, he needed to know that he was as much on trial as the accused since his charge could not be corroborated. In such cases, both parties were to stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and judges in authority (19:16). If the witness proved to be a liar, his punishment was severe: Do not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot was the rule used to discipline him (19:18-21).

This command has often been referred to by the Latin expression lex talionis—that is, the “law of retaliation.” This means that the punishment was to fit the crime. This, however, has been misunderstood and criticized over the years as sanctioning revenge, when in fact God intended it to do exactly the opposite. This was not street justice but was administered by God-ordained authorities, and it limited the punishment to fit the crime. In other words, if someone knocked out your tooth, you couldn’t bust out three or four of his in response. Through this law, God wisely prevented both leniency and excess punishment in his legal system.

20:1-4 Moses’s next message for Israel concerned how to conduct themselves during war, especially in the forthcoming battles for the promised land. This message was as much for General Joshua as it was for the people and their military commanders. It seems that every army Israel met was larger than they were in number, and yet God constantly commanded and assured his people, Do not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God . . . is with you (20:1).

The priest was to lead the way into battle and give the troops a divine pep talk beforehand, reminding them not to fear the enemy because the Lord would fight against their enemies and give Israel victory (20:2-4). This exhortation was extremely important. The previous generation of Israelites died in the wilderness because they had succumbed to fear of Canaan’s inhabitants and failed to trust that God would provide for them (see Num 13:1–14:45). Therefore, the current generation needed to learn from the mistake of their ancestors.

We too often fail to follow the Lord and do as his Word commands because we fear the world—what they will think of us or do to us. Instead, we must trust that our King will provide the means to accomplish the kingdom agenda that he commands of us.

20:5-9 God permitted soldiers exemption from a given battle if they met any one of four conditions. The first three were related: if they had built a house and hadn’t been able to live in it yet; if they planted a new vineyard whose fruit they had not enjoyed; or if they were engaged and waiting to be married (20:5-7). Each of these involves a lack of fulfillment in pursuing one of life’s basic pleasures. They may have been chosen by God to illustrate the ways in which he intended his people to enjoy the good land he was giving them. The fourth exemption involved a soldier with a cowardly heart. He was sent home, not for his own sake, but so that he wouldn’t demoralize his brothers, which could have disastrous consequences (20:8).

20:10-14 Israel’s approach to war was not indiscriminate, as Moses’s instructions make clear. Enemy cities outside the promised land were to be offered terms of peace, which they could accept on the condition of becoming forced laborers of Israel (20:10-11). Refusing the offer, however, led to siege, the death of all a city’s men, and the taking of their goods as plunder (20:12-14).

20:15-20 But no such offer of peace was to be made to the Canaanites. Israel was to completely destroy every living thing among them (20:16-17). Otherwise, survivors would teach the Israelites to do all the detestable acts they [did] for their gods and cause the people to sin against the Lord (20:18). This matter was crucially important because Israel had already demonstrated a propensity to adopt the false religious practices of the surrounding nations (see Num 25:1-18). Also, Israel was to refrain from the common practice in ancient warfare of punishing a defeated enemy by decimating its land (20:19-20). After all, Canaan was to be Israel’s possession.

21:1-9 No detail of Israel’s life escaped God’s notice and concern, as Moses’s address makes clear. The cold case of an unsolved murder (21:1) required a sacrifice because life was precious to God and because the victim’s blood had to be atoned for. So God instituted the unique ceremony described in these verses to satisfy his holiness and purge the land of the innocent blood spilled (21:9).

21:10-14 The next item involved an Israelite soldier who wanted to marry a woman among the captives from one of the cities outside of Canaan (21:11). The woman was allowed to undergo a certain physical and spiritual ritual to separate her from her old life, including a month-long period of mourning for her father and mother (21:12-13)—either because they had been killed or in recognition of the fact that she would not be going back to them. A provision was also made for divorce if the husband was not pleased with his wife, but he could not sell her or mistreat her in any way (21:14). Though other nations often brutally mistreated women during times of war, this law provided a woman of a subjugated country with protection if a soldier wanted her for a bride.

21:15-17 Discussion of marriage to a foreign captive led to another marriage issue, the case of polygamy and fathering sons by more than one wife. Polygamy was tolerated in Old Testament times, but it was never God’s standard for marriage—which was to be between one man and one woman (see Gen 2:22-24). Importantly, the culturally accepted practice of taking more than one wife always led to problems among God’s people. (See, for example, the experiences of grief that polygamy brought into the lives of Jacob, David, and Solomon.) Jealousy was just one of those problems; it could cause one wife to push her son forward as the favorite, even if he were not the firstborn. Nevertheless, fathers were strictly forbidden to play that game and were commanded to give their firstborn sons two shares of their estates, because those sons—whether or not their mothers held their fathers’ hearts—had the rights of the firstborn (21:17).

21:18-21 Next Moses dealt with another difficult family situation. It’s important to understand that this passage isn’t advocating the death penalty for mere juvenile delinquency. The son in view here was not a teenager who had been acting foolishly once in a while or fell into sassy speech on occasion. This was a son who, though his parents would discipline him, refused to repent of his rebellion (21:18). Instead, his stubborn and rebellious nature mirrored that of Egypt’s hard-hearted Pharaoh, and it even included his being known as a glutton and a drunkard (21:20). Such rebellion was a capital offense in God’s eyes, because left unpunished it would destroy Israel’s home life and eventually the entire covenant community. The bottom line here is that this young man refused to submit to the Lord as his King and to his parents as his God-ordained authority. The elders of the parents’ city were to recognize the seriousness of this sin and stone the rebel themselves to purge the evil from Israel (21:20-21). Once again, Scripture uses the threat of capital punishment as a deterrent.

21:22-23 These verses describe a sentence reserved for those who received the death penalty. Their bodies were hung on a tree—probably as a warning to others not to repeat whatever offense had led to their demise (21:22). But interestingly, the corpse could not be left there overnight because anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse. To leave them there would defile the land (21:23). Undergoing God’s curse is what Jesus Christ did for us. But he died for our wrongs, not his. He redeemed us by his death on the cross—being hung on a tree—and enduring God’s curse against sin in our place (see Gal 3:13).

22:1-4 Moses continued in chapter 22, teaching on a wide variety of subjects. Clearly, the command to care for a brother Israelite’s ox or sheep or any other possession that was lost (22:1-3) was a practical way to live out the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18).

22:5 The prohibition against a woman wearing male clothing and vice versa is a reminder of the gender distinctions that God designed. Men and women equally share in bearing the image of God, but he has designed them to be distinct from and complementary toward one another (see Gen 1:27). The gender confusion that exists in our culture today is a clear rejection of God’s good design.

In many places, homosexuality and transgenderism are aggressively promoted by the government and school systems. Whenever a nation’s laws no longer reflect the standards of God, that nation is in rebellion against him and will inevitably bear the consequences. When that happens, the people of God should promote his kingdom agenda through biblically based kingdom political involvement and sincere love for others. This is to be done not by violent revolution from the top down, but by social transformation based on spiritual principles that work from the bottom up. What God wants from his people is not revolution, but transformation.

22:6-8 The command to leave a mother bird behind while taking her chicks or eggs (22:6-7) is not much different than what a farmer does today in gathering the eggs and leaving the mother hen to guarantee a continual food supply. The command to build a railing (22:8) around the flat roofs of Israelite houses to keep someone from falling off was another example of neighbor love. Both promote the application of wisdom in daily life.

22:9-11 The common theme in these verses is the mixing of unlike things. Teaching the Israelites to recognize distinctions would help them see the importance of being holy and distinct in a sinful world. Paul uses a similar idea to Do not plow with an ox and a donkey together (22:10) when he warns believers not to enter into partnership with unbelievers: “Don’t become partners with those who do not believe” (2 Cor 6:14). The verb Paul uses can be literally rendered, “unequally yoked,” which is exactly what God prohibited the Israelites from doing—unequally yoking an ox and a donkey together. Though believers must live in this fallen world, God wants us to live lives that are holy and separate from the wickedness around us.

22:12 The tassels mentioned here served as visual reminders to obey God’s laws (see Num 15:37-41).

22:13-21 The chapter ends with instructions for violations of the marriage covenant. These statutes defended the sanctity of marriage, the purity and innocence of virginity, and the honor of a woman’s reputation. Remember that Moses’s purpose in his final messages to the Israelites was to exhort them to renew their commitment to faithfulness to God’s covenant before entering the promised land. One of the ways they were to express faithfulness to God was by honoring the covenant of marriage. The same is true for us.

Given human sinfulness, God knew there would be marital problems. So he gave Moses regulations to be applied in the case of a husband who came to hate his wife, accused her of shameful conduct, and gave her a bad name by claiming she wasn’t a virgin when he married her (22:13-14). If this were true, she was to come under the death penalty (22:20-21). Sexual immorality of any kind was forbidden. But if her parents could prove her pre-marital purity by providing evidence of her virginity, her husband was given a stiff fine by the city elders and prohibited from ever divorcing his wife (22:15-19). Being prepared to show evidence of virginity was a customary practice that perhaps involved a blood-stained cloth from the wedding night.

22:22-24 Marriage is a sacred creation of God meant to be revered as holy. Adultery by married people was a capital offense under the Mosaic law, and an engaged woman was treated the same way as a married woman in a case in which sex was consensual. Israel’s violations of her covenant with God were described as spiritual “adultery” (see Hos 2:2), another indicator that God holds marital fidelity in high regard.

22:25-30 Rape too was a capital offense if the victim was engaged. If she wasn’t, the perpetrator had to pay the victim’s father a fine, marry the woman, and live with her for the rest of his life to provide for her because he stole her virginity (22:25-29).

In verse 30 Moses prohibited a man from marrying his stepmother (22:30). Note Paul’s application of this principle in his letter to the Corinthians (see 1 Cor 5:1).

23:1-8 The prohibition that is included here against a eunuch participating in worship when the people gathered at the tabernacle (23:1) was not a matter of the person’s sin; it was a ceremonial rule meant to teach Israel the need for perfection before the Lord. The ban on people of illegitimate birth would have meant primarily those born of a union between an Israelite and a non-Israelite (for instance, a Canaanite). Their ban was permanent, which is the practical meaning behind the idea of the tenth generation (23:2). The Ammonites and Moabites were also barred because of their cruel treatment of the Israelites during their travels in the wilderness and because the Moabites hired Balaam to curse Israel (23:3-6). Israel’s brother the Edomites and even the Egyptians, however, were to be treated decently (23:7-8).

23:9-14 Throughout the Pentateuch, we’ve seen many times how seriously God took every detail of his people’s lives—even their camp hygiene. There was a righteous way to be cleansed from bodily emission (23:10-11) and to dispose of daily waste (23:12-14) in order to keep the camp ceremonially clean so that holy God could dwell among his people.

23:15-16 The Lord wanted a particular group—fugitive slaves—to feel welcome in the Israelite camp. These were most likely slaves who had escaped (23:15) from the nations surrounding Israel. The righteous thing to do was to give these people sanctuary rather than returning them to their masters, even letting them live (23:16) where they wished in the cities to which they fled.

23:17-18 Cult prostitution involving both genders was prevalent in Canaan, so Moses had to continually warn Israel not to be tempted by this heinous evil or patronize a Canaanite cult prostitute (23:17). Furthermore, they were not to bring a prostitute’s wages . . . into the house of the Lord (23:18). Such wicked forms of “worship”—whether one was visiting a cult prostitute or acting as one—were contrary to the sexual ethic the Lord had established.

23:19-20 The law’s command to Israel to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18) came into focus again in the matter of charging interest on a loan. God did not allow an Israelite to charge interest to a fellow Israelite, although it was acceptable to charge interest to a foreigner (23:19-20).

23:21-23 Vows to God were completely voluntary, but once made they were to be kept, or else it was counted against the person as sin (23:21).

23:24-25 An Israelite could also love his neighbor by not taking advantage of his vineyard or standing grain. It was acceptable to pluck grapes or heads of grain to eat while on a neighbor’s property, but this did not give anyone license to show up with a sickle and a container and start harvesting (23:24-25).

24:1-5 Divorce was not part of God’s ideal for marriage, even though he permitted it here. Jesus told his disciples that this concession was made because of the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts—that is, their refusal to submit to divine standards (see Matt 19:8). God allowed for divorce when the husband found something indecent about his wife, that is, something unacceptable. This protected the woman and freed her to remarry (24:1). Better by far was the mandate that Israel should help a newly married couple get off to a good start by giving the husband one year off from service in the army. This would allow the couple time to adjust to their life together and prevent a new bride from losing her husband in war before having a chance to enjoy married life and possibly conceive (24:5).

24:6-7 In ancient Israel, there were no refrigerators or freezers in which to store food, no closets full of extra clothes, no heaters to turn on at night when the weather got cold, no banks or ATMs. A man worked each day, got paid each evening, and bought or harvested his food for that night’s dinner. So taking his grindstones or even the upper millstone as security for a debt was cruel because it meant that he couldn’t prepare his daily bread (24:6).

Even worse was kidnapping a fellow Israelite to enslave or sell him, an offense rightly punishable by death (24:7). This is a stiff warning against human trafficking.

24:8-9 A serious skin disease was a matter of great concern, since it required the affected person to be quarantined and to endure extensive procedures with the Levitical priests in order to be pronounced clean again (24:8; see Lev 13:1-46; 14:1-32). Moreover, Moses reminded the people what God did to Miriam when she opposed Moses’s leadership (24:9). Her skin became “diseased, resembling snow” (Num 12:10).

24:10-13 If anything was to mark the people of God, it was compassion for those in need—a trait in short supply both then and now. God was even concerned about the dignity of an Israelite debtor, who was to be spared the humiliation of having his lender barge into his house, scoop up whatever he wanted for his security on the loan, and walk out with the debtors’ neighbors watching (24:10-11). If the debtor was a poor man who had nothing to offer but the garment he needed to sleep in at night to keep warm, the lender was told to return it to him by sunset, an act of kindness that God counted as righteousness (24:12-13).

24:14-22 Continuing this focus on compassion, Moses pointed out that workers deserved their wages in a timely manner—even more so if they were poor and had no other way to eat. God held employers liable if they cheated their workers (24:14-15). Out of a similar emphasis on compassion, fathers and children did not have to answer for each other’s sins (24:16). Moreover, a widow or resident alien was not to be denied justice simply because of personal powerlessness (24:17). The repeated motivation for the Israelites to obey these laws was that they were once slaves in Egypt (24:18, 22). Of all the peoples who should understand the pain of injustice, it was the Israelites. Therefore, they were commanded to care for the three most vulnerable groups within their society: the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow (24:19-21).

This leads us to an important side note. Know that if you have been comforted by God, he expects you to share that comfort with others who have experienced similar suffering. “He comforts us in our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor 1:4). Your experience of God’s blessings should lead you to bless others.

25:1-4 The theme of justice in Israel continued with the demand that when a dispute between men was heard in court, the judges would hand down a ruling that ensured acquittal for the innocent and punishment for the guilty, in keeping with the seriousness of the offense but not going beyond it (25:1-3). God even cared about justice being offered to the animals that served the Israelites (25:4), as an example of the fact that “he who threshes should thresh in hope of sharing the crop” (see 1 Cor 9:4-12).

25:5-10 Israel also had a law that provided a way for a man who died without a male heir to keep from having his name blotted out from Israel. If brothers lived on the same property and one died without a son, the living brother was to marry the widow and raise up a son for his brother (25:5-6). If the brother refused to do his duty, the widow could haul him before the elders of his city and subject him to a humiliating ritual that would leave him with a disgraceful nickname (25:7-10).

25:11-12 This points to the fact that having and raising children was highly valued in ancient Israel. “Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, offspring, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons born in one’s youth. Happy is the man who has filled his quiver with them” (Ps 127:3-5). Thus, harming a man’s reproductive ability incurred a severe penalty.

25:13-16 Justice and honesty in business were not options for Israel: they were required. To use differing weights on a scale for buying and selling merchandise was dishonest, greedy, and deceptive to one’s neighbor (25:13-14). The Lord demanded an honest weight (25:15). Anything less was detestable to him (23:16). The Israelites should not be tempted to put a “thumb on the scales,” so to speak, when God had promised to prosper them in everything they did if only they would honor and obey him.

25:17-19 In case Israel needed to be reminded of what happened to people who mistreated God’s chosen ones, Moses left a stern command for Israel to annihilate the Amalekites (25:17) for the shameful way they had treated the weakest among God’s people in the wilderness (25:18). God didn’t even want a memory of Amalek left anywhere on earth (25:19).

26:1-3 Moses frequently called his hearers to remember what God had done for them and to do the things he required of them once they entered the promised land. One of these requirements was the joyful bringing of the first of all the land’s produce to the Lord at the central sanctuary. This offering of the firstfruits of their harvest was an opportunity for the people to remind themselves and declare publicly that God had indeed given them the land as promised and that the produce was the proof (26:2-3).

26:4-11 After presenting their firstfruits offering, the people would recite a saying in which they recounted their history and struggles from the days of Jacob to the day they stood before the Lord. Jacob, or Israel, was the wandering Aramean, which is a reference to his father Abraham’s years in Aram on his way to Canaan. Jacob married Rachel, who was from the Aramean side of his family. Jacob’s family was small when he went down to Egypt under Joseph’s protection, but the Israelites became a great, powerful, and populous nation whom the Egyptians . . . oppressed (26:5-6). When the Israelites cried out to God, he delivered them and brought them to a land flowing with milk and honey (26:7-9). The firstfruits ceremony gave each family the opportunity to bow down in gratitude to the Lord and rejoice along with the Levites and the resident aliens who also were blessed by God’s gracious hand (26:10-11).

26:12-15 There is debate as to whether the tithe prescribed here to be brought in the third year was the regular third-year tithe Moses had already taught about (see Deut 14:28-29), a one-time offering like the firstfruits offering above, or a second tithe to be made every third year. This was for the Levites, resident aliens, fatherless children and widows—those who had no other means of support (26:12). The worshiper was to declare that he was giving the whole tithe and not holding anything back (26:13-14). Based on this confession, he could pray for God’s blessing on his people and his land (26:15).

26:16 At the conclusion to this lengthy message about Israel’s covenant obligations to the Lord, Moses called for the people’s complete commitment to the Lord and obedience to his statutes and ordinances as contained in his covenant. But their obedience was not to be grudging or mechanical. As people who were called to love the Lord their God with all of their being, they were to obey him willingly and fully, heart and soul.

26:17-19 The people responded by affirming that the Lord was their God and that they would walk in his ways, keep his statutes, commands, and ordinances, and obey him (26:17). God responded with his covenant promise that if his people would keep all his commands, he would elevate them to praise, fame, and glory above all the nations and make them a holy people to himself (26:18-19). Nothing else could compare.

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