“Love Responds” – Deuteronomy 26:1-19

March 18th,  2018

Dt. 26:1-19

Title:“Love Responds”

Aux. Texts: 1 Peter 2:9-12

Call to Worship: Selected verses from Psalm 105

 

Service Orientation:  We love because God chose to love us.  Love recognizes the true source of blessings, benefits and resources and responds in thanksgiving, gratitude and obedience.

 

Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. — 1 Peter 2:9

                                                                                                                       

Background Information:

With chapter 26, we end the largest section of Deuteronomy (12:1-26:19), which gave detailed covenant stipulations or laws that would govern the life of the people of Israel.  At the heart of the factors influencing the life of this society is its relationship with God.  That is best expressed in worship.  So Moses actually finishes the typical lawbook type of laws in chapter 25 and ends this sub-section the way he started it (chapter 12)–by discussing something to do with the worship of the people (chapter 26).  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 565)

  • The key to understanding ch. 26 is its position in Deuteronomy. Within the structure of the book, with its resemblance to a treaty and law code, it rounds off the long section of laws, signaling this function in the ways that we have noticed above.  As the faithful Israelite comes to the chosen place to worship, the command in 12:5-7, 11-13 is pictured in its fulfillment.  The nation’s obedience is symbolized in that of the individual worshiper.  In bringing his offerings and making his confessions (at different times of the year), he is not merely obeying God’s commands, but also accepting the terms on which they are given.  A note of solemn acquiescence runs through the chapter.  Only here in Deuteronomy do we hear the voice of the worshiper at the intimate moment of worship, handing over his offerings to the priest, “before Yahweh”, at the sanctuary.  The priest steps out of his habitual anonymity in this book for the purpose.  And the worshiper utters what he believes.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 384)
  • This chapter is more than just another hortatory appeal for thankfulness. It supplies the framework for two liturgical services–one annual, the other triennial–which are required of every Israelite and which are phrased in a soul-stirring climax of religious and literary beauty.  This same haunting loveliness is in all great liturgical services that are framed about the concept of God’s goodness to mankind or to the lone worshiper.  The supreme example is the historic Eucharist which, like the present services, is to be repeated regularly and observed by every adult.  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 2, 483)
  • These verses open by setting the context for the instructions that follow: after the Israelites have entered the land, taken possession of it, and occupied it.  The ritual celebrates the triangular Yahweh–Israel–land covenant relationship.  If Israel will respond to Yahweh’s gifts of redemption, covenant, and land with grateful obedience to him, the land will yield its produce in abundance.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 598-9)
  • (vss 2-4) When the people were settled in the land, each leader of a family was to take in a basket some of the first produce of the soil to the place the Lord would choose as a “dwelling for his name”; that is, the locale of the tabernacle (v. 2). There each man was to say to the priest officiating at that time, “I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the land the LORD swore to our forefathers to give us” (v. 3).  This is tantamount to saying, “I have received my part of the land as an inheritance according to the promise of God.”  The landowner then was to present to the priest the basket of produce as a token of the land’s fruitfulness, and the priest was to set the basket down in front of the altar (v. 4).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 155)
  • (vss 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 13, 16, 17, 19) The phrase “the LORD your God” is used 299 times in Deuteronomy. It expresses a personal and exclusive relationship between Yahweh and Israel, and it suggests that there is a fundamental difference between Israel’s God and those of other nations.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 270)
  • (v. 5) “My father was a wandering Aramean” refers to Jacob; he almost became a “perishing Aramean” because he had to flee for his life from his brother Esau (Gn 27:41-45), elude his uncle Laban (Gn 31:17-30), and finally relocate to Egypt to escape the famine (Gn 46:1-7). Jacob’s extended family numbered only seventy sons and grandsons when they left Canaan (Gn 46:27), but the Lord multiplied them into a people so large and powerful that the Egyptian Pharaoh enslaved them because he feared they might join Egypt’s enemies (Ex 1:6-14).  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 242-3)
  • (v. 5) Jacob is called an Aramean, not only because of his long sojourn in Aramæa (Gn 29-31), but also because he got his wives and children there (cf. Hos 12:13); and the relatives of the patriarchs had accompanied Abraham from Chaldæa to Mesopotamia (Aram; see Gn 9:30). (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the OT Vol 3, 426)
  • (v. 5) The worshiping Israelites would then declare what could be considered a summary statement of faith: My father was a wandering Aramean.  The last term could also be translated Syrian, since Aram was the Hebrew term that describes the region that is today known as Syria.  The reference is to Jacob, who lived among his relatives in Aram-Naharaim, “Aram of the Two Rivers” in northwest Mesopotamia.  The worshiper was to verbalize the contrast between the humble and nomadic character of the patriarch and condition of his offspring, who became a great nation, powerful and numerous after being in Egypt.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 300)
  • (v. 5) The term well suits Jacob, whose mother came from Aram-Naharaim (Gn 24:10), where he himself labored long (Gn 29-31) in the service of Laban, “the Aramaean” (Gn 25:20; 28:5; 31:20, 24). Laban’s two daughters, whom Jacob married, were Aramaeans.  But the argument has been advanced recently, based upon a new reading of the Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen 19.8), that the wandering Aramaean was Abraham (Machiela 2008).  Another possibility is that the expression “A wandering Aramaean was my father” may be a collective reference to all three of Israel’s ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Nm 20:15; Ps 105:12-13).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 726)
  • (v. 5) The modifier “wandering” remains a riddle. Based on the range of meanings of the root of this word, the clause could be translated, “an Aramaean on the point of death.”  However, since the rest of this credo emphasizes the patriarchs’ homelessness rather than their threatened existence, the word may refer to their status as aliens, as reflected explicitly in the verb “to sojourn, live as an alien”, which is used of all three patriarchs.  Nonetheless, since both insecurity and wandering are associated with the patriarchs (cf. Gn 20:11-13; Ps 105:12-13), it is difficult to decide whether the term translated “wandering” means “perishing” or “wandering.”  The ambiguity is probably intentional; when ancient Israelites recited this credo in Hebrew, they perceived the full range of meanings of the word.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 602)
  • (v. 13) The giver must describe his giving as removing “the sacred portion out of [his] house.” By describing it as a “sacred portion,” he is saying that it “specially belongs to God.”  The idea is of something that sticks out as not belonging to the home, something that does not harmonize with the surroundings.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 571)
  • (v. 14) This best explains the second disclaimer, “I have not. . . removed it while ritually unclean”, which proceeds to a comprehensive statement that the offerer was in a ritually “clean” state. The language of cleanness and uncleanness belongs to the “holiness sphere”, that is, the organization of the world according to categories of holiness, regular cleanness and uncleanness or contamination.  Just as the offerer could not make offerings in the sanctuary while “unclean”, neither could he handle the third-year tithe in such a condition, even though it never came to the sanctuary.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 381)

(v. 14) Part of obedience in such matters involved storing the sacred portion, and along the way many temptations might have tested the worshiper’s determination to obey.  An occasion that would provoke mourning might test his resolve.  While I was unclean is probably more accurately translated “for any unclean use.”  The portion was sacred, thus none of it could be used for the ordinary meals of a household or be fed to animals.  Nothing belonging to God could be offered to the dead in a flagrant violation of the covenant.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 302)

  • (v. 14) The affirmation that the worshiper has not removed the tithe “while in mourning” can be explained by the fact that he would or might have been ritually unclean because of contact with a corpse. (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 381)
  • (v. 14) He had not eaten any of it while in mourning. The participant in mourning would be unclean as the next situations also attest.  The tenth was not removed when the donor was unclean for any reason.  Neither was any of the food ever offered to the dead.  Whether this refers to putting food in the grave with the dead body or to being given to relatives for their sustenance during the mourning period or even to being sold to defray the expenses of a funeral, the donor was not guilty of any improper use of the sacred portion that took place when he could be considered ritually unclean.  Putting food in a grave with the dead body was a common Egyptian and Canaanite practice, which is most likely what the Israelites were not to emulate.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 156)
  • (v. 14) This most probably refers to the custom of sending provisions into a house of mourning, to prepare meals for the mourners (2 Sm 3:25; Jer 16:7; Hos 9:4; Tobit 4:17). A house of mourning, with its inhabitants, was regarded as unclean; consequently nothing could be carried into it of that which was sanctified.  There is no good ground for thinking of idolatrous customs, or of any special superstition attached to the bread of mourning; nor is there any ground for understanding the words as referring to the later Jewish custom of putting provisions into the grave along with the corpse, to which the Septuagint points.  (On ver. 15, see Isa 63:15.)  (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the OT Vol 3, 428)
  • (v. 14) The third disclaimer, “or offered any to the dead”, has been taken to refer to a sacrifice for the dying and rising god, that is, Baal, according to Canaanite myth (Cazelles 1948), or, perhaps more likely, to the god Molek, to whom child sacrifice was made (see on 12:30-31; 18:10-11). The affirmation thus moves from general cultic propriety to a statement that the worshiper has not been involved in a foreign cult.  As child sacrifice to Molek typified the worst excesses of Canaanite religion in 12:30-31, so perhaps does the reference to the cult of the same god here.  The worshiper then repeats that he has obeyed Yahweh implicitly (14b), echoing v. 13b.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 381)
  • (v. 14) To separate, or “bring away out of the house,” is equivalent to their being conscious of no fraud in withholding from God what was His; and thus that they were guiltless of sacrilege, since they had not diverted anything holy to their private use. What follows, “I have not transgressed thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them,” must only be referred to the matter in hand; for it would have been too great an act of temerity and arrogance in them, to have boasted that they had kept and fulfilled the Law in every part and parcel.  Still this manner of speaking signifies desire rather than perfection; as if they had God’s precepts.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. II, 283)
  • These decrees and laws thus look back to the bulk of the book. But observing the letter of the law was not sufficient in itself.  God intended that his people carefully observe what he had said with all their heart and with all their soul.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 302)
  • Israel’s future blessing is connected with its faithfulness to the covenant; Yahweh has already demonstrated his faithfulness to his word. (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 302)

 

The question to be answered is . . . What lesson does God want us to learn from Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 26?

 

Answer:  You are who you are by God’s grace.  It is right for us to give thanks and show our gratitude to the God of the Universe for His provision, protection and for the blessing of being His possession.

 

The Word for the Day is . . . Thanks

 

What lessons does God want us to learn from Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 26?:

I-  Thank God for provision, protection and being His possession by your tithes, offerings and firstfruits.  (Dt 26:1-11; see also: Gen 14:20; Lev 27:30-32; Dt 14:22-23; Prov 3:9; Isa 43:20; Rom 6:17; 1 Tim 4:3-4)

 

The feast was designated the “day of first fruits” (Nm 28:26; see also Ex 23:16; 34:22; Lv 23:17), because it marked the beginning of the time in which the people were to bring voluntarily their offerings of firstfruits, a season that concluded with the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths).  (Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible: Vol. Four, 692)

 

God is identified as “the LORD your God” nine times in this paragraph (26:1, 2 [twice], 3, 4, 5, 10 [twice], 11) to highlight the fact that it is God who gave the fruit and not the pagan gods, to whom their neighbors looked for fruit.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 566)

 

The first fruits, ie “the first of all the fruit of the ground”, were considered especially sacred in the ancient world.  Even today a keen gardener takes a special pleasure in the first crop of the season, but perhaps in this scientific age, we have rather lost the wonder of it.  Ancient man, however, still felt awe at the working of nature, and was quick to show his gratitude to the divine powers he believed were responsible.  (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 142)

 

The word translated in verse 2 as “firstfruits” comes from the Hebrew word for “head,” the “beginning” or the “chief” fruits.  And so these could mean the first that comes up or the best that comes up; either way, the Lord wanted his people to give back to him the best of what he’d given them.  Although Moses described them as “some of the firstfruits,” it was to be a widely distributed sample, some of the firstfruits “of all that you produce”–not just of fruits and vegetables but also of sheep and cattle.  Israelites will not have acquired this land by accident, nor by their own genius or military muscle.  Their covenant Lord spoke an oath to their fathers that he would give them the land, and he did what he promised.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 242)

 

How different this is to a lot of our reflections when people give to the Lord.  We focus on human factors.  Here it is primarily on God’s provision.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 567)

 

Our history binds us together and feeds our faith by reminding us that we are putting our trust in a mighty God who has done much to help us.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 567)

 

The most prominent feature of these verses is the emphasis on the land as Yahweh’s gift.  The verb nātan occurs six times (vv. 1, 2, 3, 9, 10, 11).  It is not meant to deny or discount that the land would have to be taken by armed struggle, any more than it overlooks the fact that the fruit of the harvest would have to be gained by hard labor.  But the prior reality is God’s grace.  The land itself and the fruit of the land are gifts of grace and that must be acknowledged.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 270)

 

Although the land is indeed a “good land,” the people are still dependent on Yahweh to bless them and the land (cf. 28:1-14; 33:13-16).  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 608)

 

The Israelites are commanded to offer their first-fruits, for the same reason that they were to pay the tribute for every soul, viz., that they might confess that they themselves, and all that they had, belonged to God.  This was the only distinction, that the tribute was a symbol of their emancipation, that they might acknowledge themselves to be free, as having been redeemed by the special mercy of God; but by the first-fruits they testified that the land was tributary to God, and that they were masters of it by no other title than as tenants at will, so that the direct sovereignty and property of it remained with God alone.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. I, 494)

 

According to Deuteronomy, a tithe (= one-tenth) of one’s agricultural produce is to be brought each year to the central sanctuary (14:22-27), except in the third year, when it becomes a charity tithe for the Levite, sojourner, orphan, and widow in one’s town of residence (14:28-29).  This charity tithe is enjoined only in Deuteronomy.  In the patriarchal period, tithes appear to have been offered voluntarily (Gn 14:20; 28:22), but after settlement in the land, and particularly after Israel had chosen a king (1 Sm 8:14-17), tithes became compulsory and were imposed on the entire population.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 729)

 

When the people enter the land and begin to grow crops and raise animals, they are to offer the firstfruits of crops and firstborns of animals to Yahweh.  According to Deuteronomy, the firstfruits from garden and field would consist of grain, wine, oil, and wool from sheep (18:4; cf. Nm 18:12-13).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 723)

 

The “wandering Aramaean” is being contrasted with the worshiper, who, along with fellow Israelites, is now settled in a land where fruits are being harvested in great abundance.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 726)

 

He is to set the basket with the firstfruits before Yahweh, and then in a gesture of homage and submission prostrate himself before him.  Having done so, he is to invite the entire household, as well as Levites and aliens from his town, to join him in celebrating all the benefactions Yahweh has lavished on them.  Like the pilgrimages described in 12:5-12, this is to be a joyful event, presumably involving a meal eaten at the sanctuary in the presence of Yahweh with the entire household, as well as with Levites and aliens whom the worshiper has invited to accompany him to the sanctuary (cf. 12:7, 12, 18; 14:26-27; 16:11, 14).  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 604)

 

Echoing Ex 2:7-10 and repeating five of the seven expressions he had used in Dt 4:34, Moses invites Israelites to celebrate annually Yahweh’s past intervention on their behalf.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 603)

 

Only after this long declaration does the giver mention his reason for coming–to offer firstfruits.  He says in verse 10a, “And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O LORD, have given me.”  Again the focus is on God.  He does not say, “I bring the fruit of my labor.”  He acknowledges that it was given by God.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 567)

 

Israelite history is a history of forgetting to give thanks.  The people came to take their salvation for granted, their occupation of the land as an unconditional entitlement, and their prosperity as a divine obligation.  But Amos reminded his generation that prosperity was not a divine right.  On the contrary, because of their rebellion, Yahweh himself caused famines in the land, withholding rain, sending in scorching winds, and calling for insect plagues to devour the crops.  Still the people did not return to him (Amos 4:6-9).  And 150 years later, even as Nebuchadnezzar’s armies attacked the walls of Jerusalem, the people of Judah clung to the promises of their divine patron, having forgotten that with the privilege of covenant relationship come the responsibilities of giving thanks to God for his abundant favors and of showing mercy to others.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 608)

 

It is the indispensable duty of all Nations, not only to offer up their supplications to ALMIGHTY GOD, the Giver of all good, for his public manner to give him praise for his goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of his providence in their behalf.  (“Thanksgiving Proclamation,” of the US Congress in Philadelphia, 10/11/1782, establishing Thursday, November 28 as a day of national thanksgiving.)  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 611)

 

II-  We show our gratitude to God when we give to the Church and to those in need.  (Dt 26:12-15; see also: Mt 25:31-45; Jam 2:1-24)

 

The daily sustenance of the Levites came from the offerings made to the Lord and from the firstfruits.  Particular portions of the offerings were to be given to the priests, those who were the sons of Aaron (Lv 7:31-35).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 118)

 

The subject changes from the firstfruits to the tithe, and thus to a later time of year, after the various crops had been harvested, perhaps at the feast of Booths.  While the tithe was an annual offering (14:22), the interest in this passage is on the tithe of the third year, which was reserved specially for the disadvantaged (12; cf. 14:28-29).  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 380)

 

This declaration combines two things.  First, the worshiper asserts that his gift is the full tithe, not a miserly portion of it.  Nobody could easily check the truth of this declaration, but a solemn statement before the Lord would invite divine retribution if deliberately untrue.  So this service had the useful effect of protecting the gifts to the Levites and the underprivileged.  One wonders how much more generous Christian giving would be if we were asked to make such solemn declarations nowadays.  Second, the worshiper declared that he had observed the regulations for giving his tithe to the poor just as if he were going to offer sacrifice (v. 14).  Thus the gift to the poor was transformed into a symbolic sacrifice; a genuine form of worship to God.  (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 144)

 

By making these charitable contributions to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, God’s ancient people did what Jesus said we do in our gifts:  “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 246)

 

26:12.  This paragraph specifies still another practice that would have to wait until the conquest of the promised land was complete.  Every three years, in the year of the tithe, Israelites were to set aside a special portion of their produce to share with the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow.  This apparently was in addition to the annual tithe to support the work of the tabernacle (or later the temple).  Although the regular annual tithe was for the support of the priesthood at the central sanctuary, this was a local tithe, designed to assist Levites who were living in towns scattered throughout the land.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 301)

 

Gifts donated directly to Yahweh are holy, but what farmers donate to take care of the needy in their towns and villages is also holy.  After all, they too are images of God (Prv 14:31; 17:5).  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 606)

 

The ritual takes place after the act of kindness and is not strictly a part of it.  After Israelite farmers have demonstrated covenantal loyalty to Yahweh by taking care of the poor, they are to make a pilgrimage to the central sanctuary and perform the verbal ritual that follows.  By linking the triennial tithe to the ritual at the central shrine, Moses reminds his people that care for the marginalized is not merely a noble humanitarian issue; it is expressive of one’s covenant relationship with Yahweh.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 605)

 

Every third year the Lord let the tithe remain in Israel’s towns and villages to relieve the burden of the poor (14:28, 29).  Although people wouldn’t bring the tithe to the central place of worship, the Lord would require Israelites to go to the central place of worship and declare that they had fulfilled all the law’s requirements.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 244-5)

 

Ceremonial cleanness was a special feature of Jewish worship.  While it does not directly apply to us, it underscores the fact that our lives should be pleasing to God when we come with our gifts.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 572)

 

In the liturgical declaration, the Israelite claims to have fully obeyed the law; this is expressed both negatively (v. 13b) and positively (v. 14b).  This declaration is linked specifically to the distribution of the sacred portion (i.e., that which specially belongs to God) among the needy.  Thus, giving to the needy is not only a sacred duty to God, but it also is the defining point for any claim to have kept the law.  The law is kept only if the poor are cared for.  Only when Israel responds to the needy by enabling everyone in the community to eat and be satisfied can they affirm I have done everything that you commanded me.  This shows once again the essential thrust of OT ethics–that love for the neighbor is the practical proof of any claimed love for God.  It also shows how the enacted love for the poor and needy is the practical proof of genuine, God-honoring love for the neighbor.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 271-2)

 

In substance the declaration to be made (vv. 13-15) says that the tenth of the produce had been removed from the donor’s premises and was given to the Levites and the underprivileged alien, fatherless, and widow.  None of it had been diverted or mishandled.  So because the donor had obeyed the Lord’s command, he could pray for the Lord’s blessing on the people and on the land the Lord had given to the people–a good illustration of being on praying ground.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 156)

 

The act of worship at the chosen “place” symbolizes the secure dwelling of the once enslaved people in “place”, that is, land (9), of their own.  The confession is followed by a renewed reminder that deliverance from homeless slavery into “place” and home brings with it the responsibility to draw the homeless fully into the experience and celebration of rooted belonging (11).  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 384)

 

Having distributed in his own town the third-year tithe to the Levite, sojourner, orphan, and widow, the Israelite peasant must now appear at the central sanctuary and declare before Yahweh that he has done what was required.  In the early days, his recitation would have been at the tabernacle, later at the Jerusalem temple.  The likely festival for this recitation would have been the year-end Feast of Booths, probably in the year that the distribution took place.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 730)

 

The two explicit references to the Levites and the aliens (v. 11) and the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow (v. 12) show that the socially and economically deprived were not to be excluded either from the spiritual blessings of covenant worship or from the material blessings of the covenant obedience.  This Deuteronomic ethos breathes again in the challenging teaching of James regarding the social and economic demands of Christian worship and fellowship (Jam 2, note esp. vv. 2-4, 15-17).  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 271)

 

III-  Display your appreciation for your special status through your obedience, generosity and love so others might be included.  (Dt 26:16-19; see also: Ex 19:5-6; Dt 14:2; 28:1-14; Ps 106:5; 135:4; Isa 41:8-9; 44:1-2; 49:7; 65:9-22; Amos 3:2; Hag 2:23; Mt 5:23-24; 22:14; 23:23; Mk 13:20; Lk 11:42; 18:7; Jn 14:15, 21; Rom 8:33; ch 9; 11:5, 28; Eph 1:11; 5:20; Col 1:27; 3:12;  2 Cor 4:15; 9:6-15; Phil 2:17; 4:6; 1 Thess 1:4; 5:18; Heb 10:5-6; 1 Pt 1:2; 2:5-9; 2 Pt 1:10)

 

The chapter thus brings the whole legal section to a close with the reminder that obedience to the law was not an end in itself.  Nor was it merely the means of keeping Israel secure in the land.  Ultimately there was a missionary purpose to the law.  Just as it had been founded upon the basis of God’s redeeming grace in the past, so it was motivated by the vision of God’s name being known and honored among the nations in the future.  Seeing the law of the OT as thus framed between grace and glory is of immense importance, theologically, hermeneutically, and missiologically.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 273)

 

God’s election is the cause, and our believing in Christ is the effect. (Arthur W. Pink; The Attributes of God, 23)

 

Living in obedience to God and our giving are intertwined.  We cannot have one without the other.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 571)

 

We know of unscrupulous traders who make frequent vows in shrines and give large donations to religious causes in the hope of receiving business success as the reward for their gifts.  This is like bribery.  Without living in obedience, which is the condition for success, these people try to take short-cuts by giving gifts as substitutes for obeying the rules.  Of course, God does not bless such people, so the bribing yields no results from God–though Satan may answer some of their prayers to entrench them in their sin.  It is easy for rituals involving thank-offerings to take on a superstitious shape and become actions people do to earn favors from God.  In the Bible they are expressions of thanksgiving in response to God’s favor.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 568)

 

People have a problem with election because they have a problem with God being God.

If you start with freedom of the will and you end up with a problem of God’s sovereignty, then you are in trouble.  But if you start out with God’s sovereignty, and end up with a problem with man’s freewill – you are OK.

 

This text recognizes that devotion to God is demonstrated, not by lip service, but by concrete acts of obedience to the revealed will of God.  Had this liturgy been designed today, the prescribed declaration would probably have been “I love you, Lord,” or “I worship you, Lord.”  However, such verbal utterances ring hollow if they do not arise from lips of those who have accepted the path of radical discipleship.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 612)

 

If Yahweh was glorified through the righteous and faithful conduct of his people Israel, the same is true of the new Israel of God.  Indeed, Jesus reminds his disciples that his Father is glorified in this–that the disciples prove to be his disciples by bearing much fruit.  As we do so, the glory and grace of the heavenly Father will radiate forth from us, drawing people to him like a great magnet.  May believers everywhere be faithful in proclaiming his grace, and may many heed his call to go to the ends of the earth, so that everyone may know that Yahweh, incarnate in Jesus Christ, is God and Lord of all–for his praise, fame, and glory.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 620)

 

Any spiritually healthy congregation of believers in Jesus will more or less look like these “brands plucked from the burning.”  If the group is totally nice, that is a sure sign something has gone wrong.  For here are the foolish, weak, lowly, and despised of this world, whom God has chosen to cancel out the humanly great (1 Cor 1:26-31; 6).  (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 125)

 

He again reminds them that God is the author of the Law, in order that His majesty should the more impress them; and not only so, but that, since the Law was specially delivered to them, its observation was the more enjoined upon them.  Hence he exhorts them earnestly to apply their hearts to those things which God had enjoined them to keep, because men grow careless in their duties, unless they are often stirred up.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. I, 360)

 

16-19.  These verses are a conclusion to the whole exposition of the law in chs. 5-26.  Their manner of phrasing indicates, however, that they were used in a covenant renewal ceremony, wherein as a part of the rite the law was publicly read and the people solemnly affirmed loyalty to it.  This passage must have been used in the ceremony after the hearing of the reading and the affirmation of loyalty.  It summarizes what has happened.  This day (meaning the original day on which Moses spoke, and also each subsequent day when the ceremony was held) God has presented his law and commanded the people’s obedience (vs. 16).  Secondly, as a formal part of the covenant rite, the people have solemnly declared that Yahweh is their God and that they will obey him (vs. 17).  Thirdly, God on his part has affirmed them to be his chosen people, according to promise (i.e., to the patriarchs), that he will give them a place of glory among the nations for his own praise and power, and that Israel shall be a holy people (vss. 18-19).  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 2, 487-8)

 

In Rom 1:21 Paul declares that the first step in the slide into apostasy is refusal to honor God with thanksgiving.  But in 2 Cor 9:5-15 he lays down the principles of Christian charity:

  1. The blessings one receives from God are proportional to one’s generosity.
  2. True generosity is an individual matter, requiring no legislation.
  3. God loves those who give spontaneously and freely.
  4. God blessing is guaranteed for those who are generous.
  5. Generosity is not simply a matter of supplying the needs of the poor; God accepts it as an expression of thanksgiving to him.
  6. Confession of the gospel of Christ accompanied by acts of obedience to God will cause observers to praise him for the giver’s generosity. (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 609)

 

We can sum up this great salvation from John’s Gospel with the following steps:  all that the Father has chosen to be his, he has given to the Son (17:6); and all whom he has given to the Son, the Son knows (10:14) and recognize his voice (10:4-5) and come to him (6:37) and follow him (10:27); and the Son lays down his life for the sheep (10:11, 15); and to all for whom he dies he gives eternal life (10:28) and keeps them in the Father’s word (17:6), so that none is lost (6:39) or snatched out of his hand (10:28), but is raised up at the last day (6:39) to glorify the Son forever (17:10). This is why the Father has pleasure in election. It is the indestructible foundation for an infallible salvation that redounds in the end to the glory of the Father and the Son.  (John Piper; The Pleasures of God, 139)

 

 

Worship Point: Worship the God of the Universe Who holds all the cards for your prosperity, security, health, salvation, future and happiness.  Worship Him Who created you and loves you so you would love him back.  (Gn 1:26-28; Dt 8:1-19; Mk 12:33; 1 Chr 29:10-14; 1 Jn 4:19)

 

Rejoicing is the handmaid of worship.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 301)

 

Israel’s bragging rights could not be traced to their own strength and character.  Their testimony was great because it focused upon God’s greatness, not theirs.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 270)

 

This passage offers Christians today helpful and necessary information on the nature and forms of acceptable worship.  (1) True worship is focused on Yahweh.  Not surprisingly this text leaves no space for the worship of any other deity.  All that the Israelites are and have they owe to him.  This is true not only of the daily sustenance they receive from the fruit of the ground, but especially of their status with Yahweh.  The Israelites represented the community of the redeemed, who had received the land as a gracious gift from their divine Redeemer.

(2) God’s people are a thankful people.  This text reminds readers of every age of the importance of specific celebrations devoted to thanksgiving.  But true thanksgiving recognizes that God is much more than a fertility deity who provides for his people in the annual cycle of seedtime and harvest.  Yahweh’s rescue of Israel from the bondage of Egypt was paradigmatic of our redemption from the slavery of sin and our rescue from the kingdom of darkness through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 611)

 

To tell the modern Westerner that he belongs to and is owned by God will almost invariably arouse his resistance.  He does not wish to be owned by anyone, not even by him who made and sustains the universe.  Yet plainly our nature really is owned by a power greater than itself.  If there is no God, then life is circumscribed and finally mastered by physical nature.  If there is a God, then life is at every moment dependent upon that God for its being.  Freedom within its proper bounds is deeply true, but it is true in relation to God, not apart from him.  Man cannot take to himself the prerogatives of his Maker without earning the inevitable consequences.  Like Prometheus of old, he will thereby bring on his own imprisonment.  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 2, 485)

 

Too many today make the almost unconscious assumption that religion is to be judged by what it does for the individual, for me.  In accepting or rejecting the appeal of a local parish, the individual is likely to be swayed very largely by secondary considerations such as the personality of the minister, or his own response to the public services.  Now one real test of religion is indeed its ability to meet individual needs.  But this is not the first test or the most important one.  The chief end of man is to adore God for what God is in himself and without thought as to what that adoration will profit him.  When God has been worshiped purely for himself there may certainly be an increment in the form of inward strength or in the “enjoyment” of a sermon.  These are to the good, but the absence of them is no ground whatever for leaving off the communal worship of God.  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 2, 485)

 

Throughout chs. 12-26 the emphasis has been upon the necessity for obedience to a host of individual laws.  As matters stand in them, one could easily become lost in a legalism of obedience.  These concluding verses, however, lead by implication to the substance of chs. 5-11, in which the intimate, personal relationship with God is emphasized, one which is the substance of the covenant agreement.  Obedience now assumes a new aspect:  it is not so much a legal duty as a response to a personal relationship with the community’s Lord and Savior.  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 2, 488)

 

One of the greatest setbacks of modern technological advancement has been the loss of wonder among people.  We seem to be able to explain everything through science.  We do not realize that God is the creator and sustainer of the whole universe.  Heb 1:3 says Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power.”  Paul says, “In [Christ] all things hold together” (Col 1:17).  If God took his sustaining hand out of the universe, everything would disintegrate into smithereens.  We think we know the operations of the world so well that we almost feel we can control nature.  Therefore, blinded by our own sense of self-importance, we lose sight of the wonder of God’s provision.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 567-8)

 

To think of creature and Creator as alike in essential being is to rob God of most of His attributes and reduce Him to the status of a creature.  It is, for instance, to rob Him of His infinitude:  there cannot be two unlimited substances in the universe.  It is to take away His sovereignty:  there cannot be two absolutely free beings in the universe, for sooner or later two completely free wills must collide.  These attributes, to mention no more, required that there be but one to whom they belong.  (A. W. Tozer; The Knowledge of the Holy, 7-8)

 

Were there even one datum of knowledge, however small, unknown to God, His rule would break down at that point.  To be Lord over all creation, He must possess all knowledge.  And were God lacking one infinitesimal modicum of power, that lack would end His reign and undo His kingdom; that one stray atom of power would belong to someone else and God would be a limited ruler and hence not sovereign. (A. W. Tozer; The Knowledge of the Holy, 108)

 

God may conceal the purpose of His Ways but His ways are never without purpose.

 

The fact is that while we may be able to market the church, we cannot market Christ, the gospel,  Christian character, or meaning in life.   The church can offer handy child care to weary parents, intellectual stimulation to the restless video generation, a feeling of family to the lonely and dispossessed — and, indeed, lots of people come to churches for these reasons.  But neither Christ nor his truth can be marketed by appealing to consumer interest, because the premise of all marketing is that the consumer need is sovereign, that the customer is always right, and this is precisely what the gospel insists cannot be the case.      (David Wells; God in the Wasteland, 82)

 

“. . .there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry:  “Mine!”  (Abraham Kuyper, A Centennial Reader, 488)

 

The insights of wonder must be constantly kept alive.  Since there is a need for daily wonder, there is a need for daily worship.

The sense for the “miracles which are daily with us,” the sense for the “continual marvels,” is the source of prayer.  There is no worship, no music, no love, if we take for granted the blessings or defeats of living.  No routine of the social, physical, or physiological order must dull our sense of surprise at the fact that there is a social, a physical, or a physiological order.  We are trained in maintaining our sense of wonder by uttering a prayer before the enjoyment of food.  Each time we are about to drink a glass of water, we remind ourselves of the eternal mystery of creation, “Blessed be Thou. . . by Whose word all things come into being.”  A trivial act and a reference to the supreme miracle.  Wishing to eat bread or fruit, to enjoy a pleasant fragrance or a cup of wine; on tasting fruit in season for the first time; on seeing a rainbow, or the ocean; on noticing trees when they blossom; on meeting a sage in Torah or in secular learning; on hearing good or bad tidings–we are taught to invoke His great name and our awareness of Him.  (Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man, 49)

 

Gospel Application:  If you have fully understood the Gospel and your helplessness to save yourself, then your generous expression of gratitude and thanksgiving will come naturally.  The question is, “Do you know that it is Jesus only Who can truly save?” (Jn 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tm 2:5-6)

 

If you don’t see the absolute holiness of God, the magnitude of your debt, the categorical necessity of God’s just punishment of your sin, and therefore the utter hopelessness of your condition, then the knowledge of your pardon and deliverance will not be amazing and electrifying!  — Tim Keller

 

Although fidelity to Yahweh may be demonstrated generally by obedience to all his commands, this triennial tithe provides a true and concrete test of covenantal loyalty.  God’s people are distinguished by the care they take of those who are marginalized.  But their motivation for doing so is not a legalistic sense of duty or obligation, but a recognition that how one operates horizontally, especially how one treats the deprived, is a barometer of the health of the vertical relationships (cf. Prv 14:31; 17:5).  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 612)

 

Spiritual Challenge:  Don’t ever think God owes you for anything.  Nothing could be further from the truth.   You are what you are by God’s grace.  PERIOD!  (1 Chr 29:10-14; Prv 3:9; Mal 3:6-10; Rom 4:1-2; 1 Cor 15:10; Jam 1:17)

 

We do not earn God’s blessing through our gifts and obedience, but they take away the hindrances to God’s blessing us.  Isaiah said, “behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isa 59:1, 2).  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 572)

 

Thoughts on the Prodigal Son Parable:

God’s love is like the love of this father.  It is not minimal; it is unreserved.  It is unrestrained.  It is extravagant.  It is not bestowed in moderation.  There is no holding back—just pure love undiluted, without any resentment or disaffection.  The father receives the wayward boy as a privileged son, not as a lowly servant.

Above all, the love of the father was an unconditional love.  It was undiminished by the rebellion of the son.  Despite all that this boy had done to deserve his father’s wrath, the father responded with unrestrained love.  Though the young man may not have realized it while he was languishing in the far country, he could not be estranged from so loving a father.  Even his great sins could not ultimately separate him from his father’s love.

The apostle Paul taught a similar lesson in one of the great doctrinal sections of Scripture—Rom 8:31-39.  That passage makes a fitting climax for our study.  What about the charge that the doctrine of election is not fair?  In one sense, there’s some truth in this.  “Fair” would mean that everyone gets precisely what he deserves.  But no one really wants that.  Even the non-elect would face a more severe punishment if it were not for the restraining grace of God that keeps them from expressing their depravity to its full extent.

Fairness is not the issue; grace is the issue.  Election is the highest expression of God’s loving grace.  He didn’t have to choose anyone.  And He is, after all, God.  If He chooses to set His love in a particular way on whomever He chooses, He has every right to do so.  (John MacArthur, Jr.; The Love of God, 165)

 

Unscrupulous religious leaders can exploit the superstitions of people to raise funds, by offering people blessings in return for their thank-offerings.  Sadly, this happens in both non-Christian and Christian circles.  Martin Luther rebelled against the sale of indulgences that the Roman Catholic Church of his time offered the people with the promise of a reduced stay in purgatory.  Evangelists advertise the opportunity of “investing” in their ministries through donations, which are sometimes called “blessing shares.”  God is said to unleash blessings on the givers through those donations.  Non-Christian clergy motivate people to give to their ministries by promising them the prospect of continued success in business or some other aspect of life in return for gifts given at their shrines.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 567-8)

 

So What?:  Having a proper fear of the Lord as well as a proper humility towards your life, property, abilities, skills, personality, appearance, and future will lead you towards a life that is truly life.  (Dt 25; Mal 3:6-10; Mt 6:19-34; Jn 10:10; Rom 14:6; 1 Cor 10:31; 1 Tm 6:6-19)

 

You can’t be free until you are secure.  And you can’t be secure unless you know the sovereign God who is ruling this whole show.  (Steve Brown; Born Free, 97)

 

The natural consequence of focusing on God’s provision rather than on human merit is joy.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 567)

 

As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines.  Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind.  Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation.  The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.  What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.  (Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man, 46)

 

There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that sovereignty overrules them, and that sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought to more earnestly contend to than the doctrine of their Master over all creation—the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands—the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that throne…for it is God upon the Throne whom we trust.  —Charles Spurgeon

 

God’s gift to each of us is our potential.  Our gift to Him is what we do with that potential.  The chief way that you and I can be disloyal to God is to make small what He intended to make large.  The purpose of our lives is to fulfill the expectations of the God who created us.  To do so is to concretely express our gratitude to God for His blessing.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 269)

JESUS:

The CHOSEN ONE

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