BIBLE STUDY SERIES #512, 513 and 514

16 September, 2001

DEUTERONOMY 17: JUDGMENTS AND KINGS

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our series of Bible Studies on the Great Plan by which The Almighty God is steadily drawing His Creation towards the perfection of His Kingdom reveals that this plan centres upon the formation of one selected line of people chronicled in The Scriptural Record, which descends through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and thence through the whole history of the nation of Israel, and therein to provide, in the person of Jesus Christ, the focal point of His mighty purpose. This series has brought us from the call of Abram in Genesis 12, down to Deuteronomy 17, and the prospect of The Promised Land upon the borders of which Israel now stood. The great oration of Moses to the children of Israel continues in this chapter, carrying forward his last great sequence of addresses to the Tribes of Israel prior to their crossing of the Jordan River into that Promised Land, and concerning the new circumstances which Israel will encounter as they enter therein.

Deuteronomy 17 is a passage which relates further laws which are to have their more direct application when the nation of Israel actually comes into possession of the Land of Canaan. Deuteronomy 16 dealt with matters relating to thee feasts and judgments. Today, as we move to the next chapter, we find that further matters relating to the administration of justice, are covered herein, including specific reference to forbidden forms of worship.

As is our usual approach, we will read Deuteronomy 17 from verse 1, inserting comments at appropriate points as we progress.

1. Thou shalt not sacrifice unto the LORD thy God any bullock, or sheep, wherein is blemish, or any evilfavouredness: for that is an abomination unto the LORD thy God.

We would not knowingly serve a guest something which contained a distasteful ingredient, or which included something which should have gone to the garbage. Why, then, should any Israelite even for a moment consider yielding up to the LORD a sacrifice of which any aspect was "second-best"?

2. If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD thy God, in transgressing his covenant,
3. And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded;
4. And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and enquired diligently, and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel:
5. Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.

This commandment may, in the context of our egalitarian, multicult, humanist society, which aims at the goal of syncretism in matters of belief, seem terribly harsh and strict. Let us, however, view it from the standpoint of the LORD, the husband who loves His national wife and desires that her future with Him be on the highest level of integrity and mutual love and commitment, and shall not suffer due to a careless entertainment of whoredom with all the neighbours.

Here also, in connection with verse three, and the words "which I have not commanded", The Companion Bible indicates that this is "Equally authoritative in matters of faith and worship today." These matters are considered "abomination wrought in Israel." The whole thrust is to the end that Israel shall not harbour such deviance. I would point out that the horoscopes, which are a daily inclusion in many national newspapers, fall squarely into the category of false "gods" which comprise daily worship of "the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven." Israel is not to countenance trust in such false religious concepts for that counters and leads directly away from the commitment to trust The LORD God of our people for our future.

There now follows an extremely important principle of justice which must be a part of the law code, whether that of ancient Israel, or that which comprises Common Law among Israel's Anglo-Celto-Saxon and kindred descendants today.

6. At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.
7. The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you.

Nobody was to suffer the death penalty on the word of only one witness. Two or three witnesses must agree on the matter, and indeed, reluctance to be the leaders in initiating the actual stoning might serve as a deterrent to complete the matter, especially as there is a law which specifies that a false witness must suffer the penalty which he would have brought upon an accused. The Commandment found in Exodus 20:16, is "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." The law stated in Deuteronomy 19:16-20 supplies the penalty pertaining to its transgression.

Indeed, relating to another Old Testament law for the breaking of which a similar execution was demanded, we have spoken of the occasion mentioned in John 8:3, upon which a woman taken in the act of adultery was dragged before Jesus in The Temple, with the demand that He render His judgment. He wrote in the dust of the temple floor, (doubtless reflecting the pertinent law from Numbers 5:17-18), and then required that the process of witness prior to execution proceed. Of course, on that occasion, it was not the woman whom they wished to execute, but Christ whom they were testing to see if, through leniency, He would break the law. At the trial of Christ before the Sanhedrin mentioned in Matthew 26:59-63, the authorities sought for the required two witnesses, but those false witnesses who appeared could not agree on their testimony. The principle of requiring two or three witnesses can also apply to any matter regarding exposition of the Scriptures.

8. If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the LORD thy God shall choose;
9. And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and enquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment:
10. And thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the LORD shall choose shall shew thee; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee:
11. According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do: thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall shew thee, to the right hand, nor to the left.
12. And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel.
13. And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously.

Note most carefully that, in the next passage, there is an Israelite racial consideration within the matter of selection and appointment of a king in any Israel land, which, by extension, must translate to all those holding appointment under the jurisdiction of the king. It is obviously designed to the intent that only those holding Israelite descent shall remain in control of the land.

14. When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me;
15. Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.

Next, we find the command that the king, who will be the supreme governmental authority, must not misuse that authority in order to accumulate wealth and military power for his own use. He must not, in other words, oppress the people under his jurisdiction, and specifically, it is stipulated that the monarch shall not seek to do this through leading the people to merge under the authority of a foreign power. In the days of ancient Israel, that oppressive foreign power was Egypt under Pharaoh. Today, there is much consternation within the British world over attempts by the present leaders of these Israel descendants to merge the populace which they govern beneath the over-ruling authority of the European super-governmental authorities centering upon Brussels. The principle is the same, and applies today to the modern descendants of Israel. God specifically commands that the leaders whom Israel appoints shall not do this to the people for their own personal gain or prestige!

16. But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.
17. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.

The injunction regarding the supremacy of the whole of God's Law is next stated. The King, who would be appointed in the land, and who would be the supreme authority in the nation, is to make himself a copy of the book of The Law, and obviously this means that it shall be most carefully studied, accepted, and applied to all judicial decisions within the nation.

18. And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:
19. And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:
20. That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.

There is much for meditation by ourselves in today's Scripture of Deuteronomy 17.

23 September, 2001

DEUTERONOMY 18: LEVITES AND PROPHETS

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our series of Bible Studies on the Great Plan by which The Almighty God is steadily drawing His Creation towards the perfection of His Kingdom reveals that this plan centres upon the formation of one selected line of people chronicled in The Scriptural Record, which descends through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and thence through the whole history of the nation of Israel, and therein to provide, in the person of Jesus Christ, the focal point of His mighty purpose. This series has brought us from the call of Abram in Genesis 12, down to Deuteronomy 18, and the prospect of The Promised Land upon the borders of which Israel now stood. The great oration of Moses to the children of Israel continues in this chapter, carrying forward his last great sequence of addresses to the Tribes of Israel prior to their crossing of the Jordan River into that Promised Land, and concerning the new circumstances which Israel will encounter as they enter therein.

Deuteronomy 18 is a passage which relates further laws which are to have their more direct application when the nation of Israel actually comes into possession of the Land of Canaan. Deuteronomy 17 has dealt with matters relating to forbidden forms of worship and the qualifications of an appointed king over Israel. Today, as we move to the next chapter, we find further matters relating to the Levitical administration under that king. Levites had been assigned the tasks which, today, might be classified as those of the governmental civil service within the nation. They were to be assigned some cities, but they would be dispersed throughout the whole of Israel, not granted any specific land allotments as were the rest of the Tribes of Israel. Thus, they were to be sustained in their office by receipt of their due portion of the tithes given by the rest of the tribes to that purpose. In his present review of laws and regulations, Moses desires to make that commitment by the other Tribes of Israel secure to the Levites, who would hold six cities of refuge within Israel. Here, as is our usual approach, we will read Deuteronomy 18 from verse 1, inserting comments at appropriate points as we progress.

1. The priests the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel: they shall eat the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and his inheri
tance. 2. Therefore shall they have no inheritance among their brethren: the LORD is their inheritance, as he hath said unto them.
3. And this shall be the priest's due from the people, from them that offer a sacrifice, whether it be ox or sheep; and they shall give unto the priest the shoulder, and the two cheeks, and the maw.
4. The firstfruit also of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the first of the fleece of thy sheep, shalt thou give him.
5. For the LORD thy God hath chosen him out of all thy tribes, to stand to minister in the name of the LORD, him and his sons for ever.
6. And if a Levite come from any of thy gates out of all Israel, where he sojourned, and come with all the desire of his mind unto the place which the LORD shall choose;
7. Then he shall minister in the name of the LORD his God, as all his brethren the Levites do, which stand there before the LORD.
8. They shall have like portions to eat, beside that which cometh of the sale of his patrimony.

At verse 6, The Companion Bible notes that a Levite who comes "unto the place which the LORD shall chose" was "a Tribal Levite who devoted himself to the Aaronic service." The latter portion of this chapter deals with a subject which flows naturally from consideration of the duties of the Levites. It concerns the designation of forbidden forms of worship, and the questions which may arise when a person presents himself as a prophet before the people.

9. When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.
10. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch,
11. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
12. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

Here, Moses places a total condemnation upon all the categories of false or mis-leading distortions of religion. He lists those who offer their own children in the fire before the images of false gods, seeking some future benefit for themselves. (Today, we should note the fate of aborted fetuses in a similar connection.) He includes necromancers, those who seek the return of an answer to a question through some spirit medium, or who want special revelations from the dead. All such false forms of religion, which divert the seeker from honouring and hearkening to the words of The Living God, are excluded in the words of verses 13 and 14:

13. Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.
14. For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.

Moses now assures the people that the LORD will provide a prophet who will yield the truth to them like unto himself. Keil and Delitzsch hold that this can apply to any true prophet who would be sent by The LORD when required. The thrust is that Israel should seek such within her own ranks. It would certainly extend to cover The Messiah (the promised seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15 and John 5:45-47) in particular. In Luke 24:27, we read "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself". Thus The Risen Lord spoke to the two who were returning home on the road to Emmaus.

15. The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;
16. According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.
17. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken.
18. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.
19. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.

At verse 15, The New Bible Commentary contains a paragraph which lists twelve points of parallel in which the life of Moses forms a prophetic "type of Christ." Those words in verse 19, "I will require it of him" draws a note in The Companion Bible which ends by saying "That 'Word' is the 'critic' (or judge), and will judge all other 'critics'" In the words of the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus, in Luke 16:31, Christ said "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." However, together with that stated prophecy, Moses must add a warning against false claimants to the office of a prophet. He continues:

20. But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
21. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?
22. When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

This forms a most important, and needful caveat, for there will be many who seek to present a word from the LORD who do not have His words in them. They will not be in a position to speak the truth, and their mis-directed efforts will be shown to all in that the thing which they prophesy does not accord with subsequent unfolding of history. Keil and Delitzsch note "...the prophet who spoke in the name of the Lord what the Lord had not commanded him, i.e. proclaimed the thoughts of his own heart as divine revelation ... should die, like the prophet who spoke in the name of other gods."

However, I might just insert one note of caution here, to those who would appraise the words of a prophet. Sometimes a false impression can arise because the various characters and peoples on the stage of history are by convention mis-labelled. When that occurs, then any mis-applied attempt to convey Scripture truths will fail because the people will be falsely led to expect fulfilments in places and peoples who do not, in actuality, fit the true application of the words of the prophecies. We shall continue our studies next week.

30 September, 2001

DEUTERONOMY 19: LAW & CITIES OF REFUGE

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our series of Bible Studies on the Great Plan by which The Almighty God is steadily drawing His Creation towards the perfection of His Kingdom reveals that this plan centres upon the formation of one selected line of people chronicled in The Scriptural Record, which descends through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and thence through the whole history of the nation of Israel, and therein to provide, in the person of Jesus Christ, the focal point of His mighty purpose. This series has brought us from the call of Abram in Genesis 12, down to Deuteronomy 19, and the prospect of The Promised Land upon the borders of which Israel now stood. The great oration of Moses to the children of Israel continues in this chapter, carrying forward his last great sequence of addresses to the Tribes of Israel prior to their crossing of the Jordan River into that Promised Land, and concerning the new circumstances which Israel will encounter as they enter therein.

Deuteronomy 19 is a passage which relates further laws which are to have their more direct application when the nation of Israel actually comes into possession of the Land of Canaan. Deuteronomy 18 has dealt with matters relating to Levitical administration under a king. Today, as we move to the next chapter, we find further matters relating to the Levites who had been assigned the tasks which, today, might be classified as those of the governmental civil service within the nation. They were assigned three cities on the east side of the Jordan River, but they would be dispersed throughout the whole of Israel, not granted any specific Tribal allotment in one locality. Israel would secure to the Levites, three further appointed cities of refuge on the western side of the Jordan River, so that they would then hold six cities of refuge within Israel. As in any large population Israel would form a society wherein there would, from time to time, in the years and generations ahead, arise cases which we, today, might classify under the headings of manslaughter, and murder. The cities of refuge would form a dispersion of six sites wherein those awaiting a trial of their case might find a temporary refuge, and if the verdict was manslaughter, they might stay within the safety of the city until the death of the high priest released them to freedom from the apprehension of revenge by the family of the one who had been killed.

Here, as is our usual approach, we will read Deuteronomy 19 from verse 1, inserting comments at appropriate points as we progress.

1. When the LORD thy God hath cut off the nations, whose land the LORD thy God giveth thee, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their cities, and in their houses;
2. Thou shalt separate three cities for thee in the midst of thy land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it.
3. Thou shalt prepare thee a way, and divide the coasts of thy land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee to inherit, into three parts, that every slayer may flee thither.

Here, The Companion Bible notes that "coasts = borders or confines".

4. And this is the case of the slayer, which shall flee thither, that he may live: Whoso killeth his neighbour ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past;
5. As when a man goeth into the wood with his neighbour to hew wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbour, that he die; he shall flee unto one of those cities, and live:

Here, The Companion Bible notes that "head" means "iron", while "helve = handle" The Hebrew means "wood", so it might mean the handle or the tree. The example serves to illustrate the principle involved. The possible applications of this illustration to other situations might cover many sorts of accidental injuries or deaths, yet the Bible offers a simple, exemplary situation which makes plain the intent of the law. We continue at verse 6:

6. Lest the avenger of the blood pursue the slayer, while his heart is hot, and overtake him, because the way is long, and slay him; whereas he was not worthy of death, inasmuch as he hated him not in time past.
7. Wherefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt separate three cities for thee.
8. And if the LORD thy God enlarge thy coast, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, and give thee all the land which he promised to give unto thy fathers;
9. If thou shalt keep all these commandments to do them, which I command thee this day, to love the LORD thy God, and to walk ever in his ways; then shalt thou add three cities more for thee, beside these three:
10. That innocent blood be not shed in thy land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and so blood be upon thee.
11. But if any man hate his neighbour, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth into one of these cities:
12. Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die.
13. Thine eye shall not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee.

The New Bible Commentary notes that "The rules concerning homicide, like some other laws in Deuteronomy, deal with customs still more ancient, confirming some and amending others. When compared with the code of Hammurabi and ancient Semitic customs, they are seen to have common elements, but the Mosaic law places a higher value on human life ... and sets a higher standard of love to God and to one's neighbour." The goel, or 'avenger of blood', is the same as the 'kinsman' who had the right to 'redeem.' The Commentary continues "Such retributive justice is far removed from murder and is, in fact, calculated to prevent it. It is therefore no violation of the sixth commandment."

Regarding "the elders of his city" in verse 12, it states "The 'elders' were those who, by common consent, were granted a superior position because of their descent, age or ability. They formed a local authority for the transaction of judicial or other business."

Moving to "The Law of Witness", we read that "The law is careful for the sifting of evidence and for even-handed justice. In Jn v. 32-46 the Lord cites three witnesses to His own claims, and two witnesses bear testimony to His own claims, and two witnesses bear testimony to Him in Rev. xi. ... It was the priests, whose duty was to search out the truth, who suborned false witnesses against Christ. ... Regarding "Eye for eye" (21), the lex talionis, or law of a punishment equal to the offence, is very ancient, being found in Hammurabi's code. The rule is employed here to define the punishment of a false witness. The Lord's words in Mt. v. 38-42 (which mentions "turning the other cheek") apply to personal conduct. Keil and Delitzsch note that lex talionis also existed in Egypt.

Here, there follow sundry other laws which are reviewed for the benefit of the younger generation in Israel. An important concern might arise with a dispute over the removal of a land-mark, so shifting a part of a neighbouring property to the neighbouring one. Keil and Delitzsch point out that a man's possession of land was tied to his own life, because property by which life is supported participates in the sacredness of life itself.

14. Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it.

The New Bible Commentary notes that these landmarks "might be those set by the Israelites themselves or those they found. ... In either case their removal would be fraudulent."

There then follow the laws which are connected with a trial, with the associated necessity for the calling, and interrogation of witnesses, and a provision to punish those who might be tempted to perjury in court.

15. One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.
16. If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong;
17. Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days;
18. And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother;
19. Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.
20. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you.
21. And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

The provision marked out in verse 21 is a necessary statement of the rigid severity of application of the law, as it would appear on the book listing the code of laws. However, there might in a given case be a certain provision for an inclination towards mercy on the part of those most affected by the loss to the victim.

We shall continue with our Studies next week.

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