Deuteronomy 12-15; Psalm 119:137-144

These chapters of Deuteronomy continue Moses’ messages to Israel as they looked to life in Canaan. In Deuteronomy 5-11, Moses set forth the proposition that Israel’s success in the Promised Land was directly related to their obedience of the Lord’s instruction—the kind of obedience celebrated in Ps 119:137-144.

In Deuteronomy 12, Moses instructed Israel regarding how they should worship the Lord in holiness in the Promised Land. Israel was not to worship in the places where the Canaanites worshiped, for that would pull them away from devotion to the Lord (Deut 12:1-14). The balance of Deuteronomy 12 deals with the specifics of slaughtering animals both for regular consumption and for worship. Israel was to worship with joy (Deut 12:18) and they were to maintain their devotion to the Lord (Deut 12:29-32).

Accordingly—almost as one would expect—Moses next turned Israel’s attention to the dangers of idolatry (Deut 13:1-18). So strong is the statement against idolatry that even if a prophet’s word came true—normally the sign that one is a true prophet (see Deut 18:21-22)—but he enticed Israel to another god, he was to be killed (Deut 13:5). The command for Israel to purge the evil from among them included both an insurrectionist within one’s immediate family (Deut 13:6-12) and whole cities that may have wandered into idolatry (Deut 13:12-18).

In Deuteronomy 14, Moses articulated the relationship between holiness and wholeness. God’s commands to Israel were grounded in their sanctification: “You are sons of the LORD your God…you are a holy people belonging to the LORD your God. The LORD has chosen you to be His special people out of all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Deut 14:1-2), Moses said. Following the list of forbidden foods, Moses urged Israel to be whole in their diet because of their status as “a holy people belonging to the LORD your God” (Deut 14:21).

Instructions for financial stewardship and community maintenance pervade Deut 14:22-15:23. Moses reminded Israel that God is jealous and to be recognized as their Provider (Deut 14:22-29). Israel was to give a tenth so that they would “always learn to fear the LORD” (Deut 14:23). This annual tenth was festively consumed before the Lord and included a provision for the Levites. The tenth every three years was gathered as a provision for the needy (Deut 14:27-29). The consecration of firstborn animals likewise showed dependence upon God, as Israelites gave to the Lord what they might have thought rightly belonged to them (see Deut 15:19-23).

Moses established the principle that God’s people are to care for each other during times of need (Deut 15:1-11). Every seven years the people were to forgive each other’s debts (Deut 15:2) and do good to their brothers. Because of this, there would be, ideally speaking, no cause for anyone to be poor within Israel (Deut 15:4, 11). Moses’ statements in Deuteronomy 15 echo in the New Testament authors’ instructions for just and merciful financial dealings.

(1) The snapshots of the Jerusalem church in Acts include pictures of financial generosity and community maintenance. In Acts 2, Luke wrote that the believers sold their possessions and property to contribute to the needy among them. In Acts 4, he recorded that “the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common” (Acts 4:32), again selling their resources and giving them to the apostles for re-distribution (Acts 4:34-35).

(2) Paul urged churches outside of Judea to contribute to the needs of the Judean churches suffering during a famine. Paul asked the Corinthians to complete the gift they had pledged for famine relief in Judea (1 Cor 16:1-4; see Rom 15:22-33), calling them to follow the example of the Macedonians, who gave freely beyond their ability (2 Cor 8:1-7). Paul also called the Corinthians to imitate Christ, writing, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: although He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). Beyond Paul’s specific requests for famine relief, he stated generally, “As we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith” (Gal 6:10; see also Eph 4:28).

(3) John asked his churches, “If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but shuts off his compassion from him—how can God’s love reside in him?” (1 John 3:17).