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Deuteronomy 17-20 Listen
Serving other gods - still a death sentence! (Deuteronomy 17:1-7)
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.
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.
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.
Israel WAS NOT a freedom-of-religion nation. As a matter of fact, the daily life of the Hebrews revolved around their worship of Jehovah, the one true God. In these instructions, we see mandates to that effect.
First of all, verse 1 makes it very clear that any animal sacrifice must include an animal that is without blemish. What about something as blatant as worshipping OTHER gods? Here it is - get caught worshipping other gods, and you die. There's a caveat though; if you report someone in Israel for serving other God's, you'd better have other witnesses; it takes two or more witnesses to convict. Oh, one more thing - if you are a witness to this heathen worship, you gotta cast the first stone when he/she is put to death.
For a fuller view regarding the punishment of these corrupt worship practices, see Deuteronomy 13 (see notes).
Israel's equivalent of the supreme court (Deuteronomy 17:8-13)
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.
Keep in mind, these instructions are given to the people as they are preparing to go over and inhabit their new land. They will be spread out - decentralized for the first time in their history. This section deals with appeals made to a higher court (so to speak). If you take a legal matter to the priest or to one of the judges in Israel for that ultimate level of mediation (criminal or civil), he's the man! After he rules on a matter, if you disregard the ruling...it's a death sentence.
Rules regarding future kings of Israel (Deuteronomy 17:14-20)
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.
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.
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.
As a matter of fact, Israel did plead for a king to reign over them in I Samuel 8 (see notes). Samuel (judge of Israel), after conferring with God on the request, appointed their first king, Saul, to reign over them in I Samuel 10 (see notes). Here are the guidelines for selecting a king to rule over Israel. He must be God-chosen, a home-grown Hebrew boy, not a gold digger, have a limited number of wives, not proud or conceited, and he better obey the law. As a matter of fact, he is to copy the law himself into his own book and read it daily as king. By the way, the practice of taking other Kings' daughters as wives ended up being the downfall of Solomon.
Notice these verses regarding Solomon's wives in I Kings 11 (see notes):
I Kings 11:3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.
I Kings 11:4 For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.
Solomon's wives erected altars to pagan gods right there on the Temple grounds. No wonder the Northern Kingdom after the death of Solomon never, never, never served God. He should have heeded these verses in Deuteronomy.
In contrast, while Solomon's father, David, had multiple wives (II Samuel 3, see notes), he did not indulge in excesses as did Solomon.
You gotta feed the priests! (Deuteronomy 18:1-8)
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 inheritance.
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.
The priests had to eat...and with mighty fine cuts of meat; the sacrifice business had its rewards. They received compensation from the rest of Israel for their services to the people. Within the tribe of Levi, the priesthood proper was restricted to Aaron and his descendants according to Exodus 28:1 (see notes). The number of eligible priests narrowed even more two generations later when, in Numbers 25:10-13 (see notes), it was decreed that priests from that time forward would come only from the line of Aaron's grandson, Phinehas. The remainder of the tribe of the Levites were set aside for supporting duties in the tabernacle and temple as we see in Numbers 3 (see notes). All of them were to be treated equally with regard to provisions.
Incidentally, despite this Phinehas prophecy, there was a period of time where the priesthood was not controlled by a descendant of Phinehas. Eli, during the period of the Judges, was not his descendant. However, we see in I Samuel 2:27-36 (see notes) that the priesthood through his lineage will be cut off. This transfer would take place later under Solomon's authority as a fulfillment of this prophecy in I Kings 2:27,35 (see notes).
Upon arrival into Canaan, the Levites were to inhabit 48 cities spread through Israel (see notes on Joshua 21). A rotation of serving Levites (at the tabernacle) was apparently set up prior to the shifts we see in David's era, which were established in I Chronicles 23-26 (see notes). Verses 6-8 here specify that the Levite who comes from outside of the region where the tabernacle is located to serve at the tabernacle is not to experience any discrimination from the local Levites.
Those Canaanites have some bad habits (Deuteronomy 18:9-14)
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.
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.
You will recall that it was their heathen practices for which God allowed the Canaanites to be driven out of the land in the first place according to Deuteronomy 9:4 (see notes), "Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the LORD thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the LORD hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD doth drive them out from before thee." So, Israelites, you had better make DEAD sure none of those "detestable" heathen practices of worship rub off! It is worth noting that the practices of witchcraft are front and center in this section. Israel was to have nothing to do with witchcraft.
I think it is important to point out that, while these heathen nations were not under the Law of Moses, their practices of worship were such an abomination that God caused them to be driven out of their land. Do we see an era-spanning principle here? As a matter of fact, the wickedness of the nations in Canaan is also cited as the reason they had to be displaced in Leviticus 18:27-28 (see notes) and again in Leviticus 20:23 (see notes). Can it possibly be the case that God may orchestrate the demise of nations today based upon abominable practices toward the one true God?
Moses prophesies the Messiah (Deuteronomy 18:15-22)
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.
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.
Moses does two things in these eight verses. First of all, he prophesies regarding the coming of the Messiah to whom he refers as "a Prophet." At first glance, one might assume he is talking about Joshua. Actually, however, Moses is talking about Jesus himself. It is interesting to note that "Jesus" is the English transliteration of the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew for "Joshua." How appropriate that Joshua led them into Canaan and Jesus will lead them into the millennium. The Jews of Jesus' day understood this to be a reference to the Messiah, as evidenced by Philip in John 1:45 (see notes). Philip points out that Jesus is the Messiah "of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write." Additionally, we find that Jesus, after his resurrection, confirms that Deuteronomy 18:15-19 is a reference to himself in Luke 24:27 (see notes), "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." There is simply no other passage of scripture from the hand of Moses to which this statement could be referring. So, here's a clear prophecy from Moses regarding the Messiah. As a matter of fact, Peter emphasizes that Jesus fulfilled this Mosaic prophecy in his message of Acts 3 - specifically Acts 3:22-23 (see notes).
Secondly, Moses warns against false prophets and gives a set of criteria that any true prophet will meet. Here are some guidelines for anyone who professes to be a prophet:
- He speaks only God's words
- If he lies, he dies
- If he speaks for other gods, he dies
- If he's ever wrong, you can disregard him.
Whoops! I killed somebody...but I didn't mean to! (Deuteronomy 19:1-13)
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.
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:
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.
What if someone was killed by you as a result of an accident ("Whoso killeth his neighbour ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past") as in the example found in verses 4-5? Well, in that case, you better high tail it to one of the 6 cities of refuge (3 in Canaan and 3 east of the Jordan River). If you really didn't mean to do it, they'll protect you. It's bad news though for the guy who intended to inflict harm (a premeditated murder) - they're going to turn you over to the blood-relative avenger chasing you when he arrives and allow him to take you out (so to speak) according to the stipulations of verses 11-12. Elsewhere, the regulations concerning the Cities of Refuge are found in Numbers 35:9-34 (see notes) and Joshua 20 (see notes). These cities were six of the of the 48 cities inhabited by Levites - three of them east of the Jordan River, and three of them west. For more information on these cities, see the chart accompanying the notes on Joshua 21.
About those original surveys (Deuteronomy 19:14)
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.
Here's one verse dedicated to insuring that survey markings don't get moved or altered. You will recall that these land inheritances were perpetual. Even if you sold your land, it came back to your family in the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-55, see notes). So, don't remove those markers!
Sobering laws concerning witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15-21)
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.
As a witness to a crime, you had better be sure or you're in for a surprise! Better yet, make certain to have a couple of other witnesses along to validate your accusation. Here's the Hebrew version of "the loser pays the court fees" in verse 19. If the witness is deemed by the judges to be lying, he gets the punishment instead of the accused. It is likely that Jesus based Matthew 18:15-17 (see notes) on this passage with regard to the number of witnesses needed in the matter of church discipline.
Hebrew generals are soooooo understanding (Deuteronomy 20:1-9)
1 When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
2 And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people,
3 And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them;
4 For the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.
5 And the officers shall speak unto the people, saying, What man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it.
6 And what man is he that hath planted a vineyard, and hath not yet eaten of it? let him also go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man eat of it.
7 And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her.
8 And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart.
9 And it shall be, when the officers have made an end of speaking unto the people, that they shall make captains of the armies to lead the people.
Let's talk about going to battle. Never mind the fact that the enemy has you out numbered; God will deliver them into your hands. Notice the careful selection of troops to fight Israel's battles in these verses. "Sir! I just realized I forgot to dedicate my house before I came out here to the battlefield. May I be excused?" "Sure son; take off!" the general replies. Another says he's betrothed (more than engaged, but less than married) to a woman and another says he's working on his vineyard. "You're all excused!" the general replies. Then one guy pops up and says, "Got no house, got no vineyard, got no wife - I'm just scaaaaaared!" He also gets to go home; what an understanding army - that Hebrew army. WHERE WE'RE GOING AND WHAT WE'RE GONNA DO TAKES DEDICATION! Thus, all the fighting men in the Hebrew army were to be men who were there willingly and without hesitation. Incidentally, Gideon pared his fighting force down from 32,000 to 10,000 by encouraging those who were fearful of battle to go home in Judges 7 (see notes).
Battle procedures or rules of engagement (Deuteronomy 20:10-20)
10 When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
11 And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee.
12 And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it:
13 And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
14 But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee.
15 Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations.
16 But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth:
17 But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee:
18 That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the LORD your God.
19 When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them down (for the tree of the field is man’s life) to employ them in the siege:
20 Only the trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat, thou shalt destroy and cut them down; and thou shalt build bulwarks against the city that maketh war with thee, until it be subdued.
When Israel's army moves into a territory and the people surrender, make them tributaries. If they fight against Israel, kill all the men. This applied to territories outside Canaan (verse 15). None of the Canaanites should be permitted to stay (verse 16) because of their heathen worship practices - might rub off on the Israelites; the Hebrews did seem to gravitate to a good-looking idol. Again, keep in mind Deuteronomy 9:4 (see notes) regarding these pagan inhabitants of Canaan, "...but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD doth drive them out from before thee." God had already passed judgment upon these people just as certainly as he had on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19, see notes). Israel was simply to be God's instrument of judgment here. Also they were instructed, when you make war against the Canaanites, take it easy on the natural resources (verses 19-20).