Moses' third speech, Final
Oct 27, 2012
After giving a strong warning against anyone who might seduce others into idolatry, Moses then extends this to an entire town. While Westerners are more individualistic, the community is of much greater importance in the East. In the West each person makes his own decision as to which God or god he wishes to follow and is largely unaffected by his neighbor’s decision. But in Moses’ time and in that culture, the question of which god to follow was more often a community decision made by the elders.
And so Moses extended his individual prohibition to include a community decision to follow after false gods. Deuteronomy 13:12-15 says,
12 If you hear in one of your cities, which the Lord your God is giving you to live in, anyone saying that 13 some worthless men have gone out from among you and have seduced the inhabitants of their city, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods” (whom you have not known), 14 then you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly. And if it is true and the matter is established that this abomination has been done among you, 15 you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying it and all that is in it and its cattle with the edge of the sword.
Once again we are made uncomfortable by the severity of the judgment, for we cannot imagine doing such a thing today. But look at the passage more closely. Moses first reminds Israel in verse 12 that God was the One who had given the people that land in which to live. Earlier in verse 5, when Moses spoke of a potential prophet who might seduce people into idolatry, he reminded the people that it was “The Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery.”
The point is that God claims the right to rule the people, because as their Redeemer, He purchased them as His slaves, or bond servants. In the law of redemption, a redeemer had the right to be served by the redeemed ones (Leviticus 25:53). Beyond that, their Redeemer was now going to give them land in which to live. This land was not theirs to do with as they pleased, but was to be used to serve their Redeemer. God still claimed ownership not only of the Israelites, but also of the land itself (Leviticus 25:23).
For individuals or towns to serve other gods was a violation of the law and the conditions by which God had provided for them to live in the land. While men may think this sin is too trivial to evoke such a strong divine response, God certainly took it very seriously. The problem is that men do not fully appreciate God’s rights as the Creator. They think that God ought to give them freedom to worship false gods. Such is the innovation of modern culture that needs correction.
The second point to understand is that the judgment of God was not to be administered apart from a thorough investigation. Verse 14 says, “you shall investigate [darash, “seek with care; study”] and search out [chaqar, “examine; dig down”] and inquire [sha’al, “ask, beg”] thoroughly.”
In other words, Moses required a very thorough examination of the matter. If such a terrible sentence was to be carried out, there must be no question of guilt, and the city must be fully unrepentant in its stubborn zeal to do the will (law) of false gods.
In verse 13 we see the first mention of the Hebrew idiom, “sons of Belial,” which the NASB translates “worthless men.” The word applies to unprofitable men having no benefit to the community, or to unproductive trees that do not bear good fruit. This word was later used to describe the homosexuals in Judges 19:22, the sons of Eli in 2 Samuel 2:12, and to the men who falsely testified against Naboth on behalf of King Ahab in 1 Kings 21:13.
Paul uses the term in 2 Corinthians 6:15, saying,
14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness [anomia], or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God…
In verse 16 Paul must have had Deuteronomy 13 in mind, for the verse recalls Moses’ prohibition of idolatry. In the first century, Judea was under Roman occupation, and so the religious leaders did not have the authority to carry out the divine judgment prescribed by Moses. Neither did Paul recommend such action. But he did counsel the church not to enter into partnerships or marriage with unbelievers and their anomia, “lawlessness.” As God’s temples, we have no agreement with idols and have nothing in common with those who are lawless.
We may draw some parallels between first-century Judea and the world today, in that it would not be appropriate for Christians today to try to eradicate lawlessness and idolatry in the world in the manner that Moses prescribed. Moses was speaking to Israelites who had covenanted with God to declare Him King and to follow His law. But since the days of Daniel, the Kingdom has been turned over to other nations whose rulers have not recognized Jesus Christ as King. Times have changed, therefore, and God has expected us to submit to the authority of those ungodly nations as we serve out our sentence.
Moses then continues by telling Israel what they were to do with idolatrous towns in Israel. Deuteronomy 13:16 and 17 says,
16 Then you shall gather all its booty into the middle of its open square and burn the city and all its booty with fire, as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God; and it shall be a ruin forever. It shall never be rebuilt. 17 And nothing from that which is put under the ban shall cling to your hand, in order that the Lord may turn from His burning anger and show mercy to you, and have compassion on you and make you increase, just as He has sworn to your fathers.
This was to be considered a burnt offering to God. A burnt offering consumed the entire animal (Leviticus 1). No flesh was to be saved or eaten. Such an offering represented the complete death and eradication of the flesh. One such burnt offering was the red heifer in Numbers 19:1-10. Its ashes were to be gathered and stored in a clean place outside the camp. When the temple was built, the ashes were kept on the top of the Mount of Olives, so that those who had been rendered unclean by touching a dead body could purify themselves on the eighth day as they came over the mount to the temple below.
Jesus fulfilled all of the sacrifices, of course, including the burnt offering. For this reason He was crucified on the top of the Mount of Olives near the ashes of the red heifer that had prophesied of him. When He said, “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39), He presented Himself as that burnt offering, for His fleshly will was seen to be fully subservient to the will of the Father.
In the case of the idolatrous village, all of their fleshly possessions were to be offered as a burnt offering to God. This signified that the fleshly tendency of idolatry and lawlessness was subdued, consumed by the fiery law of God, and purified by the ashes.
This law shows the manner in which divine judgment purifies the earth (and all flesh) of its idolatry. Daniel 7:9 speaks of the Ancient of Days sitting upon His fiery throne. From the throne, then, flows a river of fire to judge the people as they are rising from the dead. The court is in session, and the books of the law are opened (7:10). The fire is not literal but metaphorical for the law itself.
Revelation 20 sees this as well, except that the river has now become a “lake of fire.” While Daniel focuses upon the flow, or administration, of divine judgment, John focuses upon the long-term result, or “lake." In any case, the fire is the judgment of the divine law, whereby all are judged according to their works—some more harshly than others, but all with absolute justice as defined by the law.
The world, then, is the final “city” that is offered to God as a burnt offering. Moses contemplates only individuals and towns that may persist in idolatry, but these establish the principle of judgment that is relevant to the whole world and to all flesh. Yet when God applies this law on such a level, we see that it is a burnt offering. A burnt offering has good purpose. It was used to purify the flesh. Jesus Himself was the great burnt offering when He took the sin of the world upon Himself.
The destruction of the burnt offering was not the end of the story. With Jesus, there was a resurrection afterward. So also is it with the world. The burnt offering was meant to destroy flesh (idolatry and all lawlessness) so that one could rise again as a new creation.
Hence, the ashes of the red heifer were used to purify those who had become unclean by touching a dead body (Numbers 19:11-22). The same was true with leprosy, which is a type of mortality. The laws of cleansing leprosy in Leviticus 14 also set forth the laws of attaining immortality through the two works of Christ.
These laws, including that of the burnt offering, portray spiritual truths about how we are to come into immortality. Every day we touch a dead body, for we are all mortal. But Jesus cleansed lepers (Matthew 8:2) and also said to His disciples in John 15:3,
3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
Under Moses the people were cleansed by water and metal vessels by fire. Under Christ we are cleansed by the Word, which was symbolized by that water and fire. Hence, when the fiery burnt offering was prescribed for towns that persisted in idolatry, it was not the end of the story. Neither is the lake of fire the end of the story. The final result is to purify us from fleshly idolatry and to cleanse us from unrighteousness, so that we can come into immortality.
For believers, this is accomplished by the Holy Spirit's baptism of fire (Matthew 3:11). For unbelievers, it is accomplished by the same baptism of fire, except that it will be administered in the afterlife. Yet the effects will be the same, the main difference being that those unbelievers will not be able to enjoy the benefits of full immortality during The Age.
The purposes of God were not so clear under Moses, but Jesus explained these things and testified of their meaning by His life, death, and resurrection. Therefore, we have an advantage that Moses and the Israelites did not have in times past.
Moses summarizes his speech in Deuteronomy 13:18 in conclusion, saying,
18 if you will listen to the voice of the Lord your God, keeping all His commandments which I am commanding you today, and doing what is right in the sight of the Lord your God.
Moses started His speech in Deuteronomy 9:1 with the words, “Hear, O Israel!” He closes with “If you will listen (hear).” The question in his day, as well as ours, is this: Will we indeed have ears to hear?
Moses’ third speech is entitled Why Israel was Chosen. Primarily, being chosen is to receive the authority and blessings of the Birthright, while also agreeing to be held accountable to hear and obey the voice of God.
This is the final part of a series titled "Moses' Third Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones