Acts 5:12-28: In Trouble Again

12] And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.  13] Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.  14] And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15] so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.  16] Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

17] Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadduccees), and they were filled with indignation, 18] and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.  19] But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20] “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”

21] And when they heard that, the entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.

22] But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, 23] “Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24] Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome might be. 25] So one came and told them, saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!”

26] Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. 27] And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28] saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”  (NKJV)

This portion seems like deja vu all over again.  Sometimes, instead of going away, trouble just gets worse.  This time, all the apostles were arrested.  However, God was pleased to intervene and the men were freed from their imprisonment, vs. 17-20.  They were told to resume their preaching.  Circumstances do not change responsibility.

We can well imagine the shock, astonishment and frustration caused by this deliverance.  To all appearances, everything was normal.  Gates were closed and locked; guards were at their stations, but “there was no one inside!” v. 23.

While the officials were pondering this unexpected turn of events, someone came and told them that the escaped prisoners were “standing in the temple and teaching the people!” v, 25.

Arrested once more, but peacefully because the people held them in high esteem, v. 26, the apostles were brought before the council.  The high priest reminded them that they had been commanded not to teach in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, but, instead of obeying that injunction, the apostles had “filled” Jerusalem with their doctrine.  This is described in vs. 14-16.  He then blamed them for trying to fix the blame for the death of Jesus on him and his fellows.  By this, we see that he totally missed the point of the apostles’ preaching.  It wasn’t about assigning “blame” at all, but about revealing the purpose of that death, which was “to bring repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins,” v. 32.

People today still “miss the point.”  As I write these words, we’re in the middle of the Christmas season, with all its festivities and frivolity.  But in the midst of all that, with the exception of an occasional Christmas carol or maybe a nativity scene tucked in among all the decorations, there is still no room for the Lord Jesus.

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Acts 4:34-5:11: …Greed

34] for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of that things that were sold, 35] and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

36] And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37] having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

5:1] But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.  2] And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  3] But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?  4] While it remained, was it not your own?  And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?  Why have you conceived this thing in your heart?  You have not lied to men but to God.”

5] Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last.  So great fear came upon all those who heard those things.  6] And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.

7] Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  8] And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”

She said, “Yes, for so much.”

9] Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?  Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”  10] Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.  And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.  11] So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.  (NKJV)

We’ve already seen the general description of the unity, selflessness and generosity of the early church in 4:34-37, first with the believers themselves and then with a particular individual:  Joses, or as he was named later, Barnabas.  Right now, he’s just one of them; later on, God will single him out for special service.

No doubt, Joses’ gift was received favorably, but….

Among the believers was a couple named Ananias and Sapphira.  They, too, sold a possession, but brought only a part of the proceeds from it to the apostles.  We’re not told what their thinking was or why they did this, but it got them into trouble.

1. Their falsehood, vs. 1-3.

They brought only a part of what they had received from the sale of their land.  Apparently they made it seem as if they donated the whole amount, not just a part of it.

2. Their freedom, vs. 4.

As we mentioned before, this sharing of possessions was voluntary, not compulsory.  There was no requirement that it be done, or that any certain amount had to be given.  Peter said to Ananias that while he and his wife had owned the property, it was theirs to do with as they wished.  And even after they had sold it, they were in control of what they had received.  If they wanted to give only part of the proceeds, they could have.  There was no need to lie about it.

3. Their forgetfulness, vs. 4-9.

They forgot one important fact:  they weren’t just dealing with men.  They were dealing with God.  They hadn’t just lied to others about this sale; they had lied to God.  I think we’ve forgotten this to a large degree in our culture.  We go by current social or cultural norms instead of by the word of God.  Even in church, too often it’s more about tradition than truth.   We mold our beliefs by the catechism or confession of faith than from the Scriptures.  These may be useful and helpful, but we must always say, “What does the Scripture say,” Romans 4:3, not what does the catechism say.  Even as I write these posts, it isn’t or at least shouldn’t be just to get more visits to the blog or favorable comments.  Yes, they have their place, but if God doesn’t bless these efforts to those who read them, nothing of lasting value is accomplished.

4. Their fate, vs. 5-10.

God killed them for their presumption.

We don’t like that.  The god of contemporary Christianity loves everybody and wants to bless them.  Everybody’s going to a better place.  Everyone is a child of God.

That God is love is a wonderful Bible truth, 1 John 4:8, but it is not the only Bible truth.  Earlier in 1 John, he said, God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all, 1 John 1:5.  He goes on to say, If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

Hebrews 12:29 puts it like this:  Our God is a consuming fire.  This after the admonition in v. 28, Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptable with reverence and godly fear.

“Godly fear.”

This leads to our next thought.

5. The fear, v. 11.

Great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

I don’t want to make too much of this, but I think perhaps we tend to make too little of it.  A common definition of “the fear of God” is “reverential awe.”  Is that what these people who had seen or heard of Ananias and Sapphira being struck down for their sin – is that what these people felt?  Just “awe”?

Or was it an actual fear coming from divine judgment?

By this, I do not mean that we should come cringing into the presence of God, expecting Him to hit us up side the head if we don’t do everything just right.  He is the God who has saved us and brought us into His family.  He has exhibited a great deal of patience with our fallibility and fallenness.  He sent His Son to take our place.  That’s something we should remember this “Christmas.”  Jesus wasn’t born on that long ago morning so we could give each other presents, have family get-togethers and eat too much.  He was born into this world because there is not a single thing we can do to redeem ourselves.  Without that birth, there would be no death.  Without that death, there is no salvation.  God did all that, things way beyond our understanding, in order that sinners like us might be saved.

At the same time and for all that He has blessed us, God is God, not our buddy.

Acts 4:32-37: Generosity….

32] Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.  33] And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And great grace was upon them all.  34] Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35] and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

36] And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37] having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  (NKJV)

These verses have been used by some to promote communal living, whether voluntary or required, as in communism.  We saw in Soviet Russia that communism doesn’t work, though there are increasing numbers, mostly younger people never exposed to the evils of that system, who want a socialist form of government.  As for voluntary forms of community living, there is no particular Scripture forbidding it, but neither is there a Scripture requiring it.  In the case in Acts, we will see that it didn’t work.

In Acts, the shared experiences of these people gave them a bond and a unity.  Remember, it still hadn’t been all that long since Pentecost.  Quite possibly, many of these had seen and heard the Lord Jesus and had witnessed the horror of His crucifixion.  Some of them might even have been among the 500 who saw the resurrected Lord, 1 Corinthians 15:6.

Further, there is a bond in the Spirit that the world cannot duplicate.  This bond has nothing to do with material things or ideas and philosophies put forth by the world.  It has to do with the Lord Jesus, who He was and what He did.  This is the bond these believers in Acts had.

This bond opened their hearts and their hands so that there was an open sharing of their possessions.  No one said, “This is mine!”  Though these words have been used to justify communism or other socialist ideas, nothing could be farther from the truth.  In the first place, this was voluntary.  No one was forced to do this.  Second, there was no government involvement or intrusion.  There was no outside compulsion for these believers.  Nor did they require others than themselves to do this.  And, it did not work, as we’ve said.

But it wasn’t just about “possessions.”  With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, v. 33.  As I write these words, it is Sunday, the day the early church rejoiced in the Resurrection.  Perhaps there was also an anticipation that the Lord was going to return very soon.  Perhaps this was part of what was in the mind of the early believers; the Lord was coming back and they wouldn’t need “things.”  Their hope was in the next world, not this one, cf. Philippians 3:19-21.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I toured the mansion that had belonged to the owner of the Oliver Plow Co.  In this day when too many people think that milk comes from the dairy section of the store and vegetables from the produce section, that may not mean much, but the Oliver Plow was a giant in farm implements in its day.  Oliver was a competitor with John Deere, perhaps a more familiar name.  Anyway, this house was ornate and beautiful and filled with treasures.  It bore the marks and personality of the lady who had lived there until her late 90s.  But nobody lived there anymore.

Our house is much more modest, and is not likely to be turned into a museum.  But there is coming a day, perhaps not so far off, when a “for sale” sign will be out in the front yard, and someone else will sit in this room and look out the window at the cardinal, the blue jays, the red-headed woodpecker, and the robins, sparrows and squirrels who share the yard with us.  Perhaps other children or grandchildren will run up and down the hill in back.  I don’t know.  We won’t live here anymore.

I don’t know where that lady is as I write about her.  She’s been dead for 20 or more years.  If the unbeliever and skeptic is right, she isn’t anywhere and her bodily remains have decayed into dust and bones.  (If you have recently suffered a loss, I’m sorry.  I don’t mean to add to your grief.)

For the believer, Scripture has a much brighter promise:

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens….For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.  Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.  For we walk by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord,
2 Corinthians 5:1, 4-8, emphasis added.

“The resurrection.”

These early believers had a hope beyond this world and the grave.  But they had something else as well, something I don’t think we value like we should in this day of “free will,” and “human potential.”  Great grace was upon them all, v. 33.  Without the grace of God, we’re just animated bodies, capable perhaps of doing great things, but still wrapped up in this world.  Even if we believe in some sort of “higher power,” the most we’ll ever have is “religion.”  Without the grace of God, the Bible is just another holy book and Christianity is just another world religion.

But the grace of God comes in with resurrecting and creating power, and, in some incomprehensible way we are made new.   To one degree or another, we see that the Bible is truth, and this world is just a bus stop on the way to eternity.

The practical effect of all this to the early church was that there was not anyone among them who lacked, v. 34.  Needs were met and there was no lack to any of them.

Sadly, that’s not the end of the story.

Acts 4:18-31, Birds of a Feather

18]  So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.

19] But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.  20] For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”  21] So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done.  22] For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.

23] And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.  24] So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said, “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25] who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:

Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?
26] The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the LORD and against His Christ.’

27] “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together, 28] to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.  29] Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30] by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”

31] After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.  (NKJV)

Peter and John have stood before the Council, given their testimony as to the healing of the impotent man, that it was not they who healed him, but the Lord Jesus, and have been forbidden even to mention that Name.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the rulers admitted that the man had been healed.  They couldn’t deny it!  He was standing with Peter and John and a whole crowd could testify of his healing, v. 15.  And for the most part, they couldn’t argue with the substance of what Peter said.  They couldn’t refute anything said or done, but neither would they receive it!  They would only reject and try to suppress it, vs. 16-22, as early man had done before them, cf. Roman 1:18b.

Peter’s response was that he and John were more concerned with what God thought than with what they thought.  They could only speak what they had seen and heard.  I think we’ve forgotten that to a large extent.  “Social justice,” which is largely a denial of God’s word, or some program or personality or political agenda, has come to the forefront, and we follow man rather than God.  There are some who are still faithful to the Word, but I fear their number is dwindling.  Our concern must ever be, “What does the Scripture say?” Romans 4:3.

This should have something to say to those who are concerned about presenting “the evidence” to unbelievers.  Yes, there is “evidence.”  In spite of what some claim, Christianity does not exist or function on a fictitious basis or in a vacuum, but this incident ought to put to rest forever the idea that “evidence” is enough.  Besides, who had more “evidence” than those who demanded the Lord Jesus be put to death?

Being freed, the disciples went back to their own people, v. 23.  As I wrote in an earlier post, “The feathers with whom you flock show what kind of a bird you are.”  Hence the title of this post.  The rulers wanted nothing to do with the disciples, and the disciples wanted only to be with “their own people.”  The people we want to be around say a great deal about who we are.

Though rejoicing in the freedom of Peter and John, these early believers recognized that their problems were not over.  They prayed.

Notice in this prayer how they addressed God:

“Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them…,” v. 24.

“You made the heavens….”

As I read Scripture, I’m impressed by how often this refrain is repeated – at least 17 times – all through the Scripture.  “That’s not very many,” you say.  Maybe, but when was the last time you heard someone in church pray like this?  God is viewed in Scripture as Creator of all; it didn’t just about through some “fortuitous concurrence of circumstances”!

We tend to forget that there are no “big” problems for God.  After all, He made the heavens and the earth.

Notice, too, that the believers did not pray for their problems to go away!  They had been forbidden to speak in the name of Jesus; they prayed for great boldness to speak  that name.  They also recognized that they were not sufficient for this, so they prayed for God “to stretch out your hand,” v. 30.  They know that God would have to intervene.

V. 31 says, after they prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

What about them praying that “signs and wonders may be done…”?  There are groups which say that we also pray for these things and expect them to be done.  We’ve dealt with this before.  In the very early days of the church, since there was yet no written word, these things were necessary as evidence of the truth of the message it preached.  However, as the NT canon closed with the writings of John, such things became unnecessary.  They are not necessary today.  We have the written word of God.  We don’t need and aren’t to expect further revelation.  The early church prayed for these things; they aren’t ours to pray for.  Further –

They had prayed for boldness.  God gave them boldness.

What are we praying for?

Acts 4:5-18, “No Other Name”

5] And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, 6] as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.  7] And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?”

8] Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel:  9] If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made whole, 10] let it be know to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole.  11] This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’  12] Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

13] Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled.  And they realized that they had been with Jesus.  14] And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.  15] But when they had command them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16] saying, “What shall we do to these men?  For, indeed, a notable miracle has been done through them, and we cannot deny it.  17] But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”

18] So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.

Chapter 4 divides into three sections:  the detention of Peter and John, vs. 1-4; their defense, vs. 5-20; their dismissal, vs. 21-23.  In the post today, we see that Peter and John have been arrested and we enter the courtroom where they are being questioned.

1. The Court, vs. 5-7.

a. The Council, vs. 5, 6.  In the providence of God, it seems the whole rulership of the Jews was gathered at Jerusalem, perhaps still the result of Passover and Pentecost.  In this court, as it turned out, there was a confrontation of those who said they were the rulers of the Jews – and they were, and those who claimed to represent the King of the Jews.  The contrast must have been startling.  On the one hand – power, wealth, influence, position.  On the other hand, three men, one dressed in beggar’s rags, all of them dirty and disheveled from a night in a prison where “criminal rights” were still a fantasy of the far distant future.
b. The Question, v. 7.  Our Lord faced a similar question in Matthew 21:23, perhaps from some of the same fellows.  There is more to that incident than might appear on the surface.  Controversy had raged over whether or not the Lord Jesus was doing miracles by demonic power, cf. Matthew 12:24.  If such in any way could have been proven, He would have been discredited before the people and the rulers would have had legitimate and Scriptural ground to execute.  Indeed, they would have been obligated to do so.
Something of the same holds true here.  The word translated “power” is “dunamis,” from which we get the words, “dynamic,” “dynamo,” “dynamite.”  It refers to power to get the job done. If “magic,” that is, demonic power, had entered into this man’s healing, it would have been a capital crime, worthy of death.
I wonder if something else might not also be here.  After all, these two men were nobodies:  uneducated and untrained.  They weren’t the first to run afoul of the authorities, and they weren’t the last.  History flows with the blood of martyrs who were outside the “official” church.  I do respect the Reformers and, considering the times they lived in and the corrupt church they left, am surprised they did as much as they did.  At the same time, I wish they would have gone all the way back to the New Testament instead of stopping with the early church fathers.

2. The Confession, vs. 8-12.

Peter acknowledged that the healing of the lame man was the reason he and John were before the council.  However, he denies that they themselves healed the man, giving a three-fold answer as to who had performed the healing.  In each answer, there is a difference between seems to be and what actually is.  Each answers revolves around Jesus Christ.

a. The Risen Christ, v. 10.  3:12 echoes here:  “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this?  Or why look so intently on us, as though by our power or godliness we had made this man walk?”  Peter refused any credit before the crowd, and he refuses any credit before the rulers.  The crucified, risen “Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”  In this description of the Lord, Peter offers positive proof of the resurrection.  The “name” of an ordinary executed criminal would have had no such power.  Peter did not say, “We serve (the memory of) Jesus and we did it,” but rather, by Him (that is, Jesus) this man stands here before you whole.  He did it, not us!

b. The Resurgent Christ, v. 11.  I admit this word also means “risen,” but it seems to me to convey much more than just that Jesus rose from the dead.  He didn’t just “barely” rise from the dead; He rose in complete triumph over sin, death, hell and the grave!  He conquered them, not just escaped from them!
By crucifying the Lord, the rulers, including at least Annas and Caiaphas, had vehemently rejected the claims of Jesus as to His Person – Deity – and to His office – Messiah, or Christ, Matthew 27:41-43.  The Resurrection vindicated those claims, cf. Romans 1:1-4.  Even though Romans hadn’t been written yet, Peter did know this truth, Acts 5:29-32.
This exaltation of Christ was prophesied in Psalm 110:22-24 and Isaiah 28:16.  After rebuking the chief priests and elders for their refusal to listen to Him, Jesus quoted Psalm 118 and it’s telling truth that their rejection of Him would only further God’s purpose of redemption.
Psalm 118:22, 23 is a clear example of the truth that NT truth is hinted at, though never revealed in the OT.  In Ephesians 2:29, after telling the Ephesian believers that they have been included in the people of God, Paul wrote, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone…, emphasis added.
So it seemed to the rulers of Israel that this Galilean interloper had finally been silenced.  In truth, Peter told them, the fulfillment of all God’s promises and purpose rests in and upon Him, and even one’s eternal standing before God, as the Lord Himself taught in Matthew 21:44, hinges on this Crucified, Risen One, a truth which Peter emphasized as he continues to speak.

c. the Redeeming Christ, v. 12.  Little did the chief priests, scribes, and elders realize the truth of what they said as they mocked the crucified Lord, “He saved others…,” Matthew 27:411, 42.  Peter said the same thing.  There are two thoughts in what he said.
1. Christ is the particular Redeemer.  Peter said it twice, “There is not any other, there is no other” Savior.  In this day of diversity and “inclusiveness,” this is not a welcome idea.  If the idea is even accepted that we need to be saved, there are any number of ways, of saviors, to get us into heaven.  So it is said.  Peter said otherwise.  So did our Lord.  He said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father, except through Me,” John 14:6, emphases added.  There will be an enormous multitude at the Last Day who will find out to their everlasting dismay and loss that they’ve been lied to by their priest, teacher, prophet, preacher, imam, holy man, guru or whatever.  There is only one way into heaven:  faith in the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus.  He saved others.”   There are no other “saviors”.
2. Christ is a personal Savior.   Peter said, “…we must be saved”  He included himself.   In some circles, there is a vigorous debate about “the extent of the atonement,” which is not our purpose to enter into in this post.  In the matter of our salvation, that discussion is irrelevant.  By faith, the true believer is able to say, in wonder, “Christ died for me.”  That is the only “extent” which really matters.  Salvation has always been “one-on-one:”  Christ dying in the place and for the sins of the individual sinner; the individual sinner accepted, forgiven and restored in and because of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Psalmist exclaimed,

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
  Psalm 103:10.

That’s because He dealt with the Lord Jesus according to them.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

Acts 4:1-4, The First, But Not the Last.

1] Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, 2] being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.  3] And they laid hands on them, and put them into custody until the next day, for it was already evening.  4] However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

The chapter continues from chapter 3 and gives a second result of the Peter’s sermon beside the conversion of about five thousand men:  he and the disciples get arrested.  The chapter may be divided into three sections:  their detention, vs. 1-4, their defense, vs. 5-20, and their dismissal, vs. 21-23.
The title of the post refers to the arrest described in our verses.  It was the first arrest in the history of the church, but it certainly was not the last.

1. The Captors, the priests, the captain of the temple and the Sadducees, v. 1.
The priests were responsible for procedures for the offerings and sacrifices brought into the Temple.  The captain of the temple was what we might call “the head of security.”  The Sadducees were the liberal wing of Israel’s leadership and, as Matthew 22:23 and Acts 23:8 tell us, say there is no resurrection – and no angel or spirit.  The Pharisees were the conservatives and believed in both the resurrection and angels.  Paul turned that difference to his advantage in one of his trials, Acts 23:6.  There was a third party, “the Herodians,” who, to one degree or another, allied themselves with Rome.  Perhaps they thought, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

2. The Controversy, v. 2.
There were two things which bothered these officials:
a. they taught the people.
This may seem strange to us, but we shouldn’t overlook it.  The attitude of these leaders, along with the Pharisees, was one of disdain and contempt for the “little people,” John 7:45-49, as well as any idea that any but themselves should “teach the people.”  They were the spiritual leaders of the nation.  The common people might listen to this interloper into the spiritual affairs of the nation, but they themselves were far above such things.  It’s interesting that while we do read of Pharisees who came to the Lord, Paul being the notable example, there is no record of any Sadducee doing so.
Sadly, that attitude is still around.  In my own experience, I’ve heard a seminary graduate lament that “you can’t really teach much at the ‘Sunday School’ level,” and another brother, looking forward to teaching in a “Bible Institute,” rejoiced that now he would really have to study for “those” people because the folks in the church he was pastoring didn’t require much study or preparation(!)  And, yes, I really did hear these men make those statements.
I recognize the need for advance training for some, to counter the unbelief and skepticism of so-called “higher education” in our day, although the early church did alright without it, and do not necessarily say that we should do away with seminaries and such.  I do deny that “the church” is in any way inferior to the seminary.  The local church was intended to be the center of evangelism, and  instruction, to raise up faithful men, who will be able to teach others also, 2 TImothy 2:2; Matthew 28:18-20.  There is no provision in Scripture for the numerous “para-church” organizations which have sprung up.  In fact, I believe that disregard of this Biblical principle has led to the deplorable and apostate condition of much of “Christianity” today.
b.  they preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
For the Sadducees, at least, this was the disciples’ main offense.  Not only were Peter and John teaching people these men thought to be incapable of learning, they were preaching heresy!  It seems from the phrasing that they weren’t just proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, but through Him the resurrection of everyone, as Paul later taught 1 Corinthians 15.
The Resurrection of our Lord was the message of the early church, Acts 1:22; 2:31; 4:2, 33; 17:18, 32; 24:15, 21.  As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15:17, 19, If Christ is not risen from the dead, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.  If there is no resurrection, the sin question has not been answered.  Scripture has firmly established that there is an “after” as far as death is concerned, that it is not the end of our existence, and that much of what happens in this life will not bear fruit until then:  Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later.  Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden, 1 Timothy 5:24-25.
Death might come as an interruption to this life, but really, it is only an intermission, as it were, between two acts:
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.  

The Book of Deuteronomy: Once In The Land.

In our first post, we were only able to get about to chapter 11.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to finish the book in this post.

In the last post, we saw that Moses, forbidden to enter the land himself because of his temper, Deuteronomy 3:23-27, no doubt not helped by the people he led, began some final instructions to them.  First, he reviewed the journey they had been on so far, with its battles and blessings.  More battles than blessings, though, perhaps.  Remember, the people had no spiritual discernment or understanding of the things of God, cf. Deuteronomy 29:4, and no appetite for them.  This is why it was easy for them to fall back into grievous sin, and so difficult for them to obey Moses, and ultimately God.  Then he began to instruct them as to how they were to live once they finally possessed the land, chs. 12-26.
As we saw, he began by warning them to pay attention to the things of God.  They were to have no other god beside Him, nor to associate with the false gods of the land.
Remember, the Mosaic Covenant, which includes the Ten Commandments, but has much more, was given to the nation of Israel, a specific people in a particular historical context, and as such was suited to their nation and their history.  True, it is never right to murder, say, whether Jew or Gentile; that is part of the “moral law,” God’s requirements for and expectations of His human creatures.  But in the Mosaic Law, this was placed in a certain setting.
Nor can we, as often done, separate the Law into separate parts:  the “moral law,” the “civil law,” and the “ceremonial law,” with only the “moral law” being applicable to Christians, the “civil law” being only applicable to the daily life and organization of Israel, and the “ceremonial law,” the rituals and rites of Israel’s worship, having been done away with at the Crucifixion.  These three sections are tightly woven together, and you cannot separate one strand from the other without destroying the whole thing.  More than once, Moses told the people, “For every commandment which I command you this day you must be careful to observe…,”  Deuteronomy 8:1; “You shall walk in all the ways the LORD your God commanded you…, Deuteronomy 5:33.  I heard a Reformed pastor, like many folks, once say that we ought to keep the Sabbath, “but if you have to work at Burger King on Sunday, we understand.”  The Law didn’t.  I’m not even going to get into the confusion brought in by calling Sunday “the Sabbath.”
The Ten Commandments may well be considered a summary of the Moral Law, but Sinai was not the first, the last, nor the only time God spoke.  Even before Moses, there was a lot of revelation, though we only get glimpses of it.  For example, in Genesis 26:5, God testified of Abraham, “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”  Abraham lived a long time before Moses.  If there was no revelation before Moses, then what are the “statutes,” etc., to which God refers.
And after Moses, there was abundant revelation, right up to and including the New Testament.  To focus the Christian life on 17 verses out of Exodus, it seems to me, is to ignore or at least to minimize that revelation.  And, remember, those 17 verses were addressed to people brought…out of Egypt, out of the house of  bondage.
The New Testament repeats nine of the Ten Commandments, only the fourth is omitted.  Though there is much more that could be said about this, that is because our “rest” is not found in a day of the week, but in the person and finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Beginning in chapter 12, our study is loosely grouped into the following categories:

1. Principles of worship, 12:1-14-29.
Israel was in no way to worship or think of their God as the Canaanites did.  There was to be a central place of worship and prescribed times for that place to be visited.  This would unite them as a people and help keep them from being tempted by pagan practices.
They weren’t to follow pagan practices in mourning their dead.  In our sanitized society, few of us have seen a dead person.  Not so in ancient Israel.  They had no mortuaries, but buried their own dead.
Even their diet was regulated.  Most of the things forbidden came from animals which were scavengers, but it wasn’t only a matter of “health,” but of holiness, hence the reference to “clean” and “unclean” throughout these instructions.  The phrase boiling a kid in his mother’s milk refers to pagan fertility practices.
Even “tithing” was part of worship.  It was the recognition that God gives us everything and we are returning only a part to Him.  Cf. Deuteronomy 8:18.

2. Principles in money matters, ch. 15.
Perhaps the idea of tithing led into this, but God had some things to teach Israel about handling their money.  There are some things we could learn.  For example, debt was NOT to be a way of life.  Certainly, there were no 30-year mortgages.  Debts were to be released, cancelled, every seven years.  The poor were to be taken care of, not as a “government program” of taxing the “rich,” but of local folks and families taking care of their own.  There was no “welfare system” in Israel.  If a poor Israelite had no way of paying his debts, he could “sell” himself, but only for seven years.  There were no “bankruptcies” in Israel.  

3. Principle “Feasts,” ch. 16:1-17.
These three feasts or festivals were designed to unite the nation.  It was during these festivals that much of our Lord’s teaching happened.

4. Principles of Justice, chs. 16:18-26:15.
Though there was no “judicial system” as we understand it, every town was to have qualified men set aside to administer law.  They were to be strictly impartial and altogether just.
Prohibition against idolatry and false gods are scattered throughout the Mosaic laws.  “Religion” was not to be confined to a “service” or two, but was to be part and parcel of every day’s activities.  This is to say nothing of the terrible degradation of pagan practices or the errors introduced by them.
Something else, no criminal was ever to be released due to a “technicality.”  If there was ever a discussion about 
degrees of bloodguiltiness at the local level, the case could be appealed to the priests at the Tabernacle or, later, the Temple.  If necessary, the priest could consult with the Urim and Thummin, which were always used to discover the Lord’s will in a particular situation, cf. Ezra 2:62, 63.  By the way, there are only a few references to these two items in Scripture and they were always used like this, and never to “translate” a portion of Scripture, as a certain cult claims.
As far as “government” was concerned, there was no level from the greatest to the highest that wasn’t to be “governed” by the Word of God, whether prophet, priest or king, or only one of “the people.

a. There are instructions for each of these.
1. King, 17:14-20.
He was to be one of them, their brother.  He was not to accumulate horses.  Horses were the “tanks” of their day.  This was to prevent military excess.  He was forbidden to accumulate wives.  Since political alliances were often cemented by marriage between two countries or kingdoms, this was designed to prevent political excess or an introduction of paganism.  He was not to accumulate silver and gold.  This was to prevent economic excess.  Heavy taxation was the main reason the kingdom split into two in the days of Rehoboam.  He was to write his own copy of the Law and was to read it all the days of his life.  This was to prevent personal moral excess.
Solomon is a great example of what happens when one failed in these areas, as he did in all of them.
2. Priests and Levites, 18:1-8.
Priests and Levites were to be “full-time.”  Nothing was to hinder them in this, so provision was made for them from the offerings of the people.  The principle was that those who serve the altar should live of the altar, 1 Corinthians 9:13.  Paul applies this principle to the New Testament, Even so has the Lord commanded that those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel, 1 Corinthians 9:14, though he himself refused to partake of this right, vs. 15-23.  Certainly, this right is not to be abused, with preachers expecting to “live well,” or, on the other hand, by those who think they should pay the pastor as little as possible.  Bible study, prayer and preparation take a lot of time if done properly and if at all possible pastors should be given that time
3. The people, 18:9-14.
When they got into the land, the people were not to be influenced by the culture of the land, nor to learn to follow the abominations of those nations.  I realize I’m just an old fogey, but I wonder what the Lord thinks of the Hollywood-style “worship services” of modern churchianity.
4. Prophets, 18:15-22.
In vs. 15-19, the Lord promised a Prophet like Moses.  In Acts 3:22, 23, this prophecy is said to be about the Lord Jesus.  His is the ultimate voice, through the Scriptures, that is to be heard in the church.  Too often, we quote this man or that man as an “authority,” and I understand what that means, but too often, we don’t pay proper attention to the final authority – the Word of God.  Cf. Acts 17:11.
In vs. 20-22, God warns against false prophets, those who spoke without God calling them, or who prophesy in the name of other gods, those who prophesy…a false vision,…and the deceit of their own heart, Jeremiah 14:13-15.  Such men made those who heard them “worthless,” Jeremiah 23:16, 17.  They were to be killed, Deuteronomy 13:5.  In the New Testament, we have no such command, but we do have 1 John 4:1, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  See also Galatians 1:6-10.

b. cities of refuge, 19:1-13.
Though we’ve dealt with these cities before, there’s still much that could be said.
The Law’s idea of “justice” is interesting.  There were no “jails” provided for under the Mosaic system.  True, there are a couple of much later references to “prison,” but these seem to have been places in private dwellings, and certainly were not the sprawling institutions housing hundreds or thousands of felons we have today.
The “debt” of the wrongdoer was not to “society,” but to his victim.  “Rehabilitation” did not consist of housing the felon at taxpayer expense, but in requiring him to make restitution, often at double, fourfold or fivefold the amount he had stolen or destroyed.  If he injured someone, he was required to make that person “whole” himself, Exodus 21:18-20.  It wasn’t up to some hospital to write off the expense.

c. property lines, 19:14.
This is only one verse, but it is important.  At the leading of God, men of old had set markers which determined property lines, Numbers 26:52-56, so it was forbidden to move one of these markers, Deuteronomy 19:14.  Indeed, a “curse” was pronounced against those who did so, Deuteronomy 27:17.  The “right to private property” is not some radical new “right-wing” idea, but comes from God Himself.

d. witnesses, 19:15-21.
“Justice” requires the knowing of all facts about a particular case.  Diligent inquiry was to be made, v. 18, and more than one witness was required.  This principle is repeated several times in Scripture.  A false witness was to be punished according to what he tried to do to the person he accused, and there was to be no pity, v. 21.  Such a practice today would go a long way toward cutting down the number of fraudulent and frivolous law-suits clogging the courts today.

e. warfare, ch. 20
Israel was given a specific tract of land of her own and was not to go beyond those boundaries.  She was never to attempt to be a “world-wide” power like Assyria, Babylon or Rome.  Still, war was a reality and several things are said about it in this chapter.
1. She was not to be afraid of “superior” numbers in her enemies.  She was always to remember what God had done to Egypt, when she herself had no power at all.  A common saying in our time is, “God plus one is a majority.”  The truth is, God by Himself is a majority.  God didn’t need even one soldier to defeat Israel’s enemies, cf. 2 Kings 19:35.  He doesn’t “need” us; we need Him!
2. Israel was never to be a militaristic people.  Still, Israel had enemies, but bven in times of warfare, there were certain exclusions and prohibitions.  If a house had not been “dedicated,” that is, set apart in a solemn manner, it’s owner was exempt.  Everything is Israel, even a humble dwelling, was to be a reminder of God.  If a person hadn’t yet enjoyed the product of his vineyard, he was exempt.  If he was engaged, he was exempt.  If he was afraid, he was exempt, cf. Judges 7:1-3.
If there was war, an offer of peace was to be made to an enemy city, vs. 10-14.  If it agreed, then it became tributary to Israel.  If it refused, but was determined to make war with Israel, it sealed its own fate.
There was a distinction between cities which were far off and the cities in the land.  Cities in the land were not to be spared in any way, lest their idolatry and immorality became a source of sin against the LORD your God, v. 18.
The exemption against using fruit trees in a siege seems strange, but God has more sense than we do.  These trees provided food.  In their thirst for victory, when the adrenaline gets high, men tend to get carried away.

f. unsolved murder, 21:1-9.
Every attempt was to be made to solve a murder.  If this wasn’t possible, then the elders of the nearest city were to offer a sacrifice to atone for the shedding of innocent blood.  Life was precious in Israel and the people were to be very afraid of the guilt of innocent blood, Deuteronomy 19:10.  Indeed, it was innocent blood which was one of the reasons for the final dissolution of the nation, 2 Kings 21:16; 24:4.

g. female war prisoners, 21:10-14.
Some are offended at these verses, but surely these provisions were better than the usual treatment of such women, who were and are subjected to all sorts of terrible atrocities and then thrown aside or murdered.

h. inheritance rights, 21:15-17.
Since the “firstborn” had special claim on the inheritance from his father, care was taken that that claim was not infringed if he were the son of an unloved wife if there were sons of a loved wife.

i. rebellious sons, 21:18-21.
Parental authority was insisted on, because it’s in the home that we first learn about such a thing.  It’s a terrible thing when this is not taught or is frowned upon, as it is in this society, because then children grow up with the idea that they are all-important.  We see the results of this philosophy in the chaos among young people in our culture.

j. miscellaneous laws, 21:22-22:12.
These covered a variety of situations and, even though they’re not written as we would, there’s still food for thought.  Included are such things as the burial of an executed criminal’s body, 21:22, 23.  He had paid his debt and his remains were not to have abuse heaped on them.  Lost property was to be restored to its rightful owner or kept aside if the owner couldn’t be found, 22:1-4.  There was no “finders keepers, losers weepers” in Israel.  Property rights were respected.  The distinction between male and female was not to be blurred, 22:5.  Even a bird’s nest with a mother was considered, 22:6, 7.  The eggs could be taken, but she was to be let go.  She would provide more eggs.  Safety on the flat roof of a house, which served as the “patio,” was considered, v. 8.  Note the reference to bloodguiltiness.  Genetic integrity was to be maintained, though it’s not described like this, v. 9 .  God made everything to reproduce according to its kind, Genesis 1, and His order is not to be tampered with.  Things like the difference in the gaits of an ox and a donkey and the differences between wool and linen were to be taken into account, vs. 10, 11.  Note the application which could be made, 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1.  Tassels on the hem of a garment were a constant reminder of Israel’s covenant relationship with God, v. 12, cf. Numbers 15:37-41.  You see, everything in the life of an Israelite was to remind him of his God, and even though these things might seem like excessive regulation to us, they all served to remind the devout Jew of the source of all his blessings and even of his life itself.

l. sexual purity, 22:13-30.
Israel was to be a pure people.  This may be seen from the numerous prohibitions against the moral excesses of the surrounding nations.  This section deals with two particular cases which I don’t think are mentioned elsewhere.
The first deals with protection of a woman’s reputation from a husband who hated her, vs. 13-21.  Virginity may be scoffed at in our society, but it was a precious thing in Israel.  A charge brought falsely against a woman was a serious thing, and was taken seriously.  We may not understand all that’s said in these verses, but the modern notion that “it’s just sex” would never have been accepted in that culture.
The second section deals with punishment for immorality, vs. 22-30, and is self-explanatory.

m. exclusions from the camp, 23:1-8.
Some of these restrictions come from Israel’s history.  The exclusion of the “emasculated” perhaps refers to those who had been punished for adultery or sodomy.  Such practices were known in the Middle Assyrian Empire between the 10th-14th Century BC.  The Assyrians were known for their extreme cruelty.  By this exclusion, such practices were forbidden to Israel.  The restriction against illegitimacy was based on the fact that inclusion in the nation was based on lineage/paternity.  It also emphasized the importance of “family” and was a protection against immoral behavior.

n. cleanliness of the camp during warfare, 23:9-14.
Strange as these things might seem, it was not just a matter of “health,” but of “holiness,” because the LORD walked among His people, v. 14.  Our grandparents’ saying, “Cleanliness is next to godliness” might be closer to the truth than we realized.

o. more miscellaneous laws, 23:15-25.
1. An escaped slave was not to be returned to his master, but was to be allowed to remain free, vs.15, 16.  Some today are offended at the idea of slavery at all, but, as I write these words, it’s still very common in parts of our world.  It always has been.  That doesn’t make it “right,” of course, but in the various verses dealing with slavery in the Law, the plight of the slave is made a little better.
In our own country, in spite of those still agitating about it, we fought a great civil war in which half a million young men, on both sides, were killed.  There have been no slaves for generations, yet some still make a good living fomenting strife about it.
2. Perverted religious practices of any kind, common in pagan religions, were strictly forbidden, vs. 17, 18.  Even money associated with such things was not to be used to pay vows to the LORD.
3. Interest was not to be charged in loans to fellow Israelites, your brother, though it could be charged to others, vs. 19, 20.
4. “Vows” to the LORD were not to be taken lightly, but were to be honored, vs. 21-23.  Promises made in time of trouble are to be kept when the trouble was over.
5. Eating from another’s crops, vs. 24, 25.  An example of this is found in Matthew 12:1; Mark 2:23; Luke 6:1.  Perhaps this was more a provision for the poor 
than it was for ordinary citizens, though they were also permitted to do this.

p. A specific case of divorce and remarriage, 24:1-4.
This isn’t about marriage and divorce in general, but deals with a specific case where a man or woman was divorced, had remarried and then divorced that second spouse.  They could then not remarry the first spouse.  Though the NT gives further instructions on the subject of marriage and divorce, it still isn’t to be the “revolving door” many have made it in our time.

q. more miscellaneous laws, 24:5-26:15.
1. the newly married, 24:5.
What a strange idea….  The new husband was exempt from most other obligations, not so he could take it easy or go fishing, but rather he was to be free at home one year and bring happiness to his wife, whom he had taken, emphasis added.  We men are pretty good at expecting her to be “subject” to us, and that’s a whole other post and does not mean what it’s often said to mean! but we’re not so good at our responsibility toward her.  It is very high, Ephesians 5:25.
2. collateral, v. 6.
The lower or upper millstone refers to the grinding of grain to make flour.  It was a necessity.  The idea was that nothing could be used as collateral and taken from the debtor which was necessary for him to be able to repay the debt.
3. kidnapping, v. 7.
A death-penalty sin and not to be tolerated.  As we’ve said, there were no jails in Israel.
4. Leprosy, vs. 8, 9.
This term covered a number of skin diseases including leprosy, or Hansen’s disease as we know it.  Israel didn’t have the technology to tell them all apart, so quarantine was the only safe alternative.  It was also a type or figure for sin, and much has been said and could said about that aspect.  The incident with Miriam is found in Numbers 12.
5. Collateral, vs. 10-13.
The lender was not to ride rough-shod over the borrower, but was to treat him with a certain dignity and restraint.
6. Equitable treatment of employees, vs. 14, 15.
Though our system is different, the paying of employees was to be timely.  There’s a great deal that could be said about this as well, on both sides of the picture, cf. Ephesians 6:5-9.
7. Judicial equity, v. 16.
Israel was not to be like some nations, in which the whole family was put to death for the crime of one of them.
8. Consideration for the needy, vs. 17-22.
They were not to be treated like a political football, as some do in our time, nor were they to be taken advantage of.  Their needs were to be considered, though, as Scripture points out several places, some effort might be required on their part, too.
9. Punishment of the guilty, 25:1-3.
The Jews would give thirty-nine stripes to avoid breaking this law, cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24.
10. Treatment of work animals, v. 4.
Even animals were to be “paid” for their labor.  Paul refers to this verse in 1 Corinthians 9:9-11.
11. Marriage to a widow by a surviving brother of her husband, vs. 5-10.
This was to insure the perpetuation of his name and the preservation of his line within the tribe.  Cf. Numbers 36:1-11, especially v. 3.  This portion of Deuteronomy is the “law” referred to by the Pharisees in Matthew 22:23-33.
12. Immodesty, vs. 11, 12.
Such actions were not permitted, even for a “good cause.”
13. Accurate weights and measures, vs.13-16.  Cf. Micah 6:10, where a “short measure” is called an abomination.  This doesn’t refer to “length,” but to a quantity of something – a piece of cloth, an amount of an item – that was less than it was said to be.
God is a God of truth, even in “business”.
14. “Remember…Amalek,” vs. 17-19.
This refers strictly to an incident in Israel’s history, Exodus 17:8-14, and is not to be used by us in any way.  If anything, our Lord taught us differently, Matthew 5:43-48.  It does remind us that those who oppose God’s people ultimately oppose God Himself, and that He will take care of it in His own time.
15. Offering of “firstfruits,” 26:1-11.
This was to be a reminder to the Jew of Israel’s history before and up to her  deliverance from Egypt and of the blessings of Promised Land, vs. 1-10.  It was also to be a time of rejoicing.  The Christian has no promise of material blessing, but how much more we have in Christ that is cause of rejoicing and gratitude!  Cf. Ephesians 1:3-14.  
16. “The Year of Tithing,” vs. 12-15.
Malachi 3:10 is not the only verse in the OT about tithing, but it’s about the only one I’ve ever heard preached on, usually with the idea that we’re to tithe to the church.  Our Lord taught about tithing because He lived under a Law that required it, but the apostle Paul, who taught with our Lord’s authority, only mentioned tithing once, and that was not in a favorable light.  In the OT, tithing was an individual and local obligation to take care of the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled.  Granted, Israel got into a lot of trouble when she failed in this regard, but “tithing” as such has nothing to do with the Christian.  I recognize my view is not in agreement with a lot of what is taught, but our obligation is higher, and isn’t just about “giving to the church.”  2 Corinthians 9 has something to say about this, even though it’s about a specific gift that was being made ready for the poor saints in Jerusalem.  It has some useful principles for us in our “giving”.

Having reflected on Israel’s history between their leaving Egypt and their arriving at the border of the Promised Land, and reviewing something of what was expected of them when they finally entered it, Moses gives some final instructions –

C. Regarding the “Memorial” and the “Mountains,” chs. 27, 28.

1. The “Memorial,” 27:1-10.
This was simply an unspecified number of large stones, which were to be place on Mount Ebal after the people crossed over the Jordan.  They were then to be whitewashed and all the words of this law were to be plainly written on them.
2. The “Mountains,” 27:11-28:68.
The memorial stones, which apparently served as an altar, were to be erected on Mount Ebal.  Then all Israel, divided by tribes, were to stand, half in front of Mt. Ebal and half in front of Mt. Gerizim, where they were to listen to the Law being read in a loud voice, and to say, “Amen,” after each provision in it.
Ebal and Gerizim are the mountains forming the sides of the valley in which lay the city of Shechem in what much later became Samaria.  They both rise about 800 feet from the valley floor and are so close together that the people could easily have heard the loud voice, v. 27, in which the curses were to be recited.  Experiments have proved this.  Joshua 9:30-35 records the actual event these verses command.

We now arrive at the second part of the book, in which Moses gives some promises to the people.  (I do apologize for what must be the confusing layout of these two posts.  This word processing program apparently doesn’t support the kind of outline I use, though I just may not have figured it out.  My granddaughter, then 11, showed me how to underline words.  Perhaps I should ask her 🙂  ).

2. The Promise Given Through Moses, chs. 29, 30.

A. A Distinct Covenant, 29:1.
Verse 1 introduces a break in the action, if you will, so that chapter 29 isn’t just a continuation of ch. 28.  Note well the last phrase in v. 1, besides the covenant which He made with them in Horeb, emphasis added.  (“Horeb” and “Sinai” seem to be used interchangeably.)  Of that covenant, we read in Deuteronomy 5:2, where Moses is  reviewing the events at Sinai, “The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, those who are alive, emphases added.  There must be some reason for Moses to make these distinctions, besides the obvious one that those who were hearing him now were as responsible to obey God as the fathers had been.  If there is only “one covenant with many administrations,” as Covenant Theology teaches, wouldn’t the distinctions Moses makes be unnnecessary?

B. Inability, 29:2-5.
Not only in Egypt, but throughout their wanderings and in the defeats of Sihon and Og, Israel had seen, over and over again, God’s dealings on behalf of them.  In spite of this, there was no real “understanding” of what was going on.  Verse 4 says, “Yet the LORD has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day.” Moses goes on to say that for 40 years, they had worn the same pair of sandals and the same garments and these items had lasted – for 40 years!  In spite of all that, to use an old phrase, Israel was a dumb as a fence post in understanding her responsibility before God.  Granted, there were some among them who did “know the Lord,” but for the most part, there was no understanding of what was going on and no real appetite for the things of God.  This explains the reason why they so easily and so  quickly fell into the sins of those around them, and the sins they knew in Egypt.
Moses uses their past experiences as a motive for his exhortation to them to obey the Word of God, not just as some boring routine, but in order “that you may prosper in all you do.”

C. Purpose, 29:10-28.
1. to prevent departure, vs. 10-18.  Israel had seen the abominable practices of the nations they passed by, as well as what they had experiences in the idolatry and paganism of Egypt.  Israel was not to do those things, and was not to depart from the true God, a statement repeated over and over again in the Old Testament.
2. to prevent deception, vs. 19-29.  No one was to be so foolish as to believe they could get away with departing from the commands of God.  Cf. Ephesians 5:1-7, especially v. 6.

D. Intimation, 29:29.
This verse intimates that there was more to what Moses said than is recorded here.  There are some secret things in addition to those things which are revealed.  Many of these “secret things” are possibly revealed in the rest of the Old Testament and in the New, but even there there are some things which are sealed up, Revelation 10:4.  This is why the study of prophecy is so difficult.  It’s like trying to visualize a place you’ve never been from the partial descriptions of people who’ve been there.

E. Pessimism, 29:22-30:10.
Throughout the giving of the Law, there is never any indication that Israel will ever live up to her responsibilities.  Moses always approaches his subject from the viewpoint that Israel will disobey, not obey.  Cf. Deuteronomy 31:27, “For I know your rebellion and your stiff neck.  If today, while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD, how much more after my death?”  Experience gave him no reason for optimism.
This disobedience will lead to –
1. dispersion, 29:22-29.  Note especially the references to the land, vs. 23, 24, 27, 28, and cast…into another land, v. 28.  The land itself would be cursed, as well as its inhabitants.  Cf. Ezekiel 6:1-7.  But, in the midst of all this gloom, there is a ray of hope.
2. deliverance, 30:1-10.  It is generally held that the “return” from captivity of v. 3, as well as any other mention of a “return,” is the return from Babylonian captivity spoken of by Ezra, Nehemiah and others.  However, notice v. 6 in Deuteronomy 30:  “And the LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”  I don’t think, even with a casual reading of Ezra and Nehemiah, that this can be said to have happened at the return from Babylon.  Therefore, there must be a second captivity and recovery of Israel, cf. Isaiah 11, especially v. 11.

F. Final appeal, 31:11-20.
This is the last of many appeals Moses made to the people.  Again and again, he had tried to impress on them the seriousness of what they had seen and heard.  It mattered whether or not they would pay attention:  “See, I have set before you life and good, death and evil,” v. 15.  Then he goes on to describe the results of whichever choice they make.
I think application could be made to us.  Too many people seem to have the idea that what happens in church stays in church.  That what they hear on Sunday has no bearing on what they do on Monday.  This is especially true in much of the social unrest of our day:  It’s ok if you believe, just don’t try to put it into practice or expect us to. But it’s true in every area of our lives.  Sunday has a great deal to say to Monday.

3. Passing the Torch, 31:1-13.

Moses was getting old.  He was 120.  Further, he was prohibited from entering the land.  For these reasons a new leader was needed.

A. Raising a new leader, 31:1-8.
Joshua, who had been Moses’ assistant for many years, was to be the new leader, v. 3.  Numbers 27:18-23 tells us he had already been chosen as Moses’ replacement.

B. Reading the Law Established, 31:9-13.
In these verses, periodic reading of the Law to assembled Israel was commanded.  People had no copies themselves, so this was a way for them to hear and learn the Word.  It was also to remind them that it didn’t matter whom Israel had for their human leader; it was the LORD Himself Who led them.  There is a lesson for us here as well.  It’s not the personality or the ability of the pastor that is important; it’s the Word of God faithfully taught.  God is pleased to use men to accomplish His will, but it’s a great mistake to make much about the man and forget the God Who uses him.

4. The Last Days of Moses, 31:14-34:12.

A. Prediction, 31:14-29.
Moses and Joshua were to present themselves at the Tabernacle, where the LORD told  Moses that he must die, and after his death, the people would depart from the living God and suffer greatly because of it.  He was also to write a “song,” as a witness against the apostasy of the people, v 19.

B. Prophetic Song, 31:30-32:47.
This song may yet have some part of the ultimate restoration of Israel.  It is a sad and depressing dirge about the intransigence of Israel in their desertion of the true God, who gave them birth, v. 18, and their following of false gods in spite of the blessing He had poured out on them.  They are a nation without sense, there is no discernment in them, v. 28.  Such is the lamentation of God about them  In spite of their foolishness and wickedness, the song ends,
Rejoice, you nations, with his people,
for he will avenge the blood of his servants;

he will take vengeance on his enemies
and make atonement for his land and  people, v. 43.

C. Promise to Moses, 32:48-52.
God told him to climb a mountain, from where he would be able to see into the Promised Land though he couldn’t enter.  After that, he would die and go to that land for which this world has no comparison.

D. Moses’ Final Blessing, ch. 33.
In these verses, Moses forecasts something of what will happen to 11 of the 12 tribes of Israel, Simeon being excluded from the list, and Ephraim and Manasseh being listed together as Joseph.  No reason is given for the exclusion of Simeon.

E.  Moses’ Death, Successor and Epitaph, ch. 34.

Moses climbed Mt. Nebo and was shown the whole land – from Gilead to Dan, v. 1.  God tells him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob….”  The many references to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Scripture form an interesting study, which we can’t get into here.  It is something to note its occurrence here, though.  Moses was forbidden to enter the land because of a sin; Israel would suffer greatly because of her sin.  But these sins do not invalidate the oath – the promise and purpose of God.  This is part of the thrust of Hebrews.  Even though it may not seem like it, God’s purpose and promise are right on schedule.  This is a great comfort.  The certainty of what God proposes isn’t dependent on frail, fickle men and women.  This gives us no excuse to be less than faithful, but our failings don’t “mess up” God.

V. 6 refers to the LORD’s burial of Moses.  His is the only such burial recorded in Scripture, even though no one knows where that site is.  Probably this was done to prevent Israel from venerating it.  Jude 1:9 records that there was some controversy about the burial.  Quite possibly, the devil wanted the body in order to make it an idol for Israel, to get their eyes off the Lord.

Vs. 10-12 give Moses’ epitaph – there was only one like him, whom the LORD knew face to face and who performed such miracles in Egypt and brought about such deliverance of the people.

We are blessed in that we know of One who was greater than Moses, who didn’t just talk face to face with the LORD, but who was the LORD.  Christmas is just around the corner, as shown by the Christmas ads already on TV and in the papers.  In all the hoopla and celebration, in all the family gatherings, don’t forget that that little manger testifies to the fact that we are so sinful and lost that we can do nothing to rescue ourselves.  God Himself must intervene if we are to be saved.

I’m thankful He did.