August 12, 2013 David Balzer

Deuteronomy 12-26: A Peculiar People

child-asking-why-300Have you got a child who went through a “But why?” phase? D. sent me a list of questions H. bombarded him with recently.

1. Where are the disciples? I wish we could meet them
2. Are Jesus and God twins?
3. Are Jesus and God boys?
4. Why can’t we see God? If we can’t see God, what happens if we bump into him? Will he get out of the way?
5. Can God make people come alive again? Does that mean he can make us alive again after we’re dead?
6. Who’s going to die tomorrow?

7. When’s yai yai (grandma) going to die?

Some interesting questions there! D. didn’t tell me what his answers were. He just said I should cover them in Kids talks!

And when it comes to some of the laws here in Deuteronomy, let me just say it’s NOT ONLY THE KIDS asking “But why?” Some of those laws are just plain WEIRD!

Like (14:1) “Do not cut yourselves, or shave the front of your heads for the dead”

Or (14:23) “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk”

Or (22:5)” “A woman mustn’t wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing

Or (22:9). “Don’t plant two kids of seeds in your vineyard. If you do the fruit will be defiled. Always helpful gardening advice.

Or finally, there’s some FASHION advice. (22:11) “Don’t wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.

Some of those laws just make us want to ask, “But WHY?” Why does it MATTER what type of clothes Israel wore? Or how they cook their goat?

Because obedience is an expression of the covenant (6:20-25)

But it wasn’t just US TODAY. Moses knew that little Jewish kids would be asking the same questions. Questions about what God was like, and why his people needed to do certain things. So in ch 6 v20, he gives parents some help.

20 In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?”

When they ask, “But why?” Here’s the ANSWER

… tell him…”We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the LORD sent miraculous signs and wonders–great and terrible–upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23 But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. 24 The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”

Four answers right there in those few verses. Why obey?

1.To remind you of everything God’s done for you.

2.Because God COMMANDED us, and he’s OUR GOD.

3.So we might PROSPER and LIVE in the land.


At its simplest, the parent’s answer is something like THIS:“God’s done all these things for us. He’s made us his people. And he’s brought us into the land. If we keep our side of the bargain, we’ll get to STAY here. He’s made a covenant with us. These laws SHOW how we’re his people. They show HOW WE EXPRESS OUR COMMITMENT to the covenant.”

And that’s not a bad start.

But let’s see if we can find some MORE answers. We’re going to cast our eyes across chapters 12 to 26, and ask the question WHY? Why obey?

We’ll think firstly about ISRAEL. What it meant for THEM, in THAT PLACE, back THEN.

And then we’ll think about what OUR connection is. Which is more COMPLICATED. What WE should do with these laws.

Because obedience shows that you’re different

So, first. Perhaps the most OBVIOUS reason Israel are to obey God’s laws is because it SHOWS THAT THEY’RE DIFFERENT. Again and again in these chapters we read that Israel are to do certain things because they’re HOLY TO THE LORD. Distinct, separate, different. And, closely connected to that, we read that some things are CLEAN while others are UNCLEAN.

So, for example in Ch 12. Israel are to WORSHIP in a different way to the nations because they’re different.

4 You must not worship the LORD your God in THEIR way. 5 But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose

Don’t worship where they worship. DESTROY their places of worship. Because you’re DIFFERENT.

But it’s not just how you WORSHIP that shows that. Ch 14 – EVEN WHAT YOU EAT reminds you you’re different. 14:2 for you are a people HOLY to the LORD your God. He’s chosen YOU to be his treasured possession.

So (v3), don’t eat any detestable thing. All sorts of animals you CAN eat. But not camels, rabbits or coneys. Or v8 Pigs. Unclean.

And then, from the ocean. Some animals are CLEAN. Others are UNCLEAN. Or v11. All sorts of BIRDS. Some are clean. others are UNCLEAN. Everything can be SEPARATED – into what’s CLEAN and what’s UNCLEAN.

But it’s not a matter of HYGIENE. Of getting sick. Look there in v21. Don’t eat anything you find dead. A FOREIGNER CAN EAT IT. But not YOU – BECAUSE YOU’RE A PEOPLE HOLY TO THE LORD YOUR GOD. It’s only unclean TO YOU.

NOT eating certain animals REMINDS God’s people they’re separate.

And that seems to be the case for OTHER laws. Nothing particularly WRONG or UNCLEAN in THEMSELVES. OTHER than it was about KEEPING certain THINGS SEPARATE. Don’t MIX two things. Why? AS A REMINDER that YOU’RE separate. God’s HOLY people.

Like 14:21. When you’re cooking, don’t mix a young goat’s meat, with its mother’s milk. Cook one. Cook the OTHER. But don’t MIX them.

Or 22:5 Don’t mix women with men’s clothing, or men with women’s clothing. Or 22:6 if you find a mother bird sitting on eggs, don’t take BOTH. Let the mother go and take the EGGS, or leave the eggs and take the mother. But don’t take BOTH TOGETHER. Keep them SEPARATE. Because YOU’RE separate.

Same thing in 22:9. Don’t mix TWO KINDS OF SEED. Keep them SEPARATE. Not because there’s anything agriculturally unsound about it. Just to remind you that YOU’RE separate.

22:10 Don’t mix ox and donkey pulling the same plough.

22:11 Don’t mix wool and linen in the same garment.

All to remind you YOU’RE DIFFERENT.

Clean and unclean. Holy and unholy. Be different. Be separate. In EVERY area of life. It was a truth hammered into the Jews for generation after generation. Century after century.

Until it became SO central to their identity, their thinking SHIFTED. They began to think it was the DOING of those laws that MADE them clean. That MADE them holy and separate.

When the reality was God had ALREADY made them his people. And the laws just REMINDED them they were holy and separate.

And by the time of Jesus, that was the mistake lots of Jews were making. Mark ch 7, the Pharisees want to know why Jesus’ disciples don’t ceremonially wash their hands after they’ve been to the marketplace. And Jesus criticises them. He says (v6) Isaiah was right when he said about you hypocrites.

“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

In other words, it’s more important what’s happening in YOUR HEART than WITH YOUR HANDS. God cares about being clean on the INSIDE rather than the OUTSIDE.

Down in v18, he explains it to the disciples.

“Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’? 19 For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.” (IN SAYING THIS, JESUS DECLARED ALL FOODS “CLEAN.”)

Now that Jesus had come, the OLD reminders of clean and unclean were outdated. Superseded. There was no NEED to keep the food laws. All foods are clean.[1]

Now that Jesus has come, “clean and unclean” means something different. It’s all about how you treat JESUS.

And people doing that will be found from EVERY NATION, eating EVERY sort of food. But they’ve ALL got God’s Holy Spirit. And he makes them clean where it COUNTS. ON THE INSIDE.

Which means, NOW, we don’t need to keep those laws that remind us that we’re different. We’re free to eat ANYTHING.

Instead, we’re called to do OTHER things to show we’re different. All sorts of verses in the New Testament we could look at to do with LIVING A CERTAIN WAY TO SHOW YOU’RE HOLY. But 1 Peter 1:9-12 is a beauty.

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, A HOLY NATION, a people belonging to God,

You’re HOLY. Now LIVE like it. SHOW you’re different. He goes on in v11.

11 Dear friends, I urge you, AS ALIENS AND STRANGERS IN THE WORLD, to ABSTAIN FROM SINFUL DESIRES, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

And that’s much harder and more far-reaching than simply what you wear or what you eat. Show you’re different by A WHOLE LIFE.

Because obedience reminds you of God’s goodness

But back to Deuteronomy. ANOTHER reason Moses gives for obeying the law is that it REMINDS ISRAEL OF GOD’S GOODNESS.

Like when the people CELEBRATE THE FESTIVALS. Ch 16. V3. Celebrate the Passover with unleavened bread. Why? To remember that in EGYPT you left in a hurry, and didn’t have time to make leavened bread. Remember how God RESCUED you.

And THIS one doesn’t sound too difficult. A command to HAVE A PARTY. 14:26. Your tithes and collections should be used to pay for a CELEBRATION. And your whole household shall eat in the presence of God AND REJOICE. Be THANKFUL because he’s BLESSED you with all these good things you’re enjoying. Remember everything he’s done for you!

Or in Ch 15 v12, if a fellow Israelite becomes a slave to settle a debt, make sure you release him after seven years. That’s just AND compassionate. And be GENEROUS to him. Why? V14.

Give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and THE LORD YOUR GOD REDEEMED YOU. THAT is why I give you this command today.

Being generous and compassionate isn’t a way of EARNING God’s favour. It’s a way of REMINDING you of his goodness.

And that’s a motivation that DOESN’T change with Jesus. Like the command to celebrate the SACRAMENTS. The Lord’s Supper and Baptism. They both REMIND US OF GOD’S GOODNESS.

Baptism reminds us that God’s washed away our sin. Whether it’s our OWN baptism, or just watching someone else. We SEE it, and it helps us to remember, and to be THANKFUL.

And eating the Lord’s Supper reminds us of how that washing happened. That our SPIRITUAL nutrition – our spiritual life – comes from Jesus’ sacrifice in our place. We remember the cross. The ULTIMATE sign of God’s goodness to us.

Both sacraments are VISUAL CUES – just like lots of Israel’s laws – to help forgetful and faithless saints to REMEMBER and to TRUST and to BE THANKFUL FOR God’s gifts.

Jesus has given them to us for OUR GOOD. Let’s obediently celebrate them to remember his grace.

Because obedience reflects God’s character

Another reason Moses gives for his laws are BECAUSE OBEDIENCE REFLECTS GOD’S CHARACTER. His people should be LIKE him. God is just and compassionate and reliable, and his people REFLECT those qualities as they keep his laws.

Like Ch 15. It’s okay to lend money. But every 7 years, cancel every debt. It doesn’t make good business sense. But it reflects God’s generosity and forgiveness.

Or Ch 16 v18. Judges are to be JUST. Not show partiality. Don’t accept bribes. Make sure there’s TWO witnesses. Make sure the punishment fits the crime. Because that sort of justice reflects God’s character. He LOVES justice.

And then there are laws that reflect God’s character because of things he HATES. Like Ch 19 Moses set up cities of refuge where people could flee if they’d ACCIDENTLY killed someone. Because that would stop the cycle of revenge killings. Why? Because, v10, God HATES THE SHEDDING OF INNOCENT BLOOD. Because he’s JUST.

Here’s some OTHER things he hates. Ch 25 v15. He hates DISHONEST BUSINESS PRACTICES.

15 You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. 16 For the LORD your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.

Act consistently and without greed. Because that reflects God’s character.

And when we get all the way over to Ch 26, Moses say, v18

18 And the LORD has declared this day that YOU ARE HIS PEOPLE, his treasured possession as he promised, and THAT YOU ARE TO KEEP ALL HIS COMMANDS. 19 He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that YOU WILL BE A PEOPLE HOLY TO THE LORD YOUR GOD, as he promised

In other words, measure up to your calling. BE WHO YOU ARE. You’re God’s people, you’re HOLY. Now BE it. And these laws are how you DO that.

And even though that’s going to look different for US as Christians, it’s the same command. Like Colossians 3. Measure up to your calling. You’re God’s holy people. Be who you are.

Col 3 begins with the DESCRIPTION. “Since then you have been raised with Christ” That’s your IDENTITY.

Then it follows with WHAT THAT MEANS. Live out your calling. Be who you are. Since you’ve been raised, “SET YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS on things above.”

What does that mean? V5. Put to DEATH whatever belongs to the sinful nature. You USED to do that stuff. But NOW you need to do what REFLECTS GOD’S CHARACTER instead.  V10. “Put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge IN THE IMAGE OF ITS CREATOR.”

And v12 describes what that new self will LOOK LIKE.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, HOLY AND DEARLY LOVED, CLOTHE yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and FORGIVE whatever grievances you may have against one another. FORGIVE AS THE LORD FORGAVE YOU. 14 And over all these virtues put on LOVE

Reflect God’s character. Be holy because HE is holy.

Because it points to Jesus (Mt 5:17-18)

(pause) The last reason we need to pay attention to the law is BECAUSE IT POINTS US TO JESUS.

Some Christians think we should have NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. All it does is show our sinfulness. They think that since Jesus has REPLACED the law. Since he’s replaced the sacrifices. Since he’s declared all foods clean. Since he makes us his people by FAITH. And told us simply to LOVE GOD and to LOVE OUR NEIGHBOUR.


But that’s not what Jesus thought. Matthew 5:17. He’s just getting warmed up in the Sermon on the Mount. His NEW law delivered from the mountain. And he says THIS about Moses’ law.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, WILL BY ANY MEANS DISAPPEAR FROM THE LAW UNTIL EVERYTHING IS ACCOMPLISHED.

Yes, Jesus has FULFILLED it. But he hasn’t REPLACED it. He’s the GOAL or the CULMINATION of the law. Not its ALTERNATIVE. It’s STILL THERE. It’s still authoritative. It’s still IMPORTANT.

But what FOR? If we’re no longer judged by whether we KEEP it or not. If the food laws are obsolete. Then why IS IT important.

Because it points us to Jesus. It shows us what he’s like. It shows us why we NEED him. It ASKS THE QUESTIONS that Jesus is THE ANSWER TO.

In Luke 24, after Jesus’ resurrection, he appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They can’t believe it’s really him. And he said to them (v44)

This is what I told you while I was still with you: EVERYTHING MUST BE FULFILLED THAT IS WRITTEN ABOUT ME IN THE LAW OF MOSES, THE PROPHETS AND THE PSALMS.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

The WHOLE Old Testament – including the Law of Moses- is WRITTEN ABOUT JESUS. It DESCRIBES him. It POINTS to him. It ANTICIPATES him.

Let me briefly show you what I mean just in the chapters we’re looking at today.

First, we lesson we learn is that the JUST punishment for sin IS DEATH. Sin is SERIOUS. It can’t be overlooked, or paid for CHEAPLY. Idolatry deserves death (17:5), contempt of court deserves death (17:12). Even a REBELLIOUS SON deserves death (21:21). Sin is deadly.

But then in Ch 21:1-9, we see that FORGIVENESS of sin is COSTLY. The blood guilt of an unsolved murder is difficult to remove.

Ch 17:1 teaches us that the forgiveness of sin requires A PERFECT SACRIFICE.

And then in v14-20 of Ch 17. We see that the best sort of king IS A BROTHER who FOLLOWS GOD’S LAWS CAREFULLY.

And that’s just THE START. The rest of Scripture describes the Passover lamb who’s blood protects. Or the substitionary atonement of a goat who bears the sins of the people, and goes into the wilderness to die. And it describes the High Priest who stand in between God and the people. And it describes the Suffering Servant who bears the iniquity of us all. And by whose wounds we are healed.

Pictures. Objects lessons. That illustrate. And prepare the way.

But EVERY PART of the Law stays in place. Moral, judicial AND ceremonial. Not because we must OBEY it. But because it points us to Jesus. Because it shows us our need. It reminds us of his character, and it reminds us to be thankful for his grace.

In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul commends the Old Testament Scriptures to Timothy. He says

15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are ABLE TO MAKE YOU WISE FOR SALVATION THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for TEACHING, REBUKING, CORRECTING AND TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

That’s talking about THE Old Testament. INCLUDING these laws in Deuteronomy. They can make you WISE FOR SALVATION through faith in Jesus. They’re useful to teach and rebuke and correct and TRAIN you. To make you THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED. So PAY ATTENTION to them.

But don’t let them JUDGE you.

You see, the law is like a retired professor. He USED to be full of information. He USED to have the power to set tests and to pass or fail students. But not anymore. He’s still FULL of helpful information. He can direct and guide you in useful directions.

But he’s powerless to grade you. He’s incapable of failing ANYONE now. As long as you’re connected to Jesus. Trusting HIS works instead of YOURS.

Helpful, but powerless.

So let these laws GUIDE you. Let them help you to remember that YOU’RE DIFFERENT. To remind you of God’s GOODNESS. To reflect his CHARACTER. And to point you to JESUS.

And let’s do that now ESPECIALLY as we obey Jesus’ command to celebrate HIS meal.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Communion Table is the table of our Lord Jesus.

On behalf of the Session, I therefore invite those who love the Lord Jesus Christ to join in  this celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus instituted this meal as a Sacrament – a sign and seal to help us remember his death, and the pledge of his love. As a bond of our union with him and with each other as members of the Church which is his Body, and as the assurance of his coming again.

Listen to what the Apostle Paul said about the Lord’s Supper:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognising the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.  (1 Corinthians 11:23-29)

Let us pray:

All glory to you, our Heavenly Father, for your great love for mankind, by which you gave your only Son Jesus Christ, that all who trust in him should not perish, but have eternal life. We give praise and thanks for him, our great High Priest, who by his death offered for mankind the one true sacrifice for sin and obtained an eternal deliverance for his people.

We recognise our sin, our guilt and unworthiness to receive this gift. The gift of eternal life, of an inheritance that will never spoil, of your Holy Spirit. The gift of reconciliation with you – our Creator and Redeemer.

Forgive us, Lord. And wash us clean. Because of the acceptable sacrifice of your son, who died in our place.

So now, Father, with praise and thanksgiving we do as your Son commanded: we recall before you his suffering, his death and resurrection; we  acknowledge his reign in glory; and we look for the coming of his kingdom. Amen.

Then the minister shall say:

The Lord Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it (the minister breaks the bread) and said:


The minister says:

In the same way after supper he took the cup saying:


When all have eaten the minister may read a suitable passage of Scripture or say:

Let us pray:

Thank you, O Lord our God, for the privilege of joining in the Lord’s Supper and for its reminder to us of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Renew our faith and obedience that we may serve you without fear, in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life. Give to us the strength to fight the good fight of faith and to endure to the end. As we have received Christ,  help us to live in Him. Make us wise so that we might live in a manner pleasing to you, enjoying life’s pleasures with thankfulness, fulfilling its duties with faithfulness, and bearing its trials with patience. Instruct and guide us by your Spirit so that above all else we might obey and please you, and live with you in your holy and everlasting Kingdom. These things we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be thanksgiving, honour and glory, now and forever. Amen.

Then shall a Psalm or Hymn be sung.

And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

and the love of God our Father,

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit

be with you all evermore. Amen.


[1] And then in the book of Acts, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, as the Christian church grew, we see that truth WORKED OUT IN PRACTICE. Because the gospel began to spread to unclean Gentiles. Just like God had always planned. And he had some difficult lessons to teach good Jewish disciples like Peter.

Like in Acts 10. It’s lunchtime, Peter’s hungry, and while lunch is being cooked, he falls into a trance. And God gives him a vision of a whole lot of unclean animals. A voice tells him to eat, But Peter says he’s never eaten anything unclean. The voice replies (v15) “Don’t call anything impure that God has made clean.”

He gets the same vision three times. And by the time the THIRD one’s finished, Peter realises God’s talking about PEOPLE – Gentiles. That God makes them clean on THE INSIDE, even though they’re unclean according to Moses’ law.

Because in Jesus’ NEW covenant, “clean and unclean” means something DIFFERENT. Down in v34, Peter visits the Gentile Cornelius and says,

“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

It’s all about how they treat JESUS, rather than what they eat or how they wash.

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