No Ritual Observance of the Law

One of my favorite philosophers, Peter Kreeft, wrote one of the best books on virtue. “Worship and morality existed side by side in paganism for thousands of years.  Only one people joined them together, and their own records claim that it was not they but God who did it.”  “In Israel, the great prophets demanded personal and social justice and holiness, not just ritual observance.”  1

For a discussion on Deuteronomy chapters 20-26, we are going to begin with the end of our passage, the end of chapter 26:16-19. 

This day the LORD your God is commanding you to do these statutes and judgments and you shall be careful to do them with all your heart and all your soul.  Today you have proclaimed that the LORD is your GOd, that you will walk in His ways, and that you will keep His statutes and His commandments and His judgments, that you will listen to His voice.  And today the LORD has proclaimed concerning you, that you are to be His highly prized people, just as He said to you, and that you are to keep all His commandments and that He will set you high above all the nations whom He has made, for praise and for a name and for honor, that you will be a holy people for the LORD your God, just as He said.

Why do any of what is written in 20-26?  For His glory, for your good, and to BE to the praise of His glory!!!!

The LORD has personally led me through a life of learning, a cycle that I was reminded of while preparing to teach on these chapters:  through and away from a legalistic doing–with the fear that I would do the wrong thing and fall away from His grace, then through and out of believing I was holier than thou…oops…and onward to focusing on heart (ha ha, so I thought), and pridefully believing me and my companions were better than the doers of the WORD, we were “being the church” before all the other cool kids tried to “be the church”…only of course to realize we were incredibly wrong…  God was patient and gentle as I walked through this cycle.

Do, obey, strive and try really hard….no, no more doing, just being……wait a minute, being includes doing!!!  

How lovely and freeing and refreshing to realize that He created us to both Be and Do with your whole being—heart, soul, mind, strength.

We are free from earning–and called to a life of being and doing in obedience to the God who has made us to be, in His image.  We abide in His truth and His love, we walk in His truth and His love. We gaze upon our God, commune with Him, abide in Him, and He makes us fruitful.  Apart from Him we can do nothing.

So throughout this section of specific legislations, read with the big picture and the main ideas in mind.  All of this points forward to Jesus, to His work for us and in us, His redemption. (Pause here to go read Luke 24:27).  Deuteronomy 20-26 is not about doing things on your own, earning holiness, or even just about merely doing what God says.  These laws do not point to legalism or Pharisaical attitudes. They teach us a lot about what God was doing, in the large, grand story of Redemption.

Remember the redemption, and you will be strengthened to believe God rather than your fears!  20:1 You will remember the history, and believe His blessings rather than fearing the curses of your neighbors (23:5) Redemption includes other nations (23:6-7).  

God cares for all the least of these.  Other cultures do not value women, God did.  Men may want to take advantage, but God would not allow it.  This is to be a community of caring–caring enough to return lost property of your neighbor, or to look after his lost cattle, or be willing to refresh your countryman who are traveling.  

God cares about purity, and about teaching new habits that will help Israel appreciate purity.

In Deuteronomy 20:18  Why, again, are we purging the evil?  These others would teach you; you would be led astray.  Still today, we struggle false teachers and false spirits; we must (as all of Deuteronomy has been teaching so far) cling to Him, and take heed to His words, or we will be led astray.  (see 2 John 9-10) 

God was protecting the spiritual purity of His people, this new nation; there was a distinction between those living as a countryman, and those who were allowed in the Assembly.  God knew who in Israel was of the true Israel. (see Romans 9:6-8; John 1:12; Galatians 3:29) He demanded that Israel not be taught by foreign cults. Even the transvestite rituals, the sexual rituals with cult prostitutes, the sacrifice of children born as a result of this practice.  None of this was to be a part of Israel’s religion, it could never glorify or honor God. It is all detestable.

There were some very practical laws, with no apparent link to the spiritual well being of Israel.  Except, that God created and rules over the affairs of His people. He cares about how we treat our neighbors, how we build with responsibility, how we plan out cleanliness standards, and even about giving us the best tasting wine.  We do not muzzle the ox, a worker is worthy of his wages. Ends do not justify the means (25:11-12). Do not be lazy, go outside the camp at night to pee! So as you see practical laws, know that God is concerned about all of life, even though pagan religions kept things separated and compartmentalized.  It is not that cleanliness is next to godliness (Oh how I loathe trite sayings), but that God cares about your entire life, your entire being, your flourishing in every aspect of temporal and spiritual affairs.  

Then at last, we make it again to chapter 26.  And we this second speech closes with instructions for when you first enter the land!  OH, beloved, you are almost home! When you get there, vs 3, declare that you are experiencing God’s faithfulness and blessing!  Give the appropriate sacrifice, (which for us is described in Hebrews 13:15-16, and the whole chapter of Romans 12, to start).

Vs 5 Recite your covenant history!!!  Tell of His deeds! Remember His works!  (They are studied by all who love Him!!! Psalm 111:2).

Vs 10 bow down in worship.  The bodily act of bowing will remind your heart and soul of the need for humility, because your whole being is interconnected.  Do not separate worship as though body is not involved with heart.

Vs 13-14…can we too declare “I have heard your call, obeyed your call, I abide in Your Words!!! I have cared for Your people, and been zealous for good works!”

Vs 15 is a prayer that echoes John 15:15…abide in My Words and ask…  Abraham believed God’s promises…do we believe His promises, and ask for them–or make up our own stipulations?  “I’ll be Yours if You do this for me….”

Here is the tithe, the tithe proves to my heart that You’ve blessed us already, please continue that blessing!  Because of Who You are!!!

This whole chapter sets my heart to worship, knowing Christ accomplished for me what my own law-keeping could not.  As we read, LORD, open our eyes that we may see wonderful things in Your law! (Psalm 119:18)

  1. Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 50-51.

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