August 26, 2016

DEVARIM 12: At the place where God chose

Chapter 12 of Devarim marks the transition between the commandments about our relationship with God and those that mandate our relationship with our neighbor…

Up until chapter 11, the commandments are mentioned (Heb. Mitzvot), and from chapter 12 to 26 the statutes and rules are numbered (Heb. Chukim v’Mishpatim).
(Deut. 12:1) These are the statutes and rules that you shall be careful to do in the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth.

If God gives the Promised Land to the Israelites, it is not so that they do whatever they want there, but so that they live as God commands.
(Deut. 12:8-10) You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes, (9) for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the LORD your God is giving you. (10) But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety

God will not only give them the Land, but He will also help them keep it in prosperity and in security. That is the part God commits to do. Now it is the people’s turn to do their part: keeping the instructions (Heb. Torah) that God has given them, in other words, keeping the commandments, the statutes and the rules, etc.

As we’ve mentioned before, the Israelites would enter into a land that had been inhabited already, so they would find built cities and planted fields. The problem was that among all those good things, they would also run into traces of idolatry. So the Lord asked them to make sure to destroy everything related to the idols that the Canaanites left behind.
(Deut. 12:2-3) You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. (3) You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place.

Some people might get the idea of using the altars and the high places that the pagans left behind, to worship Yehovah on those same places; but here they are clearly warned not to do that…
(Deut. 12:4-5) You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way. (5) But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go

Next we will see where that place was; where God chose to put His Name…

Before entering Canaan, the patriarchs made sacrifices to God in several places (for example: Shechem or Betel). They did that because God still hadn’t revealed to them the special place that He had chosen.

The revelation began at the desert with the construction of the Tabernacle, which would serve as a temporary model of what would eventually become the Temple.
(Exodus 25:8-9) And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. (9) Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.

The tabernacle was portable and temporary; but there would be a day in which a permanent Sanctuary would be built in the Promised Land. This had already been revealed in the prophetic Song of the Red Sea:
(Ex. 15:17) You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.

At the time when Moses spoke the words of Devarim, they still had not been revealed the exact place that God had chosen. That place was: JERUSALEM (Heb. Yerushalayim). The chosen place continued to be a mystery for many years to come… until the time of David.

 Although the generation of Moses and Joshua didn’t know that Jerusalem was God’s chosen place, they at least had to know that they couldn’t sacrifice anywhere but in the Sanctuary.
(Deut. 12:6-7) and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. (7) And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the LORD your God has blessed you.

The sacrifices had to be done only in Jerusalem. In the very place where they also had to bring the offerings, tithes, and first fruits, as well as celebrate the feasts. When it speaks about “eating there before Yehovah”, it refers to the Passover Lamb as well as the peace sacrifices, which were the only offerings that had to be partly eaten.

This instruction was so important, that Moses repeats it several times in this chapter:
(Deut. 12:11) then to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the LORD.

The sacrifices were not to be done in just any place; and the same applied to the tithes and the offerings, they were not to be done wherever the people pleased, but they had to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. While they had no Temple, they had to bring it to the Tabernacle (Heb. Mishkan). This instruction appears for the first time in Leviticus:
(Lev. 17:2-6) Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them, This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. (3) If any one of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp, (4) and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it as a gift to the LORD in front of the tabernacle of the LORD, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people. (5) This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they sacrifice in the open field, that they may bring them to the LORD, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the LORD. (6) And the priest shall throw the blood on the altar of the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting and burn the fat for a pleasing aroma to the LORD.

This was the case for the clean animals, which were normally used for the Temple sacrifices (oxen, lambs, goats). In biblical times, people would not usually eat a lot of meat, and whenever they did, they would do it for a feast or a celebration, because if they killed an animal, its meat would have to be eaten in a matter of hours or days, since they didn’t have any refrigeration to preserve it. Another reason for which they killed animals back in that time was as a sacrifice to the gods. The pagan nations would offer animals to their idols, and then they would eat the meat. They would do this anywhere, but mainly in the high places. That is why it is written:
(Lev. 17:7) So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.

This is why during the time of the apostles, the gentile believers were instructed not to eat “food sacrificed to idols” among other things (Acts 15:29).

God instructed his people not to do the same thing that other nations did. The only place where they could offer sacrifices to God was in the Temple in Jerusalem.
(Deut. 12:13-14) Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place that you see, (14) but at the place that the LORD will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you.

It is not just about going to the place where God indicates, but doing it in the way that God commands (which is outlined in the book of Leviticus).

The only instance where they were not required to take the animal to the Temple was if it was about game animals or birds (which were allowed to be eaten, but were not to be used as a sacrifice in the Temple, like deer, chicken, etc.)
(Deut. 12:15) However, you may slaughter and eat meat within any of your towns, as much as you desire, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you. The unclean and the clean may eat of it, as of the gazelle and as of the deer.

Interestingly, it also contemplates the issue of the Israelites that lived far from Jerusalem…
(Deut. 12:20-21) When the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as he has promised you, and you say, ‘I will eat meat,’ because you crave meat, you may eat meat whenever you desire. (21) If the place that the LORD your God will choose to put his name there is too far from you, then you may kill any of your herd or your flock, which the LORD has given you, as I have commanded you, and you may eat within your towns whenever you desire.

Those who wanted to eat meat at their homes had to comply with one condition: the blood had to be spilled on the earth, just as it is written in Leviticus…
(Lev. 17:13-14) Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. (14) For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.

The animals that were offered to Yehovah had to be eaten only in Jerusalem (by the priests, according to their designated portion; and the ones giving the offering, their portion of the peace offerings, Lev. 7).

Devarim also mentions the forbiddance of eating blood:
(Deut. 12:16) Only you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it out on the earth like water.

Later it says it again:
(Deut. 12:23-25) Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. (24) You shall not eat it; you shall pour it out on the earth like water. (25) You shall not eat it, that all may go well with you and with your children after you, when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD.

The meat that came from the sacrifices in the Temple could only be eaten by those who were in a state of ritual purity; but those who were unclean could not eat it because they could not appear before the Temple. However, if it was about eating meat at home, anyone could eat it, since it was not done in the context of the sacrifices.
(Deut. 12:22) Just as the gazelle or the deer is eaten, so you may eat of it. The unclean and the clean alike may eat of it.

Further ahead, Moses explains that in the case of the offerings, tithes, firstfruits and vows, either of animals or of grains, these could only be eaten in Jerusalem…
(Deut. 12:17-18) You may not eat within your towns the tithe of your grain or of your wine or of your oil, or the firstborn of your herd or of your flock, or any of your vow offerings that you vow, or your freewill offerings or the contribution that you present, (18) but you shall eat them before the LORD your God in the place that the LORD your God will choose, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your towns. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all that you undertake.

Then again it emphasizes this message:
(Deut. 12:26-27) But the holy things that are due from you, and your vow offerings, you shall take, and you shall go to the place that the LORD will choose, (27) and offer your burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, on the altar of the LORD your God. The blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the LORD your God, but the flesh you may eat.

[Later on we will study about the tithes and offerings in more detail]

Generally, the time the Israelites would use to bring their offerings and sacrifices was during the feasts (Lev. 23), when they would go to Jerusalem to celebrate.
(Exodus 23:14-19) Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. (15) You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. (16) You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. (17) Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD. (18) You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my feast remain until the morning. (19) The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.

The three convocations to the feasts are linked with a harvest. The Israelites would go to Jerusalem to celebrate and offer the firstfruits to God.

This is why it is written in Devarim:
(Deut. 12:12) And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male servants and your female servants, and the Levite that is within your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.

Since the Levites had no land to cultivate, they could not bring the tithe of the harvest. Instead, they would receive the tithes and the offerings, which served as their sustenance. But even from what they received, they were called to give “the tithe of the tithe” (Num. 18:26). Each one gave from what they had, and everything was dedicated to God, but the Lord assigned the portion of the offerings to the Levites.
(Deut. 12:19) Take care that you do not neglect the Levite as long as you live in your land.

All these instructions are not to “limit” God’s people. Although we don’t understand everything, the reality is that all the commandments are to receive blessing…
(Deut. 12:28) Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.

This way of life is very different from the way other nations do things. The Lord knows that Israel will have the temptation of imitating the other nations, but God warns them not to do it, for their own good…
(Deut. 12:29-31) When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, (30) take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ (31) You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.

This chapter ends with a very important instruction:
(Deut. 12:32) Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.

Jesus clearly said that he did not come to take away, but to fulfill the Law… and to teach us to also keep it… “so that all may go well with us”.
(Matthew 5:17-19) 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) For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (19) Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

More lessons on Deuteronomy: DEVARIM (Deut.)

June 3, 2016

Feast of Weeks

(Heb. Shavuot)

The fourth biblical feast is known as: Feast of Weeks.
It gets this name because we have to count seven weeks from the Feast of Firstfruits until the day it is celebrated. In Hebrew it is known as Shavuot, which means “Weeks”.

(Deuteronomy 16:9-10) You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. (10) Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you.

Today, this feast is more commonly known as Pentecost (from the Greek “Pentekoste” which means “fiftieth”). This name refers to day 50 when this feast is celebrated.

(Leviticus 23:15-16) You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. (16) You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD.

Shavuot is separated from the week of Passover by fifty days, but they are really intrinsically connected. What began in Passover reaches its climax in Pentecost (Heb. Shavuot).

The counting of the fifty days begins in the Feast of Firstfruits, (Heb. Bikurim). This is the day where the first fruits of the barley harvest are presented. Fifty days later, the first fruits of the wheat harvest are presented, in the context of the Feast of Shavuot.

(Leviticus 23:16-17) You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD. (17) You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the LORD.

In a spiritual sense, Firstfruits represents the fruits that we begin to give when we first gave our lives to the Lord (when we recognize Jesus as the Lamb of God who died for us to free us from the slavery of sin). While Shavuot represents the fruits that we give when we summit to God’s Law and practice His Word.

It is not enough for us to see Jesus as our “Savior”, the Lamb of God who takes away our sin. We also have to see him as our “Lord”, the King of our lives, whom we have to obey.

Jesus explains it this way:
(Matthew 7:18-24) A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. (19) Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20) Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (21) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (22) On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ (23) And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (24) “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock...

The process of Redemption that God began in Egypt on the day of Passover, reached its peak three months later at the foot of Mount Sinai.
(Exodus 19:1) On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.

There God gave a special invitation to the people of Israel.

(Exodus 19:3-6) while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: (4) You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. (5) Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; (6) and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

To be able to give the fruit of being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, the people have to listen to the voice of God and obey the Covenant (1 Peter 2:9-12).

What did the Israelites answer to this invitation?
(Exodus 19:7-8) So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. (8) All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.

After they accepted, God gave them two days to purify themselves, to clean their clothes, and to prepare themselves to receive the Torah on the third day. On day fifty after leaving Egypt, the Lord came down to be among his people.
(Exodus 19:16-20) On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. (17) Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. (18) Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. (19) And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. (20) The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

On that day, the Lord gave them the Torah, beginning with what is known as the “Ten Commandments” (Ex. 20:1-17). In Hebrew, this event is known as “Matan Torah”, literally: the giving of the Torah.

The “Ten Commandments” are the introduction or the summary of the entire Law. Jesus explained it this way:
(Matthew 22:36-40) “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (37) And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (38) This is the great and first commandment. (39) And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (40) On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Of the Ten Commandments, the first ones refer to our relationship with God and the rest to our relationship with our neighbors. Jesus was not establishing a new law, but he was summarizing the Law that God had already given since the beginning.

The giving of the Torah is the historical event that is commemorated in the Feast of Shavuot (Weeks).

How did the people of Israel react when they received the Torah, the Law of God?
(Exodus 20:18-19) Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off (19) and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”

They were afraid, and they stepped back.

In a spiritual sense, that is what many of us do, too. We are afraid of hearing His Word, because we see ourselves before a great responsibility which seems to be bigger than our own strength. It is a gift that seems too big for our own hands.

Before this reaction, Moses explained this to the people:
(Exodus 20:20) Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”

God does not want us to be “afraid” of Him, but he wants us to have a revering fear which will lead us to obedience – so that all may go well with us and we may not sin.

The Lord doesn’t just give us the Law, but he also helps us to fulfill it. This is made evident when we celebrate this Feast in the Messiah.


Each Biblical Feast has its fulfillment in the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ). The fulfillment of the feast of Shavuot was given on the day fifty after the resurrection of Yeshua.
(Acts 2:1-4) When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. (2) And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. (3) And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. (4) And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

In the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), the Holy Spirit descended over Jesus’ disciples.

What does the baptism in the Holy Spirit have to do with the giving of the Torah?
Jeremiah the prophet explains.
(Jeremiah 31:31-33) Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, (32) not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. (33) For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Before this, the commandments had been written on stone tablets (Ex. 24:12), but the Holy Spirit seals the Word of God in our hearts.
(Ezekiel 11:19-20) And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, (20) that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

(Ezekiel 36:26-27) And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (27) And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

This way, it is easier for us to obey. Obedience is not forced from outside, but it comes from the inside out.

(Psalms 40:8) I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.

(Psalms 37:31) The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.

May 31, 2016

Counting the Omer

After the week of Passover, we might think that the days of celebrating are over. But in reality, our festivity mindset must go on. The process of redemption that began in Passover still hasn’t ended.

What began in Passover will be made complete during the Feast of Weeks, also known as the Pentecost.
God wants us to connect both feasts with what is known as the “COUNTING OF THE OMER”.
(Leviticus 23:15-16) You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. (16) You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD.

Starting on the Day of Firstfruits, seven weeks are counted, that is 49 days. On the day after that, on day 50, a feast shall be celebrated for the Lord. This is the Feast of Weeks (in Hebrew, Shavuot), more commonly known today as Pentecost.

The Bible says that day 50 begins “on the day after the seventh Sabbath” (Lev. 23:16), meaning, Sunday. Therefore, the counting of the Omer has to begin on the Sunday of Firstfruits, which is the day when we celebrate the resurrection of the Messiah.

What does Passover have to do with the Feast of Weeks?
The most obvious connection is in agriculture. The first fruits of the barley harvest were presented on the Feast of Firstfruits. And the first fruits of the wheat harvest were presented on the Feast of Weeks.

But this natural connection is only a shadow of a deeper, spiritual revelation. As we’ve mentioned before, the feasts tell us about our redemption, which is not just an “event”, but a process. What began at Passover continues on the feast of Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits, and it takes us all the way to Pentecost. The road does not end there, but it continues with the other feasts (which we will talk about in due time).

The feasts are the shadow, and the spiritual message is the following: our redemption begins when we believe that Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day; but it doesn’t end there… after being saved, we have to begin living as God commands, as God’s servants and not as slaves to sin. But, what does God command? What He commands are his “commandments” (forgive the redundancy). It is no “coincidence” that God gave the Law (the Torah, lit. instruction) at Mt. Sinai precisely on the day of the Pentecost.

When we understand this process, we see the importance of the “Counting of the Omer”, because this connects the three feasts of the Week of Passover with the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost).

The redemption that begins with our confession of faith has to lead us to learn and to practice His Word. Faith has have action. That is the fruit that we present to the Lord. It is the fruit of repentance, of change, of redemption. We are no longer slaves to sin, now we serve the Lord Most High, who adopted us as his children.
(Romans 6:17-18) But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, (18) and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

May 20, 2016

DEVARIM 11: Blessing for Obedience

In chapter 11 of Devarim, we continue with the commandments that have to do with our relationship with God…
(Deut. 11:1) You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always.

Loving God requires faith, since we cannot see God eye to eye. There is no question about how difficult it is to believe without seeing. But although we cannot see God directly, we can see his works, which give us a testimony about Him…

When God asks His People for absolute faith, it is because He has shown them who He is. Maybe small children or ungodly people have not been able to see God’s works, but if someone has been a believer for some time, that person will begin to see God’s hand in his life. This is the message Moses gave to the generation of Israelites that saw great miracles in the desert…
(Deut. 11:2-6) And consider today (since I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen it), consider the discipline of the LORD your God, his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, (3) his signs and his deeds that he did in Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to all his land, (4) and what he did to the army of Egypt, to their horses and to their chariots, how he made the water of the Red Sea flow over them as they pursued after you, and how the LORD has destroyed them to this day, (5) and what he did to you in the wilderness, until you came to this place, (6) and what he did to Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, son of Reuben, how the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households, their tents, and every living thing that followed them, in the midst of all Israel.

On this part of his speech, Moses reminds everyone of several miraculous events that the Israelites witnessed: their freedom from slavery and the exodus out of Egypt through plagues (Exodus chapters 1 to 12; Psalms 105:27-45); the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea (Ex. 14-15); the miracles in the desert when God, day after day, gave them water and food, as well as the punishments for their disobedience (Num. 16 & 26:9-10).

We are not going to read the scriptures that narrate these events because it would be too long, but we will read a great summary written in Psalms:
(Psalms 105:26-45) He sent Moses, his servant, and Aaron, whom he had chosen. (27) They performed his signs among them and miracles in the land of Ham. (28) He sent darkness, and made the land dark; they did not rebel against his words. (29) He turned their waters into blood and caused their fish to die. (30) Their land swarmed with frogs, even in the chambers of their kings. (31) He spoke, and there came swarms of flies, and gnats throughout their country. (32) He gave them hail for rain, and fiery lightning bolts through their land. (33) He struck down their vines and fig trees, and shattered the trees of their country. (34) He spoke, and the locusts came, young locusts without number, (35) which devoured all the vegetation in their land and ate up the fruit of their ground. (36) He struck down all the firstborn in their land, the firstfruits of all their strength. (37) Then he brought out Israel with silver and gold, and there was none among his tribes who stumbled. (38) Egypt was glad when they departed, for dread of them had fallen upon it. (39) He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light by night. (40) They asked, and he brought quail, and gave them bread from heaven in abundance. (41) He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river. (42) For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant. (43) So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing. (44) And he gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the fruit of the peoples’ toil, (45) that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the LORD!

In light of all these miracles God did (and the ones that he continues to do in our lives today), there is no excuse for us not to believe. And an essential part of believing is obeying
(Deut. 11:7-9) For your eyes have seen all the great work of the LORD that he did. (8) “You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and take possession of the land that you are going over to possess, (9) and that you may live long in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give to them and to their offspring, a land flowing with milk and honey.

The idea of giving the Promised Land to Israel is not for them to do whatever they want, but so that they would live like God commands and therefore be an example to all the nations…
(Deut. 8:10-11) And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. (11) Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today

This is the essence of Moses’ message to Joshua before they entered the Promised Land to conquer it.
(Joshua 1:6-7) Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. (7) Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.

God does not expect us to be “perfect”, because no one is; but what he does expect from us is that we would make an effort and give our best, the rest will be up to God – and to Him will be all the glory.

In this chapter, Moses describes the Promised Land again, but from a different perspective…
(Deut. 11:10-12, NKJV) For the land which you go to possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and watered it by foot, as a vegetable garden; (11) but the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, (12) a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year.

Moses compares the Promised Land to the land of Egypt which, besides the desert, was their only point of reference. One of the comparisons is in relation to the way that the fields were grown. Moses points out that in Egypt “you watered it by foot, as a vegetable garden”. The Egyptians used the water from the Nile River and made a channeling system to irrigate their fields. All the Egyptians had to do to water their fields was to simply open an irrigation channel “with their foot”, and then push some dirt back to close it.

Moses explained that cropping in the Promised Land was very different since the land was mountainous and the water source was not a river, but Heaven (10:11). Israel has the Jordan River, but this is located in a valley 300 meters (984 feet) below sea level, which at that time wasn’t useful for watering beyond the eastern valley. So, the crops in the land of Canaan depended completely on rain.

Israel gets rain six months in a year (from October to March), and the rest of the year it has a dry season (April to September). If it doesn’t rain much in winter, then there are droughts which can lead to famine. What does the rain depend on? Moses explained that for there to be rain, there has to be obedience from the People…
(Deut. 11:13-15) And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, (14) he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. (15) And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full.

Leviticus also talks about the correlation between obedience and rain…
(Leviticus 26:3-4) If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, (4) then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.

This is the same principle that applies to blessings: God wants to give all kinds of blessings to his People, but they have to obey. This is a message that is made very clear all throughout the book of Devarim.
(Deut. 28:1-2) And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. (2) And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God.

After pointing out that the blessing comes through obedience, Moses explained that to keep that blessing they have to take care not to forget God…
(Deut. 11:16-17) Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; (17) then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the LORD is giving you.

Just as we saw in chapter 6, Moses repeats how they can take care not to forget…
(Deut. 11:18-21) You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. (19) You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (20) You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, (21) that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.

The way to avoid forgetting is by teaching the children and having a reminder in the house in plain sight (just like a Mezuza and the tzitzit – for more details, see the study on chapter 6).

Some people have come to believe that these “reminders” are the source of blessing (like lucky charms), and this can be dangerous. We must not forget that blessings come from obedience, and the reminders are simply to help us remember that.

Obedience is central and definitive. If we obey God, He will bless us – this includes helping us defeat our enemies and giving us everything He has promised…
(Deut. 11:22-25) For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, (23) then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you. (24) Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours. Your territory shall be from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the western sea. (25) No one shall be able to stand against you. The LORD your God will lay the fear of you and the dread of you on all the land that you shall tread, as he promised you.

Without question, God wants to bless His People; this is what is in his heart. However, not everything depends on Him, since each person gets a chance to decide:
(Deut. 11:26-28) See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: (27) the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, (28) and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.

God gave human beings free will; he gave us the opportunity of choosing between obedience and disobedience. What we have to be aware of is that our decision will have its consequences. If we obey, we will be blessed; but if we disobey, we will be cursed. These are the rules of life.

To make it more graphical, the Lord asked Moses to place some signs on certain mounts in Israel…

As a reminder of the consequences of obedience and disobedience, the Lord asked the Israelites to place some signs on two mounts: Ebal and Gerizim.
(Deut. 11:29-30) And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, you shall set the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal. (30) Are they not beyond the Jordan, west of the road, toward the going down of the sun, in the land of the Canaanites who live in the Arabah, opposite Gilgal, beside the oak of Moreh?

The more detailed instructions were given later on chapter 27, so we will leave this subject for that time. But we will mention this: the signs on those mounts served as a national reminder for Israel not to forget to obey God.
(Deut. 11:31-32) For you are to cross over the Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving you. And when you possess it and live in it, (32) you shall be careful to do all the statutes and the rules that I am setting before you today.

God gave the Promised Land to Israel, not for them to do there as they please but for them to live as God commands and therefore be an example to all the nations of the world. That is their calling: to be a light onto the world (Matthew 5:14-19).

More lessons on Deuteronomy: DEVARIM (Deut.)

May 13, 2016


Passover is celebrated on the first month of the biblical year (Nisan). This feast celebrates the freedom from slavery, out of Egypt and out of sin.

The first time the Israelites celebrated this feast was the day before they left Egypt. The blood of the Lamb over their door posts opened the door to their freedom. The second time they celebrated it was a year later, in remembrance of their release.
(Numbers 9:1-5) And the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, (2) “Let the people of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time. (3) On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time; according to all its statutes and all its rules you shall keep it.” (4) So Moses told the people of Israel that they should keep the Passover. (5) And they kept the Passover in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, in the wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so the people of Israel did. 

However, not everyone could celebrate that Passover.
(Numbers 9:6-7) And there were certain men who were unclean through touching a dead body, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day, and they came before Moses and Aaron on that day. (7) And those men said to him, “We are unclean through touching a dead body. Why are we kept from bringing the LORD’s offering at its appointed time among the people of Israel?”

Some people could not celebrate Passover in that occasion because they were not in a clean state; it could have been that a close relative had died. But they did have a point in their favor: they wanted to celebrate the Feast, and they didn’t want to miss it. So, they appealed.

The legalist answer would have been that they simply could not do it. But Moses did not turn these people away, but searched for God’s will.
(Numbers 9:8-13) And Moses said to them, “Wait, that I may hear what the LORD will command concerning you.” (9) The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, (10) “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If any one of you or of your descendants is unclean through touching a dead body, or is on a long journey, he shall still keep the Passover to the LORD. (11) In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight they shall keep it. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. (12) They shall leave none of it until the morning, nor break any of its bones; according to all the statute for the Passover they shall keep it. (13) But if anyone who is clean and is not on a journey fails to keep the Passover, that person shall be cut off from his people because he did not bring the LORD’s offering at its appointed time; that man shall bear his sin.

God looks at the heart. If the intentions are bad, he will not overlook it. But if there is a good intention, the Lord is willing to give us a second chance.

For those who could not celebrate Passover on the 14th of Nisan, they have a new opportunity of doing it on the 14th of Iyar: The Second Passover (heb. Pesach Sheni).

Interestingly, this year (2012), on the 14th of Iyar there will be a sign in the sky: the “Super Moon”. The moon will look bigger than usual because it will be closer to Earth. Could the Lord be giving us a second chance?

This second chance to celebrate Passover was used in the times of King Hezekiah, in Israel.
(II Chronicles 30:1-5) Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem to keep the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel. (2) For the king and his princes and all the assembly in Jerusalem had taken counsel to keep the Passover in the second month— (3) for they could not keep it at that time because the priests had not consecrated themselves in sufficient number, nor had the people assembled in Jerusalem— (4) and the plan seemed right to the king and all the assembly. (5) So they decreed to make a proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, that the people should come and keep the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel, at Jerusalem, for they had not kept it as often as prescribed.

God gives us second chances… Will we take advantage of that?

May 6, 2016

DEVARIM 10: God asks this of you

This chapter begins with Moses speaking about the second set of Tablets of the Covenant. He had broken the first set because of the sin of the Golden Calf (Deut. 9:9-19). Although Israel had failed God, He gave them another chance after they showed repentance of what they had done.
(Deut. 10:1-2) At that time the LORD said to me, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood. (2) And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke, and you shall put them in the ark.’

What words did the Lord write in the Tablets, in the first set as well as in the second set? He wrote on there what is known as “the Ten Commandments”, which represent the summary of the entire Law (or teaching, and in Hebrew: Torah).

The Tablets serve as a testimony of the Covenant between God and Israel. What does the covenant consist of? In short, it is the commitment Israel made; agreeing that they would do everything God said – Yehovah would be their God, and Israel would be His people. The summary of the Covenant is written in those tablets.
(Deut. 4:13) And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.

The whole Covenant was written in the Torah scrolls, and that is what he read before all the people…
(Exodus 24:7-8) Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” (8) And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Israel made a covenant of obedience with God, sealed with blood. After having established the covenant, Moses went up Mount Horeb to receive the Tablets of the Law.
(Exodus 24:12) The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.”

On the Tablets was written the summary of the covenant: the 10 Commandments. This is the foundation for all the law. Besides being a summary, the Tables were a testimony of that Covenant, which is why they are also known as the “Tablets of the Testimony”.
(Exodus 31:18) And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.

(Exodus 32:15-16) Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. (16) The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

The first set of Tablets of the Covenant were broken because the people had failed God (Deut. 9:17). But they repented, and the Lord gave them another chance…

After receiving God’s forgiveness, the Lord gave them new Tablets of the Testimony (the second set of Tablets), in which he also wrote “the Ten Commandments”.
(Deut. 10:3-5) So I made an ark of acacia wood, and cut two tablets of stone like the first, and went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. (4) And he wrote on the tablets, in the same writing as before, the Ten Commandments that the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. And the LORD gave them to me. (5) Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark that I had made. And there they are, as the LORD commanded me.”

The first Tablets were carved and written by God. When it came to the second tablets, Moses had to help by cutting the stones, although it was the Lord again who wrote on them. God wants us to do our part, and He will do His.
(Exodus 34:1, 4) The LORD said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke... So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone.

In the context of the Second Tablets, God showed his attributes of mercy…
(Exodus 34:5-7) The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. (6) The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, (7) keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

God’s mercy does not get rid of His justice. In his compassion He erases our faults if we repent, but when He gives us a second chance He expects us to do righteousness thereafter (Exodus 34:9-11).

The Tablets of the Law had to be kept in the Ark of the Covenant, which was found in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle. God chose the tribe of Levi to take care of the Ark and everything related to the Tabernacle. All the Levites dedicated their lives to that.
(Deut. 10:8) At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD to stand before the LORD to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day.

Moses reminded the Israelites once more about the special role the tribe of Levi had. They would not participate in the conquest war because they would not inherit any land; they would just be assigned cities where they would live, scattered all throughout the land of Israel (Number 35).

Although the Levites would not receive their own land, their inheritance was the best…
(Deut. 10:9) Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers. The LORD is his inheritance, as the LORD your God said to him.)

The Levites would be devoted to working for God in the Temple, and as teachers and judges in their communities. Since they did not have any economical income or anything they produced, they depended on the offerings and tithes of the people.
(Numbers 18:20-21) And the LORD said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel. (21) To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting

Ezekiel also mentions this when he talks about the Temple in the Messianic era…
(Ezekiel 44:28-30) This shall be their inheritance: I am their inheritance: and you shall give them no possession in Israel; I am their possession. (29) They shall eat the grain offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering, and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs. (30) And the first of all the firstfruits of all kinds, and every offering of all kinds from all your offerings, shall belong to the priests. You shall also give to the priests the first of your dough, that a blessing may rest on your house.

Knowing what God expected of the Tribe of Levi (serving God in the Tabernacle), we could ask ourselves: What did God expect of the rest of the tribes of Israel? Moses answers this question next…
(Deut. 10:12-13) And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, (13) and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?

Every Israelite is called to serve God with their obedience and their love. This is the essence of what God wants and expects of His people. This is the same core message the prophet Micah spoke of…  
(Micah 6:8) He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Sounds simple, right? Then, why is it so hard to obey God? It might be because of the hardness of our heart and the lack of humility. But Moses exhorts us saying:
(Deut. 10:16) Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

The concept of “circumcising the heart” did not begin in the time of the New Testament, but it has been there from the beginning, in the Torah. The Lord has always been interested in our heart, ever since the beginning.  

Clearly, the image of “circumcising your heart” is allegorical and not literal. Taking “the foreskin off of your heart” represents getting rid of the desires of the flesh which lead us to sin. It is also related to the hardness of heart.

A verse in Leviticus gives us an idea of what having an “uncircumcised heart” means, and it relates it to arrogance and the inability of seeing our own sin…
(Leviticus 26:41-43) so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, (42) then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. (43) But the land shall be abandoned by them and enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes.

Paul explains that the circumcision of the heart is more important than the physical circumcision, and this first one is related to the willingness of obeying God…
(Romans 2:25-29) For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. (26) So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? (27) Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. (28) For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. (29) But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Jeremiah, the prophet, also relates circumcision of the heart with obedience…
(Jeremiah 4:4) Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.

Psalms 119, which talks about the goodness of the Law of God, mentions the heart several times when it speaks about obedience. Let’s see some of them:
(Psalms 119:10-11) With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! (11) I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

(Psalms 119:34) Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.

(Psalms 119:111-112) Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart. (112) I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.

(Psalms 119:69-70) The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts; (70) their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law.

The end of the book of Devarim, relates the circumcision of the heart with loving God.
(Deut. 30:6) And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

This is really the same message, since we express our love of God through our obedience, just as Jesus taught and John explained…
(John 14:15) If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

(John 14:23) Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

(1 John 2:3-5) And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. (4) Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, (5) but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him

We will finish the study on this chapter by reading the message that summarizes what God expects of His People:
(Deut. 10:20-21) You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. (21) He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.

More lessons on Deuteronomy: DEVARIM (Deut.)