Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Deuteronomy Chapter Thirteen: Troublesome Yeast
History tells us that in pivotal times (socially, economically, religiously) the results of inconstancy are heightened. Think of any revolution...for its success it takes the body of revolutionaries to have a unified vision. Any compromise in that singular vision and the revolution itself is compromised. Paul says it this way, "Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" 1st Corinthians ch.5 v.6-7). Paul boldly tells the young Corinthian church that your acceptance of the "old yeast" is like allowing a deadly pathogen free reign in your body, it's like using bad yeast to make bread.
There is no surprise that the book of Deuteronomy agrees with Paul on this matter. Before we go on though we should review the context of Deuteronomy. Israel is on the verge of the "Promised Land" there are heightened expectations. It'd be safe to say that Israel is tired, hungry, and anxious. With the long journey, nearly finished, as it's backdrop, God uses Moses to convey his sovereign message. The message is filled with blessings and curses (ch. 11 v.26-32), commandments (ch. 5), and calls to remembering times of grace and salvation (ch.4 v.10, ch. 8). To add to this they are on the banks of the river Jordan, their only separation from the promise*.
That is the context of Deuteronomy chapter 13, where we read about the deceiving prophet, "If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder [and it takes place] and [then] he says 'let us follow other gods' [...] you must not listen to the words of that prophet [...] (ch.13 v.1-5). The hinge of this first section of Deuteronomy ch. 13 turns in v.3-4 where we read, "The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you." The message is clear God allows testing to happen; testing creates an opportunity to grow in love for God. But God gives freedom enough to avoid his grace--to some extent--the deceiving prophet is proof enough for that.
The decisiveness of this "purg[ing]" is expressed v.6-8, where we read that the deceiver is to be put to death, not only that though but even if it is an intimate friend or relative. This obviously is not a 'timeless' law, but it does bare some valuable wisdom. Common reasoning tells us that intimacy yields an understanding that is void of judgmental sentiments, that's true, but the unfortunate by-product is a lack of objectivity in the face of harmful sin (remember a little yeast works through the whole dough). It is easy to demonize the judgment but in doing so we fail to remember that God works within history. In Israel's historical context there was nothing immoral about this, especially given Israel's pivotal place before and after settling in the Promised Land. In fact this judgment serves to protect Israel from the true evil of sacrificing children to idols (ch.12 v.31) which apparently was common among the areas pagan worship. In this way God keeps His people in relationship with Him, and preserves the livelihood of His people continuing the theme of 'mutual flourishing'. Also, in v.14 Israel is charged to "inquire, probe, and investigate" so that alleged claims of apostasy are verified and tested--this is not an inquisition, nor a Salem witch trial.
In verses 12 to 17 we read that a whole area, or town, is to be found guilty if "they are led astray" (v.13). This illustrates the biblical truth of all sin being both personal and corporate. For instance a culture's sin takes root in the people of the culture--it is both the culture and the people of the culture that are responsible. So the towns that are led astray are all together guilty because they chose the immediacy of pagan worship rather than the prolonging favor of the Lord. These settlements are to be fully devoted to God by destroying them, and not rebuilding them. This destruction, or testimony of the final end of sin, is a sad opposite to the covental watchtowers that Israel's patriarchs built to remember covenants (Gen ch.39 v.48-49, there are many others though I can't remember them currently).
We end this chapter not with more curse, or judgment, but rather the heart of covenant, "[if you follow God He] will have compassion on you, and increase your numbers, as he promised"(ch.13 v.17). When reading texts that challenge our post-modern and western sentiments let's remember that God is not contained in any culture or time period, nor are his covenants.
*This could be read as a type, as we Christians enter into the promise of Christ by descending into the waters of baptism similarly the Israelites descend into the river Jordan before entering into the Promised Land.