International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: Deuteronomy 10:12-22; 16:18-20Lesson Title: The Heart of the Law
Most of us tend to avoid the unfamiliar. And it is safe to say that the book of Deuteronomy is an unfamiliar book to most Christians. Deuteronomy, which means “the second law” or “repetition of the law,” is a book in the Bible that we do not often study and yet there are so many verses in it we have heard and often quoted. Verses such as “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). And what about “Man doth not live by bread only…” (Deuteronomy 8:3) and “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn” (Deuteronomy 25:4). Just the mention of these few verses reminds us how much we need the book of Deuteronomy.
The Israelites also needed the book of Deuteronomy. The second generation of Israelites were about to enter the land of Canaan and begin a new aspect of their relationship with God. But before that could happen they needed to remember the past and embrace their heritage with a fresh reminder of God’s requirements. They also needed the book because along with Psalms and Isaiah, Deuteronomy reveals much about the attributes of God (Deuteronomy 4:24, 31, 39; 6:4, 15; 7:9, 13).
Deuteronomy is referenced in all but six New Testament books. It was among our Lord’s favorite books. It is one of four books most frequently alluded to by Jesus which, for the Christian, should give it a position of special importance. In Jesus’ own wilderness temptation His first quotation of Scripture to the tempter was from Deuteronomy 8:3.
The book of Deuteronomy was first spoken (Deuteronomy 1:6) and then written (Deuteronomy 31:24). This took place within a forty day period (Deuteronomy 1:3; 34:8; Joshua 4:19). Everything in the book occurs on the edge of the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:3; 34:8; Joshua 5:6-12). When the book begins, Moses is the leader of the nation (Deuteronomy 1:1; 34:5) and when it ends Joshua is the leader (Deuteronomy 1:38; 34:9). In these farewell addresses of Moses as he neared the end of his life, he spoke to the nation of Israel poised on the edge of the Promised Land. He had a message he wantedto burn into their hearts. Part of that message was what God required of Israel since they were a special people in a unique relationship with God. Loving God and treating each other fairly is the heart of the law and the focus of Moses’ words in the text before us.
The Obligation (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)
“And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul.”
This rhetorical question (a figure of speech in the form of a question that is asked in order to make a point and without the expectation of a reply) “what doth the Lord thy God require of thee” is found in similarity in Micah 6:8 where the prophet writes, “…and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” In Micah 6:8 the question is addressed to man in general while in Deuteronomy 10:12 it is addressed to Israel as indicated in the words, “And now, Israel…”
The word “require” means “to ask of, to ask for.” What does God want from Israel is the question. First, He wants them to “fear the LORD thy God.” “Fear” is the basic attitude of reverence which was proper before Jehovah God. It has nothing to do with blind terror but rather reverent worship. After all, God is “thy God.” Second, He wants them “to walk in all his ways.” If one “fears” God properly then they will “walk in all his ways” when their backs are turned away from him. Sometimes we demonstrate a great respect for God when we are in His house but in our daily walk we live a self-righteous life. God requires more. Third, He wants them “to love him.” This “love” is nothing less than complete loyalty. The idea of “love” for God was always a part of Israel’s relationship to God. “Love” for God is a main aspect in the book of Deuteronomy mentioned no less than 16 times (Deuteronomy 5:10; 6:5; 7:7, 9, 13; 10:12, 15, 19; 11:1, 13, 22; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6, 16, 20).
This “love” is different from that of a father to his son or a husband to his wife. It is a unique kind of love that is commanded and directly connected with Israel’s “fear” before God and their daily “walk” with God. It’s a covenant love a love based on obedience. It is similar to Jesus’ words, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Fourth, He wants them “to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul…” which emphasize the totality of devotion and commitment which God deserves. If God is God, then Israel’s devotion to Him must be characterized by singleness of purpose, unique concentration, and unquestionable allegiance. These virtues are sorely missed in Christianity today. Our current idea of serving the Lord is far less than what the Lord requires. The Lord requires total loyalty and obedience in both attitude and action.
“To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good” means Israel is required to obey the commandments the Lord had imposed. We must make his “commandments” and “statues” our rule in everything we do. We must obey all he prescribes, avoid what He forbids and believe that all the statutes He commands us are for our “good.” The Apostle John said, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).
The Recollection (Deuteronomy 10:14-15)
“Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the LORD's thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is. Only the Lord had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day.”
“Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the LORD's…” speaks of the sovereign control of God over all things. The “heaven of heavens” is His along with the “earth” and “all that therein is.” God, with the same sovereignty and purpose, “had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day.” God in all his majesty and greatness chose to identify Himself with the small and otherwise insignificant Israel. On the basis of this glorious truth God’s people should live obediently.
The Apostle Paul said, “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:1-7).
God’s children, both Israel and those saved by grace, are blessed to have been chosen by God to be His own. For Israel, God chose them “above all people.” This is true despite the obvious truth of Israel’s sin and disobedience. And how wonderful it is to know that what applied to Israel applies to believers today. When we are obedient to Christ and His Word, we have every opportunity for faith and to bear fruit to His glory.
The Circumcision (Deuteronomy 10:16-18)
In this section of Moses’ sermon the sign of circumcision is addressed for the purpose of challenging and commanding the Israelites to separate themselves from everything that would hinder their pure relationship to God.
“Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.” Every Jew understood circumcision of the flesh; it was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant and the basis of becoming a Jew. It was a physical act required by God for the descendants of Abraham signifying their separation from other nations. Moses now takes this physical act of circumcision and makes a spiritual application.
To “circumcise” or “cut away” the “foreskin of your heart” is a call to cut away all the sin in their hearts, just as the “circumcision” surgery on the Jewish male cut away his “foreskin.” This would leave them in a clean relationship to God. The people must not be “stiffnecked” or resistant to God’s requirements. God wanted His people to not just be Jews because of a physical piece of missing flesh. He wanted them to be Jews “of the heart.” The prophet Jeremiah called for the same action in Jeremiah 4:4.
“For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward” are words that magnify the exclusiveness of God. This truth undergirds the plea in verse 16 to separate themselves totally for God’s glory. God is “God of gods, and Lord of lords.” His rule is absolute and ultimate.
God “regardeth not persons” or, shows favoritism. Neither does He “take reward” or bribes. He is a just God and His people should be the same in all our dealings and conduct in life.
“He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.” “He doth execute the judgments of the fatherless and widow…” means God is not partial. He “executes judgment” which is especially seen in relation to orphans and widows. God is concerned about those who are defenseless and cares for them greatly. He stands up for and defends the defenseless. Because of His care, He instructs Israel in verse 19 as to how to treat them.
The Demonstration (Deuteronomy 10:19-22)
“Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Once again God speaking through Moses reminds Israel of her past and how she at one time was a stranger and a slave in Egypt. God proved His love for “strangers” by redeeming a bunch of “strangers” in the land of Egypt to be His people. If the Israelites are to bear witness to God’s love in this world, they must love “strangers” also.
“Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; Him shalt thou serve, and to Him shalt thou cleave, and swear by His name.” The appeals of this verse are the same as verse 12 with a couple new additions. “To cleave” is “to stick to,” “to cling to,” or “to hold onto.” It carries with it the thought of a husband united with his wife. Israel was to “cleave” intimately to her God. “…And swear by His name” implies that promises and oaths shall be made only in the name of the Lord, and not in the name of any other. The Lord and the Lord only is to be the heart of the Israelites world. No other god is to be allowed to have rule or reign, not even in taking oaths.
“He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen.” The reason Israel should do what is required in verse 20 is because of what is written in verse 21. “He is thy praise…” means “God is your song of praise.” God alone “hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen” is a reference to the mighty acts of God on Israel’s behalf. Some who were listening to Moses had been eyewitnesses to many miracles of their deliverance from Egypt since the penalty of death against the first generation applied only to those 20 years old and older (Numbers 14:29-32).
“Thine eyes have seen” are precious and encouraging words. Think of all your eyes have seen in relation to God and His mighty works through His Son, Jesus Christ. We all have “seen” enough to cause us to be faithful and obedient unto God.
“Thy fathers went down into Egypt with threescore and ten persons; and now the Lord thy God hath made thee as the stars of heaven for multitude.” This is just one aspect of God’s miraculous works on Israel’s behalf. One of the great and mighty things God had done for Israel was multiplying the “threescore and ten persons” (70 people), who went to Egypt and brought them out a nation of over two million strong (Exodus 1:5; Numbers 1). God had promised Abraham he would father a great nation and a numberless people and God was faithful to His word (Genesis 22:17).
The Administration (Deuteronomy 16:18-20)
This section of Deuteronomy deals with the responsibilities of the officials who were to maintain pure worship in the Promised Land and to administer justice impartially. The priesthood is dealt with in much detail in Leviticus. But the other laws and conduct required by God for the judge, the king, or even the prophet is found in Deuteronomy.
“Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment.” Moses has previously given the nation their religious obligations (Deuteronomy 16:1-17). Now He gives them commands concerning their leaders. Moses had appointed leaders at Mt. Sinai to help him in the administration of the people (Deuteronomy 1:13). In the text before us Moses states that such leadership is still necessary and should continue.
“Judges” were known throughout Israel’s history. They were those who judged cases and applied the law of God to the case. God did not plan to judge individual cases supernaturally from heaven. He chose to do it through those appointed by Moses and the Israelites. God gives men certain powers and privileges in life and he expects us to use the power and authority he gives us properly. Sadly, men abuse God given power and authority but they will answer to God for it.
“Officers” were other leaders appointed in lesser authoritative positions. Their duties would vary depending upon each case and situation. Like the “judges” the “officers” were “throughout thy tribes” or all over the various regions of the land. Their position was not nearly as important as their purpose. They were to “judge the people with just judgment.”
Judging with “just judgment” is defined in verses 19-20.
“Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.” There are basically three commands given in these simple words of God through Moses. One, “thou shalt not wrest judgment.” Simply stated, it means that justice was not to be perverted at the hands of any of these judges or officers. Two, “thou shalt not respect persons” is a prohibition against showing favoritism and partiality. Oh what a terrible sin that is today. Showing favoritism and partiality is at the heart of most corrupt judicial systems. Three, “neither take a gift” is a prohibition against taking a bribe. When someone takes a bribe, it “blinds the eyes of the wise, and perverts the words of the righteous.” That means when a judge or officer takes a bribe is prohibited the judge or officer from acting in fairness to everyone involved. God will be no part in such activity.
“The standards to which God holds judges are God’s personal standards. As we have seen in Deuteronomy 10:17, God does not show partiality and cannot be manipulated by gifts. God cannot be influenced by the amount of money placed in the offering plate. No number of sacrifices can coax Him into turning a blind eye to justice. Since judges are presiding on God’s behalf, they must preside according to His just standards.” (Standard Lesson Commentary 2011-2012).
“That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” These words are a summary of everything Moses has said. There is a passionate plea from Moses to “follow” or “pursue, run after” justice. The results is life and enjoying the inheritance of land that God had provided. “That thou mayest live” speaks not only of the presence of life but of the quality of life. It was God’s desire for His people to have the very best quality of life in the Promised Land as possible. It is Christ’s desire that His church experience the same. He said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
Leadership in the church is crucial and must be given only to those who qualify (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1:5-9). Church leaders like those appointed in Moses’ day must have the right motives and desires. It is not about authority or advantage over others. It is about following God’s Word and His will that believers may enjoy the life Christ has given them.
The heart of the law is love for God and the fair treatment of others. It is impossible to have one without the other. How would you characterize your love for God? How would define your concern and care for justice in relating to others? Chances are whatever your answer is to either question it will be connected to both questions.
We should be humbled to be God’s people. And that humility should be demonstrated in our obedience to Christ and our love for our fellow man.
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