Although some would find it hard to believe, did you realize that from time to time God actually commanded certain celebrations? Sadly, God is sometimes seen as the “Cosmic Killjoy” who demands dour faces and dull gray colors. The chapters of our reading today reveals a different reality.
But before He commands the joy, He demands holiness. Chapter 13 is a rather stern warning about falling away to idolatry and paganism. In a world of liberal tolerance and inclusivity of ideas, we might squirm in our seats about the black and white call for the death penalty for being a false prophet or an enticing influence to worship other gods. But our discomfort may reveal a certain numbness, callousness, that we may have developed toward false teaching or religion. Don’t misunderstand, I have never, do not, and would not advocate violence toward beliefs. As Paul puts it,
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 6:12, NAS95)
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NAS95).
My point is merely that we often don’t understand just how serious such things are; they are serious enough to justify God saying what He is saying in Deut. 13. They are not “just” ideas or teachings. They are not “merely” different ways to get to God. They misdirect, misinform, and disinform men and women about the most important matter in the universe, their souls.
But there’s more on God’s mind here than punishing the guilty; there’s also just the joy of life. What a surprise for some to hear that God wants us to enjoy life! But that’s exactly what
“”You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. “You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. “If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you, then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. “You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.” Deuteronomy 14:22-26, NAS95.
And God wanted them to spread that joy around, too. So, God insisted that they remember the poor and the Levite in their celebrations. And moreover, every seven years (sabbatic year) Hebrew debts were cancelled and Hebrew slaves were freed! Debt and slavery were in ancient times survival techniques in times of poverty and setting a regular time of release from these (including Jubilee every 50th year) is a clear manifestation of God’s concern for the poor and expectation of generosity from His people. It was no small matter to ask masters who had paid good money for help to lose that help through emancipation. It was no small matter for a creditor to write off as loss a lump of money he had expected to get back. But generosity was important — then and now.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.