SPECIFIC LAWS OF THE COVENANT
Starting with chapter 12 and running through chapter 26, Moses lists the various laws which flesh out the Ten Commandments. As we look at these laws, we must remember the relationship between the OT and the NT. As we shall see more clearly when we study Galatians, we are to be very careful when we start applying many of the OT commands to our lives today. Paul categorically claims that the Law has fulfilled its function and that it should no longer impact the life of the Christian (Gal. 3:19-28). Unlike our Church of Christ brothers, though, we do not discard the OT but rather look at it through the eyes of the NT.
Two sections in this passage illustrate clearly the way we are to approach this study. In chapter 14 Moses lays down the OT stipulations regarding the Israelites' diet. He commands them to abstain from eating animals which do not split the hoof and chew the cud. This rules out pork because pigs who do have split hoofs nevertheless do not chew the cud. Moreover, sea creatures which do not have scales are to be avoided. This rules out shrimp and catfish. Jesus addresses this very issue whenever He claims that what is important is not what a man puts into his stomach but what comes out of his heart (Mark 7:18-20).
(Just a side note here. One "Christian nutritionist" claimed that Jesus was actually recommending to us to eat pork and sea creatures which are high in cholesterol and which are scavengers. Many of these foods are still unhealthy. Because of what Jesus said, we know that eating them does not harm a personís relationship with God. In other words, eating these foods will NOT keep you from going to heaven; HOWEVER, eating them may actually get you there sooner than you intended! In the same way, smoking does not send you to hell; it just makes you smell like you recently came from there.)
The second section deals with the commands regarding the central sanctuary. In chapter 12 Moses commands the Israelites to offer their sacrifices only at a central sanctuary. Whereas this spot originally depended upon where the tabernacle was residing at the time, such as Shiloh, later this spot was identified as Jerusalem. Jesus once more addresses this issue with the Samaritan woman at the well. According to Jesus with the coming of the Holy Spirit the place of worship would not be limited to just the Temple in Jerusalem (John 4:21-24). Does this mean that we scrap chapter 12? No, because there are still some valid principles operating in chapter 12 which the NT builds upon and develops.
Another area which differs between Moses' time and ours is that of the actual government presiding over Israel. Israel at that time was living under a theocracy. By theocracy we mean that the people believed that they all were living under the direct rule of God. Even though He may have communicated His will through the prophets and high priests, He nevertheless was still the ruler over Israel. Today we do not live under a theocracy but under a constitutional form of representative republic. The government does not pressure people into either accepting or rejecting religion. It is up to each individual person to determine that for him or herself. As a result many of the moral laws in Deuteronomy which prescribe death as punishment are not in force today in our society. The judgment and punishment associated with these laws will be meted out only after Christ returns. It's not judgment canceled but judgment delayed.
Before leaving the introduction, it seems opportune to discuss our differences with our brothers who attend the Church of Christ. To discard the OT completely violates what the NT is doing and actually contradicts the command of Christ (Matt. 5:18). Unlike the Church of Christ, we do believe the OT has value for Christians. The NT quotes the OT first to show that it has been fulfilled in Christ and second to present to people the correct way to interpret the OT. In fact, to a large degree the NT is the Christian interpretation of the OT. The fact that the NT quotes the OT so many times shows that the NT itself finds the OT extremely valuable. The early Christians never had a problem with the OT; they just had a problem with the way the Jews interpreted it. The only thing not valid about the OT is using it in a legalistic way in order to gain favor with God.
THE CENTRAL SANCTUARY (Deut. 12)
The second command deals with the proper worship of God: "you shall not make for yourself a graven image." Refusing to make idols was not the only way to worship God properly. According to Moses, God wanted the people to offer sacrifice at only one place, the place where His sanctuary stood. Between the time of Moses and Solomon, God's sanctuary was the tabernacle. At times it resided outside the land of Canaan as when Moses was addressing the people, at Shiloh where Eli and Samuel served God, and at Jerusalem where David worshiped God. It did not matter where the tabernacle was; wherever it was, that was the place God wanted the people to go and offer their sacrifices to Him. The sites of the former sanctuaries of the Canaanites were totally forbidden.
Why this command? Why did it matter where the Israelites offered sacrifice? One reason was to ensure purity and unity in the faith. As soon as the people started to scatter and form their own places of worship, various types of the worship of God would result. By bringing the people continually to the tabernacle for worship, God was ensuring that the people would be united in their worship of God. This was beneficial as long as the priests themselves were true to the Lord and ministering the way He had commanded them to.
The same applies to us today. According to Paul, we should have a unity of faith (see Eph. 4:3). Now the denominations are going to differ in some areas, such as the Lordís Supper, baptism, church polity, etc.; however, among the conservative branches of the different denominations which attempt to adhere sincerely to the Christianity created by Christ and the apostles, there is common ground. (C.S. Lewis calls this common ground Mere Christianity.) This common ground includes the belief that Jesus is truly God the Son, that salvation is only through God's grace, that the one God exists as three persons, that the Bible is God's Word, that Christ is going to return one day, etc.
Why do we not worship at a central sanctuary today? To some degree we do; it's just that we don't have to go to Jerusalem in order to worship God. Jesus implied to the Samaritan woman that the day would come when sites of worship would actually be found across the globe (see John 4:21-24). He did not say, though, that worship would not be corporate any more. In fact, He told His disciples that He would be present with them in a special way only if at least 2 or 3 come together for worship because of their relationship with Him (Matt. 18:20). It is true that private devotions are beneficial for the Christian; however, they should never take the place of corporate worship and should never supersede corporate worship. If you count the number of times the Bible mentions private devotions as opposed to private devotions, you will be amazed at the few number of times it mentions private devotions. Because God is a relational Being, the Holy Spirit lives in all Christians and loves to draw them together. He creates us all to be just parts of the body which functions fully and properly only when all the parts come together.
Before we leave the section regarding the central sanctuary, we see that Moses commands the people not only to offer sacrifices at the central sanctuary but also to partake of the sacrificial meal. In other words, they were not only offering the sacrifices but were actually benefitting from their sacrifices. Whereas I have deep respect for the generations of Christians who have gone before us, to some degree they stressed the duty of attending Bible study and worship to such an extent that they forgot why they were supposed to meet in the first place. It is as if they failed to hold Bible teachers and pastors accountable for what they actually did during the Bible study and worship hours. The church leader who is always crying out that Christians should be faithful to these 2 events many times is being dishonest by not communicating to the people what God wants to say to them that very day and thereby not communicating the Spirit to God's people. For every verse that stresses God's people should be faithful, there are verses which command the leaders of God's people to take very seriously what should be occurring whenever they are ministering to God's people.
APOSTASY (Deut. 13)
The next major topic deals with those who would try to lead the Israelites into apostasy. Moses mentions 3 possible scenarios which might lead them astray. The first deals with the false prophet. Now this prophet did not merely preach heresy; he also performed signs and miracles which he claimed validated this message. Moses claimed that the working of miracles alone was not enough to validate a person's message. The message itself had to meet certain criteria, the primary one being loyalty to Jehovah God. No matter what else a person taught or did, if his message contradicted the belief that Jehovah alone was God, then that person was a heretic and was to be destroyed.
The Feast of Weeks (which was celebrated 7 weeks following Passover, hence the name "Feast of Weeks") was primarily an agricultural festival thanking God for the first fruits of the harvest. The Feast of Tabernacles was like a huge campout commemorating the time the Israelites had to live in tents during their wilderness wanderings. All 3 festivals were designed to remind the Israelites constantly of (1) their deliverance from Egypt, (2) their dependence upon God for the harvest, and (2) God's provision for them at all times as seen during the wilderness wanderings.
In the same way, Christians since the beginning of Christianity have celebrated Christmas and Easter as ways to remember God's coming into the world at Bethlehem so that He could save His people at Easter. Some of our sincere fundamentalist brothers and sisters mistakenly attack Easter and Christmas as pagan celebrations. We celebrate Christmas during December not in order to carry on the festival of a pagan god as some claim but rather in order to highlight the fact that just as in December the days start to become longer and the nights shorter, so with the coming of Christ the light is growing and the darkness is diminishing. The Easter egg is not a relic from some ancient pagan celebration but a symbol of the resurrection of Christ. Just as at Eater Christ' body was transformed into a glorious existence, so the newly painted, beautiful Easter egg symbolizes that transformation. (They do have us when it comes to the bunnies though!)
THE YEAR OF RELEASE (Deut. 15)
The final element in the study deals with the concept of release, especially the year of release. According to Moses the Israelites could lend money to other Israelites and then expect them to pay back the loan with interest. Every 7 years, though, all debts were supposed to be canceled in order to help those who were more financially burdened. it would be very easy to see how at the beginning of the 7 years the lenders would willing hand out 6-year loans and yet tighten their purse strings as the 7th year of release approached. As a result, many lenders would probably refuse to hand out loans during the 6th year. God dictated, though, that the loans were to continue even through the 6th year. The primary purpose of such a law was to give financial relief to the poor.
Another practice involved Israelites who were slaves to other Israelites. Whenever the Israelite voluntarily became a slave, he probably did so for his own benefit. A person might have fallen upon some hard financial times and needed relief. As a result, he could volunteer to become the slave of another Israelite who would provide for his physical needs. He was to serve the Israelite for 6 years only. At the end of the 6th year, he was to be released. Now he did not go out empty-handed; otherwise, the slave was in no better condition at the end of the 6 years than he was whenever he entered servitude. Instead, the master was to send the slave away with many possessions.
These practices were based upon the fact that God had released the children of Israel from the bondage of slavery. The only appropriate way to express their faith that God had released them from bondage was to release those who were enslaved to their debts and to free others from their slavery. Our mercy towards others is the only biblical way to express our faith that Christ has shown us mercy at Calvary.
Notice that special attention and allowances are made for the slaves who are Israelites, that is brothers of the slave-owners. The Christian has a higher motivation to treat his fellow-Christian mercifully: that fellow Christian not only has Christ living within him, he is so one with Christ that the way a person treats him is the way he is actually treating Christ. If I show mercy to a fellow Christian, then I have shown mercy to Christ; if I neglect a fellow Christian in need, then I have neglected Christ. That is high motivation indeed.