Sunday, November 14, 2010

OTC Day 56: Deuteronomy 14-15

If you have been flipping back and forth between Exodus 20 (the Ten Commandments) and Deuteronomy 5 (Moses’ retelling of the Ten Commandments at his farewell speech), then you have noticed that the first three commandments are almost identical. However, today as we look at the commandment on the Sabbath and the application to Jewish life in our reading, there is a noticeable divergence at the end of the command. Consider:

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. — Exodus 20:11

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. — Deut. 6:15

Why the change? In the Exodus passage, the reason for the law was grounded in the character and example of God. In the Deuteronomy passage, the reason for the law was grounded in the provision and grace of God. So Exodus gave the model of Sabbath rest and Deuteronomy gave the motivation for Sabbath rest.

But in today’s reading we find a further reason why God would bring up Egypt when talking about the Sabbath. You see, the Jews not only recognized Sabbath days, they also recognized Sabbath years. And a Sabbath year was not just about rest for the land by not farming it.

The Sabbath year was about freedom.

Every seven years, debtors were released from their debts and servants from their slavery. And, according to the writer of Hebrews, in a very real and profound sense, the Old Testament Sabbath is just a shadow of something greater to come in the New Covenant in Christ:

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.
— Hebrews 4:9, 10

So to the one who does not work but trusts God, there is rest. There is freedom. There is a release from debts. There is an end to slavery. There is true Sabbath.

1. What is your first reaction at reading that all debts are canceled in the Sabbath year? Would that work in our society today? Why or why not?

2. Do you find it easy to detach and step back from all your work and responsibilities for a day every week?

3. Read Mark 2:23-28. How does this influence your view of the Sabbath?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

An awesome sermon by Tim Keller

Hey everyone, I just finished listening to a great sermon by Tim Keller that did an excellent job of tying together some major themes from what we've been reading in the Old Testament Challenge and from what Lee has been preaching on Sundays. I cannot recommend it highly enough!

The Story of the Lamb

(or click here to go straight to the mp3 or here to download the podcast on iTunes)

OTC Day 55: Deuteronomy 11-13

Have you ever known anyone who was a cultural sponge? Whatever the most popular band, movie or television show was at the time, they were up on it and it was their favorite too. Their tastes, opinions and styles were constantly changing to match the spirit of the times.

Israel always struggled with its own sort of “spiritual” sponginess and it constantly got them in trouble. God knew this was their weak spot. Repeatedly God tells them to break down the altars to foreign gods, smash their sacred stones and cut down the idols.

A theme begins early on as the Israelites move into the Promised Land and give God something short of their full obedience. They fail to destroy cities as God directs, leaving altars and idols intact within the Promised Land. They fail to destroy the wicked inhabitants and instead intermarry with them! And Israel’s love affair with foreign gods soon begins and grows to be a rot that one day destroys the kingdom altogether.

Before we start feeling smug and self-righteous, we must ask “What are the idols of the cultures around us today”? Perhaps we have not begun worshiping at our neighbor’s Asherah pole, but there are religious views from the culture that can creep into Christianity and it’s more subtle than what the Israelites had to deal with. Perhaps some of these ideas sound familiar:

“It doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you have faith.”

“Religion is private and shouldn’t affect our public, social or political activity.”

“Jesus is just one of many ways to God. All religions are equally valid.”

“All truth is all relative. What’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me.”

These sorts of ideas make up the spirit of the age we live in. But God, revealed through his Word and his Son, insists that our faith and truth be grounded in him. God is just as jealous for his people today as he was for his people in the Old Testament times. So beware the subtlety of the modern idols if we preserve them and intermarry with pop culture religion.

1. In what ways do we as Christians give God something short of our full obedience?

2. Considering the religious ideas from the culture around us, put a checkmark next to each of the four quotes on the previous page if you have heard them before. Is it tempting to believe any of these ideas? Why or why not?

3. How might you refute such ideas in your own mind? Can you think of any specific texts of Scripture that would “break down” such a pop culture idol? How might you counsel a Christian friend who is beginning to believe in such a way?

Friday, November 12, 2010

OTC Day 54: Deuteronomy 8-10

You shall have no other gods before me. (Ex. 20:3, Deut. 5:7)

Everything that follows Deuteronomy chapter five begins to unpack each of the Ten Commandments in sequential order. First, Moses rephrases the first commandment from a negative into a positive: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (6:5). And, in proportion to its importance, Moses spends about six chapters detailing from Israel’s history and future what that command should—and should not—look like.

And the recurring theme from Moses is “Remember—do not forget.” The turn in every human heart from the Lord to other gods doesn’t begin in the hands or the feet, it begins in the heart and mind. And so Moses tells the Israelites, as we should tell each other, “Remember—do not forget”.

Remember how the Lord found you, saved you and led you out of your captivity to sin; how God demonstrated with miraculous finality his sovereignty over your slave-master; how the Lord made provision with a lamb so that his wrath might pass over you. Do not forget and return to your captivity to sin for we have died to sin and we are now slaves to God and righteousness.

Remember it is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you were chosen, saved and redeemed; it is not because because of your superiority to those unbelieving around you in any way; it is not by your works so you have nothing to boast about. Do not forget and so become proud as if you were saved by anything of your own hands.

Remember that you have, at one time, provoked God to anger by turning away from him and to other sources of comfort, security, identity and status; that you have seen firsthand how other gods are just a shiny covering for slavery to your old master; that you have reaped only bitterness in turning to worship any other created thing over the Creator. Do not forget the grace of discipline by the Lord towards his wayward children; the mercy of his correction is better than the very best the other gods had to offer.

Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God. — Deuteronomy 10:20,21a

1. What sort of “other gods” do people worship today? What sorts of “other gods” are Christians tempted to worship?

2. One pastor has said, “When a good thing becomes a god thing, it’s a bad thing”. What do you think he means? How does that happen?

3. Do you think the Israelites liked this sort of “walk down memory lane”? When’s the last time you took time to really remember where God has brought you from? How did you feel/respond?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

OTC Day 53: Deuteronomy 5-7

Chapter five of Deuteronomy begins with a recitation of the Ten Commandments and then we read this: “These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more.” (Deuteronomy 5:22)

If you have been following along in the reading plan, your response is probably “Yeah, right! Nothing more?!” Leviticus alone is chock full of laws and regulations on sacrifices, offerings, holy days, food, cleansing and purification just to name a few. But, to the Jews, all of those laws and regulations were just the practical outworking of how these Ten Commandments applied in their context. (The remainder of the book of Deuteronomy too will be an elaboration of the same.) While completely foreign to us, the Jews understood all these extra regulations as being each of the Ten played out in everyday life.

Jesus was doing the same thing Moses was doing when he said,

“’Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” — Matthew 22:37-40

Just as all the rules and regulations could be boiled down to the Ten Commandments; those same commandments could be boiled down to this greatest commandment by Jesus. And while there is beauty in such simplicity, it can be too simplistic if we try to use one phrase as the guiding mantra of our lives. Obviously God feels the same way, otherwise our Bible would be just the four verses cited above rather than the substantial book that it is.

So we, like the Jews, have been given God-inspired Scripture to better obey, follow and love God.

So we, like the Jews, have been given leaders and teachers anointed by God that we may sit under them as they unpack how that Scripture applies to our lives—and then model such a life for us.

So we, like the Jews, do not live out these Scripture-guided lives best in isolation but rather in a community of believers who can hold us accountable.

1. Do you think it would be easier to follow a Christian mantra like “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” rather than the whole instruction of the Bible? Why or why not? Why do you think God chose to communicate to us through the Bible rather than just a short, pithy saying?

2. Scripture, leadership and community all act as mirrors into our lives as to how well we are applying the word of God. Can you think of a time when each of these mirrors has shown you something in your life that you needed to change? Be as specific as possible.

3. The five books we have read for this challenge (ending in Deuteronomy) are the Jewish Law and Jesus said “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commands”. Can you think of any examples? Any points where you might disagree?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

OTC Day 52: Deuteronomy 3-4

Jealousy doesn’t exactly make the top ten list of the best character traits. We seldom admit it when we feel it, and rarely admire it in others. When directed at you, it can be complimentary (“Nice car, I’m jealous”) or downright dangerous (“That’s my jealous ex-boyfriend”).

Yet God chooses it as one of the characteristics he reveals when speaking to the Israelites. Why?

Often, throughout the Scriptures, God uses the imagery of a bride and groom in describing his relationship with Israel. Unfortunately, he was more often than not portraying himself as a jilted lover—a groom who’s bride gives herself to everyone but her groom. In fact, one prophet named Hosea was even directed by God to marry a prostitute that continually left him for other lovers as a vivid picture to Israel of their own unfaithfulness to God.

And it is in this context that the jealousy of God not only emerges but begins to look justified and righteous. God deserves the faithfulness of Israel. God is deserves the devotion, heartfelt praise, adoration, loving worship, and bride-like love of his people. Yet he gets none of it. And so God is jealous for the hearts of his people as they turn to foreign gods like adulterous lovers. God is jealous for every heart just like every married person should be jealous for the heart of their spouse.

God is jealous for your heart, your love. God is jealous for you. Does it surprise you to hear that? Just as God pursued the people of Israel in the Old Testament, he pursues you today.

But just like the Israelites, we are often at best a people of half-hearted devotion. It’s easy to give a couple hours on Sunday, maybe a couple dollars in the plate. But devotion? That’s a whole different question. Who are we the rest of the week? What do we love when no one’s watching? Who or what gets the majority of our money, thought, energy, effort, and ultimately our hearts?

God would not be a good God if he were not jealous, if he were cool with our infidelity. Jealousy in God means he is passionately concerned that our hearts are turned to the one and only thing that will ever satisfy them.

1. What was your first impression when you read that God calls himself a jealous God? Good? Bad? What about now? Does it make sense? Do you think it is a necessary characteristic of God, or one he could “do without”?

2. Is jealousy ever justified in human emotions? Why or why not? Is it healthy?

3. If you were married to God (and in a very profound sense we are as the bride of Christ), would your spouse be happy with the status of your relationship right now? Why or why not?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

OTC Day 51: Deuteronomy 1-2

There are certain words that have almost universal associations with them. If you use such a word, everyone will be drawing from a similar frame of reference. Consider the word “Nazi” and you see my point. If anyone calls you that name, we all know it’s not a compliment.

The word “Amorite” had a similar connotation for the Israelites. They knew a couple things about the Amorites, but the two that most dominated the Jewish mind was that they were notorious sinners and that they were keeping the Jews out of the Promised Land. In fact, in God’s very first covenant with Abraham (then Abram), you would read this from God’s own mouth:

In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. — Genesis 15:16

For this reason, they’re mentioned six times in the first chapter of Deuteronomy. Moses is subtly reminding them that God’s judgment and justice against this people is now in effect. For four hundred years, the grace and patience of God has allowed the Amorites to exist. This time, which could have been spent in seeking God (Acts 17:27) and repentance (Romans 2:4) was instead spent in reaching the full measure of their sinfulness.

And now as they enter the Promised Land and execute the judgment God commanded on the wicked inhabitants, Moses’ farewell speech hits some important themes. He reminds them that God is a righteous judge and never deals unjustly. He reminds them that God carries out justice through natural and supernatural means.

The balance of God’s justice and mercy is always present. Mercy towards the Amorites in his patience, justice in their destruction. Mercy towards the Jews in their release from Egypt, justice in their desert wanderings.

But for the Christian it is slightly different. We are shown utter mercy in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. And God’s justice? That was dealt upon Christ as he stood in as our representative, our substitute on the cross. Christ received the justice of God toward us, so that we would receive only mercy.

1. Why don’t we as Christians march around clearing our own “Promised Lands” like the Israelites? How do we respond to those who compare OT Israel to modern-day religious militants?

2. Are there people today you think are like the Amorites—God’s patience with them is only leading to greater sin? How should you respond?

3. Since you have received so great a gift, how do you respond? When wronged, do you deal out justice or give mercy? How might the example of Christ on your behalf change the way you behave at home? At work? How might it change the way you pray?

Monday, November 8, 2010

OTC Day 50: Numbers 31-33

The Israelites have finally reached the Promised Land. Well, to be exact, they are camped just outside it. It has now been well over forty years since the Israelites set out from Egypt with the Pharaoh at their heels. Forty years of wandering, waiting, warring. One generation has grown up in the desert while another has died there.

Before they cross over the Jordan River, a few significant things take place. Moses appoints Joshua as Israel’s new leader and gives a farewell speech. Then God gives a reminder of the covenant that they are entering the Promised Land under:

Drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places…But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.
— Deuteronomy 33:52, 55-56

Some people feel God is unnecessarily harsh on the Israelites when they read the Old Testament, but at no point does he ever leave them in the dark about his intentions. Repeatedly throughout the Old Testament the Israelites are reminded of their covenant with God, repeatedly they say “All this we will do!”, and repeatedly they break that covenant—often heinously.

This is the beauty of the Gospel. The writer of Hebrews calls it a better covenant made on better promises. Not because the first one was a bad covenant, but because it depended on two parties, God and Israel.

And here is the scandal of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is a gift. Not works. It is grace. Not merit. This covenant doesn’t fall apart when we are unfaithful, it is based on the understanding that all of us—just like the Jews—are unfaithful!

Do you feel it? Do you feel the weight lift at the reminder that we are under a better covenant than the Jews? Do you feel the evangelistic joy that stirs up at the reality of this message? How might you respond to that today?

1. You’ve been reading the Old Testament now for fifty days. Can you identify with Israel’s approach to the Promised Land saying to yourself “Finally!”? What might be going through the minds of this new generation of Israelites as they approach the Promised Land?

2. Have you ever felt God is harsh in how he deals with the Israelites? Why or why not? Israel was a theocracy, a people ruled and governed directly by God. How might this information cause certain events to be understood in a different light?

3. Is it offensive hearing that the assumption of our sinfulness and helplessness is part of the beauty of the Gospel? Why or why not? In what ways do you identify with the Jewish people thus far in what you’ve read?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

OTC Day 44: Numbers 9-11

Numbers 9 and 10 show a pretty incredible picture of God’s guidance. He physically shows up in a pillar of cloud and fire. When the pillar moves, the Israelites move. When it stays, they stay. Pretty simple. It seems to relieve a lot of the confusion we struggle with from day to day. Or does it?

The pillar teaches the Israelites an important lesson. They are dependent on God for guidance from day to day. He leads them to their next stop. He goes before them to drive their enemies away and returns to protect and provide for them.

We can make this out to mean more than it says. We might imagine God pointing out all the different decisions that each of the million-plus Israelites had to make, moment-by-moment, throughout every day. That isn’t what happened. God set the general direction and gave more specific guidance for day-to-day issues through Moses. For example, they were to go out each morning and gather enough manna for that day. They weren’t supposed to gather too much or it would spoil. On the day before the Sabbath, they were to gather enough for two days and rest on the Sabbath. Other laws were also provided to give general direction, but they didn’t cover every decision.

Numbers 10:29-32 is an interesting passage. Before and after this passage, God is miraculously guiding Israel with a cloud. In these verses, we find Moses begging his brother-in-law to stay with them. Why? Hobab knows the desert better than Moses. When the cloud stops, they still have to decide where to set up camp. As they travel, they will need to find water. There will be other variables that will come up, such as storms, difficult terrain, and other “deserty things”. Hobab has knowledge of the desert that will help them. He can provide practical guidance to fill in the blanks underneath God’s overarching direction.

The same is true today. God gives us general, overall guidance, such as “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33) or “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) In addition, there are countless other morally and ethically neutral decisions that must be made each day and God doesn’t speak to them at all (like what to wear, what to have for lunch, or what job should I pursue). If we seek first the kingdom and take up our cross daily, we are free to choose in the other areas. Will I wear the red shirt or black shirt? Will I have sushi or a chilidog? Will I be a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker to the glory of God?

1. What causes the change in the Israelites attitude (11:4-9)? Do you suppose their food supply in Egypt was much meatier? Does Moses consider their complaints valid? Would you? Why or why not?

2. How have the rabble-rousers affected Moses? Why does Moses want to quit (11:10-15)? Why does he wish that all God’s people could prophesy, as did the seventy elders (11:25-29)?

3. When are you, like Israel and Moses, most likely to become discouraged with your allotment or position in life? When discouraged, do you listen more to people’s complaints, to God’s provision, or to inner doubts?

Monday, November 1, 2010

OTC Day 43: Leviticus 10; 16; 26

God takes sin seriously. Nadab and Abihu decide to do things their way and it costs them their life. We all rebel against God’s direction in various ways every day, but seldom does God strike someone dead for their rebellion. God usually displays His mercy, like He did with Adam and Eve. Instead of instantly killing them, He is patient and leads them to repentance.

So why do these men die instantly and others seem to go unpunished?

I don’t know all the answers, but here are a few things to think about:

1. God emphasizes the necessity of building the tabernacle by His instructions repeatedly. He carefully explains how the priests carry out their duties because they are in His presence. The Bible is clear that God cannot look on evil and that we cannot enter His presence without holiness (see Habbakuk 1:13 and Hebrews 12:14). This is a vivid example.

2. On two other occasions, God immediately judges people like this. Uzzah touches the Ark of the Covenant and is killed. Ananias and Sapphira are killed for lying to God. Both of these occur in moments where God’s revelation is clear and He is bringing revival to His people. At other times, God allows people to sin and rebel before finally reining them in. Holiness is necessary when God is near. When God is near, His presence is more intense, the people are more zealous and disciplined, and His blessing is greater.

3. Nadab and Abihu’s motives are intentionally willful and defiant. Later, Aaron’s deviations from God’s command are accepted because his motives are good (10:16-20), but they knowingly choose sin.

4. God is teaching the priests to follow Him carefully. They are called to “distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean” and “teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses." (Lev. 10:10-11) This certainly underscores the importance of listening to God’s guidance and following it carefully.

God takes sin seriously. It separates us from Him. Whether He does it immediately or waits until later, God judges our sin. Apart from holiness, we will never see Him. Thankfully, Jesus comes to take away our sin, cleanse us, and make us holy. Those who are holy will see God.

1. What does the fact that this “Day of Atonement” took place only “once a year” (v. 34) tell you about its importance? What does the fact that it must be repeated every year (“a lasting ordinance”) tell you about human nature? And what about the lasting effect of the sacrifice (see Hebrews 9:9-10)?

2. As important as this Day was to Israel for restoring a correct relationship with God, how much more important and lasting is Jesus’ “once for all” sacrifice (see Hebrews 9:11-10:14)?

3. The role of the two goats (vs. 20-22) shows us that no single offering could fully typify the sacrifice of Christ, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29). What aspect of his atonement is typified by the goat that is killed? What distinct aspect of Christ is typified by the scapegoat?