Book of Deuteronomy Chapter Thirteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Verses 1-3: "If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." The Lord gives gifts to His people, as seen throughout what is called the "Old Testament," where God's prophets roamed the land throughout the history of Israel. Spiritual gifts emerged anew after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and at least some of God's gifts are listed in 1 Corinthians 12. A gift can be defined as an ability given by God to someone, not based on their education and experience, but instead likely to have a sudden onset, surprising the recipient. However, there is an enemy called Satan, and one of his tricks is to imitate those gifts, using counterfeits like the false prophets and dreamers of these verses. Paul the Apostle later gave instruction regarding such matters, encouraging us: "Do not despise prophesies...Test all things..." (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 & context). We are to pray about what we encounter and hear, and if the prophet or dreamer seems "wrong" after prayer—do what Moses said—don't listen to them.
Verse 4: "You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him." Jesus would later teach that, "unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). This is a fallen race and there is a death sentence on humanity. Death stands eternally for everyone, except that Jesus died in our place, offering us forgiveness. He paid the price, satisfying God's holiness—enabling the faithful to be pardoned, saved from sin and death. Jesus' words say it all: We must be "converted," which is described in John 3:3 as being "born again." People know deep inside that God exists, though all too many live in a state of angry denial. We simply set aside our resistance and trust in the Lord, humbling ourselves before Him as little children do with good parents. Giving ourselves to Him in such a manner enables us to be "born again." In doing so, a process begins in which we increasingly can "keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him and cling to Him," as Moses pleads with us to do in this verse.
Verse 5: "But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you." This verse shows clearly how seriously God views the person and situation in which someone leads others away from simple, honest faith in the Lord. As Jesus would later say: "If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matthew 18:6). Trust in the Lord. Pray about what you say and do. The alternative is that you can do great harm to others—and to yourself—by misleading God's "little ones." The Lord led Israel out of slavery in Egypt and He led us out of sin and death by the giving of Himself on the cross. Trusting in Him will "purge the evil from among you."
Verses 6-10: "If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, 7 of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), 8 you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. 9 But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." Moses was well aware of the dangers faced by the nation Israel at that time. They were about to enter a land that was filled with temptations, a place riddled with idols and idolatrous religion. Moses had been the human leader of Israel for 40-years and he clearly saw that they were as naive as humanity is today. You do well to prayerfully consider what and who you worship. Jesus clearly said, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). To believe in Him is to find everlasting life. Believing in something or someone else, no matter who or what, will cause you to perish. The Lord is to be first in our hearts and lives—before our loved ones, before anything.
Verse 11: "Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such a wicked thing among you." People have been debating the issue of capital punishment for a long time—is it a legitimate deterrent to crime or isn't it? Some say yes; others say no, and the debate goes on. But for God it's a done deal—effective, appropriate punishment does deter crime. The strange ending to our physical lives which we call "death" is indeed a concern for all. Hebrews 2:15 lists an aspect of the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf: He died to "release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Death is frightening because if all our dreams, hopes and plans involve the things of this world, it is an absolute certainty that we will lose—everything. Trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, we recognize that death is merely a doorway into eternity. We can choose our final destination after this life—to heaven with the Lord and His love, or to an eternity alone with everlasting regret. Trust in the Lord—or be afraid.
Verses 12-15: "If you hear in one of your cities, which the Lord your God is giving you to live in, anyone saying that 13 some worthless men have gone out from among you and have seduced the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom you have not known), 14 then you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly. If it is true and the matter established that this abomination has been done among you, 15 you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying it and all that is in it and its cattle with the edge of the sword." Can you imagine?—the people were going to be given cities to live in, complete with buildings, homes, market places, armories, stout walls for defense, and the lands that surrounded those cities as well. It is much more than winning a lottery—this was about the unmerited favor of God. He chooses to love whom He wills and He has chosen to love us all, granting His everlasting favor on those who trust in the Lord, the Son of God. But if the people of one of those cities became idolators, they would be destroyed, indicating again just how important it is to NOT turn our backs on our Creator and lapse into some kind of idolatry.
Verses 16-18: "Then you shall gather all its booty into the middle of its open square and burn the city and all its booty with fire as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God; and it shall be a ruin forever. It shall never be rebuilt. 17 Nothing from that which is put under the ban shall cling to your hand, in order that the Lord may turn from His burning anger and show mercy to you, and have compassion on you and make you increase, just as He has sworn to your fathers, 18 if you will listen to the voice of the Lord your God, keeping all His commandments which I am commanding you today, and doing what is right in the sight of the Lord your God." This chapter is a call to holiness, as defined by making the Lord first in our hearts and lives—before ANYTHING or anyone of this world. The city that fell into sin was to be destroyed. It is true that you are to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18), and even "love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44). Love to such an extent is humanly impossible, "but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). Forgiveness is possible. The Lord God created you. Humanity lapsed into sin, into idolatry, putting someone, anything first before the Lord. Then the Lord died for you, opening the door to real LIFE right now and also in eternity. The alternative is your utter destruction. Trust the Lord, experience His love, and love Him in return. You'll find yourself "doing what is right in the sight of the Lord," in His strength and in His love.
Lord, I lapsed into idolatry without even fully realizing what I did. I confess my sin and ask in Jesus Name for Your eternal pardon, Your forgiveness, Your holiness in my life. I trust in You, Lord. I am Yours. In Jesus Name. Thank You. Amen.