Deuteronomy 12–13, 18 Worship Him in Truth

 

A complete audio of this teaching can be found here.

Moses was a wise instructor. He devoted the first part of his address (Deut. 1–5) to reviewing Israel’s past and helping the new generation appreciate the many things God had done for them. Then he conveyed to the people how they should respond to God’s goodness and why they should obey Him (Deut. 6–11). Moses was encouraging his people to develop hearts of love for God. He wanted them to make an information transfer from the knowledge in their heads to action coming from hearts that loved God for who He is and how He cared for them and freed them from bondage. He knew that if they loved Him with that kind of heart, they would obey Him. And, if they obeyed Him, he knew they could enter the land, conquer the enemy, and enjoy their inheritance to the glory of God.

In the next fourteen chapters, Moses sets before them the responsibilities they had to fulfill if they were to live as God’s chosen people and be faithful residents in the Promised Land and fully enjoying God’s blessing.

It’s interesting to note that Moses starts by speaking about worship. He doesn’t start with a review of the Ten Commandments. He doesn’t start this part of his oration with practical tips—10 steps to a better life in the Promised Land. He begins by telling them about how best to worship God. Maybe, as we reflect on our own lives, we too should start, with nothing less than the importance of worshiping God.

Chapter twelve begins with God’s command to destroy the Canaanite physical places of worship. What he’s telling the people is that before anyone can worship God, there must be some places where they can no longer worship—there must be the destruction of the places where ungodly worship takes place.

The chapter continues with some specific instructions about worship. Worship was not left to the opinion or whim of the individual Israelite. They must worship God at His prescribed place, and among other worshippers of God. The point that there was only one central sanctuary for Israel signified that there was but one true God, one authorized worship and priesthood, and one holy nation. The place of worship was to be a place of atonement, confession, cleansing, and giving.

The tabernacle, and later the temple, unified the twelve tribes spiritually and politically. They did not separate the spiritual from the secular.

In the latter part of chapter twelve and on into chapter thirteen Moses outlines that the worship of God must be pure. He clearly points out four approaches Israel’s enemies could use to trap the Israelites into practicing idolatry (unpure religion)and he gives the people a strong warning about each one.

  1. Human Curiosity. Deuteronomy 12:29–32 Moses shares a similar thought as, much later, the Apostle Paul would write to the Romans. Both men stressed that God wants His people to be “wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil” (Romans 16:19). His warning is clear—don’t let your curiosity bring you to ungodly worship.
  2. Temptation from Prophets. Deuteronomy 13:1–5 Moses wants the people to have discernment and not let the pride of a religious leader (prophet) who is teaching an ungodly message carry them into ungodly worship that is contrary to the true worship of God.
  3. Temptation from Friends and Relatives. Moses goes on in chapter 13:6–11 to talk about how easy it would be to follow family or friends into idolatry. His warning carries with it the thought of how easy it would be to publicly worship God yet worship the gods of their neighbors in secret.
  4. Temptation from a Multitude. Lastly, in 13:12–18 Moses reminds them that God does not govern by consensus. Just because “everyone” does it; doesn’t mean it’s true Godly worship.

In closing the chapter Moses tells the people what would happen if an entire city fell to idolatrous worship, called, in the text, an abomination. The word abomination here refers to a gross, offensive idolatry. As J.A. Thompson noted, “The term abominable thing is used in the Old Testament for something that is totally displeasing to God and denotes something impure, unclean, and totally devoid of holiness.”[1]

The theme of worship is continued by reading ahead in the book of Deuteronomy to 18:9–22 as Moses continues to encourage the Israelites to reject all occultist practices of the Canaanites.  He describes several practices that God commands His people to leave alone. They include witchcraft, soothsayers, people who interpret omens, sorcery, mediums, spiritualists, or one who calls spirits from the dead.

God is intently concerned about His people straying from His ways and commands. God did not take these occultist practices lightly—He tells His people, through Moses, to disposes them from the land. Quoting Thompson again, “It may be pertinent to comment that in our own day, when spiritualism, astrology, teacup reading, and the like are widely practiced, these injunctions given to ancient Israel have a particular relevance. Not only is it impossible to discover the future by such practices, but the practices themselves are forbidden by God to men who call themselves members of the covenant family.”[2]

Moses then gives the Israelites the promise of a true Prophet who is coming. He gives them several qualifications of this prophet: He would be like Moses, from their midst and their brethren, He would command the nation and be a mediator, representing God to the people, and representing the people before God.

In contrast, he closes this section by warning the people about false prophets. Moses encourages the people to realize that the true prophet spoke for God, while the false prophet would speak presumptuously, blurting out personal opinions for which there was no correlation from God’s Word to substantiate their claims.

It was extremely important for the people to understand the importance of worship. In these few chapters Moses outlines six ways to worship:

Purging the land (Deuteronomy 12:1–3).The idol worshipping Canaanites needed to be totally dispossessed from the land. Their gods and places of worship of those gods needed to be completely destroyed.

Worshipping the Lord (Deuteronomy 12:4–14).Yahweh was to be worshipped in spirit and truth. In other words, His way and not the way of the culture around them.

Respecting life (Deuteronomy 12:15–16, 20–28).Life, symbolized by blood, was an important part of joyful worship. Life must be respected and that means erasing the Canaanite practice of murdering children to their god Molech.

Bringing tithes and offerings (Deuteronomy 12:17–19).Giving was a major part of true worship. It showed the blessing God provided (for without it they would have nothing to give) and provided the support of the priests, widows, and others in the congregation who were in need.

Avoiding contamination (Deuteronomy 12:29–13:18).Moses warned the people to stay away from cultic and occultist practices of the day. He did not want any other gods or practices to interfere with their worship of the One True God.

Honoring God’s Word (Deuteronomy 18:9–22).He warned against listening and following false prophets—people who would make spiritual claims. He wanted the people to discern these messages using God’s Word as their filter and truth.

OBSERVATIONS:

  1. We need to practice true worship. This means a total, spontaneous response to God who loves us. It’s not a formality and ritual, it’s not entertainment, and it’s not just ear-tickling fads of the culture. It is what the Apostle John wrote, “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). “Worship is the church’s ultimate priority—not public relations, not recreation and social activities, not boosting attendance figures—but worshipping God.”[3]
  2. Anything within our lives that turns us away from serving God must be dealt with quickly and severely. Jesus says in Matthew 18:8–9, “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” That’s a good summary of Moses’ teaching in this section of Deuteronomy. He doesn’t want anything to come between us and worshipping God. If it does, Moses says, it needs to be destroyed.

 

 

[1]J.A. Thompson, Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary, (London: InterVarsity, 1974), 211.

[2]Ibid.

[3]John MacArthur, Worship: The Ultimate Priority, (Chicago, Moody Press, 1983, 2012), eBook edition.

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