We are now at a point where we can pick up the pace in Deuteronomy. The first eleven chapters lay out the framework of what God expects as they enter the promised land so that they can remain in relationship with God and enjoy his promised blessings. With the framework declared, Moses now declares the detailed stipulations of the covenant. In the next three lessons of Deuteronomy we will pick out the key principles and teachings regarding the nature of God and how he interacts with his people. One of the details that God has emphasized in the book of Deuteronomy is the need for the people to avoid idolatry. Up to this point in Moses’ sermon, Moses has taught the people to not forget the Lord when they come into the land because forgetting God leads to idolatry. It is an arrogant heart that turns from the Lord and serves self through idol worship. People will start being self-reliant, thinking it is by their own power that they have wealth rather than realizing every blessing comes from God (cf. Deuteronomy 8:10-19). But now we come to the main teaching regarding idolatry and what the people must know regarding the trap of idolatry if they are going to remain in relationship with God.
Right Worship (12:1-28)
Moses begins by teaching the people that when they enter the land that they will have to tear out all of the places where false gods were worshiped. In verse 4 the message is clear: you do not worship the Lord the way the nations worship their false gods. Notice that God does not say that all religions are more or less equal. Notice that God does not say that you can worship him in whatever way seems fit. God does not say you can worship him in the way you want. God does not say that we are all on different paths to the summit of the same mountain. You must worship the Lord the way that he wants and cannot worship him like others do. Worship is about pleasing the object of worship. Worship is not about pleasing the worshipers. Worship is not about us. Worship is about God.
Notice how clear this is made in verse 8. Worship is not going to be how it had been up to his point, “Everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes.” How we worship God is not a matter of personal preference. How we worship God is not something that we can agree to disagree over. God will decide the best way for the people to worship him. You do not decide how to worship God. God will decide how to worship him.
He tells them that when they enter the land that the people will “…seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there” (12:5). Putting God’s name in a place is an important point. The name of a deity in the Ancient Near East defined in an essential way the character, nature, and function of the deity. So when God’s name was placed somewhere, then that was where the god was (Cultural Backgrounds study Bible). Therefore God is saying that when they come into the land that he will choose the place where his name will be and he will live there.
Further, worship was not to be given out of obligation or duty but out of joy. Once the place is located by the Lord, there the people will eat before the Lord and you shall rejoice in how God has blessed you (12:7). In verse 12, “And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God” as they make their offerings. Look at verse 18, “And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God in all that you undertake.” God does not accept obligatory worship. God does not accept hearts that are not joyful to worship and offer praise. Joyful worship will exist because of the rich blessings God will provide for the people.
So think about the picture God is giving. You cannot worship God in any way you want, nor can you worship him like the world does. God will choose a place for his worship and you will rejoice in that place as you enjoy the rich blessings of God. Eventually, the Lord would name the location and have a temple built as the permanent place where the people of God would worship him. Friends, this is the picture of Jesus. People are to seek the place where God puts his name and his name is Jesus, God with us, and why we must worship him and worship him his way. Jesus tabernacled among us (John 1:14) and his body is the temple (John 2:21).
Moses then states some of the blessings of this inheritance. Look at verses 8-11.
You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes, for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the LORD your God is giving you. But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, then to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the LORD. (Deuteronomy 12:8–11 ESV)
This is the first time we get a picture of what the rest will look like when they come into the promised land. First, I would like us to notice that rest and worship are tied together. Moses says that as yet they have not come to the rest. But God is going to choose the place where his name will dwell and you will worship the Lord in that place and the Lord will give you rest. Rest and worship are tied together. Rest and fellowship with God are tied together. Rest and the inheritance are tied together.
Second, notice that the rest is described as “rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety.” Rest is pictured as dwelling with the Lord in security. Please consider that rest did not mean stopping all activities. The people were not to go into the land and do nothing. That was not what was promised. Not working was not the picture of the promised rest either.
We should have an understanding that the rest and the Sabbath never meant that all work stopped. That was not the picture. When God rested on the seventh day of creation, did that mean that God stopped working? No, for Jesus points out that the Father continued to work (John 5:17). The point is that God had completed the creation sequence. Similarly, when Israel was commanded to keep the Sabbath, this did not mean that they stopped all activity. In fact, remember that the priests would have had more work to do on the Sabbath than the other days because there were more sacrifices that were to be offered (Numbers 28:9-10). So we are not given a full picture of what the rest looks like here in Deuteronomy. But an important piece is given to us as we consider the Sabbath rest. The rest did not mean doing nothing. The rest did not even mean that there would not be any work, for the priests worked on the Sabbath and God continued to work after the creation. The rest pictures living securely without an external threat, allowing the freedom to focus on worship and fellowship with God.
As we look at this text we see what God is intending with the rest. God is intending to enjoy fellowship with his people in the land at the place where God will dwell. The people would not have to worry about survival, but would rest, meaning they can focus their attention on God. This is why the Sabbath regulations were given immediately after the tabernacle directions in Exodus 31. God intended this in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are offered amazing fellowship and proximity to the Lord. God provided for Adam and Eve so that they would not be distracted by survival but could focus on worship. But Adam and Eve refuse. So now Israel is being given the same offer. They will enter the land and the Lord will provide for them. Blessings will flow toward them if they will obey the Lord. They will not have to worry about enemies coming against them. The land will flow with milk and honey so that they will not have to worry about survival. God will give them one day a week where they can simply focus on worshiping the Lord because God will richly bless them. They will simply be able to focus on God. This is what God was offering Israel. God will give you rest so that you can spend your time focusing on him because he is going to provide for you.
Fight Idolatry (12:28-13:18)
This is one reason why the Sabbath is spoken in contexts of idolatry. The people were to worship God on their day of rest, not other gods. Therefore, the rest of this section in Deuteronomy is about not worshiping idols and false gods. When they come into the land, the people must not be tempted to follow the practices of the people they dispossess (12:29-32). Do not research how they worshipped their gods because everything the world does for worship is an abomination to the Lord. Idolatry leads to great wickedness (12:31).
Then Moses gives a firm warning in chapter 13. People are going to say false things about God, even performing signs and wonders to convince you regarding their false words (13:1-2). But they are going to tell you to leave the Lord and worship other gods. Look at verse 3. God is testing you to see if you love the Lord with all your heart or not. God would not remove tests of faith. Rather, God will allow people to say false things and work false signs to test if we love God or not. Loving God means carefully knowing and following what God says, not what others say and do. You will be tested to worship God in other ways and follow after false ways. But you are being told what to do and you must not listen to anyone who disagrees with what God has revealed (13:4). Follow God to avoid following the wrong paths. Remember what God did for you (13:5).
Notice what the people were to do with someone who was a prophet or dreamer of dreams who taught rebellion against the Lord. That person who says to follow God another way was to be put to death (13:5). Moses says, “So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” This is quoted by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:13 when he calls for the expulsion of a man who was having sexual relations with his father’s wife. It is a simple message that intentional rebellion against the Lord cannot be tolerated. Please hear this because it is very important: intentional rebellion against the Lord cannot be tolerated.
Now look at how God teaches the application of this message in the following verses. Look at verse 6. This truth applies to your family members who are calling for people to serve other gods. The rules were not relaxed when it came to family. Look at verse 8: “You shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him.” Do not make excuses for your family. In verse 9 we see God says that it should be the family first who calls out the rebel. Our commitment to the Lord must be stronger than our commitment to family. Unfortunately this is often not the case and we do hide and conceal the rebellious family member.
God not only applies this truth to family, but to any person who commits rebellion against the Lord. There may be a group of people teaching and practicing rebellion (13:12-13). They are also to be devoted to destruction for their rebellion against the Lord. Just because it is a crowd of people does not mean that we go along with the majority or avoid dealing with the error. The reason is that you cannot rebel against the Lord and think that there will not be consequences or judgment. God says that wrath is being stored upon on the people if they do not act (13:17).
The message is very simple: there is no excuse for rebellion against the Lord. Action must be taken when there is rebellion against the Lord. This is why Paul would quote from this passage of scripture in 1 Corinthians 5. Rebellion cannot be accepted in the congregation. The point is not regarding people who commit sins and are repentant. No, this is about people who are turning away from the Lord willfully and refuse to repent. God said that it did not matter if it was one person, a family member, or a whole group of people. Rebellion is not accepted by the Lord and there are consequences for such actions.
Why is this so important to God? First, God is calling people to rest in him and enjoy relationship with him. There are not blessings for choosing self and other idols. Our purpose is to reflect the glory of God, not the world. We exist so that people see God and worship him, not see sin and turn away from God. We are wrecking our very purpose on this earth when we rebel and do not reflect God’s glory.
Further, I want us to see that God’s concern here was with the danger that comes from the inside. We often are so worried about the outsiders, people who are enemies of Jesus. But we often fail to consider the people who are enemies of Jesus who are on the inside. There is a danger when those who are close to us are the ones who rebel. What will we do? Too often I have seen in so many places excuses made for people, or their sins covered up, or trying to hide rebellion because they are family members, long time church members, large contributors to the church, an elder’s family member, or some other reason. But the Lord made it clear that he is testing us to see if we love him more than even our close friends and family. The people had to accept that the rule of God applies to every facet of their lives. Our hope is in our worship and relationship with God, not friends and family. We must apply the steps of Matthew 18 and address those that we see who are rebelling against the Lord, calling them to repentance. True repentance is our great desire. God’s great desire was repentance. But we call doom on ourselves when we do not accept that God does not tolerate rebellion.
Is there rebellion in our lives that we need to address? Are we choosing to turn our hearts away from the Lord? Is there an idol that we will not give up? What God wants is a relationship with each of us. God has made it possible for that to happen through Jesus, the place where we meet God and have fellowship with him. But it is up for us to decide what we will do with God’s offer.