We have seen in our study of Israel in the wilderness that these events were foreshadowing what God was going to do to save the world. The book of Deuteronomy is Moses preaching to the people to prepare them to enter the glory of the promised land. Moses is picturing what life will be like and what they must do as the people of God. In the same way, we are going to see in these chapters glorious pictures of God with his people and what that will mean in later days.
A Holy People (14:1-29)
One of the keys for the people to hear is that they are to be a holy people to be in a relationship with God. Notice Deuteronomy 14:1. “You are the sons of the Lord your God.” This is the first time that we see the people of Israel given this special designation. In Deuteronomy 1:31 and 8:5 the people were told that God treated them like a father treats a son. But now Moses flat out declares them to be in a very special relationship with very special privileges: sons of the Lord your God. Verse 2 adds to the idea. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” Being the covenant people of the Lord affects all aspects of life. Being sons of the Lord your God changes everything about your life. It even changes things that we would consider mundane or meaningless. Notice that because of their special status, this means even what they eat must be different, which is what is taught through verse 21. Notice that this section ends by repeating that message. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God” (14:21).
This is an important message to God’s people. Because God has chosen you, picked you out of all the nations on earth, made you belong to him as his children, and declares you holy, you must live according to the holy call of this new relationship. For Israel, it was to change how they ate and it was to change how they used their money. The rest of chapter 14 gives instructions for the tithe. God wanted the people to give him 10 percent of all they had been blessed with, including grain, wine, oil, and their flock (14:23). If they lived far away, they were allowed to convert their 10 percent to silver so that it could be brought to the Lord. But I want you to see a beautiful picture of what God is doing with the tithe.
And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you. (Deuteronomy 14:24–27 ESV)
Do you see the picture? God tells the people to bring in their annual tithe. Did God need their money or their crops or animals? Of course he didn’t. So what is God doing? God is telling the people to bring in this portion of their riches that God has given them to share with Levites and to share with God. God tells them to buy whatever they desire and join the Lord in a celebration feast. God is joining with the people in enjoying the fruit of their labor and praising God for the blessings he gave them that year.
We so easily live in the extremes. We either think that we are not allowed to enjoy any of the blessings that God has given us physically. So we struggle with the teaching of Ecclesiastes that there is goodness in enjoying the fruit of our labor. Or we go to the other extreme and all we do is enjoy the fruit of our labor and have nothing for God. All of life becomes about our desires and appetites. God desired neither extreme. God blessed his people so that they would do good with their riches but also so that they could enjoy their riches. What an amazing God we serve who tells Israel to bring in a portion of the blessings he gave the people so that he could share in their blessings and in celebrating the riches and provisions God gave! God’s people were to understand that they belonged to God which changed how they looked at life, food, riches, and blessings. God is blessing his people. Use his blessings but do not forget God gave you the blessings.
Debts Forgiven (15:1-23)
Deuteronomy 15 records that every seven years the debts of the people would be cancelled and those enslaved would be set free. The rest of the chapter goes on to explain what this will look like. God is going to richly bless the people so that there will be no poor among them if they obey the Lord (15:4-5). They will be so richly blessed that they will lend to other nations. But they were not to borrow from other nations so that those nations did not rule over them. If one of the people of Israel does become poor, “You shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be” (15:7-8). It did not matter if next year was the year of release, “You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you sin all your work and in all that you undertake” (15:10). This is the very same principle found in 2 Corinthians 8-9 where Paul teaches that we are blessed by God so that we can give to those among us who have little. God loves a cheerful giver and God will bless you and reward you for your kindness and generosity. Yet verse 11 says that there will always be poor people in the land. How can that be since God is going to bless them? The answer is likely that any given individual can go through difficult circumstances where they are unable to work or some difficulty of that kind or that the individual made bad financial decisions. It is important to see that the point is that when it comes to one another, our hand is to be wide open to each other (15:11), to the needy and the poor. God has always desired for his people to be generous because they recognize that what they have is from God.
I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:33–35 NIV)
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed. (Proverbs 19:17 ESV)
God wants us to be generous because it is all from God. But I also want us to notice that there was a time given when debts were cancelled and slaves were released from their obligation.
Passover and Worship (16:1-17)
Deuteronomy 16 records the details of the Passover for the next generation. Remember that the Passover was also about the setting free of the slaves, as Israel was enslaved in Egypt and rescued them. The Passover festival remembered that work of God. The unleavened bread represented the bread of their affliction (16:3) and they were to never forget how they were slaves (16:12).
Justice and Righteousness (16:18-17:13)
Deuteronomy 16:18-17:13 concentrates its time on the need for justice and righteousness. Judgments were to be made with righteous judgments when they came into the land (16:18-20). There was not be any idolatry or else be put to death (16:21-17:7). The death penalty was given on the evidence of two or three witnesses (17:6) and this would purge the evil from their midst (17:7). Purging the evil from their midst is quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:13 for those who deliberately are rebelling against the Lord. Further, the people are to listen to their priests and judges when they come into the land (17:8-13). If they did not listen to their teachings and ruling, then they were to be put to death. This foreshadows in the new covenant where the writer of Hebrews instructs Christians to obey their spiritual leaders (Hebrews 13:17) and where the apostle Paul instructs Christians to obey the government (Romans 13). So we are picturing the need for a ruler who is right and just.
Then God gives the people directions for appointing a king over them when they are in the land. You will notice that God does not tell Israel to not appoint a king but the rules to govern the appointment. When they desire to appoint a king, they must appoint a king that the Lord chooses (17:15). He must not be a foreigner but truly an Israelite. He was not to acquire many horses, go back to Egypt, acquire many wives, or acquire excessive riches. He is to write a copy of the Law for himself that will stay with him all his life that he will read and learn from so that he follows God’s will during his rule. This is the kind of king the people would need to have. The true king must be God’s anointed.
Then Moses speaks to the priests that will not have any part of the land inheritance because the Lord is their inheritance. Their focus is and will always be on God and they will be supported by the people as they do the work.
But this brings us to the apex picture in Deuteronomy 18:15-22. Just as these people needed Moses to declare God’s words to them, so another will arise who will do the same, speaking all the Lord’s commands. They are to listen to that prophet. They are not to listen to false prophets (18:20) and any false prophet was to be put to death. The prophet that will arise will be like Moses. This presumes that the new prophet will have a mediatorial role like Moses, have access to the presence of the Lord like Moses, be able to have direct conversation with the Lord like Moses, and have the spirit of prophecy like Moses. He would be their leader, their intercessor, and their prophet. This is exactly what we see in Jesus.
In fact, I want us to step back and notice the full picture that we are getting regarding what God’s people will look like and God’s leader will look like. First, God’s people are going to be holy because they are God’s children. Everything they do in life will point to the Lord because holiness touches all aspects of life. The people of God will even look at their finances differently, realizing it is all from the Lord and belongs to him. So we will enjoy what God has given us and we will give back to the Lord what he gives us. This is who we are. When Peter tells us that we are God’s holy people, his prized possession, set apart for his praise (1 Peter 1:13-2:12), these are some of the pictures we need to have in mind about ourselves. These holy regulations were to keep God in their hearts at all times. Further, these holy regulations were to show the world around them that God was in their hearts at all times.
Second, God’s appointed leader was going to be different. Look at all of the pictures of Jesus that were found in these chapters.
Jesus cancels our debts and sets us free (Deuteronomy 15-16).
He was going to cancel debts and set his people free from their slavery (Deuteronomy 15). There is a foreshadowing of what God was going to permanently do through the Christ to cancel debts and release captives. Jesus quoted Isaiah’s prophetic hope of what the Messiah would do and applied it to himself.
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:17–19 ESV)
The three annual feasts, including the Passover, also prefigured what Jesus would come to do as the Passover lamb, which the apostle Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 5.
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:7–8 ESV)
Jesus would even lay down his life during the Passover festival to show that he had come to fulfill all that the annual feasts represented (Deuteronomy 16).
Jesus rules with justice and righteousness (Deuteronomy 16-17).
The perfect leader will do so without bribery or partiality. This is what Isaiah prophesied would be the nature of his rule.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6–7 ESV)
Jesus is the perfect king.
Jesus perfectly knew and performed the Law, acting as our humble king (Deuteronomy 17). Jesus did nothing for himself. He did not acquire for himself for his own personal desires. He feared the Lord by keeping all the words of the Law and his heart was not lifted up against the people.
Jesus is the perfect priest.
Jesus is the perfect priest whose portion belonged to the Lord (Deuteronomy 18). He did not have a place to lay down his head and depended on the support of his disciples. We see this in Jesus who was supported by the women disciples while he went about doing the work of God (Luke 8:3).
Jesus is the perfect prophet.
Jesus is the prophet like Moses who showed us God.
No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him. (John 1:18 CSB)
Jesus is our intercessor and mediator, has access to the Lord, and directly speaks to the Lord. Jesus is everything that we need, performing every role that we need so that we can be his people. He is our leader, liberator, savior, ruler, judge, king, priest, and prophet. The more we see Jesus and come to know him, the more we will love him. Do we love him for who he is and what he has done? Do you know this Jesus who has become everything you need?