Deuteronomy 13 – KEEPING THE WORSHIP OF GOD PURE
A. Protecting against those who would entice Israel to serve other gods.
1. (Deuteronomy 13:1-3) Protecting against the deceiver who comes with miraculous signs.
If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, “Let us go after other gods”; which you have not known; “and let us serve them,” you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
a. A dreamer of dreams: Dreams can be from God (as in Numbers 12:6, or in Genesis 37:5-11), or they can be false prophesies (as in Jeremiah 23:25-26). We must be careful to not put too much stock in dreams, and instead allow God to bring confirmation to any dream we believe brings a message from Him. It would be very unusual for God speak alone through a dream, without other confirmation.
b. And the sign or the wonder comes to pass: Moses warned the people that there may arise from among them prophets or workers of signs who could also produce a sign or a wonder.
i. Deuteronomy 18:22 tells what to do with a prophet who speaks a word and it does notcome to pass. But this passage tells what to do with a prophet who speaks a word and it comes to pass, but they then speak against what God has already revealed in His word.
c. And the sign or the wonder comes to pass: This sobering fact is ignored by many Christians in our age which neglects discernment. The fact is that signs and wonders can never be the evidence of truth or God’s hand.
i. Those who are immediately convinced at the sight of supernatural power or reality are in danger of great deception. 2 Thessalonians 2:9reminds us that the coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders.
ii. This is why Jesus said and these signs willfollow those who believe (Mark 16:17). Signs are to follow believers, instead of believers following signs.
d. You shall not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer of dreams: Godly discernment will always carefully examine the message of a spiritual leader, instead of the spiritual experiences which may surround him or her.
e. The LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart: This explains one of God’s reasons in allowing such deceivers to exist among His people – to allow the hearts of His people to be tested and proven, to see if they really love the God of truth, or are merely seeking a spiritual sign or experience.
i. “And particularly there are many signs, yea, such as men may think to be wonders, which may be wrought by evil spirits, God so permitting it for divers wise and just reasons, not only for the trial of the good, as it here follows, but also for the punishment of ungodly men, who would not receive Divine truths, though attested by many evident and unquestionable miracles, and therefore are most justly exposed to these temptations to believe lies.” (Poole)
2. (Deuteronomy 13:4-5) The penalty for the deceiver who comes with miraculous signs.
You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.
a. You shall walk after the LORD: Israel was first instructed to not let a deceiver succeed in leading them astray. No matter how attractive the deception, they were to keep focused on a faithful walk with God according to His truth.
b. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death: Ancient Israel was a unique situation, where the civil government was also directly appointed by God and charged with maintaining spiritual order as well as civil order. Therefore, such heresy and deception was a capital crime – punishable by execution.
i. For many centuries, when the church held political power, it often exercised this penalty also. Heretics were often given over to the civil government for execution. Trapp writes in the mid seventeenth century, “This power is still in the Christian magistrate, to inflict capital punishment on gross heretics.”
ii. While we admire their priorities (they judged it much more serious for a heretic to kill men’s eternal souls than to kill their temporal bodies), they were ignorant of an important principle of Jesus’ kingdom in contrast to the ancient kingdom of Israel: Jesus declared that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36), while the kingdom of Israel was very much of this world. Never before or since has God appointed such a kingdom as Israel to be His nation in this world as He appointed ancient Israel, so it would be wrong for us to execute heretics today.
iii. Still, the church as a community and Christians as individuals should reject and refuse to support such heretics among them. They should use discernment to set aside those who promote themselves as miracle working men and women of anointing and faith, yet who teach heresy in essential doctrines.
3. (Deuteronomy 13:6-11) The penalty for a relative who would lead an Israelite to worship other gods.
If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods,” which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers, of the gods of the people which are all around you, near to you or far off from you, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth, you shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him; but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. So all Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you.
a. Brother . . . your son or daughter . . . the wife . . . your friend: If any of these close human relationships would lead one to the worship of other gods, they were not only to be rejected (you shall not consent to him or listen to him), they were to be executed (you shall surely kill him).
i. In fact, the relative should be one of the main witnesses against the guilty party: your hand shall be first against him to put him to death. This was the “casting of the first stone,” the initiation of execution by one of the witnesses to the capital crime.
ii. This also demonstrates that God never puts highest priority on family relationships; if a family member forsakes the LORD, we are never to follow them away from the LORD. Jesus always comes first, as He said in Matthew 10:37 : He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
b. Secretly entices you: This demonstrates how seriously God regards leading someone else into idolatry. Even if a sympathetic person entices you, and even if they do it in private, enticement to idolatry is not to be tolerated.
i. This brings to mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:6 : But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Anyone who leads one of God’s people astray is greatly offending the heart of God.
c. So all Israel shall hear and fear: Many modern researchers and pundits say that capital punishment is no deterrent to crime. God says it is a deterrent (properly practiced, of course).
B. Protecting the nation as a whole against those who would lead them into idolatry.
1. (Deuteronomy 13:12-14 a) How to deal with reports of a city given over to idolatry.
If you hear someone in one of your cities, which the LORD your God gives you to dwell in, saying, “Corrupt men have gone out from among you and enticed the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’“ which you have not known; then you shall inquire, search out, and ask diligently.
a. Then you shall inquire: If reports arose regarding an Israelite city given over to idolatry, there was first to be a careful investigation.
b. Search out, and ask diligently: This guarded against a harsh judgment; perhaps there were a few idolaters in the city whom needed to be punished, but perhaps the city was not given over to idolatry. God commanded a careful investigation.
2. (Deuteronomy 13:14-18) The penalty for a city given over to idolatry.
And if it is indeed true and certain that such an abomination was committed among you, you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword; utterly destroying it, all that is in it and its livestock, with the edge of the sword. And you shall gather all its plunder into the middle of the street, and completely burn with fire the city and all its plunder, for the LORD your God. It shall be a heap forever; it shall not be built again. So none of the accursed things shall remain in your hand, that the LORD may turn from the fierceness of His anger and show you mercy, have compassion on you and multiply you, just as He swore to your fathers, because you have listened to the voice of the LORD your God, to keep all His commandments which I command you today, to do what is right in the eyes of the LORD your God.
a. Such an abomination: The word abomination here refers to a gross, offensive idolatry. Later in Daniel and in the New Testament, the word is used in the phraseabomination of desolation, which refers to the ultimate idolatry of the Antichrist – the establishing of an idolatrous image of himself in the most holy place (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).
i. “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.” (Thompson)
b. You shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword; utterly destroying it: If the investigation finds that the city is indeed given over to idolatry, it is then to be treated as a Canaanite city. They were to utterly destroy the city, including its property. The property was to be given to the LORD by destroying it, a form of “sacred destruction.”
i. This made certain that no one could profit materially by declaring a city given over to idolatry. If this provision were not in the Law of Moses one could imagine a city being plundered under this pretense.
ii. “The very same punishment which was inflicted upon the cities of the cursed Canaanites, to whom having made themselves equal in sin, it is but fit and just that God should equal them in punishment.” (Poole)
c. It shall be a heap forever; it shall not be built again: The destroyed town was to be left as a heap forever. The word heap is literally tell, and the word tell is used in Arabic for any ruined sight. Throughout Israel today, one will see curious mounds rising from a plain. These tells are the heaped up remains of ancient destroyed cities, covered over with centuries of dust and accumulated dirt.
d. To do what is right in the eyes of the LORD your God: This demonstrates that Israelites were never to regard ethnic or national bonds greater than the bonds that tied them to the LORD God; if there fellow countrymen were given over to idolatry, they were not to be spared.
i. This chapter asks an important question: What would it take to lead you away from God? Would signs and wonders do it? What if your mate forsook God, or all of your friends? What if culture, or nationalism, or ethnic ties called you away from Jesus? We must never such ties to come before our bond to Jesus. We must decide, as the song says, “Though none go with me, still I will follow.”