set apart as a symbol

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set apart as a symbol

Deuteronomy 15:19-23 (JDV)

Deuteronomy 15:19 “Commit to Yahveh your God every firstborn male produced by your herd and flock. You are not to put the firstborn of your oxen to work or shear the firstborn of your flock.

Deuteronomy 15:20 Each year you and your family are to eat it before Yahveh your God in the place Yahveh chooses.

Deuteronomy 15:21 But if there is a defect in the animal, if it is lame or blind or has any serious defect, you may not sacrifice it to Yahveh your God.

Deuteronomy 15:22 Eat it within your city gates; both the contaminated person and the pure may eat it, as though it were a gazelle or deer.

Deuteronomy 15:23 But you must not eat its blood; pour it on the land like water.

set apart as a symbol

We are used to looking at passages like this from the standpoint of the past— as reminders of God’s rescue of the firstborn Israelites in Egypt. Or, we think about how the passage reflects on God’s plan to rescue us in Christ— his firstborn— sacrificed on the cross.

But today I want us to focus on what God might be communicating every time a family chooses to set aside its first and best to enjoy it in God’s presence. That firstborn animal would become a symbol of God’s provision, and would remind the family of all their possessions.

Every time they saw that young bullock not allowed to pull a plow, or that conspicuously unshorn sheep, it would remind them of the animal’s special purpose. In fact, that was another reason the animal had to be without defect. A flawed animal could never represent God.

All year they could imagine what it was going to be like to be in God’s special place, and celebrate life with him.

More than just a symbol of God’s provision, or a reminder of his rescue by grace— the firstborn of the flock or herd would be a reminder of God’s existence. As they took care of the animal, they would remember how he was with them and took care of them. When they made sure their animals were safe, they would be reminded that he was keeping them safe.

Lord, in this age, you have given us one ultimate sacrifice and symbol of your goodness and grace. May our thoughts of Jesus always bring us closer to you.

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when they want to stay

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when they want to stay

Deuteronomy 15:16-18

Deuteronomy 15:16 But if your slave says to you, ‘I don’t want to leave you,’ because he cares about you and your family, and is well off with you,

Deuteronomy 15:17 take an awl and pierce through his ear into the door, and he will become your slave permanently. Also treat your female slave the same way.

Deuteronomy 15:18 Do not regard it as a hardship when you set him free, because he worked for you six years – worth twice the wages of a hired worker. Then Yahveh your God will empower you in everything you do.

when they want to stay

The Israelites were commanded to take a difficult situation and turn it into a reason for joy and gratitude. The difficult situation in view here was the poverty of a fellow resident. If their poverty or debt was so great that they had no other way to get out of it, they were allowed to sell themselves into temporary slavery. After six years, they were to be released with gratitude. But if they had grown attached to the family and did not want to go, they would be allowed to make the relationship permanent.

When anyone saw that pierced ear, it would be a badge of honor for that household head. It would indicate that the person under his employ was so happy and successful that he or she did not want to leave.

The same cultural phenomenon does not exist anymore in most places. But there is a similar thing. Believers who are responsible for the welfare of others, or who have others in their employ – can treat them so well that they would not want to leave. Or, if they do leave, it would be with gratitude on their part, and their employer as well.

Lord, make us the kind of people that others want to stay around.

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reflecting the first blesser


reflecting the first blesser

Deuteronomy 15:11-15

Deuteronomy 15:11 For there will never cease to be poor people in the land; that is why I am commanding you, and this is what I say: ‘Open your hand willingly to your poor and needy brother in your land.’

Deuteronomy 15:12 “If your fellow Hebrew, a man or woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, you must set him free in the seventh year.

Deuteronomy 15:13 When you set him free, do not send him away empty-handed.

Deuteronomy 15:14 Give generously to him from your flock, your threshing floor, and your wine press. You are to give him whatever Yahveh your God has empowered you with.

Deuteronomy 15:15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and Yahveh your God redeemed you; that is why I am giving you this command today.

reflecting the first blesser

God wants his community to follow his pattern. His pattern for the Israelites was to redeem them from slavery. He expects the Israelites to follow that pattern when it comes to their own brothers and sisters. There will always be poor people among them because God wants their fellow Israelites to rescue them as a reflection of his character.

God empowers us for the same reason. He wants us to use the blessings he gives us to bless others, and so reflect his character as the first giver.

Lord, show us how help those around us, and so draw attention to you.

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don’t dread the seventh


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Deuteronomy 15:8-10 (JDV)

don’t dread the seventh

Deuteronomy 15:8 Instead, you are to open your hand to him and freely loan him enough for whatever need he has.

Deuteronomy 15:9 Be careful or else there will be this wicked thought in your heart, and this is what you say: ‘The seventh year, the year of canceling debts, is near,’ and you are stingy toward your poor brother and give him nothing. He will cry out to Yahveh against you, and you will be guilty of a mistake.1

Deuteronomy 15:10 Give to him, and don’t have a stingy heart when you give, and because of this Yahveh your God will empower you in all your work and in everything you do.

don’t dread the seventh

Both the weekly Sabbath and the seventh year for canceling debts were blessings from God designed for human freedom and rest. It would be an evil thing to look upon either of those gifts with foreboding. But that is what a stingy heart does. It only sees personal loss, not the gain of another. It fails to trust that God knew what he was doing when he brought that poor person to your door.

God hates stingy hearts. He is predisposed to judge the Scrooges of this world. He tends to hit them where they will hurt the most – their wallets. Be generous. Don’t dread the year of debt forgiveness.

Lord, build in us a desire to set our brothers and sisters free from the slavery of debt.


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hard hearts and tight fists

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hard hearts and tight fists

Deuteronomy 15:4-7 (JDV)

Deuteronomy 15:4 “There will be no poor among you, however, because Yahveh is certain to empower you in the land Yahveh your God is giving you to take possession of as an inheritance –

Deuteronomy 15:5 if only you obey Yahveh your God and are be careful to follow every one of these commands I am commanding you today.

Deuteronomy 15:6 When Yahveh your God empowers you as he has promised you, you will lend to many nations but not borrow; you will have control over68 many nations, but they will not have control over you.

Deuteronomy 15:7 “If there is a poor person among you, one of your brothers within any of your city gates in the land Yahveh your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.

hard hearts and tight fists

Poverty should not exist among the Mosaic covenant Israelites. God wants to empower them and make them lenders, not borrowers. But if one of their brothers does become poor, it should not be regarded as a sign of punishment for disobedience. Instead, it should be seen as an opportunity to show kindness to them as a reflection of God’s character. To be stingy— to demonstrate hard hearts and tight fists toward the poor among them — is to violate the covenant.

So it is today. Individuals and churches who claim to follow Christ should open their hearts to the needy among them, and open their hands and wallets.

Lord, forgive us for ignoring the poor among us. Lead us into a generosity which reflects your character.

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seven year debt cycle


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seven year debt cycle

Deuteronomy 15:1 “At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts.

Deuteronomy 15:2 This is how to cancel debt: Every creditor is to cancel what he has lent his neighbor. He is not to collect anything from his neighbor or brother, because Yahveh’s release of debts has been proclaimed.

Deuteronomy 15:3 You may collect something from a foreigner, but you must forgive whatever your brother owes you.

seven year debt cycle

It can be extremely discouraging to know that no matter how hard you work, there is no way possible to pay your debts. Some debts are like that, and when they are actually someone else’s debts you have inherited, you can be tempted to just give up.

The same loving God who initiated the third-year tithe for the poor— also initiated the seven year debt cycle. The cycle took debt seriously, but made sure that it would not become a life sentence.

The cycle was also intended to work for creditors because it ensured short term repayment limits. But most importantly, the cycle was a reminder that God cared about those trapped in the bondage of debt and wanted to free them.

Lord, thank you for caring about all our lives— not just a narrowly defined religious part.

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a tithe for others

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a tithe for others

Deuteronomy 14:27-29

Deuteronomy 14:27 Do not neglect the Levite within your city gates, since he has no portion or inheritance among you.

Deuteronomy 14:28 “At the end of every three years, bring a tenth of all your produce for that year and store it within your city gates.

Deuteronomy 14:29 Then the Levite, who has no portion or inheritance among you, the guest, the fatherless, and the widow within your city gates may come, eat, and be satisfied. And Yahveh your God will empower you in all the work of your hands that you do.

a tithe for others

The third-year tithe was to be dedicated to the less fortunate ones in the community. The Levites had no land apportioned to them, so they participated in the third-year tithe. The foreign guest also had the opportunity to celebrate God’s goodness, and perhaps be drawn to put their trust in him. The orphans and widows as well were able to live better due to the generosity of those who followed this instruction.

The third-year tithe was a double blessing. It was an empowerment to the less fortunate ones who benefited from it. But it also helped the participants to feel connected to their wider community, and to make a difference among a larger family.

When I send my tithe in to my local church, by placing a check in the offering plate, or clicking on a donation link, I am doing something not unlike the third-year tithe. A part of my income will be going to empower my local community.

Lord, thank you for the double blessing we receive when we give.

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the terrible tithe

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the terrible tithe

Deuteronomy 14:22-26 (JDV)

Deuteronomy 14:22 “Each year you are to set aside a tenth of all the produce grown in your fields.

Deuteronomy 14:23 You are to eat a tenth of your grain, new wine, and fresh oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, in the presence of Yahveh your God at the place where he chooses to have his name dwell, so that you will always learn to fear Yahveh your God.

Deuteronomy 14:24 But if the distance is too great for you to carry it, since the place where Yahveh your God chooses to place his name is too far away from you and since Yahveh your God has empowered you,

Deuteronomy 14:25 then exchange it for silver, take the silver in your hand, and go to the place Yahveh your God chooses.

Deuteronomy 14:26 You may spend the silver on anything you want: cattle, sheep, goats, wine, beer, or anything your throat desires. You are to feast there in the presence of Yahveh your God and enjoy it with your family.

the terrible tithe

There is nothing terrible about this tithe regulation. God is only requiring that his people enjoy themselves in his presence, and setting up a way for them to do that annually.

This tithe was intended to be a reminder of how good God has been to the Israelite. With a tenth of all he has produced in his fields and among his flocks and herds, and with his family all around him, he is to feast and be thankful. If the distance makes it too hard for him to carry it all, provision is made for him to sell his tithe and repurchase the feast in Jerusalem. And when he gets there, he’s the richest that he has been all year, and so is everyone else.

I don’t think the weekly tithe is required of Christians under the new covenant, but I personally recommend it. If I can share a tenth of my weekly income to share with the rest of God’s people in my home church, it is a testimony to God’s faithfulness to me, and it can be used to bring others to him. That’s not a terrible tithe either.

Lord, thank you for your faithfulness.

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carcasses and goat milk

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carcasses and goat milk

Deuteronomy 14:21

Deuteronomy 14:21 “You are not to eat any carcass; you may give it to a guest within your city gates, and he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a sacred people to Yahveh your God. Do not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.

carcasses and goat milk

Following a list of animals that are forbidden for the Israelites to eat, there is this verse containing two (bizarre sounding) prohibitions.

First, even animals that are considered pure cannot be eaten if they are found dead, not properly slaughtered. It would be unclear what caused the death of the creature, so it could not be eaten in faith. Moses concedes that if non-Israelite guests wanted to eat it, it could be given away or sold to them.

Secondly, there is the prohibition against boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk. The website Defending Inerrancy suggests eight possible purposes for this rule, then states:

The truth is that we do not know for sure why God commanded this. But it does not really matter, since the Israelites knew exactly what they were not to do, even if they did not fully understand why. So while there is a problem in understanding the purpose of this passage, there is no problem in understanding its meaning. It means exactly what it says.”

There is no doubt that God had a specific purpose for this prohibition, and that the original audience (the Israelites in Moses’ time) understood that purpose. My guess is that it had mostly to do with being a unique people, set apart from the idolatrous pagans all around them.

Lord, make us a people set apart, so that we draw attention to you.

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a unique people

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a unique people

Deuteronomy 14:9-20 (JDV)

Deuteronomy 14:9 “You may eat everything from the water that has fins and scales,

Deuteronomy 14:10 but you may not eat anything that does not have fins and scales – it is contaminated for you.

Deuteronomy 14:11 “You may eat every pure bird,

Deuteronomy 14:12 but these are the ones you may not eat: eagles, bearded vultures, black vultures,

Deuteronomy 14:13 the kites, any kind of falcon,

Deuteronomy 14:14 every kind of raven,

Deuteronomy 14:15 ostriches, short-eared owls, gulls, any kind of hawk,

Deuteronomy 14:16 little owls, long-eared owls, barn owls,

Deuteronomy 14:17 eagle owls, ospreys, cormorants,

Deuteronomy 14:18 storks, any kind of heron, hoopoes, and bats.

Deuteronomy 14:19 All winged insects are contaminated for you; they may not be eaten.

Deuteronomy 14:20 But you may eat every pure flying creature.

a unique people

Moses’ instructions about what kinds of sea or sky animals could be eaten had nothing to do with moral or spiritual holiness. They were intended to identify the Israelites as a unique people. The contamination that he spoke of was the loss of unique identity.

The new covenant also encourages uniqueness, but not in superficial things like eating and drinking certain things, or abstaining from certain things. Under the new covenant, our uniqueness is to be expressed by our character and devotion to Christ alone.

Lord, make us shine as your unique people, uncontaminated by the world around us.

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