DEUTERONOMY 7:1 – 9:29 and MARK 11:1–33
One of the most important lessons that Israel is being given when looking to take new territory is to make sure they make no agreement with the enemies in the land. Sadly, it is a lesson that is seldom learned and it is one of the more potent weapons in the enemy’s arsenal. The enemy is more than willing to acquiesce to a position of perceived weakness for a season with the knowledge that one day he can regain that which has been lost. He knows the tendencies of God’s people. We must never forget that he knows how to play on the emotions of God’s people.
In the last days the antichrist will come in peaceably, seemingly amenable but at an appropriate time will break the agreement which will usher in the great tribulation. This is why we must be very discerning in these last days. This is why Moses is taking considerable time in putting emphasis on the total destruction of the enemy when entering into the land. This principle applies in so many facets of life. How many times have there been marriages where a saved spouse will marry a non-believer with the belief that he or she will come to know the Lord? In almost every scenario it ends up being the other way. We feel we can live with and tolerate certain worldly elements only to find these little foxes spoiling the vine in future. This is something that the church of the last days must fully understand. We often rely on emotions and the soul when called to execute God’s judgments in matters. This is why there is so much compromise in the church today. What may appear to be a sympathetic act of compassion today can reap an avalanche of problems tomorrow. Why? It is because a door has been opened. Remember, the enemy has no problem assuming a weak position if he is plotting for the long term. God emphasizes this warning consistently throughout the scriptures.
The Lord states that they are a holy people (vs 6). This appears to be a statement of what He is calling them to be. They certainly were not displaying the characteristics of holiness as a nation. We note in the New Testament the words of Peter.
1Pe 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
God has chosen Israel above all the other nations. He has called them to be an example to other nations. This is why God is so grieved over Israel, especially in future generations. Look what God says through the prophet Ezekiel.
Eze 5:5 Thus saith the Lord GOD; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her.
Eze 5:6 And she hath changed my judgments into wickedness more than the nations, and my statutes more than the countries that are round about her: for they have refused my judgments and my statutes, they have not walked in them.
It turns out that Israel was even worse than the nations they were called to be an example too. The reason for God’s love for Israel was not because they were more in number; they were few. The Lord makes clear that He loves Israel. The Lord makes clear that He is a covenant keeping God even up to 1000 generations. The key is for the people of God to love Him; to love Him with all their hearts. He promises to fight for them while making clear that no nation will be able to stand before them no matter how formidable they may be (vs 17-26). If only the people of God would heed these words both then and now. The commandments and laws of God are meant to be a blessing and protection for the people who choose to observe them. From the very beginning we have seen Satan redefining God’s Law and truth. A people who do not diligently seek the Lord or study the scriptures will eventually fall prey to his devices. Many, in these last days shall be deceived. May we not be among them.
One of the most often quoted verses in the Old Testament that is used to summarise the wilderness experience is found in verse 2. The purpose of the wilderness is defined as a testing of the heart to see whether God’s people would keep His commandments or not. The essence of a person will come out when put under pressure. A shallow relationship with God can be easily maintained when things are going well. A life without testing is a dangerous place to be. How will such a person respond if sudden calamity were to take place? The Lord goes on to say that even though they were in the wilderness their every need was met. They were given a daily provision of manna and their clothing and shoes never wore out (vs 3-4). Think of how people celebrate food today. You find pictures being taken at restaurants and then showcased to the world via social media. What about the fashion industry? The multi-billion dollar industry continues to draw the attention of a world obsessed with how they look. It’s interesting to think that the Lord provided for these necessities on a daily basis. The problem is that food, fashion, entertainment etc can become idols where the focus and attention is taken away from God. Do you remember what Jesus said to His disciples went He sent them forth in their ministry?
Mar 6:8 And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:
Mar 6:9 But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.
Those verses provide clues as to what hinders the ongoing work of Christianity today. We become consumed with possessions, reputation, money and material goods. Jesus made clear that this was not to be of concern; the Lord would provide. Jesus Himself was tempted by the devil when coming out of the wilderness after 40 days. Though hungry, He put total reliance upon the Father to provide (Deu 8:3, Math 4:4).
The Lord also reminds the people of another purpose for the wilderness. It is to know that it is God who enables people to accumulate wealth (vs 17-18). There is the danger in believing that we are responsible for the blessings and favour received. The wilderness was a place of humbling so that total dependence and reliance would be upon God. The Lord was about to bring His people into a large place and it was vital that they have these memorials established. It is true for us. There is an entitlement mentality that is becoming more pervasive by the year. The last several decades have not seen any world war or large scale depressions like our fathers and grandfathers may have been through. The previous generations knew and experienced hardships, lack and sickness. They paid a price and learned to appreciate the day to day blessings of essentials to survive. The Lord wanted the people to be sure to teach the generations to come the Laws and statutes of God as well as remind them of how the Lord was their source for all things. If one has not gone through such periods of challenges it then becomes more difficult to see God as the provider, unless such a person has been taught well. The roots of entitlement began in the USA in the late 50s and 60s. It was reflected in music and culture which has led to the narcissistic way of life that is prevalent today. We need to take a hard sobering look at Deuteronomy 8 to be reminded again of why God led Israel in such a way. One senses that the cycle is about to repeat itself in our day. There needs to be the recognition that we live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Math 4:4).
The Lord again reminds the people that He will drive out the giants before them. They are not to be intimidated but rather delight that God is able to use Israel as an instrument of his destruction against these enemies. He quickly makes clear that it is not because of their righteousness that he does this but it is because of the wickedness of their enemies. This should hopefully dispel “holier than thou” notions in us. We sometimes feel that God is on our side where we see ourselves as being better than others. It is only by the grace of God that we prevail in such battles. The Lord hates wickedness and He delights in having a people whom he can use to be His instruments of destruction.
The problem as we shall see later is that Israel was sometimes more of a problem than the enemies they were called to fight against. How do you think the Lord feels in such cases? This is why He takes great delight in someone like a Phineas who exercised His displeasure against blatant sin in the camp (Num 25). This is really a picture of what will transpire in the last days when the Lord returns with His saints at the 2nd coming. The ones who will be with the lamb will be worthy due to their allowing a work of grace to have been done in their lives. What we are seeing in Deuteronomy is in actuality a picture of what will be seen in our day. Can we not see the parallels? This journey is a roadmap for us on many levels. It helps to indicate where we are in our own respective walk while showing what we need to watch out for. This is an invaluable instruction manual for us.
Moses gives a thorough review of what took place at the foot of Mt. Sinai in verses 9-21. It is here where we see two literal congregations. We see Moses receiving God’s Laws; where he takes His cues from God Himself. We then see Aaron with the people establishing their congregation on what people want and desire. Is this not true today? Is our church based on God and his testimonies or rather based on the sentiments of what people desire? Moses spends considerable time on this subject due to its importance. He then reminds them of the intercessory prayer he had to make on their behalf for their transgression (vs 25-29). This is a priestly function that needs to come to the forefront.
This chapter covers the beginning of the last week of the Lord’s earthly ministry. I would like to focus on verses 12-14.
Mar 11:12 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:
Mar 11:13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.
Mar 11:14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.
We first discover that the Lord is hungry and looks to satisfy it with the fruits of a fig tree. This is something we need to understand about God. He has an appetite. There are things that God delights in and hungers for. What could God possibly be hungry for; after all he is God? The Bible says that when the Son of man returns to the earth, will He find faith (Luk 18:8)? Faith is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It comes through the sown seeds of God’s Word. These seeds then take root in a fertile heart that produces fruit of 30, 60 and 100 fold portions. The Lord delights in this kind of fruit because it represents the product of His labours. God loves gardens; the Bible says that we are the planting of the Lord (Isa 61:3) so that we can be trees of righteousness. His Word is like the seeds that go forth; if these seeds fall upon ground with fertile soil (hearts) it allows for the fruit of faith to operate. It is in this atmosphere of faith where God is able to move and accomplish His pleasure. The Lord is hungering and looking for an atmosphere of faith to be prevalent in a people or church. This draws His attention as seen in Blind Bartimaeus and the woman with the issue of blood. Perhaps we can say that Faith is God’s food as it relates to us. It is what He hungers and looks for. Do we have this kind of faith operating in our lives to draw His attention?
2Ch 16:9 For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.
In our narrative we find the Lord hungry and being drawn to the fig tree. He is anticipating the delight of being fed by these figs. From a distance this tree has the appearance of being fruitful with its covering leaves (vs 13). Upon close inspection of the tree he discovers that there is no underlying fruit. This to me is most instructive. On the surface we make look like a church or a believer that has it all together. The world and people may look upon us and determine that all is well, that there is fruitfulness in our lives and no underlying issues to be concerned about. The veneer of today’s Christianity can be very much like that. A church to the casual eye may have the appearance of fruitfulness but what is underneath the veneer? Are we as true on the inside as we project ourselves outwardly? As long as there is no close inspection we can carry on with no problem. We can maintain the illusion that all is well. The Lord saw this tree as being fruitful from a distance with its covering leaves but upon close inspection found that it was just a show with no underlying fruit. This to me is most instructive.
We have discussed in previous commentaries that we are in the spiritual season of the Feast of Atonement. This was the sobering day of the year when God dealt with the sins of His people. We discovered that in the reading of the Law in Neh 8 the people were smitten and convicted of their sin. The Law made real their problem. They acknowledged and confessed their sins and as a result they experienced the joy of the Lord (Neh 8:8-10). The people under the teaching of Ezra allowed the Law to get to the root of the sin issues in their lives. Once again, this is a picture of the New Covenant.
Today, the Lord desires to do a similar work of inspection within His church. He desires to part the fig leaves, the veneer that covers up the true picture. This certainly applies to us as individuals as well. Do we allow Him? The Lord stands at the door and knocks but do we open up? Do we willingly allow Him to penetrate the inner recesses of our being? The Lord’s approach to that fig tree is a picture of what He is attempting to do with the church. To the casual eye there may be an element of fruitfulness but what is the true picture? Let’s go back to the beginning in Genesis to further establish this truth.
What was the first thing that man did after he sinned before God?
Gen 3:7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
There you have it, the origins of the very first “cover-up”. The world today is constantly mired in cover-up scandals. At least now we know its origins. Once man knew that he sinned he had to cover up his transgression and he did so with fig leaves. In the next verse we see the Lord approaching Adam in the garden; what did Adam do? He hid from the presence of God. Is this not similar to what is seen at times in our lives? The Lord seeks to put His finger on an issue in our life and we do what we can to hide, ignore or place the blame elsewhere. Speaking of placing the blame, this is what Adam did when confronted about partaking of the fruit. He transferred responsibility to his wife and then to God (Gen 3:12). It was clear that the fig leaves were not an acceptable means of covering man’s transgression so God devised his own covering as seen in the following verse:
Gen 3:21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
This covering was a picture of the true Passover Lamb that would one day provide the atonement for the sin of mankind. In Mark 11 we are seeing a re-enactment of what took place in Genesis 3. We see a fig tree with leaves that provided no fruit; a type of the covering that adorns many churches and believers today. It is an unacceptable garment (Gen 3:7) and is in the process of being revealed for what it is. Conversely, we have the Son of God, less than one week away from becoming the Passover sacrifice, the true covering and sacrifice for sin (Gen 3:21) approaching this fruitless fig tree. We need to be careful in getting overly caught up in externals at the expense of the internal work God is looking to do in His church. We need to know the balance. As mentioned in a previous commentary we can put an over-emphasis on our strengths at the expense of needed internal issues that need addressing. We need to be willing to allow the Lord to touch that “One Thing” area in our lives (Mark 10:21). What is our response as the as the Lord approaches to do His work of inspection? Will we open as he knocks (Rev 3:20)? It is up to us!
It is interesting to note as to what happens next in Mark’s account. After finding no fruit he curses the tree and says that no man is to eat fruit of this tree any longer. We then find that He goes to Jerusalem and enters into the temple (vs 15-17). He expresses holy indignation as to what is going on in the temple seeing that the house of prayer has become a place of merchandising. Is it possible that the Lord may be providing a picture of what he found with the fig tree while making an application to the church for our day? He proceeds to turn upside down the table of the money-changers. This to me is also very significant and has special meaning. Consider what Paul says in the following verse:
1Co 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
I personally feel that the Lord is giving us a picture of the soon coming ministry of the person of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. Since we are the temple of God it will be the Holy Spirit who will turn upside down the strongholds that exist in our own lives. Jesus is the one who baptizes a person in the Holy Spirit and it may be that He is giving us a clear picture of what the Spirit’s work will be likened to in a yielded vessel. It is also the work of the Holy Spirit that produces the fruit in our lives that the Lord takes delight in. The nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) are the rewards of God’s labours. He is a gardener; He planted man in a garden for the purpose of being fruitful. Though man sinned and transgressed God yet was able to cover and restore through the covering of His only begotten Son. The same Spirit that enabled Christ to finish His work is that same Spirit available to us. The Lord showed the way and now makes the Holy Spirit accessible to the church and individuals so that we may be pleasing and fruitful to God. You can see the plan and process play out from Genesis through Revelation. He is the Alpha and Omega and we if we truly incline our hearts to seek Him, our paths and ways will be made clear. May the Lord see us as being fruitful; may we allow God to peel away our fig leaves so that the righteousness of God can be woven within, that we may have the garments and fruits that are acceptable to God. It is our choice, may we learn to yield.