DEUTERONOMY 10:1 – 12:32 and MARK 12:1–27
Moses speaks of the tables of stone (Law) that he was to bring up the mountain. These were the 2nd set of tablets after throwing the 1st set down before Israel. He also relates how he was to construct the Ark. This would be the residing place of the Law. We must realize how highly esteemed God’s Laws are. The Ark is a direct reference to the presence of God. We come to know that the Ark was covered with the mercy seat. You see the combination of mercy and truth in these two pieces of furniture.
Psa 25:10 All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.
There are about 10 instances in scripture where you find these two attributes of God linked together. It is a picture of perfect balance. We need to be a people who major on Truth, the Law and God’s statutes while at the same time being able to minister in mercy. We need to be a people who major on mercy but it must be balanced with Truth. Remember, the Lord says he will have mercy on whom He will have mercy (Rom 9:15). Yes, we are to be a merciful people but we have to be careful in being over merciful at the exclusion of needed truth that such a person may need.
Pro 16:6 By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.
Can you see the harmony in the above verse? The Ark of the Covenant speaks of the presence of God. It was placed in the Holy of holies and was only approachable once a year by the high priest at the time of Atonement. Where did the Ark of the Covenant finally come into rest? It was upon the holy hill of Zion under the covering of David’s Tabernacle. David was both a king and priest and His tent (Tabernacle) served as an example of the king/priest relationship that God would establish under the new Covenant. The Lord is partial to Zion, even more so than all the dwellings of Jacob (Psa 87:3). It is His place of Rest (Psa 132:12-13). It is also a place that is made available to all those who pursue God’s best (Psa 15, 24).
Mic 4:2 And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
We see that the Lord puts a very high premium on His Law. It helps us to be acquainted with God’s ways as well as establish our path. It is the Word of the Lord that is a lamp unto our feet (Psa 119:105).
Moses then gives a key in how one can walk in such a way while keeping the commandments of the Lord. It is to walk in the “Fear of the Lord”. Moses then gives a picture of a future circumcision of heart which is a New Covenant Truth. Once again he is projecting this message to a future New Testament Church. The children of Israel would experience a physical circumcision as they cross the Jordan. The true circumcision is the one of the heart (Heb 4:12). This reinforces the duality of message between the people of Moses day and the last day church.
Moses is again instructing Israel as to the blessings of upholding and keeping of the commandments. What is emphasized in this chapter is the importance of teaching our children and future generations in the ways of God. Moses begins by saying that this generation was not privy to many of the earlier exploits as they came out of Egypt. The story is being retold over and over again so as to reinforce the reality of the power of God. It is also being retold so that this generation and others to come will be strengthened by God’s continued faithfulness while being warned about potential pitfalls of disobedience.
This is one of the common problems we see in Christianity and other areas of life. We quickly forget the pain and suffering of an experience. When 911 hit the USA the nation was horrified. In the aftermath the nation mobilized to pray and found the means to unite together as a nation. Once the initial shock and pain had worn off it became business as usual. The problem now is that things are in a much worse state than before. Do we really have to go through another cycle of judgement to learn a lesson? Well, this will clearly be Israel’s experience in the generations to come. One cannot help but notice how emphatic Moses is in instructing and warning the people about what to expect. He is very strong in placing emphasis in the keeping of the law and statutes of God. Sadly, they will forget and carry on with a notable cycle of repentance, revival and rebellion.
The ministry of effective teaching is becoming a lost art. A teacher has the ability to reach the heart of a student; not just the mind. In reaching the heart an impact can be made that can result in formative change. My pastor, whom I met nearly 40 years ago through our respective jobs, is a very effective teacher. He helped to create a love for the Word of God in my life. He dedicated himself to the study of it. His knowledge and ability in both teaching and living the Word affected me. It prompted me to want to learn more and to be more like him in Bible knowledge. It has helped to sustain me all these years and it is now my hope to help stoke a similar fire in others.
Dr. Brian Bailey, the former president of Zion Fellowship had a tremendous burden that he carried up to the end of his life. He saw the need for “Teachers of Righteousness” to be raised up in these last days. He saw the importance and need for solid Bible Teaching to help sustain and give perspective to the church. There is a tendency to dispense with the wisdom and experience of seasoned men and women in lieu of a technological and contemporary church culture. Good solid teaching is seen as old school and somewhat out of touch with what God is doing today. We do need balance and we do need to take advantage of technology and be able to adapt to culture but never at the expense of sound Biblical Doctrine. Today’s sound bite culture does not allow for the assimilation of the kind of message that Moses keeps reinforcing.
If there was only one chapter that Moses would use in Deuteronomy in speaking on the Law and the Commandments of God it would be one thing but we are seeing the same theme stated in the entire book. This is the final charge of Moses; should not his words carry weight? We are a visual generation and it is becoming increasingly difficult to take time through meditation and assimilating of the Word for it to have meaningful and long lasting effect. We have referenced Ezra before however there are some points which bear repeating. Here was a man who came up from obscurity in Babylon. You read nothing about him during that time of captivity. At the appointed time, he came forth and became known as a man who sought the Law of the Lord, lived the Law of the Lord as well as teaching the Law of the Lord (Ezr 7:10). When he taught, people listened. When he read from the law at the Watergate (Neh 8) people listened for half a day with rapt attention. When he read from the law the people clearly understood what was being shared. He was a teacher that made a clear impact upon his audience. The result was a national repentance that soon broke out into revival (Neh 8:10). We need teachers of this calibre to arise in this late hour.
Moses lets Israel again know that they are to totally destroy the altars and high places of the land that they will be brought into. This is very important to the Lord because many of the future kings would be judged as to whether they destroyed the high places as opposed to erecting and sustaining them. In allowing these high places to exist they were allowing an open door for the enemy to work. There is a verse in the Psalms that captures out attention in this context.
“They search out iniquities; they accomplish a diligent search: both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart, is deep”. (Psa 64:6)
The enemy is constantly looking for cracks and crevices where he can find an entrance. Moses is warning Israel to be sure to totally subdue and occupy. We must come to know the enemies tactics. The Lord will be specific as to where offerings would be made (vs 13-14). They were not to just offer sacrifice in any place, it had to be in the place of God’s choosing. What does that mean for us? I feel it can be applied in a number of ways. The church we attend should be ordained of the Lord. The job we hold should be in the will and plan of God. We are His creation and workmanship. He knows what environment we need in order to be perfected. He also knows the environment where we may be able to be a blessing to others. The day is upon us where we can no longer serve God on our terms. We factor God into our world as it suits us; doing that which is good in our own eyes (Jud 21:25). We can put God into a box thus limiting Him in what He seeks to do. The plans the Lord has for His people are far beyond anything we can think or imagine. We must not try and to control God.
As the Ark of the Covenant was about to make its ascent to Zion the cart that it sat upon was shaken. Uzzah sought to steady the Ark and as a result he was struck dead. Why such an extreme consequence? Was Uzzah a bad and notorious figure? The scripture gives no indication of this. He probably had the best of intentions in seeking to not have the Ark stumble or fall. God was on the move to Zion, the place of His Rest. As we have noted in earlier commentaries there are times when God moves in swift judgement. In the natural it is very difficult to reconcile why God would judge in such a way; especially with someone like Uzzah. This man paid a high price but his death here is not in vain. It conveys a powerful truth about God and His presence. It is not to be trifled with. A man with good intentions can still try and control God. This is most dangerous when God is sovereignly moving. We may interpret what is happening in a totally contrary way to God’s plans. This goes back to the danger of presumption. The Lord is making clear in this chapter that where we are established is important to Him. This will be especially true as we get nearer to the end of the age. The marriage partner that a man or woman would seek must be the one of God’s choosing. Already, we are seeing a shift in the spirit, things are now taking place giving evidence that God is on the move. It matters where we are in the kingdom. It matters what vision we subscribe to and where we are established. May God grant that we walk in perfect alignment with Him in all areas of life.
There are three particular accounts covered in this portion. All of them have to deal with the religious people of Jesus’s day. The 1st account is a parable involving a man who planted a vineyard and gave the responsibility to husbandmen. The problem arises when there is accountability required. This is oftentimes the case in many areas of life. The man who planted the vineyard sent servants to receive the fruits. These servants refer to the prophets of old who brought messages of accountability only to be rejected and abused by the masses. Finally, the time has come when the owner of the vineyard sends his own Son. In this account the man thought the son would be respected but in this case he was killed.
In Mark 11 we saw the Lord approaching the fig tree to partake of its fruits. There was no fruit so the tree was cursed. This parable is a variation of that account. The time came when the Lord was looking for fruit but found none. In this parable we see the primary motive of the husbandman being centered on the inheritance (vs 7). These men were tasked to be custodians on behalf of the owner. It was for the owner’s pleasure that they were employed. At the time of accountability there interest was their own, not the owners. The Lord here is taking direct aim at the religious leadership. As the time is drawing nearer to the Cross we find the Lord’s messages more direct and to the point. His messages cut to the heart where issues of the heart, motives and hypocrisies were revealed. The Lord was able to show the heart of people; in particular that of the religious leadership. They were self-serving, having no regard for the people they were called to represent. Here is a quick personal story to help illustrate.
There was a particular mission’s outreach that our home fellowship supported for a number of years. The Indian leader was trained in the USA based Bible School. After graduation he returned to his native place and was supported in his ministry work. The home base was informed that there were 52 pastors under this man’s leadership, along with their churches, a proposed Bible School as well as a leprosarium that was to be established in his community. The reports that would come from the field were encouraging, oftentimes filled with pictures and testimonies. The home base felt the time was right to send a representative to view the Indian work to assess and to see if there were areas where further help could be given. This person was initially well received but things began to quickly turn when the home base decided to place a representative in India on a permanent basis. Sad to say, the work was not really as fruitful as was projected. The home base sought to help and work through some of the issues with this native leader and associates but was rebuffed at every turn. There were constant threats given with the warning of potential violence. In short, this leader and those associated with him enjoyed the support but they did not want the accountability.
We are living in a time when accountability is being brought to the forefront. What if we fall short or come to realize we have not fulfilled the expectations of leadership or of the Lord Himself? I feel there is opportunity to acknowledge and repent and seek God’s mercies. In this parable there are 4 opportunities given. When we are called to account for a situation it can be very sobering when we find ourselves not measuring up to what was required. The owner in this parable demonstrates compassion and long-suffering. When we are called to account for something it requires a response. If we fall short we may respond by trying to make excuses. This is shifting blame.
This is what happened in the account given above. The leader would not accept responsibility for false reporting, even when confronted with proof. This leader was given several opportunities to come clean, to be able to acknowledge his wrong and to be restored. After the third time of being confronted with proof he admitted he was wrong and asked forgiveness. The home organization accepted forgiveness and laid down terms for his restoration while giving him opportunity to continue on in the work. Sad to say that within a few short months he once again began to place blame elsewhere and caused problems for the foreign representative that was now living there. The decision was ultimately made to dismiss this leader permanently. Though he pleaded in tears for one more chance the decision made was final. It was a situation I witnessed first-hand and it is one I will never forget. If we find ourselves not measuring up it is vital we seek the Lord for mercy and be willing to acknowledge wrong doing or weakness. God is merciful and ever there to assist provided our response is one of contrition. It can be a humbling experience but it is this time of weakness where we can be made strong by His grace.
The next two accounts are two groups, the Pharisees and Sadducees who try and trap Jesus in His doctrine (Mark 12:13-27). The reason for this is that they now fear Him and realize that He must be destroyed, one way or another. He is showcasing their hypocrisy and they now must find a way to undermine His credibility. This approach that was taken by the enemies of God is seen throughout scripture.
The enemies of Daniel sought to trap him by way of his dedicated prayer life. They were able to persuade the king to enact a law that they knew Daniel would break (Daniel 6). Interestingly, we came to discover during our time in India that our primary problem was not the anti-Christian forces that existed there but rather those who were among the “churched”. Yes, we experienced much opposition from some of the militant Hindu groups but many of our problems would have been minimized if the key church leaders were really kingdom minded. The questions these two groups raised to Jesus was not the primary issue. They were trying to undermine Him. The Pharisees tried to undermine by way of the government (Caesar) while the Sadducees tried undermining His doctrine. It is clear that the end game is near.
How will we respond when God seeks to bring us to account? Do you not think it is far better to have a work done in our lives now than to face the Lord in eternity with unresolved issues? Have you ever thought of what it would be like to know you can never go back to make it right? This is one of the primary blessings of the Atonement message. It allows God to bring us to accountability now so that we can stand before Him with those linen garments of righteousness. May we open our vineyard (our heart) and welcome the accountability work of the Holy Spirit to bring forth those fruits.
In verses 28-33 we see a scribe asking a question regarding which is the most important commandment. This account is also found in Math 22:36-40. Mark’s account however adds some comments from this scribe, who was a lawyer. He makes a statement that in doing these two commandments it is better than fulfilling all the burnt offerings. This was an astute observation on his part. He actually understood the New Testament reality of an Old Testament type. The Lord commended him and then went on to say that he was not far from the kingdom of God. What he said was contrary to what all the other scribes and Pharisees held onto. In order to discredit Jesus they constantly sought for ways to find violations in His teaching or manner of life. Did this man become a believer? Where there others who actually understood what Jesus was teaching but held onto tradition for the purpose of convenience? To be aligned with Jesus would be dangerous to such people. This statement from the scribe is quite insightful but did he believe; did he become a follower? This is a dilemma that will be faced by many in the last days. There will be those who know the Truth, knows what is right and wrong but will wilt and yield under pressure. The tenets of absolute laws are being eroded, making allowance for lawlessness to run rampant everywhere. Will we stand for Truth? Will we answer the call as to who is on the Lord’s side? There is a season when we can live in a “middle ground” kind of environment but what will happen when we are put into a positon to choose? These days are coming and we need to prepare for them now. This scribe’s insights intrigue me. He was close to the kingdom but what did he do?
The Lord asks the question as to who do men say the Christ is. In Mathew’s account, the scribes respond the “son of David” He then goes on to say as to how then could David call Him Lord (vs 35-37)? He is absolutely confounding the learned scribes and Pharisees. Mark makes the statement that the common people heard him gladly. It seems like they enjoyed seeing the “learned” men of the religious sects being exposed as hypocrites. This of course is only fuelling the anger and hatred of these men all the more against Jesus. He was shaming and exposing them while at the same time gaining popularity amongst the common people. If this was not enough Jesus continues on in exposing them by their open display of loving reputation, being recognized and taking advantage of widows houses (vs 38-40). This is all being done while they are making long prayers in the synagogue and showing themselves to be religious. The Lord is not holding back. One can only imagine what the scribes and Pharisees must have been thinking at about this time. “This man has got to go.” Then in His grand finale He points to a widow putting in two mites into the treasury. She is doing this in the midst of many others who are putting in much larger sums. He makes clear that her reward is greater because she is giving of what she had. What a perfect illustration to capstone this series of teachings that Jesus was bringing forth.
We can see that in the last week of Jesus earthy ministry before the cross that there was no holding back in his teaching. This resulted in a hastening of the Lord being brought to the cross. He knew His hour was at hand. What will it be like in the last days? It seems that even we in the church seek to be politically correct so as to not make too many waves. We know that we are to submit to authorities; even Jesus taught this way. When does one draw the line? When is it time for the church to stand up against the cultural tide of rot that is sweeping the earth? To do this means that we will be opposed and that we will be resented. Are we ready for this? The laws of many lands are being re-written by the day. The tide of lawlessness has been gaining momentum and nothing seems to be able to stop it. Politics is certainly not the answer. Yes, God can and does use people in elected office, they need to be prayed for but in the end it will be the church that will need to draw the line in the sand. Will we be able to be bold in that hour and stand for that which is right? It is a choice.