The important theme from Deuteronomy 12 onwards is the place the LORD has chosen to dwell there. That is for Israel a building, the temple, and a city, Jerusalem. For the church this is not a building or a group, but it is the spiritual foundation upon which believers who form the church meet and to which the Lord Jesus connects His presence by coming into their midst.
An important characteristic is that what is not God’s must first be removed. Then you can search. When they have found that place, the danger will arise again that idolatry wants to penetrate. That is stated in the last verses of Deuteronomy 12. There should be no question about the gods of the nations (Deu 12:29-32).
How many times has God warned of idolatry in this book! Idolatry is an essential attack on God and the relationship He has with His people. Any warning about it increases the responsibility of the people. Idolatry is anything that the Lord Jesus and His authority, His Word, sets aside or other things put alongside that are given a higher place. How many times has God warned us of certain sins that the Lord Jesus sets aside?
Deuteronomy 13 connects directly to the last verses of the previous chapter. In this chapter we read about three forms of idolatry:
1. In verses 1-5 it is about a case of open deception. This can happen when someone with signs and wonders draws away the people of the LORD to serve other gods.
2. In verses 6-11 it does not go through open preaching, with signs and wonders, but it is a hidden deception through natural bonds, family members. This is a very refined form.
3. In verses 12-18 there is talk of a collective deception. We see how a whole city is drawn away by corrupt people from following the LORD.
1 - 5 Public Temptation to Apostacy
1 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you.
We can notice this form of deception and seduction to commit idolatry around us. We see this where believers subordinate the place of the Lord Jesus to things that seem more impressive and greater. These are places where preaching is accompanied by signs and wonders. Many Christians are deceived by this. Many movements where signs and wonders happen impress and many assume it is from God. These movements have great appeal.
The charismatic movement is not a new grouping. It is a movement that strives to bring wonder gifts within reach of all Christians. In their sermons and magazines, they call for the use of speaking in tongues and the healing of the sick, as if that were the task of every Christian. They are gifts that spotlight emotion and put the person in the foreground. Also, today emotion or feeling is given greater priority than obedience to God’s Word.
What is the power of signs and wonders? They are only meant to support a spoken testimony of God: “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (Heb 2:3-4).
Satan can imitate signs and wonders. He will do this especially in the end times (2Thes 2:9; Rev 13:14). As we live in it, we increasingly see signs and wonders around us. The Lord Jesus warned: “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Mt 24:24).
Where signs and wonders happen for the signs and wonders themselves and not to support the preached Word of God, the origin must be looked upon with great suspicion. In the early days the Word of God was not yet complete and signs and wonders were given to confirm it, which means that even then the written Word had preeminence. That is not so in the modern charismatic movement.
A dream can come from God or from demons. False prophets can be recognized by their fruit (Mt 7:15-20). All who proclaim something in addition to or instead of the biblical message must be rejected (Gal 1:8). Any movement that highlights anything other than the Person of the Lord Jesus is not from God. Where it is said that faith is beautiful, but not enough because laying on of hands and speaking in tongues must follow, a spirit of lies is at work. He who is filled with the Holy Spirit will not speak about his being filled, but about the Lord Jesus. It is not the sign or the wonder that is decisive, but the Word of God.
The touchstone of what presents itself as signs and wonders is listening to the words that are preached. If it contains a call to follow other gods, it is not good. We are called to think back to “the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior [spoken] by your apostles” (2Pet 3:2). We have to go back to what has been from the beginning, to “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The Lord puts us to the test. He also provides us with all the means to pass the test.
Anyone who brings the people of God on a wrong path must be removed from the among them. This commandment occurs nine times (Deu 13:6,10; 17:7,12; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21,22,24; 24:7). Here, we have an example of what is commanded to the church in Corinth. Whereas in the Old Testament someone must be killed in a certain case, we find in the New Testament the counterpart in the command: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1Cor 5:13b).
There is a distinction between hating evil and loving the sinner. There must be no fellowship with evil. We are told: “Hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 1:23). That is to say, we must make sure that our external behavior does not show any characteristics of sin. At the same time, the Lord tells us that we must restore someone who “is caught in any trespass”, but we must do so “in a spirit of gentleness; [each one] looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted” (Gal 6:1). Both sides are important.
Israel must cling to the LORD. He has delivered them from Egypt and accepted them to be His people. He is not only their Creator but their Redeemer. He has given them commandments concerning the way they have to go. He did not do this by forcing them with His power, but by persuading them with His Word, by setting forth His arguments for that way. The call to serve other gods is a direct insult to Him and a denial of the redemption He, not an idol, has brought about. It is therefore also the greatest ingratitude. When we realize what the Lord Jesus has done for us, our only desire will be to cling to and serve Him.
6 - 11 Hidden Temptation to Apostacy
6 “If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, 7 of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), 8 you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. 9 But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such a wicked thing among you.
Here, family relationships and friendships are involved (Mic 7:5). A ‘friend, who is as your own soul’ (cf. 1Sam 18:3), is a friend who is so closely connected that it is as if one soul expresses itself by means of two bodies. Of a seduction by someone with whom we have the most intimate relationship, we have an example in the seduction by Eve of Adam.
If intimate ties in any relationship bring us on a path that deviates from the Lord and the Word, we must radically break with them. It takes a lot of spiritual strength. We may well know how to act in certain situations in matters of disciplinary actions, but when it comes to one’s own husband or wife, son or daughter, brother or sister, or dear friends, sometimes quite different actions can be taken.
The gods who are near are those of the neighboring peoples such as Edom, Moab and Ammon. The gods far away are such of Babel and Persia. Moses includes all the nations of the earth in his warning, for all the nations of the earth have their gods. This shows the generality of idolatry. The most common idol is seen in the celestial bodies that can be seen everywhere above the whole earth.
This warning applies just as much to the church today. The oriental religions are increasingly exerting their influence. A mass mingling takes place. In the sermon at the funeral of Queen Juliana (Queen of the Netherlands) on March 30, 2004, the remonstrant female pastor referred to John 14 (Jn 14:2). She said: ‘She [Queen Juliana] was convinced that many roads lead to the one God. Or, as Jesus poetically said, In My Father’s house are many dwelling places.’
In this way the Word of God is cunningly falsified. The female preacher quoted a word from the Lord Jesus to prove that there is a place for all religions in the Father’s house. This concealed call to idolatry, in which an apostasy to God is presented, is an evil that should have no place in the church of God.
Someone who is tempted should not give in to the temptation. He must turn away from it with disgust and indignation. The words “you shall not … listen to him” may also refer to the question of the tempter not to report it if the tempted person does not give in to his temptation. Then the secret can be kept secret and he can continue his pernicious work with others. In this way he, and thereby evil, is protected. But God’s commandments must always govern over human feelings (Zec 13:3).
When stoning, the first witness of evil must be the first to take the stone and throw it. With this the witness shows that he has no part in the seduction and also confirms his testimony about the seducer. He cannot accuse someone and leave the execution of the judgment to others. This involvement will keep someone from lightly accusing someone else. Then it becomes a matter for the whole people. The exercise of discipline is not a private matter. The stoning does not happen with a few stones, but continues until the guilty person is dead.
This action can only be understood if we can empathize to some extent with what sin means to a holy God. If we love the truth above all else, we can come to disregard these bonds when God’s holiness is at stake. As to the choice between the Lord Jesus and the family, the Lord Jesus says: “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” (Mt 10:37; Exo 32:25-29; Deu 33:9).
Judgment of evil is a fulfillment of God’s holiness. Judgment of evil also has a warning and frightening effect (Acts 5:10-11). Those involved in the exercise of judgment will be aware that the same will happen to them if they commit such an evil.
12 - 18 Collective Seduction
12 “If you hear in one of your cities, which the LORD your God is giving you to live in, [anyone] saying [that] 13 some worthless men have gone out from among you and have seduced the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom you have not known), 14 then you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly. If it is true [and] the matter established that this abomination has been done among you, 15 you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying it and all that is in it and its cattle with the edge of the sword. 16 Then you shall gather all its booty into the middle of its open square and burn the city and all its booty with fire as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God; and it shall be a ruin forever. It shall never be rebuilt. 17 Nothing from that which is put under the ban shall cling to your hand, in order that the LORD may turn from His burning anger and show mercy to you, and have compassion on you and make you increase, just as He has sworn to your fathers, 18 if you will listen to the voice of the LORD your God, keeping all His commandments which I am commanding you today, and doing what is right in the sight of the LORD your God.
This is a collective evil. There is talk of “worthless men” or ‘Belials-children’, which means devil’s children, who have got an entire city under their influence. If this comes to the notice of other cities, they should not go directly to that city with sword and violence, but first “investigate” and “search out” and then “inquire thoroughly” what they have heard (cf. Deu 17:4). This is also the way God Himself works, for instance in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:21).
Only when the truth of what they have heard has been established that this evil has indeed been done “among you”, that is, in the midst of God’s people, action should be taken. The city must be judged by all Israelites and they must act as if it were a Canaanite city. Regarding the church, Paul also warns of men who want to exert their pernicious influence among believers (Acts 20:29-30).
In the church of God there are no distances. Whether such an evil occurs in a neighboring local church or in a local church in another land or continent, all believers have a responsibility to judge it. It will then be an evil about which God’s Word pronounces the clear judgment of evil.
In practice it will mean that brothers from a nearby local church will investigate and inquire. They will share their findings with the local church where they belong. If it is established that the entire local church under investigation has been influenced by evil and that they refuse to judge that evil, there will no longer be fellowship possible for all believers with that local church.
If all members of God’s people are aware of the evil in that city, they must all act. An example we have is in Judges 20, where all cities are called upon to deal with the city of Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin. The crime committed in Gibeah requires retaliation. The whole people go up against it (Jdg 20:11; Deu 20:1).
Because this going up does not happen in the right mind, God must first teach the people a lesson. They first must be aware that the evil was enacted by their ‘brother Benjamin’, i.e. in their midst. Once this awareness has permeated through, they will no longer act like the better Israelites. They make themselves as it were one with evil. Then the LORD helps to punish evil. Jabesh-gilead remains neutral (Jdg 21:8-10), putting themselves thereby on the side of evil and are judged.
In every disciplinary case in the church there must be a sense of shame that an evil ‘among us’, in the midst of the church, has been able to take place. The evil of the one means the shame of the whole. Every member of the church must be deeply aware that this evil can be done by him or her. Evil is not done away with because the others are better, but because God dwells in the midst and His holiness requires it.
Obedience to this command to destroy the city will result in the purification of the land and spiritual renewal. In His mercy the LORD will not charge the sin of the one city to the whole land, despite the whole land being polluted by it. The extermination means a loss of people. But this act of obedience is linked to the promise of the LORD that He will increase the number of them again. Thus will He fulfil His promise to the patriarchs concerning the multiplication of their seed.
In a spiritual sense this is also true. If there is faithful dealing with sin in the church, the Lord can bless it by giving growth where the evil is removed.