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CRITICAL NOTES.—The true modes and forms of worship have been laid down, the next step is to legislate against the authors and abettors of false ones. Such tempters are not to be spared, even though (Deuteronomy 13:1-5) their teaching be confirmed by miracles; or (Deuteronomy 13:6-12) be nearly allied by kindred or friendship; or (Deuteronomy 13:12-18) be supported in their apostacy by a whole city.—Speak. Com.
Deuteronomy 13:1. Prophet. Received communications orally or by vision. Dreamer. Through medium of dreams. These, the two chief media of divine revelation. (cf. Numbers 12:6.) Signs and wonders. To accredit his mission, and apparently true, yet not wrought by God, but by the power of the wicked one to deceive. (2 Thessalonians 2:9.)
Deuteronomy 13:2. Go after other gods and forsake Jehovah; therefore the prophet, a false prophet, a seducer and impostor, and must be put to death.
Deuteronomy 13:3. Know, prove, or test the people in loyalty. (cf. Deuteronomy 8:2; Genesis 22:1.)
Deuteronomy 13:4-5. Israel must cleave firmly to God. There must be regular judicial procedure against the impostor. The people, the whole community must take part in the stoning to show their horror at the crime, and clear themselves of complicity in it. God only must be the object of regard and they must not be thrust, forced from the way in which they have to walk. Thus put away evil, an exhortation often given as an affair of importance. (cf. chaps. Deuteronomy 17:7; Deuteronomy 19:19; Deuteronomy 21:21; Deuteronomy 22:22; Deuteronomy 22:24.)
Deuteronomy 13:6. A second temptation to idolatry might be from blood-relations and intimate friends. Brother, fraternal tie. Wife, object of dearest affection. Friend, loved as much as our own life. (1 Samuel 18:1; 1 Samuel 18:3.)
Deuteronomy 13:7-8. The gods to be worshipped might be near or far off; might be different to the idols of Canaan, “or commend themselves by the charm of peculiarity and novelity.” There must be no yielding, nor must the tempters escape. The accumulation of synonyms (pity, spare, conceal) serves to make the passage more emphatic. Israel was to put to death without pity and stone the offender. (Leviticus 20:2.)
Deuteronomy 13:12-18. A third case when one city hears of another city which has been led astray. Worthless, profligate men may rise up. (Deuteronomy 5:13.) Children of Belial. Wicked, designing and lawless men (Judges 19:22; 1 Samuel 1:16; 1 Samuel 25:26). (Sept. perverse men.)
Deuteronomy 13:18. Withdrawn. Deuteronomy 13:5; Deuteronomy 13:10, indicating strong persuasion, a degree of force, not easy seduction.
Deuteronomy 13:14, Thou. The magistrate to whom it officially belonged to investigate. If the report was true, the inhabitants were beyond protection and smitten. Man and beast were put to death without reserve, and all booty heaped together and burned with the city.
Deuteronomy 13:16. For the Lord. “As a whole offering to the Lord thy God;” sanctified to him by destruction. (Leviticus 6:15-16.)
Deuteronomy 13:17. Nothing must cleave to Israel, no spoil must be taken that the Lord may turn from His anger.
ENTICEMENTS OF FALSE PROPHETS.—Deuteronomy 13:1-5
Former perils might spring from Canaanites, now they may arise among themselves. Hence they must take care not to be drawn away if any should tempt them. “It there arise,” etc.
1. The Purpose of their Enticements. “Let us go after other gods,” to revolt from Jehovah, which is treason—a crime against the law and authority of God, against the organisation and life of society. Strange that any should be guilty in Israel, or in the present day, of such wickedness! But many, professedly learned and religious, entice from God and give divine honours to saints and images. I. From God whose authority is supreme and should be revered. “The Lord your God.” Doctrines, revelations, and miracles which pretend to be of God and are not so, vie with his law and authority; usurp his throne and claim absolute supremacy.
2. From God whose past favours should bind to him. “Which brought you out of the land of Egypt,” etc. (Deuteronomy 13:5). One thing was certain, repeated to Israel a thousand times and written as with a sunbeam in their history—that God was supreme. God, and God alone, had redeemed them from bondage and oppression. God’s constant goodness should touch our sensibility, excite our gratitude, and lead us to most joyful obedience.
II. The credentials by which they entice. The kingdom of lies has its wonders as well as the kingdom of truth, and prophets of God have their imitators. In our time we have dreamers of dreams, seers and pretenders to inspiration. “Imitators are a servile race,” says Fontaine.
1. They dream dreams. Pretend to have revelations from God in visions of the night. Jews had great regard for dreams, observed them, and often consulted those who pretended to explain them. This custom was forbidden. We must look only to God and His servants.
2. They perform wonders. The prophet gives “a sign,” a prediction of some future event; performs “a wonder” or feat of power—some counterfeit appearance of the supernatural produced by human artifice or Satanic agency.
3. Their signs and wonders come to pass. Predictions and miracles are authenticated by apparent facts. But miracles alone do not prove the truth of the doctrine and the divine mission of the performer. The doctrine must commend itself to conscience before it can be sealed by miracle. There are those “whose coming (presence) is after the working of Satan with (three means) all power and signs and lying wonders” (lit. of falsehood) to attest false doctrine and lead astray. (2 Thessalonians 2:9.)
III. The treatment to be shown to these false prophets. In this matter there is no uncertainty, and there must be no hesitation.
1. They must be rejected. “Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet.” God’s law is the standard of truth, all that contradicts this is false. No sign nor wonder must lead us to believe in one whose purpose falsifies his profession. The God of truth can never lie. “I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart (a wilful fraud). (Jeremiah 14:13-14).
2. They must be punished. “That prophet, or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death” (Deuteronomy 13:5). The risks and guilt must be removed by putting away the guilty one; spare him, the infection will spread and you are responsible. “Thus must the mischief be put away.” We are not to persecute and put to death. But we must denounce error, guard against seducers, and brand with infamy all attempts to “go after other gods.” “Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.” (2 John 1:9; 2 John 1:11).
FALSE PROPHETS.—Deuteronomy 13:1-5
“The standing rule of faith and practice had been given once for all. That the people were to hold fast. The prophet who propounded another rule could only be an imposter. We need not then suppose that Moses is putting an impossible case by way of enforcing his words, as St. Paul does (Galatians 1:6); nor yet that the prophet in question is one who was originally a true prophet, and obtained authority by his miracles as such, but was afterwards drawn away into apostasy.” (Speak. Com.) The prophet, by his teaching, plainly contradicts the accredited standard of truth, advocates idolatry, and therefore he is a false prophet.
I. False prophets are permitted to rise up among the people. They appeared in Israel, in the days of Christ and in apostolic times. It is predicted they will come “in the last days.” (Matthew 24:11; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1.) God’s people are often sorely tried, and the Christian Church sifted. Heresies, prodigies and controversies shake the faith, and “false prophets” work “great signs and wonders” to “deceive the very elect,” if it were possible. (Matthew 24:24).
II. The people are often ready to obey false prophets when they appear. The moral condition of the people and the facts of history prove this. We have a love for the wonderful, a craving for novelty. We are ignorant of God, and our hearts tend towards idolatry. The teaching of seducers is bewitching; we listen, believe and are drawn astray. (Galatians 3:1). “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God.”
III. The consequences of this obedience will be serious. Serious to the teacher, the taught, and the community at large.
1. Apostasy from God. God was the Sovereign and Supreme Ruler in Israel. Idolatry was not simply a spiritual offence, but direct rebellion against their king. It was a political, a national offence; high treason itself, punishable by the law.
2. Utter ruin. The offender was stoned to death, and perished not alone in his iniquity. Apostasy will destroy character and life. Theudas was slain, and as many as believed him scattered. Judas of Galilee drew many after him, but perished, and his followers were disappointed. (Acts 5:36-37). Watch and pray, and let none “thrust thee out of the way.”
WALKING AFTER THE LORD.—Deuteronomy 13:4
“Walk after the Lord your God.”
1. In reverent imitation. His example is before you—follow it.
2. With affectionate fear. You must not be familiar with God; He is your Lord and Maker.
3. With all obedience. Show your love for him by obeying his commands.
4. With holy zeal. Suffer no profaning of His name, no desecration of His temple. (Bib. Museum).
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
In this chapter we have three enticements from God. False teachers (Deuteronomy 13:1-5); intimate friends (Deuteronomy 13:6-12; wicked cities (Deuteronomy 13:12-17).
Deuteronomy 13:2. After other gods. Awful guilt in the Israelite. Strong delusion and infinite risk in our day. Let us go.
1. A dangerous pursuit.
2. In search of an unknown object. “Gods which thou hast not known.”
3. Hence folly to enter the path. Forsaking God, who is known to be good and holy.
Deceit is the false road to happiness; and all the joys we travel to through vice, like fairy banquets, vanish when we touch them.—A. Hill.
Deuteronomy 13:4. Distinguishing marks of godliness. Walk, fear, keep, obey, serve and cleave. Walk after God.
1. God the great end of life.
2. Keeping this end in view will save from manifold temptations.
3. The method of pursuing active, affectionate and constant obedience. One or two good actions, a step or two, will not make a walker. There must be continued motion, unwearied and steady as the stars in their orbits. “Enoch walked (habitually and closely) with God.” (Genesis 5:24). Walk with the Lord.
1. Not before Him in desire, plans and anticipations. “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that.”
2. Not behind Him in fear, hesitation or reluctance.
3. But with Him in confidence, affection and joy. Like a child walking hand in hand with its father.
“Mutual love, the crown of all our bliss.”
THE SEDUCTIVE POWER OF AFFECTION.—Deuteronomy 13:6-11
The next danger springs from the influence of affection. If miracle if supernatural fail, those near and dear may seduce. But even they, if found guilty after fair and formal trial, must be put to death.
I. Seduction may come from intimate friends. A brother, who should be a helper; a daughter, who should be dutiful; a wife, like Job’s (2, 9) may entice. An intimate and familiar friend, whom we love as ourselves, in whom we confide our secrets, may secretly plot to draw away from God. Strongest temptations are often from nearest friends.
II. Friends who thus seduce are guilty of the greatest crime. “They are are not friends, but foes in a man’s own household.” A friend consults our welfare; but these secretly plot against character, reputation, and position. Their design is disgraceful, and no affection, no degree of kindred must screen their crime nor conceal their persons. “I was wounded in the house of my friends.”
III. The claims of God are superior to Human Affection. We must be kindly affectionate one to another; but we must prefer God to our best friends. “Thou shalt not consent unto him” (Deuteronomy 13:8). When two claims come into collision, the weaker must give way. Though we must not cease to love, yet we must act as if we hated (Luke 14:26-27); we must disobey, and, if need be, desert those to whom we are naturally bound, and follow our higher calling. God must have and deserves the whole, and not halves. “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).
GUILT AND DANGER IN DEPARTING FROM GOD.—Deuteronomy 13:8-11
Consider this ordinance as—
I. A temporary enactment. With the cessation of the theocracy it has ceased. Though, at first sight, it may seem severe, yet it was—
1. Just, as it respected the individual; for he was guilty of most heinous, most ruinous offence.
2. Merciful, with regard to the public. Most solemn were the issues to the Jews and to mankind, which depended on national fidelity. Hence the punishment was stern, severe, and monitory.
II. A lasting admonition. It declares to us in the strongest terms:—
1. The evil of departing from God, by whom they had been delivered from bondage and guided in their journey.
2. The danger of being accessory to any one’s departure from Him. “Neither be partaker of other men’s sins” (1 Timothy 5:22; 2 John 1:11.
3. The need we have of firmness and steadfastness in religion.
“If sinners entice thee consent thou not.”—C. Simeon.
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
1. The nature of friendship. “Thy friend as thine own soul.” A friend is a second self. Numerous are examples. David and Jonathan in Scripture, Achilles and Patroclus in Homer, Nisus and Euryalus in Virgil, and the well known story of Damon and Pythias.
2. The abuse of friendship. In betraying secrets, enticing to evil. “Try your friend before you choose him.” All who assume the name are not entitled to the confidence of a friend. “As to myself,” said Napoleon, “I know well that I have not one true friend. As long as I continue what I am, I may have as many pretended friends as I please.”
Deuteronomy 13:6-8. I. The inducements of the tempter.
1. From those least suspected—sister, brother, parent, or friend.
2. In secret. “Entice thee secretly.” Wickedness dreads light and seeks to conceal itself.
3. Plausable. This religion is popular “the gods of the people,” and yours is singular and confined to one God. “Let us go.” II. The spirit in which they must be met.
1. With firmness. No, we will not go.
2. With a sense of the danger incurred. In forsaking God he forsook the way of our fathers, and the way in which we have been trained. We degenerate in our character and rush into danger. “He that sacrificeth unto any god save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed.”
THE SEDUCTIVE POWER OF NUMBERS.—Deuteronomy 13:12-18
The third instance of enticement is that of a whole city in revolt. If the city was found guilty after inquiry, then all its inhabitants were to be put to death, and it was to be reduced to a heap to avert the anger of God.
I. Multitudes may be disposed to evil. In the Church, in a community, in a city, a few may affect many. “Children of Belial,” throw off all restraints of conscience and law, and cry out “let us go and serve other gods.” Many walk in the broad path to destruction, but in the narrow, only here and there a traveller is found.
II. Multitudes disposed to evil are not to lead us astray. “Then shalt thou inquire and make search.” We are not to be unduly influenced by numbers. Majorities are not always right. Truth may be ridiculed and its adherents in the minority. Luther was told by a monk to whom he was attached, “the whole world is against you: how can you persist in the course you have chosen?” The noble reply was—” if the whole world be against Luther, then Luther will be against the whole world.” We must rest upon the rock and hold to the revealed Word. “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.”
III. Vigorous means are to be used to destroy the evil. Cattle and citizens were to be “utterly” destroyed, and all the spoil burned in the streets. We are not authorised to destroy by fire and sword. But by spiritual agencies we must purify the Church, educate the country, and destroy the evils which curse society. We must watch public sentiment, refute error, and preach “the truth as if in Jesus” to save men from apostacy and death.
HABITATIONS DIVINELY FIXED.—Deuteronomy 13:12
The clause “which the Lord thy God hath given thee to dwell in,” significantly reminds them that the real ownership of their dwellings rested in the Lord (cf. Leviticus 25:23), and that they, the mere tenants, must not allow His property to become a centre of rebellion against His just authority.—Speak. Com.
I. Residence in a city, the gift of God. All the earth is God’s. In town or country there is a providence over men; a permission to fix their abode. Momentous junctures in life are often fore-appointments of an unrecognised Protector, who settles the limits of nations, locates the residence of men, “and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitations.”
II. Residence in a city disturbed by wicked men. There may be splendid buildings, noble institutions and great advantages in cities. But often dangers and temptations outweigh privileges. Sons of Belial corrupt the population and draw from allegiance to God. Lot thought Sodom was a desirable residence, but “he was vexed with the filthy conversation (wanton behaviour, licentious life) of the wicked (the lawless).”(2 Peter 1:7).
III. Residence terminated by the destruction of a city. We are only tenants at will. Pestilence and fire may drive away. The abominations of the inhabitants may bring down the judgments of God. No place is secure, no abode is permanent below. Seek, therefore, “a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Deuteronomy 13:12-18. Rumours and the reputation of the Church. I. The case supposed—a flying rumour; city talk, etc. II. The duty enjoined.
1. Not to be slighted or hushed up.
2. Not to be rashly acted upon.
3. To be carefully sifted.
4. If found to be true, to be followed by prompt and decisive action. Learn—To be jealous of reports touching the integrity of God’s people, or the institutions of religion.—Bib. Museum.
Deuteronomy 13:12-15. The duty of magistrates.
1. Not to judge before they know. Many act against knowledge, but none can act rightly without it. We can neither teach nor give judgment concerning that which we know not.
2. To inquire that they may know. “Here are three words—First, they must inquire; and if upon inquiry they got not information, then they were to make search; and if upon search they did not find, then they were to ask diligently; that is, to renew the inquiry, that by interrogating all persons who possibly know anything of the cause, they might search out the cause which they knew not.” (Caryl). “I was a father to the poor, and the cause which I knew not I searched out.”
3. To punish justly when they discover the guilty. They should have respect for law, and care for those under law. Equal and impartial justice must be done to all. “Justice proportions the smartness to the fault; so that we may behold the greatness of the offence in the fitness of the punishment.”—W. Secker.
Deuteronomy 13:16. The memorial heap. “An heap for ever.”
1. A monument of Divine justice against sin.
2. A beacon warning to all posterity. “This day they are a desolation, and no man dwelleth therein, because of their wickedness which they have committed to provoke me to anger. (Jeremiah 44:2-3.)
A city sacrificed for the nation, or the good of many demanding the sacrifice of a few. A principle of Divine procedure, common in operation, strange in nature, benevolent in design, and worthy of devout regard.
Deuteronomy 13:17-18. Two courses of conduct.
1. Apostacy exposing multitudes to danger and death.
2. Obedience and its benefits. (a) In warding off Divine anger. (b) Securing Divine mercy. (c) Causing increase of posterity. “Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go wall with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the Lord thy God.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 13
Deuteronomy 13:1-5. Go after. The question is not whether a doctrine is beautiful, but whether it is true. When we want to go to a place, we don’t ask whether the road leads through a pretty country, but whether it is the right road, the road pointed out by authority, the turnpike road.—Hare.
Deuteronomy 13:6-7. Thy brother. None of the affections have been noted to fascinate and bewitch, but love and envy.—Bacon.
Deuteronomy 13:6. Thy friend as thine own soul.
“Friendship is the cement of two minds,
As of one man the soul and body is,
Of which one cannot sever but the other
Suffers a needful separation.—Chapman.
Deuteronomy 13:8. Consent not. He that yields to temptation, debases himself with a debasement from which he can never arise.—Mann.
“They that fear the adder’s sting will not come near his hissing.”—Chapman.
Deuteronomy 13:12; Deuteronomy 13:18. One of thy cities. To a single teacher the hope of an entire city is often entrusted.—Scriver.
Deuteronomy 13:14. Enquire. I reverence numbers; but only when they produce proof, not when they shun enquiry.—St. Athanasius.
Deuteronomy 13:17. His anger. The wrath of man is the rage of man; but the wrath of God is the reason of God.—Bp. Reynolds.
Deuteronomy 13:18. Hearken to the Lord. We remember the anecdote of the Roman commander who forbade an engagement with the enemy, and the first transgressor against whose prohibition was his son. He accepted the challenge of the leader of the other host, met, slew, spoiled him, and then in triumphant feeling carried the spoils to his father’s tent. But the Roman refused to recognise the instinct which prompted this as deserving of the name of love. Disobedience contradicted it and deserved death.—F. W. Robertson.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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