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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Deuteronomy 13

Verses 1-3

Deuteronomy 13:1-3

Ye are the children of the Lord your God.

Israel’s relationship to God

Moses here tells Israel--


I.
How God had dignified them, as a peculiar people, with three distinguishable privileges, which were their honour, and figures of those spiritual blessings in heavenly things with which God has in Christ blessed us.

1. Here is election. “The Lord hath chosen thee” (Deuteronomy 14:2); not for their own merits, or for any good works foreseen, but because He would magnify the riches of His power and grace among them. And thus were believers chosen (Ephesians 1:4).

2. Here is adoption. “Ye are the children of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 14:1); formed by Him into a people, owned by Him as His people, nay, His family, a people near unto Him, nearer than any other. Every “Israelite indeed” is a child of God; partaker of His nature and favour, His love and blessing.

3. Here is sanctification. “Thou art an holy people” (Deuteronomy 14:2); separated and set apart for God, devoted to His service, designed for His praise, governed by a holy law, graced by a holy tabernacle and the holy ordinances relating to it.


II.
How they ought to distinguish themselves by a sober singularity from all the nations that were about them.

1. In their mourning. “Ye shall not cut yourselves” (Deuteronomy 14:1).

(1) They are forbidden to deform or hurt their own bodies upon any account. This is like a parent’s charge to his children that are foolish, careless, and wilful. The true meaning of such commandments is, do yourselves no harm; and this is also the design of those providences which most cross us, to remove from us those things by which we are in danger of doing ourselves injury. The body is for the Lord, and is to be used accordingly.

(2) They are forbidden to disturb and afflict their own minds with inordinate grief for the loss of near and dear relations. If your father die, “ye shall not cut yourselves,” you shall not sorrow more than is meet, for you are not fatherless, you have a Father who is great, living and permanent, even the holy, blessed God, whose children ye are.

2. In their meat. Their observance of this law would make them to be taken notice of in all mixed companies as a separate people, and preserve them from mingling themselves with their idolatrous neighbours.

(1) It is plain, in the law itself, that these precepts belonged only to the Jews, and were not moral nor of perpetual use, because not of perpetual obligation (Deuteronomy 14:21).

(2) It is plain, in the Gospel, that they are now antiquated and repealed (1 Timothy 4:4). (Matthew Henry, D. D.)

Verse 4

Deuteronomy 13:4

Ye shall walk after the Lord your God.

With, before, after

(with Genesis 5:22; Genesis 17:1):--You see that these three fragments, in their resemblances and in their differences, are equally significant. They concur in regarding life as a walk--a metaphor which expresses continuity, so that every man’s life is a whole, which expresses progress, and which implies a goal. They agree in saying that God must be brought into a life somehow, and in some aspect, if that life is to be anything else but an aimless wandering, if it is to tend to the point to which every human life should attain. But then they diverge, and, if we put them together, they say to us that there are three different ways in which we ought to bring God into our life. We should “walk with” Him, like Enoch; we should “walk before” Him, as Abraham was bade to do; and we should “walk after” Him, as the command to do was given to all Israel.


I.
“Enoch walked with God.” Two men travelling along a road keep each other company. “How can two walk together except they be agreed?” The Companion is at our side all the same, though the mists may have come down and we cannot see Him. Enoch and God walked together, by the simple exercise of the faith that fills the Invisible with one great, loving face. The one thing that parts a man from God, and makes it impossible for a heart to expatiate in the thought of His presence, is the contrariety to His will in our conduct.


II.
And now take the other aspect suggested by the other little word God spoke to Abraham: “I am the Almighty God, walk before Me and be thou perfect.” That suggests, as I suppose I do not need to point out, the idea not only of communion, which the former phrase brought to our minds, but that of the inspection of our conduct. As ever in the great Taskmaster’s eye, says the stern Puritan poet, and although one may object to that word “Taskmaster,” yet the idea conveyed is the correct expansion of the commandment given to Abraham. Observe how “walk with me” is dovetailed, as it were, between the revelation “I am the Almighty God” and the injunction “be thou perfect.” This thought that we are in that Divine Presence, and that there is silently, but most really, a Divine opinion being formed of us, consolidated, as it were, moment by moment through our lives, is only tolerable if we have been walking with God. We must first walk “with God” before the consciousness that we are walking “before” Him becomes one that we can entertain and not go mad. When we are sure of the “with” we can bear the “before.” A master’s eye maketh diligent servants. “Walk before Me” and you will be perfect. “If you will walk before Me you will be perfect.”


III.
Lastly, take the other relation, which is suggested by the third of my texts, where Israel as a whole is commanded to “walk after the Lord” their God. In harmony with the very frequent expression of the Old Testament about “going after idols,” so Israel here is to “go after God.” What does that mean? Communion, the consciousness of being judged by God will lead on to aspiration and loving, longing effort to get nearer and nearer to Him. “My soul followeth hard after Thee,” said the Psalmist, “Thy right hand upholdeth me.” That element of yearning aspiration, of eager desire to be closer and closer, and liker and liker, to God must be in all true religion. And I need not do more than remind you of another meaning involved in this same expression. If I walk after God, then I let Him go before me and show me my road. Do you remember how, when the ark was to cross Jordan, the commandment was given to the Israelites to let it go well on in front, so that there could be no mistake about the course, “for ye have not passed this way heretofore.” Do not be in too great a hurry to press upon the heels of God, if I may so say. Do not let your decisions outrun His providence. Keep back the impatience that would hurry on, and wait for His ripening purposes to ripen and His counsels to develop themselves. Walk after God, and be sure you do not go in front of your Guide, or you will lose both your way and your Guide. I need not say more than a word about the highest aspect which this third of our commandments takes: “His sheep follow Him, “leaving us an example that we should follow in His steps.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The ladder of attainment

From these words we gather that many expressions were needed to describe the true disposition and attitude of the mind of Israel toward God. Each expression denotes something different, and each seems to make a progressive advance.


I.
Ye shall walk after the Lord your God. This means follow Him, i.e. go whither He would have you go. We must follow as the sheep follows the shepherd. But, again, we are not simply like sheep. When Israel came out of Egypt the trumpets were blown, and all followed in order behind them. This is of the first importance, that men should joyfully obey the cry. Follow Him--follow after Jesus!


II.
Fear him. Those who resolve to follow Him must so do it that they shall honour Him and remember that He has power to withstand those who oppose Him. God’s people must be filled with a sense of His greatness, majesty, and righteousness as revealed in the Redeemer. Without the sense of this, we lose the attitude of mind in which we can best honour Him. Those who seek to follow Him without this fear are likely in time to become rebels in His kingdom.


III.
Ye shall keep His commandments. God has given commands “Thou shalt”; “Thou shalt not.” The fear of God impels to the keeping of these. Not a cringing dread is this fear. This would make the keeping of the commandments merely a secondary matter. God must be so feared that what He has commanded shall be our delight to perform.


IV.
Ye shall obey his voice. Even when His way seems enigmatic, and also when He gives special intimations of His will besides the commands laid down, just as He led Israel by ways they knew not, etc. On the way of life we must ever be on our guard so that we may find the right way, so much the more as snares are laid in our way by the adversary--from which we cannot deliver ourselves, but which we shall be able to avoid if we listen to the voice of the Spirit, who teaches us to be circumspect, and points out the way to us.


V.
Ye shall serve Him, i.e. we must not be autocrats, but servants of God only. Thus we learn to please Him in self-denial and in a jealous care for His glory. Then, too, we shall gladly be found where the honour due to Him is offered with prayer and adoration.


VI.
Ye shall cleave unto him, i.e. ye shall seek His presence with burning desires, and with deepest love and warmth of heart and spirit. When we have reached thus far, that we cleave to Him and Then grow up in Him, as the branch in the vine stem, great shall be our gain I may it be said of us, “Where I am, there shall also My servant be!” (J. C. Blumhardt.)

Verses 6-11

Deuteronomy 13:6-11

If thy brother . . . entice thee.

Temptation to idolatry from kindred


I.
It is the policy of the tempter to send his solicitations by the hand of those we love, whom we least suspect of any ill design upon us, and whom we are desirous to please, and apt to conform ourselves to. Satan tempted Adam by Eve and Christ by Peter. We are therefore concerned to stand upon our guard against an ill proposal, when the person that proposeth it can pretend to an interest in us, that we may never sin against God in compliment to the best friend we have in the world.

2. The temptation is supposed to be private: he will “entice thee secretly”; implying that idolatry is a work of darkness, which dreads the light and covets to be concealed; and which the sinner promiseth himself, and the tempter promiseth him, secrecy and security in.


II.
It is our duty to prefer god and religion before the best friends we have in the world.

1. We must not in compliance to our friends break God’s law (Deuteronomy 13:8).

2. We must not in compassion to our friends obstruct the course of God’s justice (Deuteronomy 13:9). Those are certainly our worst enemies that would thrust us from God, our best friend; and whatever draws us to sin separates between us and God; it is a design upon our life, and to be resented accordingly. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)

Verse 17

Deuteronomy 13:17

There shall cleave nought of the cursed thing.

Destroy the cursed thing

Israel must conquer idolatrous cities, and destroy all the spoil, regarding all that had been polluted by idolatry as an accursed thing to be burned with fire. Now, sin of all sorts must be treated by Christians in the same manner. We must not allow a single evil habit to remain. It is now war to the knife with sins of all sorts and sizes, whether of the body, the mind, or the spirit. We do not look upon this giving up of evil as deserving mercy, but we regard it as a fruit of the grace of God, which we would on no account miss. When God causes us to have no mercy on our sins, then He has great mercy on us. When we are angry with evil, God is no more angry with us. When we multiply our efforts against iniquity, the Lord multiplies our blessings. (C. H. Spurgeon.)



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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/deuteronomy-13.html. 1905-1909. New York.