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The story goes like this: during the reign of King Josiah in Jerusalem (640-609 B.C.), someone, probably working in the temple, found a copy of a book, and the book was read before King Josiah. “Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes” (2 Kings 22:11, NKJV). Why? Because he realized that he and his people were not obeying what was written in the book.
Then, on the basis of that book, called the “Book of the Covenant” (2 Kings 23:2, NKJV), Josiah began a great reformation. We can read about that reformation in 2 Kings 23.
What was the book that had such an impact on the king and his nation? It is believed to be Deuteronomy, our study for this quarter.
The fifth, and last, of the Five Books of Moses, Deuteronomy — a name that comes from the Latin word deuteronomium (which means “second law”) — could be summarized as follows:
Having left Egypt, and having entered into the covenant at Sinai with the Lord, the children of Israel — instead of going directly to Canaan — wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. When the 40 years were finished and the Hebrews were finally about to cross over to the Promised Land, Moses spoke to them in a series of speeches. The essence of those speeches was: you’re now about to enter the Promised Land. Finally! Don’t forget what the Lord has done for you, and don’t forget what He asks of you now, which is to love Him with all your heart and soul and to reveal that love by obedience to all His commandments, all according to the covenant.
And, to stress the importance of the covenant, Moses repeated to the people the Ten Commandments, the legal foundation of their obligations in the covenant that the Lord had first cut with their fathers, and was doing so, again, but now with them — right on the borders of Canaan.
Hence, we ask: Might there be parallels with what the children of Israel, on the borders of the Promised Land, faced — and what we, today, right on the border of the Promised Land (only a much better one), face, as well?
Thus, the topic for this quarter, which is called “Present Truth in the Book of Deuteronomy.” And that’s what we’re going to look at: present truth messages that we can take from God’s words to His covenant people.
In this quarter, we will look at Deuteronomy topically, covering themes such as the everlasting covenant, law and grace, what it means to love God and your neighbor, and — most important of all — how the book of Deuteronomy reveals to us the love of God, which was most powerfully made manifest in the death of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection.
Sure, a vast time and cultural divide separates our church today from the church in the wilderness. But perhaps, what we have in common with them might be more than what divides us from them. For example, could not the following words be spoken to us as well, today?
“Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” (Deut. 4:5, 6, NKJV).
Notice, it wasn’t the laws themselves that were their “wisdom and understanding” before the nations but their obedience to those laws. Certainly there’s a message for us here. Just one of many, as we will see, in the book of Deuteronomy.
Clifford R. Goldstein is editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide and author of Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity.
Lesson 1 September 25-October 1
Read for This Week’s Study: Isa. 14:12-14, Ezek. 28:12-17, Gen. 3:1-7, Gen. 12:1-3, Acts 7:20-36, Exod. 19:4-8.
Memory Text: “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8, NKJV).
The book of Deuteronomy, of course, did not arise in a vacuum. As with everything in life, Deuteronomy exists in a context; and, as with everything in life, that context plays an important role in understanding what the book means and what its purpose is.
A lot of history came before it — a history that explained the circumstances, not only of the book itself but of the world and environment that created its context. Just as it would be hard to understand the purpose and function of a windshield wiper outside the context of a car, it would be hard to understand Deuteronomy, especially in light of our theme (Deuteronomy and present truth), outside the context in which it arose.
Someone had read Russian Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace — about 1,500 pages in just three days. When asked what the book was about, the reader replied: “It’s about Russia.”
To cover in one week’s lesson the thousands of years of history before we come to Deuteronomy is to do somewhat the same thing. But by focusing on the highlights, we can see the context needed to best understand this book, so rich with “present truth.”
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 2.
Sunday ↥ September 26
1 John 4:8 says, “God is love.” However simple those three words (four in Greek), the idea behind them is so deep, so profound, that we can barely grasp their implications. They don’t say that God loves, or that God reveals love, or that God is a manifestation of love but that God is love. Is love — as if love is the essence of God’s identity Himself. As fallen human beings, with only a few pounds of tissue and chemicals in our heads with which to grasp reality, we just aren’t able to fully comprehend what “God is love” fully means.
But we can, certainly, understand enough to know that it’s very good news. If, instead of “God is love,” it said “God is hate” or “God is vindictive” or “God is indifferent,” this revelation about Him could have been something to worry about.
And the truth that “God is love” helps us better understand the idea that God’s government, how He rules all the creation, is reflective of that love. Love permeates the cosmos, perhaps even more than gravity does. God loves us; and we, too, are to love God back, in return (see Deut. 6:5, Mark 12:30).
Love, though, to be love, must be freely given. God cannot force love; the moment He does it’s no longer love. Hence, when God created intelligent and rational beings in heaven and on earth with the ability to love, the risk always existed that they might not love Him back. Some didn’t — and, hence, the origins of what we know as the great controversy.
Why do the following texts make sense only in the context of the freedom, and the risk, involved with love? (Isa. 14:12-14, Ezek. 28:12-17, Rev. 12:7).
Especially insightful is Ezekiel 28:15, which shows that though this angel, Lucifer, was a perfect being created by a perfect God, iniquity was found in him. It was not because He had been created with that iniquity to begin with. Instead, created with the ability to love, Lucifer had true moral freedom, and despite all that he had been given (“Every precious stone was your covering”), this angel wanted more. One thing led to another until, well, there was “war in heaven.”
In some places you can buy robot dogs, which will obey your commands, never soil the carpet, or chew the furniture. Would you, however, have any kind of meaningful relationship with this “dog”? How does your answer help in understanding why God wanted beings who could, truly, love Him back?
Monday ↥ September 27
Almost every school child has heard the story about an apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head, and Voila! Newton discovered gravity. Whether or not an apple really fell on his head isn’t the crucial point; instead, the point is that Newton’s great insight (he didn’t discover gravity either; anyone who fell down already knew about gravity) was to understand that the same force that dropped the apple (gravity) also kept the moon in orbit around the earth, the earth in orbit around the Sun, and so forth.
This was important because, for millennia, many people believed that the laws that governed the heavens were different from the laws that governed the earth. Newton showed that this belief was wrong.
And though Newton’s contribution was in the area of natural law, the same principle holds true with moral law. The same freedom, the freedom inherent in love, that led to Lucifer’s fall in heaven led to humanity’s Fall on earth, as well.
Read Genesis 2:16, 17 and Genesis 3:1-7. How do these verses about perfect people, in a perfect environment, created by a perfect God, also reveal the powerful truth about the freedom inherent in love?
After the Fall, things went from bad to worse, even to the point where the Lord said about humanity “that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5, NKJV). And if their thoughts were bad, their actions surely were, as well, until things got so evil that the Lord destroyed the entire world with a Flood — in a sense giving humanity a chance to start over, a kind of second creation. However, as the story of the Tower of Babel shows (Gen. 11:1-9), humanity still seemed intent on defying God. “When the tower had been partially completed, a portion of it was occupied as a dwelling place for the builders; other apartments, splendidly furnished and adorned, were devoted to their idols. The people rejoiced in their success, and praised the gods of silver and gold, and set themselves against the Ruler of heaven and earth.” — Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 119. Thus, besides confusing their language, God scattered the fallen race across the face of the earth.
Take a mental note of your thoughts throughout the day. What does this teach you about the state of your own heart?
Tuesday ↥ September 28
Abram (later called Abraham) first appears in the genealogy of Genesis 11, which comes right after mention of the scattering from Babel.
Read Genesis 12:1-3, the call of God to Abram. Today, looking back after the cross, after the death of Jesus and the spreading of the gospel, how do we understand what God was promising to do through Abram?
Many centuries later, the apostle Paul, in seeking to deal with the heresy of the Galatians, pointed back to Abraham’s call, showing it to be an early expression of what God’s intentions had always been: the gospel to the world. “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham” (Gal. 3:7-9, NKJV).
Abraham’s call was first expressed in Genesis 12; much of the rest of Genesis is the story of his blood descendants, one dysfunctional seed after another, creating one messed-up family after another, and yet, through them the promise eventually was to be fulfilled, reaching a crucial point with the call of Moses.
Read Acts 7:20-36, the martyr Stephen’s depiction of Moses and the Exodus. How does this fit in with God’s initial promise to Abraham?
In a world steeped in ignorance, error, and a general lack of the knowledge of truth (things have not changed much in more than three thousand years, have they?), the Lord called out a people, His people, Abraham’s seed, from Egypt. In them He sought not only to preserve knowledge of the truth; that is, knowledge of Him, Yahweh, and the plan of salvation, but also to spread that knowledge to the rest of the world.
Today, how do we as Seventh-day Adventists see ourselves in relationship to the rest of the world? That is, what parallels exist between us and ancient Israel? More important, what responsibility does this parallel place on each of us individually?
Wednesday ↥ September 29
The Exodus and all that it entailed, from the blood on the doorpost in Egypt to the drama at the Red Sea — what an experience! No doubt it made an impression on those who lived through it. (And those who died, from the first-born children in Egypt to the soldiers at the bottom of the sea, God will judge them fairly.) As the Lord said: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself” (Exod. 19:4, NKJV).
Why did the Lord do this stunning and dramatic rescue, actually taking one nation out of another nation, or, as Moses himself said to them: “Or did God ever try to go and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?” (Deut. 4:34, NKJV)?
Read Exodus 19:4-8. Why did the Lord call the people out from Egypt?
It was as simple as that. God called them out, the seed, the descendants of the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And with these descendants the Lord established His covenant, and they would be, indeed, “a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine” (Exod. 19:5, NKJV). This relationship was central to the covenant.
This idea of a “special treasure” (segullah), however, could be (and it was, in fact) easily misunderstood. Their specialness came not from anything inherently holy and righteous in and of themselves. Instead, it was because of God’s grace given to them and because of the wonderful truths that He had bestowed upon them — truths that they were to follow and, as a “kingdom of priests,” eventually spread to the world.
God then gave them some of the stipulations of the covenant, too (their end of the deal, so to speak), the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), and then this covenant was ratified. Having sprinkled a newly constructed altar with the blood of the offerings, Moses “took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people” (Exod. 24:7). The people again declared that they would obey.
“When Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood … and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you’” (Heb. 9:19, 20, NKJV). What does the blood signify, and why is it so important, even to us today?
Thursday ↥ September 30
“All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Exod. 19:8, NKJV; see also Exod. 24:3, Exod. 24:7). Though, no doubt, the people had meant those words each time they said them, sacred history shows that, unfortunately, their actions time and again contradicted their words. Though they were the chosen people, though they had entered freely into the covenant with the Lord, they didn’t keep up their end of the deal, which really came down to one thing.
What was the crucial component for Israel in regard to the covenant? (Exod. 19:4, 5).
The call to obey God, to keep His law, was no more legalism then than it is now (see Matt. 7:24-27; John 14:15; James 2:20; Rom 6:11, 12), and yet, over and over the children of Israel failed to keep up their end of the deal.
Indeed, early on, even in the very sight of Mount Sinai itself, they fell into rank apostasy (see Exod. 32:1-6). Unfortunately, unfaithfulness seemed to be more the norm than the exception, and thus, instead of quickly entering into the Promised Land, they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.
Read Numbers 14:28-35. What was the punishment meted out to the nation because of their refusal to trust what the Lord had told them to do?
Then, as now, so often disobedience comes, not just from outright rebellion (though that does happen) but from a failure to trust in what God tells us. What made this sin even more heinous for Israel was the fact that, as God Himself said, all these men had “seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times” (Num. 14:22, NKJV). Despite all that they had seen and experienced, they still refused to obey the Lord and to take the land, despite God’s promises that they would succeed (Numbers 13-Numbers 14).
Think about what was said above: that so often disobedience comes from a lack of trusting in God’s Word to us. Why is this true, and how can we, indeed, learn to trust in God more?
Friday ↥ October 1
Further Thought: For a deeper and very well thought out study on the great controversy theme, based on the idea of God as love, and written by a Seventh-day Adventist, see John Peckham’s Theodicy of Love: Cosmic Conflict and the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018). The fact that this work has been published by a non-Adventist press shows how good biblical scholarship can reveal the reality of the great controversy as depicted in Scripture.
“In brief, I argue that God’s love (properly understood) is at the center of a cosmic dispute and that God’s commitment to love provides a morally sufficient reason for God’s allowance of evil, with significant ramifications for understanding divine providence as operating within what I call covenantal rules of engagement.” — John C. Peckham, Theodicy of Love: Cosmic Conflict and the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018), p. 4.
“The decree that Israel was not to enter Canaan for forty years was a bitter disappointment to Moses and Aaron, Caleb and Joshua; yet without a murmur they accepted the divine decision. But those who had been complaining of God’s dealings with them, and declaring that they would return to Egypt, wept and mourned greatly when the blessings which they had despised were taken from them. They had complained at nothing, and now God gave them cause to weep. Had they mourned for their sin when it was faithfully laid before them, this sentence would not have been pronounced; but they mourned for the judgment; their sorrow was not repentance, and could not secure a reversing of their sentence.” — Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 392.
It didn’t seem that life could get much worse. My husband was stricken with bone-marrow cancer. Then his parents died. I had to pay for my mother-in-law’s funeral on my own and then take on responsibility for my family’s livelihood. Sometimes I didn’t even have 1000 Korean won (U.S.$1) to pay for my son’s school supplies. My salary wasn’t enough to cover my husband’s hospital bills. Every day, I worried that I wouldn’t have enough rice to feed my family. I wept. I felt so alone.
Then I met Park Yeon-sook. She wasn’t a relative or even a friend, but she tried to cheer me up. She saw that I was struggling financially, and she gave me additional work at her shop in Hanam, a suburb of South Korea’s capital, Seoul. The extra money helped pay for living expenses and hospital bills.
I was so grateful for the work. But I noticed something unusual about Yeon-sook. She seemed happier than other people. I thought this was strange, but I was greatly moved by her joy.
As I got to know her, I saw that she went to church on Saturdays. She didn’t worry about the income that she lost by closing her shop once a week. I was an atheist, but I wanted to go to church with her and find out why she had such joy and peace.
Yeon-sook never invited me to her Seventh-day Adventist church, but I resolved in my heart to go. So I started studying the Bible on my own. As I learned about God, the peace of heaven came into my life. I gave my heart to Jesus and joined West Hanam Seventh-day Adventist Church, where I now serve as a deaconess together with Yeon-sook.
There are many things that I don’t know, but I believe in God from the bottom of my heart. Yeon-sook never spoke to me about Jesus a lot, but I saw Jesus in her life. The same Jesus whom I met through her life is living in my heart today.
This year, my husband and son also were baptized and joined the Adventist family. It doesn’t seem that life can get much better. Thanks be to God for reaching my family through Yeon-sook and her shop.
This mission story illustrates Mission Objective No. 1 of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s “I Will Go” strategic plan: “To revive the concept of worldwide mission and sacrifice for mission as a way of life involving not only pastors but every church member.” Learn more at IWillGo2020.org. This quarter, your Thirteenth Sabbath offering will support two mission projects in South Korea. Read more about Yeon-sook next week.
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