Deuteronomy and Harvest Weight

Sharing Options
Show Outline with Links


One of the reasons that Christians get into a muddle about how their sanctification should look is that they don’t know how to fit the blessings of the material world into it. Not only does the resultant confusion cause consternation regarding individual choices about life, but it also interferes with our understanding of God’s appointed plans for evangelizing the world. Instead of seeking to be grateful to God for His manifest blessings poured out on a humanity learning obedience, we have adopted a quasi-pagan view of spirit and matter, relegating God’s blessing to an upper story spiritual realm somewhere. In doing this, we have forgotten how God has determined to guide, discipline, and instruct the world.

“Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.”

Deuteronomy 4:6–9 (KJV)

But just because we have left material blessings out of our thinking, they do not therefore disappear from the world. Somebody is always going to be better off. And when that happens, our evaluation of it will either be governed by the laws of gratitude, which are biblical, or by the laws of envy, which are demonic. Because Christians have not studied how covenant prosperity works, they have opened the door to all manner of biting, striving, scratching and carping, and have thus unwittingly created an opportunity for antisemitism to arise. That connection might startle at first, and seem like a leap, but it should become clearer shortly.

But Aren’t Material Blessings an Old Testament Thing?

When Christians opt for a dualistic framework, separating the spiritual from the material, they often do this in the name of an Old and New Testament dichotomy. According to this thinking, God promised His people, the Jews, material blessings in the Old Testament—as a sort of audio/visual aid for Christians to use in later centuries as little allegories. And He promises His people now, the Christians, spiritual blessings in the New. Thus, the Jews got Canaan and we get Heaven. The Jews got gold and silver and we get spiritual gold and silver. The Jews got rain for their crops, and we get the latter rain in our souls.

But the reality is a bit more complicated than that. Let’s illustrate this with one of the foundational Deuteronomic blessings.

“Honour thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

Deuteronomy 5:16 (KJV)

This is a command with a promise, and the command was delivered to the children of Israel, gathered around the base of Sinai. The commandment had a promise attached to it, and the promise referred to things “going well” for them in the land of Canaan, which lay before them awaiting their conquest of it. They were on the threshold of their great invasion under Joshua, and God was telling the Jews that if they kept this commandment by honoring father and mother in that land, then their lives would be prosperous in the land (of Canaan) which God was giving to them. Pretty straightforward so far.

Paul is the apostle who pointed out that this commandment was the first one that had a promise annexed to it. But he delivered this point, not to Jews, but to a bunch of Gentile kids in Ephesus. And the inheritance they were promised was much greater than the land of Canaan. But in order for this to make any sense, the commandment and the promise had to be something that actually applied to them.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.”

Ephesians 6:1–3 (KJV)

In short, God’s method for promising a blessing in this world to Gentile kids was by means of the promise He made of a blessing in Canaan to Jewish kids.

Notice that God is not promising the Ephesian kids a prospect in Heaven when they die. He is telling them that their life will be long on the earth, in this world. I mean, at the very least, the promise had to be expanded to Asia Minor, where Ephesus was, and so who would dare to say that the promise is somehow annulled for Christian children in Australia, or Japan, or the UK, or America? Who would dare to say that God’s offer of this kindness has expired?

But this is momentous. It means that Deuteronomic blessings—for this world—are the possession and birthright of the children of Christians, and their children’s children. This has ramifications, as we shall see.

Upper Story Realities

Make no mistake. There is an upper story. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). There is a general resurrection of the dead at the culmination of all human history (Rom. 8:18-19). To live is Christ, to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). To leave true spiritual blessings out of the equation is to place human beings on the level of swine in a sty—with blessings being understood as anything edible that can fit in the mouth, like mash or acorns.

But the gnostic error is just as filled with unbelief—ungratefully reducing human beings to the level of wraiths, ghosts, and spiritual wisps.

It is not the case that God gave material blessings to the Jews in the Old Testament, while in the new covenant, all the blessings have been transported beyond the stars, or somehow vaporized. On this view, God has apparently appointed a team of burly archangels to throw all of our material blessings into a Cosmic Nebulizer, which will turn every last one of them into a very fine spiritual mist, in order to make Heaven idolatry-proof.

But . . .

“And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”

Mark 10:29–30 (KJV)

Our tendency is to skip straight to the eternal life part. And we should of course hold fast to that. He did promise eternal life. The problem lies in what we skip over. Jesus also promised His dedicated followers that they would receive family, and houses, and lands, and that they would do so in this life.

Now there is a certain kind of compromised Christian for whom the first part of this passage (v. 29) is the “hard saying.” The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches can and do choke out spiritual interest (Matt. 13:22). Like the rich young ruler, they go away downcast (Luke 18:23). Jesus demands an “all in” sort of discipleship, and a willingness to forsake absolutely everything for Him. “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). But there is another kind of Christian, a pious, otherworldly kind, for whom the hard saying is actually found in v. 30. It is as hard to give houses and lands to some Christians as it is to take them away from others. Imagine a glorious mansion on one hundred acres on a scenic stretch of the Oregon coast, and then imagine yourself having been assigned the task of giving it to John Piper. The Lord wanted him to be in a position to collect some sea shells—but two or three is all that would be necessary to make the point.

These different demands are in tension, but it is a tension created by the wayward bent of our hearts. God does give houses and lands to His people, but only to those who, like Job, are willing to hold them before the Lord on an open palm (Job 1:21-22).

Sapphire Gray

When strings are pulled taut, the cello is tuned,
The wood holds the wine that is seasoned and old.
Dark music poured out and emptied the cask,
And rolled in my goblet, rich, tawny and told
How holiness tastes, how righteousness laughs.

You shall be as God, the great dragon had said,
Philosophers argue their shapes in the fire
And each to his shadow tenaciously clings;
They miss that our great father Abram aspired
To a city of solids, celestial marble.

But our earthly solids are fleeting, like faerie,
Far closer to ether than what we conceive.
Our granite is balsa, our oceans are floating,
Our atoms are rootless, and we, not believing,
We miss that this world speaks a fortiori.

Stop thinking that heaven means standing on clouds.

Why falter when told that our God remains good?
Why think the Almighty exhausted in sadness
His strength on the Alps or the plains of Dakota?
Will He not speak solid and substantive gladness
And bid all His people emerge from the shadows?

The carpets of heaven are thicker than moss.
With paint on the walls that is glossy to stay.
Hard wood for the tables is grown on the hillsides,
And rocks in the drive are all sapphire gray.
The breezes move curtains that are facing the sea.

But Those Warnings . . .

But didn’t Jesus teach us that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to make it into the kingdom (Matt. 19:24)? Are not the warnings against the deceitfulnes of riches a regular refrain throughout the New Testament? Indeed they are. Our mistake is thinking that there is anything new about this. Such warnings are as much a part of Deuteronomy as are the promises. Our mistake is in thinking that God didn’t start warning us about this snare until four thousand years into our history. Remember that the prohibition of covetousness is in the Ten Commandments.

“When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage”

Deuteronomy 8:10–14 (KJV)

The idea that we ought not to give way to the idolatry of covetousness is no New Testament innovation. The problem we are seeking to solve here is at least as old as Abraham’s wealth, and almost certainly older.

The challenge is this. How can we hold things in the palm of our hand without those things themselves growing hands that can hold us in a death drip. The Lord promised that we could handle serpents and not be bitten (Mark 16:18), and mammon is one of those serpents.

God expects us to get good at handling wealth. Notice the instruction given to Timothy.

“Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”

1 Timothy 6:17–19 (KJV)

Why does God give us things so richly? Paul says that it is so that we can enjoy them. But misers and tightwads don’t enjoy anything, which is why Paul requires the wealthy to be open-handed and liberal in good works , using all that they have and are enjoying. If they do this, then they will continue to enjoy it. If they do not, then the cancer sets in.

We see exactly the same thing in Deuteronomy. Notice the God-given combination of rejoicing in the stuff God has given along with rejoicing in the prospect of sharing it.

“And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O Lord, hast given me. And thou shalt set it before the Lord thy God, and worship before the Lord thy God: And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you.”

Deuteronomy 26:10–11 (KJV)

And why would God threaten to expel them from the land? Because they refused to rejoice in all of their stuff. Again this is a warning from Deuteronomy. Why did God expel them from the land? Yes, it was because of their idolatry, but their idolatry did not consist of having material things. It consisted of being ungrateful for their material things.

“Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; Therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things: and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee.”

Deuteronomy 28:47–48 (KJV)

The same God who commanded them in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy not to covet is the God who told them they would be expelled from the land because they did not serve God with joy and gladness of heart over the abundance of all the things.

So when it comes to covenant blessings and curses, material prosperity, true heart religion, the idolatry of covetousness, the necessity of radical discipleship, and all the other issues touched on above, there is no appreciable difference between the Old Testament and the New.

The Link to Antisemitism

What we see in the new covenant is the universalization of Israel, not the annihilation of Israel. Israel is not replaced by this new thing, an entirely different entity called the Christian church. Rather, the priesthood that used to be prerogative of Jews alone became a priesthood that was opened up to Greeks, Japanese, Scythians, Swedes, and Mayans.

“For I know their works and their thoughts: It shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; And they shall come, and see my glory. And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, That have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; And they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles . . . And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord.”

Isaiah 66:18-19, 21 (KJV)

This great expansion of the entry requirements to the commonwealth of Israel greatly altered the way Israel appeared to the world, but it did not eradicate Israel in the world. This is why the orthodox Christian claim is that the Christian church is now the true Israel of God.

The Jews, naturally, are not persuaded by this. There are therefore two scriptural ways in which this case is to be made to the Jews. We see the first way in many places in the New Testament.

How did the apostle Paul approach the Jewish leaders in Rome?

“For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain . . . And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening” (Acts 28:23).

Acts 28:20,23 (KJV)

And Paul plainly describes the church as being the Israel of God.

“And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.”

Galatians 6:16 (KJV)

All believers in Christ are olive branches that are partakers of the root and fatness of the Abrahamic tree. And because children of Abraham resort to the law and to the testimony whenever they can, they open their Bibles in order to reason with Jews from the text. So that is one way to approach it.

But there is another way, a strategy that Paul outlines in Romans 11. There he argues for an incarnational way of making the case. Who has been the heir of all the promises that God made to His people in Deuteronomy? Who is actually walking under those Deuteronomic blessings?

At root, the debate between Christians and Jews has to do with the identity of the true Israel. Who is the true Israel of God? And just as Elijah cried out on Mount Carmel, saying that the God who answered with fire from Heaven was the true God, so it is in this case. The YHWH who dispenses Deuteronomic blessings on His people is thereby identifying who His people actually are. Let the true Jews, the Jews who are Jews inwardly, by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 2:29), be the ones who walk under the grace of all His covenant blessings.

Paul knows His people according to the flesh. He knows that the cultivated branches who have been excised from the olive tree are going to notice it when these rude outsiders, these uncircumcised Philistines, start living the blessing of Heaven. Paul knows that this is a strategy that will work. The cornucopia of grace trumps all the high intensity accomplishments of striving and high attainment. And this is why the antisemite is living in an upside down world. Instead of living a life by grace that is to be envied, he rather lives a slacker life under the law, and consequently finds himself envying instead.