A Holy Community: Deuteronomy 15, 16 (7)
Opening Prayer: Psalm 51.10-13
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You.
(Passion Chorale: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded)
Create in me a clean heart, renew me from within!
Take not Your Spirit from me because of all my sin.
Salvation’s joy restore, Lord, and keep me in Your hand;
thus shall I tell Your strong Word to sinners in the land.
Review Deuteronomy 15 and 16; meditate on Deuteronomy 16.18-20
1. What measures did God enact to help His people maintain holiness before Him?
2. Why was it so important that Israel should strive to be a holy people?
God called His people to be holy, because He is holy, and they were His witnesses among the nations of their day (Lev. 11.44; 18.1-5). It’s one thing for God to command holiness of His people. That in itself was a work of grace, for how would they know what holiness required if He did not spell it out for them? The Ten Commandments set the framework for holiness, and the religious and civil statutes and rules helped to further clarify God’s expectations.
But God didn’t leave them there. He gave them three annual reminders of His grace, and of the fact that they were called to be a holy people unto the Lord. The three annual feasts – Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles – dramatized the saving and sustaining grace of God. Faithfully observed, they would have renewed the people in joy and thanksgiving each time they celebrated, and this would have encouraged them to continue the pursuit of holiness unto the Lord.
God also gave them an every-seven-year reminder of His forgiveness and largesse. The year of release, when debts were cancelled and everything started over new, was meant to guide the people in living gracious, holy, and loving lives together as a nation. A similar seven-year regulation governed the release of indentured servants, and would have had the same effect of reminding the people of God’s grace. But in this case, the seven-year periods would have been staggered throughout the seven years of the year of release, so that perhaps in every year, maybe even more than once a year, in many different communities, this action of releasing and blessing a former servant would have been a public reminder of God’s salvation and supply.
Even down to the details of their daily diet – which meats they could and could not eat, and where they were to sacrifice the firstborn of their flocks and herds – would have reminded them that God had set them apart for Himself. They were not like the other nations. They were holy, and this stood out even in their diet and in the fact that their one God dwelled in one place among them. They were not to multiply altars and totems and whatnot to God, because He is one God, not many.
And to further assist the people in fulfilling the demands of holiness, God appointed judges and officers in every town and village to help the people practice justice and neighbor love toward one another. Their “open air” visibility, assembled in the gates of the city, would have been a constant reminder to the people of Israel that they were a people called and ordered for holiness according to the grace and Law of God.
Thus God in many ways came to the aid of His people, that they might fulfill their calling to be a holy nation unto Him. He has done the same for us, for we, too, are called to pursue holiness (2 Cor. 7.1). But we have much greater aids than Israel had. Besides God’s Law of just and holy leaders, God has given us His Word to guide us, His Spirit to empower us, and His Son to intercede for us.
Treasure Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates…according to your tribes…” (v. 18). Perhaps there was something to be said for godly tribalism. God understood that the best way to just judgment was to have a leader from the tribe of Judah judge the people of Judah. Don’t bring in someone from the tribe of Levi or Zebulun to do the job. Each tribe understood their own circumstances best, although they all had the same Law to follow. This was the surest route to justice and a holy community. But tribalism, as such, is not what we were created for; and the need for it is removed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (Jn. 17.11). And in answer to that prayer we see the glorious unity and community on the Day of Pentecost: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven…everyone heard them speak in his own language…the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2.4-6, 11). We are no longer called to be separate, but “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given…” (Eph. 4.3-7). And that grace makes all the difference.
We are one people, a holy people, diverse but united by one Spirit, through one Word, unto one Lord, for the glory of one God our Father.
1. Why is unity in the Spirit so important for a community of believers to be holy?
2. How can believers help one another make good use of all the aids God has given to make us one holy people?
3. What should we expect as we work hard to maintain unity and pursue holiness as a people together?
Care is taken for the due administration of justice. All personal regards must be laid aside, so that right is done to all, and wrong to none. Care is taken to prevent following the idolatrous customs of the heathen. Nothing belies God more, or tends more to corrupt the minds of men, than representing and worshipping, by an image, that God, who is an almighty and eternal Spirit, present every where. Alas! even in gospel days, and under a better dispensation, established upon better promises, there is a tendency to set up idols, under one form or another, in the human heart. Matthew Henry (1622-1714), Commentary on Deuteronomy 16.18-22
Help me to pursue holiness, Lord, as I…
Closing Prayer: Psalm 51.1-9
Holiness requires continuous listening to the convicting and leading work of the Spirit. Pray that He will speak clearly to you and renew in repentance and faith as you seek the Lord today.
(Passion Chorale: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded)
Be gracious to me, Savior, according to Your love!
According to Your mercy, my sins, my sins remove!
O wash me, precious Savior, and cleanse me from all sin;
look on me with Your favor, and cause my grief to end.
Against You only, Savior, have I become unclean;
thus just the condemnation which You pronounce on me.
Lord, I was born to sinning, while You seek truth within;
to wisdom my heart winning, release me from my sin!
In Jesus’ blood and mercy, Lord, cleanse my evil heart!
Let me washed, cleansed, renewed be and pure in whole and part.
Bring joy again and gladness; look not upon my sin.
Deliver me from sadness; renew me yet again!
T. M. and Susie Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: Ancient Christian Commentary Series III, Joseph T. Lienhard, S. J. ed. in collaboration with Ronnie J. Rombs, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001). All quotations from John Calvin from John Calvin, Commentaries on The Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Order of A Harmony, Rev. Charles William Bingham M. A., tr. and ed. (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1863. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).