The Scriptorium

Maintaining Holiness

As people, as communities, and as a nation. Deuteronomy 17.1-13

A Holy Nation (1): Deuteronomy 17, 18 (1)

Opening Prayer: Psalm 115.1-3
Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us,
But to Your name give glory,
Because of Your mercy,
Because of Your truth.
Why should the Gentiles say,
“So where is their God?”
But our God is in heaven;
He does whatever He pleases.

Psalm 115.1-3

(Plainfield: Nothing but the Blood of Jesus)
Not to us, O God, not us, but unto Your Name give glory!
For Your love and faithfulness, ever to Your Name be glory!
Why should the nations cry, "Where is their God on high?"
You rule us, Lord, on high: Ever to Your Name be glory!

Today’s Text: Deuteronomy 17.1-13

1. How were difficult matters to be resolved?

2. What instruction did God give to deter the people from acting presumptuously?

These verses mark a transition from instructions aimed mainly at individual and community life to a focus on the life of the nation. This transition was anticipated in the laws concerning the year of release and the annual feasts. In the next several chapters, the people are led to think of themselves not merely as individuals, but as a nation – holy people in holy communities comprising a holy nation unto the Lord.

After a brief reminder that no defective animals are to be offered to the Lord (v. 1) – just as the people must not tolerate any defects in themselves, their households, or their communities - this transition once again underscores the utterly abominable nature of the practice of idolatry (vv. 2-5). Because idolatry leads people away from God, and thus away from holiness, whoever perpetrates idolatry must be given the consequence of their choice – separation from God and His people by death (v. 5).

But not without due process (vv. 6, 7). Proper witnesses are required for all such acts of judgment, especially those involving idolatry and other capital offenses. Moreover, the possibility of false witnesses entering into a matter is mitigated somewhat by making those who witness the abominable crime take the lead in carrying out the just punishment (v. 7).

Verse 8 makes the turn to nation-thinking. Sometimes, local matters are too hard for the judges to decide. At such times, appeal could be made to the priest, the Levites, and the judge who serves in the city where God’s dwelling abides (vv. 8, 9). Together they would hear the case and render a verdict, and their verdict was final (v. 10). Punishment, when required, was to be carried out immediately (vv. 10-13). Justice thorough and swift would deter the people from acting “presumptuously”, that is, in violation of God’s Law.

We note that, in 1 Corinthians 5.13, Paul quoted verse 12 in the case of the immoral man. The Church does not bear the civil sword, so it cannot enact capital or other physical or material punishments (Rom. 13.1-4). But the Church does bear the spiritual Sword of the Word of God. Thus, it wields that Sword to “put away” unrepentant offenders against the Law of God and the holiness of His community, that the offender may be consigned to the rule of the devil and the consequences of his choice (1 Cor. 5.5). But even this is not final; the Church must seek to recover any whom it puts away by excommunication, that they may be restored to the Lord (2 Cor. 2.5-11). Thus Satan is thwarted and holiness is restored and advanced among the people of God today.

Treasure Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
“And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously” (v. 13). The wages of those sins was death. Swift punishment on the spot. Now, in God’s grace because of Jesus, we are allowed and enabled to repent and turn away from our sin. Our sin is wicked, just like the sins of the people of ancient Israel. But now we have the power of the Holy Spirit to flee and turn away from sin. To be sorry for our sins. And to start anew and be obedient. “…keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (1 Cor. 7.19). Here is the joy and mystery of maintaining holiness within the New Covenant: “Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1.27, 28). Herein lies the Good News. What happened to the children of Israel is what should happen to us; but it doesn’t, because the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6.23). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2.8-10). So let us hear and fear and maintain holiness through the power of the Holy Spirit. Because the presumptuous sin of rejecting God still leads to spiritual death.


1. The Law of God is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7.12). How does the Law of God serve today to help us increase in holiness (1 Cor. 7.19; Matt. 22.34-40)?

2. How should church leaders today help and encourage church members to pursue holiness?

3. What is the role of church discipline in helping the community of believers increase in holiness?

Courts of judgment were to be set up in every city. Though their judgment had not the Divine authority of an oracle, it was the judgment of wise, prudent, experienced men, and had the advantage of a Divine promise.
Matthew Henry (1622-1714), Commentary on Deuteronomy 17.8-13

Lord, ground me so firmly in Your Word, that I may always know the right and just thing to do as I…

Closing Prayer: Psalm 115.4-18
Wait on the Lord in prayer, that He may show you any drift in your soul, away from Him and toward idols. Repent and return to the Lord, rejoicing in Him and His salvation.

Psalm 115.4-18
(Plainfield: Nothing but the Blood of Jesus)
Idols made by men's own hand – ever to Your Name be glory –
see nor hear nor understand – ever to Your Name be glory!
They neither feel nor walk, nor can they speak or talk;
all those who serve them fall, but unto Your Name be glory!

All who trust in Jesus yield – ever to His Name be glory! –
find in Him their help and shield – ever to Your Name be glory!
O Israel, trust the Lord!  He helps us evermore!
Fear Him obey His Word: Ever to Your Name be glory!

Blessings from our gracious Lord – ever to Your Name be glory –
will attend us evermore – ever to Your Name be glory!
Bless all who fear You, Lord, all who obey Your Word,
all who Your Name adore: Ever to Your Name be glory!

Grant us, Savior, great increase – ever to Your Name be glory!
Bless us with eternal peace – ever to Your Name be glory!
Heaven and earth are Yours; let every soul adore
and bless You evermore: Ever to Your Name be glory!

T. M. and Susie Moore

Listen to our summary of last week’s study in Deuteronomy by clicking here. You can download all the studies in the series by clicking here.

Our book, The Law of God, brings together the statutes, precepts, judgments, and testimonies of all the Law of God under their appropriate number of the Ten Commandments. It’s a great resource for daily meditation, to help you let the Word of God dwell in you richly. Order your copy by clicking here.

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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).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore