The Israelites were told not to erect any sacred stones, ‘for these the Lord your God hates’ (v.22). Here in Wales, they always used to erect a permanent circle of standing stones whenever they held a National Eisteddfod – a annual gathering for Welsh poetry, prose and music. We have one down the road, a Gorsedd circle. I can see it down in a field as I walk my dog. It is a dodgy looking structure with a flat altar in the middle, just right for blood sacrifices. I avoid getting in close proximity to it. The ancient druids sacrificed thousands of innocent children to placate the demonic spirits they revered. A according to the Roman writer Tacitus: ‘they considered it a pious duty to slake the altars with captive blood and to consult their deities by means of human entrails‘, https://resourcesforhistory.com/celtic_druids.htm. When the Romans invaded a territory, they added the local native gods into their assortment (pantheon) of deities that it was permissible for Roman citizens to worship. The Romans only deemed it necessary to ban two religions: druidic practices and Christianity as both were considered too powerful – even if located at the opposite end of the holiness spectrum. Nowadays, the ‘druids’ of the modern Eisteddfod have toned down the heathen roots of their celebration so much that a former Archbishop of Canterbury allowed himself to be sworn in as a bard. They only set up fake stones today. Presumably, real stones are too expensive.
The Israelites were told to be zealous in purging evil from among them, putting to death anyone found worshipping other gods or celestial bodies (17:1-7). They were also instructed to have respect for the verdicts of judges and priests (17:8-13).
Moses predicts that the Israelites will appoint a king when they eventually settle in the promised land. He must be chosen by God and not obsessed with horses, women or wealth. Several of our modern royal family seem pretty keen on collecting horses. He predicts the fall of Solomon who took on too many wives, who lured him to worship other Gods,. ‘He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray (v.17). Kings are called to humility and must read the law of God all the days of his life.
The whole tribe of Levi, which includes all the priests, were to live on offerings from the other Israelites. Moses listed detestable practices that the Israelites must not inherit from the tribes they conquered such as child sacrifice. The list includes divination, sorcery, interpreting omens, witchcraft, casting spells and consulting the dead. When Harry Potter came out, the local children in our small Welsh village used to ride up and down our street shouting spells from the books at the top of their voices. ‘While he was still a cardinal in 2003, the future Pope Benedict XVI described the books as “subtle seductions which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul before it can grow properly”’, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/sep/02/harry-potter-books-removed-from-catholic-school-on-exorcists-advice
Instead of listening to sorcery or divination which comes from the evil one, the Israelites must only listen to a prophet, like Moses, who God will raise up from among their own brothers. Jesus was the new Moses. All of his prophecies came true such as the Jerusalem temple being destroyed (by the Romans) with no stone left on top of another.
Jesus told ‘the Parable of the Great Banquet’. The Jews are all invited to God’s banquet of forgiveness and eternal life but they all make poor excuses for not attending. I once heard someone say they couldn’t possibly get to Sunday worship because it would interfere with them cooking the lunch! The people making the excuses have all been highly blessed by God. God has given them abundant wealth so that one man can buy a field and another one five young of oxen. He has provided a wife to another man. They still won’t take time to join in a communal celebration, witness to how blessed they were and give thanks to God.
The poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame were all welcomed instead – the people considered ‘unclean’ by the Pharisees – but there was still room. Finally, all the Gentiles were brought in to be with God. It is a tragedy to turn down God’s priceless invitation due to the cares of the world.
The danger is that if we refuse God’s invitation when we are thoroughly blessed. If we refuse to acknowledge him and give him an offering in return, He might have no alternative other than to take the shackles off the devil and allow him to make us poor, crippled, blind or lame. It might only be when we are brought down to a desperate state that we will respond to God’s invitation. That is why God still allows suffering, disease and death in the world. How else can He get some people’s attention? God will only allow suffering if a greater good will come out of it. The Lord will give us a way out of any affliction if we turn to him.
There is a real cost to being a disciple of Jesus – but it’s a cost worth paying. We might be abused by our family, ignored by the public and have to give up well-paid secular professions. If we work in a secular workplace, everyone around us may be living lives completely opposed to gospel principles. It can be terribly draining to be constantly surrounded by non-belief. It is wonderful to regularly attend a church with a supportive and loving congregation and charge up each other’s batteries and hope for humanity with our shared faith.
Sometimes, we can be the only practicing Christian on our street. We are meant to share the gospel with our neighbours. This might intrigue some of them but others will hate us for it, ‘you have made us a reproach to our neighbours (v.13).
Many Christians around the world are still being persecuted and murdered for their faith. We suffer more from mental abuse in the West. Most of society try to side-line us, revile us or, more commonly, ignore us and try to pretend we don’t exist. If I type any Christian sentiment on my brother’s Facebook page, he simply deletes it. We can expect regular scorn and derision from our family, friends and neighbours.
King David called on God to rouse himself and not to reject the Jews for ever. God roused himself in spectacular fashion by sending his only son to die for our sins. God rose up and redeemed the entire world because of his unfailing love (v.26).