Our reading today begins with another reminder that Israel is to obey all the commands of God (12:1). In particular, the idolatry of the nations Israel will dispossess must not be mimicked. God must be worshiped according to His commands – both the where and the how (vv. 4-7). Note in verse 8 that once Israel is in the land, God commands that each must not do “whatever is right in his own eyes.” We will see that this is exactly what will happen, anyway. In verse 11, God says a second time that He will choose a place to dwell (see v. 5). This will be Jerusalem a few hundred years after this book was written, but ultimately it is talking about His church, beginning on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Even when they are in the land and God blesses them with an abundance of food, Israel must remember that the first and the best belong to God (vv. 15-18), even if it is not brought to His dwelling place (vv. 20-22). We see in this that everything – even beyond what we give to God through our offerings – belongs to God and must be used according to His will. The chapter ends with a second command not to imitate the idolatry of the Canaanites, and another exhortation to obedience.
Chapter 13 begins by talking about prophets that perform “signs or wonders” that come to pass (13:1-2). This is referring to a foretelling of the future. We will see in a few chapters that the foretelling of actual events is the litmus test for prophets (Deu 18:22). Here in 13:2-5, we see that the overriding and controlling test is first adherence to the already revealed Word of God. God does not change, and He does not lie. His Word will never contradict itself. In verse 6, this same injunctions continues as God tells us that anyone – no matter how much we trust them – contradicts the revealed Word of God and entices us to idolatry, they are really an enemy. In verses 12-16 we see that even if so-called brothers and sisters in the faith turn to idolatry, they must be removed from the midst of he congregation. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. In verse 18, God equates keeping yourself from idols with “keeping all His commandments.”
In chapter 14, this call to holiness continues with a reiteration that Israel should not be like the nations around them in how they treat their bodies (14:1) and in observing the food laws (vv. 3-21). In verse 2, note that these are outward expressions of the reality that they are chosen by God. Israel is also reminded of the laws for tithes (already enumerated in Leviticus 27 and Numbers 18), which is a tithe of food (v. 23). In verses 24-26, we see an allowance for those who have to travel far to sell their tithe, bring the money to the dwelling place of the Lord, and then buy grain, animals, etc., for their offerings. This is what we see going on at the Temple in Jerusalem when our Lord turns over the tables of the “money changers” (those who sold the animals and grain) who abused this law for financial gain. The chapter ends with a reminder to provide for those who live as ministers of God (vv. 27-29).
Chapter 15 begins with details of the Sabbath year every seventh year and the release of debts owed by Israelites (15:1-2). We already saw the release of debts at the Jubilee (every 50th year), and the giving of the Sabbath year for the land to rest, but here God institutes a release of debts every seventh year. The allowance for keeping the debt of foreigners should be understood not as physical non-Israelites, but spiritual non-Israelites of other nations (as God does not contradict Himself and we have seen over and over how sojourners and aliens are included in the covenant – see also v. 6).
In verse 4 we have what appears to be a promise that this debt forgiveness will be unnecessary, as God says “but there will be no poor among you.” However, the conjunction in the Hebrew translated “but” has no direct English equivalent, and is variously translated by: indeed, surely, but, thus, except, because, if, although, even though, as, for, when, or in case. The use of “but” in most translations is, in my opinion, a poor choice. The point here is not that the release of debts will be unnecessary because there will be no poor that need to go into debt, the point is that because of this release of debt there will be no poverty. This idea is furthered in vv. 7-11 (see especially v. 11). Indeed, God’s people are commanded to take of the poor in our midst.
In verse 12, this idea is expanded upon as God speak of slaves. This is an exposition of the slave laws in Exodus 21. This is not to be confused with the chattel slavery of our country’s dark history, which would be excluded by Exodus 21:16. The verb “sold” here may be passive (done to someone) or reflexive (done to someone by themselves). This is a willingly being sold into slavery as a payback of debt or as a means of providing for one’s family. God sets a limit of six years on this type of slavery, and we again see how the family of God provides for each other in verses 13-14. Notice in verse 18 that there should be no difficulty in letting the slave go free, because he worked for “half the cost of a hired worker.” The slave does not work for free. The chapter ends with a reminder that God requires the first and the best (vv. 19-22), and that blood is never to be eaten (v. 23).