Deuteronomy 13:1-18 NET
Today I’m starting a new series of sermons on following Jesus. You should not be surprised that I am beginning this series with a message from the Old Testament. You should know by now that I don’t think anything that Jesus said to us was an entirely new idea. God had already been preparing us for the New Testament gospel of the kingdom by what was revealed in the Old Testament. We should begin studying about following Jesus there.
Deuteronomy 13 is a good place to start. This chapter outlines for us the dangers of following the wrong leaders. If we do not discriminate in the people we follow, we will inevitably wind up following those who lead us away from God and his truth. That is a recipe for disaster.
The danger of following the wrong teacher (1-5)
1 Suppose a prophet or one who foretells by dreams should appear among you and show you a sign or wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder should come to pass concerning what he said to you, namely, “Let us follow other gods” – gods whom you have not previously known – “and let us serve them.” 3 You must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer, for the LORD your God will be testing you to see if you love him with all your mind and being. 4 You must follow the LORD your God and revere only him; and you must observe his commandments, obey him, serve him, and remain loyal to him. 5 As for that prophet or dreamer, he must be executed because he encouraged rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt, redeeming you from that place of slavery, and because he has tried to entice you from the way the LORD your God has commanded you to go. In this way you must purge out evil from within.
Notice the depths of the temptation here. The Israelites would never have followed a teacher who came declaring that he was a false prophet. They would not knowingly follow someone whose declared intention was to lead them away from the LORD. But the temptation would come from someone with a title. More than that, he came with a reputation: credentials. His credentials were the fact that he had predicted something was going to happen, and it happened.
We often get the wrong idea about how gullible the Israelites were. We tend to think of them as so naive that they would follow anyone who said anything. I don’t think that is the case. These people had a history of following God because he had proven his existence and power by delivering them from the gods of Egypt. They are used to a God who proved himself by striking down the firstborn in Egypt, leading Israel our from their midst, dividing the Red Sea, leading Israel through its midst, tossing Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea, leading Israel through the wilderness, and defeating great kings of Canaan to help them gain the promised land. They are not going to be persuaded by a mere argument.
So, the teachers who would come to tempt Israel away from their loyalty to God would be false prophets whose prophecies would come true. Why would God allow that? Henry Blunt asked the same question:
“At first sight, we are apt to imagine, that the easiest way for the Almighty to have prevented any such mischievous and dangerous results, would have been by preventing the sign or the wonder from coming to pass since it was so evidently wrought to establish a falsehood. But this is not the method of God’s dealings with his people in any age; He does not keep them from temptation, but with the temptation, he sends a way to escape.”1
God intended for false teachers to come into Israel for the expressed purpose of leading his people away from their faith. He would allow those teachers to come, and to demonstrate their credentials as prophets by showing that their prophecies came true. God would permit this because he would be testing Israel to see if they truly love him with all of their minds and being (3).
Now, brothers and sisters, do I dare to compare our day to the time in which this scripture was written? Do I dare to tell you that the same God who allowed the Israelites to be tempted by false teachers might also allow you and me to face the same temptation? Yes, I dare to do that.
The world around us stands deluded by a scientific community that has suggested that everything can be explained without God. Politics and Philosophy have also provided teachers who are have embraced this atheistic doctrine. All of these prophets come with impeccable credentials. We are tempted to ask how all these experts can be wrong. But the scriptures here warn us that such a thing can and will happen. God is allowing it to happen to test our loyalty.
God’s prescription for the Israelites was simple. Those false prophets who encouraged rebellion against God were to be executed. In God’s kingdom on earth, nobody had freedom of speech if that speech denied the absolute authority of God Almighty.
The second section of this chapter shows that the Israelites would be tempted to be disloyal to God even by those closest to them. The tempters would emerge even among their friends and family.
The danger of following a friend or family member (6-11)
6 Suppose your own full brother, your son, your daughter, your beloved wife, or your closest friend should seduce you secretly and encourage you to go and serve other gods that neither you nor your ancestors have previously known, 7 the gods of the surrounding people (whether near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other). 8 You must not give in to him or even listen to him; do not feel sympathy for him or spare him or cover up for him. 9 Instead, you must kill him without fail! Your own hand must be the first to strike him, and then the hands of the whole community. 10 You must stone him to death because he tried to entice you away from the LORD your God, who delivered you from the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. 11 Thus all Israel will hear and be afraid; no longer will they continue to do evil like this among you.
This new phase of the temptation is more intimate than the last. Some people will remain loyal to the LORD despite anything they might hear from an expert. But these might be tempted if the word comes from someone close – a brother, son, daughter, wife, close friend. These are the false prophets who come to seduce us secretly (6).
Driver writes about this kind of attack:
“The sternest measures must at once be adopted to check the evil: not only is the tempter not to be listened to, but even though the temptation has only been expressed by him in secret, he is to be treated without mercy or compunction; for his attempt to seduce a brother Israelite from his loyalty to Jehovah, he is to be stoned to death”2
Notice what is happening here. The temptation was first from an unknown prophet who came with a credential. God had told his people to ignore the credential and respond to the temptation to be disloyal because God is testing their loyalty by allowing the prophet to come. Now the temptation is coming from a known source – a trusted friend or family member. God’s command for them was to disregard the closeness of the source and once again to treat the temptation based on its result.
Friends, we are so far from obeying this command in our everyday lives. We allow family and friends to undermine our loyalty to God at every turn. We need to come face to face with our guilt in this matter.
Jesus warned us that families would turn against one another because of him. He said “Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rise against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:12-13 NET).
The temptation to rebel against God can come from our closest kin and our dearest friends. This is also a test of our loyalty.
The final section of today’s text reveals yet another phase of the temptation to rebel against exclusive loyalty to God.
The danger of following a disloyal city (12-18)
12 Suppose you should hear in one of your cities, which the LORD your God is giving you as a place to live, that 13 some evil people have departed from among you to entice the inhabitants of their cities, saying, “Let’s go and serve other gods” (whom you have not known before). 14 You must investigate thoroughly and inquire carefully. If it is indeed true that such a disgraceful thing is being done among you, 15 you must by all means slaughter the inhabitants of that city with the sword; annihilate with the sword everyone in it, as well as the livestock. 16 You must gather all of its plunder into the middle of the plaza and burn the city and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God. It will be an abandoned ruin forever – it must never be rebuilt again. 17 You must not take for yourself anything that has been placed under judgment. Then the LORD will relent from his intense anger, show you compassion, have mercy on you, and multiply you as he promised your ancestors. 18 Thus you must obey the LORD your God, keeping all his commandments that I am giving you today and doing what is right before him.
In this phase of the temptation, an entire city has been won over by the rebels. It is a city that had been loyal to the LORD but has now gone completely in the opposite direction.
In that case, the entire city was to be devoted to destruction. You may remember that such was the case of Jericho. God had devoted the entire city to destruction, and that is why Achan sinned when he kept some of its treasures for himself.
A city so destroyed was to be a prophecy of the final judgment – of destruction in Gehenna itself. The city which rebelled against the LORD was to be treated like God treated Sodom and Gomorrah. Its destruction was to remind all true followers of the price of apostasy. Jesus taught that rebels will be destroyed – soul and body – in hell (Matthew 10:28). The fact that cities devoted to destruction are not to be rebuilt is also a prophecy of the utter finality of hell. The apostle Paul taught that the fate of the lost is permanent destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9). A person permanently destroyed cannot live again.
When we look at this chapter as a whole, we can see a warning from God that his people – those devoted to him – will be tempted to turn away from him. Prophets with supernatural skills will seek to lure them away. Friends and family will try to erase their faith. Even entire cities will seek to undermine their loyalty to the LORD.
Such is the case with believers in Jesus Christ today. The moment a person declares their faith in Christ, that person becomes a target for those who will make it their mission to destroy that faith. They will seek to undermine that loyalty. We have been warned!
1Blunt, Henry. A Family Exposition of the Pentateuch. London: J. Hatchard and Son, 1844. p. 243.
2Driver, S. R. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Deuteronomy. New York: Charles Scribner, 1895. p. 153.