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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 13

The Covenant Stipulations, Covenant Making at Shechem, Blessings and Cursings (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 29:1 ).

In this section of Deuteronomy we first have a description of specific requirements that Yahweh laid down for His people. These make up the second part of the covenant stipulations for the covenant expressed in Deuteronomy 4:45 to Deuteronomy 29:1 and also for the covenant which makes up the whole book. They are found in chapters 12-26. As we have seen Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 4:44 provide the preamble and historical prologue for the overall covenant, followed by the general stipulations in chapters 5-11. There now, therefore, in 12-26 follow the detailed stipulations which complete the main body of the covenant. These also continue the second speech of Moses which began in Deuteronomy 5:1.

Overall in this speech Moses is concerned to connect with the people. It is to the people that his words are spoken rather than the priests so that much of the priestly legislation is simply assumed. Indeed it is remarkably absent in Deuteronomy except where it directly touches on the people. Anyone who read Deuteronomy on its own would wonder at the lack of cultic material it contained, and at how much the people were involved. It concentrates on their interests, and not those of the priests and Levites, while acknowledging the responsibility that they had towards both priests and Levites.

And even where the cultic legislation more specifically connects with the people, necessary detail is not given, simply because he was aware that they already had it in writing elsewhere. Their knowledge of it is assumed. Deuteronomy is building on a foundation already laid. In it Moses was more concerned to get over special aspects of the legislation as it was specifically affected by entry into the land, with the interests of the people especially in mind. The suggestion that it was later written in order to bring home a new law connected with the Temple does not fit in with the facts. Without the remainder of the covenant legislation in Exodus/Leviticus/Numbers to back it up, its presentation often does not make sense from a cultic point of view.

This is especially brought home by the fact that when he refers to their approach to God he speaks of it in terms of where they themselves stood or will stand when they do approach Him. They stand not on Sinai but in Horeb. They stand not in the Sanctuary but in ‘the place’, the site of the Sanctuary. That is why he emphasises Horeb, which included the area before the Mount, and not just Sinai itself (which he does not mention). And why he speaks of ‘the place’ which Yahweh chose, which includes where the Tabernacle is sited and where they gather together around the Tabernacle, and not of the Sanctuary itself. He wants them to feel that they have their full part in the whole.

These detailed stipulations in chapters 12-26 will then be followed by the details of the covenant ceremony to take place at the place which Yahweh has chosen at Shechem (Deuteronomy 27:0), followed by blessings and cursings to do with the observance or breach of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:0).

I. INSTRUCTION WITH REGARD TO WORSHIP AND RIGHTNESS BEFORE YAHWEH (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:17 ).

In this first group of regulations in Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:7 emphasis is laid on proper worship and rightness before Yahweh, looked at from the people’s point of view. They include:

· Regulations with regard to the Central Sanctuary as the one place where Yahweh is to be officially worshipped with emphasis on the people’s side of things and their participation. They are to worship there joyfully (Deuteronomy 12:0).

· Regulations with regard to avoidance of idolatry as it affects the people lest they lose their cause for joy (Deuteronomy 13:0).

· Regulations for the people with regard to ritual wholeness and cleanness so that they might reveal themselves as suited to worship joyfully in the place which Yahweh would choose (Deuteronomy 14:1-21).

· Regulations for the people with regard to tithing mainly ignoring levitical aspects (Deuteronomy 14:22-27). Here they were to share their joy with others who would thus be able to rejoice with them.

· Regulations with regard to poverty as a slur on Yahweh (Deuteronomy 14:28 to Deuteronomy 15:11). This was to be allayed by a special use of the tithe every third year and a release from debt every seventh year. To allow unrelieved poverty in the land would prevent their being able to approach Yahweh with joy and to enjoy His prosperity.

· Regulations with regard to Israelite Habiru bondsmen and bondswomen and how they were to be their treated (Deuteronomy 15:12-18). Again the emphasis is on generosity towards those whose need was greatest.

· Regulations with regard to firstlings, who represented their own relief from bondage, with the emphasis on their being Yahweh’s and thus to be royally treated, and to be eaten joyfully in the place which Yahweh would choose. The emphasis is on the people’s participation (Deuteronomy 15:19-23).

· Regulations with regard to the three main feasts, with emphasis on the fact that they must be eaten at the place which Yahweh will choose and that the last two of them must be celebrated joyfully, again with the emphasis on the people’s participation throughout (Deuteronomy 16:1-17).

But central to it all is the Central Sanctuary, the place where Yahweh sets His name. The place where He meets with His people, and they with Him, and the need for them to be in the right spirit so as to do so joyfully.

Chapter 13 Warnings Against Idolatry And Guidance On How To Deal With Those Who Lead Men Astray.

This chapter continues the closing theme in Deuteronomy 12:0 where emphasis has been laid on observing the word given by God to Moses. It warns against those who would seek to lead men astray from that word by various means. The chapter begins with how to deal with false prophets who come from their midst with signs and wonders (Deuteronomy 13:1-5), goes on to deal with family members and close friends who may seek to use their influence to lead their family astray (Deuteronomy 13:6-11), and finally ends with how to deal with cities led astray, not by foreigners, but by worthless people ‘in your midst’, that become bastions of idolatry so that men are led astray by persuasive leaders and popular opinion (Deuteronomy 13:12-18). These were the three major influences on their spiritual lives, preachers, family and environment. They must ensure that they were not led astray by any of them.

The emphasis in all three cases on the fact that this was ‘the enemy within’ explains the harshness of the sentences. They should know better. They were acting as traitors ‘in the midst’. And in times of emergency, as this would be, such people could only be dealt with in one way, by death. The purity of Israel could depend on it.

Such sentiments are regularly found in treaty forms where it is conceived that men may come among a subject people and seek to lead them to follow others in rebellion against the overlord. Some treaties even cite prophets and family as possible sources of this. Others cite cities. All were likely culprits for this kind of behaviour. Such ideas have been adapted here by Moses. How common in treaties these ideas were we do not know, for as yet we do not have sufficient examples of such treaties from wide enough sources.

For the Christian the lesson is that we also must beware lest we be led by such people or such influences away from ‘the simplicity which is in Christ’ (2 Corinthians 11:3). There is only one test of truth, the words that come from God.

Verses 1-5

Chapter 13 Warnings Against Idolatry And Guidance On How To Deal With Those Who Lead Men Astray.

This chapter continues the closing theme in Deuteronomy 12:0 where emphasis has been laid on observing the word given by God to Moses. It warns against those who would seek to lead men astray from that word by various means. The chapter begins with how to deal with false prophets who come from their midst with signs and wonders (Deuteronomy 13:1-5), goes on to deal with family members and close friends who may seek to use their influence to lead their family astray (Deuteronomy 13:6-11), and finally ends with how to deal with cities led astray, not by foreigners, but by worthless people ‘in your midst’, that become bastions of idolatry so that men are led astray by persuasive leaders and popular opinion (Deuteronomy 13:12-18). These were the three major influences on their spiritual lives, preachers, family and environment. They must ensure that they were not led astray by any of them.

The emphasis in all three cases on the fact that this was ‘the enemy within’ explains the harshness of the sentences. They should know better. They were acting as traitors ‘in the midst’. And in times of emergency, as this would be, such people could only be dealt with in one way, by death. The purity of Israel could depend on it.

Such sentiments are regularly found in treaty forms where it is conceived that men may come among a subject people and seek to lead them to follow others in rebellion against the overlord. Some treaties even cite prophets and family as possible sources of this. Others cite cities. All were likely culprits for this kind of behaviour. Such ideas have been adapted here by Moses. How common in treaties these ideas were we do not know, for as yet we do not have sufficient examples of such treaties from wide enough sources.

For the Christian the lesson is that we also must beware lest we be led by such people or such influences away from ‘the simplicity which is in Christ’ (2 Corinthians 11:3). There is only one test of truth, the words that come from God.

Beware of False Prophets (Deuteronomy 13:1-5 ).

The warning here is against those who come with deceitful words, even showing signs and wonders, but speak contrary to God’s word. So-called prophets were a common feature of life in the Ancient Near East. They professed to have contact with the gods. We have only to consider Balaam to recognise the influence that they could have, and how they were valued (Numbers 22-24). However, this prophet would be one who had arisen ‘in the midst’ of them. Thus it would seem a false prophet of Israel is indicated, even one who cites Yahweh. He comes claiming extraordinary powers. But signs and wonder are never to be taken as proof of the genuineness of the wonderworker, nor of the truth of what he says. Note that this immediately follows Deuteronomy 12:32. What Moses has commanded must not be laid aside because of some prophet, even one who claims to come from God. What he says must be tested against Moses’ words. Today we have a larger ‘word of God’ including the teaching of Jesus Himself. It is important that we know it well so that we too might not be led astray, and so that we can help those who are led astray. All prophets must be tested against His word. In Paul’s words they must be ‘judged’.

For the place that Yahweh has chosen so that He could set His name there will be countered by all kinds of temptations to turn from Him to other names and other gods. And in this chapter we are given three examples of such. To follow after false prophets, or false family, or false fellow-countrymen can only lead to disaster.

Analysis using Moses words:

a If there arise in the midst of you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and he give you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come about, of which he spoke to you, saying, “Let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and let us serve them (Deuteronomy 13:1-2).

b You shall not listen to the words of that prophet, or to that dreamer of dreams, for Yahweh your God proves you, to know whether you love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 13:3).

c You shall walk after Yahweh your God, and fear Him (Deuteronomy 13:4 a).

c And keep His commandments, and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him, and cleave to Him (Deuteronomy 13:4 b).

b And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death, because he has spoken rebellion against Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage (Deuteronomy 13:5).

a To draw you aside out of the way which Yahweh your God commanded you to walk in. So shall you put away the evil from the midst of you (Deuteronomy 13:6).

Note that in ‘a’ the false prophet arises to deceive by signs and wonders and to lead in the way of false gods, and in the parallel he is seeking to draw them away from Yahweh their God. In ‘b’ they are not to listen to the prophet or dreamer of dreams for it is a test of Yahweh their God of their love for Him, while in the parallel that prophet or dreamer of dreams is to be put to death for speaking rebellion against Yahweh their God Who is their Deliverer. In ‘c’ they are to walk after Yahweh their God and fear Him, and in the parallel they are to keep His commandments, obey Him and cleave to Him.

Deuteronomy 12:32 to Deuteronomy 13:2

Whatever thing I command you (ye), that you (ye) shall observe to do. You (thou) shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it. If there arise in the midst of you (thee) a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and he give you (thee) a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come about, of which he spoke to you, saying, “Let us go after other gods, which you (thou) have not known, and let us serve them,” ’

We have repeated Deuteronomy 12:32 here so as to bring out the dual connection back and forwards. As a group they must observe his commands, and none of them individually shall add to his words or diminish them, neither shall the nation as a whole. ‘In the midst of you (thee)’ must refer to the nation as such, but the remainder of the verse might be seen as more having individuals in mind.

The danger warned against here is that people might come with impressive ‘signs and wonders’ and pose as prophets, or dreamers of significant dreams which they claimed, and even believed, to come from a divine source. They might point to signs and wonders that were coming, or that they performed (compare Matthew 24:24). These might for example include eclipses, or interpretations of weather conditions, or some manufactured situation brought about by conjuring or ‘magic’ (compare Exodus 7:11; Exodus 7:22; Exodus 8:7; Exodus 8:18). They may arise through bold claims which are fulfilled by some coincidence, or from some cleverly manufactured situation, or from some unknown phenomenon which could be explained given all the facts. Or it may be by means of ‘spiritual healings’ which were really psychosomatic (the result of the effect of the mind on the body. The body can be strongly affected by the mind). When Jesus came men sought similar signs and wonders from Him. But He refused to give them (Matthew 12:38-39; Matthew 16:1-4). He warned severely against looking at signs and wonders, (even though they emanated from Him everywhere because of Who He was). He never tried to use them as ‘proofs’, although to the believing John He pointed to them as demonstrating that He was the One sent from God as promised in the Old Testament (Luke 7:22). John was not looking for proof but for reassurance. But the real test of prophets is simple. Do such people speak according to God’s word? (Deuteronomy 12:32; see Isaiah 8:20). Signs and wonders are no proof of truth.

This is very different from the situation in Deuteronomy 18:21-22. There the test is as to whether the prophet’s central message comes about. It is not there referring to signs and wonders which are used to support the message as here.

With regard to dreams, there have been a few times when God has through history spoken through dreams given to certain chosen men, especially when the dream has left behind a sense of foreboding. But that is far from saying that dreams generally are revelations from God, although in those days they were often deemed to be. Such God-given dreams are few and far between, given in relation to special people and situations (Genesis 20:3; Genesis 31:11; Numbers 12:6; Joel 2:28). Numbers 12:6 tells us that to lesser prophets God does sometimes reveal things through dreams, but does not see it as a reliable method of obtaining full truth. There God contrasts those who come with such dreams who speak in ‘dark speeches’ (in that case Aaron and Miriam) with the one who came with the direct word of God (Moses). The dreams must be tested out and must not be given too much emphasis.

Most dreams result from what has been eaten the day before, or arise from strongly desiring something which cannot be obtained in practise, or through some vivid event that has affected the inner mind, or from working too hard (Ecclesiastes 5:3), or simply result from a vivid imagination (Ecclesiastes 5:7). It would sometimes be nice if we could go to bed and dream away our problems and difficulties and obtain answers to them. But life is not like that. Many have been led astray by following dreams. We should beware of laying too much emphasis on them and reject them utterly if they go contrary to, or seek to expand on, the word of God.

The religious ‘importance’ of dreams would be well known from Egypt where many manuals were written on the interpretation of dreams, and it had become a ‘science’, although not a reliable one. It is therefore interesting that outside Genesis (pre-Mosaic) and Daniel (post-exilic, and the latter in a foreign country where dreams were given credence) little credence is laid on dreams in the Old Testament. And even in Genesis, apart from outsiders (this being God’s purpose in giving them), dreams appear only to come to immature young men starting out in life (Genesis 28:12; Genesis 37:5; Genesis 37:9), not for prophetic purposes but for personal reasons. We can discount Deuteronomy 31:10-11 for that was for Laban’s consumption. Outside Genesis and Daniel there are occasional references to dreams (1 Samuel 28:6; Jeremiah 23:25-32; Jeremiah 27:9; Jeremiah 29:8; Zechariah 10:2) all of which are derogatory. Only Numbers 12:6; 1 Kings 3:5; 1 Kings 3:15; Joel 2:28 are positive references, and even then the dreamer is at a lower level than Yahweh’s prophets except possibly in the case of Joel 2:28, but that is referring to a unique time (and interestingly also refers to young men). Thus on the whole the Bible does not encourage the use of dreams as a means of discovering truth, although occasionally allowing it. Genuine dreams, like genuine miracles, appear to have come in rare bursts. If someone comes to us with a dream we should perhaps suggest that they have heard ‘unspeakable things which it is not lawful for a man to utter’,

In this case these wonderworkers and dreamers would seek to lead people off to giving credence to strange gods with a view to worshipping and serving them, which makes quite clear that they could not be trusted. For God’s word on this matter was particularly clear. ‘No other gods’. Thus they must be rejected and dealt with severely.

“Which you have not known.” This has a dual aspect to it. Firstly it may indicate an attempt to arouse interest by introducing something new. They were, said their proponents, unknown, powerful gods (compare Acts 17:21. While these were not Greek intellectuals many people who are not intellectuals also cannot resist novelty). But secondly Moses is pointing out that they had no practical experience of such gods. They have not ‘known’ them by experiencing what they can do. How foolish then it would be to trust in them and follow them. On the other hand they did know through experience what Yahweh could do, for He had already done it. They knew precisely how powerful He was. Let them therefore look only to Him. To turn from the One Whom they knew through long experience, to supposed gods whose credentials were totally unknown, would be totally inexcusable. This point is made by Moses again and again (Deuteronomy 12:6; Deuteronomy 12:13; Deuteronomy 11:28; Deuteronomy 28:64; Deuteronomy 29:26)

Deuteronomy 13:3

You (thou) shall not listen to the words of that prophet, or to that dreamer of dreams, for Yahweh your God proves you (ye), to know whether you (ye) love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul.’

The point is now made that it is important not to listen to those who come with anything that contradicts what God has said, and especially when what He has said has been stated plainly, even though they come with signs and wonders and extraordinary dreams. God does allow such things to happen as He did with Balaam (although He does not deliberately act to bring them about) in order to test whether we will follow His word closely. But those who love God with all their heart and soul will soon discern truth from falsehood. We are reminded again that ‘love’ is the true covenant response. The Christian looks not to outward signs, but to the witness within of the Spirit to His word (1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27). Those who are true speak what is true (1 John 4:1-2), and those who are true hear what is true. Some of these wonderworkers will be such that if it were possible they would even deceive them, but thankfully that is not possible (Matthew 24:24), for they look to His word (in this case the word of Moses) and judge all by that.

Deuteronomy 13:4

You (ye) shall walk after Yahweh your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and you shall serve him, and cleave to him.’

Note here the contrast with Deuteronomy 13:5. ‘You’ (ye) on the one hand, and ‘that prophet’ on the other. This may be utilising, as an example, treaty stipulations known to Moses from his past. This is how the believer can keep on the true path, by wholehearted loyalty. By walking after Yahweh his God, by fearing Him, by keeping His commandments, by obeying His voice, by serving Him, by cleaving to Him (see Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 8:6; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 11:22). They are to be like sheep who diligently follow the shepherd. As Jesus said, ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give to them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and none shall pluck them from My hand’ (John 10:27-28). Such will never be led astray by false teaching.

The summary is a good description of different aspects of the Christian life. ‘Walk after God.’ Our lives are to be a daily walk with Him as He walks with us through the day. ‘Fear’ - we could do with a little more of the fear of God. ‘Keep His commandments.’ We must observe them and do them. ‘Obey His voice.’ We must ever be open to His prompting, and sensitive to what He requires, a sensitivity acquired by reading His word and by worship. ‘Serve Him.’ This includes both worship and doing His will. We must never forget that we are servants. ‘Cleave to Him.’ This involves true responsive love and not allowing anything else to come between us and God.

A preacher tells how a student once came to him and told him how he was losing his faith because of liberal teaching. His response was simply to look back at him and ask, ‘What have you been doing?’ He knew that the problem was not with the liberal teaching, which could be coped with, it was with his failure to walk after God and obey Him and cleave to Him. And the student bowed his head and admitted that he was right. He had lost touch with God and was craving after the world. That was his real problem. The other was simply an excuse.

Deuteronomy 13:5

And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death, because he has spoken rebellion against Yahweh your (of ye) God, who brought you (ye) out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you (thee) out of the house of bondage, to draw you (thee) aside out of the way which Yahweh your (thy) God commanded you (thee) to walk in. So shall you (thou) put away the evil from the midst of you.’

But the prophet or dreamer of dreams who seeks to lead them to worship false gods shall be put to death for urging rebellion against their Overlord. This was always the sentence on traitors in treaties. The greatness of their offence is stressed by the reminder of the gratitude that they should have had for their Overlord. He had brought them out of the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 1:20; Deuteronomy 4:20; Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 5:6; Deuteronomy 5:15; Deuteronomy 6:12; Deuteronomy 6:21; Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 7:18; Deuteronomy 8:14; Deuteronomy 9:26; Deuteronomy 16:1; Deuteronomy 20:1; Deuteronomy 26:8; Deuteronomy 29:25), delivering them by a mighty hand, and had redeemed them from the house of bondage (Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 15:15; Deuteronomy 24:18; see also Deuteronomy 5:6; Deuteronomy 6:12; Deuteronomy 6:21; Deuteronomy 8:14; Deuteronomy 13:10; Deuteronomy 16:12; Deuteronomy 24:22). How then can they now turn against Him? It can be seen how important this motif is in the book. The stress on ‘redemption’ emphasises how He had exercised His power on their behalf. They had much to be grateful for.

The severity of the punishment reflects the situation. At this new birth of the nation it was essential that the children of Israel be fully protected, and it was important that they themselves saw the severity of the offence. There could only be one penalty. Death. For such teaching led to death.

“So shall you put away the evil from the midst of you.” Compare Deuteronomy 17:7; Deuteronomy 17:12; Deuteronomy 19:19; Deuteronomy 21:21; Deuteronomy 22:21-22; Deuteronomy 22:24; Deuteronomy 24:7 also see Deuteronomy 19:13; Deuteronomy 21:9. This was usually, but not always, by death (see Deuteronomy 19:19). The evils in mind were considered to be so serious that the death sentence was usually required. Evil was put away by carrying out Yahweh’s sentence, and Moses wants them to see how important the putting away of that evil was.

Verses 12-18

Judgment On The City That Rebels (Deuteronomy 13:12-17 ).

The same was to be true for any city in Israel that turned after idolatry. It must not be tolerated. But note the extensiveness of the enquiry that should be made first. This was no place for hasty judgments. ‘Enquire -- search -- ask diligently.’ It must not be done on the basis of a rumour, but only after intensive investigation. The same principle no doubt applied to the previous examples. And no gain was to be made by anyone from it. All that was in that city must be devoted to Yahweh, and destroyed, and the city itself made a ruin never to be rebuilt because it was tainted with blasphemy. The offence was so great that all that was connected with it must be destroyed.

The general principle behind these words should be noted, that no judgment must be passed without a fair hearing. To judge someone summarily and without fair consideration is to follow the Evil One, and sadly too many Christians, and even ministers, do it.

Analysis using Moses’ words:

a If you shall hear tell concerning one of your cities, which Yahweh your God gives you to dwell there, saying, “Certain base fellows (‘worthless people’) are gone out from the midst of you, and have drawn away the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which you have not known” (Deuteronomy 13:13).

b Then shall you enquire, and make search, and ask diligently, and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in the midst of you (Deuteronomy 13:14).

c You shall surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword (Deuteronomy 13:15).

c And you shall gather all the spoil of it into the midst of its street, and shall burn with fire the city, and all its spoil every whit, to Yahweh your God, and it shall be a heap for ever. It shall not be built again (Deuteronomy 13:16).

b And there shall cleave nothing of the devoted thing to your hand, that Yahweh may turn from the fierceness of his anger, and show you mercy, and have compassion on you (Deuteronomy 13:17).

a And multiply you, as He has sworn to your fathers, when you shall listen to the voice of Yahweh your God, to keep all His commandments which I command you this day, to do that which is right in the eyes of Yahweh your God (Deuteronomy 13:18).

In ‘a’ reference is made to certain unworthy people who live in a city which Yahweh their God has given His people to dwell in, a great boon for which they owe Him their allegiance and yet they have turned away from Him (and will thus be under His anger), and in the parallel is the blessing that will come to those are not base and Who cleave to Yahweh their God doing what is right in His eyes. In ‘b’ diligent enquiry is to be made into the situation in order to eradicate any evil or abomination, and in the parallel nothing that is abominable and fitted to devotion to destruction is to cleave to His righteous people so that the anger of Yahweh may be turned away and they at least be spared through His compassion. In ‘c’ the sentence on the wayward city is described and in the parallel this is expanded on.

Deuteronomy 13:12-14

If you shall hear tell concerning one of your cities, which Yahweh your God gives you to dwell there, saying, “Certain base fellows (‘worthless people’) are gone out from the midst of you, and have drawn away the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which you have not known, then shall you enquire, and make search, and ask diligently, and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in the midst of you,’

If news came of the defection of a city, given to them by Yahweh, to other gods, (it is Yahweh’s city and they are handing it over to the enemy), brought about by ‘worthless people’, (an expression of extreme contempt), then a full official investigation of the matter must be made. All Israel must be involved (accusing or taking a city was no simple matter). But they must only carry out the sentence when they know that the thing is certain. That this was taken seriously comes out in Judges 19-21, although the sin was of a different kind.

Note the word ‘abomination’ which is regularly used of idolatry. It is that which cannot be excused under any circumstances. It is totally displeasing to God and to be avoided at all costs. It is despicable.

But what an important general principle is established here for us. If you ‘hear tell’ you must not do anything without a thorough investigation. That is one difference between gossip and truth. Gossip is mischievously passing on rumours. Truth is something not spoken about until full enquiry has been made. The amount of harm which would have been prevented if only Christians and Christian leaders and others had taken this to heart is inestimable.

Deuteronomy 13:15-16

You shall surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword. And you shall gather all the spoil of it into the midst of its street, and shall burn with fire the city, and all its spoil every whit, to Yahweh your God, and it shall be a heap for ever. It shall not be built again.’

But once the thing was proved the sentence must be carried out. The contamination was so great that the guilty were to be slain, their cattle destroyed, their goods burned with fire. All had been defiled. It was as though they had the plague. It was to be given back to Yahweh in the most devastating way. It was to be handed over to Him. It was to be ‘devoted’. Nothing must be saved from it. It was for ever to be a heap of testimony to what had been done.

Deuteronomy 13:17-18

And there shall cleave nothing of the devoted thing to your hand, that Yahweh may turn from the fierceness of his anger, and show you mercy, and have compassion on you, and multiply you, as he has sworn to your fathers, when you shall listen to the voice of Yahweh your God, to keep all his commandments which I command you this day, to do that which is right in the eyes of Yahweh your God.’

Not a single thing must be saved from the destruction, and above all no one must be tempted to take anything for themselves (compare Joshua 7:0). They must not let anything cleave to them. All was tainted. It must be devoted to Yahweh in order to cleanse the land. Then Yahweh would not need to come and exact justice on a rebellious and tainted land. The picture is very much that of an Overlord against whom a city has rebelled, but with others taking His side against His enemies (otherwise they would be seen as sharing their guilt). Compare what happened to Gibeah for their abomination (Judges 20:42-48).

“That Yahweh may turn from the fierceness of his anger.” This was no minor misdemeanour, and Yahweh’s anger was directed towards the whole land for allowing this in their midst. We are to recognise that we are as much guilty for sin that we allow, as for sin that we commit. Unless we have done what we could to be rid of it we are equally guilty.

And by their obedience the people will obtain mercy. Note the threefold ‘show you mercy, have compassion on you, multiply you’, indicating complete vindication. They will not share in the guilt of the city. And they will find that their Overlord is as gracious to them as He was before. He will neither punish the innocent nor clear the guilty. He will continue to fulfil His covenant, having compassion on them and multiplying them as He swore to their fathers.

“When you shall listen to the voice of Yahweh your God, to keep all his commandments which I command you this day, to do that which is right in the eyes of Yahweh your God.” And this would be because they had listened to the voice of Yahweh their God, and were keeping His commandments, and doing what was right in His eyes (another triad). The lesson is clear. Response and obedience will bring blessing, disobedience will bring judgment.

The whole chapter emphasises the words of the second commandment, that Yahweh is jealous over the purity of His people, and will visit iniquity on the guilty and have compassion on the thousands Who love Him and keep His commandments (Deuteronomy 5:9-10; Exodus 20:5-6).

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 13". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/deuteronomy-13.html. 2013.