Moses was preparing the people of Israel to enter the Promised Land of Canaan; and so, he’s been showing them how they should live as God’s people in the land of promise. Back in chapter 5 he reminded them of the Ten Commandments: that summary of God’s moral law which all people everywhere and in every generation are commanded to keep And in the following chapters, Moses has been explaining the commandments and applying them to life in the Promised Land of Canaan at that time.
It’s important that I stress the words ‘at that time’, because — while all people everywhere and in every generation are required to keep the Ten Commandments — the way Moses applies the Ten Commandments in the book of Deuteronomy was for the people of Israel at that time. For instance, last week we were thinking about the seventh commandment which forbids adultery and all other forms of sexual immorality. However, the way Moses applied that commandment was for the people of Israel as a nation at that time. So, while adultery is still a sin which we must all avoid, the instruction to kill adulterers was for the people of Israel as a nation at that time. In the New Testament, we read that that the members of the church in Corinth included people who were once adulterers, but who were then washed and sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. Instead of being killed, they were converted to faith in Christ and delivered from their former sins.
And when applying the seventh commandment to Israel, Moses went on to refer to those who had to be excluded from the Lord’s assembly. So, men who had been emasculated were excluded; those who were born of a forbidden marriage were also excluded; those who were descended from the Ammonites and Moabites were also excluded. Such people were regarded as unclean and were therefore unfit to come before the Lord. However, as we saw last week, ever since the Lord’s death and resurrection, those restrictions no longer apply and anyone who believes in the Saviour may enter the Lord’s assembly to worship him.
Moses also applied the seventh commandment to Israel’s military camp, which also had to be kept clean. Therefore the toilets had to be located outside the camp, so that the Lord would not see anything indecent in the camp. Again, that kind of application no longer applies to us today, because the Lord Jesus made clear that what makes us unclean before the Lord is what’s in our hearts. In our hearts lurk all kinds of wicked thoughts and desires and inclinations. That’s what makes us unclean and unfit to come before the Lord. But through faith in Christ, who shed his blood for sinners, we are washed and cleansed inwardly.
The point is that we can’t take what we read in Deuteronomy and apply it in exactly the same way to our lives today. The Ten Commandments still apply to us today and everyone in every generation is required to keep them. But the way Moses applied the Ten Commandments in these chapters was for the nation of Israel at that time; and the way the Ten Commandments apply to us today is different. Nevertheless, the things we read here are still relevant for us, because they either point us to Christ and to some aspect of his work for us; or they contain a moral principle which still applies today. And that’s what we’re going to see in today’s passage.
Today’s passage is related to the eighth and the ninth commandments. The eighth commandment forbids theft and the ninth commandment forbids giving false testimony. And so, we’re not to take away our neighbour’s property; and we’re not to take away our neighbour’s good name. And not only do the commandments forbid certain sins such as theft and lying, but they also require us to perform certain duties. So, instead of stealing what belongs to our neighbour, we’re to be kind and generous to our neighbour. And instead of destroying our neighbour’s good name, we’re to speak well of our neighbour. Each of the Ten Commandments forbids certain sins and each of the Ten Commandments requires certain duties. The verses from chapter 23 and verse 15 to chapter 24 and verse 7 are related to the eighth commandment. And verses 8 to 16 of chapter 24 are related to the ninth commandment. And so, let’s go though these verses now to see how these things apply to us today.
And it begins in verses 15 and 16 with an instruction that if a slave has taken refuge in Israel, they were not to hand the slave back to his master. Presumably Moses is referring to foreign slaves who have escaped from their masters in another nation, and have now fled to Israel for refuge. In such cases, the Israelites are not required to extradite the runaway slave, but are to let him live wherever he likes in Israel. Furthermore, Moses commanded the Israelites not to oppress such runaway slaves. You might be wondering what this has to do with the eighth commandment. However, remember that as well as forbidding theft, the eighth commandment requires us to be kind to our neighbour. And so, Moses was commanding the Israelites to be kind and generous to such refugees.
Verses 17 and 18 are concerned with cult prostitution. Apparently the Canaanites and other pagan nations engaged in this kind of sinful activity, because they thought this was how to win the favour of their gods; and this would ensure the fertility of their people, their land and their animals. Well, no Israelite man or woman was to become involved in this kind of activity, which was a mixture of idolatry and adultery. Furthermore, they must not use the earnings of a prostitute to fulfil a vow to the Lord. The Lord’s people would, from time time, make a vow to the Lord to give him an offering if he answered a particular request of theirs. If you recall, when Jonah was in the belly of the big fish, he said:
I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
The people were not required to make such vows, but when they made a vow like this, they were required to keep it. However, here Moses forbade them from using the earnings of a prostitute to pay their vows. The connection with the eighth commandment is that they would be using dishonest gain or illegitimate earnings to pay their vows; and the Lord would not accept dirty money from them. Therefore, in the eyes of the Lord, payment of their vow would still outstanding, because the Lord would not accept money from prostitution.
Verses 19 and 20 are concerned with interest on loans. We were thinking about this on Wednesday evening, because charging interest comes up in Psalm 15. When a needy neighbour asked for a loan to help him out of a debt, his fellow Israelite was not to charge him interest, because the Lord expected his people to be kind and generous to one another, whereas the person who charged interest was only adding to his neighbour’s trouble by putting him further and further into debt. The Hebrew word for ‘interest’ actually means ‘to bite. And that’s fitting, because when we charge interest on a loan, we’re taking a bite out of our needy neighbour, which is not right. And the Lord promises to reward his obedient people, promising in verse 20 to bless them in everything they put their hand to. So, instead of trying to make themselves rich by charging interest on loans, they were to trust in the Lord to prosper them. However, you’ll see from verse 20 that the Israelites were permitted to charge interest when lending money to a foreigner.
Vows are the subject of verses 21 to 23. As I’ve already said, no one was required to make a vow to the Lord, because they were voluntary. However, when anyone did make a vow, they were required to keep it. And according to verse 21, they must not be slow to pay it. Whatever your lips utter, Moses says in verse 23, you must be sure to do. Failure to pay a vow, or failure to pay a vow promptly was regarded as a form of theft, because they were withholding something which, because of the vow they made, belonged to the Lord.
According to verses 24 and 25, an Israelite was permitted to go into the field of another Israelite to pick some grapes to eat or to pick some ears of corn. The point is that the farmer was to be generous and willing to share what he had with his needy neighbours. After all, the land they farmed and the crops they produced were gifts from the Lord. And since the Lord had been good to them, they were required to be good to one another. And so, in the gospels, we read how the Lord’s disciples picked some ears of corn as they walked along the way. However, Moses makes clear that the one who picked the grapes and corn was not to take advantage of the farmer. He wasn’t allowed to put any grapes in a bag and take them away and he wasn’t allowed to put a sickle to the standing corn and harvest the crop for himself. He could take some of the crop — just what he needed — but he couldn’t take all of it.
Verses 1 to 4 of chapter 24 are to do with re-marriage. It’s not at all clear how this law relates to the eighth commandment, but Moses describes the case of a man who divorces his wife. She remarries, but the second marriage also ends, either because her second husbands divorces her or else he dies. When that happened, the first husband was not permitted to remarry her. According to verse 4, she had become defiled; and so, it would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord if the first husband remarried her. The Bible makes clear that God’s will for married couples is that their marriage should be lifelong. However, the Lord Jesus explained in the gospels that Moses permitted divorce, because the hearts of the people were hard. So, while divorce was not right, it was tolerated by God. As I said, it’s not clear how this particular command relates to the eighth commandment.
In verse 5, Moses exempted a man who had been recently married from having to go to war. Furthermore, no other public duties were to be laid upon a newlywed. For a year after his marriage, a man was free to stay at home and bring happiness to his wife. This is clearly an act of kindness to married couples, which fits with the intention of the eighth commandment to be kind and generous to one another.
When an Israelite owed another Israelite money, the borrower might give the lender one of his possessions as a pledge or guarantee that he will eventually pay off the debt. However, according to verse 6, the lender was not allowed to take as security the borrower’s millstone. After all, the borrower needed the millstone to make bread. Without the millstone, he and his family would go hungry. And that’s not right.
And, in verse 7, Moses makes clear that kidnapping is forbidden. Kidnapping is a form of theft, because you’re stealing a person to make him your slave. Moses commanded that kidnappers must be put to death.
The eighth commandment forbids theft and it requires us to be kind and generous towards one another. And Moses applied that law to the Israelites. He said to them: Don’t steal from the Lord by using dirty money to pay vows. Don’t steal from the Lord by failing to keep a vow. Don’t steal a fellow human being by kidnapping him or her. And show kindness to one another. Show kindness to refugees. Show kindness to one another by not charging interest on loans. Show kindness to one another by letting your neighbour take some of your crops. Show kindness to newlyweds by giving them a year off public service. Show kindness to one another by not taking away your neighbour’s millstone.
The Israelites were not to steal from one another and they were to be kind and generous to one another. This is how they were to treat one another in the Promised Land of Canaan.
The following verses are related to the ninth commandment which forbids us from bearing false witness. We’re not to ruin our neighbour’s good name with lies or slander. Instead we’re to speak well of one another.
In verse 8 and 9 of chapter 24, Moses told anyone suffering from leprosy or any skin disease to do exactly what the priests tell them to do. Detailed instructions about the proper procedure for dealing with skin diseases appears in Leviticus chapters 12 to 15. What verse 8 has to do with the ninth commandment is not immediately obvious. However, in verse 9, Moses refers to Miriam, who was his sister. In Number 12 we read how she and Aaron opposed Moses whenever the Israelites were in the wilderness. We read there that they began to talk against Moses. They began to complain about him and criticise him and they seemed to resent the fact that the Lord had made Moses ruler of the people. And because they opposed Moses, the Lord afflicted Miriam with leprosy. The point Moses was making is that Miriam broke the ninth commandment by bearing false witness against him and the Lord punished her by giving her leprosy. If any of them sin in the same way and end up with leprosy, follow the instructions of the priest in order to be cleansed from it.
Verses 10 to 13 mention pledges. Moses forbade the people from going into someone’s home to take possession of what was pledged as security on a loan. Instead, stay outside the house and let the borrower bring the pledge to you. So, if I offered you my TV as a pledge on a loan, you’re not allowed to come into the house and take it. You have to wait for me to give it to you. And Moses describes how a poor man might give his cloak as a pledge on a loan. He’s so poor, the only thing he has to give is his coat. If that’s the case, return it to him at the end of the day so he’ll have something to keep him warm in the night. If you do that, he will thank you, says Moses. Do you see that in verse 12? In other words, he won’t speak ill of you, but will praise you and speak well of you because of your kindness to him.
Verses 14 and 15 are about the payment of wages. So, don’t take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy. Pay him his wages every day, because he’s poor and is counting on that money to buy food for his family. A poor man, because he’s desperate and has no one to help him, is easily exploited and mistreated, but the Lord commanded the Israelites to treat them well. If you mistreat him, what will he do? According to verse 15, he’ll cry out to the Lord against you. In other words, he’ll complain to the Lord about you. So, don’t let him do that. Be kind and generous to him, so that he’ll praise you before the Lord.
And finally, in verse 16, Moses says that fathers must not be punished for their children; and children must not be punished for their fathers. Each person is responsible for their own sin. And so, we can perhaps imagine a court case in Israel where the son blamed his father or the father blamed his son. If that happens, then they’re bearing false witness against one another, which is not right.
The ninth commamdment forbids us from bearing false witness. We’re not to ruin our neighbour’s good name with lies or slander. And instead we’re to speak well of one another.
According to Moses, the Israelites were to take heed to what happened to Miriam when she slandered Moses. And fathers and their children were not to blame one another for what they themselves have done. And the people were to treat one another in such a way that they gave their neighbour reasons to praise them. And they were to treat one another in such a way that they didn’t give their neighbour reasons to complain about them. This is how they were to treat one another in the Promised Land of Canaan.
That’s how Moses applied the eighth and ninth commandments to the Israelites as a nation at that time. What’s the significance of these laws for us?
The commandments reflect the character of God, don’t they? He commands us not to steal and instead to be kind and generous to one another, because he himself does not steal from anyone and he’s kind and generous to all. Every good thing we enjoy has come to us from him and he is good to all, giving us life and breathe and everything else; and he bestows his good gifts on the righteous and the unrighteous, the good and the bad. When he created Adam and Eve, he prepared a garden for them to live in. And the garden was filled with things which were good for food and pleasing to the eye. The Lord took care of Adam and Eve and he invited them to eat from every tree apart from one. And even after Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord, he continued to provide for them, giving them clothes to hide their nakedness. The Lord gave to them all they needed. And it’s been the same ever since, because the Lord continues to fill our lives with good things to enjoy.
And the Lord commands us not to bear false witness, but to speak well of one another. And that commandment also reflects the character of God, because the Lord is infinitely and eternally and unchangeably true. He never lies, but all his words are true and we can always rely on him to keep his promises and to do all that he says. And, moreover, he gives us innumerable reasons to praise him and to speak well of him. Hasn’t he given us our life and everything else? Hasn’t he been patient with us and kind to us everyday? Hasn’t he given us his Son to be our Saviour and hasn’t he given us his Spirit to enable us to believe? Hasn’t he given all who believe in his Son forgiveness and eternal life? Hasn’t he given us the church for fellowship? Hasn’t he given us his word to know him and teachers to teach us? The Lord has been good to us and he’s given us innumerable reasons to praise him.
The commandments reflect the character of God, because he is kind and good to all and he always tells the truth and he gives us reasons to praise him and to speak well of him. And we ought to become like him. And so, we too must be kind and good to all. Or, as Paul said to the Galatians, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. In this way, we will keep the eighth commandment. And we should always speak the truth and keek our promises; and we should live in such a way that we give our neighbour and the people around us reasons to speak well of us. We must love and serve the people around us, so that they will not speak ill of us, but will praise us. As the Lord Jesus said: let your light shine before men that they may see what? That they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven for what you have done. And so, we should make it our aim in life to live in such a way that we give other people no reason to complain about us and every reason to thank God for us. And so, we will keep the ninth commandment.
So, the commandments reflect the character of God who is good to all and who gives us reasons to praise him. And we must become like him, doing good to all and giving people reasons to praise God for what we have done.
But these commandments also point us to Christ the Saviour, who is the only one of us who has obeyed God’s law perfectly. The Lord Jesus never broke the eighth commandment, but did all that was required by it, because he was kind and good to all, giving up everything, including his very life, in order to save his people from condemnation. He could have saved himself and robbed us of the hope of everlasting life. But instead he gave up his life in order to give us forgiveness and eternal life.
And the Lord Jesus only ever said what is true; and by his life and ministry and by his great work of redemption, he has given us reasons to praise him and to speak well of him. When he was on the earth, he went about doing good, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, raising the dead, and teaching the people. And then, when the time was right, he suffered and died on the cross to deliver his people from their sin and misery. And after he was raised, he poured out his Spirit on his church and he bestows upon his people one spiritual gift after another. And so, when we think of the Lord Jesus, and all that he has done for us, we cannot help but praise him and speak well of him, because of his kindness to us.
And so, these commandments point us to Christ, who was kind and generous to us, because he gave up his life for us; and he always told the truth and he lived in such a way that he gives us innumerable reasons to praise him. And we must follow the example he has left us, and we must be kind of good to all and we must tell the truth and live in such a way that people will praise us, instead of complaining about us.
And finally, these commandments reflect the glory of heaven, because no one in the presence of the Lord in heaven will steal, because in heaven everyone will perfectly reflect the glory of God who is kind and good to all; and everyone will perfectly reflect the glory of Christ who gave up everything, including his life, for the sake of his people. And no one in the presence of the Lord in heaven will lie, because in heaven everyone will perfectly reflect the glory of God who is infinitely and eternally and unchangeably true; and everyone will perfectly reflect the glory of Christ who is the Truth.
Here on earth, people steal from one another all the time. And they are unkind and mean to each other. And here on earth, people lie to one another and they slander each other and people give each other innumerable reasons to complain because of the sinful things they do. That’s the way we are, here on earth. And even in the church, we sin against one another and we break all of God’s commandments, including these two commandments.
But in heaven it will be different, because in the life to come we’ll be made perfect. And so, we’re to look forward to the life to come, when we’ll be freed from sin forever. And while we wait for it, we must rely on God’s Spirit to help us to resist sin and to do God’s will more and more. The Lord Jesus Christ sends his Spirit down from heaven to live in our hearts by faith. And the Holy and Heavenly Spirit reminds us of God’s laws and of God’s will for us; and he’s able to help us to put to death the sins of our flesh and to do what God has commanded. He’s able to help us to live a life here on earth that reflects the glory of heaven above, so that we will not steal, but will be kind to all; and we will not lie or slander, but will always speak the truth; and we will speak well of one another and will live in such a way that other people will speak well of us.