Deuteronomy 13:1-4 (NASB)
13 “[a]If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.”
Israel is repeatedly called on to love YHWH with complete devotion (cf. Deut. 6:5; 7:9; 10:12; 11:1,13,22; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6,16,20).
13:4 This verse contains a series of Qal imperfects, which serve as guidelines for the exclusive worship of YHWH:
1. "follow," BDB 229, KB 246, cf. Deut. 8:6
2. "fear," BDB 431, KB 432
3. "keep," BDB 1036, KB 1581, cf. Deut. 5:29; 6:2
4. "listen," BDB 1033, KB 1570
5. "serve," BDB 712, KB 773
6. "cling," BDB 179, KB 209
This verse is similar to 6:13 and 10:20.
(Bible.org Dr. Bob Utley)
Note: What I would like to do starting next Sunday is to develop a series of sermons on what it means to follow, fear, keep, listen, serve, and cling. (These ideas and themes are coming to me as I travel through the Old Testament via Bible.org)
Note: This Sunday I will share a couple of devotionals that came from a great resource online. https://www.ligonier.org/
PS These past 2 weeks of helping renovate the kitchen manse has given me very little time to put sermons together—sorry!)
Fear of the Future by Edward Welch
All fears are prophecies about the future. They start small—a robber might steal your bike, the boogieman will eat you before the night is over—and they grow from there. These fears need help, however, to go global and apocalyptic.
I grew up during a time that supplied that help. I was in elementary school during the height of the Red Scare. The Late Great Planet Earth was a bestseller, and the media reported on the worst of global affairs. Given that fertile soil, no Christian needed imagination to envision the Red Army using demonic devices to detect that you were a Christian, and eager to take you through the worst torture until you renounced Jesus or died. It was, I thought, the worst of times.
Then I grew up and realized that every era is, indeed, the worst of times. The truth is that we always have help to take our fears global. There is always a new threat.
Here are some common fears from a list that can be endless:
Fear of the utter moral collapse of the surrounding culture
Fear of economic collapse and chaos
Fear of Islamic extremists
Fear of resistant viruses, plagues, hazardous chemicals, and so on.
TWO POPULAR LINES OF DEFENSE
How can we ward off these fears? One line of defense is to be rational, to let data and facts assuage the fears.
Consider, for example, Islamic extremists. Since most religions grow by way of parents who pass on the faith to their children, the statistics suggest that there will be no Islamic (extremist) majority in the foreseeable future because there are simply more Christians right now. Fear relieved.
A second defense against these fears is to imagine the worst and get prepared. Warn others, build a bunker, or simply keep imagining the worst as if that will be a talisman when the worst shows up.
These defenses, of course, are but temporary comforts. We cannot trust in data, the odds being in our favor, or our personal preparation. We trust in a Person.
Any response to distant fears that emphasizes information and preparation over trust is ungodly to its core. Information and education are not wrong, but they are not our first response. God’s people turn to Him first: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chron. 20:12).
WE WILL RECEIVE GRACE
As we turn to the Lord, we first consider the greatest promise of all: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). Our sins are what keep us from our God, but now the perfect High Priest has made the perfect sacrifice and, having made atonement for sins, He sat down. Sacrifice for sin is done. We are guaranteed His presence. We will not face our fears alone.
Included in this promise is that He will give us the daily grace we need. The Old Testament image behind this is the gift of manna. It was enough for the day but not to be stockpiled for tomorrow lest we trust in our stockpiles. Tomorrow will find new mercies, fresh manna, and abundant grace.
That grace will empower us to rest in God and stand firm in the face of whatever suffering or temptation the world can muster, in the face of whatever fear that has come true (1 Cor. 10:13). His presence assures us that we will “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). All we have to do is ask.
Promised grace renders our fearful forecasts obsolete. Even if we are right in our predictions, which we usually are not, we cannot predict the grace that will be poured out on us on that future day. Instead, we envision the future with the grace we have for today’s hardships, and that grace is sufficient only for today, not tomorrow. Tomorrow will show up with a new stockpile of grace.
RETELL THE STORY
With this future grace in view, we retell the story of our lives and the story of history. Consider Psalm 23, for example, as a template. We become, by faith, the sheep of the Lord. Joy and rest are the order of the day. But sheep have to stay on the move, and that journey will include trouble, as we witnessed when the Lamb of God submitted to His Shepherd on the same path. The trouble can be intense. It can include Assyria, Rome, and other threats that can kill us. But the story does not end there. Our enemies will watch from a distance as we sit around the banquet table of God. They will be shamed; we will be family with the Honored One. As we walk to the house of the Lord, fearing no evil, we pray that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). And the pilgrimage takes us to the house of God, where His will is done continually. The story of Scripture always ends well.
Indeed, life and history end gloriously for God’s people, and while we look toward that end, we predict this: the grace of God can pursue us in such a way that we fear evil less and less.
Things That Cannot Be Shaken by Douglas Kelly
The entire epistle to the Hebrews seeks to encourage tired and suffering believers to keep looking to Christ in order not to lose heart and give up the good fight. God’s good providence has ordained that we all must pass through many tests — some of them very painful. Hebrews says that only if we will keep the end in view, shall we make it successfully, no matter how excruciatingly the vice of temporal difficulty presses us in its iron grip.
That was the problem of the Hebrew converts to whom this epistle was primarily addressed. This letter was written before the downfall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Some of the church-people were severely tempted to give up the faith, since Judaism still had the power to persecute them in various ways. It must have seemed an easy thing to slip back into the impressive religious rituals of the still-standing temple, and in so doing to avoid harsh attitudes against them for following Jesus. Moreover, it must have been tempting to rejoin a religious system that, at that time, tended to stress external participation and conformity, instead of treading the hard way of the cross that requires crucifixion of the inward, proud self-life. Was it really worth all this cost? That question probably comes to all of us, especially when we are going through particularly hard times in our lives.
How can we frail folk, believers though we really are, make it to a successful goal when everything around us seems to be going wrong (or, at least, we feel that it is)? How do we keep going when so many voices are crying into our ears, “Give up, this battle is too strong for you. Why make it hard on yourself? How can you be sure that it is all true anyway?”
Hebrews has the answer — the divine remedy for weary, hurting pilgrims. Hebrews 12:2 instructed us about “looking unto Jesus.” Here, in Hebrews 12:26–28, we are handed the same mighty weapon (from a slightly different viewpoint): Keep in the very front of your mind the end of your history and of the world’s history. You, and everything else, are going somewhere. Look by faith to where you are going, and you will be given the divine strength to get there against all apparent odds.
The author of this letter takes us back to Haggai 2:6–7, which predicts tremendous shaking of the nations to make room for something better and permanent. The early Christians were living in a time when everything was shaking around them. I suspect that the Puritan commentator John Owen was right to refer to this shaking primarily as the shaking down of the Judaic church/state as a result of the completed work of Christ in the first century (John Owen, Hebrews, vol. 7, 363–368).
It may not have been long after the ink was dry on this epistle, that Rome destroyed Jerusalem, so that an ancient system that had opposed the incarnate Christ was brought down to make way for His lasting kingdom of grace. This principle of “shaking down those things that can be shaken in order to make room for that which cannot be shaken” did not cease to operate in the year A.D. 70. Was it not at work when Rome itself came down in the fifth century? Was it not at work when the political power of Roman Catholicism was, to a considerable degree, broken through the revival that constituted the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century? When Rome was shaken down, the Christian church had room to spread the Gospel to all of Europe, thus establishing something that “cannot be shaken.” When Roman Catholicism had much of its political power shaken down, the Reformation, with its teaching of salvation by the grace of God through faith alone, had room to spread throughout much of northwestern Europe; thence it spread into the new world of America, and later on into every continent of the world (to varying degrees).
The point is this: to have stood with the Gospel of Christ in hard times (whether under late, unbelieving Judaism, the persecuting Roman Empire, or the Spanish Inquisition much later) insured ultimate victory over the most impressive political, military, and cultural powers. Such powers (and there are legions of them with different faces in every generation) are granted temporary ability to hound the people of God — sometimes all the way to death. But their time and power are divinely limited.
As part of the mysterious process of shaping His people into the image of Christ, God lets evil powers test and hurt them to a divinely limited degree (see Rom. 8:28–39). Then the evil powers will be broken to make room for the very church they hated and persecuted, so that the saving Gospel may spread yet more widely, thus building up that kingdom, which can never be shaken, over the rubble of sinful, temporal powers that must be shaken down in due season.
Hebrews 12 shows us that it could be different. Those who look in obedient faith to the Mediator of the new covenant in hard times and good, and those who take their cross to self in order to follow Him and bless others, are the forerunners of a brighter, holier, and happier day. For the sake of Christ, they have given up what they cannot keep in order to gain what they cannot lose (to paraphrase Philip Henry). May God grant us the grace to be in their number.