THREE HYPOTHETICAL ATTEMPTS AT SPIRITUAL SEDUCTION DENOUNCED IN ORDER TO MAINTAIN COVENANT LOYALTY
Daniel Block: The unity of Deuteronomy 13 is evident in the form with which Moses presents the three seditious scenarios. Each is divided into three major parts: the protasis, introduced by an “if/when” clause in the third person; an apodosis in the second person, prescribing the appropriate response to the conspirators; and a complex motive clause. . .
[Moses] prescribes a preventative strategy: undivided and unreserved love for Yahweh, demonstrated in obedience to his voice (vv. 3–4, 18) and in remembrance of his saving grace (vv. 5b, 10b).
Paul Barker: The three cases build up momentum. The first is of a false prophet, someone who may be personally remote or not well known. The second case strengthens the force of the warning by identifying the potential deceiver as a close relative or most beloved friend. The stress is on the closeness or intimacy of the person. The threat may lie close at hand. Then the third case adds to the momentum for it describes a case where the deception has actually succeeded in leading a town astray. This makes it even clearer that the threat is indeed a strong and subtle one.
Eugene Merrill: It is appropriate, then, to address the matter of competing gods once that of the exclusive existence and worship of the Lord has been addressed in the preceding section (12:29-31).
Peter Craigie: In each of these sections, a number of points are emphasized in the address, dealing with the source and nature of the temptation, the legal penalty to be accorded to the criminals, and the positive action to be taken in order to maintain true allegiance to the Lord of the covenant. The legal penalties noted in this chapter may seem at first sight to be excessively harsh, but the reason for the severity lies in the nature of the crime. The continued existence of the covenant community depended literally upon allegiance to the Lord of the covenant. Thus the crime is considered not simply in light of the actions of the perpetrator, but in light of the effect of the crime on the welfare of the whole people of Israel.
David Thompson: We are living in a day and age in which the cry of the religious world is tolerance. We are told that we need to get along with each other and we need to respect each other especially when it comes to religion. Religious tolerance, we are told, is a great virtue and the mark of real sophistication. It is the politically correct way to think. Problem is, when you stack that up against the word of God, that view is false.
John Schultz: The whole tenor of this chapter is a warning to people who love and serve the Lord that no one is immune to temptation. Our enemy knows our vulnerability, and he is clever in manipulating us at our weakest points. This is the main lesson we can draw from this severe chapter
I. (:1-5) DENOUNCING SPIRITUAL SEDUCTION BY A FALSE PROPHET OR DREAMER OF DREAMS
A. (:1-2) Signs and Wonders Cannot Always Be Viewed as Authenticating
“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,’”
Eugene Merrill: One of the means by which prophets received revelation was by dreams, so here the prophet is further defined as a “dreamer of dreams” (v. 1; cf. Gen 37:1-10; Num 12:6). This epithet was later commonly associated with false prophets, however, and it may connote negative overtones already to the passage (cf. Jer 23:23-32; 27:9-10; 29:8). The fact that he could perform signs and wonders did not by itself legitimize him as a prophet of the Lord.
Warren Wiersbe: God raised up prophets in Israel during those times when the people needed to be called back to the faithful worship of the Lord. It has often been said that prophets weren’t just “foretellers”; they were primarily forth-tellers who declared the Word of the Lord in the name of the Lord. The faithful prophet spoke in God’s name and gave only God’s message for God’s glory and for the good of God’s people. The key phrase in Deuteronomy 13 is, “Let us go after other gods” (vv. 2, 6, 13).
Daniel Block: Moses anticipates that prophets and dreamers who call for defection to other gods will try to prove their authenticity with an attesting “sign or wonder” (v. 2a; cf. 4:34). These expressions do not speak merely of an accompanying miraculous act (Ex. 4:1–9) but of a verbal wonder, a prediction of a specific natural or extraordinary event that would supposedly prove the person was a genuine divine messenger. For the sign to authenticate the medium’s call to worship other gods, the predicted event had to transpire within a short period of time. If an event would happen just as the prophet predicted, people whose faith was weak would be convinced that both the person and the message were genuine—even if it contradicted what they had been taught about Yahweh and the other gods. Perhaps recalling his own encounters with the magicians of Egypt (Ex. 7:11, 22; 8:7), Moses recognizes that false prophets are sometimes able to work wonders.
Gerald Gerbrandt: Later Deuteronomy identifies the fulfillment of a prophet’s pronouncement as the key criterion for determining whether the prophet truly speaks on behalf of God (18:21–22). That test would support the authenticity of the prophet in our passage. Yet the content of their word, the invitation to go after other gods, is in direct conflict with what Israel knows to be true. Here is a further and more significant test of a faithful leader. Results are an insufficient indicator. In addition, the word and action of the prophet or leader must be based in the faithful tradition of the community.
Jack Deere: Miraculous signs alone were never meant to be a test of truth. Miracles happen in many religions because Satan uses false religions and false prophets to deceive the world (cf. 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Eph. 6:11; Rev. 12:9). So Moses warned the people that the standard for truth must never be a miraculous sign or wonder (or other areas of human experience). The standard of truth is the Word of God.
B. (:3) Spiritual Seduction Can Be a Test from God
“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.”
Michael Grisanti: This set of circumstances represents a divine test to discern the status of Israel’s heart, i.e., whether they love God wholeheartedly (live in absolute loyalty). Instead of following after pagan gods, they should follow and revere Yahweh, keep his commands, obey and serve him, and hold fast to him (the longest collection of “covenantal” verbs in Deuteronomy).
Peter Craigie: The temptation would test the true disposition of the hearts of the Israelites, and while the temptation was genuinely dangerous, the overcoming of that temptation would strengthen the people in their love of God and obedience to his commandments.
C. (:4) Six Ways to Stay on Track Spiritually
1. “You shall follow the LORD your God”
2. “and fear Him;”
3. “and you shall keep His commandments,”
4. “listen to His voice,”
5. “serve Him,”
6. “and cling to Him.”
Bruce Hurt: Self Sufficiency is the arrogant assumption that I can go it alone… without God. Clinging is the humble acknowledgment that I must be intimately connected to God for life to make sense and to be worth living. In Joshua’s admonition to Cling to God he gives this warning:
“If you ever go back and Cling to the rest of these nations (i.e. the world and its values)… (they) shall be to you as: A snare and a trap… A whip on your sides… Thorns in your eyes… until you perish from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you.” (Joshua 23:12)
D. (:5a) Spiritual Seduction is a Capital Offense Because it Threatens to Negate the Freedom Secured by Redemption
“But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Any prophet or leader within Israel who, despite everything God has done (v. 5b) and despite the clarity of God’s expectation (vv. 3b-4), invites people to reject this story in favor of some unknown god—that speaker has committed treason (v. 5). Although rebellion (RSV, NIV) may be a more common translation of the Hebrew here, the term treason more fully captures the spirit and emotion of the text. Such a person has betrayed the very nature of their own identity as a member of God’s people. Such an action puts at risk the survival of the larger people, with the punishment for treason being death; even today some nations punish treason with death. The phrase put to death is common Old Testament language for the ultimate punishment (cf. Gen 26:11; Exod 19:12; Lev 19:20; Deut 17:6; etc.).
E. (:5b) Spiritual Surgery Protects the Community from Apostasy
“So you shall purge the evil from among you.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The Hebrew term translated purge is based on a verbal root that means “to burn out,” or “to cauterize.” The logic of the passage is that the sin of going after other gods is such that the people as a whole can be poisoned by it, “so that unless the offender is ‘excised,’ the covenant is threatened and the communal life placed in jeopardy (cf. Josh. 7)” (Cairns: 136), that is, like surgery to remove cancerous growth.
II. (:6-11) DENOUNCING SPIRITUAL SEDUCTION BY A CLOSE RELATIVE OR FRIEND
A. (:6-7) Secret Seduction by Loved Ones is Especially Pernicious
“If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, 7 of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end),”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Whereas the temptation of the prophet probably was a public situation, here the text draws attention to the secretive or private nature of the enticement.
Daniel Block: Viewed as a whole, this list imagines those who are closest and dearest as potential conspirators intent on leading the family and the community away from the worship of Yahweh. Like most seditious plots, this action is urged “secretly,” presumably within the walls of one’s home—as if Yahweh or his spies are unable to see what goes on inside. To “entice” people to follow a different god is treason of the highest order.
Michael Grisanti: Especially in the light of Israel’s social structure based on the extended family, one relative had significant potential to influence other relatives for evil or for good. But loyalty to God supersedes personal relationships (cf. Lk 14:26).
Earl Kalland: When speaking of the gods of the people who would be around them in Canaan (v. 7), Moses referred to them three times in this chapter either as “gods you have not known” (vv. 2, 13) or as “gods that neither you nor your fathers have known” (v. 6). It is not that the Israelites had never heard of these gods but rather that neither they nor their fathers had ever acknowledged them as gods. They had never known them as their gods in day-to-day experience. Craigie (p. 223) says, “The Israelites knew God from their experience of his presence with them and word to them, but they had no such knowledge of any other supposed gods.”
B. (:8) Secret Seduction Must be Resisted in 5 Ways
1. “you shall not yield to him”
2. “or listen to him;”
3. “and your eye shall not pity him,”
4. “nor shall you spare [him]”
5. “or conceal him.”
Daniel Block: The instructions are detailed, beginning with five negative commands, followed by three positive orders. By heaping up the former (v. 8) Moses addresses the tendency to let sentimentality interfere with the proper administration of justice. Whereas earlier Moses had simply urged his people not to listen to prophets or dreamers (v. 3), in verse 8 he intensifies the command with a direct appeal to the will of the hearer: “Do not yield to him or listen to him,” and follows this up with a twofold charge not to let natural human emotions deflect from what needs to be done. The first, “Show him no pity,” discourages persons charged with carrying out punishment from being lenient toward the offender. The second, “,” prohibits feeling sorry for or showing compassion toward the person Do not spare him. The last command, “Do not … shield him,” demands that relatives and close friends expose the perpetrator of the crime—they are not to give him asylum.
Duane Christensen: The focus of attention in this structure is that no pity is to be shown to the guilty party, however close the relative may be. The outer frame moves from the command not to do what the person says to that of not condoning it as well. In a similar manner, the inner frame moves from the command not to listen to the words of the guilty party to the command not to spare them from the penalty God has decreed for their action.
C. (:9-10) Secret Seduction Requires You Taking the Initiative in Execution
“But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The proximity of the source of seduction leads to a heightened emphasis on the punishment. Not only is the verdict death, but also the lured family member initiates executing the verdict.
D. (:11) Swift Execution Serves as a Deterrent from Future Seduction
“Then all Israel will hear and be afraid,
and will never again do such a wicked thing among you.”
David Guzik: Many modern researchers and pundits say that capital punishment is no deterrent to crime. God says it is a deterrent (properly practiced, of course).
III. (:12-18) DENOUNCING SPIRITUAL SEDUCTION BY UNIDENTIFIED URBAN REVOLUTIONARIES
A. (:12-13) Entire Cities Can be Susceptible to Spiritual Seduction
“If you hear in one of your cities, which the LORD your God is giving you to live in, anyone saying that 13 some worthless men have gone out from among you and have seduced the inhabitants of their city, saying,
‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom you have not known),’”
Peter Craigie: the temptation might come from a group of men intent upon undermining the allegiance of a whole city. . . The evildoers are “urban revolutionaries” in that the action they advocated would be contrary to the constitution of the state and of the city (viz., the covenant with God) and (if successful) would have led to a total change in the nature of ancient Israel, which would have been disastrous in its effects.
B. (:14a) Establishing the Truth Requires Thorough Investigation
“then you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly.”
Daniel Block: Because this scenario envisages rumors of spiritual sedition rather than direct contact with those who lead in the defection from Yahweh, instead of immediately calling for the death penalty Moses demands careful investigation to determine whether the rumors of “this detestable thing” are true or false (v. 14a). The seriousness of the inquiry is reflected in the verbs describing the process: “to inquire, seek,” “to probe, search out,” and “to investigate [thoroughly].”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Presumably the public pronouncements of a prophet, or the enticement of someone close, albeit expressed in secret, would have been unambiguous.
R. K. Harrison: A further important principle of justice is here enunciated, namely that the fullest investigation should precede punishment. Much of British common law can be traced to the Mosaic enactments.
C. (:14b-15) Entire City Would Then be Subject to Destruction if Found Guilty
“And if it is true and the matter established that this abomination has been done among you, 15 you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying it and all that is in it and its cattle with the edge of the sword.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The text raises the possibility that a whole town may fall prey to the seduction of other gods.
D. (:16a) Elimination of the Booty by Means of a Fiery Sacrifice to the Lord
“Then you shall gather all its booty into the middle of its open square
and burn the city and all its booty with fire
as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God;”
Duane Christensen: The law as stated here in 13:13–19 concerns an entire Israelite city that has been enticed into idolatry. That city is to be treated as though it were under the ban of holy war. Like the cities of Jericho and Ai in the book of Joshua, it is to be burned as a holocaust to YHWH, and all of its inhabitants destroyed utterly. Behind this command lies the concept that idolatry is a violation of holiness that pollutes. Purity can be restored only when the impurity is removed from the midst of the larger community of faith.
E. (:16b) Enduring Legacy = Perpetual Ruins
“and it shall be a ruin forever. It shall never be rebuilt.”
F. (:17-18) End Result of Obedience Will Be Renewed Mercy and Prosperity
“And nothing from that which is put under the ban shall cling to your hand, in order that the LORD may turn from His burning anger and show mercy to you, and have compassion on you and make you increase, just as He has sworn to your fathers, 18 if you will listen to the voice of the LORD your God, keeping all His commandments which I am commanding you today, and doing what is right in the sight of the LORD your God.”
Adam Clarke: As God did not permit them to take the spoils of these idolatrous cities they could be under no temptation to make war upon them. It could only be done through a merely religious motive, in obedience to the command of God, as they could have no profit by the subversion of such places. How few religious wars would there ever have been in the world had they been regulated by this principle: ‘Thou shalt neither extend thy territory nor take any spoils!’
R. K. Harrison: The punishment of idolaters and apostates must not be a thing of material gain for Israel.
Daniel Block: Moses ends this chapter with a general pastoral reminder of the conditionality of Yahweh’s renewed favor (v. 18). Employing familiar language, he sets out three conditions: Israel must obey the voice of Yahweh in whatever he says, keep all his commandments that Moses is giving them this day, and do what is right in his eyes. This is an efficient summary of the essence of Israel’s vassaldom. As the trophy of divine grace, her devotion must be directed to Yahweh alone, and her love for him demonstrated in unreserved and unqualified obedience.