Deuteronomy Part 4: Just Service – Leading God’s Way

Introduction and Review

This is my fourth message about the book of Deuteronomy.
To remind us of where Deuteronomy fits into the Bible story, here’s a little quiz
put these sentences in order:
 
The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt.
Through Moses, God rescued them from slavery.
At Mt Sinai, God told them how to live.
By the river Jordan, Moses reviewed God’s laws.
After leading the people for 40 years, Moses died.
They entered the good land God had promised them.
 
In Deuteronomy, just before he died and the Israelites enter the land,
Moses emphasises the most important things, the big ideas, the foundation of God’s law
 
 
here’s a second quiz.
What are some of these main messages we have learnt from Deuteronomy so far?
Is each sentence true or false?
 
The first thing is to love God with all your heart and soul and strength.
It’s ok to make idols (statues of god) or worship other gods too.
 
God chose Israel, because they were the biggest nation.
God loved Israel, because they were good and righteous.
God blessed Israel, so that they can bless others.
 
Israel should trust in its strong army to protect it from enemies.
When in doubt, Israel should copy the bigger nations around them.
 
Israel should forget the bad times of slavery in Egypt.
God has a special heart for the poor and weak
 
 
In all of those sentences, you could replace “Israel” with the church, with Christians-with us.
 
Two weeks ago we looked at that last sentence.
Over and over in Deuteronomy, Moses says to protect the poor and powerless,
to look after widows, orphans, strangers.
And do you remember the big reason why?
Because they themselves were slaves in Egypt
they know what it’s like to be poor and oppressed,
and God rescued them – So they should help others
 
One Amnesty International slogan reads:
“use your freedom to free others” – exactly!
 
The good news, is that we are really all poor and weak and powerless.
– so God has a special heart for each one of us
 
 
Today, we go from the bottom of society to the top of society, those in power, the leaders.
 
They are important for Deuteronomy – why?
because after 40 years leading the people, Moses was about to die.
So they would need new leaders,
in fact, long-term leadership structures for living in the land
 
in Deuteronomy chapters 16 to 18, there are four groups of leaders:
judges, kings, priests, prophets
today, we are going to look at the first two
 
starting with the judges.
Those who decide between right and wrong in a court of law.
Who decide innocent or guilty.
 

True Blue Judges

Justice for the People
Appoint judges and officials for yourselves from each of your tribes in all the towns the Lord your God is giving you. They must judge the people fairly. You must never twist justice or show partiality. Never accept a bribe, for bribes blind the eyes of the wise and corrupt the decisions of the godly. Let true justice prevail, so you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Deuteronomy 16:18-20              page 152
 
 
Partiality means treating people unfairly, favoring some people over others.
A bribe is when you give money to an official or someone in power,
so they will cover their eyes, twist justice and do what you want.
Two weeks ago, we read in Deuteronomy about someone else who is impartial and can’t be bribed
– who was it?
 
He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed.
He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice.
Deuteronomy 10:17-18
 
the high and mighty God cares for the low and poor and humble.
Israel’s judges must do the same.
They are called to be like God.
 
In a way, judges are the most important leaders for Deuteronomy.
above all, God wants a society of justice and fairness and compassion.
for that to happen, judges must be impartial and fair and just.
They give legal force to God’s heart for the poor.
Put God’s compassion into action,
 
 
A neat thing about these laws,
is that they challenge rulers, governments, nations to transform society.
And they speak to our own spiritual lives.
 
 
So what do these commands to judges say on the big global level?
Look at this map.
from a group called Transparency International.
It shows corruption around the world.[1]
 
The red countries are the most corrupt, the blue are most open and honest.
We are very blessed here in New Zealand-very blue.
John Key would like that!
Singapore is very good too – a blue dot in a sea of red.
– a bit like Israel was surrounded by big often unjust, brutal empires.
 
Look at the red countries.
Places where judges and police and politicians often take big bribes – They twist justice.
where people are desperately poor;
many orphans and widows, left to starve
exactly the opposite of the society God wants.
in a way, this map shows what happens when God’s commands to judges are ignored.[2]
 
 
Most of us don’t have much say on this global level.
Although we should be praying for those who do
 
 
but here’s a question.
What is the colour of your heart?
Red or blue?
Do you treat others with fairness and justice?
Or do you always favour yourself, like a corrupt judge?
 
Love your neighbour as yourself.
Also means judge your neighbour as yourself.
use the same standard.
 
For example, say, I’ve been sick in hospital.
And you never visited me – what a bad friend!
What about that time I was sick, you say – where were you?
Look, I was going to bring you some pretty flowers and buy a card
I even thought up a nice message to write.
But you know how it is, I was so stressed and busy that week …
but I really cared, I thought about you – I’m a good friend.
Not like you – you never visited me!
 
Is something wrong there?
I judge others by their bad actions,
then I judge myself by my good intentions.
I get mad at others,
then I excuse myself for the same thing.
 
That is not impartial, that is not fair.
That is hypocrisy, and it makes my eyes blind – like bribing the judge.
That is twisting justice and it colours my heart red.
 
remember what Jesus said:
Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? …
Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.  For God will judge you as you judge others.
Matthew 7:1-3
 
 
The next time someone annoys you or pushes in front or acts badly,
don’t jump to the conclusion: that’s a bad person.
don’t condemn them.
judge the way you would like to be judged – by people and by God.
 
try to forgive and understand.
inside, they may be struggling, hurting
they may have good intentions, but it just didn’t come out right.
Doesn’t that happen for us too?
 
near the end of the Bible, the book of James asks
How can you claim to have faith in Christ if you favor some people over others? …
James 2:1
 
then he tells a story:
a man strides into church: Smart business suit, expensive aftershave, the latest BMW parked outside
an old woman shuffles in, scruffy clothes, a bit smelly, muttering to herself.
Do we welcome the rich guy first,
and hope someone else will talk to the strange old lady?
James carries on,
 
It is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.
James 2: 8-9
 
You are not acting with fairness and compassion.
You are being a red-hearted judge.
 
In my Bible, Moses ends with
“Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue”
Deuteronomy 16:20
 
from the big global scale, right down to people I meet everyday.
 
 
So we have two different colours of judges.
A red judge: corrupt and unfair and greedy, in it for himself.
A blue judge: who loves people and loves Justice, a judge like God.
Which one are you more like?
 
Let’s turn to Deuteronomy’s second leader,
the man right at the top, the King.
 

A Different Sort of King

Guidelines for a King
You are about to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you. When you take it over and settle there, you may think, ‘We should select a king to rule over us like the other nations around us.’ If this happens, be sure to select as king the man the Lord your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite; he may not be a foreigner.
Deuteronomy 17:14-15              page 153
 
 
If you have been reading Deuteronomy, a warning bell might go off at that first verse.
Which words could be a red danger light?
“Like the other nations around us.” [3]
What has Moses said over and over?
 
Do not be like the other nations.
 
You must not worship the Lord your God the way the other nations worship their gods
Deuteronomy 12:31
 
Be very careful not to imitate the detestable customs of the nations.
Deuteronomy 18: 9
 
Israel’s God was different from other gods.
He wanted Israel to be different from other peoples
So this called for a king who was different from other kings
 
 
When you think of a typical great king, a mighty emperor, what words, images, come to mind?
 
Power – his word is law.
He leads a mighty army
 
Riches –
A crown sparkling with jewels.
a palace overflowing with gold.
 
And, of course, all the gorgeous women he can dream of!
 
Money, sex, power
isn’t that what being on top is all about?
 
No says God
not for my people.
The king I choose is to be different from other rulers – different in three big ways
 

Horses and Chariots

first, says Moses,
The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the Lord has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’
Deuteronomy 17:16
 
Why would a king want lots of horses?
For carrying soldiers and pulling chariots – the tanks of the ancient world.
 
You can hear little Israel saying,
Look at those countries around us!
Look at their big armies – help!
we need to defend ourselves!
 
But God said to his people:
When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid.  The Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you!  … He will fight for you against your enemies, and he will give you victory!
Deuteronomy 20:1, 4. [4]
 
 
Remember what happened as the people left Egypt.
The Egyptian army chased them.
The horses were thundering after them,
The chariots were speeding towards them.
The people of Israel were terrified – they would die
But then God intervened.
the Red Sea flooded in and drowned all their enemies.  (Deuteronomy 11:3-4)
 
 
You see, Israel did not need to trust in man-made weapons, lots of horses and chariots.[5]
God himself was Israel’s commander in chief.
The Lord was their defence.
 
Some nations boast of their chariots and horses,
but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.
Psalm 20:7 [6]
 
 
Still, today, International relations are often driven by fear,
countries spend big money on bullets and bombs and battleships, trying to keep themselves safe.
Deuteronomy says no!  to the arms race,
do not build up many horses, do not stockpile nuclear warheads.
 
 
Many of us are not so different
we feel weak and vulnerable inside.
We are afraid of getting hurt
So we act tough,
we build high walls around our hearts.
 
Do we listen to others, really,
Or are we always defending ourselves, justifying ourselves?
thinking about our own reply.
Playing little power games,
Always needing to win.
 
Many countries spend a high percentage of their income on defence.
Much more than on hospitals or schools or helping the poor.
 
Ask yourself this:
What is my personal defence budget?
How much of my time and energy do I spend worrying?
anxious, fearful, trying to stay safe?
what does that say about my trust in God?
Does it stop me loving others?
 
 
Moses said that accumulating horses,
stockpiling weapons to defend ourselves,
is like returning to Egypt, the place of slavery.
When we focus on defence,
we get weighed down, crippled, by heavy armour,
those walls to protect us become a prison.
 
God wants to set us free from fear and defensiveness.
He wants us to dance through life like little children,
trusting our heavenly father to keep us safe.
In the government of your life, why don’t you make God your Minister of Defence?
– let him take care of it!
 
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
so why should I tremble?
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
my heart will not be afraid.
Psalm 27:1, 3
 

Wives – or Guys

Here’s the second difference. Moses says,
The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord.
Deuteronomy 17:17
 
At the time, this probably meant political marriages
Like many royal families in history.
Making a treaty between two countries.
 
Earlier in Deuteronomy, Moses said:
Make no treaties with other nations … You must not intermarry with them.  Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods.
Deuteronomy 7:2-4
 
A few hundred years later, Israel had a king called Solomon.
Here’s what the Bible says:
 
King Solomon loved many foreign women. … The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, ‘You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.’ Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines…
they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord …
1 Kings 11:1-4
 
has anyone here got 700 wives?  Only 600?  300 boyfriends?
 
But even if we’ve only got one,
we must make sure that God stays first.
we need to commit our relationships to him.
Just like Moses said, like happened for King Solomon,
Romance with people who don’t share our love of the Lord,
will likely turn our hearts away from him
 
if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend,
here’s the key question:
how is this relationship affecting my relationship with God?
It is leading me closer to God, or drawing me away?
 
Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life.
Proverbs 4:23
 

Silver and Gold

not many horses, not many wives
what is the third way God’s King is different?
 
And the king must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.
Deuteronomy 17:17
 
Wealth is often a blessing.
Deuteronomy is all about God fulfilling his promise,
giving the people of Israel a good land to live in, with houses and farms and fields.
But material blessings also brings danger, [7]
Moses warned them:
 
When you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful!  Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 8:11-14.
 
It often happens
people are close to God, while they are poor students
or when they first arrived in a strange country
– like Israel entering the land, like some of you coming to New Zealand.
When you’ve got nothing and your stomach is empty, you have to do trust God!
Then they get a good job, make money, become full and prosperous,
love of things creeps in, and their love of God slips away.
 
can you relate to that?
Has your first love of the Lord slowly grown cold?
 
Jesus said the same as Moses,
Beware!  Guard against every kind of greed.  Life is not measured by how much you own …
a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.
Luke 12:15, 21
 
 
on Wall Street right now, and down in Aotea Square,
people are camping, protesting against business leaders,
who do just what Moses and Jesus warned against:
they store up earthly wealth, they accumulate silver and gold,
but they do not know God or care about the poor.
 
On our small scale, are we the same?
What do we do with the wealth God gives us?
Do we hold onto it all, or give some away?
 
Jesus said,
Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be…
You cannot serve both God and money.
Matthew 6:19-21, 24.
 
What are you serving?
Where is your treasure?
Who has your heart?
 

The God-Fearing King

So there we have it.
Horses and chariots, wives – or guys, silver and gold
weapons, women, wealth.
 
Three big temptations that can blind our eyes, twist justice, and breed corruption.
Three big traps that can turn our heart away from God, and make us slaves.
power, sex, money
Three big idols in our society
The same false gods as 3500 years ago – not much has changed!
 
So how can the king stay safe?
How can we avoid these traps?
 
 
So far Moses has told us the negatives: what the king must not do
now he gives us the answer: the positive thing to do
 
When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.
Deuteronomy 17:18-20              page 153
 
 
What’s the answer to temptation?
Filling yourself with God’s Word
soaking in Scripture, every day, everywhere. [8]
So God’s story fills your imagination.
So God’s promises warm your heart.
So God’s commands direct your steps.
So God’s character shapes your life.
 
who here is a student?
How much time do you spend trying to pass your exams?
Do you work as hard at studying the Bible?
 
If the king does that, it says Moses,
his heart won’t be turned away by these temptations
he will fear and obey God.
he won’t be proud, think he’s the best and look down on others,
he’ll remember that God is the true king,
he will love and serve and protect people. [9]
 

Two Ways to Lead

Moses showed us two types of judge:
the justice twisting, corrupt red Judge
the justice loving, godly blue Judge
 
And we have a picture of two kinds of King
 
a selfish King:
accumulating horses for himself, wives for himself, silver and gold for himself.
Three times “for himself.”
Just more more more, for me me me
lording it over others for my own gain.
 
And a servant King:
who fills himself with scripture.
Submit to God, and stays close to people.
Asks not “what can I get?”, but “what can I give?”
 
Red or blue: Which sort of judge do you want to be?
Selfish or serving: Which sort of king are you more like?
 
 
Let’s finish with the perfect example of the just Judge, the servant King.
Jesus Christ.
 
he treated everyone alike, without partiality -he loved everyone
he loved Justice,
he challenged the strong to protect the weak
He was a true judge, absolutely incorruptible
 
The devil tried to twist and tempt Jesus:
riches and fame and power,
– all the things that human leaders want
He loved scripture, and used it to fight the temptation.
He put God first and obeyed all of his laws.
 
he is King of kings, ruler of the universe
but he never looked down on others.[10]
in fact, he came down to be with others.
He was a servant,
He washed his followers’ feet
He died for them.
 
To learn more about having a humble servant heart like Jesus, I strongly recommend the book
In the Name of Jesus: reflections on Christian leadership”, by Henri Nouwen, 1989
 
“The beginning and the end of all Christian leadership is to give your life for others” (Henri Nouwen)
 
In the kingdom of God, to lead is to serve
 
like many of us, Jesus followers  didn’t like that too much
they were slow to understand that God’s way of leading is different.
They were still fighting to be on top, to be famous, to be first
so Jesus had to make it very clear – here’s the difference guys:
 
“In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people… But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant…  For I am among you as one who serves.”
Luke 22:24-27  [11]
 
Just service.
That’s the model for Christian leadership – and Christian life.[12]
That’s the sort of judge I want to be.
That’s the sort of king I want to follow.
 
 
There’s a Christian song:
This is our God, the Servant King
He calls us now to follow him
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to the Servant King
 

Ideas for Reflection

 
What sort of judge am I?  fair or corrupt?
– Do I judge others by their actions, and myself by my intentions?
 
Money, sex, power – which is the biggest temptation for me?
Am I too often defending and justifying myself – or do I trust God?
How do my relationships affect my walk with God?
What do I do with the wealth God gives me – Do I give some away?
 
Is my life more marked by selfishness or service?

 


All Deuteronomy Sermons


[1] http://www.transparency.org/, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption_Perceptions_Index.  It defines corruption as “the misuse of public power for private benefit.”
[2] It is interesting, though it’s a complex and debatable question, that most of the blue countries, are where the Bible has been most influential – Protestant Christian
[3] Cf Israel’s request for a king: But the people refused to listen to Samuel’s warning. “Even so, we still want a king,” they said. “We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.”  1 Samuel 8: 19-20
[4] Also Deuteronomy 1:29-30, 3:21
[5] Israel is full of silver and gold;
there is no end to its treasures.
Their land is full of warhorses;
there is no end to its chariots.
Their land is full of idols;
the people worship things they have made
with their own hands.
So now they will be humbled,
and all will be brought low—
Isaiah 2:7-9
 
What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help,
trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers
and depending on the strength of human armies
instead of looking to the Lord,
the Holy One of Israel.
Isaiah 31:1
[6] The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—
for all its strength, it cannot save you.
But the Lord watches over those who fear him,
those who rely on his unfailing love.
Psalm 33
[7] Moses also associates greed for money with idolatry: You must burn their idols in fire, and you must not covet the silver or gold that covers them.  You must not take it or it will become a trap to you … Deuteronomy 7:25.
[8] like the famous verses in Deuteronomy 6:
[9] to read more about resisting these temptations, I highly recommend Money, Sex and Power: the spiritual disciplines of poverty, chastity and obedience, by Richard Foster, first published in 1985, more recently in 1999.
[10] Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
Philippians 2:6-8
[11] Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.  1 Peter 5:2-3
[12] See http://twu.ca/academics/graduate/leadership/servant-leadership/quotes.html

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