In the following article you will find a brief commentary on Deuteronomy 13 that goes along with our Riverside Church Two Year Bible Reading Plan (Volume 1 & Volume 2). This plan will allow you to read the New Testament and Psalms once every year and the Old Testament once every two years.
Deuteronomy 13 is a troubling passage. God warns against following a family member or a friend who tries to lead you away from him to follow other gods. This we expect, but when God instructs that the transgressor be executed we are shocked, and troubled. After all, don’t we know God to be merciful?
And beyond that, God calls for the destruction of an entire town within Israel if the town should follow after other gods. To our knowledge, this was never literally followed, but still we must ask ourselves what to make of this?
It helps to remember that Israel was a theocracy. Israel was God’s treasured possession, a truth they are frequently reminded of throughout this section of scripture (Deut. 14:2). These are not guidelines for other nations, nor are they instructions for the Church or a modern-day Christian. They were unique to Israel.
Secondly, God revealed himself to Israel in light of where they were at in those ancient times. There was much more to come in terms of God’s self-revelation. What will follow does not contradict, but it does provide a much clearer picture. In a barbaric day of might makes right God condescended to lead his people; we should not be surprised that much has changed in 3000 years.
So what does this passage teach? It teaches that God hates sin and judges sin, that God is holy, and that he requires his people to be holy. When we begin to grasp this we can only then stand amazed at the foot of the cross. Who can stand before God? He is a consuming fire! (Hebrews 12:29) Thanks be to God for his mercy. His wrath against sin was poured out on our Savior, our Lord Jesus.