Deuteronomy 19 revisits the cities of refuge and the strictness of landmarks. Chapter 20 is all about warfare. Within both of these ancient law sections God’s high and holy standards of justice shine forth in his care for properly prosecuting criminals, executing judgment on heathen nations, and treating foreign countries and Jewish soldiers with graciousness.
They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. The question before the ancient Hebrews was, who will you imitate? The Lord warned: "When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations" (Deuteronomy 18:9). He followed this warning with a list of abominable practices which God detests. The antithesis, however, is presented next: "The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to Him" (Deuteronomy 18:15). Who will you heed and imitate?
Rumors of paganism, rulings of judges, and restrictions for kings are among the topics of Deuteronomy 17. Of special interest are the regulations the Law placed over the monarchy, especially since there was no King in Israel at this time and there wouldn't be one for over four hundred years. Moses, however, looking forward through time, knew that eventually the people would desire to be like other nations, and men would reign in Israel, so the Lawgiver sought to rein in potential abuses and ground the Monarch in righteousness.
Religious unity was of paramount importance to God for Israel. To help ensure union among the people, the Lord commanded annual festivals where worshipers would gather at the Tabernacle/Temple from across the land. These occasions were times of praise and thanksgiving, as the Law said, "you shall rejoice in your feast" (Deuteronomy 16:14). Giving back to God was a highlight of the feast day celebrations: "Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you" (Deuteronomy 16:17).
How much trust do you have in God? This was one of the central questions posed to Israel in the book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 15, Israel is asked whether or not they believe God will provide for them. To demonstrate their faith in the Lord's blessings, they were instructed to forgive their debts every seven years, to benevolently give to the poor, to bestow goods upon servants who fulfilled their work contracts, and to give the firstborn of their flocks and herds over to God. Their faith had to be in the Almighty and never in wealth.
What were Israelites to do if a man came along claiming to be a prophet and even performing signs which appeared miraculous but his message contradicted the covenant God made with Israel? Or what if you had a relative that promoted idol worship? Or how should the people respond if news is broadcast about a town adopting paganism? These very serious questions are all discussed in Deuteronomy 13, followed by a review of some statues in chapter 14.
God expected Israel to aggressively oppose all forms of idolatry. In this chapter, He commanded His people to "destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire" (verse 3). Allowing the vestiges of paganism to continue in the land would be too much of a temptation as well as a blatant disregard for the purity and holiness of God who delivered the first commandment to Moses as: "You shall have no other gods before Me," and the second like it: "You shall not make for yourself an idol" (Exodus 20:3-4). Thus, Israel was to prosecute cites of idolatry with vigor.
Egypt was a land of toil. Canaan was to be a land of ease, but the ease with which the land would produce would be dependent on two equally important works: the obedience of Israel and the blessings of God. The Lord swore to care for His people as long as they followed Him and never turned from the covenant. The people would have dominion over a land of plenty because God cares for those who love Him and keep His commandments.
Honoring God's covenant is a strong theme in Deuteronomy 10. The emblems of the Mosaic covenant were seen in the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. In the days of Abraham, God instituted circumcision as the sign of His covenant with the patriarch. These concepts scream aloud in this chapter which reminds Israel of its binding obligation to the Lord God.
The wise man Solomon once wrote: "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). During the writing of Deuteronomy, Israel is on the cusp of invading the promised land. God was about to give them tremendous victory in the face of overwhelming odds against them. It would be easy for Israel to think their abilities and even their righteousness was the cause of their success. So in this chapter, Moses gives them a stern warning against pride and a reminder they were no beacon of fidelity.