Throughout the Bible, God challenges His people to make sure the poor and needy are well cared for. Grinding poverty and deprivation destroy the wholeness of life that God intends for all people. However, as Moses warns here, achieving prosperity can lead people to be complacent and self-sufficient and to forget that God has been the One who has provided for them.
Perhaps no warning is more urgently needed for God’s people in our own wealthy and comfortable society. Prosperity can tempt us to forget about God and to act as if we can take care of everything through our own means. But with prosperity often comes poverty. These humbling, testing experiences are meant to build the qualities of gratitude and trust into our lives, and they keep us from forgetting God even when we do enjoy prosperity.
9 Moses: Listen to me, Israel! Today you’re going to cross the Jordan and enter the land you’ll take away from nations that are bigger and stronger than you. They live in huge cities that have defense walls as high as the sky. 2 They’re big and tall, giants descended from the Anakim. You know all about them from the 12 spies I sent into the land—you’ve heard the saying, “Who can ever fight with the descendants of Anak?” 3 So I want you to know today that it will be the Eternal your God who will go across the Jordan ahead of you. A blazing fire, He’ll destroy those nations. He’ll subdue them so you can destroy them quickly and take their place, as He has promised you will. 4 When the Eternal your God has driven them out ahead of you, then don’t begin to believe He gave you this land because you’re so good and righteous! It’s just the opposite; He is giving you their land because those other nations are so bad! 5 It’s not because you’ve conducted yourselves so well or because you have such pure hearts that you’re going to take the land; the Eternal your God is driving out those other nations ahead of you because they’re so wicked. He’s keeping His word, the promise He made to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 6 I’ll say it again: the Eternal One your God isn’t giving you this good land because you’re so good. You’re stubborn, obstinate people. 7 Remember—don’t forget—how you kept infuriating Him in the wilderness. From the day you came out of Egypt until the day you arrived here, you’ve been rebelling against Him.
8 Even at Horeb, you infuriated Him. The Eternal got so angry with you He was ready to destroy you! 9 When I went up the mountain to receive the stone tablets—the tablets of the covenant He made with you—I stayed on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights. I didn’t eat or drink anything all that time, preparing myself to receive these holy words. 10-11 At the end of those 40 days and nights, the Eternal gave me those two stone tablets of the covenant. On them He’d engraved with His own finger everything He told you on the day you gathered at the mountain, when He spoke to you from inside the fire. 12 The Eternal told me, “Get up, and go back down the mountain as fast as you can! While you’ve been up here surrounded by My holiness, the people you led out of Egypt have become corrupt! How quickly they’ve left the path I commanded them to stay on. They’ve melted gold and poured it into a mold and made themselves an idol! 13 I’ve seen how stubborn and obstinate these people are. 14 Don’t try to stop Me—I’m going to destroy them! I’ll wipe out every last trace of them under the sky, and I’ll make a bigger and stronger nation out of just you.”
15 The mountain was still blazing with fire as I hurried back down it, carrying the two covenant tablets in my hands. 16 I saw with my own eyes how you had sinned against the Eternal, your True God: you’d cast an idol in the shape of a young bull!
This young bull is made in imitation of the Canaanite fertility gods. The bull is a prominent symbol of Baal. Creating this idol requires a long, intentional process of collecting enough precious metal for a statue, melting it down and purifying it, pouring it into a mold that also has to be designed and crafted, and making sure the statue cools evenly so that it doesn’t break apart. (Perhaps the Israelites learned these crafts by observation or practice in Egypt.) This was no casual slip into an unintentional religious compromise. This is a deliberate embrace of a god other than the Lord, right at the moment when He is drawing up His covenant of love with Israel. They are as unfaithful to the Lord as a person who has an affair while on his honeymoon!
Moses: How quickly you left the path the Eternal commanded you to stay on. 17 Right before your eyes I took the two tablets, hurled them onto the ground, and smashed them to pieces. 18 I went back up the mountain, and for another 40 days and nights I prostrated myself before Him, lying face down on the ground in grief and petition, not eating or drinking anything as before. You had sinned so seriously—you did what the Eternal had just told you was wrong, and this made Him furious! 19 I was afraid[a] He was so violently angry with you that He’d destroy you, as He said He would. But one more time, the Eternal One listened to me, and He spared you. 20 I had to pray particularly for Aaron because the Eternal was furious with him for making the idol—He would have killed my brother! 21 I took the calf idol you made, that embodiment of your sin, and I burned it up. Then I crushed what was left, ground it into tiny pieces until it was as fine as dust, and threw the dust into the riverbed that rushes down the mountain.
22 You and your parents were always making the Eternal furious! At Taberah, you whined and complained;[b] at Massah, you were sure the Lord was going to let you die of thirst;[c] at Kibroth-hattaavah, you said you were sick of the food He provided![d] 23 At Kadesh-barnea, when you finally reached the promised land,[e] the Eternal sent you in: “Go and take possession of the land—I’ve given it to you!” But you defied this direct order from the Eternal, your True God! You didn’t trust Him, and you didn’t listen to His voice. 24 You’ve been rebelling against Him from the day I met you!
25 That’s why, at Horeb, I lay face down before the Eternal for 40 days and nights, praying for you: He said He was going to destroy you, and I knew He had every reason to! 26 I prayed to Him, “Eternal Lord, please don’t destroy Your people! They’re Your own possession: You liberated them from another master—You brought them out of Egypt with overwhelming power. 27 Remember Your loyal servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; please forget about how stubborn and wicked and sinful these people are. Don’t let their actions spoil Your greater plan. 28 Otherwise, the people back in the land You brought us out of will be saying, “The Eternal couldn’t really bring them into that land He promised them. He actually hated those people, and He brought them out into the desert in order to kill them off.” 29 Remember they are Your people, Your own possession, the ones You brought out of Egypt Yourself with such overwhelming power!
10 Moses: Then the Eternal answered my prayer: “Cut out two stone tablets like the first ones, come back up the mountain to Me, and make a wooden chest. 2 I’ll write on those tablets the same words that were on the first ones, the ones you smashed into pieces, and you can put the new tablets in the chest you make.”
3 So I made a chest of acacia wood and cut out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I went back up the mountain carrying the two tablets. 4 The Eternal engraved on them what He had engraved on the first ones: the Ten Directives the Eternal gave you on the day you gathered at the mountain when He spoke to you from inside the fire. He gave the new tablets to me, 5 and I came back down the mountain and put them in the chest I’d made, as the Eternal had commanded me. And they’re still there today.
When they make and worship the young bull idol, the people are breaking the first covenant at Horeb, the one the Lord makes with them when He speaks to them from inside the fire and gives them the Ten Directives. Moses signifies that this first covenant is null and void when he smashes the two stone tablets that are the official copies of the covenant terms. That covenant has been conditional on the people maintaining an exclusive allegiance to the Lord, and they have violated this essential requirement. Now, however, through the intercession of Moses, the people are accepted into a second, new covenant on the basis of His forgiveness and mercy. Its continuation is also conditional on their obedience, but its deepest foundation is a grace anticipating the new covenant God ultimately makes with us through Jesus.
6 The children of Israel had been staying by the wells that belong to the descendants of Jaakan. They moved from there to Moserah. There, Aaron died and was buried. His son, Eleazar, succeeded him as high priest. 7 The people then moved to Gudgodah, and then to Jotbathah where the land is watered by streams. 8 There the Eternal set apart the tribe of Levi under Eleazar’s new leadership to carry the covenant chest of the Eternal One to serve Him in His presence and to bless the people in His name, as they still do today. 9 That’s why the tribe of Levi doesn’t have any familial hereditary territory alongside the other tribes: the Eternal Himself is Levi’s inheritance, just as the Eternal your God told Levi He would be.
Moses: 10 I stayed on the mountain just as long as I had before, for 40 days and nights. The Eternal listened to my prayers once again and agreed not to destroy you. 11 He told me, “Stand up again—I’ve granted your request. Now go and lead the people the rest of the way, so they can enter and take possession of the land I promised their ancestors I’d give them.”
12 And now, Israel, what is the Eternal your God asking of you? Only that you fear Him, live as He wants you to, and love Him; serve Him with every part of you, heart and soul; 13 and obey His commands and rules, which I’m giving you today for your good.
14 Think of it—everything already belongs to the Eternal your God: the sky and His own dwelling place beyond the sky, the earth and everything on it. 15 Nevertheless He devotedly loved your ancestors; and out of all the peoples He chose you, their descendants, to be His own, as you still are today. 16 Cut away that hard covering around your heart, and do not harden your neck against me, 17 because the Eternal your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great and mighty and amazing God! He doesn’t favor the powerful, and He can’t be bribed.
The imagery of cutting the foreskin of one’s heart and not hardening the neck are graphic depictions of how God desires internal devotion to reflect external obedience.
18 He enforces His justice for the powerless, such as orphans and widows, and He loves foreigners, making sure they have food and clothing. 19 You must love those foreigners living with you in the same way. Remember how you were foreigners in the land of Egypt! 20 So fear the Eternal your God; serve Him, and be devoted to Him. Show your loyalty by swearing oaths only in His name. 21 He’s the One you must praise—He’s your God who has done such great and amazing things for you, as you’ve seen with your own eyes. 22 When your ancestors went into Egypt, there were only 70 people in their whole clan.[f] But He kept increasing your numbers, and now there are as many of you as there are stars in the sky!
4 While a huge crowd gathered with people from many surrounding towns streaming to hear Jesus, He told them a parable.
Parables are works of art, specifically, works of short fiction. They are intricately constructed and complex in their intent. In some ways, they are intended to hide the truth; they don’t reduce truth to simple statements or formulae. Instead, they force the reader to take things to a deeper level, to engage the imagination, to think and think again. In this way, they invite people to ask questions; they stir curiosity; they create intrigue.
Jesus: 5 Once a farmer went out to scatter seed in his fields. Some seeds fell along a trail where they were crushed underfoot by people walking by. Birds flew in and ate those seeds. 6 Other seeds fell on gravel. Those seeds sprouted but soon withered, depleted of moisture under the scorching sun. 7 Still other seeds landed among thorns where they grew for a while, but eventually the thorns stunted them so they couldn’t thrive or bear fruit. 8 But some seeds fell into good soil—soft, moist, free from thorns. These seeds not only grew, but they also produced more seeds, a hundred times what the farmer originally planted. If you have ears, hear My meaning!
9 His disciples heard the words, but the deeper meaning eluded them.
Disciples: What were You trying to say?
10 Jesus: The kingdom of God contains many secrets.
They keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep observing, but do not understand.[a]
I want you to understand, so 11 here’s the interpretation: The voice of God falls on human hearts like seeds scattered across a field. 12 Some people hear that message, but the devil opposes the liberation that would come to them by believing. So he swoops in and steals the message from their hard hearts like birds stealing the seeds from the footpath. 13 Others receive the message enthusiastically, but their vitality is short-lived because the message cannot be deeply rooted in their shallow hearts. In the heat of temptation, their faith withers, like the seeds that sprouted in gravelly soil. 14 A third group hears the message, but as time passes, the daily anxieties, the pursuit of wealth, and life’s addicting delights outpace the growth of the message in their hearts. Even if the message blossoms and fruit begins to form, the fruit never fully matures because the thorns choke out the plants’ vitality.
15 But some people hear the message and let it take root deeply in receptive hearts made fertile by honesty and goodness. With patient dependability, they bear good fruit.
16 You wouldn’t light a lamp and cover it with a clay pot. You’re not going to hide it under your bed. No, when you light it, you’re going to put it out in the open so your guests can feel welcome and see where they’re going.
17 Hidden things will always come out into the open. Secret things will come to light and be exposed. 18 I hope you’re still listening. And I hope you’re listening carefully. If you get what I’m saying, you’ll get more. If you miss My meaning, even the understanding you think you have will be taken from you.
19 Around this time, Jesus was speaking to a crowd of people gathered in a house. His mother and brothers arrived to see Him, but the crowd around Him was so huge that they couldn’t even get through the door. 20 Word spread through the crowd.
Someone from the Crowd: Jesus, Your mother and brothers are outside the house hoping to see You.
Jesus: 21 Do you want to know who My mother and brothers are? They’re the ones who truly understand God’s message and obey it.
19 You know all my opponents;
You see them, see the way they treat me—
humiliating me with insults, trying to disgrace me.
20 All this ridicule has broken my heart,
killed my spirit.
I searched for sympathy, and I came up empty.
I looked for supporters, but there was no one.
21 Even more, they gave me poison for my food
and offered me only sour vinegar to drink.
22 Let them be ambushed at the dinner table,
caught in a trap when they least expect it.
23 Cloud their vision so they cannot see;
make their bodies shake, their knees knock in terror.
24 Pour out Your fiery wrath upon them!
Make a clean sweep; engulf them with Your flaming fury.
25 May their camps be bleak
with not one left in any tent.
26 Because they have persecuted the one You have struck,
add insult to those whom You have wounded.
27 Compound their sins; don’t let them off the hook!
Keep them from entering into Your mercy.
28 Blot out their names from Your book of life
so they will not be recorded alongside those who are upright before You.
29 I am living in pain; I’m suffering,
so save me, True God, and keep me safe in troubled times!
30 The name of the True God will be my song,
an uplifting tune of praise and thanksgiving!
31 My praise will please the Eternal more than if I were to sacrifice an ox
or the finest bull. (Horns, hooves, and all!)
32 Those who humbly serve will see and rejoice!
All you seekers-after-God will revive your souls!
33 The Eternal listens to the prayers of the poor
and has regard for His people held in bondage.
34 All God’s creation: join together in His praise! All heaven, all earth,
all seas, all creatures of the ocean deep!
35 The True God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah
So that His servants may own it and live there once again.
36 Their children and children’s children shall have it as their inheritance,
and those who love His name will live in it.
2 The Eternal prefers those who do good,
but He condemns those who plot evil.
3 Doing what is wrong keeps everyone off balance and insecure,
but those who do right will never be uprooted.