Deuteronomy 13-14, Jeremiah 6, Psalms 69-71

Read Deuteronomy 13-14, Jeremiah 6, Psalms 69-71 today.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 13-14.

There was no freedom of speech in ancient Israel; however, the only banned speech was religious–blasphemy and false doctrine. Deuteronomy 13 sets forth regulations against false doctrine. Verses 1-5 told God’s people not to believe a false prophet, even if he performed some kind of miraculous sign (vv. 1-2a). God used miraculous signs to authenticate his messengers, especially Christ himself, but they were not the measuring stick for what was true or false. Just as Pharoah’s magicians were able to do some miracles (see Ex 7:11-12 for one example), Satan can sometimes do impressive things with his supernatural powers. But God taught here in Exodus 13 that He sometimes would allow false teachers with supernatural signs and wonders to come to Israel. His purpose for allowing them was to test “you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and all your soul” (v. 3). No matter how impressive a supernatural demonstration was, God’s people were to remain obedient to his written word (v. 4), not abandon his word for the words of a false prophet.

False prophets were a threat to God’s people because they incited “rebellion against the Lord your God” (v. 5a). Given all that God had done delivering his people from Egypt and protecting and guiding them through the desert to the promised land, Israel should have had no problem with restricted theological speech. If you know the true God, there is no reason to dabble in false doctrine; only danger can come from that. God’s prescription, then, for false prophets was the death penalty (v. 5a). 

Not only were false prophets with impressive supernatural powers to be refused and punished in Israel, but verses 6-11 tell us that even if you have a personal connection to someone who tries to turn your heart to another god,  you should still see that they are punished (vv. 6-11). “Show them no pity,” God’s word says. “Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (v. 10).

Verses 12-18 describe how to handle false teachers once Israel was established in the land. After investigating charges of heresy in a nearby town fully (v. 14a), God’s people were to publicly and completely purge the town of its false doctrine, then permanently destroy that town itself for not obeying God’s commands about false doctrine (vv. 15-18).

These sections remind us how seriously God takes his word and how destructive false doctrine is to true worship. While we live in a free society and do not impose such serious penalties on false teachers as Moses commanded in this passage, we should not toy with or tolerate deviations from God’s written word. It provides the standard for what is true or false; to entertain false doctrine just because there were signs and wonders involved or loved ones involved is to tolerate that which God says is destructive.

Watch carefully where you turn for spiritual information; your spiritual life (not to mention anyone living in your home under your authority) depends on holding fast to the purity of God’s word.

Leviticus 24, Isaiah 22, Proverbs 11:1-18

Read Leviticus 24, Isaiah 22, and Proverbs 11:1-18.

This devotional is about Leviticus 24.

It is common for skeptics of our faith to point to Old Testament passages like we have here in the latter part of Leviticus 24 and condemn the Bible for being violent and brutal. In this case, the man who was executed was guilty of blasphemy; in our world, that sin is highly accepted and even protected legally as free speech. But Israel was a theocracy and her worship was important for several reasons and deserved to be protected.

Leaving aside the offense, note how Israel’s legal system as illustrated here is superior to ours in some ways. First, according to verse 16, “The entire assembly must stone them.” The whole community was required to participate in the punishment, not someone paid to give lethal injection in private somewhere as happens in our country. There are at least two benefits to this. First, it protects someone against a false accusation. If you had to be part of executing a death sentence against your neighbor, the seriousness of taking his life would, I think, cause you to question intensely any witnesses to his offense. You would want to make absolutely sure that he was guilty before you took part in his execution. It is easy to accuse someone falsely and, in the case of a jury, to convict someone wrongly if you don’t actually have to do the dirty work of imposing the sentence of death on the accused. Second, if the whole community must execute the sentence of capital punishment, it might actually serve as a deterrent for many people. When you see how brutal and painful death by stoning is, you will be more careful about committing a capital offense yourself lest you end up like the guy you just passed sentence on.

More broadly, however, notice that there is no penalty of prison in Israel’s justice system. If you broke the law, you paid the price. That price might be a simple fine or it might cost you your life, but either way it will be over shortly. In Israel’s system, there is no wasting the years and productivity of a someone’s life while that person rots in prison. If you were guilty of breaking the law, the penalty was paid immediately; you either go on with your life or life goes on without you. There is no limbo where the state takes over custody of you for a few years. Think about how much money is spent in our society investigating criminals, trying criminals in court, processing them when they are sentenced, paying for food, clothing, and shelter while they are in prison, etc. Israel’s system is much cheaper and, in the long run, more in keeping with prosperity than our system is.

Thirdly, Israel’s system strives for justice that is proportional to the crime. If someone punches you in the face and you lose your eyesight, you are not allowed to kill them. An “eye for an eye” is not a metaphor; it is a lesson and here is the answer: God is just and he commands his people to do justice in proportion to the crime.That’s what is being described in verses 17-22.

Criminal justice reform is an issue that is debated in our society. The principles illustrated here in Leviticus 24 offer guidance that should be considered whenever our society–or any society–attaches penalties to breaking the law.

Ruth 2, Jeremiah 37

Read Ruth 2 and Jeremiah 37.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 37:18: “Then Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, ‘What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison?’”

The United States of America has laws in place to protect freedom of speech but, as with every right, the law protects the freedom of speech that God, the creator, gave you and me. It does not grant us that right; our freedom and right to say whatever we want to say is God-given, not America-given or constitutionally-given. The law merely protects that right.[1]

Israel did not have laws that protected freedom of speech but, like us, they had that freedom as a right granted to them by God. The only speech that was prohibited under God’s law was speech that was directly against the true God such as taking the Lord’s name in vain, blasphemy, and enticing someone to serve other gods. Beyond that category, people had the freedom to speak however and whatever they wanted to speak. There is no prohibition of one’s freedom where the law is silent.

Jeremiah’s question, here in Jeremiah 37:18 was, “What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison?” The assumption behind his question was that speaking your mind is not a crime. It doesn’t matter if you are talking to another citizen of Judah or to the king of Judah, speech is not a crime and should not be prosecuted.

Certainly, Jeremiah experienced persecution because he was giving God’s message. However, he also was a political dissident because God’s message was about the coming loss of national sovereignty for Judah and, therefore, the loss of political power for the king (v. 17). The king’s men used a bogus charge of “deserting to the Babylonians” (vv. 13-14) as an excuse censor Jeremiah’s message, as well as to beat, and prosecute God’s prophet unjustly (v. 15). That is what an oppressive government does. If it can’t silence you through threats, intimidation, or directly applicable laws, it will accuse you of violating other laws to punish you instead.

Our world–and our country–is steadily infringing on our rights. College campuses are a current battleground for the infringement of free speech. There are many troubling stories out there. I won’t get into them, but you can see for yourself at https://www.thefire.org/newsdesk/. Note that this group is led by political liberals, yet they are concerned by the loss of free speech in higher education. College may be the battleground now but as college students graduate and enter the mainstream of society, their distorted notions about speech will change what is considered acceptable and prosecutable in the country at large.

Indeed, private corporations and technology companies are making more and more decisions that stifle dissent and freedom of speech. “Cancel culture”–the tendency to silence and try to harm economically someone whose opinions are unpopular–seems to be taking over here in America.

One might object by saying, “The first amendment applies only to the government, not to entities such as colleges or private companies like YouTube/Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.”

To counter that objection, I would first argue that colleges are part of the government because most of these schools rely on federal funds through grants and student loans.

Secondly, in the case of private companies like YouTube and others, we are told that it is morally wrong to discriminate against groups based on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. If it is morally wrong to discriminate against these groups, then it is also morally wrong to discriminate against political speech, because every group’s ideology has political implications and applications. If it is wrong to exclude women or feminists from these platforms, then it is wrong to discriminate against anyone who has any kind of point of view.

A lot more could be said about all of this but I’ll finish by saying this: If we lose freedom of speech–either by government persecution or by corporate/societal exclusion–then the loss of freedom of religion will follow quickly. That may be God’s will for us; it was for Jeremiah. As Christians, we must be committed to God’s word and willing to say what it says even if we are persecuted for it. But, it is also right and just for us to point out when God’s enemies are violating our God-given rights just as Jeremiah did here.


[1]Keep this in mind whenever you hear someone say that some group, like illegal immigrants, don’t have rights. They do have rights because rights are not granted by the government; instead, they are supposed to be protected by the government. Or, more precisely, the law is supposed to protect everyone’s rights FROM the government or anyone else who would seek to use power to infringe on someone’s God-given rights.