On Law, Grace, Bondage, and Dog Collars


This weekend has been a yard work weekend. After ten weeks of volleyball’s regular season, I took two days to clean up my sorely neglected yard. Fences needed to be cleared, bushes trimmed, grass mowed, beds weeded. There was a LOT of work to do.

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For a bit of background for this story, you need to know that, for months now, my puppies, Scout and Atticus, have been on a wireless fence system to keep them from wandering into the road or the neighbor’s yard. The appearance of their being able to roam free is an excellent home security system. The down side to the system is that, in order to limit their access to the neighbor’s yard, they do not have free reign of my entire yard. Rectangle shaped property and circle shaped wireless fences don’t work well together. So Scout and Atticus have experienced several months of being unable to get to the back half of my yard.

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(Meet Scout and Atticus. They like each other.)

Cue this weekend. It was a stinky week, personally, spiritually, and professionally, but it was a glorious weekend, which meant I needed to be outside. Badly. And the puppies followed me all around the yard; until I moved toward the back of the yard. At that point, the puppies quit hanging out with me. When they got to the border of the wireless fence, their collars would beep and they would back up and lie down, getting as close to me as their collars would allow, but never going beyond that limit.

I decided this afternoon that I would let them wander the whole yard since I was going to be out there, so I took off their red fence collars and put Atticus’ regular collar on him. I couldn’t get Scout to sit still long enough to put hers on, so she went collarless. This is the point at which the teachable moment began.

As I walked to the back of the yard, they both followed me to the point that their red collars would have beeped if they had them on, and they stopped and laid down. It didn’t matter how much I called for them, they weren’t coming. They had spent enough time on those red collars that they knew not to go any further or there would be a consequence.

In an attempt to coax them to the back of the yard so that they could run and play, I walked to Atticus, gently held his collar with two fingers, and led him beside me toward the back yard. He was very tentative– until he got several feet past the “shock zone” that he knew should be there. When he got past that part and I was still with him and nothing bad had happened, he wandered around, smelled things, and generally chilled out.

Scout, on the other hand, stayed in the wireless zone, barking endlessly for us to come back to her. Since she didn’t have a collar on, there was nothing for me to hold on to in order to lead her back therewith us, and she would have none of the idea of simply following me out there.

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As I watched this scene unfold, the picture of how the Law, Grace, and bondage to sin work in our lives unfolded in my mind as well.

These are the Law:

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They tell the dogs just how far they can go, and they punish them if they attempt to overstep their boundaries. But the Law is meant to protect them; before the collars, I once chased Atticus across South Moore Road and about two blocks down the street. Barefoot. In my PJs. With Crazy Hair. At 5:30 am. It was special. The Law, in this case, is good. It taught Scout and Atticus right from wrong.

Then one day, the Law was removed. The punishment was no longer a threat. I’d taken that threat and put it on the table on the back porch. Yet the puppies still respected the boundaries the Law had set in their lives. They were free, but still living by the Law. They knew that boundary was there for a reason, and they kept it.

Until I put a new collar on Atticus and led him away. It reminded me of the opening statements of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia:

Galatians 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

All I had to do was put a different collar on him, and he followed me right past the boundaries set for him and into an unprotected and dangerous world. This new collar represents bondage in the life of a believer. Atticus could have roamed free within the set boundaries, collarless and without fear, but by taking up a new collar, a new form of bondage, he left the boundaries he knew and didn’t quite know what to do with himself. But take note of the bondage that led him astray, for they are what spoke volumes to my own heart:

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One tag is his name. Oh, can’t our name, our reputation, become an idol and a bondage?

One is his rabies tag. Look, he’s a good dog. He’s done all the right things to be considered good. Maybe for us that’s giving time or money to good causes, or going on mission trips, or attending the right church or small group. He’s checked off his legalistic list of things to look good.

The middle one is his microchip tag. He’s even a “member” of a home. Sometimes church can become an idol of bondage. Do you belong to the “right” church? Listen to the “right” super pastors or worship groups? Ascribe to the “right” doctrine of the the day?

None of the tags on his new collar of bondage are bad things. In fact, in the right circumstances, they are very good things. But in this case, they were use to lead him away, and often, it’s the good things in our lives, done for the wrong reasons, that get us into trouble.

Now, back to Scout. Let’s look at the picture again with the imaginary fence line drawn in:

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Scout is sitting, barking her fool head off at Atticus, begging him to come back. But she refuses to cross the line to come get him, and there is no bondage around her neck for me to lead her astray. She is free. Free enough to roam within the boundaries given to her while still knowing her limits, even without the threat of punishment.

That is the freedom we have in Christ! He said Himself that He came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. Scout is a picture of a believer free of bondage, trusting the one who knows and loves her. I removed the collar of the Law, yet she continued to trust that those boundaries were still what were best for her. And because she did not allow herself to be put into any other bondage, she could not be led astray. She was even in the position to call for her little brother to please get back in line and come back to the right side of the boundary. Which is exactly what he did.

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For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Be free, friends.

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No Love Without Obedience


In my many conversations and lectures concerning relationships and sexuality, those who oppose my stance on these issues repeatedly bring up passages in which Jesus stresses love. God loves us the way we are, they say. We should be able to express our love for one another any way we please. God loves me even if I am involved in supposed “sin”.

Love one another. Love. Love. Love.

Problem here is that these people are speaking of Disney, fairy tale, happily ever after love. News flash: Love does not equal happiness. While Jesus did say the world would know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35), he also very specifically said that if we loved him, we would keep his commandments (John 14:15). So love isn’t a feeling. It’s an action. A cognitive decision to behave according to a certain standard in the best interest of another. Hmmm…

This post from Dan Phillips today on Pyromaniacs.com addresses this issue with a thorough and biblical treatment of love and obedience. It’s a lengthy argument, but well worth the time to chew through if you are one that really struggles with the concept of God “limiting” how humanity chooses to express love to one another to Him.

Obedience: A Loving God Demands a Loving Response


This is a paper I wrote on Deuteronomy 10.12-22 for Introduction to Old Testament, Fall 2008:

Introduction

Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Pentateuch, so named for the Septuagint title Deuteronomion, or “second law,” can be considered the last will and testament of Moses. After leading the people of Israel out of Egypt and through the subsequent forty year wandering in the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula, Moses and the Israelites arrive just over the Jordan River from the long awaited Promised Land. Before the Israelites cross into the Promised Land, Moses has some final words for the people to remember as they begin their lives serving God in the land He had promised their forefathers.

Deuteronomy is comprised of a series of speeches or “sermons” delivered by Moses just prior to his death. Internal evidence suggests Moses himself wrote the majority of Deuteronomy, while there is also internal evidence pointing to the use of a final editor. The most obvious proof of work separate from Moses is the inclusion of his death at the end of the book.

“Recent studies have…detected a five part concentric pattern known as a chiasm. The speeches of Moses may thus be described in the following fashion:

A The Outer Frame: A Look Backwards, chapters 1-3

B The Inner Frame: The Covenant Summary, chapters 4-11

C The Central Core: Covenant Stipulations, chapters 12-26

B` The Inner Frame: The Covenant Ceremony, chapters 27-30

A` The Outer Frame: A Look Forwards, chapters 31-34”[1]

Ancient cultures were formed on tradition of orality; this led to much of the writing preserved from this time period having a notable poetic structure, especially in didactic sections. This was specifically designed to aid the hearer in memorization and understanding. This paper will argue that Deuteronomy 10.12-22 forms a chiasm similar to that of the book as a whole, and thus emphasizing the importance of this passage as a summary of the law in its entirety.

Context

Chapters 4-11 comprise a historical review of Israel’s journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab. Moses is reminding the people of all the Lord has done for them on this journey. From chapter four through 10.11, Moses recounts in narrative form the giving of the law, the rebellious response of the people, and God’s gracious forgiveness and restoration of His people “so that they may enter and possess the land that I swore to their forefathers to give them.”[2] God is setting the people up for a transition from discussing His faithfulness to Israel to discussing their own faithfulness to Him. “As has been noted repeatedly, covenant relationship between the Lord and Israel had to be expressed in both a vertical and horizontal dimension. To love God is to love one’s neighbor, and to serve God necessitates societal obligation.”[3] This specific passage is designed to point the reader to examine his own heart in light of the requirements of a holy and righteous God.

I. The Lord’s Requirements of His People 10. 12-13

The word in Hebrew translated “‘and now…’ marks a transition from history (9:7-10:11) to the moral religious lesson that is to be drawn from it.”[4] These words are essentially saying to Israel, “In light of all that I am and all that I have done for you, let me explain how you are to respond.” “The opening words of v 12 are among the most familiar in the Hebrew Bible, partly because of their use in Mic 6:8—‘what does Yahweh require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’”[5]

God’s will for his people is not clouded in obscurity. While there are multiple ways God’s will may come to fruition in the life of a faithful follower, these are the essential elements God requires of his people. There are five listed specifically within this section: (1) to fear God, (2) to walk in all his ways, (3) to love him, (4) to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and (5) to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees. One observation can immediately be made regarding the state of these commands. They are neither passive, nor is there an allowance for someone to accomplish these tasks for another; each command of God requires an active response of obedience from the individual. The first command in this list, to fear God, is the spring from which the other actions can flow. The verb used here, which is translated “fear” speaks not only of terror, but of reverential awe, which “motivates one to worship and obedience.”[6] Only when one has a right attitude and perspective toward God can right walking, love, service, and respect for His decrees follow.

Merrill suggests this list should be viewed as “fear” and “walking rightly” working in conjunction with one another to produce the next three: love, service, and obedience. He also suggests that the word love should be viewed as a technical term describing Israel’s reaction to the covenant relationship they have with God.[7] Craigie describes this initial list of God’s requirements of Israel as a description of “allegiance to the God of the covenant.”[8]

The closing statement of verse 13 is often overlooked in discussions concerning the law. While the emphasis tends to be placed on man’s ability (or inability) to successfully keep these laws, rarely is there a discussion concerning the reason behind the laws given by God. The law of God, handed down to Israel through Moses, is not a collection of laws designed solely to isolate Israel from a surrounding pagan society. In fact, this passage specifically describes how the Israelites are to appropriately interact with outsiders. But God himself qualifies these laws as statutes that are “for your own good.” The law of God is not an irrational set of decrees arbitrarily handed down by a distant deity. Rather, they are guidelines established by a loving Father, designed to bring success and safety to His children.

II. The Owner and Creator of the universe chose a people for Himself to love 10.14-15

Verses 14-15 further elaborate on the reason God has provided this law under which his chosen people are to live. God is described in these verses as being the owner of heaven and earth and everything in the earth. This is a theme drawn from the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2, and is carried throughout the remainder of the Old Testament writings. The Psalms especially emphasize the fact that all things belong to God. Yet, in spite of the fact that He owns all things and could have chosen any people in any place at any time, He chose to set His affections upon Israel. “A sharp disjunctive and restrictive adverb of which Deuteronomy is especially fond… makes the contrast vivid between the whole universe and the one people…Why God had this desire to love the patriarchs is never stated, because God’s election is always a mystery of His grace.”[9] God’s love for the patriarchs can be seen in fruition by the fact that He called the Israelites out of Egypt and brought them to the plains of Moab so that they could take possession of the land He had promised to Abraham. Just as God had demanded love in action from the Israelites, He modeled love in action by fulfilling the promises made to the patriarchs. God demonstrates His love by fulfilling His covenant with His people. God is again showing that the requirements He sets down for the Israelites are a reflection of His holy character and not a collection of arbitrary rules.

III. Those receiving the blessing of God’s covenant love must respond in obedience 10.16

Verse 16 serves as the crux of this chiastic description of God’s covenantal stipulations for His people. God gives His people instruction as to how they are to carry out the command He has given them in verses 12 and 13. The commands set down in 12 and 13 cannot be fulfilled in the human heart alone. Jeremiah describes the heart of man in this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? ‘I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.’”[10] This is what God is confirming in this verse. Circumcision was initiated as an outward symbol for man of the covenant made with God. “God’s requirement was that his people love him, but to do this, they required a particular attitude of heart or mind, which—like circumcision—involved decision and action symbolizing allegiance.”[11] In this chiasm, God gives Israel instructions as to what do—fear, love, obey—and why they should do these things—he’s the great God of the universe who chose to love them—but in verse 16, God provides for them the means by which they will accomplish these tasks. “Circumcision of the heart connotes being open, responsive, and obedient to the Lord.” While circumcision denotes the responsive heart, “throughout the Old Testament ‘stiffnecked’ is a metaphor for stubbornness and recalcitrance (cf. Job 9:4; 2 Chr 30:8; 36:13; Neh 9:16-17, 29; Jer 7:26; 17:23; 19:15). In the present context it denotes a lack of compliance to the covenant requirements.”[12] These two attitudes—a circumcised heart and a stiff neck—illustrate the choice Israel must make: to uphold their portion of the covenant or to rebel and go their own way. The remainder of Deuteronomy is set up in such a way that they are constantly reminded of this choice. God gives them a law, then explains the blessings of obeying and curses of disobeying. The choice to live in blessing or in curse hinges on the attitude in which the Israelites approach God. “In view of God’s election-love, one must be humbled so that he can be submissive to the guidance of God. Otherwise, love of God is impossible.”[13]

IV. The All-Powerful God loves and protects the weak and powerless 10.17-19

In keeping with the chiastic pattern, verses 17-18 reiterate the character and nature of God in relation to loving people. God has just laid before Israel the mutually exclusive choices of serving Him or serving themselves. He now reminds them one more time of His power, love, and compassion.

His greatness is portrayed by the names ascribed to him as well as by the characteristics and acts attributed to him. “God of gods” and “Lord of lords” (v. 17) are Hebrew superlatives. The designations do not suggest that there are in reality other divine gods or lords over whom God rules. Rather, as God and Lord he is supreme over all.[14]

This description of God’s power and sovereignty place him in comparison to earthly kings who often make such claims for themselves. But the second portion of the description of God found here places him in direct opposition to most earthly rulers. God is also described here as being impartial and unaffected by bribes. It is God alone who knows the heart of man, and he cannot be swayed by insincere pledges of allegiance. The status and position of man is inconsequential to God. Not only is he not swayed by those in powerful positions, he defends and cares for those who have no means of protecting themselves. God does not exploit the needy; rather, He lifts them up to a position of being worthy of love. During this time, there were no legal rights for widows or orphans.[15] In most cultures, they were left to fend for themselves, but usually with no legal means of doing so. God declares here that he is the one who cares for those who cannot care for themselves. This is a practical picture of the love God provides in salvation for his people. Israel could nothing to protect and provide for itself; they had to totally rely on God. And here God is again saying that it is he who protects the powerless.

God also tells them that he loves the alien. The word used here for alien or sojourner is

a technical term for the foreigner who has left his own people and has taken up residence in Israel. Though especially liable to injustice and oppression, he was a member of the covenant…. As God loves the sojourner, so Israel is to love him, remembering they were once in the same position in Egypt—whence they were delivered from oppression (cf. Lev 19:34).[16]

V. Fear and worship the Lord, for He has greatly blessed his people 10. 20-22

The chiasm of 10.12-22 is completed with a return to the expectations God lays out for the Israelites. After the descriptions of God’s great power and love, Israel is again reminded to fear and serve the Lord. “The theme of this part of the address is repeated here for emphasis.”[17] The Israelites are given another key to covenantal love; only if one “holds fast” to the Lord will he be able to walk rightly with him. This phrase, also translated “cleave” or “cling,” “indicates a very close and intimate relationship. The same verb is employed to describe the relationship between a man and his wife.”[18] God is to be trusted by his people as a wife trusts her husband for love and protection. He further declares Israel’s ability to trust him by declaring they are to take their oaths in his name. He is unchanging, and the promises he makes are to be trusted without question.

Because of this unchanging reliability, verse 21 declares that Israel is to see God as their praise. Due to grammatical ambiguity, this phrase can be translated two ways. One, this can mean that God is to be the sole recipient and object of praise. This is fitting, for the previous verses fully provide reason for God to be the sole object of worship by Israel. Two, this phrase can also mean that God’s provision for Israel is the foundation on which Israel is praised by surrounding nations.[19] Though weaker contextually, this translation can also work here considering the previous discussion concerning God’s care for and love of the aliens in Israel. Either way, the object and purpose of the worship is unchanging; the Lord God of Israel is worthy to be praised.

Verse 22 serves as a final illustration to the Israelites as to why God is worthy of this praise. He has performed mighty works before their eyes, and the care and protection he provided to the patriarchs on their journey into Egypt, as well as the care and protection he provided to this generation of Israel on their subsequent journey out of Egypt are to serve as markers, reminding them that their God is the God of covenant love and faithfulness.

Conclusion

Though the Israelites of Deuteronomy are separated from us by millennia, we are closely connected to them by our covenant relationship with God. Even the stiff-necked rebellion and subsequent exile of Israel proves that God is trustworthy—He is trustworthy to not only provide blessing for obedience, but also discipline for disobedience. The character of God is one of absolute consistency and reliability. In Malachi 3, God describes to the people a time when they will be restored to Him as His covenant people. Though they have disobeyed and abandoned God, He will not abandon them. Throughout Israel’s spiritual adultery, God holds to the covenant he made with the patriarchs. “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty. “I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”[20] Because the Lord does not change, we can assured even today that by following the commands laid down in this passage—by fearing God, walking in his ways, by loving, serving, and obeying him—he will be faithful to defend us who are weak people, incapable of saving ourselves.


Works Referenced

Arnold, Bill T. and Bryan Beyer. “Deuteronomy,” Discovering the Old Testament. Baker: Grand Rapids, 1999.

B., D.R. “Deuteronomy.” Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Paul J. Achtemeier, editor. Haper & Row: San Francisco, 1985.

Buttrick, George A. The Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon: New York, 1953.

Christensen, Duane L. “Book of Deuteronomy.” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. Watson E. Mills, editor. Mercer University Press: Macon, 1991.

Christensen, Duane L. “Deuteronomy 1-11.” Word Biblical Commentary. Nelson: Nashville, 1991.

Craigie, Peter C. “The Book of Deuteronomy.” New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1976.

Easton, M.A. “Deuteronomy.” Easton’s Bible Dictionary. Online version. Accessed September 12, 2008.

Kalland, Earl S. “Volume 3: Deuteronomy- 2 Samuel.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1992.

Lienhard, Joseph T., ed. “Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.” Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. InterVarsity: Downers Grove, 2001.

Luther, Martin. Lectures on Deuteronomy. Jaroslav Pelikan, editor. Concordia: St. Louis, 1960.

Merrill, Eugene H. “Deuteronomy.” The New American Commentary. Broadman and Holman: Nashville, 1994.

Phillips, Anthony. Deuteronomy. University Press: Cambridge, 1973.

Thompson, J.A. “Book of Deuteronomy.” New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Edition. InterVarsity: Downers Grove, 1962.

Weinfeld, Moshe. “Deuteronomy 1-11.” The Anchor Bible. Doubleday: New York, 1991.

Weinfeld, Moshe. “Deuteronomy.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary. David Noel Freedman, editor. Doubleday: New York, 1992.


[1] Arnold, Bill T. and Bryan Beyer. “Deuteronomy,” Discovering the Old Testament. Baker: Grand Rapids, 1999. p. 143.

[2] Deut 10.11

[3] Merrill, 201.

[4] Weinfeld, 435.

[5] Christensen, Word Biblical Commentary, 205.

[6] Merrill, 202.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Craigie, 204.

[9] Buttrick, 400.

[10] Jeremiah 17.9-10

[11] Craigie, 205.

[12] Merrill, 203.

[13] Buttrick, 400.

[14] Kalland, 86.

[15] The expansion of the law concerning the care of widows, orphans, and aliens can be found in De 24:17-22.

[16] Buttrick, 401.

[17] Craigie, 207.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Christensen, 207.

[20] Mal 3.5-6