Deuteronomy 5-26: The Second Address (Part 2)

This post contains the second part of Moses' second address; it covers Deuteronomy 13-20. Discussion includes idolatry, Asherah, murder, feasts, and false witnesses.

Introduction

This is the second portion of Moses' 2nd address to Israel, which occurs just before they enter the promised land. The first part can be found here. This post will cover Deuteronomy 13-20.
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False Prophets

Jesus warns us about false prophets, but that wasn't a new issue for Israel; they are warned before going in to promised land. God says they can identify these traitors by who they worship; their signs might work, but if they lead away from God they are not of God. Anyone caught leading the people (or a person) astray was to be stoned. They are warned that this person could be family, but we are to place God above family. The person who reported the incident was to lead the stoning; this was to ward off false accusations, however, this would also prove to be a test for people who were forced to turn in family members.
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Idolatry

Photocredit: FreeImages.com/Iddo Tal
God had a zero tolerance policy on idolatry, so it's no wonder that Moses brings it up constantly. If an Israelite city was led to idolatry, the entire city was to be burned to the ground—even the spoils and riches of the city. They were not to rebuild the city if it fell under these circumstances; a notable example is Jericho in Joshua 6. Those leading the city to ruin were called the children of Belial (as opposed to the children of God). Belial means worthless or wicked according to many sources,[10] but this verse speaks as though Belial is a person or entity. Belial us considered a demon by the occult[11] and likened to the devil in the New Testament.[12] A demon or devil makes more sense in the context of the verse than worthless (unless "sons of" is a mistranslation). Either way, we know that God does not approve of these men.
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Self Disfigurement

God commands His people not to cut themselves, which includes self lashing—a violent form of worship practiced by some religions. He also commands us not to put baldness between our eyes while mourning the dead, this is referenced to cultural practices around the Israelites at the time. Examples are shown in 1 Kings 18:28 and Jeremiah 47:5. God's claim on Israel is to make them a "peculiar" people to Himself, this should remind us that today, when we follow God we will be different and peculiar.

A tangential question that came to my mind is if God considers ear gauges to be self disfigurement? Gauges or ear plugs are kind of like earrings and aid in stretching the ear lobe; people who choose this style have large holes in their ear lobe that you can see through. Why did this particular type of piercing come to mind after that passage? Probably because it's an obvious alteration of the body, which kind of sound likes self disfigurement. Of course, the question then becomes how do we define disfigurement? Disfigurement is defined as "to spoil or damage the appearance of (something or someone)."[13] Of course, that only makes you ask more questions (at least it should)! Our definition of spoiling the appearance of ourselves is definitely not equivalent to anyone else's, let alone God's opinion.

Based on the definition, we could call any modification of ourself to be "disfigurement." From altering our hair color to simply what we wear. Theoretically, we could say: God created us exactly the way He wanted us to look, so any deviation is spoiling His perfect creation. Yet, there are plenty of times God requires His people to shave themselves, which leads me to think disfigurement means something a little more drastic and a little more permanent.

From the context of the book—and God's constant reminding—it's obvious that one of Deuteronomy's major purposes was to deter the Israelites from taking on pagan practices or emulating other cultures. A famous example of self disfigurement that would have been known to the Israelites at that time was how the Egyptians shaped their heads to have elongated skulls. This practice permanently altered the shape of the head, just as gauges permanently alter the shape of the ear.
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Meat to Eat (or Not)

God once again reminds the Israelites of what they can and cannot eat. The list here reiterates what is told to us in Leviticus 11. An important note in this passage is the fact that God mentions the hare as chewing the cud. Hares do not actually chew the cud, however they appear to chew the cud to the human eye due to the way they eat and digest their food. The Israelites would not have been able to tell the difference. Likely, God didn't care specifically about "chewing the cud," His goal was to help the Israelites identify what they could or couldn't eat. It would have been easier to explain to the Israelites that while the hare appears to chew it's cud, it has paws and is thus unacceptable that to go into a scientific explanation of the fact that the hare appearing to chew the cut is a deception.

Also included are reminders not to eat anything that dies on its own (only Gentiles were to receive that meat) or to boil a kid in its mother's milk. The prohibition of boiling an animal in its mother's milk is the basis for today's Kosher law which separates all dairy and meat. This is likely overkill as God says nothing about enjoying a milkshake while eating a hamburger—the cold milkshake is not going to boil the burger in your stomach. Further, it makes even less sense to separate milk and chicken when chickens don't produce milk! Nonetheless, this is the origin of that practice.

God also re-lists the unclean birds, likely because there is no nifty way to remember which birds are ok vs. not ok. Committing these birds to memory would be the only way for the Israelites to remember what they could eat.

Many reduce the dietary law to not eating pork but it is much more complicated than that. In that vein, I thought it might be interesting to note that since fully adopting the dietary law (including abstaining from blood—meaning only eating meat that has the blood drained from it), I have seen a reduction in skin related problems like eczema. While I can't say for certain that the diet fixed my skin, I'm sure submitting to God's law had something to with it.
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Tithing

The Israelites were to tithe the increases of their home at the Temple, but in some cases, this proved to be too long of a distance to carry livestock or produce. In these cases, the person was allowed to produce money at the Temple to buy an offering for God, then eat and rejoice before God. Every 3rd year, the tithes were to go to the Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows. It was a chance for the poor to feast before the God. Another instance of God looking out for the less fortunate.
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Year of Release

God sets a 7th year release to absolve debts. In the 7th year, all debts among the Israelites were forgiven. Only foreigners (people temporarily residing in Israel, not to be confused with strangers who had permanently settled in Israel) were expected to carry debt through the 7th year. This was symbolic of God removing Israel's debt to Egypt. Under this law, I (and all of my classmates) would be one year away from our student loan debt disappearing! How great would that be?

God explains that the only time debt doesn't have to be forgiven during the 7th year is when there are no poor among them, though He assures that there will always be poor among them. He promises that if they followed the commandments, they would be blessed, eliminating poverty. However, Israel is unable to keep the law and thus, there were always poor citizens.

God's will for Israel was that they would be a nation of power, lending but not borrowing, ruling but not being ruled. This appears to be semi-fulfilled in modern Israel, which has taken back the promised land, though is dependent upon foreign aid.
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The Poor

The Israelites were to give to the poor within their gates. God states that they should never worry about the year of release approaching. Instead of denying their brethren because they fear loss of money, they were to be generous. In return, God would be generous to the lender and bless all he/she did.

In times of desperation, people would sell themselves into slavery or servitude—remember, there was no such thing as welfare or disability back then. God instructs the Israelites to only hold their brethren for 6 years, in the 7th year, they were to be released. God specifies these brethren to be Hebrew (not specifically Israelite), which would include the Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites, and Ishmaelites who all descended from Eber. This is probably one of many reasons White plantation owners in America din't want slaves reading the Bible; by this law the slaves who followed the God of Abraham should have been considered brethren and freed in their 7th year.

On top of requiring the Israelites to free the servants in the 7th year, they were not to let them leave empty. They were to give of their own flock, crops, and winepress to start the servant off (God knew that humans can't make something out of nothing!). Servants had the right to refuse to leave, they could commit to servitude forever. Of course when the owner died, whoever inherited the servant would likely have to reset the 6 year clock per Deuteronomy 15:12. If the slave chose this path, they were marked through the ear as a public display of their decision and a reminder. This may be what Paul was referencing in Galatians 6:17. The difference between a hired servant and a slave, was that the servant worked during set hours for wages, while the slave was on call 24/7. Paul tells us we are to be slaves to Jesus, not hired servants.
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Firstlings

Firstlings of the herd and flock belonged to God; the Israelites weren't to put them to work or profit from their wool. If the animal was unblemished, it was to be sacrificed and eaten. before God.
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Feasts

Moses reminds the Israelites about feasts, particularly the three that required them to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem (at the time the specific location was unknown). More detailed information can be found in my posts on the Feasts from Leviticus.
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Passover

The first holy day of the year was Passover. Once again, the Israelites are reminded of the Passover's signifiance. We are given the additional stipulation that the sacrifice must be made at the place of God's choosing (the Temple). Jesus was also crucified at the Temple Mount in accordance to God's command.[14]
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Feast of Weeks

7 weeks were to be numbered after they "put the sickle to the corn." This was to mark the Feast of Weeks which was to occur 50 days after the first fruits. Putting the sickle to the corn is likely a reference to the wave sheaf offering given during the Feast of Unleavened Bread which kicked off the countdown to the Feast of Weeks.[15] This holy day is known as Pentecost to most Christians. The Israelites were to rejoice before the Lord during this time.
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Feast of Tabernacles

Next, Moses discusses the Feast of Tabernacles. It was to occur for 7 days and then they were to harvest corn and wine. This was a solemn feast. During this feast, they were to give to widows, orphans, and strangers.
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Judges

Judges were to be appointed in each city. These men were to be fair, honest, and just in their decisions. Bribes were forbidden. By following this order, God would bless them.
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Abominations

God lists 2 things that He considers an abomination of worship in the next few verses: a blemished offering and offering to other gods. When the Israelites presented and sacrificed a lamb or bull, etc. to God, it was to be perfect. A blemished sacrifice was no better than the person offering and thus loss its symbolic ability to cleanse; plus we are to give only the best to God. Worship of the sun, moon, and stars was very common among pagans, but Israelites were not to stoop to that level. Anyone who was found guilty—note: they were to investigate thoroughly and make certain the allegation was true—was to be stoned to death.
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Asherah: Did God Have a Wife?

The notes for my study Bible mention a goddess known as Asherah or Asheroth being worshipped along side God by the Israelites as His wife.[1] I decided to dig into this claim as it seems like something a non-believer (or struggling believer) would use to deny the authority and authenticity of the Bible. I wanted to be prepared should this topic come up in conversation, plus as a believer, I knew that digging into the issue would not diminish my faith.
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Thinking Through It

It seems odd that God would have a wife and not mention it anywhere in the Bible. Also, the premise of God having a wife seems to conflict with the nature of Heaven. We are told that Angels don't marry and that when we go to Heaven, we won't marry either.[4][5] Jesus never marries on Earth and has a symbolic wife (the Church) in Heaven. The question of husband and wife existing in Heaven seems to be already answered. Why would God have a wife if no one else does?
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Biblical Doctrine

As a believer, I believe that the Bible is inspired by God. I believe that everything He needed us to know, He has preserved in His Word. Even when taking into consideration the idea of hidden knowledge, based on prophecies such as the sealed book mentioned in Daniel 8:17, and Daniel 12:4, 9, any "new" knowledge that God may provide in the present day or future cannot conflict with what He's already told us. It may cause us to see His word differently or reinterpret passages, but it cannot contradict. God doesn't lie and God doesn't change, therefore His instructions cannot conflict.[2][3] Remember, the first commandment is not to have any other gods before Him, and He constantly commands Israel not have images of other gods (or goddesses). 1 John 5:7 confirms that there are 3 powers in Heaven and that these 3 powers are one—the logistics and specifics of this is for another post, for right now we're focusing on what God tells us about who is God, who is worthy of worship, and who calls the shots in Heaven. The 3 listed are the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. Obviously God is the Father. Jesus is confirmed as the Word in John 1:1,14. Therefore, the Bible tells us the only way we could worship Asherah is if she is considered part of the Godhead, which is only possible if she is the Holy Spirit. Keep this in mind.
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Bible Verses Referencing Asherah
Exodus 34:13
Deuteronomy 7:5
Deuteronomy 12:3
Deuteronomy 16:21
Judges 3:7
Judges 6:25-26, 28, 30
1 Kings 14:15
1 Kings 14:23
1 Kings 15:13
1 Kings 16:33
1 Kings 18:19
2 Kings 13:6
2 Kings 17:16
2 Kings 18:4
2 Kings 21:3, 7
2 Kings 23:4, 7, 14-15
2 Chronicles 14:3
2 Chronicles 15:16
2 Chronicles 17:6
2 Chronicles 19:3
2 Chronicles 24:18
2 Chronicles 31:1
2 Chronicles 33:3, 19
2 Chronicles 34:3-4 7
Isaiah 17:8
Isaiah 27:9
Jeremiah 17:2
Micah 5:14
Jeremiah 7:18
Jeremiah 44:17-29

Who is Asherah?

According to one site, Asherah is mentioned throughout the old Testament, though I do not see her name in my KJV edition of the Bible.[6] Each place were this site finds the word Asherah, the KJV has the word "grove." According to Smith's Bible Dictionary, Asherah is apparently rendered as grove throughout the Bible because it is the name of the idol of a Phoenician goddess, not the goddess herself. Asherah is linked to Ashtoreth and it is thought that Ashtoreth is the proper name of the goddess. However, Easton's Bible Dictionary links Asherah to Astarte and Ishtar (note that Ishtar is a one of the candidates for who is actually being worshipped during Easter).[7] Aserah is also linked to the "Queen of Heaven" in the Bible (Jeremiah 7:18), which would imply the belief that she was God's wife, however, God Himself condemns worship of this so-called queen.[8]
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Was She Worshipped?

Whether we assume that "grove" is actually a mistranslation or correctly translated (the grove may have been the image denoting worship of the goddess in question), the verses seen in the Bible do not hide the fact people worshipped this idol, but they do confirm that God does not look favorably upon the worship. To the left is the list of verses referring to Asherah (rendered grove(s) in the KJV), which I from God and Science. Based on Judges 3:7, we are being flat out told that the Israelites turned against God when they worshipped this goddess. Though scholars such as Francesca Stravrakopoulou are claiming the Bible was edited to cover up the worship of Asherah and presenting her as actually being God's wife,[8] the Bible is quite clear that this was a sin of idolatry. The Bible also makes it clear that the Israelites were prone to idolatry. Thus, scholars should find evidence that the Israelites worshipped false Gods alongside the God of Abraham. This, however, does not mean they were legitimate gods.

I said earlier that the only way in would be acceptable to worship this figure would be if she were the Holy Spirit. As we can see from the verses proposed to mention her idol, God is quite clear that she is not to be worshipped, ruling out any possibility of her being the Holy Spirit. Asherah is simply one of the many false idols Israel got tangled up in worshipping.
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Witness

No one could be put to death without witnesses. One person who held a grudge could easily condemn a person to death if they allowed only one witness to decide. Though conspiracy is always possible, it is less likely that 2 or 3 will falsely accuse a man to be put to death (at least in Moses' day, I'd wager you'd need a much higher number to deter people today). God specifies that to put a man to death, more than one witness had to come forward. In addition, the witnesses were to be the first to put hands upon him when putting him to death. This ensured that if you were accusing someone, you were certain enough to look them in the eye as they died.
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Levite Judgments

When issues arose that were too difficult for them to sort out, the Israelites were to take the issue to the priests and Levites at the Temple. The priests would consult with God and issue a judgment; this judgment was final. If someone acted against the judgment, they were acting against God and were to be punished by death. Sin and crime were synonymous in Israel because God was given His due role as King. In secular nations like the U.S., competing beliefs stop God's law from reigning supreme. A holy nation like Israel was set up to avoid this problem and ensure God's Will was the ruling power.
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King of Israel

God knew they would want to "elect" a king over them once they were settled in their new home. The king was to be chosen by God and be an Israelite by blood; strangers were forbidden from ruling as king. The king was not to amass houses, wives, or silver/gold. The horses probably represent armies of war; they were to rely on God for protection. Silver and gold were symbolic of wealth; God wanted the king to be humble and remember his brothers, wealth would have the opposite effect. My study Bible suggests the ban on wives was to eliminate conflicting religions; this could easily have been solved by forbidding the king to marry pagans (which seems more logical). I think the more wives a king had, the less time he would have to worry about the kingdom, the more money he would want/need to provide for them, and the more problems and stress he would have in his personal life. I feel that the above reasons make more sense than protection of the religion—the king was to carry out God's law as dictated by God (and the Levite), his wife's religion should match or at the very least be a non-issue as she shouldn't be dictating his religious decisions.
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Priest & Levite Portions

The Levites weren't given an inheritance, they were to survive from the offerings and generosity of the Israelites. Essentially the other tribes were indebted to the Levites because the Levites took on the burden of maintaining purity. They were to give the priest the shoulder, 2 cheeks, and maw of whatever they offered. The first fruit of their corn, oil, wine, and fleece were all to go to the priests. Levites who left their cities were welcome at the Temple; while there, they were to receive a portion as well. The point was to keep the priests separate from material things but ensure they had all they needed.
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Avoiding Paganism

The Israelites weren't to learn to do the practices of the other nations. This meant not accepting and/or participating in pagan practices. In today's society, where many cultures have shaped and molded our everyday habits, we don't always know when a practice or activity comes from another culture let alone if the practice is religious. The Israelites were to destroy the pagan nations and all their customs which would have made avoiding these practices easier.

Included in the pagan practices that the Israelites were not to learn were child sacrifices, witchcraft, divination, observing times, wizardry, and consulting with the dead. Observing times refers to pagan holidays, which were determined by signs in the sky such as the spring equinox (Easter is calculated based on this sign). Child sacrifices are described as passing the child through the fire, which is a reference to the cult of Moloch.[16] God didn't want His people sullying themselves which these actions, which he calls abominations.

It is interesting that despite being command to stay away from such things, many Christians enjoy popular series such as Harry Potter, Charmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and The Lord of the Rings (I know because I have read and/or watched all of these minus Harry Potter). In fact, J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings considered himself Christian (well Catholic) and the a chief character in the story is Gandalf, a wizard. I grew up watching Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (along with a myriad of other shows that promoted practices God calls abominations). I remember my friends and I loving these shows, thinking the characters were so cool, and wishing I could do the things they did on the show. Now I know these shows were merely an attempt by the devil to interest us in the occult.
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Prophets

God promises to raise up a prophet from the Israelites. They were to heed the prophet the same way they followed Moses (minus the insurrection led by Korah). The prophet would speak the words of God to the people. False prophets could be spotted by their false prophecies. If someone said something was going to happen and it didn't occur, that person was clearly not speaking God's Word. Those speaking the Words God gave them, would always be right.
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Cities of Refuge

There were to be 3 cities of refuge in the promise land (the area East of the Jordan). These cities would be safe havens for murderers until their trial.
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Accidental Killings

Those who willed someone on accident were permitted to flee to the cities of refuge. In these cases, the murderer would have gotten along with the person killed in the past (i.e. no hate toward the person killed) An example given is that of two men out cutting wood, where one accidentally strikes the other or causes. This person was to be given time to flee the city before an avenger (usually the next of kin) sought to kill the murderer. The cities of refuge were to be strategically placed so that they were easy to flee to—they wouldn't make a difference if the avenger could catch up to the person before they could arrive at the city of refuge.
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Other Killings

Premeditated murder as a different story, however. Those guilty of purposeful murder were not welcome in the city of refuge. The elders of the city were to expel such a person by delivering them to the avenger. They were not to take pity on the murderer—essentially God is telling them not to sympathize with sin. However, God also says that they aren't to remove their neighbor's landmark. I think this was a reference to erasing the murderer from history via destroying his property or prevented his inheritance to pass on to his children or relatives.[17]
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False Witnesses

As covered in Deuteronomy 18 and mentioned above, the death penalty could only be brought to a person by multiple witnesses. In chapter 19, Moses discusses the punishments for false witnesses. False witnesses were to receive the punishment they were trying to exact on the innocent person. Both parties would stand trial to see who was in the wrong. This law would ensure that people would think twice before falsely accusing someone (if you falsely accused someone of murder which carried the death penalty, you could get the death penalty instead!).
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Punishment

Scholars debate whether the use of "eye for an eye" was literal or meant to show that punishments were meant to fit the crime. The latter seems more likely since no where in the law does God say to a man is to beat up his assaulter; instead, the assaulter is to pay reparations to the victim.
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Preparing for Battle

The Israelites were not to fear when they went to battle, even if the other army was larger or greater in number. God went with them to battle, which ensured their victory. God gives a specific speech (or pep talk) to the Israelites that the priests are to give Israel before battle; these words are to remind them they have nothing to fear because God is with them.
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Exemptions

Just as we have cases that exempt us from service in the army today, there were cases that exempted the Israelites from battle as well. Anyone who had recently built a house and had not yet dedicated the house was exempt from battle on the notion that if he fell in battle, another man would dedicate his house. A few sources confirm that the word "dedicate" used in this passage is the same one used in reference to the Temple.[18][19][20] Not much seems to be known about the process or purpose of dedicating a home, but I assume it was a way of giving their house to God. Perhaps like a lease signing or guarantor form, I imagine this was the moment the man was declared owner of the home and placed in control, while God granted His blessings and was invited into the home. Though this is just an idea, there isn't anything to prove this true in the Bible. Another possibility is that the man simply hadn't had time to enjoy his house, yet.[18]

Similarly, a man was exempt if he'd planted a vineyard but never eaten from its vines. The 3rd exemption was for a man who was engaged but hadn't yet married his wife. The pattern seems to be that they were to be able to enjoy that which they had worked for without the threat of death standing in the way.

Also, the feint-hearted and fearful were forbidden from going to war. No one wants a scaredy-cat going into battle with them; these would be the people to surrender too quickly (like the spies who convinced the Israelites not to enter the promised land), spread fear amongst the troop, or turn against the army in battle. Naturally these people would be left at home instead of taken into battle.

War With Outsiders

Residents of cities outside of Israel were to be offered peace, under the stipulation that they would be subservient to Israel. These nations were not to be in a position to control Israel. If they agreed, then a peaceful surrender occurred, however, if they disagreed or tried to exert power, the Israelites were to respond with war. In this instance, God would ensure that the Israelites won. In war, they were to kill all the men. Women and children were to be integrated into Israel and God gave permission to take the spoils of the land. This was contrary to the ultimate destruction God issued for the Canaanites. These nations apparently had not done anything to get on God's bad side yet.
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War With Rebellious Cities

God specifies that the cities within their borders are to be completely destroyed. He even specifies the names of these people, in case we're not clear on whom He wants completely destroyed. The reason given is that they would teach Israel idolatrous ways. It also makes sense strategically. Survivors might mount a war at a later time. During these battles, they were to pay special attention to the trees. Only trees that did not produce food could be cut down or used in the war. Food bearing trees were to be preserved, for obvious reasons.
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References

  1. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg. 323-325. 2016
  2. Numbers 23:19
  3. Malachi 3:6
  4. Matthew 22:30
  5. Mark 12:25
  6. Deem, Rich. "Did God Have A Wife?". God and Science. 2016
  7. "Asherah". Bible Hub. 2016
  8. Viegas, Jennifer. "God's Wife Edited Out of the Bible -- Almost". Discovery. November 2012
  9. White, Ellen. "Asherah and the Asherim: Goddess or Cult Symbol". Bible History Daily. November 2014
  10. "Belial". Bible Hub. 2016
  11. "Belial". Occultopedia.com. 2016
  12. "Belial". Wikipedia. 2016
  13. "Disfigure". Merriam Webster. 2016
  14. "16.3 The Temple Mount Commentary". Bible Study Tools. 2016
  15. "Deuteronomy 16:9 Commentary". Bible Hub. 2016
  16. American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. "The Cult of Moloch". Jewish Virtual Library. 2016
  17. "Deuteronomy 19:14 Commentaries". Bible Hub. 2016
  18. "Deuteronomy 20:5". Bible Study Tools. 2014
  19. "Deuteronomy 20:5". Bible Hub. 2016
  20. Utley, Bob"Deuteronomy 20". Bible.org. 2016

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About

Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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