My Best New Year’s Resolution

One December evening in 2008 I attended my Brother’s December graduation ceremony at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Bannockburn, Illinois. D.A. Carson delivered the graduation message that evening. He spoke from Deuteronomy 17:14-21. As he explained God’s admonition in Deuteronomy 17:18, Dr. Carson briefly commented that God had commanded the King of Israel to “handwrite the Book of Deuteronomy in his own hand in Hebrew longhand.”

“Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites” (Deut 17:18).

Immediately as Dr. Carson said the words “in his own hand,” I felt the Holy Spirit speak within my heart, “I want you to do that!” The words “in his own hand” lodged in my mind. But, as I travelled back to Kansas City, and I was not sure how to handwrite Scripture in my own hand—I had never done it before, nor had I ever heard of anyone doing it.

As New Year’s Day approached, I considered if there were any concrete actions that I could do to improve my spiritual walk. It was then that the idea of handwriting the Book of Deuteronomy returned to my mind. I determined to handwrite the Book of Deuteronomy in January 2009, one chapter per day.

Since I do not make New Year’s Resolutions as promises to the Lord, I was not about to promise a length of Scripture that I would write every day. But as I considered the task before me, one chapter a day for the month of January seemed doable.

So, on January 2, 2009, as the house was quieting down from all the festivities of the day before, I took out a 3-ring binder with paper and a pen, and began to handwrite Deuteronomy. I copied word-for-word from the New American Standard Bible onto the loose-leaf paper in the binder. I soon found that it took me between 30-60 minutes to write one chapter, depending on the length of the chapter.

I instantly became captivated as I began writing the first several verses in chapter one. Then I became more and more motivated the father I went in the book. While chapters 2 and 3 have some repetition, once I got to Chapter 4 I was hooked. The first time I wrote the Ten Commandments in Chapter 5 my hands were shaking. I kept making mistakes with my ballpoint pen, because I was assuming words and word order that were not in the text. It was both frustrating and exciting at the same time. It was at this point that the exact words and word order became very important to me.

Within a week I would find myself waking up in the middle of the night and asking myself, “I wonder what will come next.” On several nights, when I could not sleep, I went downstairs to the kitchen table to handwrite Scripture at 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning. I handwrote 2 or 3 verses, clearly heard the voice of the Lord speaking to me through the words of His Word, and return to bed and slept like a baby.

Every word became captivating to me. The topics were wide-ranging, and yet there was a regular repetition of themes. By the time I got to Deuteronomy 28, I was so captivated with every word that I even began writing down variant readings in the margin of my 3-ring paper. I began to fall in love with the words of the Word of God—really for the first time.

Although I had memorized Psalm 119:97, it was not until January 2009 that I began to understand the words that I had previously committed to memory:

“Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97)

It was a truly amazing time for me spiritually. I felt like my soul was being cleansed and plowed by the Word of God.

Prior to that time my devotional life had consisted primarily of reading different portions of Scripture and memorizing gospel verses and whole Psalms. My devotional life had been pretty regular since my college days in 1981. But after January 2009 handwriting Scripture become a serious passion for me.

There has been a wide variety of approaches that I have taken to handwriting. I am in my third time through Deuteronomy, currently handwriting Deut 30. I have handwritten in English, French, German, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac. Sometimes I have written in one language only, at other times I have written all six languages at the same time. When I wrote each verse in six languages, I found my devotions to be very slow and tedious. So I eliminated languages. My most common methodology is to handwrite in two languages: French and Greek. I have also handwritten in modern Bibles and in Reformation-era Bibles.

After completing Deuteronomy for the first time, I handwrote from Galatians to Hebrews in the New Testament. Then in January 2010, I went through Deuteronomy in a modern French translation. It was during my second time through Deuteronomy that I began to alternate days, handwriting in the Old Testament one day and the New Testament on the next.

I currently write one verse at a time, in French and then Greek, pondering the meaning of each word, and studying the words and related passages and themes that cross my mind as I handwrite. Sometimes I may only write one verse, at other times I may write three or four verses. Early on I learned the need for freedom in handwriting, being willing to change up how I have my devotions as I am led by the Lord.

In 2012 one of my former students gave me for Christmas the Journibles version of Deuteronomy. Journibles is a series of hardcover devotional books that are printed so as to facilitate Scripture handwriting. They are published by Reformation Heritage Press. I was so excited to learn that someone else had discovered the power of handwriting Scripture, and provided a tool to encourage that spiritual discipline.

In an age of cut and paste from digital Bible software, it is refreshing to see a new movement of handwriting Scripture. A special thanks to Rob Wynalda for his Journibles series, and for authoring the “17:18 Series” (see: www.fullquiver5.com).*

Handwriting Scripture has literally revolutionized my devotional life! I commend it to you, dear reader. Get a notebook and a pen and begin handwriting Scripture. It may very well transform your devotional life. Consider beginning with the Book of Deuteronomy, specifically written for the devotional life of the Kings of Israel. Perhaps order the Journibles version if that sounds interesting to you.

“My son, keep my words, And treasure my commands within you. Keep my commands and live, And my law as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; Write them on the tablet of your heart” (Prov 7:1-3).

*I have received no financial remuneration for this endorsement. I just happen to be appreciative of the product.

 

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Salvation a Matter of the Heart from Deut 30:6

The Book of Deuteronomy has an interesting change after the few blessings and many curses in Deuteronomy 28. These changes are preceded by five uses of the word “heart,” three in Deut 29:18-19, another in Deut 30:1, and the fifth in Deut 30:2.

A triple use of “heart” is found in a warning to take seriously the curses of Chapter 28:

Deut 29:18-19, “so that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood; and so it may not happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart’—as though the drunkard could be included with the sober.”

In this case, Moses wrote that all the curses of Deut 28 would cling to this person, since he presumes to follow the dictates of their own heart, and does not allow the blessings and curses of Deut 28 to humble him.

Then comes an interesting call to “receive into one’s heart” these same blessings and curses. This statement comes in Deut 30:1:

Deut 30:1, “Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you receive them into your heart among all the nations where the Lord your God drives you.”

The translation “and you receive [them] into your heart” is a direct translation of the Greek LXX, which reads, “kai dexê eis tên kardian sou.” Deuteronomy continues by God giving the promise result of “receiving [them] into their heart”—that being, restoration to the Promised Land.

Then Deut 30:6 restates two commands found in the preceding text of Deuteronomy. It is in these two commands that is revealed that an important paradigm shift is communicated after the blessings and curses of Deut 28. Let us first consider the two commands at issue:

Deut 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

Deut 10:16, “Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.”

The first command is to love the Lord. The second command is to circumcise one’s heart. Both of these commands are required of man to accomplish. However, a drastic change is made after a person responds positively from their heart to the blessings and curses of Deut 28—God promises to do the very things that He required in the prior context!

Deut 30:6, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

So, in Deut 30:6 God states that He will do the very things that He commanded the readers of Deuteronomy to do several chapters earlier: He would circumcise the hearts, and He would give the reader a love for Him. In both of these propositional statements the covenant name of God is used, that is “the Lord” or YHWH. Also both of these promised results speak of “the heart”, following a proper reception into the heart (Deut 30:1) of the message of the blessings and curses of Deut 28.

What an amazing and unexpected reversal in Deuteronomy!

Here is some of God’s heart-work as revealed in Deut 29-30:

  1. God must give a heart to perceive: “Yet the LORD has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day” Deut 29:4
  2. God reveals Himself through His word: “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it” Deut 30:14
  3. God explains the need for a proper hearing: “But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them” Deut 30:17

The result of this positive reception “in the heart” according to Deut 30:6 is to receive life. Hence, Deut 30:6 ends, “that you may live.” God giving the required attributes for salvation and then as a result giving life—it sounds like salvation in the New Testament!

And Jesus, when He came, was the embodiment of the blessing and the curse, who came to give life. And we Christians as his messengers also bear the blessing and the curse as we share the gospel with others. To some an aroma of life to life, and to others an aroma of death to death, and who is adequate for these things (2 Cor 2:16)?

It appears quite likely, that in this sudden change God prefigured His saving action through sending Jesus Christ and offering salvation full and free, merely from a positive reception in and response from the heart. Was this not the idea when Philip spoke to the Ethiopian Eunuch of the importance of belief in Jesus “from the whole heart”?

Acts 8:37, “Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’”

True, saving faith is always a matter of the heart. So also Paul wrote of saving faith:

Rom 10:9-10, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

 

Perhaps the Most Shocking Verse in Scripture?

In the curses in Deuteronomy 28, towards the end of the 54 verses of curses, comes a very shocking verse. To set the stage, God shows that He knows how to bless those who follow Him and obey His word in verses 1-14. But then in verses 15-68 of Deuteronomy 28 God shows that He knows how to curse His people who turn from His words.

The amazing larger context is that God is speaking to His covenant people—that is to those under the Mosaic Covenant. And the following verse is both climactic and thematic for the whole section:

Deut 28:63, “And it shall be, that just as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess.”

At first reading (or writing, if one is handwriting Deuteronomy), this verse is shocking. God will rejoice over His people to destroy them in like fashion to how He rejoiced over them to bless them. This passage does not sound like a God of love at first glance. But it does sound like a God of justice and vengeance.

Perhaps this is why Peter wrote in the context of false teachers:

2 Pet 2:21, “For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.”

Following the same vain the Peter wrote that judgment was to “begin” with the household of God:

1 Pet 4:17, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?”

Rather than quickly overlooking Deuteronomy 28:63 and its very powerful teaching, it would be good to allow it to produce the self-examination that it surely was written to evoke in its reader.

God loves His people very much. Indeed He sent His Son to die on the cross for the salvation of the world:

John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

However, when His people stray, they will be the first to be punished for their straying from God. Indeed they must “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling” as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12. They must remember that ultimately it is God who works in their lives, not only to save them, but also to bring their salvation to a good end:

Phil 1:6, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

“And They Shall Be a Sign”

This very interesting phrase comes from Deuteronomy 28:46:

“And they shall be upon you for a sign and a wonder, and on your descendants forever” (Deut 28:46).

When God would bring His judgment on His disobedient children, it would serve as a sign to succeeding generations of His children—being those who would choose to heed that sign.

So spoke Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:11, using the synonymous word “example” rather than “sign”, and yet picking up the word “forever” from Deuteronomy 28:46:

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11).

Most interesting in this application of the example of the people of Israel, is that Paul applied it to Christians in general, and therefore also to Gentiles. Paul used the plural of the possessive, “our”, writing “for our admonition.”

Paul clearly wrote in 1 Cor 1:24, “but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

So, we upon whom “the end of the ages” has come must receive the lesson to be included in the citation.

So in this very interesting phrase, “And they shall be a sign,” not only did Paul use the concept of example, but perhaps picking up on the phrase “end of the ages,” he included heeding Gentiles as those who receive the example. And when he did this, Gentiles were included in the phrase, “on your descendants.” Gentile Christians as descendants of the Jews! Gentile Christians as descendants of Abraham!

Praise the Lord, Gentiles were grafted into the vine through the New Covenant by the blood of Christ! And this grafting in hinges on their taking heed to the judgment of God, as was exemplified through the past example of its coming upon the Jews.

So the question becomes, have you allowed sure God’s judgment of disobedience and sin, as exemplified by His judgment of the people of Israel, to bring you to repentance and faith in Christ? If so, you are included as a descendant of Israel:

“And they shall be upon you for a sign and a wonder, and on your descendants forever” (Deut 28:46).

When Man Usurps God’s Role as Judge

Recently members of the group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) aka. ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) have been uploading YouTube videos of the beheading of Westerners. The have attacked, ransacked, and killed Ancient Christians living in Mosul, also destroying their churches. They do these things in order to obey their God.

Does not Deuteronomy 28 speak of such actions as part of the judgment of God?

“Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you shall not eat of it; your donkey shall be violently taken away from before you, and shall not be restored to you; your sheep shall be given to your enemies, and you shall have no one to rescue them. Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, and your eyes shall look and fail with longing for them all day long; and there shall be no strength in your hand. A nation whom you have not known shall eat the fruit of your land and the produce of your labor, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually” (Deut 28:31-33).

However, is man ever justified in taking the place of God and in executing His curses and judgments on other people?

When handwriting Deuteronomy 28:31-33, I was reminded of the ill-treatment endured by the Cathar Christians in Southern France in the 12th and 13th Centuries, by the Hussites in Bohemia in the 15th Century, by the Anabaptists in Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands, as well as the Huguenots in France in the 16th and 17th Centuries. How can it be that God would allow His people, the Bride of Christ, to be so treated?

How can it be that God would allow His people, the Bride of Christ, to be so treated?

Perhaps the question should be rephrased: how can it be that any man considers himself so highly that he usurps God’s judgment of sin, and takes it upon himself to judge men’s consciences?

Interestingly, Jesus predicted this type of occurrence almost 2000 years ago:

“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me” (John 16:1-3).

Man’s ill treatment of the church does not come without apt warning from Jesus. In Matthew 10, when Jesus first sent out His twelve disciples to evangelize, He told them to expect persecution. So it should be no surprise to any Christian when persecuted for the gospel.

More difficult to take, perhaps, is that in bearing that prophesied persecution, the Christian is also bearing some of the curses of Deuteronomy 28. Could it have been this realization that led the Apostle Paul to pen the following words?

“I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God” (Col 1:24-25).

For, just as Christ was made a curse for us, so Paul also endured reproach for the gospel. For example, notice the following trio of curses due to a lack of thanksgiving in Deuteronomy 28:

“Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything; and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you (Deut 28:47-48).

Paul listed this same trio of sufferings in the same order, as applying to him!

“To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless” (1 Cor 4:11).

“In weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness (2 Cor 11:27).

Was it because Paul was not thankful or was it because Paul was propagating the gospel of Jesus that he faced these sufferings? It was the latter, not the former!

Paul wrote of the ultimate blessings that come from suffering for the gospel:

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:3-5).

So, when man usurps the judgment of God, and punishes the Christian for worshiping according to his conscience, what should be his response?

  1. When politically possible, Christians should allow all men to worship God according to their own conscience, as is found in the 1st, 4th, and 5th Amendments of the United States Constitution;
  2. When not politically possible, or if we are the ones facing persecution for the gospel, we should accept it as a blessing from God, as an opportunity for the love of God to be poured out into our hearts.

When all is said and done, we humbly bow the knee to Christ, accepting God’s sovereign will in all things, good and bad!

 

Thoughts on Deut 26:16 and Acts 8:37

Almost as an Old Covenant Great Commission, Moses explains to the people of Israel what is required of them in response to God’s giving of the Law. Their response is to be obedience with all of their heart:

Deut 26:16, “This day the LORD your God commands you to observe these statutes and judgments; therefore you shall be careful to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.”

There is a clear link with the second verse in Matthew’s Great Commission, where Jesus commanded His disciples to observe all things that He commanded them and to make that the focus of their teaching ministry:

Matt 28:20, “‘teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.”

The idea of “the whole heart” or “all the heart,” as found in Deuteronomy 26:16, is used to described the love that is due God from mankind in Deuteronomy 6:5. Jesus quoted this same verse in Matthew 22 and Mark 12 in response to the question about the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses. Also, a certain lawyer quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 in Luke 10 to describe the Old Covenant approach for gaining eternal life. These three verses also contain “the whole heart” language of Deuteronomy 6:5.

However, in Acts we find a fourth New Testament use of “all your heart.” It is used in the context of a conversation between the Evangelist Philip with the Ethiopian Eunuch. Rather than emphasizing a complete obedience as in Deut 26:16, and rather than a complete emotional commitment to God as in Deut 6:5, Acts 8:37 emphasizes salvation by faith alone:

Acts 8:37, “Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’”

So, in Acts 8:37 we find believing with “all of your heart” as the cornerstone of salvation. And further, the locus of that faith is the person and work of Jesus Christ.

So as the only verbal formula for baptism in the New Testament, Acts 8:37 includes several remarkable concepts:

  • The baptismal candidate taking the initiative to request baptism (Acts 8:36);
  • The evangelist requiring a belief with all the heart prior to baptizing;
  • The baptismal candidate verbally stating in his own words what it is that he believes.

And upon this simple profession of faith, Philip baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch.

So, as Deuteronomy 26:16 is compared to Acts 8:37, there seems to be a remarkable shift in what is required for salvation. This change is made manifest as one from obeying the commandments of God to that of volitionally and emotionally fully believing in Jesus.

 

Priests in OT and NT

In handwriting Deuteronomy, I am sometimes struck by the striking contrasts between in Old Testament and the New Testament. Such is the case with Deut 26:3:

“And you shall go to the one who is priest in those days, and shall say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to this country which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us'” (Deut 26:3).

When Paul went up to Jerusalem in Acts 15 in the context of a theological dispute, he did not obey this command to go to the sitting High Priest, rather he went to the apostles and elders. When Paul went in to the priests to get a head shave, and pay for four others, in Acts 21, it was under pretext to show the Jews that he also kept the law–which head shave did not spare him from a beating in which the Jews sought to kill him (Acts 21:31).

However, interestingly, Jesus sometimes commanded those he healed to go show themselves to the priests as a testimony (Luke 5:14; 17:14 and parallels).

Yet, it was the High Priest “in those days” and “in the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide” (Deut 26:2) who condemned Jesus to death.

Further, Paul was told not long after his conversion of his friends in Jerusalem:

“Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me” (Acts 22:18).

Clearly something happened with the role of the priest between the life of Jesus and the early church! In fact, the Old Covenant was accomplished and the new had truly come. Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). God tore in two the veil in the Temple between the holy place and the holy of holies (Matt 27:51; Luke 23:45).

Because of what Jesus accomplished through His death and resurrection, we no longer need to make a humble pilgrimage to any particular location to pay homage to a man taking on the role of intermediary, to whom, by whom, and through whom we must offer our first fruits. God “does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24).

Amen for Jesus who did it all! And amen for the priesthood of the believer, by which every true believer in Jesus can offer thanksgiving directly to the God the Father from anywhere and at any time–with the blood of Jesus as our only hope and our only mediation.

“It is finished!”