St. Irenaeus Ministries
Scripture Studies brought to you by the St. Irenaeus Center.
St. Irenaeus Ministries - a center of orthodox Catholic mission and renewal in Rochester, NY
Deuteronomy 21:18-21 describes a stubborn and rebellious son who, despite chastisements, will not obey his father and mother. The Law allows the parents of such a child to present him to the elders at their town's gate and "say to the elders, 'this son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.' Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid." Although this mitzvaoth may seem barbaric at first glance, it protects the wayward young man from his parents' anger and demands the elders' consensus before any judgment. After critical analysis, sees that only a law of divine origin could so brilliantly enshrine a principle while keeping a conviction virtually impossible. In 3,000 past years, no record exists of anyone dying in this manner.

Mosaic Law permits using the death penalty as a punishment for crimes against a human person or for apostasy, never for crimes against property. Rabbinical literature further regulates the use of capital punishment only when it follows due process (the trial of Christ is the notable exception).

Moses then proposes the covenant to the new Generation of Israelites: either serve the Lord your God or not (cf. 29:14). To visualize this fundamental choice for the people, he juxtaposes Gerizim, the mountain of blessing, with Ebal, the mountain of curse. Before giving them the opportunity to seal themselves to the Lord, Moses recounts the incredible safety with which God has blessed them during their 40-year sojourn. He then warns that those who agree to follow God's covenant but persist in their own sinful ways forsake the covenant and will bring a terrible curse upon themselves (cf. 21-28).

Because God knows His people are apt to forget the Law, He instructs his priests to "Assemble the people – men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns –so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this Law" (cf. 31:9-13). This will also teach their children, who have not yet heard the Law, to fear the Lord their God as long as they live. God's incredible sovereignty instills fear and His people rightly tremble before His majesty.

The Hebrew notion of holiness always contains elements of separation: cleaving to one's God will require a separation from the world.

God will give life to His people if they love Him, obey the Him and persist in His ways. Following the Lord is always a matter of one's heart: to close one's heart to Him is to cease loving or obeying Him.

Because Israel is a stiff-necked and rebellious people, Moses makes certain concessions to them. Jesus significantly raises the standards for the people of God, eliminating these concessions for His followers. Those who follow Christ are blessed with a greater blessing than that which the Law provided; not following Christ brings a larger curse than that which befell those who forsook the Law. The Messiah's teachings are for the spiritually-minded, not the fleshly-minded; adhering to them requires the complete gift of heart, soul and might.

Music: Beethoven's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra.
Direct download: Foundations7b.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:01pm EDT

Deuteronomy chapters 12-26 contain the exposition of God's law. At the onset, He demands that His people purge their land of all false religion (Deut. 12). The Lord of all will not tolerate being worshiped at shrines to pagan idols. Further, He abhors any relativistic attitudes where men do whatever seems right in their eyes (v 8). His people are to wholeheartedly resist the devil in all his forms, especially temptations to do those wrongs that may seem so right.

God warns Israel in 12:29 to put away curiosity about the religions of other nations and to reject all forms of syncretism (when a religion begins to adopt pagan practices). Although God makes it clear He does not want His people to add or subtract from His law, in reality, modern Christianity has tended towards various forms of syncretism.

Contrary to some modern notions, Christ did not eliminate any of the laws of Torah. While some of His laws may not directly apply to Gentiles, it is in His people's best interest to study and understand the Law of Moses.

In chapter 13, God reveals that He will test His people with false prophets and apostates to see whether or not they will love Him fully (v 1-3). He instructs the community to put to death by due process any false prophets and all apostate family members who solicit idolatry. Although this may seem extreme to some, God is not a sap, and He will not be mocked. If God has called a nation to be His sons and daughters, His people have an obligation to keep His covenant and not to tolerate apostasy among their ranks in any form.

The rest of the law continues to define the way God's people are to live. He instructs them in many areas of life, covering everything from Passover regulations, to dealing with an unruly son and neighborly conduct. Throughout the entire exposition, God reiterates that all His commandments are for the good of His people and will set them apart that they might be a witness for all the nations.

Music: Beethoven's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra.
Direct download: Foundations7a.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:05pm EDT

Because Jesus' teachings build upon the Law which God revealed through Moses, Christians must take care not to overlook the Old Testament. The fourth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy contains God's demand that we heed all of His statutes and ordinances and that we "do them that [we] may live" (v 1). One brings judgment upon himself if he decides to add or subtract any of the Lord's commands.

Acknowledging the weakness of man's memory, Moses repeatedly instructs the people to bind God's law to their hearts and to diligently put it into action. Although his approach may appear on the surface to be redundant, his repetition is a deliberate attempt to cultivate God's words deep into their memory. This type of instruction helps them realize what a profound gift God has given the people:

"Did anything so great ever happen before? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war and by great terrors, all of which the Lord, your God, did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? All this you were allowed to see that you might know the Lord is God and there is no other" (4:34-35).

The fifth chapter of Deuteronomy contains the powerful giving of the Ten Commandments in the Covenant at Horeb.

Deuteronomy six is at the core of the Bible, for it contains our Great Commandment, the Shema Israel. Any pious person will spend a lifetime struggling to follow this command in its entirety; only a fool would take any portion of it lightly. God commands, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! And [therefore] you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates" (6:4-9). Following the Great Commandment means that one seeks to offer every thought and action of his life in worshipful reverence to the one true God. This includes the way he handles his money. Notably, following this commandment means doing whatever possible to teach one's children and grandchildren to live it fully.

"When the Lord, your God, brings you into the land which he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that he would give you ... take care not to forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery" (v 10,12). Like the Israelites, Americans must beware not to "follow other gods ... lest the wrath of the Lord" flare up against us (v 14-15). Our "other gods" today can come in the form of sex, money, or prestige.

The seventh chapter highlights the Israelites as a unique people, separate from all the other nations. So, too, Christians are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for His own" (1 Pt 2:9, cf Ex 19:6).

God demands these things from us for our own good. "Keep all the commandments, then, which I enjoin on you today, that you may be strong enough to enter in and take possession of the land into which you are crossing, and that you may have long life on the land which the Lord swore to your fathers he would give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey" (Dt 11:9).

Only by binding God's commandments to our hearts and living them out in holy habits, disciplines that train one to habitually do the right thing, does one have any chance to defeat the devil.

God sets before us a blessing and a curse: a blessing for those who follow His commands, a curse for those who do not. The Book of Hebrews clearly shows that the New Covenant has raised the bar, for those who do not keep his commandments reap eternal punishment. The Lord knows the weakness of men's hearts and gives them the Sacrament of Baptism to circumcise this heart, the Eucharist to renew it, and innumerable other blessings. Let us firmly claim the blessings that He has given us, offering ourselves to Him entirely while we still have time to do so.

Music: Beethoven's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra.
Direct download: Foundations6b.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:17pm EDT

Deuteronomy is a keystone in the arch of Biblical theology. Literally meaning a "second recitation of the law," to understand this book is to understand the standards Christ sought to raise. Jesus said "think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets, I have come to fulfill them; not one jot or tittle will pass away until all is fulfilled. Anyone who relaxes on the least of these commandments will be considered the least in the Kingdom of God," so all remains in effect unless He specifically and explicitly gives dispensation.

Before entering the text proper, we consider the many theological points that Deuteronomy establishes. First is a theology of words: God's words matter. Next, Deuteronomy contains a theology of memory: we would do well to reflect on all that God has done for His people. The story of Israel then becomes our own history: as we enter into these memories we are obligated to pass them on to each generation. The Church continues these Jewish traditions of word and memory in her liturgy. To illustrate, the priest stands on the altar as another Christ speaking to us, His disciples. Because God is beyond time, the raising of palms on Palm Sunday is both a remembrance of and a sharing in Christ’s entrance celebration at Jerusalem.

Deuteronomy establishes categories that represent something timeless in man and his condition that point us to principles, ideas and objective things in our salvation experience. One might consider this a theology of "types." In the words of Fr. Paul Quay, SJ, ‘we are all fated to relive the Old Testament,’ so we should read the script and strive to live our parts faithfully.

A theology of community, key to the divine intention, gives man meaning. All fell with Adam; all were redeemed in Christ's saving act: God calls us to be a corporate people without removing individual responsibilities.

God's sovereignty and His sovereign choice are key to understanding Deuteronomy. He is supreme, one, Lord of all, and He chooses His people for salvation and consecration. We are called to come into the presence of the living God – let us not delay. The promises of Deuteronomy also imply an even greater grace that is only fulfilled after Christ in Baptism.

God's call requires a response: holiness. The only faithful responses to God's call are to either to trust Him or to seek clarification on how to trust Him. All else is sin and borders on breaking the tenet, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" (Deut 6:16). Israel all-too-often wanted their God to jump through hoops for them. They required constant "perks" and were ready to call everything off if they did not get their way immediately and in full. How foolish are we to still act as they did, we who have so many graces from Christ! Jesus recapitulated their 40-year sojourn in his 40-day fast in the desert. The devil's three temptations there were significant, especially when he asked Jesus to disobey Deuteronomy 6:16.

Finally, theologies of obedience and love also emerge from the text. We are called to give ourselves freely, fully and faithfully to God and to our people.

The Book of Deuteronomy begins with Moses giving the people a historical prologue for all the people about their journey from Sinai (Horeb) to the attempted mutiny of Moses at Kadesh which is essentially a rebellion against the Lord. Moses also accounts the other rebellions where tens of thousands die, and also their victories over Sihon and Og.

Music: Grieg's "Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra.
Direct download: Foundations6a.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 5:14pm EDT

God gives a central decree when He says "Now, therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine. And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Ex 19:5-6). The Apostle Peter expounds on this in the second chapter of his First Epistle, confirming that the entire people of God is a holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices (good deeds, building virtues, witness); in addition, the people of God is to be built into both a living community and an edifice, a temple that God inhabits. Christ is our cornerstone. If we believe in Him, we will not be put to shame in our functions of the royal priesthood.

The presence of a priesthood of all believers, however, does not preclude an ordained priesthood. Because God is in our midst, we must have a specifically ordained priesthood to serve the sanctuary and offer sacrifices.

Korah, a Levite, considered the presence of an ordained priesthood to be elitism and, making allies with a number of other rebellious individuals, oversteps the boundaries of the temple to offer incense (cf. Num 16). After Moses and Aaron temporarily intercede for the whole people, God's judgment upon Korah and his band was that the "ground beneath them split open and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their families [...] they went down to the nether world [...] and fire from the Lord consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense" (16:31, 33, 35). Do we ever hear of Catholics in America who act this way? If so, how might God react to their actions?

In response to the rebellion and the people's murmuring, God then sent a plague upon the whole people so terrible that even after the intercession of Moses and Aaron it killed 14,700 people. To illustrate God's favor, one staff from each tribe is selected for a demonstration. The next day, Aaron's staff, representing the house of Levi, "had sprouted and put forth not only shoots, but blossoms as well, and even bore ripe almonds!" (Num 17:23).

In Chapter 20, we see the old guard changing in the account of the deaths of Miriam and later Aaron. Just as they had at Massah, the people begin murmuring for water at Meribah (also known as Korah). In a rare lapse, Moses chooses not to listen to the Lord's commands to speak to the rock to yield its waters, but instead strikes it twice. Although water did gush forth for the people to drink, both Moses and Aaron (who complied with the decision) will not be permitted to enter into the promised land. Paul later teaches that this rock was Christ. One can learn from this lapse that the law (Moses) alone cannot bring you into the promised land, but instead Joshua (or in the Greek, Jesus) alone can bring you to your rest.

Because the Edomites will not let the people pass into Palestine, the Israelites begin a long march to their promised land. A testament that God has not completely withdrawn from his people, he grants them victory over Arad at Hormah and protects them from the saraph serpents they so deserve with the bronze serpent mounted on a pole. The people then are victorious over Sihon king of the Amorites and Og king of Bashan.

The Moabites, Edomites and the Ammonites are all kindred people to Israel, and God will not permit His chosen people to attack these others, lest they incur blood-guilt. Nevertheless, Balak the King of Moab is content to eliminate the Israelites, whom he likens to an "ox [that] devours the grass of the field" and devours all the country around his people (Num 22:4). Balak calls on a Syrian mystic, Balaam, who is not in the circle of the promised people, but has real spiritual power.

The Lord tells Balaam not to accept Balak's first payment to curse the Israelites. After Balak increases the reward, the Lord tells Balaam to "do exactly as I tell you." Seeking to press the limits of God's decree, the impatient Balaam sets off with the some of the princes of Moab, hoping to curse the Israelites if at all possible. To illustrate that you cannot bargain with God to do perverse things, the donkey he is rides on sees the angel of the Lord waiting to kill Balaam for his disobedience. Every one of the seven times Balaam seeks to curse the people, he ends up blessing them. In Peter's Epistles, the Epistle of Jude and Revelation, Balaam is seen as a false prophet from among the people who secretly brings in destructive heresies. Balaam then instructs Balak how to bring evil upon the people: get them to worship Baal of Peor. Finally, the zeal of Phinehas (25:6-14) keeps God's wrath from consuming the people.

Music: Chopin's "Nocturne No. 1 in B Flat Minor, Op. 9" performed by Vadim Chaimovich.
Direct download: Foundations5b.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:33pm EDT