For the week of September 13, 2008 / 13 Elul 5768
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10
When you are encamped against your enemies, then you shall keep yourself from every evil thing. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 23:9; ESV)
The Torah is filled with moral, spiritual, and ethical directives from God. God made it clear that his people were to live according to his standards. The consistency and seriousness of God's call to live righteous and just lives may make the verse just quoted seem strange. The people of Israel were told to keep themselves from evil when they were encamped against their enemies. Why would God say this? Had he not already make it abundantly clear that we should not do evil? Perhaps this is a case of repetition for emphasis. Something like "keep yourselves from evil in your home, in your fields, during the day, at night, at times of peace and times of war." However that is not the context of this directive. It appears to be one of many stand alone stipulations. It seems therefore that there is something special about this requirement to refrain from evil when encamped against enemies.
God, in his wisdom, so understands human nature. He knew that it was necessary to especially direct his people to keep themselves from evil in time of war. He knew that when we are in high pressure situations, we tend to adjust our standards to meet our perceived needs. It is typical of human behavior to be easy on ourselves when times are hard. When we cannot access our normal comforts, we look for comfort in other ways. But God makes it clear - the call to abstain from evil is not dependant upon our circumstances. Even in the most difficult of situations, we need to stick to God's moral, spiritual, and ethical standards.
If God's people were required to adhere to his standards in time of war, how much more when we face other kinds of challenges. Yet in these days of moral relativity, we tend to do whatever seems right at any given moment. It seems that few of us are committed to an unchanging morality that we stick to no matter what. Instead we make up morality and ethics as we go along, changing our standards depending on the situation and how we feel at the moment.
But this is not God's way. God calls people to his high standards in whatever situation we find ourselves. To live up to that standard requires us to know his Word and grow in wisdom in order to apply his Word to all of life. It requires us to be prepared for life's challenges through careful study of the Bible. It is tragic that to have the confidence that accompanies such understanding is perceived as arrogance today. Flexible morality and pragmatic ethics is what is valued most, not consistency.
Of course in order to refrain from evil, one needs to accept that evil exists. We need to recognize it for what it is and make sure that we have nothing to do with it. This requires discernment and judgment in order to know what to refrain from. This too comes from careful study of the Bible, but also the willingness to distinguish between types of human behavior, another thing that is unpopular today.
While this verse specifically refers to how to behave when facing battle situations, it also creates battles. For when we fail to recognize evil and refuse to stand against it, we will not conflict with others as readily. It was partly Israel's resistance to false spirituality that created conflict with other peoples. It is the same for us. Keeping from evil will create conflict. As we face that conflict, we may be tempted to adjust our standards in order to alleviate the conflict, the very thing we must not do.
As we find ourselves at odds with the culture, we need to remember to keep ourselves from evil. Failing to do so not only undermines God's Word to us, but leads to our being taken captive by a culture that is at odds with our God.
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