Can you imagine killing one of your family members, maybe your brother or sister? I know we all fight with our siblings and parents from time to time. But can you imagine actually raising your hand to kill someone close to you? For Christians this is a horrible thought. We know all the commands to love our family members. We know that he who does not care for his own household is worse than an unbeliever (I Timothy 5:8). We know that the Bible tells us that part of the gospel is to turn fathers to children and children to fathers (Malachi 4:6). And yet despite all of this Biblical teaching we have these verses in Deuteronomy 13:
If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you (Deu 13:6-11).
An Israelite who led another Israelite away from God was not to be spared. It did not matter how close the relationship was. They could be your closest friend. They could be a sibling or a spouse. They could be a parent or grandparent. Notice the phrase, “You shall kill him.” Not only was that false teacher and apostate to be killed, the family member was to initiate the stoning. There are several things worth noting in this passage.
Our loyalty to God trumps all other loyalties. It does not matter how close they to you. It does not matter how thick your bloodlines are. Love for God is supreme. This is part of the reason the family member had to cast the first stone. Jesus said the same thing.
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Mat 10:35-37).
In addition to loyalty to God, the passage also indicates that the purity of God’s people trumps our feelings about someone. No matter how much we love someone, we should not allow them to draw people away from God and hurt his covenant people.
It shows the seriousness of idolatry. The family member in our passage is not just encouraging sin. He is encouraging a particular type of sin: idol worship. Idol worship is rarely the rejection of God. It is usually the idea that we can worship God alongside someone or something else. The most obvious offender today is a professing Christian who believes that all religions led to heaven. Also a professing Christian who believes that sexual sins are not really sins at all. But there are more subtle forms of idolatry where Jesus is mixed with money or power or America or family. Idol worship was a capital offense in Israel.
When idol worship is dealt with God’s people learn to fear Him. Our temptation is to treat false teaching with kid gloves. We do not want to come off as unloving. We do not want to overreact. Yet God is clear. When sin of this magnitude is dealt with swiftly by God’s people, it draws his people nearer to him.
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