Don’t be led astray (Deuteronomy 13)

Chatswood Baptist Church

1. Drastic measures

Sometimes you must take drastic measures to prevent something bad becoming much worse than it already is. Sometimes you must do something that you don’t want to necessarily do to prevent something worse that there is no coming back from.

1.1 Aron Ralston

Some of you might remember the story of Aron Ralston who found himself trapped by a boulder that had pinned him against a canyon wall in the desert of Utah. His story was turned into a movie Aron was an experienced climber and mountaineer who had gone hiking in the wilderness alone without telling anyone where he was going. While he was exploring one of the narrow canyons, he dislodged a boulder and he the boulder fell into the narrow canyon. The boulder ending up wedging itself between the narrow walls of the canyon pinning his arm.

As much as he tried Aron couldn’t free himself. He still had his backpack with some water in it and few basic provisions, but he was stuck like that for days. He couldn’t move the boulder. He tried chipping away at it with his knife, to no avail. After five days he took the drastic step of breaking the bones in arm and using his blunt pocketknife he cut off his own arm just below his elbow.

If he hadn’t have taken that drastic step he would have perished there in the wilderness. At times he thought he was going to leaving messages for his parents on his video cam. But then he eventually made that decision that he had to do something drastic to save his life.

1.2 The Israelites

In the reading today Israel is told to take drastic measures when it comes to those who would seek to lead them astray and turn them from the exclusive worship and service of the Lord their God. They were to do this to prevent an even greater disaster. Earlier in chapter 8 Moses had told them what would happen to them if turned away from the Lord their God…

Deuteronomy 8:19-20

19 If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. 20 Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God[i].

Today we are looking at chapter 13 where Moses told them what they needed to do with those who encouraged them to forget the Lord and follow other gods.

Be careful

In chapter 12 which we looked at last week Moses spelt out what it would mean for them to worship the Lord and serve him only. At the end of that chapter, he warned them that they needed to be very careful. They weren’t to become ensnared by seeking after other gods. He told them that they weren’t to serve their gods or even worship the Lord their God in the way that the nations that they were driving out had served their gods. But they were to do all that the Lord commanded them to do, and they weren’t to add anything to it, and they weren’t to take anything away from it (see 12:29-32).

What if…

But what was to happen if false prophets or those who saw visions in dream came along trying to lead them away from loving and following the Lord alone? Do you believe them if they foretell something that comes true or perform a miraculous sign? What do you if it is a family member or a close friend who is trying to lead you astray? What if begins to snowball and whole town turns away from the Lord and begins to worship other gods. This is what Moses answers in chapter 13.

The chapter can be divided into three parts with each part beginning with the word, “if”:

V1 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams…

V 6 If your very own brother or son or daughter…

V12 If you hear it said about one of the towns.

What Moses makes clear in this chapter is that it didn’t matter what a prophet or a dreamer might be able to foretell or even how close those who wanted to lead them astray or even how many are involved (be a whole town) that the Israelites had to take drastic action to prevent even greater disaster. They had to purge the evil from among them.

2. Purge the evil from among you

I am going to look at the three parts of this chapter looking at what it would mean to purge the evil from among them. In verses 1 to 5 they were told what they were to do with those prophets and dreamers who would lead them astray; verses 6 to 11 what need to happen if they were their close family or friends and verses 12 to 18 what to do with a whole town that had turned away from the Lord.

2.1 Prophets and Dreamers

In verses 1 to 5 Moses explained that they were not to be led astray by a prophet or dreamer not matter what they foretell or what sign them might be able to give or perform.

Deuteronomy 13:1-5

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, 2 and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. 5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.

Don’t listen to them

The first thing that Moses told the people was that they were not listen to these prophets or dreamers who were encouraging them to worship other gods no matter what sign they might have given even if it had come about. Something coming about that they had foretold was not evidence in and of itself that meant that they should be believed or heeded. What matter was whether what they said lined up with what God had said and commanded. If they were adding or taking away from what the Lord had commanded, then they were false prophets whose intent was to lead them astray.

Of course, this meant that God’s people had to sufficiently know and understand what God had said so that the weren’t led astray. They needed a sound knowledge of the truth to know whether someone was adding something to what God had said or that they were taking away from what he has said. They need to know the truth as we do. Don Carson has written “learn the truth and learn it well”.[ii]

You are being tested

Moses told the Israelites that when this happened, which it would, then they were being tested. They were being tested as to whether they really loved the Lord with all the heart and soul. If they did then they would know what he had said and would be obeying his commandments. But if their hearts were fickle then would be easily lead astray. The presence of these false prophets and dreams would expose what or who it was that they truly loved.

In some ways our hearts are always being testing. Who will we listen to? Will it be those who promise us our heart’s desires (that we can love God and at the same time also be lovers of our ourselves or money or pleasure or power) or will we love and fear the Lord? The apostle Paul wrote in chapter 4 of his second letter to Timothy that in the last days people will gather around them teachers who will tell them what their itchy ears want to hear. He said that a time will come when people won’t be willing to put up with sound teaching, but they will turn their ears away from truth to believe myths, things that people have made up.

Hold fast to the Lord

God’s people need to hold fast to the Lord and what he has said. One writer commented that this idea of holding fast or to “cling fast” to the Lord was used of the inseparable bound that was meant to characterise a marriage. A husband was to cling to his wife and wife to her husband. This is what the Israelites were told to do. They were to cling to the Lord. It was the Lord they were love and fear and revere and follow. They were to listen to him and obey his commands. They were not to add or take away from his commands but they to keep them and obey them which meant that they needed to know them.

The gravity of what these false teachers were doing is seen is the severity of the action that God’s people needed to take in these circumstances. Inciting rebellion and unfaithfulness was a capital offence, and it would not have been easy thing for the Israelites to do. But Moses was made clear that if this sort of rebellion happened it had to be dealt with so decisively that it would never occur again[iii]. In verses 6 to 11 Moses explained that being close to the person wasn’t a reason to turn a blind eye to what was going on. And in verses 12 to 18 we read that even a whole town was not to be spared if they had been led astray to worship other gods.

2.2 Family and friends

In the US if your spouse has been charged with a criminal offence I believe that you can’t be made to testify against him or her. A wife can’t be forced to condemn her husband by having to testify against him even if she knows he is guilty of what he has been charged with. A husband doesn’t have to testify against his wife. It is within their rights to refuse to testify because they are married. They are close family. I think that it might have even been true here in Australia for many years although I’m not sure it still is after a ruling of the High Court in 2011. But at least at one time it did seem to be embedded within our own laws. One of the justifications for it was “the law should not interfere with the most sacred of holy of unions – the institution of marriage.”[iv] It was as though the loyalty to your family members outweighed everything else.

But it wasn’t this way in Israel when it came to those who would lead others away from following the Lord. It had such dire consequences for the whole nation that it didn’t matter how close a friend or family member the person might have been (you very own brother or child or beloved wife) they were not to be shielded or spared by their family.

Deuteronomy 13:6-11

6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. 9 You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.

It only takes a spark to get a fire going and family members were expected to not shield the members of their own family from God’s judgment on them. They were not to show them pity. They weren’t to shield them. They weren’t to spare them. The flames of rebellion needed to be stamped out before it spread any further. It needed to be dealt with no matter how close the family ties were. Allegiance to the Lord was to even take precedence over family ties. Loyalty to the Lord was to trump every other kind of loyalty; even that of close friend or the closet and dearest member of your family.

2.3 A whole town

But what if the flames of unfaithfulness and rebellion did spread, going from house to house, with eventually the whole town ending up worshipping other gods and abandoning the Lord? What were the people of Israel to do? How were they to avoid God’s judgment coming on the whole nation? This is the situation that Moses has described in verses 12 to 18. He has described a town where troublemakers had led the people of the town astray and what the Israelites were to do when they heard of it.

Deuteronomy 13:12-18

12 If you hear it said about one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you to live in 13 that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), 14 then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely,  both its people and its livestock. 16 You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt, 17 and none of the condemned things are to be found in your hands. Then the LORD will turn from his fierce anger, will show you mercy, and will have compassion on you. He will increase your numbers, as he promised on oath to your ancestors—18 because you obey the LORD your God by keeping all his commands that I am giving you today and doing what is right in his eyes.

Thoroughly investigate the matter

Where a whole town has broken the covenant that God had made on Israel by forsaking the Lord for the worship of other gods, God’s judgment was to come on them. But before this happened the people of Israel were to thoroughly investigate the matter. It was only after a thorough investigation had happened and the case against the town and its people had been proven beyond question that the inhabitants of the city and everything in the city were to be destroyed.

Destroy the town

The destruction of that township would be the same as that which had come on the previous Canaanite inhabitant of the Land. Nothing was to be taken. The city and everything in it, was to be burnt and was never to be rebuilt probably to stand as reminder to the rest of the Israelites of the destruction that would come on all of them if they broke the covenant and abandoned the Lord. The covenant curses would not come upon the nation as a whole for the Lord would see their repentance and turn from his fierce anger and show them mercy and compassion. He would bless them as he had promised to do because they had not turned from him but had kept his commands.

3. Drastic measures

Sometimes drastic measures are called for. It was what Moses said needed to happen when false prophets would emerge who would try to lead God’s people to worship other gods. Moses warned God’s people that they needed to be on their guard. They were not to yield to them They were not to listen to them. They were not to pity them. They were not to spare them. But they were to purge the evil from among.

Be on your guard

While the NT doesn’t ever suggest that we are to take such extreme measures ourselves it does warn us that we need to be on our guard and to separate ourselves from them and have nothing to do with them (1 Corinthians 5:9; 2 Timothy 3:5; Titus 3:10-11) .

Peter warned believers that there are people about who are ignorant and unstable who distort the words of Scripture to their own destruction. He wrote to believers that they needed to be on their guard so that they were not carried away by the error of lawless people and fall from their secure position (see 2 Peter 3:16-17). He wrote that just as there had been false prophets among God’s people, that there will be false teachers among us.).

2 Peter 1:3

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

There will always be false teachers among us

Just this week one of the young adults on Wednesday evening told how he was approached at university by members of a cult claiming that only they had genuine understanding of the parables of Jesus and the book of Revelation. This particular cult seeks out those who are young in the faith trying to sow seeds of doubt. They explained to him that he had not properly been baptised because only they knew the name of the Holy Spirit by which they baptised people. What they tried to do was to sow seeds of doubt as though faith in Jesus wasn’t enough. Our universities are being plagued by cults who target young Christians seeking to lead people astray.

And this is not new. It has been going on since NT times. The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians and told them he was astonished at how quickly they were deserting the one who had called them to live in the grace of Christ and were turning to a different, which he said was no gospel at all. He went to say

Galatians 1:7-8

Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!

We need to be on our guard. The apostle Paul told the Ephesian elders that he knew that after he would leave them, that savage wolves would come among them who would not spare the flock. He said…

Acts 20:30-31

Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

The Lord Jesus warned of false prophets who he described as ferocious wolves who come in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). They appear harmless but if they get their teeth into you, they will drag you away from truth. We need to be on our guard. While we are not called to the same drastic measures as the Israelites we’re called to, we need to stand firm in the Lord by holding fast to the teaching that has been passed on to us by the apostles in the gospel of the Lord Jesus (see 2 Thess 2:15).

Stand firm and know the truth

To stand firm we need to know what we have believed, being firmly grounded in the truth so that we aren’t taken in by those who would rob us of what we have in Christ by either taking away or adding to the Word of God. We need to guard our hearts so that we are taken in by those who would tell us what we want to hear. We need to know what we have believed so that we aren’t taken in by deceivers. As Carson says we “need to learn the truth and learn it well” so that we aren’t led astray.

John MacArthur once made this point that US “Federal agents don’t learn to spot counterfeit money by studying the counterfeits. They study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing. Then when they see the bogus money they recognize it.”[v]

We need to keep on reminding one another of what it is that we have believed and the richness of what we have in Christ so that we aren’t led astray by those who have departed from the truth who appeal to our desires but are really heading down a road that only leads to destruction.

[i] Unless otherwise indicated all Bible references are taken from the New International Version. (2011). Zondervan

[ii] Don Carson, “For the Love of God” June 10.

[iii] Gary Millar makes this point in his commentary on Deuteronomy published on the Gospel Coalition website.


[v] As quote from