Deuteronomy 13

The Word Made Fresh

1 “If someone claims to be a prophet, or to have the ability to interpret dreams, tells you a miracle or certain wonder is going to take place 2and it happens as they said it would happen, but then they tell you to acknowledge other gods you have not known, 3don’t listen to them. The LORD your God is putting you to the test to know whether you love the LORD with all your heart and soul. 4Follow the LORD your God only, and fear only the LORD your God. Follow only the LORD’s orders. Obey only the LORD’s words. Serve and stay close only to the LORD. 5As for that prophet or dream interpreter, you must put them to death for trying to lead you astray from the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt and freed you from slavery. They are trying to turn you away from the way of life the LORD wants you to follow. They are evil, and you must get rid of them.

6“If anyone tries to lure you to worship other gods, even if it is your brother, your own child, your wife whom you love, or your best friend – 7if they try to entice you to worship the gods of the people around you, or far away from you – 8don’t listen to them. Show them no pity. Show them no compassion, and don’t try to protect them. 9They must be put to death, and your hand must be the first to strike them and all the people must participate. 10Stone them to death. 11Everybody in Israel will hear about it and will be afraid to ever again try to do such a thing.

12“If you hear that one of the towns the LORD has given you 13has been led astray by scoundrels who have persuaded them to go and worship other gods you’ve never known, 14you must thoroughly investigate to see if it is true. And if it is actually the case, 15that town must be completely destroyed. Everyone in it must be put to death, including the animals. 16Pile everything you find in a heap at the town’s center and set the town and the goods you have gathered on fire and make it a burnt offering to the LORD. It must remain a pile of debris forever, never to be rebuilt. 17Make sure that no one takes away anything that has been devoted to destruction, and the LORD’s anger will be assuaged, and the LORD will show you compassion and see that your number grows as your ancestors were promised 18as long as you keep all the LORD’s rules that I am giving you today and do what is right in the LORD’s eyes.”

Commentary

The dangers of idolatry continue as the main subject:

1-5: Moses warns them that “prophets” (people who claim supernatural knowledge of future events) and seers (those who interpret dreams and other phenomena) may actually be right from time to time in their predictions. He sees this eventuality as a test sent by God. Such people are a significant enough threat that he imposes the death penalty.

6-11: The danger of being lured into worshiping other gods is so important that Moses imposes the death penalty on anyone who entices them to worship other gods – even if it is a brother or sister or son or daughter! (But he doesn’t list parents as possible enticers.)

12-18: Moses imagines that entire towns may be lured into pagan worship. If that happens, he tells them, they must completely destroy the town and everything in it and burn all of it completely – a whole burnt offering. If they do that, he says, God will bless them.

Takeaway

I cannot imagine God telling Moses to order such things. “Thou shalt not kill” was God’s law. This is not just killing. This is genocide. My personal opinion (so you can take this for what it’s not worth) is that Moses on a few occasions takes it on himself to instruct the people to do things that are not directly from God but arise instead out of his disappointment at not being allowed to enter the Promised Land.