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After Moses told Israel about the second covenant and how many nations still had no faith in the true God, he began to tell them how God would accomplish His oath. He said that He would bring judgment upon them, showing that judgment was to be the primary means by which God would fulfill His oath.
Deut. 29:18, 19 says,
18 lest there shall be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; lest there shall be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit [rosh, “poppies”] and wormwood [lahana, “bitterness; opium”]. 19 And it shall be when he hears the words of this curse, that he will boast, saying, “I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land with the dry.”
In other words, those faithless nations and people in verses 16 and 17 ought not to convince Israel to adopt their idols. Israel instead ought to be a beacon of light to the other nations and to cause the idolaters to desire to know the true God.
At the same time Moses describes the condition of those idolatrous nations, whose idols were not to be adopted by the nation of Israel. Adopting those idols gives people “a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood.” The Hebrew word rosh literally means “head,” and it can refer either to a leader or to the prominent “head” of the poppy plant. Likewise, what the translators mistakenly call “wormwood” is actually the bitter-tasting extract or juice from the poppy plant. We know it today as opium. I discussed this in my book, The Laws of Wormwood and Dung.
Opium was known to mask pain, which was, perhaps, the reason God created it for our use. There are times when such drugs are needed to alleviate extreme pain caused by wounds, burns, or other physical trauma. However, the misuse of opium is well known, for many have used it to mask mental and spiritual pain as well. Opium was not to be used as a substitute for healing, but only to carry people temporarily until they can find true healing.
Sodom and Gomorrah were known for their opium traffic. In the song of Moses, he mentions this in Deut. 32:32, 33,
32 For their vine is from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison [rosh, “poppies”], their clusters, bitter. 33 Their wine is the venom of serpents, and the deadly poison of cobras.
In other words, instead of planting vineyards, they had planted poppies so that they could mix opium in their wine. Sodom was the City of Junkies.
Even as opium gave men “peace” from their pain, it does nothing to cure the disease or condition. So also is it likened to the false peace of heart idolatry, which allows men to “have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart” (Deut. 29:19).
A similar statement is found in Jer. 23:14-17, where the prophet decried the way other prophets refused to diagnose the disease of sin, but who dispense spiritual opium to make them feel good about themselves:
14 … All of them have become to Me like Sodom, and her inhabitants like Gomorrah. 15 Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets, “Behold, I am going to feed them wormwood [rosh, “poppies”] and make them drink poisonous water [lahanah, “opium”]. For from the prophets of Jerusalem pollution has gone forth into all the land.”
Jeremiah then gives the spiritual meaning of opium, showing how the prophets of the day were dispensing “opium” in their teaching.
16 Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility [haval, “to act emptily; to become vain”]; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They keep saying to those who despise Me, ‘The Lord has said you will have peace’; and as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, they say calamity will not come upon you’.”
In Jeremiah’s day the people of Judah and Jerusalem were in disobedience to God and were about to go into a Babylonian captivity. Instead of diagnosing their condition so that they might repent, most of the prophets were giving them comfort in their sin, which only encouraged the people to think that God was going to protect them from Nebuchadnezzar and his army. This encouraged them to fight Babylon instead of submitting to the divine judgment, as Jeremiah was advocating (Jer. 27:12, 14, 15).
In effect, these prophets were feeding the people with hopium, as they say, which masked the real problem, which encouraged the people to sin that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1). A heart idol is a strong belief or opinion that is contrary to the word of God, preventing people from repenting and adopting the mind of God. The prophets were giving words that calmed the people, giving them a false sense of security, while they remained stubborn and rebellious against the law of God.
This spiritual problem also manifests in the earth through the rampant drug trade, making America “like Sodom” in more than one way. If the prophets had not fed the church with spiritual opium, the trade in physical drugs would not be a problem in America. The problems in the world are only a natural manifestation of a spiritual problem. The root of the problem lies not in the world at large but in the fertile ground of the church itself.
This bitter “root” (Deut. 29:18) of the poppy plant was apparently the problem of Esau as well and may explain many of his actions. This is implied in Heb. 12:15, 16, which speaks of this “root of bitterness” by which men like Esau were defiled. In the case of Esau, “he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.” The idol of his heart was the birthright, and he was unable to accept the word of God that had been given before his birth that “the older shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23).
The descendants of Esau-Edom were incorporated into Jewry in 126 B.C. and have persisted to this day in their desire to obtain the birthright. The spirit of Edom has worked within Judaism since that time and is today reaping a harvest of bitter fruit.
This strong idol of the heart has created the movement we know as Zionism, which is prophesied in Mal. 1:4, where Edom’s heart is laid bare,
4 Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins,” thus says the Lord of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.”
Again we read in Ezekiel 35:10 about Idumea (the Greek form of Edom),
10 Because you have said, “These two nations [Israel and Judah] are mine, and we will possess them,” although the Lord was there, 11 therefore, as I live,” declares the Lord God, “I will deal with you according to your anger and according to your envy which you showed because of your hatred against them; so I will make Myself known among them when I judge you.”
Here again we see the Edomite desire to possess the land that they lost to Jacob in Genesis 27. When the Edomites were absorbed into Jewry, the spirit of Zionism was not lost. Instead, the Edomites found a new way to obtain their goal of inheriting the old land of Canaan—by working within the structure of carnal Judaism. Thus, the carnality of both people found common cause, not only in the revolt against Rome in the first century but also in twentieth century Zionism.
Further, they have planted this idol in the heart of many in the church to gain support from Christian people in displacing “Jacob.” To this end they also took the name Israel, the birthright name, as if to imply that they were the ten lost tribes of Israel that God was to regather in the latter days. For a full study of this, and why God allowed Esau to regain the birthright for a season, see my book, The Struggle for the Birthright.
The words of Moses in Deut. 29:18 have come to pass even in America. Christians are told not to drink the mixture of opium and wine that the carnal nations and religions of the world have to offer. Yet the church not only has adopted Esau’s self-centered view of the divine plan, but it has adopted the ways of the world instead of influencing the world to adopt the ways, culture, and laws of God. The church no longer worships physical idols, but the problem of heart idolatry has become rampant. They have drunk the wine from the grapes of Sodom and have been led to “act emptily” and “become vain.” Instead of diagnosing the problem, which might allow the church to repent, the prophets have cast aside the law and preach empty sermons that do not change society or establish the Kingdom way of life.
Moses continues in Deut. 29:20, 21,
20 The Lord shall never [lo, “not”] be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and His jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse which is written in this book will rest upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven. 21 Then the Lord will single him out for adversity from all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant which are written in this book of the law.
The Hebrew text reads, “The Lord shall not be willing to forgive him” while he continues in his sin. The curses for disobedience, written in Deuteronomy 28, will be upon those who continue in their ways and refuse to repent. But the NASB translators were wrong in translating this to mean that the Lord will NEVER forgive such people. Even that translation itself portrays an idol in the heart of the translators, who did not know the mind of God. These judgments were meant to bring repentance in the end, even though divine judgment brought much destruction. Repentance always brings forgiveness, even if sin’s consequences follow men for the rest of their lives.
Keep in mind that when men persist in their lawlessness—especially Christians who ought to know better and are therefore held more liable than the world at large—they are judged according to Deuteronomy 28.
This judgment comes on two levels. The first is the overall, general curse of the law upon the nation, which affects all of us. The second is where God may apply the curse to individuals within the nation. In such cases, the curse may be lifted by personal repentance and prayer. However, the general curse on the nation is normally something that God requires everyone to experience until the nation itself repents and recognizes God’s right to establish the laws and culture of the nation.
In Deut. 29:21 Moses speaks of God singling out individuals within the tribes for judgment, while the prophets speak primarily of national judgment. Only occasionally do the prophets single out individuals for divine judgment.