“…Whose Heart Turneth Away…”
The book of Deuteronomy is a series of discourses from Moses shortly before his death to the second generation of Israel (remember that the first generation died in the wilderness) before they enter the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. The overriding principles contained in this majestic book are that which could prevent them from making the same mistakes as their parents in turning their hearts away from God, and they provide rich principles of application in preserving our faithfulness as New Testament Christians. For example, we can find the principle for guarding our hearts from apostasy in Deuteronomy 29:18-19:
Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood; And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst.
Backsliding and apostasy always starts in the heart. Whenever we let other things (worldliness, pleasure and such like) to begin to take over the affections of our heart away from God and become more important in our hearts above our service to God and our spiritual needs and values, we are walking down the road toward backsliding and apostasy.
Consider one who starts to slide a bit. He starts to miss worship services. He misses Sunday night and Wednesday night. Then, first thing we know, he starts to miss a Sunday here and there. Now, if we can see what is taking place in his heart, it is already starting to turn away—something else is having first place in his heart initially. It continued to grow until at last, that became most important, and the outcome was, he ended up as a backslider and an apostate. Now if we go and locate the members of Southwest today who are no longer committed or loyal in serving the Lord, they ensued this same way. This is why Solomon says, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). Subsequently, we need to fill our minds and hearts with spiritual things, because we cannot supply our minds with other things all the time without it affecting and influencing us.
God said it involves “man, or woman, or family, or tribe…” (Deut. 29:18). It can affect men today—we can become so engaged with our occupations until this expends all of our time. Whenever that occurs, we are stepping on perilous ground. The same thing is true with women, families and congregations. We can engage ourselves with things that do not have to do with spiritual development and growth until we lose sight of what our mission is, and we wind up in apostasy.
The Hebrew writer referred to Deuteronomy 29:18 by stating,
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears [Heb. 12:14-17].
He illustrates the matter in reference to Esau, who was a “profane person”—one who lacks respect and gratitude of spiritual values. Esau thought more of bread and red pottage of lentils than he did anything else (cf. Gen. 25:29-34). Whenever we get to the place where material things devour our thinking, we are walking down the road of Esau.
Note what one will pursue—one will “…bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination [“stubbornness” – marginal rendering] of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst” (Deut. 29:19). Far too many times, when we find people turning away and we start to speak with them about the risk of letting material things devour their minds, they respond, “I am alright. I am doing fine. I have peace—I am just as good as anybody else.” However, one cannot walk in the stubbornness of his heart and at the same time be pleasing to the Lord. Therefore, it is important for us to guard our hearts from turning away from God!