Dr. Thomas L. Constable
The title of this book in the Hebrew Bible was its first two words, 'elleh haddebarim, which translate into English as "these are the words" (1:1). Ancient Near Eastern suzerainty treaties began the same way. So the Jewish title gives a strong clue to the literary character of Deuteronomy.
The English title comes from a Latinized form of the Septuagint (Greek) translation title. "Deuteronomy" means "second law" in Greek. We might suppose that this title arose from the idea that Deuteronomy records the law as Moses repeated it to the new generation of Israelites who were preparing to enter the land, but this is not the case. It came from a mistranslation of a phrase in 17:18. In that passage, God commanded Israel's kings to prepare "a copy of this law" for themselves. The Septuagint translators mistakenly rendered this phrase "this second [repeated] law." The Vulgate (Latin) translation, influenced by the Septuagint, translated the phrase "second law" as deuteronomium, from which "Deuteronomy" is a transliteration. The Book of Deuteronomy is, to some extent, however, a repetition to the new generation of the Law that God gave at Mt. Sinai. For example, about 50 percent of the "Book of the Covenant" (Exod. 20:23—23:33) is paralleled in Deuteronomy. Thus God overruled the translators' error, and gave us a title for the book in English that is appropriate, in view of the contents of the book.
Moses evidently wrote this book on the plains of Moab shortly before his death, which occurred about 1406 B.C.
The Mosaic authorship of this book is quite easy to establish. The book claims to be the words of Moses (1:5, 9; 5:1; 27:1, 8; 29:2; 31:1, 30; 33:1, 30) and his writing (31:9, 22, 24). Other Old Testament books also assert the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy (1 Kings 2:3; 8:53; 2 Kings 14:6; 18:6, 12). Jesus Christ believed that Moses wrote Deuteronomy (Matt. 19:7-8; Mark 10:3-5; 12:19; John 5:46-47), as did the Apostle Peter (Acts 3:22), Stephen (Acts 7:37-38), Paul (Rom. 10:19; 1 Cor. 9:9), and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 10:28).
There are a few passages in the book that were apparently added by a later editor: 1:1; 2:10-11, 20-23; 3:9, 11, 13b-14; 10:6-9; 34. Of course, Moses could have written these verses too, but this would be quite unusual. When these verses were added, we can only guess.
Some scholars have identified Deuteronomy with the "book of the law" that King Josiah discovered as he was cleaning out the temple (2 Kings 22—23). This theory goes back as far as the early church father Jerome (A.D. 342–420). The theory is impossible to prove, but there are reasons why some scholars have made this connection.
The form in which Moses wrote Deuteronomy is very similar to that of ancient Near Eastern suzerainty-vassal treaties, dating before and during the Mosaic era. This structural evidence confirms an early date of composition.
In spite of such conclusive evidence, some scholars prefer a later date for Deuteronomy. The critics favor a post-Mosaic but pre-seventh-century date, a seventh-century date in King Josiah's era, or a postexilic date.
Deuteronomy is similar to Leviticus, in that both books contain an almost exclusive record of instructions and speeches. Deuteronomy is not so much a book of history, as Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers are, as it is a book of law. In contrast to Leviticus, however, Deuteronomy is law preached rather than law taught.
The scope of history covered in Deuteronomy is very brief. All the events recorded took place on the plains of Moab, probably within a few weeks, just before Israel's entrance into Canaan.
"According to the Index locorum of Nestle's Novum Testamentum Graece Deuteronomy is quoted or otherwise cited at least 95 times in the New Testament (compared to 103 for Genesis, 113 for Exodus, 35 for Leviticus, and 20 for Numbers), making it one of the favorite Old Testament books of Jesus and the apostles."
"The general theme of Deuteronomy can be comprehensively stated in a single sentence: it is a call to the service of one God by an elect people centered around one sanctuary, through obedience to the law in the land which God has given."
"As we shall see, God is placing before His people, in this Book of Deuteronomy, the conditions of their occupancy of this land of Canaan. We shall see all these conditions sum themselves up into one great word: OBEDIENCE."
"In line with the general correspondence of the form of a thing to its function, it is safe to say that one cannot understand the theology of Deuteronomy without reference to its covenant form and structure . . . It is no exaggeration to maintain that the concept of covenant lies at the very heart of the book and may be said to be the center of its theology.
"Covenant by its very definition demands at least three elements—the two contracting parties and the document that describes and outlines the purpose, nature, and requirements of the relationship. Thus the three major rubrics of the theology of Deuteronomy are (1) Yahweh, the Great King and covenant initiator; (2) Israel, the vassal and covenant recipient; and (3) the book itself, the covenant organ, complete with the essentials of standard treaty documents. This means, moreover, that all the revelation of the book must be seen through the prism of covenant and not abstractly removed from the peculiar historical and ideological context in which it originated."
"The theological values of Deuteronomy can hardly be exaggerated. It stands as the wellspring of biblical historical revelation. It is a prime source for both OT and NT theology. Whether the covenant, the holiness of God, or the concept of the people of God is the unifying factor of OT theology, each finds emphasis and remarkable definition in Deuteronomy."
"Deuteronomy is one of the greatest books of the Old Testament. Its significance on the domestic and personal religion of all ages has not been surpassed by any other book in the Bible. It is quoted over eighty times in the New Testament [closer to 95] (references occur in all but six books of the New Testament, namely John, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy and 1 and 2 Peter) and thus it belongs to a small group of four Old Testaments books (Genesis, Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah) to which the early Christians made frequent reference."
Like the other books of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy is essentially a narrative document that was written to teach theology. There is a general alternation between narrative (sections I, III, V, and VII) and didactic (sections II, IV, and VI) material in Deuteronomy. However, there is some mixture of narrative and didactic material in sections V and VII. Deuteronomy is essentially a story in which Moses included several of his speeches to the new generation of Israelites.
Explanation of the setting
A review of God's faithfulness
An exposition of the Law
Charges to keep the commandments
27:1-8 and 9-10
Instructions for renewing the covenant in the land
Explanation of the setting
An exhortation to obedience
Introduction of what follows
A call to be courageous
A charge to the priests to re-read the Law publicly every seven years
God's instructions to Moses in view of his imminent death
A charge to Joshua to be courageous
A charge to the Levites to preserve the Law in the ark
Introduction of what follows
The song of Moses
A charge to the Israelites to heed the Law
God's instruction to Moses to view the Promised Land
Introduction of what follows
The blessing of the tribes
Moses views the land and dies
Joshua assumes leadership and Moses' epitaph
I. Preamble: Covenant mediator 1:1-5
II. Historical prologue: Covenant history 1:6—4:49
III. Stipulations: Covenant life chs. 5—26
A. The Great Commandment chs. 5—11
B. Ancillary commandments chs. 12—26
IV. Sanctions: Covenant ratification chs. 27—30
V. Dynastic disposition: Covenant continuity chs. 31—34
I. Introduction: the covenant setting 1:1-5
II. Moses' first major address: a review of God's faithfulness 1:6—4:40
A. God's past dealings with Israel 1:6—3:29
1. God's guidance from Sinai to Kadesh 1:6-46
2. The march from Kadesh to the Amorite frontier 2:1-23
3. The conquest of the kingdom of Sihon 2:24-37
4. The conquest of the kingdom of Og 3:1-11
5. A review of the distribution of the conquered land 3:12-20
6. Moses' anticipation of future blessing 3:21-29
B. An exhortation to observe the law faithfully 4:1-40
1. The appeal to hearken and obey 4:1-8
2. God's appearance at Mt. Horeb 4:9-14
3. The prohibition of idolatry 4:15-24
4. The consequences of idolatry 4:25-31
5. The uniqueness of Yahweh and Israel 4:32-40
III. Historical interlude: preparation for the covenant text 4:41-49
A. The appointment of cities of refuge in Transjordan 4:41-43
B. Introduction to the second address 4:44-49
IV. Moses' second major address: an exposition of the law chs. 5—26
A. The essence of the law and its fulfillment chs. 5—11
1. Exposition of the Decalogue and its promulgation ch. 5
2. Exhortation to love Yahweh ch. 6
3. Examples of the application of the principles chs. 7—11
B. An exposition of selected covenant laws chs. 12—25
1. Laws arising from the first commandment 12:1-31
2. Laws arising from the second commandment 12:32—13:18
3. Laws arising from the third commandment 14:1-21
4. Laws arising from the fourth commandment 14:22—16:17
5. Laws arising from the fifth commandment 16:18—18:22
6. Laws arising from the sixth commandment 19:1—22:8
7. Laws arising from the seventh commandment 22:9—23:18
8. Laws arising from the eighth commandment 23:19—24:7
9. Laws arising from the ninth commandment 24:8—25:4
10. Laws arising from the tenth commandment 25:5-19
C. Covenant celebration, confirmation, and conclusion ch. 26
1. Laws of covenant celebration and confirmation 26:1-15
2. Summary exhortation 26:16-19
V. Preparations for renewing the covenant 27:1-29:1
A. The ceremony at Shechem 27:1-13
B. The curses that follow disobedience to specific stipulations 27:14-26
C. The blessings that follow obedience 28:1-14
D. The curses that follow disobedience to general stipulations 28:15-68
E. Narrative interlude 29:1
VI. Moses' third major address: an exhortation to obedience 29:2—30:20
A. An appeal for faithfulness 29:2-29
1. Historical review 29:2-8
2. The purpose of the assembly 29:9-15
3. The consequences of disobedience 29:16-29
B. A call to decision ch. 30
1. The possibility of restoration 30:1-10
2. The importance of obedience 30:11-20
VII. Moses' last acts chs. 31—34
A. The duties of Israel's future leaders 31:1-29
1. The presentation of Joshua 31:1-8
2. The seventh year covenant renewal ceremony 31:9-13
3. The commissioning of Joshua 31:14-23
4. The preservation of God's words 31:24-29
B. The Song of Moses 31:30—32:44
1. The introduction to the song 31:30
2. The song itself 32:1-43
3. The conclusion to the song 32:44
C. Narrative interlude 32:45-52
1. Moses' exhortation to obedience 32:45-47
2. The announcement of Moses' death 32:48-52
D. Moses' blessing of the tribes ch. 33
E. Moses' death and burial: narrative epilogue ch. 34
I. Looking backward chs. 1—11
A. Review of the way since Sinai chs. 1—3
B. Review of the law from Sinai chs. 4—11
II. Looking forward chs. 12—34
A. Final rules and warnings to Israel before entering the earthly inheritance chs. 12—30
B. Final words and actions of Moses before entering the heavenly inheritance chs. 31—34
Retrospective: 1:6—4:40, and 5:1—27:10
Introspective: 27:11—28:68, and 29:1—30:20
Prospective: 31:1—32:52, and 33:2-29
Deuteronomy is not simply a "recapitulation" of things previously revealed in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. It is a selective digest of matters most important to the average Israelite in his or her relationship with God. Moses spoke as an aged father to his children. These are the parting words of the man who communed with God "face to face" (i.e., without a mediator). His words in Deuteronomy spring from a personal and intimate knowledge of God that had matured over 120 years.
One of the striking features of this book is the frequent references to "love" that recur throughout it. God's love for the patriarchs, and later the whole nation of Israel, is obvious in the previous four books of the Pentateuch, but Moses never articulated it directly. In Deuteronomy, for the first time, Moses revealed that it was God's love for Israel that motivated Him to deal with the Israelites as He had. One of the great revelations of this book is the motivation of God: God's love for people moved Him to bless. Moses referred to God's love for people as the motivation of His government in three of the book's major sections.
The explanation of God's love constitutes the climax of Moses' first address to the people (1:6—4:40), in which he reviewed God's faithfulness to the Israelites. It was because God loved them that He had treated them as He had (4:32-40, esp. v. 37).
In the second address, which is an exposition of the Mosaic Law (chs. 5—26), Moses explained that God's love motivated His laws (7:7-11; 10:12-22, esp. v. 15; 15:16; 23:5; et al.).
In the conclusion of the book, which records Moses' blessing of the nation (ch. 33), he again reminded the people of God's love for them (33:2-5, esp. v. 3a).
Not only does Deuteronomy reveal that God's love is what motivates Him to govern His people as He does. It also emphasizes that man's love for God should be what motivates us to obey God (cf. 1 John 4:19). This theme too recurs throughout the book.
In Moses' review of the law (chs. 5—26), he called on the Israelites to love God (5:9-10; 6:4-5; 7:9; 10:12-13; 11:1, 13-14, 22-23; 13:1-13, esp. vv. 1-3; 19:8-9). The Israelites' obedience to God's laws expressed their love for God. Love is the most proper and adequate motivation for obedience and service.
We hear this theme again in Moses' third address (chs. 29—30), in which Moses exhorted the new generation of Israelites to obey their covenant, the Mosaic Covenant (30:6, 15-20).
The message of the book, then, is: God's love for people motivates Him to bless us, and our love for God should motivate us to obey Him.
This emphasis on love appears even more striking, in comparison with other ancient Near Eastern suzerain-vassal treaties. Deuteronomy is not only a collection of Moses' sermons. It is also a covenant renewal document.
"When a Hittite king [for example] renewed a treaty with a vassal state—usually after a change of monarch—he would bring the stipulations up to date, and this may explain some of the changes in the specific laws found in chapters 12—26."
The ancient Near Eastern kings clearly delineated the rights of the ruler and the responsibilities of the subjects in these documents. However, the motivation was self-interest, not love. Concern for others was present in some cases, but self-interest predominated.
Since Moses set Deuteronomy in the form of a suzerain-vassal treaty, we can learn much about how he viewed Israel's relationship to God.
"Both the literary shape of Deuteronomy and its underlying central concept provide an important clue to the basic theology of the book. Yahweh, the God of Israel, appears in a strong covenantal setting. He is the great King, the Lord of the covenant. From this central concept Israel's finest theological ideas derived."
These "ideas" include the fact that Yahweh is both the "Lord of the covenant" and the "Lord of history."
Obedience to God and His covenant brings blessing, whereas disobedience incurs curses. Israel was "the people of the covenant." The people were to worship their Lord, by loving Him with their hearts, and remembering Him and His acts with their minds.
There are perhaps four basic implications of this revelation, and these correspond to four major sections of the book:
First, it is important to remember God's past faithfulness in order to help one to appreciate His love (1:6—4:40). God commanded the Israelites to "remember." Forgetfulness was a sin that would lead them to ingratitude and ultimately to apostasy. To forget was to rebel against God. Remembering the past would remind the people of God's love for them, and would rekindle their love for Him. Love, as well as trust, rests on confidence. We can love God only when we have confidence in Him. Reading Scripture, attending church, and participating in the Lord's Supper—all help us to remember God's faithfulness and His love for us.
Second, God's laws are an expression of His love (chs. 5—26). Because man is a sinner, he needs divine laws. God's provision of these laws is an expression of His love for humankind. The specific laws in the Mosaic Code expressed God's love, because God intended them to result in Israel's blessing and welfare. Often we think laws are undesirable because they curb our freedom. But God curbs our freedom in order to keep us from evil, not to keep us from good. Some children do not realize that their parents' prohibitions are mostly for their welfare. Not to see this is an immature view of reality. The lines down the middle of our highways curb our freedom so we will not drive all over the road, but they are there to keep us safe. Unfortunately, many people, including Christians, think that God's laws are there to keep us miserable, but really they are there to keep us safe.
Third, only love for God will adequately motivate a person to be obedient to God's laws (chs. 27—28). The laws in Israel were so comprehensive that the only motive strong enough to produce consistent obedience was love. Moses urged the Israelites to cultivate their love for God as they prepared to renew the covenant. Self-confidence had failed their fathers, and it would fail them too. Obedience to God can be a joyful or a bitter experience, depending on one's motivation. When we know God we love Him, and when we love God we will want to obey Him. Bible study should always be a means to an end, never an end in itself (2 Tim. 3:16). We should focus on getting to know God better, and when we do, we will find it easier to love God and to obey Him.
Fourth, obedience to God demonstrates love for Him (chs. 29—30). While it is possible to obey God with lesser motives, it is impossible to be consistently obedient without love for God. Consistent obedience is not the same as sinless perfection. The measure of one's love for God is the measure of a person's obedience to the revealed will of God (1 John 5:3). The degree of our commitment to do the will of God is the true measure of our love for God. The real test of our love for God is what we do more than how we feel.
This brief section places the events that follow in their geographical and chronological setting. It introduces the occasion for the covenant, the parties involved, and other information necessary to identify the document and the peculiarities of its composition.
"The time was the last month of the fortieth year after the Exodus (v. 3a), when the men of war of that generation had all perished (2:16), the conquest of Trans-Jordan was accomplished (v. 4; 2:24ff.), and the time of Moses' death was at hand. It was especially this last circumstance that occasioned the renewal of the covenant. God secured the continuity of the mediatorial dynasty by requiring of Israel a pledge of obedience to his new appointee, Joshua (cf. 31:3; 34:9), and a new vow of consecration to himself."
Deuteronomy opens and closes with references to "Moses" and "to all Israel" (v. 1; 34:12). These references bracket the entire book, and show that all of its contents describe Moses' interaction with the entire nation at the end of their journey from Egypt. The "Arabah" (v. 1) is the depression that runs from north of the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee) all the way to the Red Sea (Gulf of Aqabah). Israel's location in this plain was just northeast of the point at which the Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea, directly east of Jericho.
The reference to the duration of a normal journey from Horeb (the range of mountains in which Mt. Sinai stood) to Kadesh-Barnea as being "11 days" (v. 2), or about 150 miles, is not just historical. This was the part of Israel's journey that took her from the place God gave His covenant to the border of the Promised Land. From there, the Israelites could have, and should have, entered Canaan. This reference points out a contrast between the short distance and the long time it took Israel to make the trip—due to her unbelief. It took Israel 40 years to travel from Egypt to the plains of Moab ("in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month"; v. 3). This is the only exact date that Moses specified in Deuteronomy. The spiritual failure at the root of this lengthened sojourn provided the reason for much of what Moses said and did, that follows in Deuteronomy.
The name "Yahweh" appears for the first time in verse 3, in Deuteronomy, and it occurs more than 220 times. This name is most expressive of God's covenant role with Israel. Its frequent appearance helps the reader remember that Deuteronomy presents God in His role as sovereign suzerain and covenant-keeper. In contrast, the name "Elohim" occurs only 38 times in this book.
Moses probably referred to God's defeat of Sihon and Og here (v. 4), in order to give the Israelites hope, as well as to date his words more specifically.
The nature of Deuteronomy, as a whole, is that it is an "exposition" (explanation) of all that God had commanded (v. 5; cf. v. 3). The Hebrew word translated "expound" (be'er) means to make something absolutely clear or plain (cf. 27:8). We might say that Deuteronomy is a commentary on earlier passages in the Pentateuch. Moses' second address (chs. 5—26) particularly concentrated on this exposition.
The English term "law" has negative connotations, but the Hebrew torah (lit. "instruction"), used here (v. 5), is positive. The Torah is more instruction than prohibition. Here the whole of Deuteronomy is in view.
Four superscriptions signal the beginnings of Moses' speeches in Deuteronomy (1:1-5; 4:44-49; 29:1; 33:1).
Moses delivered three major addresses in Deuteronomy: first, a review of God's past faithfulness (1:6—4:40), second, an exposition of Israel's present responsibility (chs. 5—26), and third, an exhortation to future obedience (chs. 29—30). Moses gave these addresses so the new generation of Israelites would not repeat the sins of their fathers. There are other, shorter speeches, plus some narrative material, but these are the major addresses. Similarly, Matthew structured his Gospel around five discourses of Jesus.
". . . an explicit literary structure to the book is expressed in the sermons or speeches of Moses; a substructure is discernible in the covenantal character of the book; and a theological structure is revealed in its theme of the exclusive worship of the Lord as found in the Ten Commandments, particularly in the First Commandment and its positive expression in the Shema (Deut. 6:4-5)."
The writer set forth God's acts for Israel as the basis on which he appealed to the new generation of Israelites to renew the Mosaic Covenant with Him.
". . . it is not an overstatement to propose that covenant is the theological center of Deuteronomy. . . .
". . . any attempt to deal with Deuteronomy theologically must do so with complete and appropriate attention to its form and its dominant covenant theme. This means that God's revelation of Himself and of other matters must be understood within a covenant context because it is His purpose in the document to represent Himself in a particularized role—Sovereign, Redeemer, covenant-maker, and benefactor."
"The preamble in the international suzerainty treaties was followed by a historical survey of the relationship of lord and vassal. It was written in an I-thou style, and it sought to establish the historical justification for the lord's continuing reign. Benefits allegedly conferred upon the vassal by the lord were cited, with a view to grounding the vassal's allegiance in a sense of gratitude complementary to the sense of fear which the preamble's awe-inspiring identification of the suzerain was calculated to produce. When treaties were renewed, the historical prologue was brought up to date. All these formal features characterize Deut 1:6—4:49."
Moses pointed out Israel's unfaithfulness in order to emphasize God's faithfulness.
Moses began this first "sermon" by reviewing God's faithfulness to Israel. God had been faithful in bringing the nation from Sinai to her present location, and by giving her victory over her Transjordanian enemies. He also reminded the people of the future blessings that she could anticipate.
Moses began his recital of Israel's history at Horeb (Sinai), because this was where Yahweh adopted the nation by making the Mosaic Covenant with her. The trip from Egypt to Sinai was only a preparation for the giving of the covenant. God did not consider Israel's responsibility to Him, before the giving of the Covenant, as great as it was after He gave it. Knowledge of God's will increases responsibility to do God's will. The Mosaic Covenant is central in Deuteronomy.
"The importance of history has two focal points: (a) there is the covenant tradition of promise, from Abraham to Moses; (b) there is the experience of God in history working out in deed the content of the promise. Thus, for the renewal of the covenant described in Deuteronomy, the prologue recalls not only the covenant's history, but also the ability of the Lord of the covenant to fulfill his promise. What God had done in the past, he could continue to do in the future. There is thus a presentation of a faithful God, whose demand was for a faithful people."
Moses reflected on the past, mainly as Israel's history stands as revealed in the earlier books of the Pentateuch. He did not assume the reader's knowledge of Israel's history that is independent of the biblical account, nor did he recount events previously unrecorded. Occasionally, though, in Deuteronomy, he supplemented what he had written earlier with other explanatory material. This indicates that Moses assumed that those who read Deuteronomy would have prior knowledge of his preceding four books. He did not just write Deuteronomy for the generation of Israelites about to enter the Promised Land, but for later generations as well, including our generation.
1:6-18 Moses called Mt. Sinai "Horeb" almost exclusively in this book, ". . . in keeping with the rhetorical style of the book." The events in this section of verses took place before Israel left Horeb. The references to "the river Euphrates" (v. 7) and "the stars of heaven for multitude" (v. 10) hark back to God's promises to Abraham.
"The Lord's gift of Canaan to Israel (v. 8) and his command to them to enter and to possess the land began here and was reiterated and emphasized repeatedly in the speeches of Moses recorded in Deuteronomy. They are cardinal elements of the teaching of the book and show that, as Baly has said, 'Palestine was, in fact, the Chosen Land for the Chosen People; not, it should be noticed, chosen by them, but chosen for them' (p. 303)."
"Abraham was told (Gen. 15:5, 6) to look to the stars, and though they appear innumerable, yet those seen by the naked eye amount, in reality, to no more than 3010 in both hemispheres. The Israelites already far exceeded that number, being at the last census above 600,000."
God had already "multiplied" the Israelites ("you are this day like the stars of heaven in number," v. 10), and He was ready to give them the land. However, the "strife" (v. 12) of the people would prove to be their undoing. So God appointed "judges" (v. 16) to help Moses carry the burden of legal decisions that resulted from the giving of the Law. It was very important, therefore, that these men judge fairly (v. 17).
Note the statements of Yahweh's sovereign prerogative in verses 5, 7, 9, and 19.
1:19-46 These verses deal with Israel's failure at "Kadesh-barnea," its causes, and its consequences.
The Hebrew word translated "take possession" (v. 21), referring to the Promised Land, occurs over 50 times in Deuteronomy. God's great desire for His people had been that they possess what He had promised them. Unfortunately, the older generation would not "take" the land because of fearful unbelief.
The sending of the spies was the people's idea (v. 22; cf. Num. 13:1-3). Moses agreed to it, as did the Lord, because it was not wrong in itself. It had the potential of being helpful to the Israelites. At any rate, God had not commanded this strategy. He knew that the sight of the threatening people and fortified cities (v. 28) would discourage them.
The people's sin in failing to enter the land was not simply their underestimating of God's power. They could have blamed themselves for their weak faith. Instead, they blamed God and imputed to Him the worst of motives in His actions toward them. God really loved them, but they claimed that He hated them (v. 27). In covenant terminology, to "love" means to "choose," and to "hate" means to "reject" (cf. Gen. 25:23; Mal. 1:2-3; Rom. 9:10-13). The Israelites doubted God's goodness, denied His word, and disobeyed His will (cf. Gen. 3).
"The most subtle danger for Israel was the possibility that they might doubt the gracious guidance of God and His willingness to fulfill His promises. It was to become the besetting sin of Israel that they doubted the active and providential sovereignty of Yahweh in every crisis."
God's people still face the temptation to judge God's motives on the basis of circumstances. We may sometimes wonder if He "hates" us when we experience sickness, shortages, and other sufferings.
The Book of Deuteronomy reveals the wrath of God (v. 34) as well as His love.
The account of Moses' sin (v. 37), which happened long after the Mt. Sinai theophany, is out of chronological order. Moses' purpose in this narrative was not to relate Israel's experiences in sequence, but to emphasize spiritual lessons. He was exhorting the Israelites to action more than teaching them history.
God's provision of a new leader who would take the nation into the land followed Moses' failure ("Joshua the son of Nun . . . shall enter there"; v. 38). The point is that God provided for the Israelites even when they failed. Moses did not try to hide his own guilt.
Moses connected entering the Promised Land with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The new generation of Israelites was in a position similar to the one in which their original parents found themselves. They were innocent, having "no knowledge of good or evil," and so had to depend on God to "give it to them" as a gracious Father (v. 39; cf. 32:6). The instruction (Torah) that Moses gave the people was the means that God would use to provide for their good (cf. 30:15-16).
". . . chapter 1 sets up what Deuteronomy is about. It will echo and anticipate disobedience and unwillingness to live by promise and instruction. Further, the chapter gives us clues about the purpose and context of Deuteronomy. It is a word of instruction about how to live in the land, addressed to a people whose history reflects persistent faithlessness and disobedience . . ."
God's faithfulness stands out in this chapter (cf. vv. 25, 29-31, 33, and 36). Moses stressed this to assure the people that their future success was certain because of God's faithfulness, not theirs (cf. 2 Cor. 3:1—6:10).
Following Israel's second departure from Kadesh (Num. 20), the nation set out for "the wilderness" (v. 1). This was probably the "wilderness of Moab" to the east of the Dead Sea. They traveled by "the way to the Red Sea" (v. 1). This probably refers to the caravan route that ran from several miles south of the Dead Sea to Elath. Elath stood at the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqabah. Then they "circled" around to the mountains of the Seir range southeast of the Arabah (v. 1).
When Israel lay camped at Kadesh, Moses had asked permission from the Edomites to pass through their land on the "Arabah road" (v. 8). This route ran east from Kadesh to the King's Highway, the main north-south road east of the Seir mountains (cf. Num. 20:14‑21). The Edomites denied Moses' request. Apparently later, when Israel was moving north toward Edom from Elath, God told Moses that they would pass through Edom (vv. 4-6). They did this through "the way of the wilderness of Moab" (v. 8), a secondary route east of and roughly parallel to the King's Highway. We may assume that the Israelites did buy food and water from the Edomites at this later time (v. 6).
Verse seven is a testimony to God's care for His people during their wilderness wanderings. The sites of "Elath" and "Ezion-geber" (v. 8) seem to have been very close together.
God's care of "Moab" (v. 9) and "Ammon" (v. 19), as well as Edom ("Mt. Seir," v. 5), is traceable to the source of these nations in Abraham's family. They were partakers in the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant. Note that God gave these nations their lands. The thrice repeated phrase, "I have given" (vv. 5, 9, 19), indicates Yahweh's sovereign prerogative to assign His land to whomever He chose.
A later editor, under divine inspiration, may have added the parenthetic sections (vv. 10-12, 20-23) to Moses' narrative—after Israel had settled in the land. They refer to events that happened after Israel crossed the Jordan (vv. 12, 23).
"Rephaim [v. 11]: not an ethnic term, but a general designation for legendary pre-Israelite inhabitants of Palestine. These legendary heroes were apparently known by different names in different areas: Emim in Moab (see also Gen. 14:5), Anakim in Judah (Num. 13:33; Jg. 1:20), and Zamzummin in Ammon (see v. 20)."
Verse 14 is a flashback. The crossing of the Zered was a benchmark event for the Israelites. It signaled the end of the wilderness wanderings, as the crossing of the Red Sea had marked the end of Egyptian bondage. The crossing of the Jordan River would mark the beginning of a new era in the Promised Land.
"The reference to the demise of all the fighting men accomplishes at least two purposes: (1) it brings that whole era of desert sojourning to an end, and (2) it emphasizes more than ever that the impending victories of Israel in both the Transjordan and Canaan must be attributed not to Israel but to the Lord alone. With the heart of military capacity gone, there can be no doubt that victory is achievable only as he, the Warrior of Israel, leads them to triumph in holy war."
The "Caphtorim" (v. 23) were part of the "sea people," who had invaded Canaan from the northwest and settled in the southwest portion of that land. The Caphtorim migrated from Caphtor (Crete), as a result of the invasion of their northern Mediterranean homelands by the Dorians (Greeks). The Caphtorim also became known as the "Philistines." The whole land of Canaan became known as "Palestine," meaning "land of the Philistines." The Roman Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117–138) gave it this name.
This narrative closely parallels the one in Numbers 21:21-32. In this account, Moses emphasized for the people God's faithfulness to them. Note especially verses 25, 29, 30, 31, 33, and 36.
"The process of Sihon's fall was much the same as that of the fall of . . . the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Each was approached with a request to favor the Israelites (vv. 26-29), which he refused, because 'the Lord . . . hardened his spirit' (v. 30). Each made a hostile advance against Israel (v. 32) and suffered defeat, as the Lord fought for His people (vv. 31, 33ff.)."
As God had promised His people, "No city was too high" for them (v. 36). Moses gave God all the credit for this victory.
"Apart from the Lord's intention to provide a home and land for God's people, there are two criteria for the destruction of inhabitants of the land: (1) those who oppose God's purpose and promise to Israel—that is, Sihon and Og; and (2) those who seem to pose in a special way the problem of religious contamination and syncretism—that is, the Canaanites and Amorites."
This record is also very similar to the previous account of this conquest in Numbers 21:33-35, though Moses provided more information here. Moses interpreted Israel's history to emphasize God's faithfulness. The land of "Bashan" was a fertile, heavily forested plateau famous for its oaks (Isa. 2:13) and livestock (32:14; Amos 4:1). The region of "Argob" (v. 4) may be another name for "Bashan," or a part of Bashan. The Rephaites lived there ("Rephaim"; v. 13). The spies had feared the giants and walled cities of Canaan. Nevertheless, in this campaign, God delivered to His people "60" heavily fortified "cities," besides "many" other rural ("unwalled") "towns"—plus at least one real giant, "Og," the last of the Rephaite giants.
Moses probably recorded the size of Og's "king sized" bed ("nine cubits," or 13 and a half feet, v. 11) in order to document the fact that God gave the Israelites victory even over the giants, whom they had so greatly feared. Some writers have argued that the Hebrew word 'eres means "sarcophagus" rather than "bed." Most translators disagree. His bed, or "bedstead," probably contained "iron" decorations, since at this time iron was a precious metal. Alternatively, "iron" may refer to black basalt.
The division of the land of these "two Amorite kings," between two and one-half Israelite tribes ("the Reubenites," "Gadites," and the "half-tribe of Manasseh"; cf. Num. 32), further fulfilled God's promise to give the land to His people. This extensive portion of real estate was part of the land God had promised to Abraham.
The "Geshurites" and the "Maacathites" (v. 14) occupied two Aramean states, located immediately north of Bashan. The name "Dead Sea," as the newer name for the "Salt Sea" (v. 17), does not occur in the Old Testament, but derives, at the earliest, from the first or second century A.D.
Moses' earlier description of this conquest stressed Israel's role in taking this land (Num. 32), but in this one he stressed that it was God who gave it to them (v. 20).
Moses encouraged Joshua, his successor, to take courage on the basis of all that God had done for Israel thus far, especially in defeating Sihon and Og ("Do not fear them"; vv. 21-22). A better translation of verse 22 is ". . . for Yahweh [the covenant-keeping God] your Elohim [strong One], He [emphatic] is the one fighting for you." Israel's future success was certain, only because of Israel's God, not because of Israel's strength or wisdom.
Moses was so eager to "see" the Promised Land, that he requested special permission to enter it—even if for just a brief visit ("I also pleaded with the LORD"; vv. 23-25). Because of his sin (impatient disobedience/insubordination), which the people provoked by their incessant complaining, but which Moses did not shirk responsibility for, God did not permit this ("Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter"; v. 26). God did, however, allow Moses to view the land from a good vantage point ("the top of Pisgah [Mt. Nebo]"; v. 27; cf. 34:1-3).
"In this section we also have one of Moses' prayers (vv. 23-29). These prayers contribute to a profile of Moses as a type or model figure that is anticipatory of later figures in the biblical tradition. The primary components of this profile show Moses as a suffering servant [here], teacher (see discussion of 5:22-33), intercessor (see ch. 9), and prophet (see 18:9-22)."
God charged Moses with encouraging Joshua further ("charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him"; v. 28). It is much easier to live by sight (human or carnal power) than by faith in God's promises (godly or spiritual power).
Moses turned in his address, in this chapter, from contemplating the past to an exhortation for the future. This section is the climax of his first speech.
"The parallel between the literary structure of this chapter and that of the Near Eastern treaty is noteworthy. The author of the treaty is named (1, 2, 5, 10), reference is made to the preceding historical acts, the treaty stipulations are mentioned, the appeal is made for Israel to obey, the treaty sanctions, blessing and cursing, are referred to, witnesses are mentioned (26), and the obligation to transmit the knowledge of the treaty to the next generation is stated (10). While these elements in the Near Eastern treaty are not set out in a rigid legal form, but are woven into a speech without regard for strict formality, they can be clearly discerned."
"He [Moses] would not enter the land and guide the people in God's Law, so he now gives them his explanation of the Law to use in his absence. His central purpose in this section is to draw out the chief ideas of the Sinai narratives, Exodus 19—33."
These chief ideas are: the Torah as wisdom (vv. 1-14), warning against idolatry (vv. 15-24), the possibility of exile (vv. 25-31), and God's presence with Israel (vv. 32-40).
Moses urged the Israelites to "listen to" (v. 1) and to "obey" (vv. 2, 5, 6) the Mosaic Law. The Hebrew verb translated "to hear" occurs frequently in Deuteronomy. "Statutes" (v. 1) were the permanent basic rules of conduct, whereas "judgments" (ordinances, v. 1) were decisions God revealed in answer to specific needs. The judgments set precedent for future action (e.g., the case of Zelophehad's daughters).
Moses used the illustration of the recent seduction of the Israelites by the Midianites ("the case of Baal-peor"), and God's consequent plague (Num. 25:1-9), to warn the people of the danger of disregarding God's Law ("the LORD your God has destroyed them"; vv. 3-4).
Moses' appeal rested on the promises of life ("that you may live"; v. 1) and "possession of the land" (v. 1). He also referred to the praise that would come on the Israelites from other peoples for the Israelites' obedience ("Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people," v. 6); their relationship of intimacy with God ("nation . . . that has a god so near to it," v. 7); and the intrinsic superiority of their laws ("statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law," v. 8).
"The theology of the nations at large taught that the supreme gods were remote and inaccessible. Though they were perceived in highly anthropomorphic terms, they also were thought to be so busy and preoccupied with their own affairs that they could scarcely take notice of their devotees except when they needed them. It was in contrast to these notions, then, that Moses drew attention to the Lord, God of Israel, who, though utterly transcendent and wholly different from humankind, paradoxically lives and moves among them."
"The abstract nature of God in the Israelite religion, and the absence of any physical representation of him, imposed great difficulties for a people living in a world where all other men represented their gods in visual, physical form. To counter this difficulty would require great care and so Moses urged such care, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen [v. 9]. They had never literally seen their God, but they had seen what God had done."
The emphasis in this section is on the supernatural character of the revelation of God's Law. Human beings did not invent Israel's Law. A holy God had revealed it. It was special revelation: "the things which your eyes have seen . . . the LORD spoke to you from the midst of the fire . . . He declared to you His covenant"). Consequently the Israelites were to "fear" (i.e., have an awesome reverence for) God (v. 10). In Deuteronomy, Moses often reminded the parents that they, not the priests or other religious leaders, bore the primary responsibility for spiritually educating their children (vv. 9-10; cf. 6:7, 20; 11:19; 31:13; 32:46).
"Our problem today is not foreign affairs or national economy; our problem is the home. God will hold divorced and preoccupied parents responsible for the vagrants of the world today who never knew the instruction and the love and the concern and the communication from parents. What a responsibility parenthood is!"
". . .extra-biblical treaty custom indicates that it is unlikely that the necessity for two tables [v. 13] arose from the amount of material to be inscribed. Rather, the one table was a duplicate of the other. In establishing treaties the sovereign had one copy of the treaty and the vassal the other, and each deposited his copy at his own sanctuary. In the case of Israel the sanctuary was at the same time the sanctuary of Yahweh and that of Israel, and so held the two copies of the treaty/covenant; cf. Kline, Treaty, 13ff."
"In the Old Testament the fear of God is more than awe or reverence though it includes both. Fearing God is becoming so acutely aware of His moral purity and omnipotence that one is genuinely afraid to disobey Him. Fearing God also includes responding to Him in worship, service, trust, obedience, and commitment."
Because God did not reveal Himself in any physical "form," He forbade the Israelites from making any "likeness" of Him as an aid to worship (vv. 15-18). They were not to worship any heavenly bodies for this purpose, either ("sun," "moon," "stars," "host of heaven"; v. 19), as did other ancient Near Easterners.
Christians may not face the temptation to represent God in wood or stone, but we must be careful about thinking we can contain or limit Him, or fully comprehend Him. Even though we in the Church Age have received much revelation about God, we cannot fully grasp all there is to appreciate about Him.
Evidently the thought of God, bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, "the iron furnace," in order to bring them into the land (v. 20), triggered Moses' reference to his own sin and its consequences ("the LORD was angry with me . . . and swore . . . that I would not enter the good land"; vv. 21-22).
"The use of metal by heating certain ores and then hammering the metallic residue or welding it to other parts while still hot may have appeared in the Near East in the first half of the third millennium B.C., but the manufacture of iron objects (usually weapons) was very limited till 1500 B.C. and later. Though the 'furnaces' of the OT world could not be heated sufficiently to make molten iron, artisans had learned to use bellows to make the hottest fire then known; and they knew that the hottest fire they could produce was necessary for their iron productions. 'Out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt' does not mean to imply that iron-smelting furnaces were in Egypt at that time. Rather, bringing Israel out of Egypt was like bringing her out of an iron-smelting furnace—the heavy bondage of Egypt with its accompanying difficulties and tensions being likened to the hottest fire then known."
Israel was to learn from Moses' personal failure ("So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant," v. 23), and be completely loyal to Yahweh.
"Not only can the inheritance be merited by obedience, but it can be lost by disobedience. Even Moses was excluded from the land of Canaan (i.e., the inheritance) because of his disobedience (Dt. 4:21-22). Clearly, Moses will be in heaven, but he forfeited his earthly inheritance. Not entering Canaan does not necessarily mean one is not born again.
"Even though Israel had become God's firstborn son (Ex. 4:22-23), the entire wilderness generation with the exception of Caleb and Joshua forfeited the inheritance due the firstborn. God disinherited them, and they wandered in the wilderness for forty years."
The "consuming fire" metaphor refers to the manifestation of God's glory that burns in judgment all that is impure (cf. Exod. 24:17; Lev. 10:2; Num. 16:35; Heb. 12:29). God's "jealousy" is His zeal for righteousness that springs from His holiness. He would not tolerate Israel's allegiance to any other god. The connotation of pettiness that is present in the English word "jealousy" is absent from the Hebrew idea.
This warning has proved prophetic, in that Israel did indeed apostatize ("act corruptly," turn to idolatry), and experience all the consequences Moses warned against here. The nation's present scattered condition, as a result of her dispersion by the Romans, is only one of several scatterings that Israel has experienced (v. 27). Moses predicted a turning back to the Lord ("in that latter days you will return to the LORD"; v. 30). This has yet to take place during Israel's present dispersion, but it will happen (Zech. 12:10).
Yahweh is a holy judge who zealously yearns for the welfare of His chosen people (v. 24), but if they turn from Him, and He disciplines them, He will afterward have compassion on them (cf. 6:5; 10:12; 11:13; 26:16; 30:2, 6, 10). The promise that God would "not fail" or "destroy" His people, or "forget [His] covenant" with them, indicates the extent of His love for Israel (Rom. 11:1).
"Heaven and earth are witnesses to the activity of Yahweh [v. 26] in different contexts. Outside Deuteronomy (e.g. Isa. 44:23; Pss. 69:35; 96:11f.) they witness the saving activity of Yahweh, especially in creation. Within Deuteronomy the reference is always to Yahweh's judging activity. The background here is again that of the extra-biblical treaties. Heaven and earth and other natural phenomena were part of the Hittite pantheon and functioned actively as treaty witnesses (cf. Moran, Bib[lica] 43, 1962, 318f.)."
Moses' three rhetorical questions (vv. 32-34) clearly point out the uniqueness of Yahweh.
"In addition to His self-disclosure in event, in history, Yahweh revealed Himself as sovereign in theophany. In this manner the glorious splendor of the King contributes to His aura of majesty and power and is thereby persuasive of His dignity and authority. Almost without exception the theophanic revelation was in the form of fire and its opposite, darkness (Deut. 1:33; 4:11-12, 33, 36; 5:4, 22-26; 9:10, 15; 10:4; 33:2; cf. Pss. 50:2; 80:2 [sic 1]; 94:1). . . . The darkness speaks of His transcendence, His mysterium, His inaccessibility. On the other hand, the fire represented His immanence, the possibility of His being known even if in only a limited way (cf. Ezek. 1:4, 27-28; Dan. 7:9; Rev. 1:14).
Israel's repentance, following apostasy, was to be wholehearted ("with all your heart and all your soul"; v. 29). The "heart" refers to the seat of one's intellect and will (cf. 15:9), and the "soul" to the source of emotion, especially desire (cf. Isa. 26:8-9).
Israel was not to miss the point ("He is God; there is no other besides Him"; v. 35). The articulation of God's motivation in His great redemptive and saving acts for Israel—as being His love for them ("because He loved . . . therefore He chose . . . He personally [lit. 'with His presence'] brought you up from Egypt," v. 37)—brings this mounting crescendo of argument to its climax.
"What is important to note here is that the exodus deliverance was predicated on Israel's prior election by the Lord. It was precisely because of his love and choice that he acted to redeem. . . . The exodus and even the ensuing covenant did not make Israel the people of the Lord. Rather, it was because they were his people by virtue of having been descended from the patriarchs, the objects of his love and choice, that he was moved to save them and enter into covenant with them."
"This is the first time in the Bible that God tells anybody that He loves them. God has demonstrated that He loves man from the very first of Genesis, but, up to this point, He hasn't said anything about it. This is the first time He mentions it."
The earliest reference to Israel's "election" in Deuteronomy is in verse 37 (cf. 7:6-8; 10:15-16; 14:2; 26:18-19; Exod. 19:5-6). God "chose" the Israelites for special blessing because of His love for them, not because He foresaw that they would be a great example to all other people, or because He knew that they would love Him in return. In fact, they failed to do both of these things.
"National election does not guarantee the salvation of every individual within the nation since only individual election can do that. Nor does national election guarantee the physical salvation of every member of the nation. What national election does guarantee is that God's purpose(s) for choosing the nation will be accomplished and that the elect nation will always survive as a distinct entity. It guarantees the physical salvation of the nation and, in the case of Israel, even a national salvation. It is the national election of Israel that is the basis of Israel's status as the Chosen People."
This whole address by Moses (1:6—4:40), and especially the exhortation to observe the Law faithfully (4:1-40), is one of the greatest revelations of God's character in the Old Testament. The address builds to a climax, as every great sermon does. The total impression which God and Moses intended must have been awe and humble gratitude in the hearts of the Israelites.
"One of the principal means by which God has revealed Himself is in historical event, that is, by acts the community of faith could recognize as divine. To Israel on the plains of Moab, these acts made up the constellation of mighty deeds Yahweh had displayed before them and on their behalf from the days of the patriarchs to their present hour. It was on the basis of such historical interventions, in fact, that Yahweh's claim as Sovereign could be made.
"Elsewhere in the Old Testament the foundational act of God is creation itself, but here the matter is less cosmic; the focus of Deuteronomy is not on God's universal concerns but on His special purposes for His people."
The best way to motivate people to obey God is to expound His character and conduct positively, as Moses did here. Note too that Moses appealed to the self-interest of the Israelites: ". . . that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land . . ." (v. 40; cf. 5:16; 6:3, 18; 12:25, 28; 19:13; 22:7; Prov. 3:1-2, 16; 10:27).
"Moses pleads for obedience; he must, for he is the Law-giver; Paul pleads for loving consecration [cf. Rom. 12:1-2]; he must, for he is the Grace-preacher; but the foundation of their pleas is the same—'the mercies of God.'"
Having completed his address that reminded the Israelites to look backward and remember God's faithfulness so they would remain faithful in the future, Moses next turned to a reminder of what God's will for His chosen people involved. He prefaced this second speech with instruction concerning cities of refuge in the land.
It may seem strange that Moses included the record of his appointment of Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan as the three "cities of refuge" ("safe towns," CEV) east of the Jordan—at this point in Deuteronomy (cf. Josh. 20:8). He probably did so because this important event took place after his first address, and before he delivered his second speech. The two and one-half tribes were beginning to settle in Transjordan, and they, in particular, needed this information.
The inclusion of this historical incident also serves a literary function. It provides a kind of intermission for the reader, following the emotional climax at the end of the first address. It allows him or her to recover from its strong impact before the next long address begins.
Deuteronomy, like Leviticus and the other books of Moses, is essentially a narrative document. Moses interspersed much legal material in the narrative of Leviticus, and he interspersed much sermonic material in the narrative of Deuteronomy. In both books, there is less narrative material than either legal or sermonic material.
These verses are similar to 1:4-5. They summarize and introduce, with historical references, what follows. In a larger sense, these verses summarize all of chapters 1—3. These verses contain narration about Moses, not a discourse by Moses.
"This address, which is described in the heading as the law which Moses set before the Israelites, commences with a repetition of the decalogue, and a notice of the powerful impression which was made, through the proclamation of it by God Himself, upon the people who were assembled round Him at Horeb (chap. v). In the first and more general part, it shows that the true essence of the law, and of that righteousness which the Israelites were to strive after, consisted in loving Jehovah their God with all their heart (chap. vi); that the people were bound, by virtue of their election as the Lord's people of possession, to exterminate the Canaanites with their idolatrous worship, in order to rejoice in the blessing of God (chap. vii.); but more especially that, having regard on the one hand to the divine chastisement and humiliation which they had experienced in the desert (chap. viii.), and on the other hand to the frequency with which they had rebelled against their God (chap. ix. 1—x. 11), they were to beware of self-exaltation and self-righteousness, that in the land of Canaan, of which they were about to take possession, they might not forget their God when enjoying the rich productions of the land, but might retain the blessings of their God for ever by a faithful observance of the covenant (chap. x. 12—xi. 32). Then after this there follows an exposition of the different commandments of the law (chap. xii.—xxvi.)."
The "law" (v. 44, Heb. torah) here refers to the "covenant text" itself, rather than to the Pentateuch, its more frequent referent.
"The law given at Sinai is properly a suzerainty treaty rather than a legal code, and Deuteronomy is a covenant-renewal document. Consequently it has some modification or modernizations of the code given originally."
". . . there is no distinctive anthropology in Deuteronomy because in this covenant text the individual is of relatively little significance. It is Israel, the vassal, that is highlighted in the book whose purpose is to show the Sovereign's redemptive, covenantal claims on and relationship to a people through whom He would manifest His saving will."
Note that God gave this Law, ". . . to the sons of Israel." As I have pointed out previously, the Mosaic Law had a double purpose. God gave it primarily as a revelation of Himself, of mankind, and of the essential requirements for their relationship. He has preserved it in Scripture for all believers, because it still has this revelatory value. However, God also gave the law to regulate the life of the Israelites religiously, governmentally, and domestically. This regulatory purpose is what ended with the death of Jesus Christ. The "law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2) has replaced the Old (Mosaic) Covenant, by specifying new regulations for believers since Jesus Christ died.
". . . Deuteronomy contains the most comprehensive body of laws in the Pentateuch. It is clearly intended to be consulted for guidance on many aspects of daily life, in sharp contrast with the laws of Leviticus, which are very restricted in scope and mainly concern the functions of the priesthood."
"Two of the major elements [in ancient Near Eastern covenant texts] . . . are lists of stipulations, the first of a general, principal nature and the second of a more specific and applicational kind. That is, the first spelled out in broad strokes the kinds of actions and reactions the Great King expected of his vassal, and the other offered examples of how these general expectations could and should be worked out in everyday life within the relationship.
"While a general correspondence exists between Deuteronomy and the secular treaty texts, especially in form, there are significant differences as well. Among these are the narrative sections and the extensive parenesis [exhortation], both of which are lacking in the extrabiblical models. It is important to note here, moreover, that Deuteronomy, in addition to being a covenant text, is also a law code, or, more precisely, contains a law code. The general stipulation section (5:1—11:32) and the specific stipulation section (12:1—26:15) function as such a law code and thus serve both in this capacity and in that of covenant stipulation. To put it more succinctly, the stipulations of the Deuteronomic covenant constitute the law code for the nation Israel that was about to enter the new conditions and expectations of life in the land of promise. This is why the following principles resemble both legal statutes and covenant stipulations at one and the same time."
"In seven chapters the nature of Yahweh's demand is now set out in the form of great principles. The deliverance of past days is the ground on which Moses appeals to Israel to hear what Yahweh requires of them."
"The exposition of the law commences with a repetition of the ten words of the covenant, which were spoken to all Israel directly by the Lord Himself. . . . The great significance of the laws and rights about to be set before them, consisted in the fact that they contained the covenant of Jehovah with Israel."
The covenant to which Moses referred (v. 2) was not the Abrahamic, but the Mosaic Covenant. What follows is an "upgrade" of the Mosaic Covenant, for the new generation about to enter the Promised Land. The "fathers" (v. 3) were the patriarchs, their ancestors. "Face to face" (v. 4) is a figure of speech indicating direct communication, without a mediator. God uttered the Ten Commandments in the hearing of "all" the Israelites ("all your assembly"; v. 22). This expression ("spoke to you face to face") also reflects the personal relationship that existed between Yahweh and the Israelites. God "made [the] covenant" with His friends ("with us," v. 2); it was not simply an impersonal revelation of laws.
The basis for the Lord's Ten Commandments was that "He is who He is" (cf. "I am that I am," Exod. 3:14), and that He had provided redemption for His people ("I am the LORD your God"; v. 6; cf. 13:4-5; Exod. 20:3; Lev. 26:13; Num. 15:41). God always gives first (grace), then asks for a response (obedience).
Because God had initiated love toward Israel by redeeming the nation (v. 6), the people were to respond appropriately by loving Him in return. This is the essence of God's grace. He initiates love, and the only reasonable response is to love Him back for what He has done (cf. Rom. 12:1-2). God does not just love us when (after) we love Him. More fundamentally, He loves us "first" ("while we were enemies"; cf. Rom. 5:10; Eph. 1:4-5; 1 John 4:19). In the game of love, God always makes the first move.
This command was a call to respond to God's love by remaining faithful to Him, instead of turning from Him to love something else more than Him. Israel was to "have no other gods," "before" (in preference to) or "besides" (instead of, other than, in addition to) Yahweh. The people were to worship Him exclusively.
This commandment applies to all people, not just Israel. Yahweh is the only true God, and He is worthy of love and worship for both who He is and what He has done. He has reached out lovingly to all humankind with the provision of salvation (cf. Acts 14:15; 1 Cor. 10:31; 1 Tim. 2:5; James 2:19; 1 John 5:20-21). The writer's view of the earth—as having living beings "above" the earth ("heaven above"), "on" the earth, and "under" the "water" of the earth—is consistent with all ancient Near Eastern cosmology (v. 8; cf. Gen. 1).
This commandment is a prohibition against "making images" or "likenesses" (idols) of Yahweh mainly, but also images of any other heavenly beings, angels, or celestial bodies—to worship them. God forbade idolatry itself, the worship or service of any other god or idol, in the first commandment. This commandment was necessary for at least three reasons:
1. Any material (physical) representation of the Lord slanders Him. He is greater than anything we humans can conceive in our minds, let alone make with our hands.
2. By making and using images of Yahweh, the worshipper would gain a false and illegitimate sense of control and authority over Him. God is the Creator, and we are His creatures. He is also sovereign over all. Rather than accepting his place as subject (subservient) creature, under the sovereign Creator, the person who makes an image of God puts himself above, in the position of the creator. In effect, he also puts God in the place of a created thing; he usurps God's sovereignty. Since God made man in His image, it is inappropriate for us to try to make God in our image, much less in the image of an animal (cf. Rom. 1:23-25).
3. It is easy for anyone to confuse an object, that represents a deity, with that deity. Instead of worshipping the god the object represents, people have always transferred their worship to the object. For example, the Israelites worshipped the golden calf as representing Yahweh ("This is your god, O Israel"), and even referred to their manmade, handcrafted idol as the "god . . . who brought [them] up from the land of Egypt" (Exod. 32:8). This is our natural tendency as material (physical) beings, who give preference to what we can see over what we cannot see.
We can identify several benefits of observing this commandment:
1. Obedience tends to preserve the relationship between God and man, as one characterized by love (v. 9). Images that represent God will divert love, from God Himself, to the image that represents Him (as with the golden calf example just cited).
2. God also intended this commandment to constantly cast Israel back on their knowledge of Himself. What God has revealed about Himself is much greater than anything that His people could represent in material form.
3. Obedience would also preserve Israel's distinctiveness in the world. Israel alone in the ancient Near East did not make images of her God. If the Israelites had made images of Yahweh, the other nations would have perceived Him as just another god.
4. God also intended to preserve love for Himself in the succeeding "generations" of His people (vv. 9-10). God is jealous when we "commit to" (i.e., love) something other than Himself. He disciplines people who do not love Him ("hate Me", i.e., rebel against Him, v. 9), but He blesses those who do. Apostasy has effects on succeeding generations. Rebellious, God-hating parents often produce several generations of descendants who also hate God (cf. Exod. 20:5; 34:6-7). Children normally follow the example of their parents. God's blessing exceeds His discipline a thousandfold ("showing lovingkindness to thousands").
Is this commandment one that God wants us to live by even today? It deals with the problems we human beings have, with understanding the nature of God and our own nature, which both affect our having proper relationship to Him. The nature of man and the nature of God have not changed. Consequently almost everyone acknowledges that this commandment is one that God intended to affect His people in every age, not just those living in Israel in Old Testament times (cf. Acts 17:24-28).
Whereas the second commandment deals with a potential visual temptation to depart from Yahweh, the third deals with a potential verbal temptation. Two of the Ten Commandments affect the use of the tongue and speech: the third (speech about God) and the ninth (speech about people).
God designed this commandment to encourage people to express their respect for Him with appropriate speech. It forbids abusing God's name or reputation. The "name" represents the person (cf. Exod. 3:13-14). The positive form of this command is: "Hallowed be thy name" (Matt. 6:9). Misuse of God's name expresses disrespect for Him.
"The meaning clearly is that one must not view the name as a counterpart of Yahweh and then proceed to take it in hand (or in mouth) as a means of accomplishing some kind of ill-advised or unworthy objective. This was typical of ancient Near Eastern sorcery or incantation where the names of the gods were invoked as part of the act of conjuration or of prophylaxis.
There are several ways in which people can abuse ("take in vain") God's name. One is by "swearing falsely" (Lev. 19:12). This involves lying, but at the same time appealing to God's name for support that one is "telling the truth" (i.e., perjury; cf. 2 Sam. 15:7-10). God allowed swearing in His name under Mosaic Law (6:13; et al.), but Jesus Christ ended it (Matt. 5:33-37; cf. James 5:12). The principle in view is that all of our talk should be honest and not hypocritical. Our lives talk as well as our lips. Therefore in a wider sense, this commandment should affect how God's people behave, as well as how they speak (cf. 1 Tim. 6:1).
The consequence of breaking this commandment was God's punishment ("the LORD will not leave him unpunished"). In Israel, the leaders of the nation carried this out by stoning the blasphemer. A "blasphemer" is one who practices profane or mocking speech, writing, or action, concerning God or anything regarded as sacred. The blasphemer in these various ways expresses contempt for God. In the church, the leaders do not have the responsibility of punishing. God Himself will do it.
The Jews took this command seriously. They did not even speak God's name—"Yahweh"—to avoid abusing it. Instead, they substituted the phrase "the Name," in the place of "Yahweh," in conversation. They also spoke of "heaven," the place where God resides, rather than "God." This, by the way, explains why Matthew, in writing his Gospel to Jews, usually spoke of the "kingdom of heaven," whereas the other Gospel writers, who wrote primarily for Gentiles, normally used the term "kingdom of God." According to Jewish tradition, when a Jewish scribe wrote the "name of God," he would first bathe, change his clothes, and use a new quill with which to continue writing.
We too should take this command seriously. In our day, many people use God's names ("God," "Lord," "Jesus," "Christ," etc.) lightly, largely because they do not respect Him. Our speech and our behavior should reflect the fact that we honor and respect God. How we speak and behave reflects on God's "reputation" (a synonym for "name"). Moreover, respect for the "person" of God (another synonym for His "name") is something that God's people should advocate in their world (Matt. 6:9).
This is the most positively stated of the Ten Commandments: "Observe the Sabbath day . . ." (emphasis added). Only one other commandment appears in the affirmative, namely, the fifth. The fourth commandment is a charge to refresh oneself physically and spiritually ("in it you shall not do any work"). The Hebrew noun sabat, translated "Sabbath," is related to the verb translated "to cease" (cf. Gen. 2:1-3).
Before God gave the Mosaic Law, He told the Israelites to refrain from gathering manna on the seventh day of the week (Exod. 16:22-30). Later, God made abstinence from work on the Sabbath Day a law for the Israelites (Exod. 20:8-11). Besides providing a weekly rest, the reasons God gave for making it a commandment were: to memorialize God's creation of the universe (Exod. 20:11), and to memorialize His creation of the nation Israel (Deut. 5:15).
"There are two versions of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, and both give different reasons for the observation of the sabbath. In Exodus 20:11, the Hebrews are enjoined to observe the sabbath on the basis of God's creation of the world. But in the second version, Deuteronomy 5:15, the sabbath is to be observed in commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. At first sight the two reasons given for the observation of the same commandment seem very different, but the new understanding of the Song of the Sea [Exodus 15:1-18], in its Canaanite/Ugaritic background [that I explained in my notes on Exodus], indicates just how close the two reasons are. The sabbath was to be observed, first in celebration of the creation of the world, and second in commemoration of God's creation of Israel in the Exodus."
"The principle theological truth to be seen here is the changing theological emphases of the unchanging God. For a people freshly delivered from Egyptian overlordship by the mighty exodus miracle, God as Creator is a central truth. Therefore it is most appropriate that the Sabbath focus on him as Creator and the cessation of that creative work, the very point of the Exodus commandment. From the perspective of the Deuteronomy legislation, some forty years later, creation pales into insignificance in comparison to the act of redemption itself. With the benefit now of historical retrospection and with the anticipation of the crossing of another watery barrier—the Jordan—and the uncertainties of conquest, Israel was to recall its plight as slaves and its glorious release from that hopeless situation. Sabbath now speaks of redemption and not creation, of rest and not cessation.
"All this gives theological justification for the observance by the Christian of Sunday rather than Saturday as the day set apart as holy. For the Christian the moment of greatest significance is no longer creation or the exodus—as important as these are in salvation history. Central to his faith and experience is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, a re-creation and redemptive event that eclipses all of God's mighty acts of the past. Thus by example if not by explicit command Jesus and the apostles mandated the observance of the first day of the week as commemorative of his triumphant victory over death."
"The Sabbath symbolizes the Old Covenant of Law: you labored for six days and then you rested. The Lord's Day commemorates the New Covenant of grace: it opens the week with rest in Christ and the works follow."
God gave this commandment for the physical and spiritual welfare of His people ("The Sabbath was made for man" [emphasis added]; cf. Mark 2:23-28). The Pharisees later made Sabbath observance stricter than what God had intended (cf. e.g., Mark 2:18—3:6).
God did not command Christians to "observe the Sabbath" (cf. Rom. 10:4; 14:5-6; Gal. 3:23-29; 4:10; Col. 2:16-17). From the birth of the church on, most Christians have observed the first day of the week (Sunday), not the seventh (Saturday), as a memorial of Jesus Christ's resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). In Russian, the first day of the week is called "Resurrection Day."
The reason for this Christian custom is that the Resurrection vindicated everything that Jesus claimed and did. It therefore memorialized God's creation of the church. Even though God did not command it, resting and remembering God's great acts have become customary among Christians down through the centuries. The Christian who works on Sunday, however, is not disobeying God. The early Gentile Christians were mainly slaves who had to work on Sundays, and who met in the evening for worship. For them, Sunday was not a "day of rest," but of work and worship.
To speak of Sunday as the "Christian Sabbath," as some do, may be misleading. True, it is a "day of rest" for many Christians, but God has not commanded us to "observe the Sabbath" as He commanded Jews under the Mosaic Law. Seventh Day Adventists and other sabbatarian groups disagree. They believe that, since this is part of the moral code of the Mosaic Law, it remains in force for Christians. Some Christians appeal to Hebrews 4:9 for support that we should observe Sunday as the Sabbath. However, the "rest" in view in that verse probably refers to our heavenly rest, after we go to be with the Lord. Still other Christians argue for observance of the Sabbath on the basis that it was a creation institution that antedated the Mosaic Law. However, God did not command Sabbath observance until the Mosaic Law.
In short, most Christians observe Sunday as a special day devoted to spiritual, rather than physical matters, and God's interests, rather than our selfish interests, because we choose to do so. We do not do so because God has commanded us to do so.
Making Sunday special has two benefits at least. First, it contributes to public health. God made man in His image. God ceased His labor after working six days in creation. Man, likewise, constitutionally needs a refreshing change after six days of labor, including study. It is not healthy physically, psychologically, or socially to work seven days a week. Note that God made the Sabbath for "man" (mankind), not just for Jews (Mark 2:27). Second, making Sunday special promotes civil liberty. It guards against the exploitation of workers. Sabbath observance was a symbol of freedom to the Israelites. Today, ceasing from labor for one day each week enables people to rest and refresh themselves with friends and family, to enjoy a measure of freedom from "the daily grind." Failure to do so reduces life to the proverbial rat race, in which people live as animals rather than as free human beings. People who have to work seven days a week fail to enjoy the rest God intended for them (cf. Matt. 11:28).
This is the only one of the Ten Commandments that Jesus Christ or the apostles did not restate as a Christian obligation in the New Testament. New Testament references to the repetition of nine of the Ten Commandments, as binding upon Christians, appear in my notes on Exodus 20.
The first four commandments deal primarily with man's relationship to God. The last six deal with man's relationship to man (cf. Matt. 22:37-39).
The first part of this verse contains a precept. "Honor" means to respect, reverence, venerate, glorify, and give heed to (cf. Lev. 19:3; John 19:26-27). All parents are worthy of their children's honor in word and deed, regardless of the parents' personal characters, because they are responsible for giving life to their children. As we should honor God for His creative activity (v. 15; Exod. 20:11), so we should honor our parents for theirs. Parents are God's instruments in giving us life.
"Essentially kabbed (the piel imperative of kabed) carries the nuance of weighing down with honor or respect. In the particular stem used here the idea is declaring to someone or effectively conveying to something the quality of honor. The command to honor therefore is a command to demonstrate in tangible, empirical ways the respect people must have for their parents."
Obedience is one form of honor. In the New Testament era, God has commanded children to "obey" their parents, as well as to honor them (Col. 3:20; cf. Luke 2:51). This responsibility to "obey" lasts only as long as they are children. When they cease to be children, the responsibility to "obey" ends, but the duty to "honor" continues.
The second part of the verse contains a promise. God promised the Israelites long life in the Promised Land of Canaan ("your days may be prolonged and . . . it may go well with you on the land"; cf. 4:40; 5:9-10). He has promised obedient Christian children "long [life] on the earth" (Eph. 6:1-3).
The meaning of the Hebrew word ratsah, translated "kill" or "murder" (NASB, NIV), is "murder" or "slay." Of course, humans rather than animals are in view. Both forms of murder, premeditated (first-degree homicide) and non-premeditated (i.e., second-degree homicide, without pre-meditation, yet intentional killing, e.g., resulting from sudden or provoked rage, or from using a weapon in a fight with an unfair advantage, to kill someone who is unarmed), are in view. The Israelites distinguished and punished these various forms of murder differently, and "manslayers" (including second-degree [rage and or unfair fight] and third-degree [accidental or self-defense] killers) were protected instead of punished, as in modern Western law.
The exceptions for this commandment, in which God commanded the Israelites to take another human life, were: the corporate and public execution of certain law-breakers, and participation in holy war. He first gave the command to execute murderers to Noah, before the Mosaic era (Gen. 9:6). This preexistent law of "capital punishment" provided the foundation for civilized government. God simply incorporated it into the Mosaic Law. Even though God has terminated the Mosaic Law (2 Cor. 3:7-11), the command to execute murderers continues—since it was already in force before the Mosaic Law.
There are several reasons for the sixth commandment (Gen. 9:6). The first is the nature of man. Not only did God create man essentially different from other forms of animal life (Gen. 2:7; cf. Matt. 19:4), but He also created humans in His own image (Gen. 1:26-28). Consequently when someone murders a person, he or she obliterates a revelation (a kind of "copy") of God. Second, murder usurps God's authority. All life belongs to God, and He gives it to us "on lease" (cf. Ezek. 18:4a). To take a human life without divine authorization, therefore, is to arrogate to oneself authority that belongs only to God. Third, the consequences of murder, unlike the consequences of some other sins (e.g., lying, stealing, coveting), are fatal and irreversible.
We must interpret Jesus' words about "hatred" being as bad as murder, in Matthew 5:21-22 (cf. 1 John 3:15a), in their context. Jesus was stressing the fact that attitudes are as important to God as actions—in the Sermon on the Mount. He was correcting false teaching by the Pharisees, that external actions were more important than internal attitudes. He was not saying that the consequences of hatred and murder are the same. Obviously they are not.
The Apostle John's teaching, that "no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15b), means that an abiding Christian will not commit murder (cf. 1 John 3:6a, 24a). This should be clear from the way John uses the word "abide" in his epistles (cf. John 14—17). A Christian has the capacity to commit murder (cf. 1 Pet 4:15), but if he does so, he is not "abiding in" a close relationship with "Christ" when he does so.
In view of the sixth commandment, we should not murder other people or ourselves (suicide). We should also punish those who commit this crime, as God has commanded (Gen. 9:6). Moses, David, and Paul were all murderers—whom God specially pardoned (Exod. 3:10; 2 Sam. 12:13; 1 Tim. 1:13). Moreover, we should fully recognize the seriousness of hatred, and deal with it in our own lives.
This commandment deals with the sexual sin of "adultery" only. Whereas murder violates life itself, adultery violates the most important and sacred human relationship, marriage. God dealt with other forms of sexual sin elsewhere (cf. chs. 22—25). "Adultery" is the sexual union of a man and a woman, when one or both of them is married to someone else. Adultery is an act, not a state, as is likewise true of all the other prohibitions in the Ten Commandments (cf. Matt. 5:27-28).
Adultery is wrong because it disrupts the basic unit of society, namely, the husband-wife relationship. God established marriage long before He gave the Mosaic Covenant, and He intended it to be a permanent relationship (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:3-8). A special new relationship, based on mutual commitment and a spiritual union, comes into existence when marriage vows are taken. Adultery violates that commitment and union, and weakens the basis of the relationship. When adultery takes place, the unfaithful partner temporarily abandons that commitment, and future faithful commitment becomes uncertain. Thus the relationship is not what it was. Adultery erodes the foundation of a marriage, which consists of faithfulness to a commitment (covenant) and a spiritual union before God. It does so by breaking that commitment and by establishing an intimate relationship, however temporary, with another partner (1 Cor. 6:16). It also incurs God's judgment.
Under the Old Covenant, the Israelites dealt with adulteresses more severely than adulterers. Under the New Covenant, we should not execute adulteresses or adulterers. God has promised that He will deal with both (Heb. 13:4; cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-10). Since adultery does not terminate a marriage in God's sight, much less does it terminate one's salvation. However, it might eventually result in the termination of a marriage through divorce and remarriage.
How should a Christian marriage partner respond to a spouse who has committed adultery? He or she should forgive the unfaithful mate (John 8:1-11). How often should the violated partner do this? How often has God forgiven you for being unfaithful to Him (cf. Matt. 18:21-35)? Remember God's instructions to Hosea concerning his unfaithful wife, and how God used Hosea's situation as an illustration of His own love for Israel (cf. Ezek. 23:37; James 4:4; Deut. 5:2)?
But does not forgiveness encourage infidelity? Perhaps, but godly love forgives. God allows us to abuse His mercy, but appreciation for His love and grace will result in our wanting to remain faithful to Him. We should deal with one another as God deals with us, namely, graciously (John 13:34). If a spouse continues to be unfaithful, it may be wise or necessary to separate (action), but there must be continuing forgiveness (attitude).
How can we guard against committing adultery? First, Scripture stresses the importance of guarding our own hearts, the seat of our affections (Matt. 15:19; Prov. 4:23; 7:25). Second, we should realize that God has a claim on our bodies, not just our souls (1 Cor. 6:13-20). Third, we should cultivate our relationship with our spouses (1 Cor. 7:1-5). The husband-wife relationship is more fundamental than the parent-child relationship. Husbands need to take the initiative in cultivating this relationship (Eph. 5:25-31).
Stealing means taking something that belongs to another person against that person's will. Theft violates one's property rights, just as adultery violates marriage and the family.
Usually what is stolen is some material possession—such as a vehicle, household goods, or cash. "Pilfering" is stealing small amounts of something. "Swindling" involves deceiving someone into believing that his money is going one place, while really all, or part of it, is going somewhere else. Usually it is going into the pocket of the swindler. A person can be guilty of theft by falsifying accounts (e.g., paper theft as on one's income tax forms; cf. Amos 8:4-6; Rom. 13:7). He can also do so by misusing personal discount privileges, or stealing from an employer by not working all the hours his employer has contracted for. He could also do so by not paying debts (e.g., alimony, child support, bankruptcy), or by not returning items that he has borrowed. A person can even steal the spouse of another, as King David did.
Stealing can involve robbing a person of his personal freedom—by kidnapping, taking hostages, hijacking an airliner, or enslaving someone in debt (cf. Gen. 37:22-28). One can rob a person of his reputation, by withholding or distorting the truth, thereby stealing his promotion or job (cf. the third commandment). One can steal other people's legitimate personal rights—such as their joy, time, or even their life. It is even possible to steal from God what we owe Him (e.g., money, praise, ourselves).
The Israelite was to return what he had stolen if possible, to make restitution, and to add 20 percent of the value as a penalty for his theft (Lev. 5:16; 6:5; Num. 5:7; cf. Luke 19:8). God has not commanded Christians to pay the 20 percent penalty, but we should at least make full restitution, as well as confess this sin to God (John 13:34-35; Eph. 4:28; 1 John 1:9).
God worded this commandment differently from what we might expect. He might have said, "Thou shalt not lie." The wording indicates the emphasis, which was specifically "bearing false witness," namely, character assassination, another form of killing and stealing. The word "witness" (Heb. ed) refers to testimony given in legal cases. "Neighbor" (Heb. rea') focuses on a fellow member of the covenant community, but is broad enough to include all other human beings (cf. Exod. 11:2; Lev. 19:18, 34). Integrity, honesty, and faithfulness in speech are in view, especially such situations in which someone's testimony determines a person's fate. The more general prohibition against lying appears elsewhere (Lev. 19:11-12). The ninth commandment deals with our speech, as does the third (cf. James 3).
This command covers all kinds of "slander" (cf. Ps. 101:5): "Perjury" in court is primarily in view. Nevertheless, any time we distort the truth when we speak, we have the potential of ruining or even destroying a life (cf. the fates of Naboth and Jesus Christ). Satan is the source and father of lies (John 8:44; cf. Acts 5:3). The Fall resulted from a lie (Gen. 3:4). God "hates" lying (Prov. 6:16-19), and He is the infallible lie detector. "Flattery" can be a form of lying. Even a question can slander (Job 1:8-9), as can silence, if, by keeping silent, we give tacit approval to a lie. However, we do not always need to tell all we know. Withholding information does not always constitute lying. "Lying," and "bearing false witness" in particular, should never characterize the Christian (Col. 3:9-17).
"Coveting" means inordinately desiring to possess what belongs to another person. Another definition is: wanting more and more of something one already has enough of. This commandment deals with motivation rather than deed, with attitude rather than action. It gets at the spirit that often leads to the "forbidden" sins listed in commandments six through nine. The attitude that coveting reveals is "selfishness," or "self-centeredness." One writer titled a chapter in which he expounded this commandment: "The Selfish Life Denounced."
The seriousness of this sin is obvious from the fact that God forbade it many times in Scripture (e.g., Ps. 10:3; Prov. 28:16; Mark 7:21-23; Luke 12:15; Rom. 1:28-29; Eph. 5:3, 5; 1 Tim. 6:9-10; 2 Tim. 3:1-5). Coveting is attractive to many, because people can practice it without ever experiencing public exposure. Notwithstanding, God knows our hearts (Acts 1:24). The covetous attitude itself is sinful (cf. Matt. 5:21-48), and it often leads to overt sin (e.g., Eve, Lot, Achan, David, Ahab, Judas Iscariot, Ananias and Sapphira). "Coveting" is the root attitude from which every sin—in both word and deed—against a neighbor grows.
We cannot escape this sin completely. It is one of the most virile spiritual viruses that attacks us, and it flourishes in our cultural environment. Nevertheless, like bacteria, we can keep it under control with God's help. A prescription for the control of covetousness might include four ingredients:
First, as with all other temptations, we must recognize our need for God's help (grace) in combatting it (John 15:5), and ask for that help (James 4:2; Ps. 55:22; 1 Pet. 5:7).
Second, we need to "learn" to be "content" in our present condition (Phil. 4:6, 11, 19; 1 Tim. 6:6; cf. Deut. 5:21).
Third, we need to evaluate why we want the things we want. Desiring something we do not have is not necessarily wrong in itself (cf. 1 Cor. 12:31). The reason we want it makes it "right" or "wrong" (cf. James 4:2-3). Do we want it in order to exalt self—or to better serve God, our family, friends, or the needy (cf. Mark 10:45)?
This pericope is another brief historical résumé. God said that the Israelites had "done well" (v. 28) in committing themselves to obey the Ten Commandments ("all that the LORD our God speaks . . . we will hear and do," v. 27). The people's response to the revelation of the Ten Commandments (vv. 24-27) indicates great respect for God's holiness.
God revealed to Moses that unfortunately the "heart" of the people would not retain this attitude ("Oh that they had such a heart . . . [to] keep all My commandments always," v. 29). These words of God (". . . that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!" v. 29) reflect God's great love for Israel, and His desire that His people experience His blessing. This is the heart of God.
"The best interests of his people are deep in the heart of God. This view of divine compassion shows how the Lord's love focuses on what is best for his people. Here is no vindictive god in contrast to a loving NT Lord. No, this glimpse into the heart of God is in harmony with the most compassionate depiction of Christ in the NT."
God revealed the rest of the covenant only to Moses, not to all the Israelites ("But as for you [Moses], stand here by Me, that I may speak to you all the commandments and the statutes and the judgments which you shall teach them" [emphasis added], v. 31), but Moses reported this revelation to the people sometime after God revealed it to him privately.
This chapter teaches us that the proper response to God's Word is reverence for Him, and obedience—not only because God "is Who He is," but because He also desires our welfare.
"The Decalogue is at the heart of the message of Deuteronomy. It is the divinely given foundation of the covenant relationship, the standard set by the suzerain God as a basis for the continuing relationship with his vassal people."
John Walton suggested that chapters 6—26 expand the Decalogue with the intent of addressing the spirit of the law. He believed the structure of the book supports his contention that the writer chose exemplary cases. Moses intended in these chapters to clarify the attitudes implied by the Ten Commandments, rather than only giving specific commands on a variety of subjects. Walton identified four major issues that he believed the Decalogue addresses, and around which chapters 6 through 26 seem to be organized. He saw the structure of this section as follows:
Commandments 6, 7 & 8
Rights and Privileges
Walton's basic thesis appears sound, but some of his conclusions seem questionable to me.
"Before the principles, that is, the general stipulations, of the covenant are spelled out, Moses devotes a great deal of attention to describing their nature and how they are to be applied and transmitted. Thus once more the strictly 'legal' or technical parts of the document are set within a hortatory framework as part of a major Mosaic address."
These verses announce the commandments that follow and give the reason for obeying them: God's blessing. God's blessing would come in the form of long life ("that your days may be prolonged"), peace and prosperity ("that it may be well with you"), and numerous descendants ("that you may multiply greatly"). The "fear" of God (v. 2; cf. 5:29, 35; et al.) is the respect that comes from an appreciation of His character.
Here the actual exposition of the Decalogue begins with an explanation and implications of the first commandment. Moses presented Yahweh as the one true God who requires complete devotion: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."
"With this chapter we come to the pivot around which everything else in Deuteronomy revolves—the Shema or Great Commandment, as it has also come to be known (6:4-5). . . . In turn, the statutes and ordinances explicate in specific and concrete ways the meaning of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 for the life of Israel. That is why Jesus can later say that all the law and the prophets hang on this commandment (Matt. 22:40)."
The idea in verse 4 is not just that Yahweh is the only God, but that He is also "one" unified person (thus a "mono-deity," "one god"; the "triune," or Trinity aspect of God, three Persons in one God, is clearly taught in other passages).
"It is possible to understand verse 4 in several ways, but the two most popular renderings of the final clause are: (1) 'The LORD our God, the LORD is one' (so NIV) or (2) 'The LORD our God is one LORD.' The former stresses the uniqueness or exclusivity of Yahweh as Israel's God and so may be paraphrased 'Yahweh our God is the one and only Yahweh' or the like. This takes the noun 'ehad ('one') in the sense of 'unique' or 'solitary,' a meaning that is certainly well attested. The latter translation focuses on the unity or wholeness of the Lord. This is not in opposition to the later Christian doctrine of the Trinity but rather functions here as a witness to the self-consistency of Yahweh who is not ambivalent and who has a single purpose or objective for creation and history. The ideas clearly overlap to provide an unmistakable basis for monotheistic faith. Yahweh is indeed a unity, but beyond that he is the only God. For this reason the exhortation of verse 5 has practical significance."
This affirmation made inappropriate both "polytheism" (the belief in many gods) and "henotheism" (the worship of one god without denying the existence of other gods).
"Deuteronomy more than any other Old Testament book concerns itself not only with the obligation to worship and the rules for doing so, but also with the subjective aspect of worship—with the feelings of the worshipper and the spirit in which he or she worships."
"The heart (leb) is, in Old Testament anthropology, the seat of the intellect, equivalent to the mind or rational part of humankind. The 'soul' (better, 'being' or 'essential person' in line with the commonly accepted understanding of nepes) refers to the invisible part of the individual, the person qua [as being] person including the will and sensibilities. The strength (me'od) is, of course, the physical side with all its functions and capacities."
There is no word in Hebrew for "mind" or "brain."
"The demand [in v. 5] 'with all the heart' excludes all halfheartedness, all division of the heart in its love. The heart is mentioned first, as the seat of the emotions generally and of love in particular; then follows the soul (nephesh) as the centre of personality in man, to depict the love as pervading the entire self-consciousness; and to this is added, 'with all the strength,' sc. [that is to say] of body and soul. Loving the Lord with all the heart and soul and strength is placed at the head, as the spiritual principles from which the observance of the commandments was to flow (see also chap. xi. 1, xxx. 6)."
The only individual in the Old Testament—of whom it was said that he turned to the Lord with all his heart, soul, and might—was King Josiah (2 Kings 23:25). Jesus Christ quoted verse 5 as the greatest of all God's commandments (Matt. 22:37-38; Mark 12:28-30; cf. Luke 10:27).
"The verse does not invite analysis into ideas of intellectual, emotional, and physical parts. The words behind heart, soul, and strength basically relate to what a person is or how a person directs himself toward another person. It is, therefore, not inaccurate for the NT writers to quote (or translate) the Hebrew words, which are often synonymous, by differing Greek words, which are also often synonymous, since the words taken together mean to say that the people are to love God with their whole selves."
The statement begun here (vv. 4-5; cf. 11:13-21; Num. 15:37-41) became Israel's basic confession of faith. This is the "Shema" (lit. "Hear," from the first word). Pious Jews recite it twice daily even today.
"If the Ten Words are the heart of the stipulations as a whole, the principle of the Words is encapsulated in the so-called Shema (6:4-5), which defines who the Sovereign is and reduces the obligation to Him to one of exclusive love and obedience."
"The Shema' should not be taken out of context and interpreted as a great monotheistic confession. Moses had made that point in 4:35, 39: 'For Yahweh (alone) is God; there is none beside(s) him.' Nor is the issue in the broader context the nature of God in general or his integrity in particular—though the nature and integrity of his people is a very important concern. This is a cry of allegiance, an affirmation of covenant commitment in response to the question, 'Who is the God of Israel?' The language of the Shema' is 'sloganesque' rather than prosaic: 'Yahweh our God! Yahweh alone!' or 'Our God is Yahweh, Yahweh alone!' This was to be the distinguishing mark of the Israelite people; they are those (and only those) who claim Yahweh alone as their God."
"Heart," "soul," and "might" are three different internal human functions. In other similar passages, only two of these are mentioned ("heart" and "soul"; 4:29; 10:12; Josh. 22:5). In still other passages, another is added ("mind"; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). The meaning is the same in all cases: wholeheartedly, or "all that is within me" (Ps. 103:1).
This section contains instructions for remembering and teaching these great truths to the following generations.
"In the psychology of the Old Testament the heart is not the center of emotional life and response but the seat of the intellect or rational side of humankind. To 'be upon the heart' is to be in one's constant, conscious reflection."
"The reason for this emphasis on the children is clear. Deuteronomy is always aimed at the next generation. It takes the present (next) generation back to the past and brings the past afresh into the present. The children are now the ones before whom all the choices are laid, and some day their children will be there and the divine instruction will confront them (e.g., 30:2). Can they learn afresh what it means to love the Lord wholeheartedly?"
Note the emphasis in verses 6-9 on the importance of parents diligently using opportunities, as they arise daily in the course of their everyday movements and activities, to equip their children to live dependently on God.
A Japanese girl who studied at an American college enjoyed living in the United States, but one thing she longed to see was the inside of a true Christian home. She spent her Christmas vacation in the home of one of her classmates, and she had a delightful time. As she was about to leave, the mother said, "How do you like the way we Americans live?" "Oh," said the girl, "I love it! Your home is truly beautiful. Yet, there is one thing I miss." A faraway look came into her eyes as she continued, "I have been with you to your church and have seen you worship there, but I have missed God in your home. In Japan we have a 'god shelf' in every home, so we can worship right in our house. Excuse me, but don't you Americans worship God in your homes?" Her host felt convicted, for there was little to reveal that theirs was a Christian home, not even a time when the family prayed and read the Bible together.
One day in a seminary class, I asked my students to suggest some ways that parents can perpetuate the knowledge of God in their children. A young man proceeded to explain that his wife had grown up in Brazil, where her parents had practiced the custom of writing down evidences of God's faithfulness to their family, and putting the paper into a matchbox. At the end of each year they glued that year's matchbox onto others from preceding years. While the girl was growing up, she saw her parents construct a house made out of these matchboxes. When the family ran into trouble, they would open up one or more of the matchboxes, read the record of God's faithfulness, and be encouraged.
Friends of ours used to keep a special gallon iced tea jar on the counter in their kitchen. When God showed His faithfulness in some dramatic way, they wrote what happened on a slip of paper and put it into the jar. Then, when the going got tough, they opened the jar and reminded themselves of how God had been faithful to them in the past.
God gave the command to instruct the children in figurative language. The point is that the Israelites were to meditate on God's words without ceasing. The fact that they sought to fulfill this command literally with Scripture holders, on their bodies (Heb. tefillin; Gr. phulakterion, phylacteries) and on their doorframes (Heb. mezuzot, mezuzahs), was commendable but misguided. Another view is that the literalness of verse 9 argues for a literal interpretation of verse 8. The Lord Jesus later condemned their pride in these physical objects, and their reliance on them to produce godliness (Matt. 23:5)—not their use of them.
Observant Jews still often mount little holders on the frames of their front doors, into which they place a small parchment scroll. Exodus 13:1-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21, and the name "Shaddai" appear on these papers, as a visible sign and reminder of their faith. In addition, sometimes Jews place the Decalogue, and or Exod. 13:1-16, and or Num. 10:35-36 in these holders. W. M. Thomson wrote that the passages written were generally Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-30, in his day (mid-nineteenth century). The Jews call the scroll and its holder a "mezuzah" (lit. "doorpost").
"It's much easier to wear a gold cross on our person than to bear Christ's cross in daily life, and to hang Scripture texts on the walls of our homes than to hide God's Word in our hearts. If we love the Lord and cleave to Him, we will want to know His Word and obey it in every area of our lives."
The fact that God commanded the Israelites to "write" (v. 9) anything at all, reveals that literacy was widespread in Israel.
"Ancient Hebrew written documents, recovered by archaeology, demonstrate both that there were readers and writers in ancient Israel, and that they were by no means rare. Few places would have been without someone who could write, and few Israelites could have been unaware of writing."
Israel's kings were later to write their own copy of the Torah, but at this time most kings in the ancient Near East were virtually illiterate. Thus there seems to have been a higher level of literacy in Israel compared to her neighbor nations.
Several years ago a young Frenchman captured the attention of the world by walking a tightrope between the towers of New York's World Trade Center, 1,350 feet above the streets below. A few months later, however, while practicing on a relatively low wire in St. Petersburg, Florida, he fell 30 feet and was injured. As he lay waiting for help, he reportedly beat his fist on the ground saying, "I can't believe it! I can't believe it! I never fall!" I don't know what caused his accident, but I'd guess that he became careless about his concentration—because he was working at a low level where the risk didn't seem very great.
The Israelites were not to destroy many towns (including buildings and infrastructure, streets, etc.), but only to kill their inhabitants (including animals, idols, sacred pillars, high places, and shrines), a rare policy in the history of warfare. Their obedience to the command to preserve most towns has resulted in an absence of archaeological evidence for the conquest of the land. Both abundance and want will tempt one to forget God (cf. Prov. 30:8-9; Phil. 4:11-13). At "Massah" (v. 16), the Israelites complained about their lack of water (Exod. 17:1-7).
God explained more fully here the teaching of children that He had hinted at previously (v. 7). We can learn from these verses how to maintain and transmit a realistic consciousness of the true God from one generation to the next. This whole chapter deals with the first commandment in the Decalogue.
"Later Judaism wrongly concluded that covenant keeping was the basis for righteousness rather than an expression of faithful devotion. But true covenant keeping in the final analysis is a matter of faith, not merely of works and ritual. Thus the central feature of the covenant stipulations is their providing a vehicle by which genuine saving faith might be displayed (cf. Deut 24:13; Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; 4:1-5; Gal 3:6-7)."
"The basic truth laid down in Deuteronomy is that which is expressed in chapter vi. 23—'And He brought us out from thence, that He might bring us in, to give us the land which He sware unto our fathers."
In view of God's grace to His people, believers should respond with love for God. We should express that love in obedience to His revealed will, and we should perpetuate the knowledge of God in the next generation.
"These clearly are not laws or commandments as such but primarily series of parenetic homilies in which Moses exhorted the people to certain courses of action in light of the upcoming conquest and occupation of Canaan. Within these sections, however, are specific and explicit injunctions based upon the Decalogue and anticipatory of further elaboration in the large section of detailed stipulations that follows (12:1—26:15)."
This chapter is a logical development of what Moses said in chapters 5 and 6. God had called on His people to acknowledge that He is the only true God ("Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God; the LORD is one"—the Shema), and to be completely loyal to Him. In Canaan, they would encounter temptations that might divert them from their fidelity (cf. 6:14). Now we have a full explanation of how the Israelites were to deal with these temptations. These instructions amplify the second commandment (5:8-10).
7:1-11 Moses mentioned seven nations that resided in Canaan here (v. 1), but as many as 10 appear in other passages (cf. Gen. 15:19-21; Exod. 34:11; Num. 13:28-29; Judg. 3:5). Perhaps Moses named seven here for rhetorical purposes, "seven" being a number that indicates completion or fullness.
The "Hittites" originally migrated from Asia Minor (modern Turkey; cf. Gen. 23:10).
"The reference is something of a problem, for the historical Hittite empire of the Late Bronze Age lay considerably north of Palestine. It should be understood either that there were in fact many Hittite migrants into Palestine (enough to justify Gen. 10:15, which lists Heth, from whom the Hittites descended, as a son of Canaan), or that the use of the term came to be very vague, as a result of a loose use of the name of the land of the Hittites to cover an area much more extensive than that to which it properly applied."
The origin of the "Girgashites" is uncertain (cf. Gen. 10:16; 1 Chron. 1:14). The "Amorites" were native inhabitants who lived in the mountains of Canaan. The "Canaanites" were native inhabitants who lived on the coastlands. The "Perizzites" were native inhabitants who lived in the hill country. The "Hivites" were native inhabitants who lived to the north, just south of the Lebanon mountains. And the "Jebusites" were native inhabitants who lived in and around Jerusalem.
One reason for God commanding the total extermination of these idolaters was the evil effect their corrupt worship would have on the Israelites and their relationship with Yahweh ("they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods," v. 4). They deserved to die, not only for their many vile and violent sins (9:4-5), but also for their persistent hatred of God (v. 10; cf. Gen. 9:25-26; 10:15-18; Exod. 23:23).
The idolaters' "sacred pillars" (v. 5) were their stone monuments, examples of which have been found at Gezer and Hazor. These may have originally been phallic symbols used in fertility rites of worship. Sometimes a sacred pillar (Heb. massebah) marked a place where a theophany occurred (e.g., Gen. 35:14). Later the Hebrew term refers to a legitimate element of cultic apparatus in Israel's worship (e.g., Hos. 3:4). Hezekiah condemned the sacred pillars (2 Kings 18:4), and they are usually listed among the unacceptable objects involved in Israel's worship (e.g., 12:3; 16:22; Exod. 23:24; 34:13; Lev. 26:1; et al.).
Israel was to be different from other nations (i.e., "holy") because God had "chosen" to bless her ("to be a people for His own possession," v. 6). Likewise Christians today should deal ruthlessly with sin in our lives (cf. 1 Cor. 5:6). Israel's election was not due to anything in her that merited God's favor (e.g., "the LORD did not set His love on you . . . because you were more in number"), but only due to God's free choice to "bless whom He would bless" (Num. 22:6; cf. Gen. 12:3; Num. 23:30; Rom. 9).
"Israel had a priestly tribe, the tribe of Levi, but the nation as a whole was also to be a priesthood. The historical function of a priest was to represent man to God. The tribe of Levi represented Israel before God; and the nation Israel was to represent the Gentile nations before God."
God's promises to the Israelites' forefathers and His deliverance of Israel out of Egypt were demonstrations of the "love" that lay behind God's election (vv. 7-8). His motive of "love" comes through clearly. The reason for this love was not that its recipients were attractive or great "in number" or power, but that its Giver is a loving Person.
7:12-26 Obedience would bring blessing. Moses enumerated the blessings for remaining completely devoted to God and refusing to practice idolatry (vv. 13-16). "Grain," "wine," and "oil" (v. 13) represent the three principle food products of Canaan. The Israelites would be able to obtain encouragement in battle by remembering God's past faithfulness ("what . . . God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt . . . the signs and the wonders and the mighty hand . . . by which the LORD your God brought you out"; vv. 17-21). God told the Israelites He would drive out the Canaanites gradually ("little by little"; v. 22). He would not allow them to destroy the Canaanites totally until they had grown large enough—numerically—to care for the land adequately (cf. Exod. 23:27-33). This gradual extermination would be hard for the Israelites, in that the temptations to idolatry would continue to abound on every hand. Nevertheless, it would be better for them than sudden annihilation of their enemies because in that case the land would become wild and unmanageable ("for the wild beasts would grow too numerous for you," v. 22). The Israelites were not to take the "gold" and "silver" from the Canaanite idols for themselves (v. 25). The whole idol was "under the ban" (Heb. herem), and they were to destroy it (vv. 25-26).
Believers should not make defiling alliances with unbelievers, who are pursuing lives of rebellion against God, but should oppose their actions (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-18).
"Two important lessons from the past are now referred to. First, the experience of God's care in the wilderness period, when the people of Israel were unable to help themselves, taught them the lesson of humility through the Lord's providential discipline. The memory of that experience should keep them from pride in their own achievements amid the security and prosperity of the new land (8:1-20)."
The Israelites were not only in danger of compromising with the Canaanites (ch. 7). They were also in danger of becoming too self-reliant when they entered the land (ch. 8). Note the two double themes, of remembering and forgetting, and the wilderness and the Promised Land, in this chapter. They lead to the warning in verses 19-20. Four times in chapters 8 and 9, Moses commanded the Israelites to "remember" (8:2, 18; 9:7, 27), and four times he warned them not to "forget" (8:11, 14, 19; 9:7).
8:1-6 God "humbled" the Israelites, in the sense that He sought to teach them to have a realistic awareness of their dependence on Himself for all their needs. Being totally dependent on God involves true humility. God's supernatural provision of manna to eat, and clothing to wear, should have taught the people that they were completely dependent on His provision for all their needs—not just food and clothing.
"Imagine having a suit of clothes that would not wear out. I know the ladies would not like this at all. Year after year the wife could tell her hubby that she needed a new dress, and year after year the husband could say that the one she was wearing looked brand new. I tell you, after that went on for forty years, the women would be pretty far behind in the styles. However in the wilderness the styles didn't change; so it really didn't make any difference. Seriously, this is marvelous; it is a miracle."
"I have been told by a medical missionary that one of the causes of foot-swelling in the orient is an improper diet. It is interesting that the manna had all the vitamins they needed to keep their feet from swelling as they journeyed through the wilderness."
"The third means of divine self-disclosure in the context of the Deuteronomic covenant [in addition to historical event and theophany] was by word. It is important to note, however, that in the ancient Near East and in the Old Testament there is no essential distinction between act and word, for the act is produced by the word and the word is never without effective purpose. It is dynamic, entelic, purposeful, creative, powerful (cf. Gen. 1:3, etc.). It does not exist (as in Greek philosophy, for example) as a theoretical or neutral abstraction. In terms of revelation, and especially in Deuteronomy, it is necessary to see the powerful word as a covenant instrument; the word of the Sovereign commands and communicates, but it also effects, empowers, and creates."
The contrast intended is not between physical bread and the special revelation of God in Scripture. It is, more generally, between what man provides for himself, and what God provides for him. God was warning the Israelites against excessive self-reliance (cf. Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4).
"Just as the Genesis narratives used God's act of providing clothing for Adam and Eve to demonstrate his care for humankind after they were cast out of the Garden (Ge 3:21), so God's care for Israel in the wilderness is pictured here in his providing for their clothing (Dt 8:4). Moreover, the same picture of God as a loving father, which permeates the early chapters of Genesis . . ., is recalled again here: 'As a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you' (Dt 8:5; cf. 32:6)."
Moses applied the lesson to Israel's future in this section. When the people had later settled in the land, and were experiencing God's blessing of material wealth, they would face the temptation to think they were responsible for it—rather than God (v. 17)! The "prophylactic" to this spiritual delusion—in that future time of blessing—would be to "remember" what God had taught them in the past. It had been He, not themselves, who had been responsible for their prosperity.
"'To remember' means literally to re-member the body, to bring the separated parts of the community of truth back together, to reunite the whole. The opposite of re-member is not forget, but dis-member."
The list of good products that awaited the Israelites in the Promised Land (v. 8) has led some enterprising Americans to produce and sell the "Bible Bar." This is a snack bar, made from the ingredients listed in this verse, that is available for purchase.
As God's people move toward the realization of the inheritance that He has promised us, we need to remember His faithful provision in the past. If we do not remember, we may turn aside and stop following Him faithfully in the present. Failure to remember, and follow faithfully in the present, will also result in God's punishment in the future (cf. 1 Cor. 3:12-15).
"Always remember to forget
The troubles that passed your way,
But never forget to remember
This section has great application value for Christians who enjoy material prosperity. God clearly revealed the essence of pride and humility, here, as well as the way to maintain a realistic outlook on material blessings. God wanted Israel to learn that material blessings are basically not rewards for godliness, but essentially sovereignly given gifts of grace from her loving God. They were "tools" with which to serve Him.
There are basically two reasons that, or conditions in which, God blesses people: One is that God sovereignly chooses to bestow a blessing on a particular person or group or nation and not on another (cf. Mal. 1:2-3; Rom. 9:13). The other condition is that when a person chooses to walk in God's will, be he or she a believer or a non-believer, that person will enjoy more of God's blessing than the person who chooses not to walk in God's will.
"From a literary standpoint Deut 9:1—10:11 is a travel narrative much like Deut 1:6—3:29, with which, in fact, it shares much in common. For example, both are introduced (1:1-5; 9:1-6) and concluded (3:29; 10:11) by a setting in the plains of Moab in anticipation of the conquest of Canaan."
This pericope contains the second important lesson from the past:
"Secondly, any success they might enjoy in the coming conquest was not to be interpreted as a mark of divine approval for their own righteousness (9:1-6). In fact, both in the incident of the golden calf (9:7-21) and in a number of other incidents (9:22, 23), Israel had proved herself stubborn and rebellious. She was delivered only after the intercession of Moses (9:24-29). Past experience should remind the people that they needed discipline for their rebellious ways. Yet through all their recalcitrance Yahweh remained faithful, even to the extent of granting them two more tables of stone when the first ones were broken (10:1-11; cf. Ex. 32:19; 34:1-4). All the experiences of the past would underline the fact that Israel was dependent on Yahweh for divine care, provision, protection, and forgiveness. To forget these facts was to display base ingratitude and self-deifying pride."
"Besides the more vulgar pride which entirely forgets God, and attributes success and prosperity to its own power and exertion, there is one of a more refined character, which very easily spreads—namely, pride which acknowledges the blessings of God; but instead of receiving them gratefully, as unmerited gifts of the grace of the Lord, sees in them nothing but proofs of its own righteousness and virtue. Moses therefore warned the Israelites more particularly of this dangerous enemy of the soul, by first of all declaring without reserve, that the Lord was not about to give them Canaan because of their own righteousness, but that He would exterminate the Canaanites for their own wickedness (vers. 1-6); and then showing them for their humiliation, by proofs drawn from the immediate past, how they had brought upon themselves the anger of the Lord, by their apostasy and rebellion against their God, directly after the conclusion of the covenant at Sinai; and that in such a way, that it was only by his earnest intercession that he had been able to prevent the destruction of the people (vers. 7-24), and to secure a further renewal of the pledges of the covenant (ver. 25—chap. x. 11)."
9:1-6 Moses explained the reasons God was giving Canaan to the Israelites. In addition to God's promises to the patriarchs (v. 5), God was using Israel as a broom to sweep away the spiritually and morally polluted Canaanites ("driving them out before you"). Israel was His instrument of judgment. The people of God should not conclude that "[their] righteousness" was what merited God's blessing. Essentially they were "a stubborn people" (v. 6), unresponsive to God's will, as the Canaanites had been. The expression "stiff-necked" pictures unwillingness to submit to the yoke of God's sovereignty (cf. Exod. 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; Isa. 48:4). God's choice to bless them was not due to their righteousness. Their "righteousness" was not particularly superior to that of the Canaanites. God's choice rested on His purposes in electing Israel (v. 5; cf. Eph. 1:4).
Self-righteousness became a besetting sin of the Israelites. The only way we can avoid it is to remember our own sinfulness. God has chosen Christians, not because of our righteousness, but in spite of our sinfulness.
9:7-24 Moses provided ample evidence of Israel's stubbornness. Again he called on the Israelites to "remember" their past ("how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath . . . from the day that you left the land of Egypt . . . you have been rebellious"; v. 7). He gave their rebellion at Horeb extended attention in this address because it was a very serious offense. They followed the reception of God's greatest blessing, the revelation of Himself and His will, with immediate apostasy.
"The very finger of God [v. 10]. This is a double figure of speech (1) in which God is ascribed human features (anthropomorphism) and (2) in which a part stands for the whole (synecdoche). That is, God, as Spirit, has no literal finger nor, if he had, would he write with his finger. Rather, the sense is that God himself—not Moses in any way—was responsible for the composition of the Ten Commandments (cf. Exod 31:18; 32:16; 34:1)."
Moses fasted for "40 days and nights" following the Golden Calf incident, "neither [eating] bread nor [drinking] water" (v. 18), which reflects his total dependence on God. Then Moses alluded to the failures at Taberah, Massah, Kibbroth-hattaavah, and Kadesh (vv. 22-23). He did not name these in chronological order, but in the order of their importance, proceeding from the lesser to the greater offenses. This presentation should have had great rhetorical and persuasive impact on Moses' original audience, and it should have the same effect on us. Moses also referred to God's faithfulness to His people in spite of their failures, that further demonstrated how wicked these sins really were.
9:25-29 Moses returned in these verses to the rebellion at Sinai, to further illustrate how Israel had no basis for boasting of her own righteousness before God. God had preserved Israel only because of His mercy and covenant faithfulness.
"It is good for us often to remember against ourselves, with sorrow and shame, our former sins, and to review the records conscience keeps of them, that we may see how much we are indebted to free grace, and may humbly own that we never merited at God's hand any thing but wrath and the curse."
10:1-11 God renewed the broken covenant with Israel because of Moses' intercession, not because Israel deserved it. Moses "made [the] ark" (v. 3) in the sense that he directed Bezalel to make it (cf. Exod. 25:10; 37:1). "Ark" was a common English word for box, chest, or basket in seventeenth-century England, and most modern English translations still use this old word. "Acacia" (Heb. shittim) wood was "a hard, durable, orange brown wood, still common in desert regions of Palestine."
Other evidences of God's grace were His appointment of another high priest when "Aaron died" ("Eleazar his son," v. 6), and His provision of "water" in the wilderness (v. 7). "Moserah" (v. 6; Num. 33:31) may be another name for Mt. Hor (Num. 33:38), or the district in which Mt. Hor stood, or "Moserah" might not be a place name at all but a common noun (Heb. mosera, "chastisement"), indicating the reason for Aaron's death rather than the site. Another possibility is that the order "Beeroth Bene-jaakan to Moserah," in verse 6, may refer to a second visit to these sites, whereas the order "Moserah . . . Bene-jaaken," in Numbers 33:31, may refer to a first visit.
God also "set apart the tribe of Levi" as priests' assistants or assistant-priests, even though the nation had failed in its calling as a "kingdom of priests" ("to carry the ark of the covenant" and tabernacle; vv. 8-9). Furthermore, He permitted the disobedient people to "proceed" on toward the Promised Land, instead of immediately destroying them (v. 11). Again, the order of events here is logical rather than chronological.
Excessive self-reliance (ch. 8) and self-importance (9:1—10:11) would erode Israel's proper concept of God. The people would regard God as less than He was. This was a violation of the third commandment (5:11), which aims at keeping man's view of God's reputation (name) consistent with His character.
Having recited what God had done for the Israelites, Moses now called on them to respond and make a commitment to Him.
"The structure of the passage reveals an enveloping pattern in which injunctions to obey God (vv. 12-13; 20-22) embrace the corollary command to exhibit proper care and concern for other people, especially the socially and economically disadvantaged (vv. 14-19). The motive clause and that which binds the whole together is v. 17, a confession of the sovereignty of God and of his justice."
10:12-13 In view of His past grace to His people, what did God "require from" them? Moses summarized Israel's responsibility: "fear the LORD," "walk in all His ways," "love Him," "serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,", "keep the LORD's commandments and His statutes" (emphasis added); or to put it in a short form: "fear, walk, love, serve, and keep." God expected total allegiance to Himself and obedience to His covenant.
The "fear [of] the LORD" (v. 12) includes the response that springs from one's knowledge of his personal sinfulness, as he realizes that he stands before a holy God.
10:14-19 The rationale behind this response was that, as God had demonstrated love for her ("the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose . . . you of all peoples"), so Israel was to demonstrate love for God (vv. 14-15). The phrase "highest heavens" (v. 14) is a Hebrew idiom indicating the totality of heaven; it does not mean that there are multiple levels of heaven.
"Above all, therefore, they were to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts, i.e., to lay aside all insensibility of heart to impressions from the love of God (cf. Lev. xxvi. 41; and on the spiritual signification of circumcision, see vol. i. p. 227), and not stiffen their necks any more, i.e., not persist in their obstinacy, or obstinate resistance to God (cf. chap. ix. 6, 13). Without circumcision of heart, true fear of God and true love of God are both impossible. As a reason for this admonition, Moses adduces in vers. 17 sqq. the nature and acts of God."
"God chose Israel to be an elect nation, not true of any other nation in this world. However, national election does not guarantee the salvation of every individual member of that nation. Individual salvation is based on individual election on God's part and faith on man's part. In verse 16, individual members of the elect nation are encouraged to 'circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart.' Whereas circumcision of the flesh is a sign of one's membership in the elect nation, circumcision of the heart is a sign of individual election."
"'. . . cleave' ["cling" v. 20] . . . is synonymous with love (cf. Gen. 34:3; 1 Kg. 11:2) or devotion to a leader (2 Sam. 20:2). In the Pentateuch it is only Deuteronomy which uses the word in connection with the relationship of God and Israel (cf. also 11:22; 13:4; 30:20, and . . . in Jos. [Joshua] 22:5; 23:8)."
The section of Deuteronomy dealing with general stipulations of the covenant ends as it began, with an exhortation to covenant loyalty (5:1-5; cf. 4:32-40).
11:1-12 In these verses, Moses developed the requirement of "love [for] God" more fully. God's acts toward Israel had been for their "discipline" (v. 2), not just punishment.
The force of the comparison of Egypt with Canaan, in verses 10-11, is that irrigation was absolutely necessary, not an option, in Egypt. However, in Canaan the people would not need it, because God sent "rain [from] heaven" on that land. Most farmers would actually have preferred the rich topsoil of the Nile delta region, to land that depended on rain that might or might not come. Perhaps Moses was comparing Egypt, disdainfully, to a small green ("vegetable") "garden" irrigated by dirty water, with the extensive farmlands of Canaan that God watered with clean rain.
"watered it with your foot [v. 10]: the significance of this is not entirely clear. It is sometimes taken as an allusion to the irrigation channels which are hollowed out by foot in soft earth, or to a way of regulating by foot the flow of water in such irrigation channels, or to a water wheel turned by the foot, or even as a metaphorical allusion to physical labour."
11:13-21 Moses held out the blessings for obeying God as an additional motivation. God would send rain on the land ("give rain for your land," v. 14a) that would result in productivity ("[so] that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil. He will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied"; vv. 14b-15).
11:22-32 God would "drive out all" the Canaanites ("these nations," v. 23), and give Israel all the land that He had promised Abraham ("every place on which the sole of your foot treads . . . from the wilderness [of Paran] to Lebanon, and from . . . the river Euphrates, as far as the western [Mediterranean] sea"; v. 24; cf. Gen. 15:18).
". . . the foot [v. 24] is a symbol of power, so that for example, to put under foot means to subjugate (cf. Ps. 110:1), while to walk over an area of land is the act of taking possession of that land . . ."
"One of the most frequently used words in Deuteronomy is 'today.' It occurs almost a hundred times, most frequently in the phrase 'the commandment that I am commanding you today.' This usage is of great significance for the theological understanding of the book. Basically it is used to indicate the crucial nature of the moment at which the covenant at Horeb is established and the people are summoned to obedience."
God commanded that when the Israelites entered the land, they should assemble beside the "oaks of Moreh" (v. 30, near Shechem), where Abraham had received the promise of the land (Gen. 12:6-7). "Gilgal" may have been another name for "Shechem," or a town close to Shechem. This is probably not the same "Gilgal" that stood near Jericho. Shechem was near the geographic center of Canaan. There the people were to recite the "blessing[s]" and "curse[s]"—from the two mountains on either side of the site (i.e., "Mt. Gerizim" and "Mt. Ebal"; cf. chs. 27—28; Josh. 8:33; 24:1-28). This ceremony would repeat and reinforce the instructions Moses gave, here in Deuteronomy, after Israel entered the land.
". . . it is usually supposed that the background to the association of these two mountains with blessing and curse is a covenant ceremony near Shechem in the valley between Gerizim and Ebal. Gerizim is chosen as the mountain of blessing because, lying on the south and therefore the right-hand side [when facing east] . . ., it was the place of good fortune; Ebal, on the other hand, lay on the north, the left-hand side and so is associated with misfortune. This explanation should be complemented with that of Bülow, Z[eitschrift des] D[deutschen] P[alästina-] V[ereins] 73, 1957, 105ff. . . ., who points out that because of their different geological structures Ebal and Gerizim present starkly different appearances: the latter being fruitful and the former bare and barren. This would have been ascribed to the action of Yahweh: fruitfulness being the result of blessing, and sterility the result of his judgment and curse; so the curse is associated with Ebal and the blessing with Gerizim."
Peter Craigie pointed out the chiastic structure of the major blessing and curse references in Deuteronomy as follows:
A The blessing and curse in the present covenant renewal (11:26-28)
B The blessing and curse in the future covenant renewal (11:29-32)
C The specific legislation (12:1—26:19)
B' The blessing and curse in the future covenant renewal (27:1-26)
This arrangement stresses the consequences of obedience and disobedience in the present and the future.
This first part of Moses' second address concludes with an exhortation to obey God's covenant ("you shall be careful to do all the statutes and judgments," v. 32). In this part of his speech to the Israelites, Moses explained and emphasized the essence of the Law. His words expounded the meaning of the first three commandments in the Decalogue, and urged Israel to be absolutely faithful to God. Because He had loved His people, they should love Him in return.
"The basic stipulation of covenant, then, (1) lays a foundation for the specific stipulations, a foundation that consists of a recognition of Yahweh's election of Israel by love and grace, (2) forms a recapitulation of and commentary on that fundamental principle of covenant as seen in the Ten Words and the Shema, the latter in turn being an adumbration of the former, and (3) urges (as seen in the historical review and hortatory sections) compliance with the covenant mandate of the Ten Words and with the specific stipulations that follow."
Moses' continuing homiletical exposition of the Law of Israel, that follows in chapters 12—25, explains reasons for the covenant laws that arose from the Ten Commandments. God gave the Israelites specific laws that would help them keep the Ten Commandments. This address concludes with directions for celebrating and confirming the covenant (26:1-15). The section contains a mixture of laws previously revealed to the Israelites, and other laws not previously revealed in the code given at Sinai (Exod. 20:1—23:19). This is instruction preached, rather than codified as comprehensive legislation. Many of these laws involved situations that were unique to the Israelites' culture. For example, when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were to destroy all the pagan Canaanite places and objects of worship. This is not something that Christians do. However, Christians can learn from this section that we need to guard against having other gods before Yahweh.
"Placement of the instruction about worship at the sanctuary in first position indicates clearly its priority for Deuteronomy, which assumes that the starting point for the proper, full, and exclusive love of the Lord (the primary demand of the first and second commandments and the Shema) is found in the way Israel carries out the activities of worship."
There is an obvious general movement from laws dealing with Israel's religious life (12:1—16:17), to those affecting her civil life (16:18—22:8), and then finally to those touching personal life (22:9—26:15).
Name of God
In contrast with the Book of the Covenant (Exod. 20—23), the Deuteronomic Code, as some scholars prefer to call this section (chs. 12—26), is a popular exposition rather than a formal legal code. Its purpose was to explain, to the generation entering the land, all the laws that needed clarification, emphasis, and application, in view of Israel's imminent entrance into Canaan. These laws reflect a centralized, monarchical society.
The value of this section of Scripture to the Christian today lies primarily in its revelation of the heart, mind, and will of God. The modern student of these chapters should look for this kind of insight here. This is the revelatory value of the Law.
The first commandment is: "You shall have no other gods before Me" (5:7). The legislation that follows deals with worshipping Yahweh exclusively.
When Israel entered the land, the people were to destroy all the "places" and objects ("altars," "sacred pillars," "Asherim," "engraved images") used in pagan worship by the Canaanites (vv. 2-4). Pagan peoples generally have felt, that, worshipping on elevated sites brings them into closer contact with their gods, than is the case when they worship in low-lying places, unless those places had been the sites of supernatural events. The Canaanites typically visualized their gods as being above them.
"'Places' (hammeqomot) is a quasi-technical term referring to sites thought to be holy because of a special visitation by deity. These were usually in groves of trees (representing fertility) and on high hills, esteemed by the very height to be in closer proximity to the gods. In contrast to such 'places' would be the 'place' where the Lord must be worshipped. Seven times (vv. 5, 11, 13, 14, 18, 21, 26) this single place (maqom) is mentioned in this passage in which the exclusiveness of the Lord is emphasized."
"The centralization requirement must also be understood in terms of Deuteronomy's nature as a suzerainty treaty. Such treaties prohibited the vassal's engaging in any independent diplomacy with a foreign power other than the covenant suzerain. In particular, the vassal must not pay tribute to any other lord. Similarly, all the requirements and prohibitions of Deuteronomy 12 were calculated to secure for the Lord all Israel's tributary sacrifice and offering. Israel must not pay any sacrificial tribute to other gods, for such an impossible attempt to serve two masters would be rebellion against the great commandment of God's covenant."
Israel was only to worship Yahweh at the one central sanctuary that He had appointed, first the "tabernacle," and later the "temple" (vv. 5-14).
"The emphasis is not upon one place so much as it is upon the place the Lord chooses. . . . The central activity of Israel's life, the worship of the Lord, is fully shaped and determined by the Lord."
This law governed public worship. Israelites could, of course, "pray" to God anywhere. This restriction distinguished Yahweh worship from Canaanite worship, that was polytheistic and pantheistic. Later in Israel's history, the people broke this law and worshipped God at various "high places." The "high places" were sites of pagan worship, or places modeled after them (1 Kings 14:23; 15:14; 22:43; et al.).
"The contrast with Canaanite worship, with its multitude of temples and open-air shrines (v. 2), is enormous. It is a very common pattern for conquerors and invaders of a country to take over old shrines for their own forms of worship . . ."
The tabernacle was to be "the place" of Israel's national worship, because God's "name" was "there" (v. 5). That is, God manifested His immediate presence "there," as nowhere else in Israel. Whenever the Israelites came to the tabernacle (or temple), they were coming to God. The Israelites erected the tabernacle first in the land at Gilgal (Josh. 4:19; 5:10; 9:6; et al.).
12:15-19 God explained that in the Promised Land, the Israelites could "slaughter" and "eat" clean animals in their hometowns ("within any of your gates"), as long as they drained "the blood" before eating the animals. They did not need to slaughter them at the tabernacle, as He required them to do in the wilderness (cf. Lev. 17:3-6).
12:20-28 The laws just given were to remain in force (to bring all their offerings to the central worship location), even though God would enlarge Israel's territory after the nation entered the land. This enlargement would take place as the Israelites gradually drove the Canaanites out (7:22). But it would only be added whenever God extended their territory as a reward for faithful obedience to Him (Exod. 23:27-33).
The Israelites were not to investigate the pagan religious practices of the Canaanites, with a view to worshipping their gods or following their example in the way they worshipped Yahweh (v. 30; cf. Rom. 16:19; Eph. 5:12). Moses developed this idea further in the next chapter. This pericope is transitional, moving from the worship of Yahweh (ch. 12) to the worship of idols (ch. 13). Chapter 12 opens and closes with warnings against pagan religion.
How does God want His people to worship Him? His people should worship Him exclusively, and only as He has instructed them (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Luke 22:19; John 4:20-23). God determines how people should worship Him. When we show respect for life, we honor God. Studying pagan religions can be dangerous.
The second commandment is: "You shall not make for yourself an image or any likeness . . . [to] worship them or serve them . . ." (5:8-10). The writer mentioned three different cases in this section.
"In the ancient suzerainty treaties it was required of the vassal that he must not connive at evil words spoken against the suzerain, whether they amounted to an affront or to a conspiracy. The vassal must report the insult or the fomenting of revolt. In case of active rebellion, he must undertake military measures against the offenders. Moreover, he must manifest fidelity to his lord in such cases no matter who the rebel might be, whether prince or nearest relative. All of this finds its formal counterpart in Deuteronomy 13."
The last verse of chapter 12 in the English Bible (12:32) is the first verse of chapter 13 in the Hebrew Bible (13:1). It introduces what follows.
God permitted some prophets (people who claimed to have direct revelation from God, or to speak for God, or who praised God) to arise in Israel and perform miracles ("a sign or a wonder," v. 1), even though some of them advocated apostasy from Yahweh. The primary meaning of "prophet" (Heb. nabi') is "proclaimer" or "forth-teller" (cf. Exod. 4:15-16; 7:1) A prophet was, then, a spokesman for God who represented Him before other people. God permitted prophets to utter false prophecies in order to test His people's love (v. 3), specifically, to see if they would remain loyal to Him. The acid test of a false prophet was his or her fidelity to the Mosaic Covenant. If he led the people away from God, the civil authorities were to put him to death ("you shall purge the evil from among you," v. 5). Some false prophets would seemingly foretell the future, but they received this information from the evil spirit world (e.g., diviners, soothsayers, etc.). Some of them could even perform signs and wonders (supernatural acts), which would appear to substantiate their claim that their power came from God. Enticement to idolatry was a very serious crime in Israel.
"The method of execution was stoning so that all the people could participate and cast their vote against the worship of idols. Either one person's sin affects the whole nation (Josh. 7), or the whole nation must deal with that one person's sin."
The closing command ("So you shall purge the evil from among you," v. 5) occurs at least eight more times in Deuteronomy (17:7, 12; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21, 22, 24; 24:7; cf. 1 Cor. 5:13).
"The modern Jews appeal to this passage as justifying their rejection of Jesus Christ. But He possessed all the characteristics of a true prophet, and He was so far from alienating the people from God and His worship that the grand object of His ministry was to lead to a purer, more spiritual and perfect observance of the law."
It was not just religious leaders who suffered for this crime. The authorities were to execute any Israelite who sought to lead others into idolatry. Moses set forth the deterrent value of capital punishment as a reason for its practice ("Then all Israel . . . will never again do such a wicked thing," v. 11; cf. 17:13). In modern times, advocates of the abolition of capital punishment have argued that this practice does not deter crime, but the scriptural testimony is that it does.
"During my years of pastoral ministry, I was occasionally contacted by heartbroken ministers who were unable to deal with flagrant sinners in the church because the offenders had relatives on the board or in the congregation. How sad it is when the testimony of a church is totally destroyed because of people who put their family ahead of God and His Word. . . . On the other hand, I have seen godly people stand with the congregation in disciplining their own relatives who had brought disgrace to the name of Christ and the church."
The closest example of a whole town apostatizing, that occurred in Israel and that Scripture records, appears in Judges 20: the case of Gibeah, a city in Benjamin (cf. Sodom). The circumstances were not exactly the same, but the other Israelites did discipline this town because of its gross sinfulness. In such cases, the whole city was to be destroyed and not rebuilt.
"This doom, which goes contrary to the common practice of rebuilding towns on the ruins of the site, as the stratigraphic remains of tells in the Middle East plainly show, indicates how serious the Lord considered any defection from him."
Achan (Josh. 7) was an Israelite who violated God's command to take nothing "under the ban" (v. 17). Ai was not an Israelite town when Achan committed his sin, but God's dealings with Achan show how important the observance of this law was.
"Of all potential crimes in ancient Israel, the one described in this chapter was the most dangerous in terms of its broader ramifications: to attempt deliberately to undermine allegiance to God was the worst form of subversive activity, in that it eroded the constitutional basis of the potential nation, Israel. In its implications, the crime would be equivalent to treason or espionage in time of war."
God's people need to be aware of the serious danger of idolatry, and deal with it in their midst. The Israelites were to execute those among them who engaged in spiritually seditious activities. Christians are to separate from false teachers, except for purposes of evangelism and instruction (cf. 2 Tim. 3:13-17; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 3:17-18; 2 John 9-11; Jude 17-25). The sources of temptation that these laws suggest are preachers and teachers (including radio and TV), friends, family members, and large groups of people. These were the main sources from which the temptation to depart from God arose. The standard by which the Israelites were to judge all these appeals was their fidelity to God's revealed Word (vv. 4-5).
The third commandment is: "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain" (5:11). The essence of this command is to treat God as special (cf. Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2). This section of laws deals with the exclusiveness of the Lord and His worship, as this pertains to Israel's separation from all other nations. The theme of refraining from Canaanite practices continues in this chapter. However, here it is not the obviously idolatrous practices, but the more subtle ones associated with Canaanite religion that Moses proscribed. The whole chapter deals with eating. The Hebrew verb bal (eat) occurs in verses 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 19, 20, 21, 23, 26, and 29.
14:1-2 Because the Israelites were God's "sons" (v. 1; i.e., because of their special intimate relationship with Yahweh), they were "a holy people," and were to eat and act as He directed here (cf. 1:31; 8:5; 32:5, 19; Exod. 4:22-23; Ps. 103:13; Isa. 1:2-4; 30:1; Hos. 11:1; Matt. 6:9). This is the first of two affirmations of Israel being God's "special (own) possession" (or "special treasure"), His "chosen" people, in Deuteronomy (cf. 26:18, "a treasured possession").
"Our English word 'holy' comes from an Old English word meaning 'to be whole, to be healthy.' What health and wholeness are to the body, holiness is to the inner person. . . . It's depressing to read statistical surveys and discover that, when it comes to morality, professed Christians don't believe or live much differently from unconverted people. And yet God's people are supposed to be 'set apart, marked off, different' so we can 'advertise' the glorious virtues of the Lord (1 Peter 2:9)."
Self-mutilation (carving one's skin, tattoes) and "shaving" the "forehead" were pagan practices associated with idolatry. The Canaanites did these things to express passionate sorrow for the dead. Laceration (cutting one's body) may have been a seasonal rite in the Baal fertility cults as well.
14:3-21 The diet of the Canaanites likewise had a connection with their religion. Perhaps some of these animals that God forbade (like the "hare," e.g.) would have been unhealthful for the Israelites to eat, for reasons we do not know (cf. Lev. 11). However, the main reason for the prohibitions seems to have been, that, certain animals did not conform to what the Israelites considered normal or typical. Another view is that the distinctions between clean and unclean were deliberately arbitrary, in order to teach the Israelites that God's election of them from among other nations had also been arbitrary. Others believe that only some of these distinctions were arbitrary.
"The ceremonial custom of boiling a kid in its mother's milk is known from the ancient Canaanite tablets found at Ugarit [i.e., the Ras Shamra Tablets]. Such a rite was superstitiously observed by the Canaanites, hoping that through magical acts they could increase fertility and productivity (14:21; Ex. 23:19; 34:26)."
". . . various Canaanite cults regularly engaged in the practices of seething a kid in its mother's milk as a fertility rite of sympathetic magic intended to coerce the deity into granting fertility to the wives, fields, and flocks of the cults' adherents. Such rites of sympathetic magic 'worked' on the premise that the gods were in some way part of and subject to the same natural created order that human beings also inhabited. By finding the common natural connection points, human beings could 'push the right buttons' and thus manipulate the gods . . .
"Israelites do not, through an act of sympathetic magic, try to coerce the deity into blessing them with fertility for the year to come; but instead, after the year's crops have been harvested and whether that year's harvest has been fruitful or not, Israelites bring a tithe to God as an act of gratitude [cf. vv. 22-29]."
In the present dispensation, "all foods are clean" (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:15; Rom. 14:14; et al.). However, we too should avoid foods that are unhealthful, since our bodies are the "temples" of the Holy Spirit, and not ingest "blood," since it is the carrier and symbol of life (Gen. 9:4). Moreover, we should avoid practices that may lead us away from God's will, or may appear to others that we have departed from God's will (1 Thess. 5:22). What the Israelites "ate and did not eat" expressed their respect for God. Since Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19), what we "eat and do not eat" does not express our respect for God.
But what does express it? Observance of other distinctions that He has called us to observe do, such as: moral and ethical distinctions, priorities, values, and how we speak of Him.
The fourth commandment is: "Observe the [S]abbath day to keep it holy" (5:12). The reasons for observing the Sabbath day were: Yahweh's redemption of Israel from bondage in Egypt, and His consequent adoption of the Israelites as His chosen people (5:15). In the ancient Near East, nations expressed their gratitude, loyalty, and worship to their sovereign by bringing him offerings periodically. What follows in this section are the laws concerning how Israel was to do this.
There was a yearly tithe (vv. 22-27), and an additional three-year tithe (vv. 28-29), in Israel. (Josephus wrote that Moses specified three tithes: one for the Levites, one for the festivals, and one for those in want. But this does not seem to correspond to the biblical revelation.) The Israelites were to invite the Levites to the celebration at the tabernacle each time the Israelites consumed the yearly tithe (vv. 23, 27). They were also to invite both the Levites and the needy ("the alien," "orphan," and "widow") to the third-year celebration, every third and sixth year in the seven-year sabbatical cycle, which they held in each "town" (vv. 28-29).
"As the Israelites were to sanctify their food, on the one hand, positively by abstinence from everything unclean, so they were, on the other hand, to do so negatively by delivering the tithes and firstlings at the place where the Lord would cause His name to dwell, and by holding festal meals on the occasion, and rejoicing there before Jehovah their God."
In what way did observing this ordinance cause the Israelites to learn to fear Yahweh (v. 23)? Yahweh was the Possessor of the land (or its Landowner or Landlord), and He provided that His servants, the Levites, would receive sustenance from its bounty. God wanted His people to use what He gave them to provide for others as well as for themselves.
"The fear of the Lord is not merely a feeling of dependence on Him, but also includes the notion of divine blessedness, which is the predominant idea here, as the sacrificial meals were to furnish the occasion and object of rejoicing before the Lord."
"The purpose of this section is not so much to give a comprehensive statement of the tithe law as to guard tithing procedure from being prostituted to idolatrous ends; that is, to prevent Israel from honoring the Canaanite fertility deities for their harvests."
The yearly celebration evidently coincided with the Feast of Firstfruits in the spring (in March/April; cf. Lev. 23:9-14; 27:30-33; Num. 18:21-32). The third-year feast occurred at the end of the religious year, earlier in the following spring (v. 28).
The Hebrew word shekar, translated "strong drink" (v. 26, NASB) or "fermented drink" (NIV), refers to some type of fermented beverage made from grain. God did not forbid the consumption of this beverage in Israel, but He did condemn drunkenness. Near Easterners did not distill liquor until the seventh century A.D., so the beverages in view here were not very high in alcohol content.
The Lord does not require these tithes of Christians, but He has taught us to express thanksgiving to Him for His provisions, and to demonstrate His compassion. We should have compassion on those who serve God, and the especially needy, by sharing what God has given us with them (1 Cor. 9:11, 14; Gal. 6:6, 10; et al.).
"If believers under Law could give the Lord 10 percent of their income, that's certainly a good place for believers who live under the New Covenant to start their giving. However, we shouldn't stop with 10 percent but should give systematically as the Lord has prospered us (1 Cor. 16:1-2)."
The Israelites were not only to care for the Levites (14:27, 29), and the aliens, orphans, and widows (14:29)—but also other individuals in the nation who needed help (15:1-18). This concern was to mark them as the people of Yahweh.
15:1-11 "It is appropriate to deal with the law of release at this point, since it is best interpreted as an extension of the agrarian principles of the fallow year for the land, rather than a slave release law, linked in some way to the Hebrew slave release laws of Ex. 21:1-7 and Dt. 15:12-18."
"At the end of every seven years" is an idiom meaning "during the seventh year." There is some debate among interpreters whether God wanted the Israelites to terminate debts permanently or only suspend them for a year, as the following quotation argues.
"The present passage is a further exposition of the Sabbath year release recorded in Exodus 23:10 and Leviticus 25:2-7. The premise of the exposition offered here is that if the land was left unused in the Sabbath year, the landowner would not have money to pay his debts. To alleviate this hardship on the landowner, the debts were to be released for one year during this time. The sense of the word release is not 'to cancel,' as may be suggested in some English translations (e.g., NIV), but rather 'to postpone.' The debt was postponed for a year. This provision was not intended for the 'foreigner' (Dt 15:3); it applied only to those who lived permanently in the land. The 'foreigner' was one who stayed only temporarily in the land. Such a one was not a 'sojourner,' that is, a non-Israelite who had come to live permanently in the land."
I tend to favor the "complete cancellation" view.
God values each person equally as an individual. This perspective comes out clearly in this section. God instructed His people to show concern for the welfare of every individual, regardless of his or her economic or social position ("you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother," v. 7; cf. Prov. 11:24).
The apparent contradiction between verses 4 and 11 is explainable as follows: The statement that "there shall be no poor among you" (v. 4) rests on the condition that the Israelites would be completely obedient to God ("observe carefully all this commandment," v. 5). The promise of blessing for obedience appears four times in this chapter (vv. 4, 6, 10, 18). The statement that "the poor will never cease to be in the land" (v. 11) expresses what would really exist—since Israel would not be completely obedient. It also represents what would exist among Israel's neighbor nations, even if Israel was completely obedient.
Proverbs 19:17 says that the person who shows pity on the poor "lends to the Lord," implying that the Lord will pay back such a person. The Old Testament prophets and Jesus had much to say about caring for the poor. The New Testament does not legislate (dictate) how Christians should care for "the poor," or how much of our "surplus" we should give to them, but it does urge us to help them (cf. Gal. 2:10; 6:10).
15:12-18 Moses turned now from the poor to "slaves." These people also had rights in Israel. God did not condemn slavery as an institution. He permitted it in Israel. However, "slavery" in Israel amounted to "voluntary servitude." God strongly forbade the enslavement and oppression of individuals. Israelites could sell themselves either as slaves (indentured servants) or as "hired" men and women (employees; v. 18). All slaves went "free" at the beginning of each sabbatical ("seventh") year. Another view is that slaves went free at the end of seven years (i.e., of their period of servitude), irrespective of whether it was Israel's sabbatical year.
"The humanitarian spirit of Mosaic legislation permeates these civic and religious aspects of the Israelite society. It stands in contrast to the lack of dignity accorded to the common man in contemporary cultures of the Mosaic age."
For more detailed information concerning the year of release, see Exodus 23:10-11 and Leviticus 25:1-7. In Deuteronomy, Moses emphasized the importance of "love" for God and man, "principles" more than procedures.
The "year of release" (of debts and servitude) was a provision of the Mosaic Covenant, that God has not carried over into the present dispensation. However, as Christians, we do have revelation concerning how to deal with our debtors. We should settle our disputes with our "brethren" out of court and privately, or in the church if necessary (1 Cor. 6:1-6). We may take unbelievers to court, but if we cannot resolve our conflicts with our brethren out of court, we should take the loss ("accept the wrong," 1 Cor. 6:7) and forgive (Matt. 6:12, 14-15). We should also be compassionate and share with others, believers and unbelievers, who may be in need (Matt. 25:34-40; 2 Cor. 8—9; Gal. 6:10; Heb. 13:16).
Moses had finished what he had to say about provisions for the needy (the Levites, aliens, orphans, widows, the poor, and slaves; 14:22—15:18). Here his thoughts turned back to the subject of the "firstborn" of animals ("herd" or "flock"), that he had mentioned previously when he addressed the sacrificial meals (12:6, 17; 14:23).
The Israelites were not to use their "firstborn male" animals for personal gain, but were to offer them to God as sacrifices. The Law taught them to regard them as God's possessions (cf. Exod. 13:2, 12). They could eat defective firstborn animals at their homes, however, rather than offering them at the tabernacle and eating them there. Every Israelite who owned farm animals was to set aside his healthy firstborn "oxen" and "sheep" for God, to be used as sacrifices, because God had blessed the herd or flock with fertility. The Israelites were to offer God as near a perfect specimen as possible. This taught them that God deserves the very best, which would have cost them the most.
As Christians, we too should acknowledge God's goodness if He increases our possessions. Our sacrifices need not be literal "firstborn animals" of our herds or flocks, but they might be: verbal thanksgiving (Heb. 13:15), our labor, our money, indeed our very lives (Rom. 12:1-2). We should give Him our best!
The point of connection in this section with what precedes is the sacrificial meals. Moses repeated, here, the instructions regarding those important feasts, that included sacrificial meals, that the people would eat at the tabernacle (cf. Exod. 12; Lev. 23; Num. 28-29).
1. Passover and Unleavened Bread vv. 1-8
2. Pentecost (also called Harvest, Weeks, and Firstfruits) vv. 9-12
3. Tabernacles (also called Ingathering and Booths) vv. 13-17
God commanded all the "male" Israelites to assemble at the sanctuary for all "three" feasts each year (v. 16). These feasts amounted to a pledge of allegiance to Yahweh each time the Israelites celebrated them. They came to His "presence" (tabernacle) to do so, as their Near Eastern neighbors similarly returned to their kings, periodically, to honor them.
"The ancient requirement that the men of Israel should report to the central sanctuary three times a year has an interesting parallel in the Near Eastern treaty requirements. It was common practice for suzerains to require their vassals to report to them periodically, in some cases three times a year, in order to renew their allegiance and to bring tribute."
The Passover and Unleavened Bread feasts were a more solemn occasion (v. 8), but the other two were joyous celebrations ("you shall rejoice . . . you will be altogether joyful"; vv. 11, 15). Evidently the Israelites roasted the Passover lamb (Exod. 12:9), but they boiled the additional offerings for that day (v. 7; cf. 2 Chron. 35:13).
"The immense number of victims that had to be immolated on the eve of the passover—i.e., within a space of four hours—has appeared to some writers a great difficulty. But the large number of officiating priests, their dexterity and skill in the preparation of the sacrifices, the wide range of the court, the extraordinary dimensions of the altar of burnt offering and orderly method of conducting the solemn ceremonial, rendered it easy to do that in a few hours, which would otherwise have required as many days."
God's people should celebrate their redemption from sin, remember their previous enslaved condition, and rejoice in God's provisions, corporately and regularly (cf. Eph. 5:4; Phil. 4:6; Col. 2:7; 4:2; 1 Tim. 4:3-4). These are the things God encourages Christians to remember at the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-28), as well as at other times.
"Two of the churches I pastored celebrated significant anniversaries while I was serving them, and during those special years we took time in our worship services to remember the goodness of the Lord and thank Him for all He had done. It was helpful for the younger members to learn about the sacrifices people had made in the past, and it was good for the older members to receive a new challenge for the future. After all, the church isn't a parking lot; it's a launching pad!"
The fifth commandment is: "Honor your father and your mother" (5:16). What follows is legislation that advocates respecting authority figures in the nation, which functioned like an extended family.
"With the regency of Yahweh and the proper protocol by which He had to be approached having been established, the covenant text then addresses the human leaders who serve Him and exercise authority over the nation at large."
"Just as in its religious worship the Israelitish nation was to show itself to be the holy nation of Jehovah, so was it in its political relations also. This thought forms the link between the laws already given and those which follow."
As in the other sections of Deuteronomy, here, too, Moses emphasized underlying principles more than procedures. Here he stressed the principle of justice.
16:18-20 Probably the people "chose" the judges by popular demand, and the leaders of the nation then officially "appointed" them (cf. 1:13). "Judges" were individuals responsible for administering justice, and "officers" were administrators charged with the enforcement of law, perhaps similar to modern police officers. The number of these in each town probably varied according to the needs of the community.
". . . in order to give the people and the judges appointed by them a brief practical admonition, as to the things they were more especially to observe in their administration of justice, Moses notices by way of example a few crimes that were deserving of punishment (vers. 21, 22, and chap. xvii. 1), and then proceeds in chap. xvii. 2-7 to describe more fully the judicial proceedings in the case of idolaters."
"For most of us today, the notion that it is always and everywhere wrong for a judge to take a gift from a litigant probably seems so obvious as to be virtually self-evident. Nevertheless, the fact remains that that idea has historically been far from apparent to a large part of humankind. In the ancient Near East, for instance, almost every society regarded the practice of judges taking gifts from litigants as being perfectly moral and absolutely legitimate . . .
". . . a gift-giver placed upon a recipient a binding moral obligation to respond in kind . . .
In this respect, then, Israel was to be different from other nations.
"Deuteronomy is passionately concerned about justice (Hebrew tsedeq, mishpat): 'Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue' (16:20, which makes this a condition of living and prospering in the land). This follows from the doctrine of Israel as a community of 'brothers' equal before God."
16:21-22 An "asherah" (v. 21) was perhaps a "sacred tree" or group of trees, or a wooden pole, that the Canaanites used in the worship of their female fertility goddess, Asherah. "Asherah" was evidently both the name of a Canaanite goddess and a cult object used in her worship. The pagans usually made their "sacred pillars" (v. 22) out of stone or wood, and used them in the worship of "Baal," the male Canaanite god of fertility, and "Asherah."
The judges were not to tolerate the planting (v. 21) of these trees or poles, that were so common in Canaan that the people regarded them as a prominent part of the native culture. Judges customarily dispensed justice in the open space near the main gate of each town. This area was the main congregating place of the community (cf. Ruth 4:1-12).
17:1-7 God specified the method of execution as stoning, not only for idolaters, the violators referred to in this passage, but other capital offenders as well. Rocks were, and still are, present everywhere in Canaan. At least "two," and preferably "three witnesses," had to be willing to take the lead in stoning the convicted offender (vv. 6-7). These requirements were safeguards against injustice and perjury.
Josephus claimed that Moses told the Israelites the following:
"But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex; nor let servants be admitted to give testimony, on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak the truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment."
17:8-13 Verses 2 through 7 explain a specific example of how the judges were to deal with a particular type of case. In verses 8-13, we see the legal procedure they were to follow in general.
When the priests later set up the tabernacle in the land ("in those days"), the nation was to establish a national "supreme court," in order to provide judgment in cases too difficult for the local judges. The location of this legal center may have been at the tabernacle, or it may have been at some other place. Kline believed it was at the tabernacle, and that this requirement reminded the people that the God who dwelt at the central sanctuary was Israel's "Supreme Judge."
At least two men would decide the case: a "judge" and a "Levitical priest." The priest's function was to clarify how the law of God related to the case. The decision of this court was final, and the people were to regard it as the will of God. People who rejected the decisions of this court were to "die," because to do so was to rebel against the will of God ("who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest"; v. 12).
"When Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States, he said, 'There are a good many problems before the American people today, and before me as President, but I expect to find the solution of those problems just in the proportion that I am faithful in the study of the Word of God.' Statesman Daniel Webster said, 'If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instruction and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury our glory in profound obscurity.' Living as we do in a democratic pluralistic society, we can't expect the government to make the Bible its official guidebook, but it would help the nation if professed Christians and Christian churches would major on preaching, teaching, and obeying the word of God."
Moses recognized that when Israel settled in Canaan, and took on the characteristics of other nations (e.g., a homeland, political organization, etc.), her people would desire a king.
"The earthly kingdom in Israel was not opposed to the theocracy, i.e. to the rule of Jehovah as king over the people of His possession, provided no one was made king but the person whom Jehovah should choose. The appointment of a king is not commanded, like the institution of judges (chap. xvi. 18), because Israel could exist under the government of Jehovah, even without an earthly king; it is simply permitted, in case the need should arise for a regal government."
1. He had to be an Israelite ("from among your countrymen," v. 15). This was essential since Israel's king would be the vice-regent of Yahweh. The king therefore had to be a member of the covenant community.
2. He must not build up a large military organization by "multiply[ing] horses" (v. 16). This would lead to a false sense of security and power. Egypt was a major horse market in the ancient Near East, and horses were the main military "machines" of the day.
". . . the multiplication of horses would inevitably lead to many evils, to increased intercourse with foreign nations, especially with Egypt, to the importation of an animal to which the character of the country was not suited [?], to the establishment of an Oriental military despotism, to proud and pompous parade in peace, to a dependence upon Egypt in time of war, and a consequent withdrawal of trust and confidence in God."
3. He was not to "multiply wives" (v. 17), since these women would tend to turn his heart away from devotion to, and concentration on, Yahweh. Furthermore, God's standard for marriage has always been monogamy (cf. 1 Kings 11:1-13).
4. He was not to amass a large personal fortune ("greatly increase silver and gold," v. 17). This too would lead to a false sense of security and a divided allegiance (cf. Luke 16:13).
"A richly furnished harem, and the accumulation of silver and gold, were inseparably connected with the luxury of Oriental monarchs generally; so that the fear was a very natural one, that the future king of Israel might follow the general customs of the heathen in these respects."
"Riches, honours, and pleasures are the three great hindrances of godliness (the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life), especially to those in high stations: against these therefore the king is here warned."
5. He was to transcribe "a copy of [the] law" of God (the covenant text of Deuteronomy [cf. 1:5; 4:44; 27:3, 8, 26; 29:21, 29; 30:10]) personally ("write for himself," v. 18). This would encourage his thoughtful mental interaction with God's revealed will for Israel.
6. He was to "read" this law throughout his lifetime: "all the days of his life." Note that this and the preceding command assume that the king could read and write. This constant reading and study would normally produce two conditions: First, he would get to know God personally, and would thus "fear" Him. Second, he would be able to obey God's will ("carefully observing all the words," vv. 19-20).
"Three conclusions may be drawn from these admonitions. There is, first, a clear limitation on power, to avoid tyranny and the danger of the king's assuming the Lord's rule of the people. . . .
"Second, these restrictions and injunctions serve the main purpose of Deuteronomy, to enjoin a full and undivided allegiance to the Lord. . . .
Yahweh, Israel's True King, made Israel's laws and was to make the choice of Israel's kings. The people were not to select a monarch without God's Royal approval. The earthly king would only be Yahweh's "vice-regent." In some of Israel's neighbor nations, the king was regarded as "a god," but in Israel, God was the "True King."
When Israel later entered the land and requested a king, Samuel the prophet became greatly distressed (1 Sam. 8:6). His reaction was evidently not due to the request itself, but to the motive behind the request. The people were turning away from their real King, to their dream of a human king (1 Sam. 8:7-8). God granted the people's request, even though it sprang from the wrong motive—but He disciplined them in the years following through the king they requested, Saul. Similarly, God had earlier conceded to the Israelites’ request for meat in the wilderness, but He disciplined them for their choice by allowing them to get sick from it (Num. 11; Ps. 106:15).
This pericope makes very clear that, in civil life, God wants justice for all (16:18-20), but, at the same time, He wants His people's wholehearted devotion to Himself (16:21—17:7; cf. Phil. 3:20). Submission to civil authority (17:8-13; cf. Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-15), and leaders who follow Him (17:4-20; cf. 1 Tim. 2:1-7), are also important to God.
The Levites lived as sojourners among the other Israelites. While they had their own cities, they did not possess land and territorial inheritances as the other Israelites did ("no portion or inheritance . . . among their countrymen"). However, the privilege of serving God in their special role and calling was a much greater compensation than their loss of physical benefits. They could eat the produce of the land. In addition to the tithes, the Levites also received the parts of the sacrifices allotted to them, that included: meat of various kinds, wine, oil, and wool (vv. 3-4).
Evidently not all the Levites served at the tabernacle. Some simply lived in their assigned cities. Participation in sanctuary services was apparently voluntary to some extent ("comes whenever he desires to the place [tabernacle]"; vv. 6-8). God did not preserve, in Scripture, the plan whereby individual Levites served in carrying out their various duties, at this period in Israel's history (cf. Num. 18). This passage refutes the Wellhausian view that all Levites could be priests.
The context of this section is significant, as usual. Verses 1-8 deal with people who ministered to Yahweh in various ways for the people, and verses 15-22 concern the delivery of God's revelations to His people. Verses 9-14 contrast illegitimate types of religious personnel and practices, with the legitimate kinds that Moses dealt with in the surrounding sections.
"Of the three major institutions of ancient Israelite social and religious life—royalty, the priesthood, and prophetism—only the last was charismatic and nonsuccessive. Prophets were men and women raised up individually by God and called and empowered by him to communicate his purposes to the theocratic community. Frequently this ministry would take the form of a word of instruction or even rebuke to the leaders of the people as well as messages addressed to the present and future promises of covenant accomplishment and fulfillment."
It is helpful to think of the prophets as "preachers" and "worship leaders," and the priests as "teachers."
Child burning ("makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire"; as in the worship of Molech; v. 10) may have had some connection with determining or discovering the future course of events (cf. 2 Kings 3:26-27). However, it was probably a separate type of abominable practice from "divination." The pagans used various phenomena as instruments to divine (foretell) the future. These devices included: the patterns of birds as they flew, the arrangement of the organs of an animal offered as a sacrifice, and the relationship of the heavenly bodies to one another. "Witchcraft" involved dealing with Satan and his demons to obtain desired ends. "Omens" were signs of coming events or conditions. "Sorcerers" cast spells. "Mediums" and "spiritists" called up the dead (cf. 1 Sam. 28:8-14). The precise distinction between some of the terms in verses 10-11 is not certain.
"While the New Testament use of Deuteronomy is pervasive (all but chapters 3, 12, 15, 16, 20, 26, 34 being cited at least once), it is striking that four passages stand out as being the clear centers of focus: 6:4-5; 18:15-19; 21:22-23; and 30:11-14."
In verses 15-19, God promised (through Moses) that when Moses was dead, He would provide guidance for the nation through other prophets, "like me [Moses]," whom He would raise up as her needs demanded. Consequently the people should not try to discover knowledge of the future on their own, as idolatrous pagans did. Commonly they did this through various practices, all of which involved contact with the spirit world (vv. 10-11).
"Abraham is called a prophet in Genesis 20:7, and the existence of prophets is presupposed in the Pentateuch (Ex 7:1; Nu 11:29; 12:6; Dt 13:2-3). The present text, however, is the first to discuss the office of the prophet.
"The historical basis for the office is Israel's request for a mediator at Sinai (Ex 19:16-19; 20:19-21). Fearing to stand in God's presence, the people asked Moses to go before the Lord and return God's words to them. Thus the prophet was to be 'like Moses.' This suggests that the office of the prophet was to play an important role in the further history of God's dealings with Israel. Indeed, a major section of the OT canon is devoted to the work of the prophets (Isaiah-Malachi). The prophet was to be God's mouthpiece to the people."
Was Moses predicting one coming prophet, many prophets, or both?
"This order [the prophetic order] is first spoken of in the singular—'a prophet like me' and 'listen to him'—but the continuing context makes it clear that the term is being used in a collective sense to refer to prophetism as an institution (cf. 'a prophet' and 'that prophet' in vv. 20, 22). There is nonetheless a lingering importance to the singular 'prophet,' for in late Jewish and New Testament exegesis there was the expectation of an incomparable eschatological prophet who would be either a messianic figure or the announcer of the Messiah (cf. John 1:21, 25; Acts 3:22; 7:37). The ambiguity of the individual and collective being expressed in the grammatical singular is a common Old Testament device employed to afford multiple meanings or applications to prophetic texts. [Footnote 30:] This is seen most clearly in the singularity and plurality of the Servant in the 'Servant Songs' of Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13—53:12)."
Another example of this device is the word "seed," which can have a singular or plural referent.
Jesus Christ was one of the prophets that God raised up as promised here (v. 15; Matt. 17:5; John 4:25; 5:45-47; 12:48-50; Acts 3:22-23; 7:37).
"Jesus was like Moses in numerous ways. He was spared in infancy (Ex. 2; Mt. 2:13-23); He renounced a royal court (Heb. 11:24-27; Phil. 2:5-8); had compassion for the people (Num. 27:17; Mt. 9:36); made intercession (Deu. 9:18; Heb. 7:25); spoke with God face to face (Ex. 34:29-30; 2 Cor. 3:7); and was the mediator of a covenant (Deu. 29:1; Heb. 8:6-7). The greatest revelation in the Old Testament era came through Moses. This revelation was only surpassed in the coming of Christ, who not only revealed God's message but provided salvation through His death."
Another important comparison is that both Moses and Jesus laid the foundation for the kingdom of God on earth, and called on the Jewish people to prepare for it (cf. Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:15; Acts 3:22; 7:37).
Jesus was superior to Moses in at least seven ways: (1) He provided salvation through His death. (2) He arose from the dead. (3) He ascended into heaven. (4) He continued to give revelation from God after His death (through the New Testament prophets). (5) He presently intercedes for His own. (6) He will return for us. (7) And He will literally bring us into God's presence.
God told His people how to distinguish true prophets from impostors, because various people would step forward in Israel with claims to be prophets bearing messages from God (vv. 20-22). The people could identify false prophets when their prophecies failed to materialize (v. 22). If someone claimed to be a prophet, but he sought to lead the people away from the law, the people should recognize that God had not sent him (v. 22; cf. 13:1-5). During a prophet's ministry, it would become clear whether he was a false or true representative of Yahweh (cf. Matt. 7:15-16).
People who claimed to be prophets, but who distorted or misrepresented the Word of God, were subject to execution in Israel. This shows the importance of presenting the Word of God accurately. Let preachers and Bible teachers take note!
"Satan is a counterfeiter (2 Cor. 11:13-15) who knows how to lead undiscerning people away from Christ and the truth. They think they're filled with the Spirit when they're really fooled by the spirits."
PRIESTS AND PROPHETS IN ISRAEL
Their threefold task:
Offer sacrifices for the people
Teach God's Word to the people
Lead the people in cultic worship
Their threefold task:
Receive messages from God
Deliver messages to the people
Lead them in heartfelt worship
Teachers of the people
Appealed to the mind
Goal: understanding by the people
Preachers to the people
Appealed to the emotions and will
Goal: obedience by the people
Inherited their ministry
Were called by God to their ministry
Didn't foretell the future
Foretold the future occasionally
Lived in assigned towns ideally
Were very numerous
Were not as numerous
Came from one tribe and family
Came from any tribe or family
Were males only
Were males and females
Later were divided by "courses"
Later lived in "schools"
Were gifts from God to the people
Were gifts from God to the people
How does this chapter fit into the civil legislation of Israel? Priests, Levites, and prophets were important civil as well as religious leaders in the theocracy. They represented the people before Israel's heavenly King, and served as mediators between the King and the people. God's people should honor those in authority over them.
"Some legislators have permitted their governments to be under monarchies, others put them under oligarchies, and others under a republican form; but our [i.e., the Jews'] legislator [i.e., Moses] had no regard to any of these forms, but he ordained our government to be what, by a strained expression, may be termed a Theocracy."
When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, part of what He was doing was helping His audience understand God's original intent in giving them the Law, in contrast to the Pharisees' teaching, which was just "Obey the letter of the Law." Jesus reminded them of its spirit, and that is exactly what Moses was doing here, as he expounded the Law in this section of Deuteronomy.
The sixth commandment is: "You shall not murder" (5:17). The representative laws in this chapter all protected people who were vulnerable for one reason or another. Civil law is in view.
God revealed the law concerning how the Israelites were to deal with manslayers earlier (cf. Num. 35:9-34). In Israel, this kind of crime was a domestic rather than a law court matter; in other words, families were to deal with it rather than the courts. The instructions given here urge application of this law, and explain the need for "three" more "cities" of refuge, west of the Jordan River. Moses had already designated three towns on the east side of the Jordan (4:41-43). The provision of the six "cities of refuge" taught the Israelites how important life is to God. The cities of refuge were, conceptually, extensions of "the altar" (horns of) in the tabernacle courtyard—as places of asylum.
"The extension of the power of Israel to the Euphrates under David and Solomon, did not bring the land as far as this river into their actual possession, since the conquered kingdoms of Aram were still inhabited by the Aramaeans, who, though conquered, were only rendered tributary. And the Tyrians and Phoenicians, who belonged to the Canaanitish population, were not even attacked by David."
There is no indication in the Bible that the Israelites ever set aside this third set of "three more cities" of refuge (vv. 8-9). If they did not, it may have been because they never secured the full extent of the Promised Land.
The previous pericope alluded to the need for witnesses, and this one explains their role. A common cause of hostility between individuals, that sometimes led to homicide, was a failure to agree on common boundaries and to respect property rights (cf. 1 Kings 21:1-26; 22:37-38). In the ancient world, "boundary markers" protected the property rights of individuals ("You shall not move your neighbor's boundary mark," v. 14). Many nations in addition to Israel regarded them as sacred as well. Stones several feet high marked the boundaries of royal grants. The Romans later executed people who "moved" boundary markers. Tribal boundaries were particularly significant in the Promised Land because Yahweh, the owner of the land, determined them.
In Israel, judges assumed a person was innocent until proven guilty. Verses 15-21 explain what they were to do if they suspected some witness of giving false testimony. Normally at least two witnesses were necessary (17:6), but sometimes there was only one. In such a case, the trial was moved to the "supreme court" at the tabernacle ("before the LORD, before the priests and judges," v. 17; cf. 17:8-13). False witnesses received the very punishment they sought to bring on the persons they falsely accused (vv. 19, 21). God here extended, to all criminals, the safeguards formerly guaranteed to capital offenders. Jesus did not deny the validity of this principle for the courtroom, but He forbade its application in interpersonal relationships (Matt. 5:38-42).
God's concern for His people's lives, possessions, and reputations, stands out clearly in this chapter.
These instructions deal with how Israel was to come into possession of the Promised Land (cf. Num. 33:50-56). They are given in the context of civil legislation, because Israel did not have a standing army. Soldiers volunteered to go into battle as needed. Warfare and its prosecution are relevant to the subject of "killing," and thus to the sixth commandment. This section provided a "manual of warfare" for the Israelites, outlining their attitude and approach to national enemies.
"Because Yahweh was God not only of Israel but also of all the earth, these interests [of warfare] extended far beyond Israel's narrow concerns. He was, however, Israel's God in a special way, and as such He would lead His people in battle as the divine warrior (20:4)."
In all wars, Israel was to remember that God was with her, and to rely on His help with confidence ("do not be afraid of them"), regardless of the enemy's strength ("the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you"; vv. 1-4). We who are Christians, too, should recall God's past faithfulness when we encounter adversity, and gain courage from His promises that He will be with us (Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5-6; et al.). "The priest" (v. 2) was not necessarily the high priest, but the priest who accompanied the army in battle (as Phinehas did in Numbers 31:6).
"In the ancient world, priests and interpreters of omens were regular members of military staffs (cf. Num 10:8, 9; 31:6; I Sam 7:9ff.). The function of the Israelite priest was not analogous to that of a modern army chaplain. He rather represented the sanctuary in the name of which the Israelite host advanced; he consecrated the battle to the glory of the Lord of hosts and of his covenant kingdom."
All soldiers with new responsibilities ("new house," "vineyard," or "woman" [bride or fiancée]), that would have distracted them from concentrating on their work as warriors (vv. 5-7), as well as fearful soldiers ("afraid and fainthearted"; v. 8), did not have to participate in a given battle.
"It is a well-attested fact that fear or preoccupation in the midst of conflict can endanger the life not only of the person afflicted by it but also the person's compatriots. . . .
"In each of these instances death in war resulted in the dispossession of blessing and its appropriation by someone else who otherwise had no just claim to it. Mixed with the demand for compulsory military service, then, was a leaven of compassion that made possible to all men the enjoyment of that which constitutes life in its fullest—home, sustenance, and family love."
God's purpose was to use only the best soldiers, those who were confident of God's promise of victory. Israel did not need a large army, since God Himself would fight for her.
The cities "far from" the Promised Land, contrasted with Canaanite cities (vv. 10-15), were evidently not as degenerate as the Canaanite towns. Aramean women adopted the religions of their husbands, which is why Abraham insisted that his servant get a wife for Isaac from the Aramean culture, rather than from among the Canaanites (Gen. 24). Thus the women and children of these more remote lands were to be spared ("you shall take [them] as booty for yourself," v. 14), and did not have to die. King Ahab later married a Canaanite woman, Jezebel, who did not adopt her husband's faith—but instead imported Baalism into Israel.
The Israelite commanders were to "offer . . . terms of peace" to each city they attacked outside the Promised Land (vv. 10-15). Israel was not to shed blood unnecessarily. If the city accepted the terms, the population would serve the Israelites (cf. Josh. 9:3-27). If it refused, the Israelites would kill all the males but spare the females, animals, and spoil. On the other hand, the Israelites were to "utterly destroy" the people within the Promised Land ("you shall not leave alive anything that breathes"; vv. 16-18).
The law guarding "fruit trees" seems intended for application in all sieges, whether against the Canaanites or others (vv. 19-20). "Fruit trees" were part of God's bountiful provision of food for His people in the land of milk and honey. Other ancient nations wreaked total havoc in the territories they conquered. However, even though Israel was not to destroy the important natural resource of fruit trees, they could use other trees to make implements of warfare ("construct siegeworks against the city . . . until it falls"; v. 20).
". . . the precise form which siegeworks took in Israelite war is uncertain, but wooden battering rams and siege towers and ladders are known from sculptures to have been employed in Near Eastern warfare."
God's people today, as well, should conduct their spiritual warfare confident in God's presence, power, and ultimate victory (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-4; Eph. 6:10-17; Col. 2:15).
"The reason for grouping these five laws [in ch. 21], which are apparently so different from one another, as well as for attaching them to the previous regulations, is to be found in the desire to bring out distinctly the sacredness of life and of personal rights from every point of view, and impress it upon the covenant nation."
Cities were responsible to account for murders committed within their jurisdictions and "clean them up." This indicates that there is such a thing as "corporate guilt" in God's government. The ritual prescribed removed the pollution caused by bloodshed.
The "heifer" (young cow) represented the unknown murderer. It was his substitute. It was to be an animal that had not done hard labor; its vital force was undiminished ("not been worked and . . . not pulled in a yoke"; v. 3). The leaders were to take this heifer into an unplowed field in a valley where there was "running water" and "break [its] neck." The breaking of the neck symbolized the punishment due the murderer but executed on his substitute. The blood of the heifer would fall on unplowed ground that would absorb it. Its blood would disappear into the topsoil, rather than turning up at some future date because of plowing. The water cleansed the hands of the elders, who had become ritually defiled by the shedding of the sacrifice's blood.
This entire ritual removed the impurity—that would otherwise have rested on the people of the city, because someone they could not find had shed human blood near it. It atoned for this guilt in such a case. One writer explained that the practice of performing rituals to remove impurity from human habitations and human concerns not only occurs in other parts of the Bible, such as Leviticus 10, 14, 16 and 1 Samuel 5, but also in the literature of the Hittites and Mesopotamians.
Everything in this section has some connection, with the sixth commandment, remote though it may be in some cases.
Israelite men could marry women from distant conquered cities taken as prisoners of war (provided they did not already have a wife). Such a woman had to "shave her head" and "trim her nails." These were rituals of purification customary in the ancient Near East. She received one "full month" to mourn her parents (v. 13). This may presuppose that they had died in the battle or, more likely, that she was to cut off all ties to her former life.
The provision for divorce ("if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go"; v. 14) receives further clarification later (24:1-4). We should not interpret the fact that God legislated the rights of sons born into polygamous families as tacit approval of that form of marriage. Monogamy was God's will (Gen. 2:24; cf. Matt. 19:4-6). However, God also gave laws that regulated life when His people lived it in disobedience to His will. In other words, God did not approve of polygamy, but He tolerated it in Israel, in the sense that He did not execute or punish polygamists through civil procedures. Similarly, He did not approve of divorce, but He allowed it in this case (cf. Gen. 21:8-14; Ezra 9—10; Mal. 2:16).
God did not feel compelled to comment in Scripture whenever people disobeyed him. That is, He did not always lead the writers of Scripture to identify every sinful practice as sinful whenever it occurs in the text. This was especially true when the people's sins produced relatively limited consequences. He did comment more on the Israelites' sins, that directly involved their relationship to Himself, and their sins that affected other people. This fact reflects God's gracious character (cf. Luke 15:12).
The "firstborn son" was to receive the traditional double portion of his father's inheritance. This was to be Israel's practice, even though the firstborn may have been the son of the "unloved" wife, whom her husband loved less than another wife he had (cf. Gen. 25:5-6). The father's authority, therefore, was not absolute in the Israelite home. Ancient Near Easterners regarded the firstborn son as the "beginning of [the father's] strength" (cf. Gen. 49:3). Just as men were to treat their wives with consideration (vv. 10-14), so too were fathers to treat their children with consideration (vv. 15-17).
The previous ordinance guarded a son from a capricious father. This one maintained the rights of parents whose son (or daughter, presumably) was incorrigible ("stubborn and rebellious"). While the problem in view was one of lack of respect for parents (the fifth commandment), the offense could result in the death of the child (the sixth commandment).
This case presupposes a long history of rebelliousness. The son had become "a glutton and a drunkard" (v. 20). That is, he had developed a lifestyle of deviant behavior. Before any loving parents would have taken the step available to them in this law, they would doubtless have tried every other measure to secure their son's correction. This was the last resort for the parents. This law withheld the presumed right of parents to slay their own children for rebelliousness, while at the same time preserving parental authority fully.
Commenting on the terms "stubborn" and "rebellious," David Marcus wrote the following:
"Both terms form a hendiadys to indicate a juvenile delinquent. Now when one examines how these terms are used in the Hebrew Bible one sees that they belong to the didactic vocabulary of biblical literature. They generally connote disobedience, in particular in Israel's relationship to God. (The pertinent references may be found in Bellefontaine's article [see below] from which the present author has greatly profited.) For example, in Psalms 78:8 the generation of the desert is termed sorer umoreh [stubborn rebellious]. Isaiah castigates the people for being sorer and following its own way (Isa. 65:2). Jeremiah proclaims that Israel has a heart which is sorer umoreh (Jer. 5:23). Israel is portrayed as rebellious and disloyal, and in so doing repudiating its God and its relationship with him. In like manner, the son, by being rebellious and disloyal, has repudiated his parents and his relationship with them. The authority of the parents has been rejected by the son since he has refused to obey them. The son, in renouncing his relationship with his parents, has effectively declared, if not by his words, then certainly by his deeds, what the adopted son in the Mesopotamian adoption contracts says when he abrogates his contract, 'I am not your son; you are not my parents' (Ibid., 17)."
It may appear, at first, that God was commanding the Israelites to exercise less grace with their own children than He showed the whole nation. After all, God had previously promised never to cut off His people ("I will make of you a great nation"; Gen. 12:1-3). The Israelites were to be God's instruments of judgment in many specific situations, as we have already seen in Deuteronomy. The punishment of sinners, be they Canaanites or Israelites, for specific types of sin, was imperative for Israel to fulfill God's purpose for her in the world (Exod. 19:5-6).
This legislation teaches us that parents should put their love for God above their love for their children.
"The preceding law had proceeded from parental to official judicial authority and had prescribed the death penalty. The present case takes the judicial process a step beyond the execution, to the exposure of the corpse as a monitory, public proclamation of the satisfaction of justice."
The method of public execution prescribed in Israel was normally "stoning." After criminals had died, sometimes their executioners impaled their bodies on a pole, cross, or tree for all to see, as a deterrent to others against committing similar crimes (cf. 1 Sam. 31:9-13). Hanging by the neck was not a form of execution practiced in ancient Israel.
This law required that, in such "corpse-hanging" cases, those responsible had to "bury" the body "the same day" as the execution, to avoid "defiling the land" further because of death (cf. Num. 35:33-34; Lev. 18:24-27). Hanging the body up for public viewing was the result of God's curse, not its cause.
The fact that Jesus Christ's enemies crucified Him "on a tree"—for all to see—demonstrated that God had "cursed Him" as well, because He bore our sins as our Substitute. His hanging on a "tree" (poetic usage that can mean a pole or a cross) was not the "cause" of God's cursing Him (John 19:31; Gal. 3:13).
Love (care or concern) for one's neighbor comes through in several concrete situations in verses 1-4. Failure to get involved and or help a neighbor in need is also wrong under the New Covenant (James 2:15-16; 1 John 3:17).
Men appeared in women's clothing, and vice versa (v. 5), in some of the worship rituals of Astarte. Furthermore, "transvestitism" did, and still does, have associations with certain forms of "homosexuality."
"In the ancient Middle East, dressing in the clothing of the opposite sex was a magical practice intended to bring harm to people. For example, a transvestite male would predict that the soldiers of another army would be as weak as females."
Perhaps, for these reasons, God gave the command to wear clothing appropriate to one's own sex, as well as because God intended to keep the sexes distinct (v. 5). "Homosexuality" was punishable by death in Israel (Lev. 20:13).
"There are positive values in preserving the differences between the sexes in matters of dress. The New Testament instruction in Galatians 3:28, that there is neither male nor female, but that Christians are all one in Christ Jesus, applies rather to status in God's sight than to such things as dress. Without being legalistic some attempt to recognize the relative difference of the sexes, within their common unity as persons, is a principle worth safeguarding."
Verses 6-7 show that God cares for the least of His creatures, and He wanted His people to do the same. Israelites could not kill both mother birds and their young or vice versa.
Another view of this law is that it taught the Israelites to protect an important source of food, namely: eggs. Building "parapets" on their flat-roofed houses, in order to keep people from falling off, reminded them of the value of human life, and of God's command to love their neighbors (v. 8).
People should respect other human beings, not only because all life belongs to God, but also because He has created people in His [own] image. Our treatment of other people reflects our attitude toward God.
The seventh commandment is: "You shall not commit adultery" (5:18). Adultery involves "mixing" people in a way that they should not mix. The Israelites needed to keep things—that were "properly apart"—separate.
The laws against mixing seed, animals in yoke, and fibers in clothing (vv. 9-11), may have had a double significance. They taught the Israelites the importance of purity, and keeping things distinct: ". . . because the order of the world must not be endangered." They may have also illustrated the importance of remaining separate from the Canaanites (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-18). An "ox" and a "donkey" would not have been a good combination when yoked "together," because they pull the "plow" at different rates.
"Wool" was the fiber ("cloth") from which the Israelites made their clothing. However the Canaanites, especially the Canaanite priests, dressed in "linen." "Tassels" (v. 12) were visual aids as scriptural reminders (cf. Num. 15:37-41).
"One of the ways the purity of the people is to be maintained, one that sounds rather strange in the contemporary world, is the insistence that things be kept in order and not mixed up inappropriately."
Moses considered seven types of cases in these verses:
The first case (vv. 13-19) is of a man who marries a woman and then, after consummating the marriage, falsely accuses her of being a harlot ("playing the harlot," v 21; "not [being a] virgin" when he married her, v. 17; i.e., a promiscuous woman). If the girl could prove her virginity, her husband would have to pay a large fine (cf. 2 Sam. 24:24) to her father and remain married to the girl. Note that his law indirectly implies that God permitted divorce among the Israelites in some situations (because of the hardness of their hearts; cf. vv. 28-29; 21:14; 24:1-4). The evidence of the girl's virginity is usually understood to be the blood on her dress or bedclothes, from the wedding night, resulting from her first sexual union. Another view is that the evidence blood was menstrual blood, which indicated that the girl was not pregnant. Some Bedouin and Moslem parents still retrieve and keep this evidence to prove virginity if necessary.
The second case (vv. 20-21) involved a similar situation, but in this instance the girl was proven not to be a virgin. The young bride would suffer stoning for being a ("playing the") "harlot," a capital offense in Israel. These verses reveal that sexual intimacy before marriage is sinful, and very serious in God's sight (cf. 1 Cor. 7:1-2). Premarital sex presumes to seize the highest privilege in marriage (i.e., intimacy through sexual union that results in the "one flesh" relationship). It does so without shouldering the responsibility, namely, permanent commitment to one another (expressed as "cleaving" in Gen. 2:24). It therefore perverts marriage, the basic institution of society, and presumes to dictate to God by altering His plan.
Not everyone who has participated in premarital sex has thought these things through, but they are the basic reason premarital sex is wrong. To the engaged couple committed to one another, yet who are tempted to have sex before their marriage, I would say "postpone sex" until the marriage has taken place. Scripture regards sex as the consummation of marriage, and as what takes place after the couple has completed everything else involved in the establishment of marriage (cf. Gen. 2:24).
The third case (v. 22) decreed that a man who committed adultery "with a married woman" would die along with the woman ("both of them shall die").
The fourth case (vv. 23-24) dealt with a man who had intercourse with an engaged girl in a city. Israelites regarded an engaged girl as virtually married, and even called the girl in this case "his neighbor's wife" (v. 24). Thus they treated the man as having committed adultery, as in case three. Both individuals would die by stoning. The girl died because she did not cry out for help; she consented to the act. Apparently Moses was assuming that if she had cried out, someone in the city would have heard and rescued her.
The fifth case (vv. 25-27) involved a situation similar to case four, but the intercourse (rape in this case) took place in an isolated field. In this instance only the man died, assuming the girl "cried out" for help but no one heard her ("there is no sin in her worthy of death"). Presumably, if it was clear that she did not cry out, she could have been executed as well.
The sixth case (vv. 28-29) had to do with a man and a "virgin" who had intercourse ("seizes her and lies with her"; "violated her"; a rape) before they became engaged. In this case they had to marry, and could not divorce. In addition, the man had to pay a penalty of "50 shekels of silver" to his new father-in-law (cf. Exod. 22:16-17).
The seventh case (v. 30) Moses stated in terms of a general principle. God forbade incest in Israel. "Uncovering the skirt" is a euphemism for sexual intercourse in Scripture (27:20). To do this means to encroach on another person's marital rights. To "cover the skirt" in this sense, represents committing to marry (cf. Ruth 3:9).
"One of the most important and difficult tasks in the interpretation of the Scriptures in general and of the passages that deal with women and marriage in particular, is the need to discern which elements are cultural, temporary, and variable, and which ones are transcultural, timeless, and universal."
God designed these laws to stress the importance of monogamy in a polygamous culture.
God's people need to keep sex in its proper place in relation to marriage (cf. Heb. 13:4). The focus of this entire chapter is how to apply love.
In the preceding chapter, Moses explained the proper types of marital union. In this chapter, he set forth the proper types of union of individuals with the covenant community.
This section of verses (vv. 1-8) deals with people who were not born in Israel, but who wished to worship publicly with full members of the nation.
"The 'assembly' (qahal) refers here to the formal gathering of the Lord's people as a community at festival occasions and other times of public worship and not to the nation of Israel as such. This is clear from the occurrence of the verb 'enter' (bo') throughout the passage (vv. 1-3, 8), a verb that suggests participation with the assembly and not initial introduction or conversion to it."
God apparently excluded eunuchs ("emasculated"; v. 1) from public worship, because lack of wholeness symbolized lack of holiness. Likewise God excluded an "illegitimate" child—probably one born out of incest, adultery, or the union of an Israelite and a Canaanite (v. 2; cf. Zech. 9:6). This restriction would have discouraged Israelites from marrying Canaanites, since their children could not participate in public worship, and public worship events were the most important ones in Israel. The illegitimate child category may have included the offspring of Canaanite temple prostitutes. "To the tenth generation" (vv. 2, 3) means forever.
"One was an Israelite and therefore a member of the covenant community by birth. Only by some act of his own will could he lose that privilege. On the other hand, Israelite birth did not automatically qualify one for full participation in community worship, the very point of vv. 1-2."
The Israelites were to admit "no Ammonite or Moabite" into public worship (vv. 3-6). The Ammonites and Moabites were descendants of Lot through his incestuous relationship with his daughters ("illegitimate birth," v. 2; cf. Gen. 19:30-38). In spite of this restriction, Ammonites, Moabites, and any other people, could become members of the nation of Israel, by becoming proselytes to Yahwism (cf. 2:9, 19; Exod. 12:38; Ruth 4:10; 1 Sam. 22:3-4). Evidently they were excluded, however, from the public worship of Israel.
The main reason for the exclusion of the Ammonites and Moabites, was the extreme hostility that these nations demonstrated toward Israel, when the Israelites were approaching the Promised Land. Evidently Ammon participated with Moab in resisting Israel's passage, in seeking to curse the Israelites with Balaam's assistance, and or in corrupting the Israelites through sacred prostitution (Num. 22—25). God treated the Edomites and the Egyptians less severely. The great-grandchildren of people from these nations could become public worshippers with the Israelites (vv. 7-8). The rationale for this, again, was in Israel's relationships to these two nations in her history.
Even though not all these peoples could participate in Israel's public worship, they could, of course, trust in Israel's God and experience personal salvation. Many biblical individuals, who were not even members of the covenant community, enjoyed personal salvation (e.g., Melchizedek, Job, the widow of Zarephath, the "God-fearers" among the Gentiles in Jesus' day, et al.).
"Disbarment from the assembly was not synonymous with exclusion from the covenant community itself as the one example of Ruth the Moabite makes clear. . . . There can be no doubt that Ruth was welcomed among the people of the Lord as one of their own though presumably never with access to the assembly."
Another possibility is that the Israelites did not enforce this law, and that Ruth did participate in public worship. From these verses, we learn that God's people should be careful about whom they allow to worship with themselves, or admit to full privileges among themselves (cf. Rom. 16:17-18).
God regards the identity of the person we marry as very important (cf. 1 Cor. 6:14—7:1). Also, monogamy is important. Our marriage partner will impact our relationship with God and His relationship with us.
Various practices, most of which we have discussed previously, rendered the Israelite encampment ceremonially unclean. The laws in these verses applied to Israel after she entered the land and, specifically, while her armies engaged in battle. The connection with the seventh commandment is that which is unseemly, especially in the area of sexual associations.
The Israelites were evidently to regard human waste products as unnatural and therefore unclean. The Mosaic Law considered unclean everything that proceeded out of the human body. Perhaps this taught the Israelites that there is "nothing good in man" (total depravity).
"There was nothing shameful in the excrement itself [v. 14]; but the want of reverence, which the people would display through not removing it, would offend the Lord and drive Him out of the camp of Israel."
The Israelites were to acknowledge God's presence among them by burying their own "excrement," and thereby keeping their camp free of human refuse. This would hallow His name as He walked among them.
". . . much of the information found in the [ancient] Egyptian medical texts was medically hazardous. For example donkey feces were used for the treatment of splinters, which probably increased the incidence of tetanus because of tetanus spores present in feces. Crocodile feces were used for birth control. In contrast Moses wrote that God instructed the Israelites to cover their excrement because it was 'unclean' (Deut. 23:12-13). At no time did Moses resort to adding the popular medical techniques of his day, though he was 'educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians' (Acts 7:22), which certainly included their medical wisdom."
God's people should conduct themselves with God's presence among them in mind (cf. Eph. 5:3-4).
Slaves from other nations who fled to Israel for refuge should receive permanent asylum. God's people were to show compassion to the oppressed and were not to join with oppressors ("you shall not mistreat him"; cf. Heb. 13:3; Gal. 6:2). This law clarified a proper association.
Israelites were not to become or to dedicate their children as "cult prostitutes," as the Canaanites did. They were not to offer to God money earned by prostitution (the "hire of a harlot" or "wages of a dog") to pay for a vow to Him either. The "dog" (v. 18) was a male sanctuary prostitute (cf. Rev. 22:15). Such men were common in Canaanite religion. The Hebrew terms used here to describe cult prostitutes (qedesa and qades) set them off from regular Israelites who practiced prostitution (zonah and keleb). Obviously any type of prostitution violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the seventh commandment.
God's people should not rationalize immoral behavior by thinking that it will result in the greater glory of God (cf. Rom. 6:1-2; Acts 5).
The eighth commandment is: "You shall not steal" (5:19). All these laws have some connection with respecting the possessions of others.
"Respect was to be shown to all those dignified by the status of covenant servant to the Lord. This section of stipulations was designed to guarantee this sanctity of the theocratic citizen by regulations which assured peace, prosperity, and liberty within the covenant commitment to all God's people, but especially to those classes whose welfare was jeopardized by various circumstances."
The Israelites could "charge interest" when they made loans to non-Israelites, but they were "not" to "charge interest" to their "countrymen" (vv. 19-20; cf. Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:35-37).
God's people should be especially gracious with their needy brethren (cf. Gal. 6:10).
Vows to God were voluntary, but the Lord wanted His people to keep them after they made them ("you shall not delay to pay it"; vv. 21-23). Failure to do so amounted to stealing from God.
God's people should follow through with their commitments ("you shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips"; cf. 2 Cor. 8:9-10).
God permitted traveling Israelites to glean (pick and eat) the "grapes" and "wheat" from any fields they passed through, but they were not to "harvest" their neighbors' crops ("not put any in your basket" or collect it; vv. 24-25; cf. Matt. 12:1; Mark 2:23; Luke 6:1). Harvesting them would amount to stealing them. Here is another way in which the Israelites were to love their neighbors as themselves.
God's people should be gracious toward the needy, and should not abuse the graciousness of their fellow-believers (cf. Heb. 13:5; 1 Tim. 6:8).
A discussion of divorce and remarriage also fits into this context, because both practices involve respect for the rights of others. The first of the two situations Moses dealt with, in this section, concerns a married, divorced, and remarried woman (vv. 1-4).
"In modern society, marriage and divorce are not only regulated by law, but are invalid unless conducted or decreed by accredited officials in accredited places (churches and register offices, or law-courts in the case of divorce). In Israel, however, both were purely domestic matters, with no officials and scarcely any documents involved; the bill of divorce was the exception, and it was essential, to protect the divorced woman from any charge of adultery, which was punishable by death (cf. 22:22)."
Moses allowed divorce for the "hardness of heart" of the Israelites, but God's preference was that there be no divorce at all (Gen. 1:27; 2:24; Mal. 2:16; Matt. 19:8). This, then, is another example of God regulating practices that were not His desire for people, but that He permitted in Israel (e.g., polygamy, etc.). The worst situation envisaged in these verses is divorce, remarriage, divorce, and then remarriage to the first spouse. The better situation was divorce and remarriage. Still better was divorce and no remarriage. Best of all was no divorce.
The Egyptians practiced divorce, and gave written "certificates of divorce," so perhaps the Israelites learned these practices from them. Divorce was common in the ancient Near East, and it was easy to obtain. However, the Israelites took marriage more seriously than their neighbors did.
The reason for the granting of the divorce by the husband, who alone had the power to divorce, was "some indecency" in his wife (v. 1). This could not have been simply adultery, since the Israelites stoned adulteresses (22:22). However, it is debatable whether the Israelites enforced the death penalty for adultery. It could not have been just the suspicion of adultery, either, since there was a specified procedure for dealing with that (Num. 5:5-31). Two schools of rabbinic interpretation of this phrase developed in time: (1) Rabbi Hillel's liberal position was that God permitted a divorce "for every cause" (Matt. 19:3), for example, burning the husband's food. (2) Rabbi Shammai's conservative position allowed divorce only for fornication (sexual sin). Jesus said that God permitted divorce for fornication, but He warned against remarrying after such a divorce (Matt. 19:9).
Divorce not permitted by God, followed by remarriage, which involved post-marital adultery for the woman, resulted in the moral defilement and uncleanness of the woman ("she has been defiled"; v. 4; cf. Lev. 18:20; Num. 5:12-14).
The point of Moses' legislation was, that when a couple divorced, and then wanted to remarry, the woman's first husband could not marry her again—if she had married someone else following her divorce. Evidently Israel's neighbors would divorce their mates, marry someone else, and then remarry their first spouse after their "affair." This ordinance would have discouraged hasty divorce, as well as strengthening second marriages, in Israel. It encouraged husbands to respect their wives, rather than treating them as a piece of property that could be bought and sold at will.
"Thus the intent of the legislation seems to be to apply certain restrictions on the already existing practice of divorce. If divorce became too easy, then it could be abused and it would become a 'legal' form of committing adultery."
One scholar argued that the giving of a "certificate of divorce" implies not only a legal permission for divorce, but also the legal permission for the woman to remarry. He also believed that the improper behavior for which divorce was allowed, was behavior that fundamentally violated the essence of the marriage covenant.
Jesus taught His disciples not to divorce (Matt. 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12). Matthew included Jesus' clarification of the condition for divorce that God permitted (Matt. 19:9; cf. Deut. 24:1), but Mark did not. Paul restated Jesus' point (1 Cor. 7:10-11), and added that a believing spouse need not remain with an unbelieving mate if the unbeliever departs (i.e., divorces; 1 Cor. 7:12-16). After a divorce, he encouraged remarriage to the former spouse, or else remaining single (1 Cor. 7:11).
In Israel, the will of God was the same as national law. This is not true in the United States or anywhere else today. Some Christians think, that, because their government permits divorce for various reasons, God also permits it for those same reasons. This is a mistake. It is important that we distinguish between what God permits and what national law permits. Furthermore, we need to remember that what God permitted under the Old Covenant, and what He permits under the New Covenant, are not necessarily what He desires (i.e., His standards, will). Malachi 2:16 indicates God's standard, His ideal for marriage, namely, no divorce. Nevertheless, God permitted divorce because of the "hardness" of people's "hearts" (Matt. 19:8; cf. 1 Cor. 7). Some of the laws under the Old Covenant clarified the limits of what God permitted, even though the latter fell short of His standard. This is similar to how we live within our families. Parents have standards for their children, but when the children do not live by those standards, other restrictions come into force.
In Scripture, God has consistently counseled believers to work through their marriage problems, if possible, and to forgive each other rather than getting divorced (cf. Hosea 1—3). Divorcing for reasons, other than those specified, will likely result in even worse and more difficult consequences. God wants to bless His people, and His laws were for that purpose.
Many American Christians have overreacted somewhat against divorced people. Divorce is an act that usually results in devastating consequences, but people can still live under the blessing of God, and can still serve God—even if they have a divorce in their past.
The second situation Moses dealt with in this section concerns a recently married man ("takes a new wife"; v. 5). Such a person did not have to participate in military service for "one year." The reason for this provision was so the man could establish a strong home and begin producing descendants. Both strong homes and descendants were essential to God's purposes through Israel. Going into war and dying was, figuratively, a type of "stealing" from his new bride or fiancée.
To steal a "millstone" from a person amounted to depriving him of his ability to grind his grain (for food), and to make his daily bread (v. 6). Evidently a small ("upper") millstone is in view here, not a large (lower) one that required an animal to turn. "Kidnapping" violated the right to freedom of choice, which God wanted every Israelite to enjoy (v. 7; cf. Exod. 21:16).
The ninth commandment is: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (5:20). There may be a deliberate descending order of hierarchy in the list of offended parties in this section, beginning with the highest to the lowest.
The reference to "Miriam" recalls her misrepresenting of Moses and her punishment (Num. 12:1-15). The Israelites were to "be careful" to submit to the Levites' teaching in case an Israelite contracted "leprosy." Miriam had given false testimony against a Levite, Moses, and had contracted leprosy as a result.
The Israelites were not to take advantage of their poorer brethren because of their vulnerable condition. God looked out for them. They were not to withhold their clothing and wages from them (cf. James 5:4). Specifically they were not to humiliate a debtor by entering his house and demanding repayment of a debt. They were to allow the debtor to initiate repayment.
"To stand and call is a very common and very respectful mode; and thus it was in Bible times, and to it there are many very interesting allusions [cf. Deut. 24:10; Acts 10:17-18; 12:13, 16]. Moses commanded the holder of a pledge to stand without [i.e., outside], and call to the owner thereof to come forth. This was to avoid the insolent intrusion of cruel creditors."
Perhaps the connection with the ninth commandment is, that by taking the initiative and demanding payment, the creditor was saying something about the debtor that was not necessarily true, namely, that he was unable and or unwilling to repay the debt.
The Israelites were not to punish children for the crimes their parents committed. To do so charged innocent people unjustly with guilt.
In the cases where God executed the families of criminals, He may have done so because the family members were also responsible for the crime (v. 16; cf. Josh. 7:24-26). In any case, God has the right to do things He does not allow His people to do. It is one thing for children to suffer physically and socially because of their parents' sins (Exod. 20:5; Deut. 5:9). It is something else for human authorities to punish them for criminal acts that they have not committed.
God guarded the rights of "aliens" (non-Israelites living in Israel), "orphans," and "widows," since they were not as capable of defending themselves as other Israelites were (vv. 17-22).
Beating was a form of punishment used in Israel for various offenses. However, the safety and personal dignity of the person being beaten was important to God, even though he or she deserved the beating. These things were also to be important to God's people.
"This was the Egyptian mode of whipping, as we may see depicted upon the monuments, when the culprits lie flat upon the ground, and being held fast by the hands and feet, receive their strokes in the presence of the judge. . . . The number forty was not to be exceeded, because a larger number of strokes with a stick would not only endanger health and life, but disgrace the man. . . . If he had deserved a severer punishment, he was to be executed. . . . The number, forty, was probably chosen with reference to its symbolical significance, which it had derived from Gen. vii. 12 onwards, as the full measure of judgment. The Rabbins fixed the number at forty save one (vid. 2 Cor. xi. 24), from a scrupulous fear of transgressing the letter of the law, in case a mistake should be made in the counting; yet they felt no conscientious scruples about using a whip of twisted thongs instead of a stick."
Verse 1 points out very clearly that "justify" means to declare righteous, not to make righteous. This distinction is very important to a correct understanding of the doctrine of justification as God has revealed it in Scripture. Generally speaking, the Protestant Reformers failed to express this distinction clearly. To combat the Roman Catholic charge that "justification by faith alone" leads to antinomianism, some of them went beyond the proper definition of "justification," and taught that the justified believer will inevitably persevere in faith and good works.
God's care for animals as His creatures lay behind this law. The Apostle Paul expounded the significance of this command (1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18).
"The purpose clearly was not only to provide for the ox itself but to make the point by a fortiori argument that if a mere animal was worthy of humane treatment, how much more so was a human being created as the image of God."
The tenth commandment is: "You shall not covet . . . anything that belongs to your neighbor" (5:21). The four laws in this section all deal with desire or intention as opposed to deed.
The purpose of the levirate marriage ordinance was to enable a man, who died before fathering an heir, to obtain one, and so perpetuate his name and estate. "Levirate" comes from the Latin word levir meaning husband's brother.
"The practice was common in the patriarchal period [cf. Gen. 38:1-10]. . . . Presumably the prohibition of sexual union with a brother's wife in Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21 refers to such an act while the brother is still living."
"The taking off of the shoe was an ancient custom in Israel, adopted, according to Ruth iv. 7, in cases of redemption and exchange, for the purpose of confirming commercial transactions. The usage arose from the fact, that when any one took possession of landed property he did so by treading upon the soil, and asserting his right of possession by standing upon it in his shoes [cf. e.g., Gen. 13:17]. In this way the taking off of the shoe and handing it to another became a symbol of the renunciation of a man's position and property. . . . But the custom was an ignominious one in such a case as this, when the shoe was publicly taken off the foot of the brother-in-law by the widow whom he refused to marry. He was thus deprived of the position which he ought to have occupied in relation to her and to his deceased brother, or to his paternal house; and the disgrace involved in this was still further heightened by the fact that his sister-in-law spat in his face."
The Israelites were to practice "levirate marriage" only in cases where the brothers had lived together (v. 5), and the remaining brother was not already married. Living "together" meant living in the same area, not necessarily residing under the same roof. When another male relative voluntarily assumed the responsibility of the surviving brother, that brother was apparently under no obligation to marry his sister-in-law (cf. Ruth 4).
"Can you imagine how this would affect a family in Israel? Suppose there was a family of four sons living on a farm in Ephraim country. Suppose that night after night one of the boys went off with the lantern and when he came back to go to bed, he would be whistling. Pretty soon the family would get into a huddle and the brothers would ask him, 'Where are you going every evening? They'd do a little investigating of their own and find there was a daughter in the family that lived down the road. So the brother would admit, 'I believe in the good-neighbor policy, and I have been going down there to visit that family that just moved in.' And he would admit that he was thinking of marrying the girl. Now, if those brothers didn't care too much for that girl, can you imagine what would happen? They'd say, 'Listen—before you get any notions, you go to the doctor and have a physical check-up. We want to be sure you are in good health before you marry her, because none of us want to get stuck with her.' Believe me, they got down to business. Getting married was a family affair."
There were several reasons for the levirate marriage provision. These reasons were: the importance of descendants in God's purposes for Israel, the welfare of the widow, and the demonstration of love for one's brother (cf. Gen. 38).
God forbade an Israelite woman from gaining an unfair advantage over her husband's adversary in hand-to-hand fighting. This is a rare example of punishment by mutilation in the Pentateuch ("you shall cut off her hand"; cf. Exod. 21:23-25; Lev. 24:19-20; Deut. 19:21). It is the only place in the Old Testament where God prescribed physical mutilation as a punishment, apart from the lex talionis.
The Israelites were to use the same "weights" and "measures" for both buying and selling, to ensure fairness in business ("you shall not [use] differing weights . . . differing measures"; vv. 13-16).
When the Israelites had entered the Promised Land, and had attained a measure of rest there, they were to remember that God had commanded them to exterminate the Amalekites. They were to do this because of the Amalekites' treatment of Israel in the wilderness (vv. 17-19; cf. Exod. 17:8-16; Num. 24:20; 1 Chron. 4:42-43).
The ordinances with which Moses concluded his second address (chs. 5—26) not only specified the Israelites' actions, in further respects, but also focused their thinking on the goodness of God.
When the Israelites entered the land, they were to bring a special offering of firstfruits ("first of all the produce of the ground"), which they had harvested from the land, to Yahweh at the tabernacle (cf. 14:22-27). It was to be an expression of their gratitude to God for fulfilling His promise to bring them into the land. This was to be a combination of the Feast of Firstfruits and a ceremony of covenant renewal. They were not only to remember their humble origins, but also to express gratitude for their present blessings.
"Now from this law we may learn, 1. To acknowledge God as the giver of all those good things which are the support and comfort of our natural life. 2. To deny ourselves. What is first ripe we are most fond of; those that are nice and curious expect to be served with each fruit at its first coming in. 3. To give to God the first and best we have. Those that consecrate the days of their youth, and the prime of their time, to the service and honour of God, bring him their first-fruits."
The "father" referred to (v. 5) was Jacob. Moses described him as an "Aramean" because he lived many years in Paddan-aram, and it was there that he married his wives and began his family. Jacob was essentially a simple "semi-nomad" whom God had blessed (cf. 18:4; Exod. 23:19; Num. 18:12-20).
It was common for Semites to regard a part of the whole as the whole (v. 9; cf. Josh. 21:43-45; 2 Sam. 5:6-10; 1 Kings 13:32; Jer. 31:5). They did not think of the "firstfruits" that they offered to God as the only portion they owed God. They viewed it as representing all that God had given them, all of which belonged to Him.
God's people should acknowledge God's goodness to them publicly, not forgetting their former condition (cf. Heb. 13:15; Eph. 5:4; Phil. 4:6; Col. 2:7; 3:16; 4:2; 2 Cor. 9:15).
This offering and commitment to the Lord (vv. 1-11) was only part of the Israelites' responsibility. They also needed to love their fellow dependent Israelites (vv. 12-15; cf. 6:5).
"Every third year the tithe was kept in the villages for the relief of the poor (14:28, 29) and was thus outside the control of the priests. To prevent irregularities in its distribution, and at the same time to preserve the religious character of the obligation, the man of Israel was required to make a solemn declaration at the central sanctuary that he had used the tithe according to the divine law."
At least one commentator assumed that they made this declaration at the tabernacle, but the text seems to indicate that they did this wherever the Israelites lived.
Adam Day pointed out several reasons why God made humans to eat, according to Deuteronomy:
"(1) Food leads to a recognition of dependence on God (ch. 15). (2) It points to Yahweh's provision for his people (ch. 8). (3) Food teaches Israelites to fear and trust Yahweh (chs. 6, 14). (4) It shows that true satisfaction is found in Yahweh's word (ch. 8). (5) Food is a means of participating in joyful worship of Yahweh's goodness and cultivating thankfulness (chs. 12, 16, 26)."
God's people should continue to trust Him for the fulfillment of promised blessings yet unrealized (cf. 1 Thess. 1:2-10; 2 Pet. 3:3-18).
"Stewardship doesn't mean that we give God a part and then use the rest as we please. True stewardship means that we give God what belongs to Him as an acknowledgment that all that we have is His. We then use all that is left wisely for His glory. To bring the Lord 10 percent and then waste the 90 percent that remains is not stewardship. It's foolishness."
"The presentation of the commandments and the statutes and ordinances that will guide Israel's life in the land is over now. Verse 16 serves as a concluding bracket around chapters 5—26, matching Moses' introduction to the whole in 5:1 as well as his introduction to the section setting forth the statutes and ordinances in 12:1 . . ."
"If we regard the long section 5:1—26:15 as containing the heart of the covenant law, both in terms of the general principles and of the specific stipulations (even allowing that in the present setting the material is 'law preached' rather than 'codified law'), we may regard this small pericope as in the nature of an oath of allegiance (cf. 29:10-15; Ex. 24:7). In form, the pericope looks like a contract in which the two parties bind themselves by means of a solemn declaration. Moses acts as a covenant mediator between Israel, who declares that she will be Yahweh's people, and Yahweh, who declares that He will be Israel's God (cf. Ex. 6:7; Je. 31:33; Ezk. 36:28). In fact the wording of the pericope makes it clear that both declarations refer to the obligations which must be fulfilled by Israel alone. Yahweh has no obligations to keep, but in grace He has blessings to bestow."
Obedience to the revealed will of God will result in maximum blessing for God's people. Moses proceeded to develop this idea further in chapters 27—28. This, then, concludes Moses' second address to the Israelites.
Moses now gave the new generation its instructions, which concerned fresh commitment to the covenant when Israel would enter the land.
"The ratification of the new covenant which Moses was making with the second generation was to unfold in two stages. That was customary procedure in securing the throne succession to the appointed royal heir. When death was imminent, the suzerain required his vassals to pledge obedience to his son; then, soon after the son's accession, the vassals' commitment was repeated. Similarly, Moses and Joshua formed a dynasty of mediatorial representatives of the Lord's suzerainty over Israel. Hence the succession of Joshua, which symbolized the continuing lordship of Israel's God, was ensured by the oath elicited from Israel before Moses died, and again later by a ratification ceremony after Joshua's accession. The pronouncing of curses and blessings is prominent in each of these ratification rituals."
When the people entered the Promised Land, they were to assemble at Shechem (vv. 1-8; cf. 11:29-30). This would be the second stage of the covenant renewal; it was to be conducted on the other side of the Jordan in Canaan. Moses exhorted the Israelites now to obey the covenant requirements then (vv. 9-10), and prepared them to invoke the covenant sanctions there (vv. 11-13).
27:1-8 Upon entering Canaan, the Israelites were to assemble at "Mount Ebal" (the hill that flanked Shechem to the north), near the center of the land, and set up several large stones as monuments (cf. Exod. 24:4-8). They were to plaster ("coat") these with "lime" (or gypsum), and then "write the (words of this) law" on the monuments. This was a common way of posting important public announcements in Canaan. They probably copied the Ten Commandments, but they may have also copied the blessings and curses, the legal parts of the law, the salient parts of the laws reiterated in Deuteronomy, or the entire Book of Deuteronomy. The purpose of this act was to declare to all people, Canaanites as well as Israelites, that the Mosaic Law was Israel's standard of faith and practice, its national constitution.
The people were also to "build (there) an altar" on Mt. Ebal at the same time (vv. 5-7). They were to fashion it of "uncut stones" (cf. Exod. 20:25). Then the nation was to offer burnt and peace offerings of worship to Yahweh, thereby committing themselves to Him as "the LORD (their) God." Abram received God's promise of the land, and he built his first altar in the land at this site (Gen. 12:6-7). Jacob buried his idols there, and again, this was at the center of the Promised Land.
27:9-10 The new generation of Israelites would become "a people for" Yahweh (emphasis added; v. 9)—when they took on themselves the responsibilities and privileges of the Mosaic Law (v. 10). As their fathers had done at Mt. Horeb (Exod. 19:8), so the new generation would do at Mt. Ebal.
"This day" (v. 9) refers to the day the people would fulfill these instructions in the land (Josh. 8; cf. Josh. 24).
27:11-13 We should read the instructions for this ceremony together with Joshua 8:30-35, where God recorded the fulfillment of Moses' commands. Mt. Gerizim was the southernmost of the two small mountains, and Mt. Ebal the northernmost, on either side of Shechem. As Israel faced east, Mt. Gerizim would have been on her right hand, the traditional place of blessing, and Mt. Ebal on her left.
The representatives of the six tribes who stood on Mt. Gerizim were all sons of Leah and Rachel (Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin). The tribes on Mt. Ebal were descendants of the maids of these women (Gad, Asher, Dan, and Naphtali), plus Reuben and Zebulun. Reuben was the son of Leah who had lost his birthright because of his sin, and Zebulun was the youngest son of Leah.
It is also important for Christians to publicly profess their commitment to Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:9-10).
This is the first of two sections of curses (cf. 28:15-68) that "sandwich" one section of blessings between them (28:1-14). The present group of curses explains the consequences of disobedience to specific stipulations of the covenant, whereas the second group of curses clarifies the consequences of disobedience to general stipulations of the covenant.
The twelve curses that a group of Levites was to repeat probably represented the twelve tribes. The idea was not so much that the practice mentioned in each curse had been that specific besetting sin of one of the tribes. Each tribe received a warning against disobeying the whole Mosaic Law, by receiving one specific injunction. God seems to have selected the warnings somewhat at random. They dealt with idolatry (v. 15), breaches of love for one's neighbor (vv. 16-19), sexual irregularities (vv. 20-23), and bodily injuries (vv. 24-25).
"The matters taken up are not a neat, ordered collection; they deal with fundamental aspects of the order of Israel's existence: the exclusive worship of the Lord, honor of parents, protection of life and property, justice for the weak and powerless, and sexual relations. These curses have often been regarded as a kind of ancient collection of laws analogous to the Ten Commandments, which have no curse expressions attached but do seem to have a sense of absoluteness implied and in other contexts are given the penalty of death."
The last verse covers the violation of any other command in the law ("Cursed is he who does not confirm [all] the words of this law by doing them"; v. 26). Paul used this verse to emphasize the fact that no one can obey God perfectly (Gal. 3:10-14). The unifying theme, in these 12 curses, seems to be that these were all pronounced against sins that the Israelites could commit in secret.
"For the purpose of impressing upon the hearts of all the people in the most emphatic manner both the blessing which Israel was to proclaim upon Gerizim, and the curse which it was to proclaim upon Ebal, Moses now unfolds the blessing of fidelity to the law and the curse of transgression in a longer address, in which he once more resumes, sums up, and expands still further the promises and threats of the law in Ex. xxiii. 20-23, and Lev. xxvi."
Moses began positively, by holding out "blessings" as inducements to obedience (cf. Gen. 1:28-30). He stated the greatest blessing, and the one that comprehends all those that follow, first: Israel could become the most exalted ("high above") of "all the nations on (of) the earth." The condition for this blessing was obedience to the Word ("all [the] commandments") of Yahweh ("if you obey the LORD your God"). So important was this condition that Moses stated it three times in this section—at the beginning (v. 1), middle (v. 9), and end (vv. 13-14; cf. vv. 15, 45, 58, 62)—in both positive and negative terms. Specifically, he enumerated six benefits using four merisms, in each of which, representative extremes describe the whole.
God would give His people blessing everywhere ("city" and "country"), economically (children ["offspring of your body"], animals ["offspring of your beast"], "produce" [crops] "increase of herd[s]," food supplies ["basket" and "bowl"]), with safety, and in all their activities ("when you come in . . . when you go out"; vv. 3-6). Then, in the typical hortatory (exhorting) fashion, characteristic of Moses in Deuteronomy, he elaborated on these blessings (vv. 7-14).
"The Canaanites believed that Baal had a house in the heavens with an opening in the roof from which the rains were sent. Whether this constitutes the background for the figure underlying the storehouse in the heavens here [v. 12], Moses did insist that it was the Lord who would either bless Israel with abundant rain or withhold rain because of her disobedience."
"It was only in feeble commencement that this blessing was fulfilled upon Israel under the Old Testament; and it is not till the restoration of Israel, which is to take place in the future according to Rom. xi. 25 sqq., that its complete fulfillment will be attained."
It does not take a brilliant person to become a great Christian; it takes an obedient person.
In this section, Moses identified about four times more curses, than blessings he had listed previously (vv. 1-14). The lists of curses in other ancient Near Eastern treaty texts were typically longer than the lists of blessings. The reason was probably to stress the seriousness of violating the covenant, by describing the consequences in detail. Israel was entering a very dangerous environment in Canaan, and needed strong warnings against yielding to the temptations she would encounter (cf. Gen. 3:14-19).
28:15-19 Note that, after a general statement ("if you do not obey . . . all these curses will come upon you"; v. 15; cf. vv. 1-2), the six formal curses (vv. 16-19) correspond almost exactly to the six blessings (vv. 3-6). The exposition follows in verses 20-68 (cf. vv. 7-14). We can divide it into five sections of increasingly severe "views" of disciplinary measures.
28:20-24 In the first view of God's discipline, Moses explained various forms in which Israel would suffer punishment.
28:25-37 In the second view, the outlook is worse. Israel would suffer physical distresses, and her enemies would plunder, rule over, and oppress her. As freedom from Egypt came to epitomize God's grace, so return to Egyptian conditions represented His judgment (v. 27).
28:38-46 In the third view, Moses saw Israel's potential fate as rejection by God from (removal of some of the blessings of) covenant fellowship (though not partnership).
28:47-57 The fourth view pictures Israel invaded, conquered, and brutalized by her enemies. Their situation would become so horrible that many would starve, and some would even eat their own children.
28:58-68 The fifth view shows Israel deprived of all the benefits she had formerly enjoyed (cf. 6:21-23; 26:5-9). This section deals with disease and disasters in the land (vv. 58-63), and deportation from the land (vv. 64-68). Both parts picture a reversal of "Exodus" blessings.
In the later history of Israel, the punishments God predicted here took place very literally when the people disobeyed His law. What Moses described in verses 32-36, happened in both the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Verses 52-57 found fulfillment in those captivities, as well as in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and Israel in A.D. 70. Verses 64-68 have repeatedly been fulfilled: during the Roman siege of A.D. 70, in the Middle Ages, the Russian pogroms, Nazi Germany, and the present day.
"So we have six prophecies. [The first prophecy was given to Abraham. that his descendants would go into Egypt and be enslaved and oppressed there (Gen. 15:13). The second one, also given to Abraham, was that they would return to the land (Gen. 15:16). The remaining four are described here in this chapter.] Five of them have been literally fulfilled. What do you think about the sixth one? I can tell you what I think about it. I think it will be literally fulfilled. It is yet to come in the future."
God designed these blessings and curses to persuade His people to obey His covenant with them. Stronger proof of the blessing of obedience and the blasting of disobedience is hardly imaginable. God's will was, and is, very clear and simple: obey His Word.
"The importance of Deuteronomy 28 (and the parallel in Leviticus 26) for the understanding of the rest of Old Testament history cannot be overstated. Possibly more than a thousand references in the prophets allude back to this material. Much of the suffering God's people experienced came as a fulfillment of the curses recorded in this chapter in God's response to their disobedience."
This section of Deuteronomy (chs. 27—28) is one of the most important ones in Scripture, because it records the two options open to Israel as she entered the Promised Land: Obedience to the revealed Word of God would result in blessing, but disobedience would result in blasting (punishment). Scholars who do not believe in supernatural prophecy, have said that it would have been impossible for Moses to have written these words. They say that the subsequent history of Israel so accurately fulfilled these warnings, that someone must have written them much later, perhaps after the Babylonian Captivity.
The books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings take pains to point out how God fulfilled what Moses said here, in Israel's later history. Martin Noth advanced the theory that one man, or a group of men, later in Israel's history—edited Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings—in order to validate what the writer of Deuteronomy predicted. Internal evidence as well as Jewish tradition, however, suggest that these books had separate writers, and their writers composed them earlier than Noth proposed.
The purpose of the whole Mt. Gerizim–Mt. Ebal ceremony, that Moses described here, was to impress the Israelites with the importance and solemnity of entering into and perpetuating covenant relationship with Yahweh. This ceremony was to be a formal occasion, that the Canaanites as well as the Israelites, would perceive as a covenant renewal ritual.
"When the Greeks invaded Palestine in 332 B.C., the Samaritans sought and obtained permission from the Greeks to build a temple on Mt. Gerizim. This temple was later destroyed and replaced by a Roman temple, but the Samaritans have observed their sacred festivals, including the Passover, on Mt. Gerizim ever since."
Chapter 29 verse 1 is the last verse of chapter 28 in the Hebrew Bible. Moses probably intended it to be a summary statement of what precedes, rather than an introduction to what follows. The renewed Mosaic Covenant, to which Moses now called on his hearers to commit themselves, contrasts somewhat with the original Mosaic Covenant to which the Israelites committed themselves at Mt. Sinai.
". . . the verse forms an inclusio with the preamble section of Deut 1:1-5. Both passages begin with the phrase 'these are the words . . . which Moses,' both locate the setting in Moab, and both make reference to Horeb and the earlier covenant. Thus the covenant text proper may be said to have been brought to a conclusion in 29:1. . . .
"It seems quite clear, then, that a major break occurs between 29:1 and 29:2, with the former bringing all the previous material to a close and the latter introducing at least the epilogic historical review."
"The rest of chapter 29 contains many reminiscences of the Near Eastern treaty pattern. It is not presented in a systematic manner but in narrative form. However, elements of the pattern are clearly discernible, making it extremely likely that some kind of covenant ceremony underlies the events here reported."
The form of this section argues for it being a covenant renewal. There is a historical prologue (29:2-9), reference to the parties covenanting (29:10-15), and basic stipulations (29:16-19). Then follow the curses (29:20-28), Moses' preaching of repentance and restoration (29:29—30:14), and the covenantal decision (30:15-20). The last section has three parts: the choice (30:15-18), the witnesses (30:19a), and the call for decision (30:19b-20).
"There is general consensus that chaps. 29 and 30 of Deuteronomy (as well as 31:1-8) are not strictly part of the covenant document as such documents were ordinarily crafted. This does not mean, of course, that this section does not serve a covenant function in Moses' own unique creation of the book as a covenant instrument. But even if it doesn't, it is very much at home here as a parenesis that looks to the past, present, and future of the elect nation. It provides a summation of God's past dealings with Israel, restates the present occasion of covenant offer and acceptance, and addresses the options of covenant disobedience and obedience respectively. Finally, it exhorts the assembled throng to covenant commitment. It is most fitting that these summaries and exhortations follow the body of the covenant text and precede the formalizing of the agreement by the Lord and his chosen vassal."
Moses began his third address to the Israelites, with an appeal for them to remain faithful to their "suzerain lord" (the LORD their God) and His covenant with them.
The emphasis in this section is on God's faithfulness in bringing Israel to its present position (cf. 1:6—4:40). To do this, God had provided for the people's needs in the wilderness, and had given them victory over some of their enemies (e.g., "Sihon" and "Og"). He had also given them some of the "land" He had promised them (in Transjordan: for the "Reubenites," "Gadites," and the eastern "half-tribe of the Manassites"). One writer concluded that most of the Israelites could not respond to God, because they did not enjoy a "faith relationship" with Him, but those who did trust Him could.
In view of God's past faithfulness, the Israelites should keep "this covenant" (v. 9), the Mosaic Covenant, so that they might prosper in the future. Moses assembled the people in order to have them commit themselves anew to their covenant with God. God had made the Mosaic Covenant with all the Israelites, not just the generation that stood before Moses on this occasion (vv. 14-15).
This younger generation needed to obey the laws of the Mosaic Covenant (v. 21), under which the nation already lived and was governed, in order to experience the maximum benefits of this covenant. The maximum benefits included not only the ownership of the land, but also the use (occupation) of it. The rebellious Israelite could anticipate physical death ("every curse . . . in this book will rest on him . . . the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven"; v. 20).
Disobedience to the Mosaic Covenant (v. 25) would result in the Israelites being driven out of the Promised Land. The "generation[s] to come" would witness total devastation of the land from "plagues," "diseases," and foreign invaders ("foreigner[s] . . . from a distant land," v. 22). In verse 29, the "secret things" refer to those things God knows but has not revealed (cf. Isa. 55:8-9). In the context, this refers specifically to how Israel would respond to the covenant in the future. The "things revealed" refer to what God has revealed so that humankind may enjoy God's blessings. In the context here, this refers to the Mosaic Covenant.
The Israelites would enjoy being "leasers" of the land, namely: having the right to use it (but not own it)—forever. But they could only occupy it to the extent that they obeyed God.
Having appealed for the Israelites' faithfulness to the covenant, Moses now called on the people to make a formal commitment to obey it.
When they had later been "banished" to the ends of the earth, the Israelites could repent and "return" to Yahweh in their hearts ("with all your heart and soul"), purposing to "obey" Him again (vv. 1-2). In that event, God would do several things for them: He would bring them back to their land, and allow them to occupy it again (vv. 3-5). He would also permanently change the people's heart-attitude toward Himself (v. 6). Here Moses anticipated a new covenant at some future date, that would eventually replace the old Mosaic Covenant (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-28; Rom. 10:4-13; Heb. 10:1-9).
"While the repossession of the land can be said to some extent to have been fulfilled by the return of the Jews following the Babylonian exile (cf. Jer 29:10-14; 30:3), the greater prosperity and population was not achieved in Old Testament times. In fact, it still awaits realization in any literal sense (cf. Hag 2:6-9; Zech 8:1-8; 10:8-12). As for the radical work of regeneration described here as circumcision of the heart, that clearly awaits a day yet to come as far as the covenant nation as a whole is concerned.
"Just as circumcision of the flesh symbolized outward identification with the Lord and the covenant community (cf. Gen 17:10, 23; Lev 12:3; Josh 5:2), so circumcision of the heart (a phrase found only here and in Deut 10:16 and Jer 4:4 in the OT) speaks of internal identification with him in what might be called regeneration in Christian theology. . . .
"The miraculous, totally regenerating nature of the circumcision of the heart would be manifest by Israel's ability to love the Lord 'with all your heart and with all your soul' (Deut 30:6). This is an obvious reference to the demand of the Shema (Deut 6:4-5), adherence to which was at the very core of covenant commitment."
God would, furthermore, punish ("inflict all these curses on") Israel's "enemies" (v. 7). Because of Israel's eventual obedience, God would "prosper" her greatly (vv. 8-10). The "fathers" (v. 9) probably refers to all the pious ancestors of the Israelites, not just the patriarchs.
Some premillennial commentators have called Deuteronomy 30:1-10 the "Palestinian Covenant." They have not used this term as much in recent years, because these verses do not constitute a distinctively different covenant. Verses 1-10 simply elaborate on the land promises made earlier to Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 12:7; et al.).
However, some modern commentators still refer to chapters 29—30 as a distinct "covenant." I would say this is a call to commit to the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Josh. 24:1-28) that, at the same time, contains further revelation concerning the land. God promised that the land would be Israel's possession, but the Israelites could only inhabit it if they were faithful to Him.
The steps in Israel's experience, enumerated here only as possibilities, provide an outline of the history of Israel—since this is how things have happened and will happen for Israel. These steps are seven: dispersion for disobedience (v. 1), repentance in dispersion (v. 2), regathering (v. 3), restoration to the land (vv. 4-5), national conversion (vv. 6, 8), the judgment of Israel's oppressors (v. 7), and national prosperity (v. 9).
". . . the overall purpose of the author of the Pentateuch seems to be to show that the Sinai covenant failed for lack of an obedient heart on the part of God's people Israel. We have also seen that his intention in writing the Pentateuch is not to look back in despair at the failure of man but to point in hope to the faithfulness of God. The hope of the writer of the Pentateuch is clearly focused on what God will do to bring his covenant promises to fulfillment. Nowhere is he more clear on this than at the (structural) conclusion to his work: Deut 30:1-10, where Moses tells the people of Israel that they will fail and that they will be cursed, but God's work with them will not end there. The Lord will again bring them into the land, gather them from all the lands where they have been exiled. But this time, things will be different. Israel is going to obey God. God is going to give them a heart that will obey, a heart that will love the Lord and keep his commandments. It is on this high note that the Pentateuch finally draws to a close.
"If we go beyond the Pentateuch to the other historical books, the Prophets and finally to the New Testament, the fulfillment of Moses' hope is made certain. It is also clear in these later books how God is going to give his people a new heart: 'I will give you a new heart, a new Spirit I will put within you; I will turn away the heart of stone from your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh. My Spirit I will put within you and I will make you walk in my statutes and my judgments you will keep' (Ezek 36:26, 27). It is by means of God's Spirit that his people are able to do his will. No one is clearer on this point than the apostle Paul (Rom 8:4). What is often overlooked, however, is that we needn't go beyond the Pentateuch itself for exactly the same conclusion. The author of the Pentateuch has as one of his central purposes to show that God's work must always be done in God's way: by means of the Spirit of God. To show the centrality of this idea in the Pentateuch we need only compare the author's description of God's own carrying out of his will (Gen 1:2b) with that of man's obedience to God's will (Exod 31:1-5)."
Later revelation confirms that the conditions Moses spoke about here only as possibilities, will actually prevail in the future. Israel will indeed "return" to the Lord as a nation (v. 2; cf. Ezek. 16:53-63; Amos 9:9-15; Zech. 12:10-12; Acts 15:16-17). The Lord will gather her again to the Promised Land (vv. 3-5; cf. Isa. 11:11-12; Jer. 23:3-8; Ezek. 37:21-28; Matt. 24:29-31). She will experience a permanent change in her attitude toward God as a nation (v. 6; cf. Ezek. 20:33-44; Hos. 2:14-16; Zech. 13:8-9; Mal. 3:1-6; Rom. 11:26-27). She will see her oppressors punished (v. 7; cf. Isa. 14:1-2; Joel 3:1-8; Matt. 25:31-46). God will prosper her abundantly (v. 9; cf. Amos 9:11-15).
God has not yet fulfilled these predictions. Therefore we look for a future fulfillment of them. The passages cited above indicate that this fulfillment will take place at the Second Coming of Christ, and in His millennial kingdom that will follow that return. A distinctive of "dispensational" theology is the recognition that God has a future for Israel as a nation, that is distinct from the future of the church or the Gentile nations.
Non-dispensationalists believe that God will fulfill these promises to the "New Israel," their other name for "the church." Some of them believe that Joshua and his successors conquered the Promised Land sufficiently, to warrant the conclusion that we should look for no future fulfillment. Others of them believe the land promises are spiritual, and will find fulfillment in the future, either in heaven or in the new earth.
Obeying did not lie beyond the average Israelite's ability, with God's grace, if he or she turned to Yahweh "wholeheartedly" (v. 10). God was not asking something impossible of His people ("For this commandment . . . is not too difficult [or] . . . out of reach"; vv. 11-15; cf. Rom. 10:6-8). He had given them the Mosaic Law so they could "obey" Him ("the word is very near you"; the Law was for them, and given to benefit them).
"The point at issue here was not the ease or even possibility of keeping the word of the Lord . . . but of even knowing what it was. Contrary to the inscrutable and enigmatic ways of the pagan gods, the Lord's purposes and will for his people are crystal clear. They are not 'too difficult' (lo' niple't, lit. 'not too wonderful,' i.e., beyond comprehension) or beyond reach (v. 11). That is, they can be understood by the human mind despite its limitations."
The choice before the Israelites was ultimately one of "life" or "death" (v. 15-18; cf. Gen. 1:28; 2:9, 17; 3:8, 22-24; 5:22-24; 6:9; 17:1). Moses called the permanent, unchanging "heaven and earth" to "witness" the making of this covenant (v. 19). Those who made ancient Near Eastern treaties commonly called witnesses to attest them, as God was the summoned "Witness" here. God also urged the people to look at the consequences of their choice, and to choose life and obedience deliberately (vv. 19-20). The highest motive, love for God, would enable the Israelites to obey the Lord steadfastly ("by loving the LORD your God"). They would consequently "live in the land" God had promised the patriarchs (v. 20).
"The notion of choice, with its implication of freedom to determine one's own actions or mode of life, is one which is characteristic of Deuteronomy. God chooses, but human beings also have that freedom."
"Participants in Israel's liturgies of covenant renewal, listeners to the word of the Lord and the words of Moses, readers of Deuteronomy then and now are all confronted with one of the most explicit calls for a decision that the Bible presents."
This final exhortation lifted Moses' third major address to the people to an emotional climax (cf. 4:32-40).
"The opening words of Moses' first address were 'See, I have set before you the land; go in and take possession' (1:8). Now, as his speaking comes to an end, those words are echoed: 'See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil . . . therefore choose life' (30:15). Between those two addresses is all the teaching of the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances. And therein lies the theological structure of Deuteronomy in a nutshell."
Having completed all the major addresses to the Israelites, recorded to this point in Deuteronomy, Moses needed only to make a few final arrangements before Israel was ready to enter the land. The record of these events concludes the book. Chapters 31—34 constitute several appendices to the main body of Deuteronomy (cf. Judg. 17—21; 2 Sam. 21—24).
"This final section of the covenant document has as its unifying theme the perpetuation of the covenant relationship. Of special importance is the subject of the royal succession, which is also prominent in the extra-biblical suzerainty treaties . . . This succession is provided for by the appointment and commissioning of Joshua as dynastic heir to Moses in the office of mediatorial representative of the Lord (ch. 31). The testamentary assignment of kingdom inheritance to the several tribes of Israel (ch. 33) reckons with the status of all God's people as royal heirs. Included also are two other standard elements in the international treaties. One is the invocation of covenant witnesses, here represented chiefly by the Song of Witness (ch. 32). The other is the directions for the disposition of the treaty document after the ceremony (31:9-13). By way of notarizing the document, an account of the death of Moses is affixed at the end (ch. 34)."
"Israel was not to be a nation of anarchists or even of strong human leaders. It was a theocratic community with the Lord as King and with his covenant revelation as fundamental constitution and law. The theme of this section is the enshrinement of that law, the proper role of Mosaic succession, and the ultimate authority of covenant mandate over human institutions."
Moses presented "Joshua" to the nation, as God's chosen leader ("Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you"), who would very soon take over the leadership of Israel. He charged the people (v. 6), and then Joshua (vv. 7-8), to "be strong and courageous" as they were entering the land—in view of God's promises, presence, and power.
"Commissioning of the community's leader(s), therefore, as encountered in this model, is to a task, not to a position. Authority and standing are dependent upon the nature of the task, not vice versa."
We observe this, too, in the commissioning of Paul and Barnabas to their missionary task (Acts. 13:2-3).
"Moses assigned the priests and elders the duty of regularly republishing the law of the covenant. The effect of this was to associate the priests and elders with Joshua in the responsibility of rule and in the esteem of Israel. More important, all the covenant people, together with all human authorities in the covenant community, were placed under the lordship of the Giver of the law."
Before he died, Moses left a written document with the leaders of the nation, that the Israelites regarded as God's "law" (v. 9, cf. Josh. 1:8). "This law" probably refers to Moses' exposition of the law (chs. 5—26), though the exact meaning of the "law" (torah, instruction, vv. 9, 24) here is not clear.
The national leaders were to read this law to the whole nation ("in front of all Israel") every seventh (sabbatical) year, at the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles). This reading would remind and instruct God's people concerning His gracious will for them. It was common in other ancient Near Eastern countries for the priests to assemble the people periodically, and read them the king's covenant (cf. 16:13-17).
Whereas previously Moses had "presented" Joshua to the people (vv. 1-8), now God officially "commissioned" Joshua to his new responsibility as Moses' successor (cf. Josh. 23—24; Acts 20:17-37). He did this at the tabernacle ("tent of meeting"), the appropriate place for this official ceremony.
The bulk of this section concerns God's revelation to Moses concerning Israel's future apostasy (vv. 16-22). The LORD's hiding of "His face" (vv. 17-18; 32:20) is the opposite of making His face shine on His people, and of turning His face toward them in blessing (cf. Num. 6:25-26). To discourage this apostasy, God gave Moses a "song" (32:1-43), the words of which he was to "write" down, and then "teach" the people, in order to help to remind them of God's faithfulness. Since it was a song, the people would, once having learned it by heart, repeat these words frequently, and remember them easily. The singing of it would later haunt them with how much they had lost for having disobeyed Yahweh.
Moses charged the Levitical priests with the care and keeping of the law-scroll he had written ("book of the law"; vv. 25-26), perhaps the whole Book of Deuteronomy. It was normal for priests to bear this responsibility in the ancient Near East. They kept this written law-scroll "beside," not inside, the ark (v. 26; cf. 2 Kings 22:8). Only the Ten Commandments were in the ark (Exod. 25:16; cf. Exod. 16:33-34; Num. 17:10-11). The Levites who carried the ark were Kohathites. The "song" (vv. 15-16) and the "scroll (book of the law)" were two witnesses to the people's obedience and disobedience. Moses also warned the priests, the elders, and the officers (tribal heads, military offiicers, and judges), of Israel's future apostasy as God had revealed this to him and Joshua (vv. 27-29). It was important for these spiritual leaders to be ready for what was coming.
The "Song of Moses" is the song that Moses gave to and taught the people before he diead, to help them remember God's faithfulness and thereby be encouraged (cf. Exod. 15; 2 Sam. 22; the Psalms). Its subject is God. Its theme is God's faithfulness. Its purpose was to encourage Israel to remember God's greatness. This is also the purpose of many Christian songs.
"How often we find it so, that long after hard commandments and hard, hard ethic is forgotten by a wanderer in a far country, there will begin to him the lilt of a song he heard his mother sing when he was at home. The song is more powerful than the law, and the last thing Moses had to do at the end was to write a song and teach it to the people."
Moses recited "the words of this song" God had given him, in the hearing of "all" the Israelites (cf. 32:44). The song follows the pattern of the Deuteronomic treaty.
One Old Testament scholar called the Song of Moses "one of the most impressive religious poems in the entire Old Testament." It contrasts the faithfulness and loyal love of God with the unfaithfulness and perversity of His people. Like other important poems in the Pentateuch (e.g., Gen. 49; Exod. 15; Num. 24), this one also teaches major themes.
"The song embraces the whole of the future history of Israel, and bears all the marks of a prophetic testimony from the mouth of Moses, in the perfectly ideal picture which it draws, on the one hand, of the benefits and blessings conferred by the Lord upon His people; and on the other hand, of the ingratitude with which Israel repaid its God for them all."
Moses set this song in the form of a lawsuit in which Yahweh leveled a charge against Israel. This form is very common in many of the writing prophets' oracles. Its central theme is "Israel's apostasy and God's threatening judgment." One expositor divided the song this way: the character of God (vv. 1-4), the kindness (goodness) of God to His people (vv. 5-14), the faithfulness of God in chastening His people (vv. 15-25), and the vengeance of God against His adversaries (vv. 26-43).
32:1-4 Moses called on the whole earth to listen to what follows ("Give ear, O heavens . . . and let the earth hear"; vv. 1-2; cf. Isa. 1:2). The subject of this song would be God (His character and attributes: sovereignty, greatness/generosity, love/care, goodness/kindness, faithfulness, justice).
"The subject of this song is doctrine ["teaching']; he [Moses] had given them [the Israelites] a song of praise and thanksgiving (Exod. xv.), but this is a song of instruction, for in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, we are not only to give glory to God, but to teach and admonish one another, Col. iii. 16."
The "name" of God is the expression of His character as He revealed it to His people and the world. The purpose of the song is that everyone would recognize God as the "great God" He is, and that His people would respond to Him appropriately. By comparing his "teaching" to "rain" and "dew," Moses was saying it would be a life-giving blessing to the Israelites. "Rain" and "dew" were major sources of blessing in the Promised Land, and their absence created serious problems for the inhabitants. The description of God as "the Rock" (vv. 4, 15, 18, 30, 31) occurs for the first time here in Scripture, but it appears many times later. This metaphor pictures God as a reliable Refuge and Foundation for His people, on whom they could build, and who had been solidly faithful to them.
32:5-6 Israel, on the other hand, was "perverse and crooked" (v. 5). Moses also called God the "Father" of the Israelites (v. 6; cf. Mal. 1:6; 2:10), whom His people had repaid with "corrupt" behavior for His many gifts. Such a response was despicable in the ancient East.
"We must notice that the Israelites only rarely give to Yahweh the title father when they address him and that only rarely do they call themselves sons of Yahweh. It is rather God who designates himself as father by calling the Israelites his sons. That prevented any mysticism based upon a bond of physical parentage between God and man."
32:7-14 The writer graphically described God's choice and care of Israel in these verses. Of all the nations of the earth, Israel had experienced the greatest blessing. This is the last of 16 times (in Deuteronomy) that Moses challenged the Israelites to "remember," beginning with 4:10. The "desert place (land)" where Yahweh found Israel, was Egypt (v. 10). The "pupil of [the] eye" (lit. "the little man of the eye," v. 10) is the part of the eye that a person protects most carefully (cf. Ps. 17:8; Prov. 7:2). The "apple of the eye" is an English idiom meaning: anything that one holds very dear or cherishes greatly.
32:15-18 Israel's rebellion against her Father stands in stark contrast to God's gracious care for her. "Jeshurun" (v. 5; cf. 33:26; Num. 23:10) means "Upright One," "Uprightness," or "Righteous Nation." This pet name for Israel reminded the nation of her holy calling. As an ox (servant), "Jeshurun" had become unresponsive, due to the "fatness" she had gained as a result of God's blessings.
32:19-25 "The 'jealousy' of God [v. 21] is not a spirit of pettiness prompted by his insecurity, but righteous indignation caused by the disloyalty of his people to his covenant grace . . . The jealousy of Israel, however (see next line), will be envy because of God's lavish attention to another nation [cf. Rom. 11:11]."
God would discipline Israel because of her rebellion. He would make the punishment fit the crime (v. 21). The nation(s) referred to ("a foolish nation"), as being "not a people" (v. 21) means any nation that had no divine calling as a people—as Israel did. There is no other nation like Israel, in the sense that they are "the people of God." "Fire" (v. 22) is the symbol of God's wrath and judgment (cf. 4:24; Exod. 3:2; Heb. 12:29).
32:26-38 Israel's unfaithfulness would not thwart God's purposes for her, however. God would use other nations ("adversaries") to discipline His people, but He would judge them, too ("the LORD will vindicate His people"; cf. Hab. 1—2). The Old Testament writers compared Israel to "Sodom" and "Gomorrah" many times (v. 32), but they never compared the heathen nations to those wicked cities.
"One of the well-known sermons in American history was preached by Jonathan Edwards in 1741 from this verse [v. 35] and particularly from this clause: 'In due time their foot will slip.' The sermon subject was 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.' Edwards thought that the verse was directed at the unbelieving Israelites, but his application of it reached to all wicked people."
32:39-43 The biblical writers also represented God frequently as a "Warrior-Hero" who fought in battle for Israel against her enemies (vv. 41-42; cf. Ps. 7:13). "Loving" God, as used in Scripture of peoples and nations, indicates faithful covenant obedience (cf. 5:10; 6:5; 7:9; 10:12; 11:1, 13, 22; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6, 16, 20). "Hating" Him describes those who either have no covenant relationship with Him, or those who have His covenant but live in rebellion against Him (cf. 5:9; 7:10; 2 Chron. 19:2; Ps. 81:15; 139:20-21).
"Again it can be seen that the text portrays the Torah as God's gift of life to his people in much the same way as the Tree of Life was put into the midst of the Garden of Eden (Ge 2:8-17). Just as obedience to the Lord's command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was the key to their access to the Tree of Life (Ge 2:16-17), so obedience to the Lord's command in the Torah was to be the key to Israel's 'living long in the land' that God had prepared for them."
This song was one more instrument God used to teach His people to obey Him—along with Moses' sermons, the rituals, the monuments, etc. (vv. 46-47).
"It will . . . act as a mnemonic, an aid to memory, because during the intervening period it will have lived unforgotten in the mouth of the reader or hearer, ready to come to mind when the troubles arrive. Poetry is thus a kind of time bomb; it awaits its hour and then springs forward into harsh remembrance. . . . It will live in their minds and mouths, bringing them back, whether they like it or not, to the harsh memory of the desert sojourn. Once learned it will not easily be forgotten. The words will stick, they will be importunate, they will not let us alone."
The lesson this song teaches is that when God's people forget His gracious goodness to them, and turn away from Him to follow "idols," they can expect discipline. When God appears to withdraw His blessings, we should not question His ability or motives, but rather examine the state of our relationship with Him.
This verse is the closing "bracket" that surrounds the song in the text (cf. 31:30). The repetition probably does not indicate a second recital of the song. Both the introductory and concluding verses simply state the circumstances in which Moses and Joshua communicated the song to the nation.
This narrative section of Deuteronomy relates a final exhortation that Moses gave the Israelites, and an announcement of his death that he received from the Lord.
Moses addressed the Israelites once again, after he had taught them his song. He urged them to "take to heart," not only the words of the song, but "all the words of [the] law," namely: the entire covenant text of Deuteronomy (cf. 17:19; 27:3, 8, 26; 28:58; 29:29; 31:12, 24). He pointed out that these words were not flippant or offhanded matters of human opinion ("not an idle word," v. 47), but words that would lead to a fulfilling, longer life "in the (Promised) [L]and" ("by this word you will prolong your days"; cf. 8:3; 30:20).
The "very same day" that Moses gave his song to the Israelites, God directed him to prepare for his death (v. 48; cf. Num. 27:12-14). "Mount Nebo" is one of the peaks in the Abarim mountain range, that stands to the east of the Arabah, northeast of the Dead Sea. This mountain range runs generally from north to south. People in that culture associated heights with nearness to deity, so perhaps both Aaron and Moses died and were buried—on mountains—in orded to symbolize their nearness to God.
God permitted Moses to "see the [whole] land" of Canaan "at a distance," even though his sin at Kadesh prevented him from entering it.
"The Lord had told him to speak to the rock (Num 20:8), the mere act of speaking being designed to demonstrate the power of God who creates by the spoken word. To strike the rock was to introduce an interruptive element and thus to diminish the significance of the powerful word. By doing this, Moses betrayed not only anger and disobedience but he correspondingly reflected on the God whom he served by implying that God could not bring forth water by the divine word alone."
Moses' sin lay in his failure of forgetting to honor God as He deserved ("you broke faith with Me . . . you did not treat Me as holy"). This is essentially the warning of the Song of Moses (vv. 1-43): "Ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just . . . You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth . . . See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me." Moses had failed God just as Israel had failed Him. So Moses warned Israel against failing Him again in the future.
After receiving this announcement of his death, and as one of his final official acts as Israel's leader, Moses pronounced a prophetic blessing on the tribes of Israel (cf. Isaac's blessing of Jacob in Genesis 27, and Jacob's blessing of the tribes in Genesis 49).
"In the ancient Near East, a dying father's final blessings spoken to his sons were an irrevocable legal testament, accepted as decisive evidence in court disputes. In the case of the Biblical patriarchs, the authority and potency of their last blessings derived from the Spirit of prophecy in them, speaking in the testamentary form (cf. the cases of Isaac, Gen 27, and Jacob, Gen 49). As spiritual and theocratic father of the twelve tribes, Moses pronounced his blessings on them just before he ascended the mount to die (Deut 33:1), and thus his words constitute his testament."
33:1-5 After a brief introduction to the blessing (v. 1), Moses began by presenting God. He pictured Him as the source of all blessing in the figure of the sun rising on His people gathered at Sinai. The sun is the source of physical blessing. "Seir" (v. 2) refers to the mountain range in Edom, over which the sun would apparently rise as seen from Sinai. "Paran" (v. 2) refers to the mountains near Kadesh Barnea that separated the Sinai wilderness from Canaan.
"The stylized or formulaic nature of such historical résumés allows them to depart from normal patterns of narration in which strict adherence to chronological and geographical sequence is expected. Thus the Lord could come from Sinai and appear from Seir and Paran at the same time, or at least without reference to actual historical movement which, of course, would necessitate the order Sinai, Paran, and Seir (cf. Num 10:12; 13:3, 26; 20:14; 21:4; Deut 1:19; 2:4). The real point here in v. 2 is that the Lord manifested himself gloriously to his people from his earthly dwelling places or at least his usual places of self-disclosure, namely, mountaintops."
The "holy ones" (v. 2) are probably angels. Moses described God as accompanied by His countless angelic servants, while He revealed His law to Israel at Sinai. Some scholars regard verses 2-5 as ". . . among the most obscure in the entire Hebrew Bible."
"Though it is possible to argue that the 'king' in 33:5 is meant to be understood as the Lord, the immediate context suggests strongly that it is Moses. This is important because the next chapter, Deuteronomy 34, views Moses as a prototype of the coming prophet who was promised in 18:15. Thus at the close of the Pentateuch, the two central messianic visions of the book—that of a coming king (Ge 49:10; Nu 24:7-9) and that of a prophet (Dt 18:15)—are united in the figure of Moses, the prophet-king. We should note that throughout the Pentateuch Moses also carries out the duties of priest. Thus in the figure of Moses, the Pentateuch is able to bring together the offices of prophet, priest, and king. The author is always careful to note, however, that Moses was not a priest of the house of Aaron. The Aaronic priesthood is of a different order than that pictured in the office of Moses. If we were looking for an analogy to Moses elsewhere in the Pentateuch, we need look no farther [sic further] than the figure of Melchizedek, the priest-king from Salem. Thus as Melchizedek the priest-king blessed Abraham at the beginning of the patriarchal narratives . . . (Ge 14:19), so here Moses the priest-king blessed the Israelites at the conclusion . . . (Dt 33:29)."
The blessing of the tribes follows this introduction.
33:6-25 The arrangement of the tribes in this blessing is unusual. Kalland provided a chart of six lists of the tribes that appear in Genesis, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, each of which contains a different order. It appears that God based this list on a combination of the past and future histories of each tribe.
"Reuben" (v. 6) was the firstborn, but he did not enjoy greatness among the tribes because of his sin. He lost his father's birthright and blessing. Furthermore, no great civil or military leader or prophet ever came from this tribe, as far as Scripture records.
"Judah" (v. 7) received the position of leader among the tribes when his older brothers became ineligible ("he contended [or advocated] for them").
"Levi" (vv. 8-11) received a blessing for being faithful to God at "Massah" and "Meribah," when the people complained because of lack of water.
"But these narratives [Exod. 17:1-7; Num. 20:1-13] contain no reference to Levi, so that the precise meaning of the historical reference is not clear unless it be that in Moses and Aaron, leaders of the tribe of Levi, the whole tribe was on trial."
The specific act of faithfulness to Yahweh, that resulted in Levi's being chosen as the priestly tribe, occurred later. That even was Levi's standing with Moses and Aaron when the rest of the nation rebelled and worshipped the golden calf at Sinai (Exod. 32:25-29). The "godly man" (v. 8) is probably Levi rather than Aaron (cf. v. 9). The Levites' special privileges and responsibilities included "teaching" the rest of the Israelites God's "law." The Levitical priests also burned "incense" before God, sacrificed "offerings" (v. 10), discerned God's will ("Thummim" and "Urim"; v. 8). "Shattering the loins" (v. 11) probably refers to making one incapable of producing progeny (potential offspring), as well as destroying one's strength (cf. 1 Kings 12:10; Prov. 31:17; Nah. 2:2).
"Benjamin" (v. 12) was to enjoy God's protection continually, since God would carry this tribe on His back "between His shoulders." As the warrior tribe, Benjamin would enjoy God's protection (cf. Judg. 21).
"Joseph" (vv. 13-17) represented "Ephraim" and "Manasseh." The "firstborn of his ox" (v. 17) probably refers to Joseph as "the most powerful of the powerful." He was the firstborn son of Jacob, God's servant, by Rachel. "Ephraim" was the stronger of Joseph's sons, who were both as strong as "the horns of [wild] oxen" during the tribes' conflict with Israel's enemies.
"Zebulun" and "Issachar" (vv. 18-19) would become special channels of blessing to the other nations by means of their commercial wealth ("They will draw out the abundance of the seas, and the hidden treasures of the sand").
"While this cannot be documented as having taken place in biblical times, the promise has found startling fulfillment in the modern state of Israel, whose major port is Haifa, located in the area of ancient Zebulun."
These two tribes would experience God's blessing as they brought riches into Israel. Their inherited territory included the fertile Jezreel Valley. "In your going forth" and "in your tents" (v. 18) is a merism (combination expression) meaning "in all that you do."
"Gad" (vv. 20-21) inherited much area east of the Jordan River that was suitable for development. Gad was a warring tribe ("as a lion"), that was very aggressive in conquering and subduing the land (Num. 32:34-36).
"Dan" (v. 22) settled in an area inhabited by "lions" (Judg. 14:5), and migrated to northern Israel to an area that abounded in lions (Judg. 18). The people of this tribe were also similar to lions, like the Gadites, in their aggressiveness and strength.
"Naphtali" (v. 23) would enjoy the benefits of a seacoast ("the sea and the south"), the Sea of Chinnereth, and a comfortable area in relation to that body of water. The towns along the northern and western shores of this sea, including Capernaum and Bethsaida, lay within the territory of Naphtali.
". . . but by far the most abundant blessing was the fact that the Messiah spent most of his life and exercised much of his ministry there or in nearby Zebulun (cf. Matt 4:12-17). One can scarcely imagine greater evidence of divine favor."
"Asher" (v. 24) would benefit from the respect of his fellow-Israelites ("favored by his brothers") and prosperity ("oil," "leisurely walk"). His territory on the Mediterranean coast would require fortifications, but God would protect him. "Oil" is probably a metaphor for prosperity, as elsewhere (cf. 32:13; Job 29:6).
Moses did not mention the "Simeonites" in this blessing. Jacob had prophesied that God would scatter the Simeonites in Israel (Gen. 49:7). Simeon received no tribal allotment of land, but only a few cities in Judah, when Joshua divided the Promised Land. The Simeonites became absorbed into the other tribes, especially Judah.
33:26-29 The blessing closes by returning to consider Israel's God again ("the God of Jeshurun"; cf. vv. 2-5). Moses pictured Him as a God great enough to give the tribes everything that He had just promised them. The key to Israel's blessing was her God and her relationship to Him: "There is none like the God of Jeshurun . . . He drove out the enemy from before you . . . So Israel dwells in security . . . Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord[?] . . . So your enemies will cringe before you, and you will tread upon their high places."
"As we might expect, here at the end of the book, Moses pictures Israel's dwelling in the land as a reversal of the events of the early chapters of Genesis, when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden."
The Lord has fulfilled these predictions in part, but He will fulfill them completely in the future. This will occur when Israel repents, and God brings her back into her land (i.e., during the Millennium).
"A testament is of force only after the death of the testator [cf. Heb. 9:16-17]. So the Deuteronomic Covenant in its testamentary aspect . . . would not become operative until after the death of Moses. Only then would Joshua succeed to the role of vicegerent of God over Israel, and only then under the leadership of Joshua could the tribes, according to the declarations of the Lord, enter into their inheritance in Canaan. It was, therefore, appropriate that the Deuteronomic treaty should close with the record of Moses' death, which in effect notarizes the treaty. That the testamentary significance of Moses' death is in view is evidenced by the accompanying attention given to the land of Israel's inheritance and to Joshua's accession to the royal mediatorship of the covenant."
Moses proceeded up Mt. Nebo as God had instructed him (32:48-52), and there he viewed the land across the Jordan River that God had promised to give to Abraham's descendants. What Moses saw was not all the territory that God had promised Abraham (v. 4; cf. Gen. 15:18), but only the part that Israel was about to enter and hopefully possess. Unfortunately, Moses could not enter the Promised Land because of his sin at Meribah (cf. Num. 20:12).
"It was necessary for Jesus to die before entering his rest, because he was the true Mediator who came to reconcile his sinful people unto God; Moses must die without entering the typical rest because as the OT mediator he had by official transgression disqualified himself for completing the mission which prefigured that of the sinless Son of God. Unlike Moses, who after his death was succeeded by Joshua (Deut 33 [sic 34]:9), the Messianic Mediator would succeed himself after his death because it was not possible that death should hold him."
"The fact . . . that the Lord buried His servant Moses [v. 6], and no man knows of his sepulchre, is in perfect keeping with the relation in which Moses stood to the Lord while he was alive. . . . 'If Jehovah . . . would not suffer the body of Moses to be buried by man, it is but natural to seek for the reason in the fact that He did not intend to leave him to corruption, but, when burying it with His own hand, imparted a power to it which preserved it from corruption, and prepared the way for it to pass into the same form of existence to which Enoch and Elijah were taken, without either death or burial.'"
Another explanation for Moses' unusual burial, is simply that God chose to bury His faithful servant rather than allowing the Israelites to do so. Such a burial is a testimony to the greatness of Moses.
Another view follows:
This statement rests on the assumption that this account of Moses' death was written long after the event. Moses was "120 years old when he died" (v. 7). He had begun his ministry of covenant mediator on one mountain (i.e., Sinai), and now he ended that ministry on another. The Israelites mourned for him for "30 days" (v. 8), as they had done for Aaron (Num. 20:29). This long a period of mourning was evidently conventional for a great person, though the normal time of mourning a loved one was apparently seven days (Gen. 50:10).
"The chapter provides the final statement regarding the Lord's refusal to allow Moses to enter the Promised Land. It thus links up with an important theme in the Pentateuch: Moses, who lived under the Law, was not allowed to enter into God's blessings because he failed 'to believe' (Nu 20:12). According to this chapter, Moses did not die of old age—'his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone' (Dt 34:7). His death was punishment, just as the generation that died in the wilderness during the forty years was punished (Nu 14:22-23). . . . From the perspective of the Pentateuch as a whole, Moses died young. He did not live the many centuries of the early patriarchs before the Flood. Thus at the close of the Pentateuch the life of Moses becomes the last example of the consequences of the Fall of the first man and woman. Like them, he was not allowed to enjoy the blessing of God's good land."
Many students of Moses' life have noticed similarities to Christ's, and they regard him as a type of Christ:
When Moses was dead, Joshua picked up the reins of leadership with the support of the Israelites ("the sons of Israel listened to [Joshua] and did as the LORD had commanded Moses"; v. 9). God gave him special "wisdom" for his responsibilities.
"What is stressed here is that Joshua was 'filled with the spirit of wisdom' (34:9) and thus able to do the work of God. Like Joseph (Ge 41:37 [sic 38]) and Bezalel (Ex 31:3), who were filled with 'the Spirit of God,' Joshua was able to do God's work successfully. Thus this last chapter of the Pentateuch returns to a central theme, begun already in the first chapter of Genesis: 'and the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep' (Ge 1:2). It is the Spirit of God that is the means of doing the work of God [cf. Ezek. 36:26]."
The final verses in the book (vv. 10-12) and the Pentateuch give an evaluation of Moses' ministry. They are his literary epitaph ("since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses"; cf. 2 Sam. 23:1-7). Someone other than Moses probably added them after his death. Moses was remarkable in several respects that the writer identified. His intimate relationship with God was unique ("whom the LORD knew face to face"; cf. 18:15-22; Num. 12:6-8). The miracles ("signs") God did through him in Egypt, and the powerful acts ("mighty power" and "terror") he "performed" in the sight of the Israelites, were also noteworthy. He performed many of these signs when God gave the Mosaic Covenant at Mt. Sinai.
One of the great messages of the Bible is that God desires to bless people through a relationship with Himself. The message of the Pentateuch is that people can experience this blessing through trust and obedience. Each of the five books of Moses reveals important truth concerning God, humankind, and the relationship between people and God.
Genesis reveals that man is a finite creature, made in the image of God, but fallen in sin. He is therefore unable, on his own, to enjoy the relationship with God that God created him to experience. Moses presented God in Genesis as trustworthy. The outstanding characteristic of God in this book is His "faithfulness." God proved in this book that people can rely on His word. In order for people to have a relationship with God, they must exercise faith. We must trust in God because He is trustworthy.
Exodus shows that human sin leads to enslavement. In order to be free to enjoy liberty, and the relationship with God that God intends human beings to experience, we must undergo redemption by God. Moses presented God in Exodus as being "sovereign"; this is His outstanding characteristic in the second book of Moses. Because God is sovereign, He can redeem man, who is a slave because of sin. God can even bring man into an intimate relationship with Himself as His "firstborn son." So redemption is the provision of the sovereign God for the sin-enslavement problem.
Leviticus reveals more fully that man is a sinner, and that as such, he is different from, alienated or "cut off" from, and separate from God. God is "holy"; this is the outstanding revelation of God in this book. Man cannot have the relationship with God that God desires, even as a redeemed person, because of sin. God also provided atonement, so that God and redeemed sinners could have fellowship. Our response to God's provision, as His firstborn children and redeemed sinners brought into fellowship, should be worship.
Numbers illustrates by Israel's example how redeemed sinners can enjoy the benefits of atonement, yet fail to trust and obey God. The outstanding characteristic of God in Numbers is His "graciousness" toward sinful human beings. God disciplines His own in order to teach them to obey Him, because only then can they experience all the blessings that He wants them to enjoy.
Deuteronomy pictures redeemed man as a vassal or servant; and God as a suzerain, lord, or master. This relationship exists by virtue of who God is (i.e., Creator and Redeemer), and who man is (i.e., creature and sinner). Deuteronomy reveals that God "loves" people, and that people should "love" God. This relationship is not a formal, impersonal one, but one that "love" motivates and sustains.
God manifested His love for Israel in the laws He gave her. Israel was to demonstrate love for God by her obedience to His laws. These laws were in the Mosaic Covenant, and God designed them to bring Israel into as close a relationship to Himself as possible.
The Pentateuch contains all the instruction necessary for the Israelites to enjoy an intimate relationship with God. In the historical books that follow, we see how the principles revealed in the Pentateuch either worked out, or did not work out, for Israel in her history. The Israelites' degree of trust and obedience determined this. God intended their example to be instructive for us (1 Cor. 10:1-13; Rom. 15:1-6; Heb. 11). The same principles apply today, though the economy and laws under which we live are different from those under which Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses lived. Merrill provided a fine summary of the theology of the Pentateuch
Whereas Deuteronomy is the last of the five books of Moses, critical scholars now tend to group it with the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings—more than with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. They refer to this body of books as the "Deuteronomistic History," a term that the German scholar Martin Noth coined. This is due to the foundational nature of Deuteronomy, as reflected in the presentation of the later history of Israel that these books present. Conservative scholars usually tie Deuteronomy in with Genesis through Numbers because of authorship and historical sequence. Many of them, however, also recognize that Deuteronomy provides the basis for the evaluation of the nation, that Joshua through Kings presents.
"Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen . . ." (4:9)
Diligently keep; be on ones guard; be careful
"Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments . . ." (5:29)
Fear; treat with reverence or honor; stand in awe of
"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." (6:5)
Love; be devoted; be committed
"You shall fear the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him, and swear by His name." (6:13)
Serve; work for; perform acts for as a subject
"You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name." (10:20)
Hold fast; cling; cleave to ; remain with or close to; stay near
"See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse." (11:26)
See; observe; consider; give attention to; behold
"Remember the days of old, consider the years of all generations . . ." (32:7)
Remember; recall; keep in mind; think of; call to mind
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is a passage that is very important in the biblical teaching on divorce and remarriage. There are four problems that need solving for us to determine the correct interpretation of this passage.
What is the protasis (the clause that expresses the condition in a conditional sentence) and what is the apodosis (the clause that expresses the result)?
View #1: The protasis occurs in 24:1a, "When a man . . . uncleanness in her." The apodosis occurs in 24:1b-4, "then let him . . . for an inheritance" (as in the AV). God commanded divorce on the grounds of "uncleanness" in the wife. He prohibited remarriage to her first husband after the death of, or divorce by, her second husband.
View #2: The protasis occurs in 24:1-3, "When a man . . . be his wife." The apodosis occurs in 24:4, "then her former . . . as an inheritance" (as in the NASB, NIV, and RSV). God permitted divorce on the grounds of "indecency" in the wife. He also prohibited remarriage to her first husband after the death of, or divorce by, her second husband.
Evaluation: View #2 reflects the opinion of most translators concerning the proper protasis and apodosis relationship. Rather than commanding or encouraging divorce, as the Pharisees interpreted it in Jesus' day, this passage therefore controlled or regulated how a man could obtain a divorce in Israel. It also condemned the practice of a woman remarrying her first husband after her second husband either died or divorced her.
What is the "indecency" for which a man could divorce his wife?
View #1: Some specific offense is in view. Scholars have suggested several. The possibilities include fornication, anything displeasing to her husband, inability to bear children, or some physical defect. Other options are indecent exposure, embarrassment caused to the husband by the wife's social behavior, lesbianism (one type of fornication), or some other serious offense.
View #2: No specific offense is in view. Instead indecency refers to what the husband erroneously judged to be a legitimate ground for divorce. In other words God permitted divorce when the husband believed his wife had done something illegitimate even though she had not.
Evaluation: View #2 seems to be better for the following reasons. Adultery was punishable by death, so the indecency could hardly be that offense. The Jews debated the meaning of the term "indecency" in Jesus' day. This probably indicates that no one understood it to refer to a specific offense even when God first gave it. If only one indecent act was in view, this statute would not cover divorce for other reasons. A woman could remarry her former husband only if the first marriage broke up for this specific cause. However this statute seems to be controlling all illegitimate divorce.
This would mean God was making divorce easy.
God was not allowing just any divorce. This statute controls and protects the wife to a degree from any illegitimate divorce, not just one type of illegitimate divorce.
Lexically "indecent" can mean "indecent exposure."
This would be a rare cause of divorce and would limit greatly the application of this statute in Israelite life. The phrase "to uncover nakedness" is euphemistic and means "to have sex." If God meant indecent exposure, it would most likely involve sexual sin. This was for the most part punishable by death in Israel.
Could not lesbianism be in view?
The broad term "indecent" argues against such a limited interpretation. Furthermore the prescribed punishment for lesbians was execution in Israel (Lev. 18:22, 29).
Why does the second marriage defile the wife?
View #1: She has had sex with another man.
View #2: Her status regarding her first husband changed from wife to sister when they got married. If she returned to her first husband (brother) after a second marriage, that union would be incestuous.
View #3: The divorce, not the second marriage alone, changed her status regarding her first husband irreversibly.
View #4: The second marriage constitutes adultery.
Evaluation: View #4 seems best for these reasons. If this passage indeed controls illegitimate divorce, there was no legitimate divorce in Israel. All such divorce would dissolve the first marriage. Therefore the consummation of the second marriage would be adulterous. The word "defiled" suggests adultery (Lev. 18:20). Matthew 5:32 supports this view. Jesus Christ indicated that a man who divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery. It is the remarriage that defiles, not the divorce.
This view reads the New Testament (i.e., Matt. 5:32) back into the Old Testament.
Progressive revelation has simply illuminated what the reason for the prohibition was. The Old Testament Israelite may not have understood fully the reason for the law, just the requirement. In Matthew 5 Jesus was clarifying the law (cf. Matt. 5:17).
Remarriage did not bear a stigma as adultery in Israel, and God allowed it.
God conceded to remarriage in the same way He conceded to divorce. Both were taking place though God did not approve their practice. Jesus clarified that the spirit of the law was that remarriage after divorce was adultery. The fact that the Mosaic Law did not demand death for adultery under these conditions does not mean that adultery was non-existent. The Mosaic Law did not punish other illegitimate practices even though God did not approve of them. Some examples include a husband's adultery against his wife (cf. Exod. 20:14), polygamy, and concubinage. Other examples are prostitution except by a Hebrew girl (Deut. 23:18) and incest between an uncle and niece (though the Law did punish incest between an aunt and nephew).
"Defiled" refers to incest, not adultery.
To reduce all references to sexual sin in Deuteronomy 24 to incest is improper. Moses also mentioned adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality in the context (cf. Lev. 18; 20:10-21). While marriage does create close family relationships with the in-laws, in Israel this did not rule out marrying an in-law. For example a man could marry his wife's sister after his wife died (Lev. 18:18), and a woman could marry her dead husband's brother. Even if blood relations are in view in Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21, this does not mean the first husband and wife had become brother and sister as a result of their marriage.
What was the purpose of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and what are its implications?
View #1: The purpose was to discourage hasty divorce, and the implication is that divorce alone severs the marriage bond and allows legitimate remarriage.
View #2: The purpose was to prevent an incestuous marriage. The implication is that divorce and a subsequent remarriage change the marriage bond to a "one flesh" relationship of a different kind.
View #3: The purpose was to prevent a man from marrying a woman who had committed adultery against him. The implication is that both divorce and adultery together sever the marriage bond.
Evaluation: View #3 seems best for the following reasons. Normally an adulteress would die (under Mosaic Law) or her husband would divorce her (under Rabbinic law). In the case here the wife who commits adultery against her husband escapes punishment for two reasons. First, Moses viewed her husband as having caused her to be adulterous by divorcing her. Second, post-marital adultery is not the same crime as marital adultery. If the "defilement" had not dissolved or changed the original marriage bond, there is no reason the woman could not return to her first husband after her second husband died or divorced her. The law denied the first husband his ex-wife in the same way it would deny him an "outwardly" adulterous wife. An "outwardly" adulterous wife would be one who had committed adultery while married (cf. Matt. 19:9).
If the woman was guilty of adultery by remarrying she should suffer death by stoning.
It is the husband's act of divorcing his wife that results in her remarrying and committing adultery. She could remarry under the Mosaic Law. Her adultery was not a violation of a solid marriage covenant but one that divorce had already flawed. Jesus agreed that such action constituted adultery (Matt. 5:32). Only if the wife remarried or had sex with another man could she not return to her first husband.
Marriage is absolutely indissoluble (Gen. 2:18, 21-24).
It is not eternally indissoluble since death ends it (Rom. 7:1-2; Matt. 22:23-33). Whereas God wants marriage to be permanent He warned against ending it (Matt. 19:6). Thus the breaking of the marriage bond before death is possible. Furthermore if marriage is indissoluble then there is no reason the wife should not return to her first husband. Moreover if marriage is indissoluble a woman who remarries would have two husbands. However the Mosaic Law did not tolerate polyandry. In addition, Jesus said the Samaritan woman "had," not "has," five husbands (John 4:18). Finally, if marriage is indissoluble then every remarriage after divorce is bigamous and illegal. It should end in annulment as an incestuous marriage would.
The student of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 should divide it into two parts between verse 3 and verse 4. Verses 1-3 express the condition and verse 4 the result. If a man divorced his wife, the Mosaic Law did not permit him to remarry her if, after her divorce from him, she had married another man. The "indecency" in view that was the grounds for the divorce was not a specific offense for which the wife was guilty. It was any condition that the husband erroneously judged as suitable grounds for a divorce. A husband could divorce his wife for the flimsiest of reasons in Israel. A divorced woman was free to remarry in Israel. However if she remarried, the law viewed her remarriage as adultery. In the eyes of the law her first husband was responsible for her committing adultery since he had divorced her. Notwithstanding, she did not die as an adulteress because the law did not punish this form of adultery with death. Her adultery defiled the woman. She could not return to her first husband if her second husband divorced her (or, presumably, had died) because she had committed adultery against him. Divorce alone did not break the first marriage bond but both divorce and adultery (sexual relations with a man other than the first husband) did. God did not want the partners in this case to reestablish the first marriage.
Suggestions for Preventing Divorce
As I have worked with several couples and individuals who were thinking about getting a divorce, I have noticed a pattern of behavior that is quite common.
1. One or both of the partners in the marriage feel frustrated. He or she thinks, "This is not what I want in my marriage."
2. He internalizes his frustration and thinks, "I should be able to handle this." If he can, he forgives wrongs done to him and accepts his imperfect mate as is.
3. If he cannot handle his frustrations, he fails to forgive.
4. His frustration then often turns into bitterness. He thinks, "I'm stuck. I don't like you; you've hurt me." He may also think, "God is not answering my prayers."
5. Finally he explodes. He says, "I want out of this relationship! I can't take it any longer!"
This problem has its roots in a failure to forgive. The person involved may not realize this, but this is usually the crucial issue.
Here is a procedure to try to help someone who has exploded, or is about to, to forgive his or her mate.
1. Go to the person. Tell him that you are concerned for his welfare, that you believe he is making a big mistake, and that you have his happiness and welfare at heart.
2. Encourage him to ventilate his feelings of frustration by telling you how he feels. Ask, "How do you feel about your marriage?"
3. Show him what has been happening in his life by pointing out the five steps outlined above, if these apply.
4. Help him to learn how to deal with his frustrations so they do not build up within him. This involves venting them to God, a friend, and or his spouse.
5. Motivate him to forgive his spouse by reminding him how much God has forgiven all of us. We all keep offending God, but He forgives us and remains committed to us. He has promised never to leave us. Furthermore He promises grace (help) so we can live one day at a time (2 Cor. 12:9).
In view of how much God has forgiven us, we should forgive each other any and every offense.
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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. "Deuteronomy," by George L. Robinson, 2:836. See also Daniel I. Block, "Recovering the Voice of Moses: The Genesis of Deuteronomy," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44:3 (September 2001):385-408.
For a survey of major studies in Deuteronomy since 1938, see Gary Collier, "The Problem of Deuteronomy: In Search of a Perspective," Restoration Quarterly 26:4 (1983):215-33. For an excellent defense of the conservative dating of Deuteronomy as opposed to the critical dating, especially the seventh-century B.C. option, see Gordon Wenham, "The date of Deuteronomy: linch-pin of Old Testament criticism," Themelios 10:3 (April 1985):15-20, and 11:1 (September 1985):15-18. For a more general review of the criticism of Deuteronomy, see Longman and Dillard, pp. 104-9; or Edward J. Young, My Servants the Prophets, pp. 13-20.
Eugene H. Merrill, "Deuteronomy, New Testament Faith, and the Christian Life," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, p. 23. See D. Eberhard Nestle, ed., Novum Testamentum Graece, 21st ed., pp. 658-61.
See William L. Moran, "The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Love of God in Deuteronomy," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 35 (1963):77-87; Greg Chirichigno, "A Theological Investigation of Motivation in OT Law," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (1981):303-13; and Pinchas Doron, "Motive Clauses in the Laws of Deuteronomy: Their Forms, Functions and Contents," Hebrew Annual Review (1978):61-77.
See H. H. Rowley, "Moses and the Decalogue," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester 34:1 (September 1951):81-118, for arguments for the Mosaic origin of the Ten Commandments as opposed to a later origin.
Merrill, "Deuteronomy . . .," p. 24. J. Gerald Janzen, "On the Most Important Word in the Shema (Deuteronomy VI 4-5)," Vetus Testamentum 37:3 (July 1987):280-300, believed the second of these meanings was the proper one.
See Gerhard von Rad, Deuteronomy, p. 72; Raymond Van Leeuwen, "What Comes out of God's Mouth: Theological Wordplay in Deuteronomy 8," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 47 (January 1985):53-57; and Miller, p. 116.
E.g., Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 174. For a survey of the various interpretations of the motives behind these prohibitions (e.g., hygiene, association with pagan religions, etc.), see Kim-Kwong Chan, "You Shall Not Eat These Abominable Things: An Examination Of Different Interpretations On Deuteronomy 14:3-20," East Asia Journal of Theology 3:1 (1985):88-106; and Deere, pp. 287-88.
Schultz, p. 61. See Andre Lemaire, "Who or What Was Yahweh's Asherah?" Biblical Archaeology Review 10:6 (November-December 1984):42-51; and especially John Day, "Asherah in the Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Literature," Journal of Biblical Literature 105:3 (September 1986):385-408.
For an exposition of this pericope with excellent applications for leadership, see Daniel I. Block, "The Burden of Leadership: The Mosaic Paradigm of Kingship (Deut. 17:14-20)," Bibliotheca Sacra 162:647 (July-September 2005):259-78.
Merrill, "Deuteronomy . . .," p. 28. See H. Wheeler Robinson, Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964), pp. 15-17; Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 181; R. P. Carroll, "The Elijah-Elisha Sagas: Some Remarks on Prophetic Succession in Ancient Israel," Vetus Testamentum 19:4 (October 1969):408-14; and Johnson, pp. 186-87.
See Chris Wright, "Principles of Punishment in Deuteronomy," Third Way 6:7 (July-August 1983):15-16. On verse 21, see Eugene J. Fisher, "Lex Talionis in the Bible and Rabbinic Tradition," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 19:3 (Summer 1982):582-87.
For refutation of the view of Gunkel and Noth that the Hebrew word translated "double" in v. 17 should be rendered "two-thirds," see Eryl Davies, "The Meaning of Pi Senayim in Deuteronomy XXI 17," Vetus Testamentum 36:3 (July 1986):341-47. See also Barry J. Beitzel, "The Right of the Firstborn (Pi Senayim) in the Old Testament," in A Tribute to Gleason Archer, pp. 179-90.
Deere, p. 302. On the law of the bird's nest (vv. 6-7), see Robert M. Johnston, "The Least of the Commandments: Deuteronomy 22:6-7 in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity," Andrews University Seminary Studies 20:3 (Autumn 1982):205-15.
Some of the best writings on marriage, divorce, and remarriage are these. For the view that God permitted divorce and remarriage for immorality and desertion, see John Murray, Divorce (scholarly); Jay E. Adams, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage (popular); and Tim Crater, "Bill Gothard's View of the Exception Clause," Journal of Pastoral Practice 4 (1980):5-10 (popular). For the view that God permitted divorce and remarriage for unlawful marriages, as the Mosaic Law specified unlawful marriages, see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, "The Matthean Divorce Texts and Some New Palestinian Evidence," Theological Studies 37:2 (June 1976):197-226 (scholarly); J. Carl Laney, The Divorce Myth (popular); and Charles C. Ryrie, You Mean the Bible Teaches That . . ., pp. 45-56 (popular). For the view that God permitted divorce and remarriage in Israel for unfaithfulness during the betrothal period, see Abel Isaksson, "Marriage and Ministry in the New Temple," pp. 7-152 (scholarly); and Mark Geldard, "Jesus' Teaching on Divorce," Churchman 92 (1978):134-43 (popular). For the view that God permitted divorce but not remarriage, see William A. Heth and Gordon J. Wenham, Jesus and Divorce (scholarly). A helpful general resource is James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective.
E.g., L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:317-23; J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pp. 95-99; idem, Thy Kingdom . . ., pp. 109-23; McGee, 1:600; and The New Scofield Reference Bible, note on Deut. 30:3.
Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 475. For more information on the text of chapter 32, see Patrick W. Skehan, "The Structure of the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy (Deut. 32:1-43)," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 13:2 (April 1951):153-63. James R. Boston argued for the origination of this song in the time of Hezekiah or Josiah, as have many other critical scholars, in "The Wisdom Influence upon the Song of Moses," Journal of Biblical Literature 87 (1968):198-202.
See David E. Stevens, "Does Deuteronomy 32:8 Refer to 'Sons of God' or 'Sons of Israel'?" Bibliotheca Sacra 154:614 (April-June 1997):131-41, for a discussion of this textual problem. He concluded that "sons of Israel" is the preferred reading. Michael S. Heiser argued for "Sons of God" in "Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God," Bibliotheca Sacra 158:629 (January-March 2001):52-74. I prefer the "Sons of Israel" reading.
Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 201. For a useful study of textual problems in this chapter and a fresh translation, see F. M. Cross and D. N. Freedman, "The Blessing of Moses," Journal of Biblical Literature 67 (1948):191-210.
Theodor H. Gaster, "An Ancient Eulogy on Israel: Deuteronomy 33 3-5, 26-29," Journal of Biblical Literature 66 :53). Gaster suggested they glorify Israel rather than Yahweh. Robert Gordis criticized Gaster's treatment in "The Text and Meaning of Deuteronomy 33 27," Journal of Biblical Literature 67 (1948):69-72.