Deuteronomy — A Final Farewell
Although its Mosaic authorship has been attacked by critics, Jesus attributed the book of Deuteronomy to Moses, along with the other four books of the Pentateuch (e.g.—Matthew 19:7-9 & John 5:45-47). Written on the plains of Moab, when the Hebrews were preparing to enter the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Deuteronomy wraps up the early history of Israel and looks ahead to the next stage of their walk with God.
According to Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts [pages 59-61], Deuteronomy is broken into three “sermons” that cover three major themes:
- What God had done for Israel—In chapters 1-4, Moses reviewed their journey from Mt. Sinai to Moab.
- What God expected of Israel—In chapters 5-26, He restated and expanded on the Law, inviting the new generation to establish a covenant relationship with YHWH.
- What God was going to for Israel—In chapters 27-34, Moses predicted the future of the nation and how the Lord would deal with them.
Like Exodus, Deuteronomy was written with covenant language, as the Lord presented His marriage proposal to the offspring of those who came out of Egypt. It was also Moses’ farewell address to the people before his death
Deuteronomy Chapter 1
Forty years after the Israelites left Egypt, Moses took the time to impress upon the new generation of Hebrews the importance of what had happened thus far in the history of this fledgling nation. It was the first day of the eleventh month of their sacred calendar—probably around January or February, according to our calendars—and the Israelites were still camped on the plain of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho (Deut. 1:1-3).
He reminded his hearers how two years after their arrival at Mount Sinai (referred to here as ‘Horeb’) [Interestingly, Sinai means “thorny”; while Horeb means “desert.”], the Lord told them,
His intention was for them to go at once and take possession of the land He had promised to their forefathers (v. 8).
About that time, Moses had admitted that the vast numbers of his people were more than he could handle alone (9-12). So he advised the people, “Choose wise, understanding, and knowledgeable men from among your tribes, and I will make them heads over you” (13). Then he appointed them as judges over groups of ten, fifty, hundreds and thousand—most likely according to their ability (15). Moses solemnly charged these leaders,
If you recall, this was what Jethro had advised Moses to do, when he paid his son-in-law a visit in Exodus Chapter 18. This plan was formally carried out, with the Lord anointing the deputy leaders in Numbers Chapter 11.
At Kadesh Barnea, near the mountains of the Amorites, Moses encouraged the people to go into the Promised Land to take possession of it, as YHWH their God had commanded, saying, “do not fear or be discouraged” (Deut. 1:19-21). The leaders at that time suggested, “Let us send men before us, and let them search out the land for us, and bring back word to us of the way by which we should go up, and of the cities into which we shall come” (v. 22). Moses thought it sounded like a good plan, and agreed, selecting a man from each of the twelve tribes (23).
This is not mentioned in the previous record of this incident recorded in Numbers 13. There, we were told only that the Lord ordered the recognizance. My guess is that the people suggested it, and then Moses checked with God, who affirmed the plan.
Moses recalled how the men went up, sampled some of the fruit, and returned to report that the land was indeed good (Deut. 1:24-25). In this abridged version of the account, Moses skipped the part about Caleb’s exhortation versus the ten unbelieving spies (See Num. 13:30-33), and summarized,
Moses reminded them that God had promised to go with them, and make them victorious, as they had seen Him do with the Egyptians (vv. 29-30). He even compared the Lord to a father carrying his son (31). Nevertheless, they “did not believe the LORD,” whose presence they daily saw manifested in the fire and cloud that led them in their journeys (32-33).
So God pronounced His oath that none of the adults would live to see the land of promise (34-35). Only Caleb was guaranteed “the land on which he walked, because he wholly followed the LORD” (36).
Apparently, the incident of Numbers 20:2-13 occurred about that same time, or was connected with it somehow in Moses’ memory, because he told the Israelites, “The LORD was also angry with me for your sakes, saying, ‘Even you shall not go in there; Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you,” was to lead the people in his place (Deut. 1:37-38).
Moses recalled the ironic statement of YHWH that the very children the Hebrews had expected to become victims of the Amorites would, in fact, be the ones to go in and possess their inheritance (v. 39). Although the Lord told them to head back for the wilderness, the men of Israel rebelled and launched an unsuccessful attack against the Amorites (40-44). No amount of weeping would convince God to change His mind, so they eventually moved on (45-46).
Deuteronomy Chapter 2
Moses recalled how they had taken the long way around Mount Seir and had been careful not to bother the Edomites, since YHWH had told the Hebrews, “Do not meddle with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as one footstep, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession” (Deut. 2:1-5). The lower part of modern Jordan was the rightful property of the children of Jacob’s brother, Esau, another descendant of Abraham through Isaac. Just as Israel was going in to dispossess the inhabitants of Canaan, Esau had taken this land from the Horites centuries before (v.12). As such, their relatives were ordered to purchase whatever food or drink they happened to need as they passed through the territory of Edom, since God had blessed Israel throughout their travels and they had lacked nothing (6-7).
The next stage of their journey took them near Moab (8). Again, the Lord instructed His people not to bother their distant relatives, “because I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession” (9). He mentioned that the previous occupants of that land were “giants, like the Anakim, but the Moabites call them Emim” (10-11).
By now 38 years had passed since the Israelites missed their chance to conquer the Promised Land the first time. All that unbelieving generation had died out, as YHWH had decreed (14-15). God instructed the new generation to cross over near Ammon, but not to bother those people, since they, too, were descendants of Lot, entitled to the land they occupied (16-19). Moses described yet another race of giants called “Zamzummim” by the Ammonites, whom God dispossessed before these descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot (20-22).
The territory the Hebrews were allowed to invade was the land of Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon (24). The Lord promised Israel victory over him, and said, “This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the nations under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you, and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you” (25). Although Moses and company sent messengers to Sihon expressing peaceable intentions, God hardened the king’s heart, so that he would give Israel cause to fight and defeat him and his entire land (26-33). The Israelites wiped out all of Sihon’s people, taking only their livestock and possessions for themselves (34-36).
Deuteronomy Chapter 3
Naturally, Moses proceeded from the Israelites’ victory over Heshbon to their conquest of Bashan. When King Og and his army came out to oppose Israel, the Lord assured His prophet the Hebrews would do to him as they had done to King Sihon (Deut. 3:1-2). As promised, not one fortified city was able to withstand them. The Israelites killed all the people in Og’s kingdom and took the livestock and the spoils for themselves (vv. 3-10). Interestingly, Og was the only living survivor of the Amorite giants, as attested to by the fact that his iron bed measured 13½ x 6 feet (11)!
Moses then recalled how he divided up the territory of Sihon among the Reubenites and Gadites (12). Part of the mountains of Gilead and all the land of Og was given to half the tribe of Manasseh (13-15). So Reuben was given the land north of Moab at the River Arnon. Gad got the land north of that, and then half of the tribe of Manasseh got the land farthest to the north, surrounding what we now call the Golan Heights. The Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River and the Dead Sea were their western boundaries; Ammonite territory bordered them in the east. [For a good depiction of these areas, consult the map of “The 12 Tribes of Ancient Israel” at the Old Testament Visual Unit: http://visualunit.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/israel-tribes.jpg.] Having laid out the territory allotted to them, Moses repeated the agreement he made with the two-and-a-half tribes in order for them to inherit this land on the east side of the Jordan River (18-20).
I love what he said to Joshua at this point:
If ever Joshua were to get discouraged, all he needed to do was remember this promise through Moses.
Moses mentioned how he tried to persuade the Lord to let him enter the Promised Land, saying,
Because “the LORD was angry with me on your account,” Moses said God wouldn’t listen to his pleas (26). Instead, He told the prophet to look in every direction from Mount Pisgah and see the land God was giving the Israelites (27). Joshua would lead the people in to inherit the land, not Moses (28).
Deuteronomy Chapter 4
Moses exhorted the Israelites to pay attention to the statutes he was teaching them, so they would be able to go in and possess the land the Lord had promised them (Deut. 4:1). He warned: “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it” (v. 2). Unfortunately, from his day until now, legalists and liberal theologians have been doing just that—either burdening people with additional religious rules and regulations or watering down God’s word—until it barely resembles His original intentions.
He briefly reminded them of what God did to the people who ignored His word and went and worshiped Baal of Peor (Deut. 4:3; c.f.—Num. 26). “But you who held fast to the LORD your God are alive today” (Deut. 4:4). Moses had faithfully communicated all the Lord had told him (v. 5). He said if they followed His commands, the Law of God would distinguish them among the nations as a “wise and understanding people” (6). No other nation had ever been so intimate with God as the Israelites were; neither had any received such excellent laws and judgments (7-8).
Moses warned the people not to forget what they had been taught, but to pass the knowledge of God along to their children and grandchildren (9). He recalled especially the day YHWH spoke to the Israelites from the burning cloud and smoke on Mount Sinai (10-11). The prophet reminded them that when the Lord gave them the Ten Commandments, “You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; you only heard a voice” (12-14). For that reason, they were not to make any kind of image of a human, an animal, a bird or a fish to represent God (15-18). Neither were they to worship the sun, moon or stars, “which the LORD your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage” (19).
Interestingly, Moses called the children of Israel God’s inheritance (20). Although God was angry with him and wouldn’t allow Moses to cross into the Promised Land [Hmm, this makes the third time so far in Deuteronomy that the fellow has mentioned that…], the people were going in, and it was important for them to avoid making any other gods to arouse the Lord’s jealousy and righteous anger (21-25). If they failed to respect the exclusive nature of their covenant relationship with YHWH, they would be destroyed, reduced in number, driven out of their own land and scattered among the nations (26-27).
Once they had seen how useless man-made gods could be, then they would seek the Lord their God (28-29). Moses promised “you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (29). God, in His mercy, would remember His covenant and rescue them in their distress—so long as they sincerely repented and obeyed Him once again (30-31).
Moses urged them to consider again whether any nation since the creation of the earth and its inhabitants had ever experienced what Israel had—hearing the voice of God or seeing the signs and wonders He had performed for them in Egypt and beyond (32-34). “To you it was shown,” the prophet explained, “that you might know that the LORD Himself is God; there is none other besides Him” (35). He let them hear His voice and see the fire in the clouds to teach them (36). Because of YHWH’s great love for their forefathers, He defeated Egypt and other more powerful nations in behalf of Israel, their descendants (37-38). Out of appreciation for this and a desire to experience God’s blessing, Moses urged them to remember their God and keep His commandments (39-40).
On the east side of the Jordan, Moses designated the three cities of refuge: Beezer from the territory of the Reubenites, Ramoth in Gilead from Gad, and Golan in Bashan from the half-tribe of Manasseh (41-43). It is interesting to note that each of these cities was in an elevated spot at roughly the center of each tribe’s territory [See the topographical map and description of the cities of refuge at the Bridge to the Bible website.] This made them both visible and accessible to the fleeing manslayer.
As Jesus later told His disciples, “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). Perhaps Christ was comparing those who shine the light of His love and grace for those who need Jesus to these cities of refuge!
The second division of Deuteronomy—and the prelude to Moses’ next “sermon” [See Introduction at the top of this page.]—begins at Deuteronomy 4:44. On the plain in the territory of the kings they had defeated, Moses spelled out the laws, testimonies, statutes and judgments of God for the people (44-49). Although they seem like synonyms, each of these words has a special meaning in the original language that bears noting. According to Strong’s Greek and Hebrew Dictionary and Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words:
- That first word, law, is actually Torah in the original Hebrew—which can also mean “direction” or “instruction.” This is the term applied to all the teaching of God’s principles from the first five books of the Old Testament.
- The next word, `edah, means “testimonies” or “witnesses”—a legal term applying not only to our understanding of an eyewitness bringing testimony at a trial, but also of someone who can verify a legal transaction (such as a will or contract).
- Choq, translated “statute” or “ordinance” has to do with a specific prescription, regulation, boundary, limitation or decree imposed upon a person or group.
- Sapat generally refers to a judgment or ruling in a court of law. It may also be an act of deliverance on behalf of an individual or group.
In other words, by reviewing all that they had been taught thus far, Moses was confirming that these people were indeed entering into a legal and binding agreement with the Lord [a marriage covenant, as we saw in Exodus 19-20]. He defined exactly what God’s people could and could not do, and he spelled out the consequences of their failure to comply.
Deuteronomy Chapter 5
In the first few verses of this chapter, Moses recalled how God made His covenant/marriage proposal with the Israelites at Mount Horeb/Sinai (Deut. 5:1-3). According to Exodus 24:9-11, only Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the seventy elders of Israel were allowed to go up and see the Lord in the cloud on the mountain. All of these men but Moses, Caleb and Joshua were dead by this time. However, Moses indicated in Deuteronomy 5:4 that some of those present were actually talked to “face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire.” Was he only referring to the two valiant men, who were quite likely numbered among the seventy? Or were all the Israelites—including the survivors of the wilderness wandering, who were perhaps children at the time of Israel’s encampment at Mt. Sinai—able to see God’s face and live?
At any rate, Moses recalled how the people were so terrified they asked him to mediate between them and the Lord. In Deuteronomy 5:6-21, he repeated the Ten Commandments that God gave the Hebrews—this time in the hearing of a new generation.
The first three commandments are written exactly the same in Deuteronomy 5 as in Exodus 20. The Sabbath rule, however is different. In this newer edition of the Law, the Lord elaborated on who was not to work and said it was to give the Hebrew’s servants a rest (Deut. 5:14). Rather than explaining that this commandment was given because God rested on the seventh day after creation, as in Exodus 20:11; this version explains it is because the Hebrews were slaves until God delivered them from Egypt, so they ought to have the same consideration for their slaves as He did for them (Deut. 5:15). In addition to the original explanation for honoring one’s parents, “that your days may be long,” Deuteronomy 5:16 adds, “and that it may be well with you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” The prohibitions against murder, adultery, theft and lying are the same, as is the warning against covetousness. [For a verse by verse comparison of these two passages, download the document, “Comparing the 10 Commandments Passages.”]
Moses stated these words were spoken to the Israelites from the fire, cloud and thick darkness; then God later wrote them on the stone tablets given to Moses (v. 22). He recalled again how the elders approached their leader and asked him to serve as go-between for them with God, so they would no longer be traumatized by the Lord’s awesome presence (23-27).
In verses 28-29, we have YHWH’s response:
He knew the people had a tendency to wander, which was why the Lord revealed Himself to them in such an awe-inspiring way. He complied with the Israelites’ request and dismissed them to their tents, but called Moses back to receive the rest of His instructions for them (30-31).
Again, Moses urged his people to keep God’s commands, and “not turn aside to the right hand or to the left” from the way the Lord had set before them for their own well-being (32-33).
Deuteronomy Chapter 6
These Ten Commandments were supposed to become an integral part of the lives of the Israelites once they crossed into the Promised Land, in order for the people to enjoy God’s blessings. They were to pass these godly principles on to their children and grandchildren. (Deut. 6:1-3).
Referred to as the Shama by modern Jews, the next passage is loved by Jews, Christians and cultists alike. Starting with Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” it makes a powerful foundational statement of faith. Although this verse is often used to teach that there is no such thing as a triune God as Christians believe, the language in the original Hebrew teaches quite the opposite!
In the original language, the verse reads, “Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil YHWH El-oheinu YHWH echad.” That last word, translated “one” in English, can actually mean “one made of multiple parts.” We find it used this way in Genesis 2:24, where God said of a man and wife, “and the two shall become one [echad] flesh.” Numbers 13:23 uses the term to refer to a single cluster of grapes—which was one large bunch of fruit made of many smaller individual grapes. It also appears in Ezekiel 37: 17 & 19, where God told the prophet to join two sticks (symbolizing the houses of Ephraim and Judah) into one.
Now, in case this might cause a person to believe this verse is teaching that there are more than one gods, YHWH used the singular form of God, El, to refer to Himself. So, Deuteronomy 6:4 tells us YHWH is One God composed of more than one Individual—that is, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The next verse Jesus later quoted as the most important command in all the Law of Moses: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (v. 5). Notice that our triune God desires for us to love Him with all three of the components of our being—spirit (heart), soul and body (strength).
God’s people were to think constantly about the Laws of God and take every opportunity they could find to teach them to their children (6-7). Everywhere they went, God’s word was to be before them and on their houses (8-9).
The Lord cautioned the people not to forget Him, after they had been blessed by beautiful cities, homes and estates they didn’t build and enjoyed possessions and produce they hadn’t labored for in the Promised Land (10-12). They were to fear and serve YHWH alone and not be drawn away after other gods, “(for the LORD your God is a jealous God among you), lest the anger of the LORD your God be aroused against you and destroy you from the face of the earth” (13-15). He urged them not to test God’s patience, as they had at Massah in the desert (Deut. 6:16, referring to Exodus 17:1-7).
Again, Moses urged them to keep God’s commandments and do what was right in His sight, so everything would work out to their advantage and they would be able to drive out their enemies (Deut. 6:17-19). As their children observed their devotion and asked about the laws they were being taught, the parents were to be prepared to explain their history and all God had done for them in Egypt (vv. 20-22). In addition to giving them the land He had promised to their ancestors, they were to explain,
Deuteronomy Chapter 7
As He told the previous generation in Exodus 34:11-16, Moses reminded the people to completely wipe out the nations currently occupying the land of Canaan (Deut. 7:1-2). Not only were they to make no treaties or agreements with them, but they were forbidden to intermarry with these pagan peoples (vv. 2-3). Otherwise, they would be lured into idolatry and suffer sudden destruction from God (4).
Instead, everything having to do with those foreign worship systems was to be cut down and burned (5). Why not keep some of their statues as artifacts and decorations (as some people tend to do today)? Because God wanted them to be holy—set apart exclusively to worship Him. Like a lover whispering terms of endearment to his beloved, YHWH said, “the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth” (6).
In case they should get a big head about all this, Moses reminded the Hebrews, “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples” (Deut. 7:7, NIV). It was not from any merit on their part, but because of God’s great love for them and His commitment to the promises He had made to their ancestors that the Lord rescued them from their oppressors (v. 8). Moses repeated what God had told him, when He revealed His glory to Moses at Mt. Sinai (Ex. 34:4-7):
Verses 12-15 list some benefits of the people’s faithfulness to the Lord’s commands:
- God would be true to His promises.
- He would love them, bless and multiply them, making them proliferate and prosperous.
- They would excel among the nations.
- The Israelites would suffer none of the diseases they had seen in Egypt, but their enemies would be sick.
With that in mind, the people were to show no pity toward the pagans or their gods currently inhabiting the Promised Land (16). If they were worried about the superior strength of their enemies, they were not to fear (17-18). Just as God had humbled mighty Pharaoh and Egypt, He was prepared to do to all the nations that seemed so intimidating to Israel now (18-19). Moses promised,
He reminded the people that the inhabitants of the land would not be eliminated all at once, “lest the beasts of the field become too numerous for you” (22). Instead, little by little, as the Hebrew population grew, God would deliver their enemies into their power until they were utterly destroyed—without a memory or a trace of those evil civilizations remaining (23-24). God’s people were not even to keep the gold or silver of the pagan idols they found, because they were so detestable to God and so likely to ensnare His people (25-26).
Deuteronomy Chapter 8
In order to stay on track with the Lord, Moses wanted the people to be constantly reminded of their past—how the Lord led them for forty years in the wilderness, to humble and test them and reveal what was in their hearts (Deut. 8:1-2). In the desert, the people were like children, utterly dependent on their heavenly Father. Moses said the Lord “allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD” (v. 3). He kept their garments intact all those years and kept their feet from swelling through forty years in this extreme environment (4). Like a father, God disciplined His children through hardship (5).
No more would they experience lack in the land the Lord was giving them. The people would enjoy fresh water, food and other natural resources in abundance (6-9). Moses exhorted, “When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you” (10).
If the people failed to remember the Source of all their blessings, but became full of themselves, thinking they had gained houses, livestock and wealth by their own abilities, they were asking for trouble (11-17). God is the One “who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers” (18). The day we forget that is the day we set ourselves up to fall into idolatry and bring on ourselves certain destruction—just like the nations God was intending to remove from the land of Canaan (19-20).
Deuteronomy Chapter 9
Moses conceded that the nations the Israelites were preparing to dispossess were mightier than they, with “cities fortified up to heaven” and “people great and tall,” descended from giants (Deut. 9:1-2). However, it was not they themselves who were going to undertake this awesome job, but “the LORD your God is He who goes over before you as a consuming fire” to destroy their enemies quickly (v. 3).
Again, God was not about to let the Hebrews think too highly of themselves, that He was letting them take this land because of their own righteousness. On the contrary, it was due to the wickedness of the existing nations and in order to keep His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that the Lord was driving out the inhabitants (4-5). Truth be told, the Hebrews were a “stiff-necked people” who had provoked their God to anger with all their rebellion from the day they left Egypt until then (6-7)!
Moses reminded the people of the time he went up on the mountain, fasting forty days and nights, while the Lord revealed His plan to Moses and inscribed His words on tablets of stone (9-11). He told them how angry God was and how He was ready to kill them all off and start over with Moses, because of the calf idol they had made (12-14). In response to their sin, Moses shattered the stone tablets in front of the people (15-17). Then he spent another forty days and nights on his face, fasting and praying before the Lord out of fear that He would follow through with His threat to destroy them (18-19). Thankfully, the Lord listened to Moses and spared them all—including Aaron, who made the abominable object of worship (19-20). He also recalled how he had ground the idol to powder and threw it into the brook that flowed at the base of Mt. Sinai (21).
He reminded them of the burning at Taberah (Num. 11:1-3), the plague caused by their cravings at Kibroth Hattaavah (vv. 33-34), and how they provoked God to anger at Massah (Deut. 9:22). If that wasn’t enough to convince the people of how stubborn and contentious they were, Moses recounted the story of how they refused to go up from Kadesh Barnea into the Promised Land, and he had to intercede for them yet another forty days (vv. 23-26). Only by reminding the Lord of His covenant with their fathers and how destroying the Hebrews would affect YHWH’s reputation in the eyes of the nations around them was Moses able to regain God’s favor toward the people He had rescued from Egypt (27-29).
Deuteronomy Chapter 10
This chapter adds an interesting layer to the story of the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. It says, in addition to having Moses cut two more slabs for YHWH to engrave, the Lord also had the prophet fabricate an ark in which to place them (Deut. 10:1-2). It sounds like this acacia wood box was the same ark that became the most important piece of furniture in the tabernacle, since Moses put the new tablets in it when he came down from the mountain and said, “there they are, just as the LORD commanded me” (vv. 3-5).
Moses recalled how the Israelites “journeyed from the wells of Bene Jaakan to Moserah, where Aaron died,” and was succeeded by his son Eleazar as priest (6). The next stages of their journey were Gudgodah (“the slashing place”) and then Jotbathah (“pleasantness”), where the Lord separated the tribe of Levi to assist in the care and transport of the portable worship center (Deut. 10:7-9; c.f.—Num. 3-4). Moses mentioned still another time of interceding forty days on a mountaintop for the children of Israel [This would be four in all now!] (Deut. 10:10). I can find no correlation to this instance previously recorded in Scripture, unless it is referring to Moses’ prayer for the Israelites when they were bitten by serpents in the wilderness (Num. 21:4-9).
In the rest of this chapter, Moses delivered a passionate plea for the people to be faithful to their God. He started out,
He told them that both heaven and earth belonged to God, and that, of all the people on the earth, He chose their ancestors and themselves to delight in (vv. 14-15). “Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe” (16-17).
He said God looked out for the well-being of the fatherless, widows and foreigners, and commanded His people to do the same (18-19). Moses urged them to fear, serve and hold fast to God alone, taking oaths only in His name (20). “He is your praise, and He is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things which your eyes have seen”—multiplying the seventy descendants of Jacob who originally went down into Egypt to the millions in Moses’ presence that day (21-22).
Deuteronomy Chapter 11
Moses continued his appeal to faithful service of YHWH. Although their children had not witnessed all the things God did for them, these men were well aware of “His greatness and His mighty hand and His outstretched arm” (Deut. 11:1-2). They were kids, old enough to witness and remember, when God drowned Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea and swallowed up Dathan and Abiram in the wilderness (vv. 3-7).
Unlike the land of Egypt, where the people had to irrigate their gardens to get anything to grow, the Promised Land was abundantly watered by rains God regularly sent from heaven (10-12). As long as the people kept His commandments and served the Lord whole-heartedly, they were guaranteed abundant rains to grow their crops and feed their livestock (13-15). If, on the other hand, they were foolish enough to pursue other gods, then YHWH would deprive them of rain and destroy them from the land of their possession (16-17).
Moses repeated the exhortation to keep God’s at the forefront of their minds, teaching them to their kids at every opportunity; so they, too, would enjoy the blessings of YHWH (18-21). If they did that, then god would drive out the nations before Israel, and “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the River Euphrates, even to the Western Sea, shall be your territory” (22-24). Not one person would be able to withstand Israel; they’d all be too scared to try (25).
The people had a choice: Obey God and enjoy His blessings, or turn away from Him to other gods and bring on themselves a curse (26-28). To remind themselves of these two options and their consequences, the people were instructed to stand on two opposite mountains in Canaan and declare the blessings from Mount Gerazim and the curses from Mount Ebal (29-30).
Deuteronomy Chapter 12
Human beings were created for worship. Everywhere you go, you see evidence of this. We were also created with an innate curiosity—a desire to explore, to study, to inquire and to understand. Our problem is, too often our curiosity about how others worship their gods can lead to corruption in how we worship the Lord. We have a nasty tendency toward syncretism—adopting the ideas or religious practices of others and incorporating them into our worship of the one true God, YHWH.
With this in mind, Moses reminded the Israelites that, not only were they to destroy the paraphernalia of pagan worship in Canaan—the idols, sacred pillars and altars—but they were also to desecrate the places where their false gods were worshiped: the ‘high places’ on mountains and hilltops, as well as the places under green trees (Deut. 12:1-3). Those places and those things could easily lure God’s people into practices He did not authorize in worshiping YHWH or other gods (v. 4).
Instead, the Lord commanded, “you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go” (5). When they moved into the Promised Land, the Lord would designate a particular location for the tabernacle to be set up. There the people were to travel and make their prescribed offerings and sacrifices with the assistance of the Levitical priests (6-7). There was to be no free-style worship allowed, independent of what YHWH had set up for His people.
It is interesting what Moses said was going on, even then, in the camp: “You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eye—for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you” (8-9). Apparently, Moses hoped once the people got into the land and formed proper communities, they would get more organized under a stabilizing form of government. However, such was not the case. As we’ll later see in our study of the book of Judges, the people continued to do ‘what was right in their own eyes’ well into the reigns of the first kings!
Once God had given them victory over their enemies and established peace in the land, the tabernacle would be set up in one central location in Israel (10-11). Rather than making their offerings on homemade altars wherever they chose as the patriarchs had done, the people were to go to that designated spot to bring their burnt offerings, sacrifices, tithes, what they had vowed, etc., and celebrate with their families and the Levites (11-14). Wild game could be killed and eaten at home, so long as the Hebrews drained out the blood (15-16). But their first fruits, tithes, dedicated things and offerings had to be taken to the tabernacle (17-18). Moreover, the people were not to neglect the Levites, since they had no other means of support besides the offerings God designated for them (19).
As the people spread out, if someone was too far from the tabernacle, but he wanted to butcher an animal from his flock or herd, he was welcome to do so—provided the blood was drained and it wasn’t an animal dedicated to God [such as a firstborn, a tithe or an animal vowed to the Lord] (20-25). Sacrificial animals had to be offered at the tabernacle, so the priest could apply the blood to the altar and make atonement for the individual, before their meat could be eaten (26-27). “Observe and obey all these words which I command you,” Moses said, “that it may go well with you and your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God” (28).
While anthropology (the study of human cultures) is not a bad thing, God did not want His people to adopt the ways of the pagans they were dispossessing. Therefore, Moses warned the Hebrews not to get too curious about the religions of their predecessors (29-30). “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods”—including child sacrifice (31) Instead, they were to worship God only according to the Law He had prescribed through Moses; they were not to “add to it nor take away from it” (32).
Deuteronomy Chapter 13
Continuing this idea of proper worship, the Lord gave instructions on a related matter—how to tell whether a so-called messenger of YHWH was legitimate or not. God said, “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you,” if that person used this ‘miracle’ to persuade the people to worship a different god, the Israelites were not to pay attention to him or his sign (Deut. 13:1-3). It would be a test from God to see whether His people were fully devoted to Him and His commandments or not (vv. 3-4). Instead, the false prophet was to be executed for trying to lure God’s people away from Him (5).
Even if the person trying to lead someone astray was their own sibling, child or spouse, an Israelite was to show no mercy (6-8). In God’s eyes, religious tolerance was no virtue. Instead, the faithful Hebrew was to be the first to cast a stone against the idolater to put them to death (9-10). That way, no one would even consider following a pagan god for fear of the consequences (11).
If, after careful investigation, an entire city was found guilty of worshiping false gods, the Hebrews were required to kill every living creature in that town and burn it and its plunder to the ground (12-16). This was the only way to insure that the corruption of that sin and the guilt it would bring on the Israelites would not spread throughout the nation. This alone was the way to turn God’s anger from the people, so they could continue to enjoy His blessings (17-18).
Deuteronomy Chapter 14
One other cultural practice God did not want the Israelites to adopt was the pagan habit of mutilating themselves in mourning. As the children of YHWH, they were not to cut themselves for the dead or shave their foreheads (Deut. 14:1). The previous mention of this practice in Leviticus 19:28 forbade tattoos for the dead, as well. Does this mean all tattoos are bad? I don’t think so. But if you are marking your skin to remember and dwell on the death of another—especially as a reminder to avenge that person’s death (a common practice among gang members today), then it’s not a good thing. This passage may also refer to a common habit among those who worshiped Baal to cut themselves in mourning over his death (c.f.—1 Kings 18:25-29).
The next nineteen verses review God’s definitions of clean and unclean animals—which the people could or could not eat. The acceptable meats included that of ox, sheep and goats among domesticated animals; deer, gazelle, roe, mountain goat, antelope and mountain sheep among those that were wild (Deut. 14:4-5). Basically, any critter with split hooves that chewed its cud was permissible as food (6). If an animal had one trait, but not the other, as in the case of camels, hares or pigs, they were unclean (7-8).
Of marine animals, only those with both fins and scales were edible (9-10). Of the birds, any hunter or carrion-eating fowl was unacceptable as food (11-18). Flying insects were also no-no’s (19). From what is omitted from the list of “unclean” birds and what was included in the sacrificial system, we can conclude that the grain-eating varieties of birds were ceremonially clean (i.e.—doves, pigeons, etc.). These “clean” birds were okay for the people to eat (20). No Hebrew was allowed to eat what died on its own, although it was okay to sell it to a foreigner (21). They were also not to boil the meat of a young goat in its mother’s milk.
The rest of this chapter deals with tithing principles. The people were to take to the tabernacle one-tenth of all their crops and the firstborn of their animals and feast on them there (22-23). If they lived far away, the worshipers were allowed to sell the tithe and use the money to buy whatever they wanted to feast upon when they got to the worship center (24-26). Of course, the priests at the tabernacle would receive their share of whatever was offered from this to the Lord.
Once every three years, the tithe was to be stored within the city where a man lived (28). This was in order to provide food for the Levites, orphans, widows and resident aliens in the area (27 & 29). Performing this act of charity guaranteed blessings from the Lord on the givers.
Deuteronomy Chapter 15
Next, Moses reviewed the practice of canceling debts every seven years for fellow Israelites (Deut. 15:1-2). It was okay to continue to require a foreigner to repay what he owed, but every seven years the slate was wiped clean among Hebrews (v. 3). God said the business of debts would not even be necessary, if the people obeyed Him to the extent that He prospered everyone (4-5). Imagine being so blessed of God that our nation never had to borrow, but was wealthy enough to lend to others (6)! It may have been true of the US in the past, but certainly not now. Oh, that we would return to the Lord and enjoy His bounty!
God told His people to lend freely to the poor among them, not calculating the time until the seventh year and refusing to give when it was near (7-9). Even if it cost a person to do so, God commanded charity, as an expression of our trust that He would bless such generosity (10-11).
As with debts, the Israelites were to release fellow Hebrews from servitude every seven years (12). Not only that, but a master was to send his freed servant home with provisions from his own flocks, barns and wine presses (13-14). Why? Out of remembrance of their own bondage in Egypt and how God redeemed them from slavery (15). If a servant wanted to stay, the master pierced his/her ear with an awl, signifying life-long service (16-17). Otherwise, the master was not to begrudge the departure of a Hebrew servant, knowing God would bless them for letting their countrymen go (18).
Finally, any firstborn male animal was not to do any kind of labor; nor were these sheep to be shorn (19). Instead, the owner was to take these animals set apart to God and eat them at the tabernacle, sharing a portion with the priest (20). If the animal happened to have a defect of some sort, it was not to be sacrificed at the worship center, but could be butchered and eaten at home—provided the blood was properly drained from the animal (21-22).
Deuteronomy Chapter 16
Most of this chapter reviews the requirements for the three main national holidays of the Israel. Every male was required to attend, and each of them was to bring offerings in proportion to the way God had blessed him (Deut. 16:16-17).
The Passover was to take place in the first month of the Hebrew calendar, named Abib, which is the time that the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt (v. 1). This would coincide with our months of March or April, which meant the Israelite festal season started in spring. The Passover lambs or goats were to be sacrificed “in the place where the LORD chooses to put His name”—i.e., the tabernacle (2). All their bread for that week had to be unleavened, in commemoration of how they left Egypt in so much haste, they didn’t have time to let their dough rise (3-4). The animals had to be sacrificed at twilight at the worship center, and then eaten that evening; no leftovers were to remain until the next day (4-7). The final day of the feast was to be a sacred assembly and a day when no one was allowed to work (8).
Seven weeks later, the Hebrews were to attend the Feast of Weeks, bringing to the tabernacle a sampling of their spring harvest (9-10). Everyone was invited to this festival, sharing the good things God had blessed His people with and remembering how He had brought them out of slavery in Egypt (11-12).
The final important festival was the Feast of Tabernacles, after the Israelites had gathered in their autumn harvest of grain and vintage (13). For seven days, everyone was to gather at the worship center to rejoice in all God had given them (14-15).
The rest of this chapter deals with judicial affairs. Every city was to appoint judges to hear legal cases (18). They were to be impartial and refuse bribes, so justice would be upheld and God would continue to bless them (19-20). No one was allowed to set up a sacred tree, image or pillar to worship in Israel, because these were despicable to God (21-22).
Deuteronomy Chapter 17
The first verse of this chapter reminds us God wants only the very best from His people: No one was allowed to sacrifice an animal that was blemished or defective in any way (Deut. 17:1).
If anyone was accused of worshiping a false god, the people were to investigate the matter carefully (vv. 2-4). If the person was found guilty, he or she was to be stoned to death (4-5). However, anyone deserving of the death penalty had to be convicted by the testimony of at least two witnesses; a single accuser was not sufficient (6). Also, the ones who had brought the damning testimony were required to cast the first stones in the idolater’s execution (7). These two requirements were most likely intended to prevent the innocent from being framed and murdered for crimes they did not commit.
If any case was too difficult for local authorities to decide, they were to take the matter to the priests at the tabernacle (8-9). Whatever God’s agent declared, that’s what the people were required to carry out (10-11). Otherwise, the person who disregarded the priest’s ruling could be executed for insubordination, as an example to keep anyone else from acting presumptuously (12-13).
During their time in the wilderness, Israel was operating as a Theocracy—that is, God was their King, and Moses was their prophet. Anticipating that there would come a day when His people would demand a leader ‘with skin on him’ like the other nations around them, the Lord set up guidelines for any future Israelite king:
- He was to be a native Israelite, designated by God; no foreigner would do (14-15).
- He was not allowed to accumulate horses or send buyers to Egypt to acquire them (16).
- He was not to collect women as wives, who might distract him (17a).
- He was not to amass great wealth (17b).
- He was to hand-copy the Law and read it every day, so he would be sure to uphold it and live according to it (18-19). It would also serve to keep him humble, so he could enjoy God’s blessing on him and his children (20).
Deuteronomy Chapter 18
Moses reminded the Hebrews that the tribe of Levi was getting no land grants from the Lord in Israel; instead YHWH was their inheritance (Deut. 18:1-2). From every animal that was not brought for a burnt offering, the priests were given “the shoulder, the cheeks and the stomach”—most likely what we’d call the chuck, flank (or brisket) and jaw (or jowl) of the animals (v. 3) They were also entitled to a portion of the firstfruits of their grain, oil and grape juice, as well as the sheering from the Hebrews’ sheep (4). All of this was in compensation for their service in behalf of their fellow Israelites at the tabernacle (5-8).
He reminded the people not to practice child sacrifice, divination, spiritism, fortune-telling or witchcraft, charming, channeling, or any other occult practices like the nations the Israelites were displacing (9-11). God didn’t want the people consulting these alternative sources for wisdom or direction, but Him alone. He called these practices abominable and said they were the reason He was driving the heathens out of Canaan (12-14).
Instead, Moses promised the Lord would raise up a prophet for Israel from their own population—someone who would hear from God and then communicate what He said, just as they had asked Moses to do at Mount Sinai (15-18). Anyone who refused to listen to the prophet would be considered guilty of rebelling God, who was actually speaking through him (19).
Any self-proclaimed prophet who spoke of his own initiative or under the influence of false gods would be killed (20). The test of authenticity was whether or not the person’s ‘prophecy’ came true. If it did and they were not advocating another religion (c.f.—Deut. 13:1-5), then the person was speaking for God, and the people had better pay attention. If his prediction was not 100% accurate, then “the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deut. 18:21-22).
Deuteronomy Chapter 19
The first part of this chapter deals with cities of refuge. Just as Moses had appointed three cities from among the tribes granted property east of the Jordan River (Deut. 4:41-43), so the tribes west of the Jordan were to designate three such cities among their inheritance, once they had conquered the land (Deut. 19:1-2). They were to build well-maintained roads for people who fit the criteria for man-slayers to get to these cities (vv. 3-7). If the Lord expanded their territory beyond the expected boundaries, then they were required to add more cities, as needed to prevent the shedding of more innocent blood (8-10). If anyone guilty of premeditated murder sought shelter in a city of refuge, however, the elders were obligated to turn that person over to the avenger of the person who was murdered (11-13).
Once everyone’s property was allocated, people were to respect their neighbor’s boundaries. No one was to mess with a landmark used to show the extent of another person’s property (14).
Returning to the subject of witnesses in a legal matter, Moses reminded the people that “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Deut. 19:15, NIV). If a person falsely accused someone of a crime, and the Lord made it clear to the priest, then the malicious witness would be sentenced to the very thing he wanted the other individual to suffer—whether that was the loss of a limb or his life (vv. 16-21). That way, people would be afraid to do such a thing themselves.
Deuteronomy Chapter 20
Anytime Israel went to war, they were first of all to remember it was not them who would be fighting, but God—that way they would not be intimidated, even if they were outnumbered or outclassed (Deut. 20:1). The priests were to approach the men before they went to battle and encourage them along these lines (vv. 2-4).
The officers were to give their men the following ‘outs’ before they went to war:
- If a person had bought a house but not dedicated it, he was excused from going into battle, in case he might be killed and miss the opportunity to dedicate it himself (5).
- If he planted a vineyard and had not yet enjoyed its crops, he was excused (6).
- If a man was engaged to a woman, but had not married her, he was allowed to go home to marry (7).
- If any person was just plain scared, he was allowed to stay back, so he wouldn’t cause his fellow soldiers to lose heart, as well (8).
Whoever was left after all this was eligible to serve as captains and go into battle against the enemy (9).
Whenever the Israelites approached a city that was outside their territory, they were to first offer terms of peace (10 & 15). If the offer was accepted, then the inhabitants would come under their authority and pay tribute (11). If a city refused their terms, then the Israelites were to besiege it and kill every male (12-13). The women, children and plunder they were welcome to keep for themselves (14). Whenever they engaged in a long-term attack against a city, the Hebrews were not allowed to cut down any fruit or nut trees to build their siegeworks (19-20).
Cities within the territory of Israel, however, were not to be given any quarter. Every human and animal was to be killed, “lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God” (16-18).
Deuteronomy Chapter 21
In cases where a person was found murdered, but no one could tell who was responsible, the Lord prescribed a ritual to atone for the shedding of innocent blood. The leaders of the closest towns were to measure the distance from their city to the body (Deut. 21:1-2). The elders of the city closest to the place were to bring a heifer that had never been yoked or done any kind of labor and break her neck in an uncultivated valley in which there was running water (vv. 3-4). With the priests looking on, the elders of that city were then to wash their hands over the dead heifer and declare, “Our hands have not shed this blood, nor have our eyes seen it. Provide atonement, O LORD, for Your people Israel, whom You have redeemed, and do not lay innocent blood to the charge of Your people Israel” (7-8). Once that was done, God would remove the guilt of the unsolved murder from His people (8-9).
If a soldier happened to see a beautiful young lady from among the captives taken in war against countries outside the land of Israel, he was required to have her perform the following ritual before he was allowed to marry her:
- She had to shave her head, as was typically done to purify oneself (c.f.—Leviticus 14:8-9).
- She had to trim her nails.
- She had to get rid of the clothing worn in her own country (probably so she would forget her pagan culture).
- For an entire month, she would be confined to the man’s house, but left alone to mourn the loss of her family.
Only then could the man have intercourse with her and make her his wife (10-13). If for some reason he decided he didn’t want to be married to her anymore, the man could neither sell her as a slave nor abuse her in any way, but he had to let her go free, because he had “humbled her” by having intercourse with the woman (14).
With Jacob’s family as a prime example of the reasons why, the Lord prescribed inheritance rights for Israel. He said if a man had two wives and preferred one over the other, but the firstborn was the son of the unloved wife, the man still had to give the oldest son the larger portion of his estate (15-17). It was not fair for him to neglect the older boy, just because he disliked his mother, as Jacob had done to Leah’s children.
If a stubborn and rebellious son refused to accept correction from his parents, they were obligated to report it to the elders of their city (18-20). They, in turn, were to take the young man outside the city gates and stone him to death, to “put away the evil from among you” and serve notice to the rest of the population (21). Imagine how many dead adolescents there would be in our culture if such a law were enforced! Parents would be more likely to take their job as disciplinarians seriously, while teens would pay Mom and Dad more respect.
Any man who was executed and hung on a tree had to be taken down and buried by sunset, in order to avoid bringing defilement to the land. Why? Because “he who is hanged is accursed of God” (22-23).
Deuteronomy Chapter 22
The first portion of this chapter deals with the responsibility of Israelites to look out for each other. If a man found a stray animal, he was obligated either to return it to the rightful owner or to keep the animal until the owner came looking for it (Deut. 22:1-2). The same was true if a person found a lost garment or other article belonging to someone else (v. 3). If you saw a person’s animal fallen in the road, you were obligated to help get the animal on its feet again (4).
Cross-dressing was strictly forbidden—being considered “an abomination to the LORD your God.” Women were supposed to dress like women and men like men. No one was to wear garments that made them look like the opposite sex, but they were to accept who and how God made them (5).
If a person found a bird sitting on its nest, he was only allowed to take the eggs, not the mother also (6-7). Houses were to be built with railings or walls around the roof, so the homeowner would not cause the death of someone falling off of it (8). As the previous generation had been instructed in Leviticus 19:19, no one was to plant two different crops on the same plot of ground, harness two kinds of animals together or wear garments made of different fibers woven together (Deut. 22:9-11). The Hebrews were reminded to wear tassels on their garments, as originally instructed in Numbers 15:37-40 (Deut. 22:12).
If a man decided he didn’t like his wife anymore and accused her of not being a virgin when they married, the woman’s parents were responsible to produce the garment that had been stained with her blood on their wedding night (vv. 13-15). If they were able to produce the evidence, then the man would be fined and obligated to stay with his wife permanently, for having tried to besmirch her reputation (16-19). If, however, such evidence was not available and the woman was found guilty of fornication, she was to be brought out and stoned (20-21).
If a man had sex with a married woman, then both of them were to be stoned (22). If a girl was engaged and had sex with another man in the city, both would be killed, because she made no effort to cry out and stop the man, so it was considered consensual sex (23-24). If a man forced a girl who was engaged to have sex in the countryside, however, only he would be executed, because it was assumed no one was near enough to hear her cry for help (25-27). If a man forced himself on a virgin, he was obligated to pay a fine to her father and marry the girl for life (28-29). No one was allowed to have sex with his father’s wife (30).
- someone whose testicles had been crushed or cut off (Deut. 23:1)
- a person of illegitimate birth or the offspring of that person, up to ten generations (v. 2)
- the descendants of an Ammonite or Moabite to the tenth generation, because they had hired Balaam to curse Israel (3-6)
- Edomites were allowed after the third generation, because they were close relatives (7-8).
- Egyptians were also allowed after the third generation, since Israel had once lived in their land.
Next, God dealt with proper hygiene in military camps. If a man had a nocturnal emission, he had to go wash and stay until sunset outside the camp (9-11). The Hebrew armies were to designate a latrine outside the camp (12). When a man needed to relieve himself, he had to take a shovel, dig a hole and then use it to cover his refuse, so that God wouldn’t find any uncleanness among them, as He walked through the camp (13-14).
Interestingly, the Lord did not require the Hebrews to return a runaway slave to his master (15-16). No doubt, this was what motivated the Northerners to participate in the Underground Railroad during the pre-Civil War days in the United States.
Unlike pagan religions, God did not want the people to have prostitutes—male or female—associated with worship of YHWH or other gods within Israelite territory (17). Neither were the priests to accept the wages of such persons as offerings at the tabernacle (18).
No Israelite was allowed to charge interest for food or money given to a fellow Hebrew (19). It was okay to loan money to a foreigner for profit, but not one’s countryman (20).
Any vow a person made was to be paid promptly, just as the person said (21 & 23). It was quite acceptable not to make a vow (22).
A person could pick as many grapes or heads of grain as he could eat at one time, but he/she was not to carry fruit off in a container or take a sickle to someone else’s crop (24-25).
Deuteronomy Chapter 24
The first part of this chapter dealt with the matter of divorce and remarriage. If a man married a woman and decided he didn’t want her anymore, “because he finds something indecent about her,” he sent her packing with a certificate of divorce in hand (Deut 24:1, NIV). Once that was done and she remarried, only to be rejected yet again or widowed, the first man was not allowed to take her back (vv. 2-4). Why? Because she had been another man’s wife, and to remarry was considered an abomination by the Lord.
The rest of this chapter consists of random civil laws:
- When a man was newly married, he was exempt from military service and other obligations for a full year, in order to “bring happiness to his wife” (5).
- No one could take an upper millstone in pledge for a loan, because the debtor’s livelihood depended on being able to grind his grain (6).
- Kidnapping was a capital offense (7).
- In cases of leprosy, the people were obligated to do all the priest told them to (8-9).
- When a man made a loan, he was not to go into the debtor’s house to get his pledge, but let the other bring it out to him. Each evening he was obligated to return the debtor’s garment, so he could sleep in it and keep warm. That way God would bless the lender. (10-13).
- No one was allowed to treat a hired hand harshly—whether they were fellow Hebrews or foreigners—but they were obligated to pay them their daily wages, because they were depending on that (14-15).
- No parent was to be executed for his/her child’s sin; neither were the children to suffer because of what their parents had done. Only the guilty were to be put to death (16).
- Israelites were not to deny justice to aliens or orphans; neither were they to take a widow’s garment in pledge for a loan (17).
- In memory of the fact that they were once poor slaves in Egypt, the Hebrews were to leave some of their crops in the field and fruit on the branches, so that resident aliens, orphans and widows could glean it and have something to eat (18-22).
Deuteronomy Chapter 25
In this chapter, Moses continued to recite miscellaneous civil laws the Israelites were expected to observe. When a man was found guilty of an offense that deserved a beating, the magistrates were only allowed to strike him forty times, lest the man should be humiliated in public (Deut. 25:1-3). No one was to muzzle an ox that was crushing grain to separate it from the chaff—the animal was to be permitted to eat what it chose (v. 4).
In verses 5-10, YHWH codified the custom of a man’s brother marrying his widow to raise up heirs for the dead man. The brother-in-law of a widow whose husband died childless was obligated to bring her into his home. The first child she bore him would be counted as the son of her deceased husband, in order to perpetuate his name in Israel. Any man unwilling to perform this duty would face the town council. If he still refused to marry the widow, she would remove his shoe, spit in his face and declare a curse over him.
Any woman coming to her husband’s defense in a scuffle between him and another man was not permitted to touch the other man’s genitalia to stop the fight. If she did, her hand would be cut off without mercy (11-12)! I am guessing a similar penalty would apply if she kicked the other man in the groin, as well. God obviously considered the potential of sterilizing a man an unfair way of ending a dispute.
No one was to use non-standard weights or measures to conduct business (13-14). Anyone who attempted to cheat others in this way was considered abominable in God’s sight and would not enjoy His blessing (15-16).
Moses reminded the people of how the Amalekites attacked the stragglers of Israel when they came out of Egypt and commanded them to completely annihilate this nation that clearly did not fear YHWH. Thus they were to “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” for what they had done to God’s people (17-19).
Deuteronomy Chapter 26
Once the people had taken possession of their inheritance and had farmed in the land, they were to take the first ripe produce of their crops, put it into a basket and transport it to the tabernacle (Deut. 26:1-2). In remembrance of God bringing them into the land He promised, each man was to present his basket to the priest, reciting the history of his people and acknowledging that he was bringing the firstfruits of the soil the Lord had given him (vv. 3-10). Then the man would bow before God in worship. “So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the LORD your God has given to you and your house, you and the Levite and the stranger who is among you” (11).
Every third year, the people were to distribute a tenth of their produce among the Levites, resident-aliens, orphans and widows of their towns (12). Having done so, they were to acknowledge their obedience and invoke God’s blessing on themselves (13-15).
Next, Moses said, “This day the LORD your God commands you to observe these statutes and judgments; therefore you shall be careful to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul” (16). Because this new generation had acknowledged YHWH as their God and committed themselves to doing all He commanded, the Lord made His own covenant declaration as a Husband to His bride through His spokesman:
Deuteronomy Chapter 27
Moses and his committee of elders commanded the people to keep all the rules they were relaying to the people that day (Deut. 27:1). When they reached the Promised Land, they were to set up some large stones on Mount Ebal, whitewash them and then copy the law onto them (vv. 2-4 & 8). They were also to build an altar of uncut stones and present offerings to God and enjoy a feast of thanksgiving at the base of the mountain (5-7).
Moses, the priests and Levites exhorted the people that, considering that they had declared themselves the people of God, they needed to obey Him and keep His commandments and statutes (8-9).
Moses commanded the tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin to stand on Mount Gerazim to pronounce blessings on Israel (11-12). The remaining tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali were to station themselves on Mount Ebal to pronounce the curses (13). The Levites were to declare the following curses, to be followed by a loud “Amen!” from the people:
- Whoever secretly made any kind of image and set it up to worship in place of God was cursed (15).
- “Cursed is the one who treats his father or his mother with contempt” (16). This one could be especially tough for teenagers, but also any adult or child who refused to treat his/her parents with proper respect.
- Anyone who messed with boundary stones was cursed (17).
- Anyone who tried to trip up a blind person was cursed (18).
- Whoever tried to keep the orphan, alien or widow from receiving justice was under a curse (19).
- Those who committed sexual perversion were cursed (20-23).
- Anyone who conspired against a neighbor or accepted a bribe was cursed (24-25).
- Anyone who refused to observe God’s law was cursed (26).
Deuteronomy Chapter 28
In this chapter, Moses enumerated the blessings God would shower on His people so long as they obeyed Him. Then he gave a blow-by-blow account of what they would suffer if they did not.
In the chart below, I have arranged the consequences for good and bad behavior listed in Deuteronomy 28:1-14 and verses 15-68:
|Blessings for the godly nation:||Curses against the ungodly nation:|
|Top billing among the nations (Deut. 28:1-2 & 12)||They would become the least among the nations, constantly in want (47-48).|
|Whether they lived in the city or rural areas, they would be blessed (v. 3).||Nothing would go right for them, whether they lived in the city or the country (16).|
|Plenty of children, crops and livestock (4 & 11)||Their children, crops and livestock would not be healthy or strong (18). They would not be able to enjoy their own wives, houses, vineyards, livestock or children (30-32).|
|Plenty of good food (5)||They would not have enough food (17).|
|Whether defending their country or invading another, they’d be victorious (6-7).||They’d be defeated when they went to war (19 & 25).|
|Their storehouses would be filled with more than enough (8).||Their produce would be taken away by other nations (33).|
|God would keep them holy (9).||They’d be taken captive to foreign lands and serve false gods (36).|
|Other nations would respect and fear them because they recognized the blessings of YHWH upon them (10).||Other nations would plunder and oppress them constantly (29). They would be despised and ridiculed (37).|
|Abundant rain (11)||God would cut off the rain, until their land was reduced to dust or made as hard as iron (23-24).|
|They would lend and never have to borrow (11).||Resident aliens would be better off, eventually lending to them (43-44).|
|They would be afflicted with every kind of disease imaginable (21-22, 27 & 35).|
|Wild animals would eat them (25).|
|They’d be driven insane (28 & 34).|
|Insects and disease would destroy their crops (38-40 & 42).|
Eventually, God would bring a nation from far away, which will speak an unknown language, will not respect anyone, will take away all their animals and crops, and eventually destroy Israel (49-51). During the siege of their cities, starving men would eat their own children; while hungry women would eat their placentas (52-57). Where once they outnumbered the stars in number, Israel’s population would be reduced to almost nothing by various plagues and disasters (58-63). God said He would scatter His disobedient people among the nations, where they would worship false gods and live in constant anxiety and unrest (64-67). In Egypt, where they would be sold again as slaves, no one would buy them (68)!
Deuteronomy Chapter 29
Continuing with the renewal of the covenant with the new generation of Hebrews, Moses reminded them of all they had seen [as children] that YHWH did for them in Egypt and since (Deut. 29:1-2). Yet, in spite of all the wonders they had witnessed, the people still did not ‘get it,’ in a spiritual sense, for “the LORD has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day” (vv. 3-4).
For forty years, the Lord had led the children of Israel through the wilderness, during which time their clothing and shoes had not worn out, nor had they eaten ‘normal’ food or drink—all so they would know that YHWH was the God who cared for them (5-6). He helped them defeat Sihon and Og, which had been given to Reuben, Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh (7-8).
Desiring that they continue to move forward, Moses urged them to keep God’s commandments, “that you may prosper in all that you do” (9). All of them were present that day—leaders, elders, officers, men, women, children and servants—to enter into a covenant with YHWH their God, “that He may establish you today as a people for Himself, and that He may be God to you,” just as He had promised them and their ancestors (10-13). Not only was He establishing this relationship with them, but also with future generations (14-15).
Moses reminded them of the idolatry and the horrible practices they had seen in Egypt and the pagan nations they had encountered during their travels (16-17). He warned them to make sure that no one among them was lured away into that sort of thing and got to thinking he could get away with following the dictates of his own heart (18-19). Not only would that person bring down on himself all the curses written in the Law, but he would plant a bitter seed of rebellion among the people that would result in judgment on the land (18 & 20-23). The last thing they wanted was for their God to be angry and uproot them from their land as an example to the nations around them (24-28)!
This chapter concludes with the statement: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (29).
Deuteronomy Chapter 30
Following a slight detour off the subject in chapter 29, Moses came back to the business of blessings and curses in chapter 30. He told the people that once they had experienced all the bad stuff their deviant behavior brought on them, came to their senses and returned to God whole-heartedly in the lands where they had been banished, then God would bring them back to their own land (Deut. 30:1-3). Even if they were scattered to the ends of the earth, He’d bring them home and prosper them and multiply them even more than their forefathers (vv. 4-5)! “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (6). That is, not only would their bodies be marked for God, but He would cut off everything that competed for their affections and consecrate their souls to Him, as well.
If they continued to do the right thing, the curses would come on their enemies, while the Lord prospered the Israelites in all their labor, their families, their livestock and their crops (7-9). YHWH would again “rejoice over you for good,” as He had blessed their ancestors, provided they gave themselves completely to Him, heart and soul (9-10).
Moses said the commandment he was giving the Israelites was not so mysterious or beyond their reach, that they needed someone to go and fetch it for them (11-13). On the contrary, “the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it” (14).
He laid out the choice before them: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil” (15). They could do what God said and multiply and be blessed in the land God was giving them, or they could serve other gods and cut short their time on earth (16-18). As an attorney in court, he said,
Deuteronomy Chapter 31
Wrapping up his farewell address, Moses said, “I am one hundred and twenty years old today. I can no longer go out and come in. Also the LORD has said to me, ‘You shall not cross over this Jordan’” (Deut. 31:1-2). The Israelites would have to go into the Promised Land without him, but they would not go in alone. “The LORD your God Himself crosses over before you,” Moses promised. He and Joshua would help the people defeat their enemies and take possession of the land—just as God had enabled them to defeat Sihon and Og (vv. 3-4).
Moses reminded them to do all the Lord had commanded concerning their enemies (5). “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you” (6). Then he turned to Joshua in front of all the people and repeated essentially the same thing (7-8).
After Moses had recorded all the Law and transferred it to the priests, he ordered them to be sure and read it publicly to all Israel in its entirety every seven years, during the Feast of Tabernacles on the year of release (9-11). Men, women and children of all ages and nationalities in Israel were to gather at the worship center to hear the reading of God’s word. That way, it would serve as a review for those familiar with God’s Law, and it would teach those to whom it was new to fear and serve Him, as well (12-13).
Next, God had Moses and Joshua meet Him at the tabernacle, so YHWH could inaugurate Israel’s new leader (14). In a pillar of cloud, YHWH made His appearance at the door of the holy tent (15). There, Moses inaugurated Joshua, repeating the admonition to be strong and courageous, knowing God would be with him (23).
Anticipating the apostasy of the nation following Moses’ death, YHWH commanded the prophet to teach the Israelites a song, which would convict them of their sin, once all their troubles had come upon them (16-21). How sad that such a thing would be necessary! Yet, as God told His servant, “I know the inclination of their behavior today, even before I have brought them to the land…” Who but God would love someone so much that He would marry them, even though He knew they would be unfaithful to Him? That same day Moses wrote down the song, so he could share it with the Israelites (22).
As he handed over the book of the Law, Moses told the Levites to store it in the Ark of the Covenant to serve as a witness against them (24-26). Moses explained, “for I know your rebellion and your stiff neck. If today, while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD, then how much more after my death?” (27). He had everyone assemble together so he could repeat what God had told him,
Then, in keeping with God’s instruction, Moses sang the song the Lord had dictated to Him (30).
Deuteronomy Chapter 32
The bulk of this chapter consists of the lyrics of the ‘Song of Moses’—actually the song God had given to Moses in chapter 31. It starts out by calling heaven and earth to listen to his words (Deut. 32:1). It compares God’s teaching to rain or dew that waters the grass (v. 2).
YHWH’s people are commanded to “Ascribe greatness to our God,” recognizing all His work is perfect; all His ways just and right (3-4). Even though YHWH is their Father who bought them, who made and established Israel, they were foolishly going to turn away from Him (5-6).
He said to consult the old-timers, and they would tell them,“When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel (7-8). YHWH chose for His inheritance the children of Israel (9).
Poetically, the Lord compared Himself to a mighty eagle that found Israel in the wilderness, protected them, and trained them (10). “As an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up, carrying them on its wings, so the LORD alone led him…” (11-12).
He described the abundance of the land they were preparing to possess—with fertile fields, honey and oil hidden in the rock, plenty of pasture land for livestock, wheat and grapes to satisfy themselves (13-14). So abundant was their wealth going to be that God’s people would grow fat and sassy (15). They’d provoke YHWH to jealousy with foreign gods and sacrifice to demons, forgetting the God who fathered them and cared for them (16-18).
YHWH said He would spurn these spiteful sons and daughters and leave them to themselves for provoking Him to jealousy with “what is not God” (19-21). In kind, He would make them jealous “by those who are not a nation” and make them angry with a “foolish nation.”
So intense was God’s anger toward these rebels, it would burn like fire in the lowest hell and consume the mountains (22). He would heap disasters on Israel: hunger, disease, destruction, wild animals, poisonous snakes and violence (23-25). Were it not for God’s concern for His reputation, He would wipe out every memory of His people (26-27).
If only this “nation void of counsel” could understand and consider the consequences of their actions (28-29)! How could one enemy chase 1,000 Hebrews, or two cause 10,000 to head for the hills, unless God had given them over to the power of those who hated them (30)? The gods of other nations are nothing like YHWH—trusting them is like eating sour grapes or drinking the poison of snakes (31-32).
YHWH would have His revenge on His enemies—after He had judged His own people (34-36). When they realized they were powerless and the gods they had trusted were useless, then the Lord would reveal Himself again (36-38).
See now that I myself am He!
There is no god besides me.
I put to death and I bring to life,
I have wounded and I will heal,
and no one can deliver out of my hand. (Deut. 32:39 NIV)
With His sword of vengeance upraised, the Lord vows to repay all who hate Him with bloody violence (vv. 40-42). The song concludes, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people” (43).
Having shared the song with the people, Moses again urged them to set their hearts on obeying God’s Law (44-46). Anything else was futile, considering their lives depended on it; “and by this word you shall prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess” (47).
That same day, YHWH commanded Moses to climb Mount Nebo in Moab across from Jericho, where he would see the land the Lord was giving Israel (48-49). There the prophet would die as Aaron had died on Mount Hor, for their sin “at the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Wilderness of Zin,” where the brothers failed to represent God correctly in front of the Israelites (Deut. 32:50-51; c.f.—Numbers 20:1-13). As punishment for this failure, Moses was allowed to see the land, but he would not enter it (Deut. 32:52).
Deuteronomy Chapter 33
Before meeting his Maker, Moses took time to declare God’s blessing and foretell the future of each tribe [except for Simeon] (Deut. 33:1). First, he focused their attention on YHWH their God:
Moses described the Lord as coming down from several mountains, “with ten thousands of saints; from His right hand came a fiery law for them” (v. 2). He affirmed the Lord’s love and protection for those who sit at His feet and soak up His word, which was delivered by Moses to the congregation (3-4). He described YHWH as the King of all the leaders and tribes of Israel (5).
In an order all his own, Moses blessed the tribes:
- For Reuben, he foretold life and many descendants (6).
- Judah’s prayers/praise would be heard and God would grant him help against his enemies (7).
- Moses reminded Levi how their tribe tested God; yet, forsaking their own families, they would be set apart to instruct the other tribes and facilitate their worship (8-10). He prayed for God to bless everything they did and strike whoever rose against the Levites (11).
- Benjamin he called “beloved of the LORD” and said this tribe would “dwell in safety by Him, Who shelters him all the day long…between His shoulders” (12).
- The tribe of Joseph got Moses’ longest blessing, including plenty of rain, fertility, precious minerals, favor, prosperity, strength and proliferation (13-17).
- Zebulun would rejoice in his going out (18).
- Issachar with Zebulun would lead the people to “offer sacrifices of righteousness” and would find treasures hidden in the sea and sand (19).
- Moses compared Gad to a lion dismembering its prey, then said this tribe would administer God’s justice (20-21).
- Dan was compared to a lion’s cub, leaping from Bashan [a region which that tribe later took over, according to Judges18:27-31] (22).
- Naphtali was promised favor and blessing from YHWH, along with land to the west and south (23).
- Asher was declared favored by his brothers, and blessed by God with feet bathed in oil and shod with iron and bronze, strength and long life (24-25).
Who knows why Simeon was forgotten? Or perhaps the scribes who copied Moses’ texts left out that part of the prophet’s blessing.
Moses concluded by focusing on God again: “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun” [This was Moses’ name for Jacob, which meant “upright one”], “Who rides the heavens to help you…” (26). He said, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms…” (27). The prophet promised the Lord would destroy their enemies and allow Israel to dwell in safety, enjoying the blessings of heaven and earth (27-28). He said of all people Israel would be most happy, “a people saved by the LORD,” who would be their sword and shield (29). By Him their enemies would be subjected to them and they would trample their places of false worship.
Deuteronomy Chapter 34
This last chapter was quite likely added to Moses’ record post mortem by some priest or scribe, or possibly by Joshua. It tells how Moses went up on the mountain, as directed by God, viewed all the land that Israel was to inherit, and then died (Deut. 34:1-6). Quite likely to thwart the tendency humans have to enshrine and venerate our heroes, God Himself buried Moses in an unknown location in a valley in Moab (v. 7).
For an entire month, the Hebrews mourned the passing of their leader (8). His successor, Joshua the son of Nun, was a capable leader, “full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; so the children of Israel heeded him, and did as the LORD had commanded Moses” (9). However, no one compared to Moses, “whom the LORD knew face to face” and used to perform so many spectacular signs before Pharaoh and all Israel, in Egypt and beyond (10-12).
There are so many important principles in this book of the Bible! It is probably the most often quoted of all the Pentateuch. However, the underlying theme is: Trust and obey God, and it will go well for you; do your own thing, and you will find yourself constantly in trouble. The more we study God’s word and the history of His dealings with His people, the more likely we are to do right and enjoy God’s blessings and to avoid evil with its dreadful consequences.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible—© 1982, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.