Day 154: Deuteronomy 1
Welcome to Deuteronomy!
Deuteronomy tells again the story of Israel’s 40 years of wandering. It represents another source of information than what we have in Leviticus and Numbers. One clue that we are looking at another source of information is that most of Deuteronomy is told in the first person singular: it is written as if Moses is telling the story of the exodus and the wilderness wanderings as he remembers it, and he remembers it a little differently from the way it is recorded in Numbers.
Another important clue that we are reading a different source is that the mountain of God is referred to as Horeb instead of Sinai. Horeb is the name Moses used for the mountain in the book of Exodus when he came upon the burning bush. However, throughout most of Exodus, all of Leviticus and all of Numbers the mountain is referred to only as Sinai.
1-5: It has been 40 years since they left Egypt, and Moses begins to tell the story of the exodus to this second generation of Israelites, many of whom hadn’t been born yet when they crossed the Red Sea.
6-8: He reminds them that it was God who called them to leave Mt. Horeb and resume their journey. The boundaries he outlines for them – from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates – is considerably larger than the borders outlined in Numbers 34.
9-18: He describes the legal system he put into place for judging disputes in the community. We read about that in Exodus 18, but in Exodus 18 it was his father-in-law, Jethro, who came up with the system. Here, Moses himself is claiming credit for the idea.
19-21: He reminds them that when they reached the hill country of the Amorites he told them to go in and take possession of the land.
22-25: However, the people asked for spies to be sent into the land before they invaded it. That’s not the way the story is told in Numbers 13; there, God told Moses to send spies. Moses remembers here that the spies brought back a good report, but the people refused to go up. That’s not the way it happened earlier (Numbers 13:25-29), where the majority of the spies voted against going up.
Ah, well, don’t be hard on Moses. He’s 120 years old!
26-33: He remembers that the people rebelled against going up and conquering the land because they saw giants there.
34-40: That is why, he said, the LORD made them stay in the wilderness for forty years, because God decided that none of that generation, except Caleb and Joshua, would enter the land, including Moses himself.
41-45: He recounts the first unsuccessful attempt to enter the land (see Numbers 14:39-45).
Day 155: Deuteronomy 2
1-8: Moses continues his recounting of the last 40 years. Much of what we are reading in chapter 2 is nonetheless new information for us because it was not mentioned in Numbers. Moses says that from Kadesh they returned to the wilderness, then turned north to Mt. Seir, the territory of Esau. In Numbers we read that they sought permission to go through Edom and were denied. (Edom and Esau/Seir are synonymous). However, Moses now says that God told them not to go through Seir/Edom because they were kin, but to buy food and water from them.
8-13: A similar command is given concerning the territory of Moab, east of the Jordan. Both Edom and Moab are reckoned as relatives of Israel because the people there are traced to settlements during the time of the patriarchs – Abraham’s nephew Lot to Moab and his grandson Esau to Edom.
13-15: Moses says that the length of time between departing Kadesh to arriving at Moab is 38 years. All the warriors (men 20 years old and older) that were alive when they left Egypt have died (save Caleb and Joshua).
16-25: Moses remembers that God then ordered them through Ammonite territory, again telling them to go peacefully, and again reciting the background of God’s having given that land to the descendants of Lot. While they were passing through Ammonite territory, Moses says, God ordered them to conquer the Amorites, for God had determined to give them that territory east of the Jordan. Moses’ recollection here is embellished a bit with hindsight. They defeated the Amorites, and later three of the tribes asked to stay on the east side of the Jordan. Moses granted their request reluctantly at the time, but now looking back he sees that their defeat of the Amorites was ordained by God from the beginning.
26-30: Still, Moses says that he tried to traverse the Amorite kingdom peacefully and sent envoys to King Sihon requesting permission. God had “hardened his spirit,” however, and Sihon refused, setting up the battle for the conquest of Amorite lands.
31-37: Moses describes the campaign against King Sihon of Heshbon in a little more detail than was given in Numbers 21:21-31. The statement that they killed the entire population, including women and children, is not verified by the account in Numbers and note that Moses does not say that God ordered such an indefensible slaughter.
Day 156: Deuteronomy 3
1-7: The defeat of King Og was recorded in Numbers 21:33-35. Here, verses 1-3 are very nearly the same as the Numbers account. But verses 4-8 add more detailed information that was not included in Numbers. Again it is said that all the inhabitants – men, women children – were put to the sword, but that tactic is not attributed to God’s commands.
8-17: Moses details again the territories given to Reuben, Gad and Manasseh.
18-20: He reminds those three tribes of the agreement that, though they have settled on the eastern side of the Jordan they will cross the Jordan and take part in the conquest of the territory to be given the other tribes.
21-29: This is a condensed version of the most recent events having to do with the passing of the torch to Joshua and God’s denying Moses the privilege of crossing the Jordan. Remember, this is Moses telling the people – the second generation of those who left Egypt – what has led them to this point on the east bank of the Jordan, preparing them for entering the land. It is interesting to me that he doesn’t tell them why God won’t let him cross the river. The omission has to be deliberate, and for me that gives the whole episode a ring of authenticity.
Deuteronomy 1-3 thus condenses the entire book of Numbers. Deuteronomy 4 and following will recast much of the information contained in Leviticus; the laws by which the community will maintain its covenant with God.
Day 157: Deuteronomy 4
1-4: The incident at Baal-Peor is described in Numbers 25.
5-8: Moses reminds them that he is charged with teaching them the law that God has given them, the law which distinguishes them from all the people of the earth.
9-14: Most of the Israelites Moses now faces were not present at Mt. Horeb when the Ten Commandments were received – only those who were under the age of 20 were there; the rest have died during the subsequent years of sojourn in the wilderness. So Moses takes them back 39 years to their encampment at Mt. Sinai (Horeb here) and reminds them that it was there God gave them the Law.
15-20: He reminds them of the law that warns against making idols in the form of men, women, animals, birds, insects or fish (because they have no idea what God looks like, he says), and against worshiping the sun, moon and stars (because God created them and is therefore above them). Basically this is a reminder of the first three of the 10 Commandments. God brought them out of Egypt to be God’s very own possession, he says.
21-24: Again, Moses tells them that he will not accompany them across the Jordan, but obliquely lays the blame on them for it.
25-31: He reminds them what will happen to them if they forget God’s laws. The description of the consequences closely matches what actually happens much later in Israel’s history, when they are conquered by the Babylonians and carried into exile. Moses says that God will allow that to happen as punishment for forsaking the law, but that God will nevertheless not abandon them completely.
32-40: These verses are a powerful affirmation of all that has gone before. Moses tells them that never before had God acted on behalf of any nation the way God has acted on behalf of Israel. They are most blessed of all the peoples on earth. They have a special relationship with God and they should be careful to protect it.
41-43: After these warnings, Moses designates three cities of refuge on the east side of the Jordan, in Gilead – Bezer, Ramoth and Golan (the same territory as the Golan Heights in modern Israel where so much conflict is still occurring). See Numbers 35:13-14 for the authorization to do this, although in that passage there are to be six cities in the trans-Jordan area.
44-49: The chapter ends with a summary statement, giving the setting for Moses re-presenting the Law to the people.
Day 158: Deuteronomy 5
1-5: This chapter begins the second speech of Moses. Verses 1-5 serve as an introduction. Verses 6-21 repeat the Ten Commandments first presented in Exodus 20.
6-11: The first three commandments are verbatim repetitions of Exodus 20:2-7.
12-15: The fourth commandment, however, is presented with some interesting differences. Instead of “Remember the Sabbath,” Moses says, “Observe the Sabbath.” In Exodus the Sabbath day was commanded because God rested on the seventh day. Moses, however, equates the observance of the Sabbath with the remembrance of their slavery in Egypt and God’s rescue of them “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”
16: Moses also makes a slight addition to the fifth commandment; honor your parents not only so that you will live long in the land God is giving you, but also “that it may go well with you” in the land.
17-20: Commandments 6 -9 are the same as in Exodus.
21: The commandment about coveting (verse 21) gives the list of things in a slightly different order. Whereas in Exodus the first thing on the list is “your neighbor’s house,” here Moses has “your neighbor’s wife” at the head of the list. This is interesting to me because in Exodus they were at Mt. Sinai, and there were no houses to covet. Here in Deuteronomy they have taken many of the towns on the east side of the Jordan and settled them, so there are houses to covet, and Moses emphasizes instead the marriage covenant above possessions.
22-33: These verses follow the rest of Exodus 20 but with some interesting differences again: the people’s fear of God is emphasized and praised. And Moses is more concerned here with “the land the Lord your God is giving you.” It is a land he will never enter.
Day 159: Deuteronomy 6
1-3: God’s gifts to Israel can be grouped into Law, Land and Lineage. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of multitudes. That promise of lineage has been fulfilled through the offspring of Jacob, who are the symbolic heads of the twelve tribes. The Law was given at Mt. Sinai, and repeated now beyond the Jordan at the edge of Canaan. The Land was promised also to Abraham’s descendants, and now they are on the verge of re-entering it after 440 years away from it. The actual conquest of the land is treated almost as a foregone conclusion. Moses is more concerned with another threat: the threat of forsaking their covenant with God. As a guard against that happening he gives them practical counsel here that will enable them to continue to be faithful to God so that God will continue to be faithful to them.
4-6: First, he tells them to love God with heart and soul and strength.
7-9: Second, he tells them to recite the Law until they know it by heart, and to teach it to all the children.
10-15: Third, he tells them that, when they enter the land, they must not “forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt,” and they must not follow other gods.
16-19: Fourth, he says, don’t test God as they did at Massah (see Exodus 17).
20-25: Finally, he tells them not to forget how God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and to teach their children the history of God’s saving activity.
Day 160: Deuteronomy 7
1-6: Having set the safeguards in the previous chapter, Moses now turns to the conquest of the land. He tells them to “utterly destroy” the peoples of the land. Once again we note that this is Moses’ command, not God’s. Even so, notice that he warns them not to intermarry with the people of the land, which implies that the “utter” destruction does not include killing everybody. The command not to intermarry is directly related to the episode at Baal-Peor when the Midianite women seduced the Israelite men, leading to a plague and the death of thousands (see Numbers 25).
7-16: Here is a touching explanation of why God chose Israel. It is a covenant born out of God’s love for them, and it must be protected by their fidelity to God, just as the marriage covenant is protected by the fidelity of the couple to one another.
17-26: Moses encourages them not to be afraid of the task before them because of the size of the indigenous populations. Here is one reason why it is so important to remember their past: if God could defeat Egypt, surely the loosely connected tribes inhabiting the land of Canaan will be no match for him. The one thing they must remember is to guard against being enticed by the popular religions practiced in Canaan. They must not be attracted by the gold and silver figures representing pagan gods and goddesses – that is lifted up over and over as the primary temptation they will face.
Day 161: Deuteronomy 8 (June 10)
1-10: Moses reminds them of the hardships they have had to endure, and tells them that God has been testing them to see if they were worthy of the promise. The land they are about to enter is worth all the trials, he says.
11-20: The danger is not the enemies they will face; the real danger is that, once settled and prosperous, they will forget God and forsake the Law. If that should happen, he says, they will perish in the land like the very people they are displacing.
Day 162: Deuteronomy 9 (June11)
1-3: Moses continues his “pep talk” to prepare the people to cross over the Jordan and conquer the Promised Land. He assures them that God will cross the river with them.
4-5: He tells them not to think God is giving them the land because they are righteous, but rather because the people who now inhabit the land are wicked.
6-7: He hammers the point home, three times telling them that they are not inheriting the land because of any merit on their part. Indeed, they have been disobedient from the start. He recites a list of their shortcomings: they are stubborn; they provoked God to wrath in the wilderness; they rebelled against God from day one. If the people of the land are being disposed because of their wickedness, we wonder on what basis the Israelites will be allowed to possess the land.
8-21: He describes at some length the story of God giving him the tablets of the Law on Mt. Horeb and the episode of the golden calf, emphasizing the hardships he himself endured on the mountain (forty days of fasting). The account of the event in Exodus 32 gave us the story from Aaron’s point of view; here we read the story from Moses’ point of view. The emphasis, not surprisingly, is Moses’ intercession on behalf of the people and on behalf of Aaron who had cast the golden calf for them. Twice, he tells them, he went for forty days with nothing to eat or drink.
22-29: Over and over, he says, they rebelled but he, Moses, turned away God’s anger by reminding God of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Day 163: Deuteronomy 10 (June 12)
1-2: Moses receives a second copy of the 10 Commandments. Here the order is: 1)God tells him to carve two more tablets, 2)to come up to God on the mountain, 3) to make an ark of wood, 4) God will write the Law again, and 5) Moses will place the tablets in the ark.
3-5: Here the order is: Moses 1) makes the ark, 2) cuts the tablets, and 3) goes up the mountain where 4) God writes on the tablets and 5) Moses comes down the mountain and puts the tablets in the ark.
6-9: These verses seem to be out of place, a sort of mini-travelogue that culminates in reiterating the setting aside of the tribe of Levi. In the NRSV this section is set off by parentheses.
10-11: We return to the main narrative: Moses spends another 40 days on the mountain, and God’s anger against the people is cooled.
12-22: So, the point of all this, he says, is that they should fear the Lord, love and serve him, and keep his commandments. Do not be stubborn any longer, he says. Look what God has already accomplished for you and worship him alone. God promised Abraham his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, and now look at you!
Day 164: Deuteronomy 11 (June 13)
1-7: Moses reminds them that they are responsible for keeping the memory of God’s mighty acts, and to keep the Law. Their task is to keep. Remember, Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden with the charge to “till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).
8-12: Moses tells them that the land they are entering is not like Egypt. In Egypt they had to irrigate the land. The land God is giving them is “a land that the Lord your God looks after.”
13-25: Over and over Moses warns them that if they forsake the Law dire consequences will follow. If they turn away from God, God will turn away from them. The heavens will be shut up and the rains will not come and they’ll starve. Moses is definitely repeating himself in this chapter. Obey the commandments and live long and prosper; turn away and perish. Over and over he draws the correlation between faithfulness and survival. People today don’t generally believe there is a connection between the two, and over the course of a single human life the connection is not always obvious. But over the course of multiple generations of a community that connection seems to be borne out in human history.
26-28: The blessings and curses on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal will be described in great detail in chapter 27. These hills are located about 30 miles north of Jericho, where the people eventually cross over the Jordan. You can find a map at www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/mount-gerizim, and photographs of the two hills can be found by googling “Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal.”
31-32: Once again, obey the Law and live.
Day 165: Deuteronomy 12 (June 14)
Moses continues his address to the people, preparing them for the conquest of the land:
1-7: He emphasizes that the religious practices of the indigenous people must be abolished. All their places of worship must be destroyed. Only the God of Israel can be worshiped, and only in the place God designates. Given our religious pluralism today, do you think Moses was wrong? This is not freedom of religious expression; are they justified in taking such measures?
8-12: He reiterates that there will be a central place of worship when they enter the land. They will not be allowed to make their sacrifices and offerings anywhere else. Why do you think Moses thought such a rule was necessary?
13-19: They will be allowed to butcher and eat meat anywhere they wish, but their sacrifices and offerings must only be brought to the place of worship. Firstborn animals, the tithe (10%) of their grain and wine and oil, cannot be consumed as they wish but must be reserved for offering at the place of worship. For us, do you think God wants us to give part of our tithe to other “charities?” or should we give the whole tithe to the Lord (in our case, the church) and support other charities with giving beyond the tithe.?
20-28: More rules are offered to clarify the consumption of meat. Wild and domestic animals may be eaten, but must be eaten “kosher” (drained of the blood). Moses insists that following these rules is necessary for their well-being. Is it?
29-32: Again he warns them not to be drawn into the worship of the people they are displacing. Moses emphasizes this because in ancient times it was customary to believe that every locale had its own gods, and worshiping the local gods was thought of as being necessary to appease them. Moses is rejecting that way of thinking; pretty radical in his day!
Day 166: Deuteronomy 13 (June 15)
The dangers of idolatry continue as the main subject:
1-5: Moses warns them that “prophets” (people who claim supernatural knowledge of future events) and seers (those who interpret dreams and other phenomena) may actually be right from time to time in their predictions. He sees this eventuality as a test sent by God. Such people are a significant enough threat that he imposes the death penalty. Do you think the punishment fits the crime?
6-11: The danger of being lured into worshiping other gods is so important that Moses imposes the death penalty on anyone who entices them to worship other gods – even if it is a brother or sister or son or daughter! (But he doesn’t list parents as possible enticers, does he?)
12-18: Moses imagines that entire towns may be lured into pagan worship. If that happens, he tells them, they must completely destroy the town and everything in it, and burn all of it completely – a whole burnt offering. If they do that, he says, God will bless them. Once again, why do you think Moses thought such action was necessary?
Day 167: Deuteronomy 14 (June 16)
1-2: Certain pagan practices – cutting oneself to bleed and shaving the forehead as a sign of mourning – are specifically forbidden. Verse 2 seems to imply that the reason for this rule is simply to separate them from the other people – to distinguish them as God’s people.
3-21: Various dietary restrictions are given. We have already seen these in Leviticus. Again, the reason for these laws is to set them apart from everyone else and identify them as God’s people.
22-27: The tithe of grain crops was to be eaten only in the sacred place God would designate. If that were not possible, it could be sold and the money used to buy “clean” animals, which could then be eaten, apparently in some alternative locations that would be designated as such. Why do you think it was important that these “sacred meals” should be observed? Can you think of any similar practices today?
28-29: Provision is made for those who have no crops to harvest. Every third year the tithe was to be given to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans and the widows.
Day 168: Deuteronomy 15 (June 17)
1-6: Here’s a rule for the Obama administration to consider – Every seventh year all debts must be remitted in the case of neighbors (that is, citizens). Debts to foreigners could continue, though. Beyond the local community, it was okay to lend to foreign nations, but not to borrow! Would that work today?
7-11: Moses tells them to tend to the poor in their midst. They must not let anyone go hungry. There will always be “some in need on the earth,” so be charitable, he says.
12-18: This section has to do with the treatment of slaves. They must be released in the seventh year, and sent out with enough provisions to enable them to survive and start a life of their own unless they choose to remain slaves. If such magnanimity had been practiced among Southern plantation owners, do you think there would ever have been an American Civil War?
19-23: Firstborn animals from the flock or herd must be butchered, drained of blood, and eaten in a designated “sacred place.” The act of eating the meat in a designated place may have been for the purpose of reminding them that they were God’s people – sort of like our Holy Communion.
Day 169: Deuteronomy 16 (June 18)
1-8: Moses orders the observance of the Passover on the 15th of Abib. It was a seven-day observance; the meat was eaten with unleavened bread. He insists that it must be observed in the sacred place God would designate. Verse 7 implies that they will live in tents during the observance.
9-12: The harvest festival – the Festival of Weeks – is commanded. Whereas the Passover was a solemn observance designed to help them remember God’s mighty work in bringing their ancestors out of Egypt, this is a celebration of rejoicing over the blessings God has given them in the harvest.
13-15 The Festival of Booths is commanded as well. This festival was to be held when all the crops were harvested and processed – the grain has been threshed and gathered, the grapes have been mashed and made into wine.
16-17: Moses specifies that every Israelite male must appear at the three festivals.
18-20: A change of subject matter comes rather abruptly here. Moses tells them to appoint judges. The one requirement seems to be honesty in the dispensation of justice. Simple, but effective.
21: The chapter ends with another warning about pagan practices. Totem poles and pillars were forbidden. The worship of pagan gods must not be mixed with the worship of God. Can you think of any examples in our world today?
Day 170: Deuteronomy 17 (June 19)
1: Again Moses emphasizes that defective animals must not be sacrificed. The position of this injunction would indicate that perhaps pagans regularly did sacrifice such animals.
2-7: Wow. Moses means business! If anyone is found, man or woman, by the testimony of at least two witnesses, to serve and worship any god but God, that person must be put to death. There is the curious addition that the witnesses must be the first to cast stones – perhaps to insure honesty in their witness? If they gave false testimony and then carried out the execution, they would be guilty of murder!
8-13: Difficult cases would be brought to the appropriate judge – in the book of Judges that designation is fleshed out – and whatever sentence the judge gives must be carried out to the letter on penalty of death.
14-20: In II Kings 22 we read that the priest Hilkiah found the book of the Law (the Torah) in the temple during a restoration project in the time of King Josiah. Some scholars think that Hilkiah may have edited the scroll a bit. These verses seem to describe the excesses indulged in by Solomon – the many horses, the many wives, the conscription of workers for building projects that benefited foreign powers like Egypt, and so forth. Lacking that theory it would appear that Moses foresaw that they would someday insist on having a king, and certain consequences would follow.
Day 171: Deuteronomy 18 (June 20)
1-2: Levites, says Moses, must have no inheritance – apparently in contradiction to the earlier rule that they would be given towns and grazing lands (Numbers 35).
3-5: The priests will however be maintained by the system of sacrifices and offerings.
6-8: Levites would be allowed to freely move about the land, from one designated shrine to another. This would help provide some balance should one area not produce enough to sustain all the Levites who might reside there.
9-14: Child sacrifice is prohibited – a good thing, no doubt. But why prohibit divination, spell-casting, palm reading and other such practices? No doubt, Moses sees these things as enticements to leave off keeping God’s laws, and sees them as a danger to the well-being of the people.
15-22: It is not clear from the manuscripts whether the word “prophet” in verse 15 should be singular or plural. Either way, Moses is reminding them that, after he is gone, God will raise up new leadership. Just as their future kings must come from the community (17:15), so must future spiritual leaders also. Any prophet who claims to have a revelation from a pagan deity must not be honored. Curiously, the way to tell a false prophet is that his predictions don’t pan out, whereas back in chapter 13 it was acknowledged that sometimes false prophets would in fact get it right. The point is, if they don’t follow the true God, don’t follow them.
Day 172: Deuteronomy 19 (June 21)
1-3: Moses reminds them to set apart three “cities of refuge” in Canaan (see Numbers 35:14) so that someone who commits involuntary homicide will have a place safe from the “avenger of blood” – that is, the kinsman responsible for avenging the death. He adds a rule about the distances between the cities to make sure there is one accessible from every part of the land.
4-7: The necessity for care in designating the cities is emphasized. Compare Numbers 35:22-28.
8-10: Moses foresees that in the future the Israelites might annex more territory (as they will under King David), and orders that additional cities of refuge be designated so that a refuge will be accessible wherever one might be in the new territories.
11-13: However, no one may use the cities of refuge as a way of escaping justice. Here, the murderer is simply turned over to the avenger of blood. In Numbers35 the rule was that the murderer would be extradited to his city of residence and dealt with by the authorities there.
14: This verse repeats a law against moving boundary markers, but seems out of place in the present discourse.
15-21: We tend to forget that the rule “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was intended to discourage false testimony. If someone gives false testimony, that one was to suffer the penalty intended for the accused.
Day 173: Deuteronomy 20 (June 22)
1-4: The first rule Moses gives for battle is, don’t worry how big or technologically advanced the enemy because God is fighting with you. Modern “just war theory” seems to counsel just the opposite – don’t go to war unless there is a reasonable chance for success.
5-9: This paragraph presents a surprisingly humane assessment of who should fight and who should not.
10-18: This paragraph is not humane at all. In Canaan, a besieged city is to be put to the sword. Every living thing – men, women and children – must be killed in order to prevent them from enticing the Israelites to worship their gods. I somehow don’t think God could have been so threatened by that possibility! In foreign territories only the males should be killed, unless they surrender peacefully, in which case they could be made slaves. How lenient!
19-20: In another curious example of ancient justice, the fruit and nut trees around a besieged town must be treated with greater humanity than the human beings in the town!
Day 174: Deuteronomy 21 (June 23)
1-9: A strange ritual is described here, but remember that God’s blessing of the land is marred by the spilling of innocent blood – a point of view going all the way back to the time of Cain and Abel.
10-14: Back to rules of war for a moment. What happens if you capture a city and take as captive a beautiful woman with whom you are subsequently displeased? Well, you have to let her go free. On the surface this sounds nice, but where will she go since you’ve conquered her people?
15-17: Another abrupt change of subject: this one clarifies the first-born’s right of inheritance. The firstborn son (or daughter if there are no sons) received a double share of the estate. If a man had sons by more than one wife, he was not allowed to play favorites in the dispensation of his property after his death.
18-21: A horrible fate awaits the son who dishonors his parents. Remember that I have told you before that honoring one’s parents is among the three most important of the 10 commandments, along with not worshiping other gods and keeping the Sabbath.
22-23: “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” Stoning was the preferred method of execution. I am at a loss to explain why it was more noble to bash someone to death with rocks than to hang them from a tree, but one of the points made in the New Testament that Jesus’ crucifixion was a particularly demeaning form of execution.
Day 175: Deuteronomy 22 (June 24)
1-4: It isn’t enough to not steal your neighbor’s livestock; you must also be willing to return livestock that has wandered off. A fair demand, I think.
5: The rule against cross-dressing has to do with the belief that it was necessary to keep strictly defined roles for men and women.
6-7: The wanton destruction of God’s creatures is forbidden. How human beings have broken the spirit of this law again and again – with whales, with beavers in the Old West, with buffalo, etc.
8: An early recognition of public liability.
9-12: In a similar vein with verse 5, there is in the Bible a consistent avoidance of mixing things together that God created to be separate and distinct.
13-30 Various rules about sexual behavior are given here, designed to protect the institution of marriage and also the prevailing customs of courtship and betrothal. It is obvious that some of these rules are in place because of the strict inheritance laws.
Day 176: Deuteronomy 23 (June 25)
1: Since the original covenant promised many descendants, no one incapable of producing offspring was to be admitted to the “assembly.” This essentially means citizenship and the protection of laws having to do with property ownership and inheritance.
2-6: Others to be excluded: persons born out of wedlock, in order to discourage illicit sexual unions; and those with Moabite and Ammonite lineage because of the historical enmity between those nations and Israel.
7-8: Edomites and Egyptians, however, are given special treatment because of their historical connections with Israel.
9-14: These verses give rules for sanitary conditions in the military camps.
15-16: Slaves in Israel were treated with much more humanity than in other ancient civilizations, perhaps because of the memory of their past as slaves in Egypt.
17-18: Temple prostitution was a popular practice among the Canaanites; Israel was not to participate in pagan worship.
19-20: No-interest loans; what a wonderful idea!
21-23: You don’t have to make God any promises (aside from keeping covenant), but if you do you’d better take it seriously!
24-25: The casual availing of oneself to a neighbor’s produce was to be overlooked.
Day 177: Deuteronomy 24 (June 26)
1-4: The concern here seems to be that allowing a remarriage after having been married to someone else introduces unwanted confusion in the area of sexual relations. In any case it appears that the woman’s rights are not protected by such laws as these.
5: The blessing of children is so important that marriage trumps military service.
6: The millstone was a means of earning a living.
7: Capital punishment is extended to kidnapping a fellow citizen.
8-9: It was believed that the various skin conditions called “leprosy” could be avoided by carefully obeying rules of sanitation, administered by the priests.
10-15: Some very humane rules about loans and the treatment of the poor. Maybe these verses should be sent to all payday lenders.
16: Justice means taking responsibility for one’s own actions.
17-22: More laws protecting and providing for the poor, the alien, the orphan and the widow.
Day 178: Deuteronomy 25 (June 27)
1-3: The punishment should fit the crime.
4: Let the poor beast eat!
5-10: Now you understand why no family in Israel wanted to be known as “the house of the man whose sandal was pulled off.”
11-12: Fight fair!
13-16: Honesty in weights and measures.
17: Vengeance on the Amalekites for attacking them in the wilderness. This seems to be vengeance for Moses’ sake, not God’s.
Day 179: Deuteronomy 26 (June 28)
1-11: When they come into the land and begin to harvest the crops already planted there, they are to take some of the first fruits to a designated worship site and offer it to the priest. When the offering is presented, they are to recite the confession of faith in verses 5-10. This was one of the ways in which the history of their relationship with God would always be preserved. Try to memorize these verses. Verse 11 implies that the first fruits were then to be eaten in celebration with the Levites and aliens “who reside among you” – obviously not the ones who were wiped out when they invaded the land!
12-15: It seems that every third year the first fruits were to be presented for the poor – orphans and widows are added to Levites and aliens as recipients of the bounty. Once again a recital was to be made before God, this time an affirmation of the fidelity to God’s Law by the one making the offering.
16-19: Moses reminds them of their covenant relationship with God: God will “set you high above all the nations … in praise and fame and honor.” In turn, they will “walk in God’s ways, and keep God’s statues and ordinances and commandments.”
Day 180: Deuteronomy 27 (June 29)
1-8: This presentation is different from the previous ones in that here both Moses and the elders of Israel are making the charges to the people – perhaps a signal that Moses is preparing to pass the mantle of leadership. They tell the people that, once they have crossed over the Jordan they are to build a monument inscribed with the Law Moses has just outlined for them; then they are to make sacrifices and have a feast to rejoice that the Lord has given them the land.
9-10: Now Moses and the Levitical priests tell the people that “This very day you have become the people of the Lord your God.” The “this very day” apparently refers to the day they cross the Jordan.
11-26;Moses outlines a ritual they are to follow: half the tribes should gather on Mt. Ebal, the other half on Mt. Gerizim. The Levites should then declare aloud 12 curses – 1) on idol makers, 2) on dishonoring parents, 3)on moving boundary markers, 4)on misleading the blind, 5) on discriminating against aliens, widows and orphans, 6-9) on sexual immorality, 10) on murder, 11) on bribery, 12) on any disobedience. Notice that many of the curses are on acts that will never be made known – God will apply the curse whether the person gets caught or not.
Day 181: Deuteronomy 28 (June 30)
1-6: Now Moses tells them what they can expect if they, as a community, are obedient: every aspect of life in ancient Israel is covered by the four blessings given here.
7-14: The blessings are fleshed out a little more prominently here. The general benefit of obedience is security from enemies and fruitfulness – in the field, in the livestock, in the people.
15-24: The blessings are balanced by corresponding curses if they are disobedient. (The 12 curses in the last chapter had to do with specific altercations. Here they are more general.)
25-37: The curses continue – Moses really wants to emphasize the importance of obedience! In these verses the curses seem to be that they will suffer the same deprivations and horrors as the people of the land they are going to displace, combined with the plagues the Egyptians suffered on their account.
38-44: The tables are turned if they disobey. Fruitfulness will be taken away from the ground and from the people. Their station will descend lower and lower vis-à-vis the other peoples.
45-57: Now, instead of “if you disobey” Moses is saying “you will disobey, and these will be the consequences.” Then he describes what appears to be the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, an event still centuries away. The depravities and dehumanizing effects of a prolonged siege of the city are described in sickening detail.
58-68: If they forget the commandments, he tells them, the clock will turn back: they will suffer the plagues of Egypt, their numbers will dwindle until only few of them will remain; they will be scattered through the world. Then the ultimate insult: they will return to Egypt and offer themselves up as slaves, and be turned down!
Day 182: Deuteronomy 29 (July 1)
1: In the Hebrew Bible, verse 1 is placed at the end of chapter 28 as verse 69. I like that placement better because it is then clearer that the “these are the words of the covenant” refer to the previous chapters and not to the following ones. We are told that this is an additional covenant to the one at Mt. Horeb, not a replacement covenant.
2-9: Here begins the third and final speech of Moses – his farewell to the people. He begins by reminding them of their history – their time in Egypt, their wilderness trek, their opposition from Sihon and Og, and the agreement to allow three tribes to remain on the east side of the Jordan (provided they send troops to help the other tribes subdue the land).
10-13: A new covenant is being ratified with all the people – men, women and children, and even foreigners who live among them.
14-15: The covenant is being made by Moses with God, on behalf of the people – both those who are present and those “who are not here with us today,” perhaps referring to generations unborn.
16-29: Moses seems to be particularly concerned about the religions of the people of Canaan. He again warns them to stay away from the other gods, and gives them horrible descriptions of the consequences of forsaking the covenant with God.
Day 183: Deuteronomy 30 (July 2)
1-5: Moses assures them that, even if they fall away, God will be willing to restore them if they return to the covenant with God.
6-10: God will again bless their fruitfulness – of the body, the land and the livestock – if they return to God and obey the laws and ordinances of the covenant.
11-14: Here we are getting very close to the idea of God as Emmanuel – God with us – as Moses tells them that the word is “in your mouth and in your heart.”
15-20: To obey is choosing life. To disobey is choosing death. You might want to spend a little time contemplating this!
Day 184: Deuteronomy 31 (July 3)
1-6: Moses, now 120 years old, concludes his speech. He ends by reassuring them that God would go before them and would never forsake them or fail them. (We Methodists call this “prevenient grace”. God goes before all of us, prepares the way for us, and waits for us around every corner of life.)
7-8: Moses presents Joshua to the people and tells Joshua that he will be the one to go with them, but emphasizes that it is God who goes before them.
9-13: Moses, always looking for ways to perpetuate the nation for whom he has served as midwife, gives them another ritual of rememberance: every 7th year during the Festival of Tabernacles (Succoth), the priests and the elders are to gather the people and read the law. It is not clear whether the reference is to this second covenant in the previous chapters, or to the whole of the Torah. Nehemiah 8 describes just such a reading, and it takes them six hours.
14-22: God summons Moses and Joshua to the Tent of Meeting and reveals to Moses what will happen in the future. The people will indeed forsake the covenant and suffer all the punishment of the curses Moses has warned them about. As an additional help in bringing them back to God, God tells Moses to write a song and teach it to them so that when the bad times comes, someone will remember this song and the people will thus be reminded of their calling.
23-29: God commissions Joshua. Moses writes the Law and instructs them to keep it beside the ark of the covenant. He tells them that he knows they will rebel once he’s gone (of course he knows – God just told him!). He orders them to assemble the elders and officials so he can recite the words of the song to them.
Day 185: Deuteronomy 32 (July 4)
1-3: A typical introduction to a Hebrew song.
4-6: He contrasts God’s fidelity with Israel’s perversity.
7- 9: Remember the distant past: God divided humanity and gave Jacob (Israel) a portion.
10-14: Remember the recent past: God took care of them in the wilderness. God is presented as their protector and provider of all their needs. In poetic hyperbole, verses 13 and 14 describe the abundance with which God sustained them.
15-18: Jeshurun is a rare name for Israel (Deut. 33:5, 25, and Isaiah 44:2 are the other occurrences). They grew fat, but in spite of God’s provision, Moses says (or perhaps because of it?), they turned against God and began worshiping other deities.
19-27: Moses describes God’s anger at their apostasy. Verse 24 recalls the story of the poisonous snakes that killed so many of them. God will send other “enemies,” he says, to systematically destroy them. The mention of streets and chambers in verse 25 indicates that God’s anger has extended to the time when they began to settle towns and villages in Moab. God pauses in verse 27, and considers that the destruction of Israel might give their enemies reason to think they were responsible for Israel’s defeat rather than God.
28-33: The nations that God has used to punish Israel, however, are mistaken. After all, how could they think they could be successful unless God allowed it?
34-35: Because these other nations are so cruel, God will then turn and punish them.
36-38: God will vindicate Israel; and challenges their enemies’ gods.
39-42: The poem continues with a powerful declaration that God is God and no other gods can stand before him.
43: The poem ends with a call to praise God – even the other gods should praise God!
44-47: Now we are told that both Moses and Joshua gave the song to Israel: Joshua is being primed as the next leader. Moses exhorts the people again to be faithful to the covenant law.
48-52: So, on the very day that Moses sang his song recounting their past, God tells him it’s all over. Up the mountain he must go, there to die. He can see the land, but he can’t enter it, all because he and Aaron insulted God ‘way back at Meribah. You may want to review Numbers 20:1-13.
Day 186: Deuteronomy 33 (July 5)
1-5: The last chapter contained the words God gave Moses for the tribes. This chapter has Moses blessing the tribes in his own words. Much in these five verses is difficult to translate, and you may find a wide variety of renditions if you consult various versions of the Bible. Some of what is said here sounds like someone speaking about Moses (verse 4), rather than by him. Still, the stage is set for the following blessings: Israel is God’s favorite.
6-25: The blessing of the twelve tribes. Their individual identities gradually pass away through the years that follow, but the memory of twelve tribes is preserved. Simeon, the second son of Jacob (Leah was his mother) is not mentioned here, but the number 12 is preserved by dividing the tribe of Joseph into two – Ephraim and Manasseh. The most prominent tribes in later history were: Judah, which became a kingdom of its own after the reign of Solomon; Ephraim, the most influential tribe in the north (after Solomon’s reign the northern kingdom of Israel was sometimes referred to as Ephraim); and Levi, from which the priesthood was formed.
8-11: Levi gets the longest “blessing,” probably because of their significance in maintaining the worship life of Israel and thus the covenant with God. Much of Moses’ blessing alludes to military conquest, and to the wealth of wildlife in the land.
26-29: After blessing the tribes, Moses returns to the praise of God, and ends with a blessing for the collective people of Israel.
The blessing served to give the community an identity – it told them who they were. In some ways it is a natural aspect of family life; our lives are shaped to some extent by the identity given to us – spoken out, even – by our parents and grandparents, etc. Perhaps you can think of examples from your own family history.
Day 187: Deuteronomy 34 (July 6)
1-8: The death of Moses is almost anticlimactic, reported briefly after having been described in greater detail several times throughout the book. His burial place remains a mystery – probably a good thing. The people mourn him for 30 days, the same as for Aaron (Numbers 20:29).
9: Joshua becomes the new leader. He is chosen because he is “full of the spirit of wisdom,” and because Moses had “laid his hands on him.” Christian belief in the Trinity is partially informed by passages like this one in the Old Testament that testify to the presence of God as Holy Spirit, influencing the lives of people in various ways. Paul, in the New Testament, would later speculate on various “gifts of the spirit” – one of which is wisdom.
10-12: The book signs off by emphasizing the mighty deeds of Moses.
YOU HAVE FINISHED THE TORAH (THE LAW), ALSO CALLED THE PENTATEUCH (THE FIVE BOOKS). GIVE YOURSELF A TREAT!