Thinking on Scripture with Dr. Steven R. Cook
Deuteronomy 4:32-40

Deuteronomy 4:32-40

January 2, 2021

     In this pericope it is revealed that Yahweh is unique in all history, having been motivated by love, He chose to deliver His enslaved people from Egyptian bondage and bring them to the Promised Land, and Israel was to take it to heart and obey His commands so it would go well with them. The pericope is presented as a history lesson (Deut 4:32-34), followed by a theological lesson (Deut 4:35), then another history lesson (Deut 4:36-38), a second theological lesson (Deut 4:39), concluding with a practical lesson (Deut 4:40).[1] Moses calls his audience to think back on their history “concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it?” (Deut 4:32). Moses asks them to consider several things. First, “Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived?” (Deut 4:33). The answer, after consideration, was a resounding “no.” The second question was, “Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?” (Deut 4:34). Again, the clear answer was “no.” In fact, a study of pagan deities shows they operated out of self-interest, attacking other nations merely to expand their territory, not for the interest of their worshippers. But Yahweh is different. He is the only true God; there are no others (see Isa 45:5-6). And, He invaded Egypt, the superpower of the day, demanding His people be set free from their slavery to worship Him, and humbling Egypt when Pharaoh refused, and bringing Israel out to Himself to be a special people. Moses provides a theological lesson from these facts, saying, “To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him” (Deut 4:35). What Israel was “shown” was to lead them to what “they might know”, namely, the Lord is God is unique, with no other like Him (sui generis). God’s acts were self-revelatory, for the purpose of making Himself known to a specific group of people, Israel, that they “might know” His special uniqueness in all history, and especially toward them as His chosen people. Moses provides a second history lesson, saying, “Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire” (Deut 4:36). The phrase, “out of the heavens”, means God condescended to the earth to let His people “hear His voice” and to “see His great fire” at Mount Sinai. The “discipline" mentioned here is not punitive, but didactic for training purposes, that they might know and obey Him. And what was God’s motivation for His deliverance and self-disclosure? Moses states, “Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today” (Deut 4:37-38). Love and choice belong together. “In this brief motive clause occur two of the most covenantally significant words in the Old Testament, ‘love’ and ‘choose.’ As technical terms they are virtually synonymous as a great many scholars have put beyond doubt. In other words, ‘to love’ is to choose, and ‘to choose” is to love.’[2] God’s love (אָהֵב aheb) is an important theological motif that runs throughout Deuteronomy (See Deut 7:7-8, 13; 10:15, 18; 23:5). Although love has a wide semantic range in the Old Testament, “in Deuteronomy ‘love’ denotes ‘covenant commitment demonstrated in actions that serve the interests of the other person.’ This statement is revolutionary, since the notion of love is virtually absent from the vocabulary of divine-human relationships in the ancient orient.”[3] The idea of commitment-love carries into the New Testament where Jesus tells His disciples, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Love for Jesus means we are committed to Him above all else, and this commitment is manifest in a life of obedience to Him and service to others. Biblical love is not an emotion; rather, it’s a choice to commit ourselves to another person, a choice to seek God’s best in their lives. Love is manifest by prayer, sharing the Gospel with the lost, sharing biblical truth to edify believers, open handed giving to the needy, and supporting Christian ministries that do God’s work, just to name a few. From God’s past acts of self-revelation and deliverance, Israel was to “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other” (Deut 4:39). Here, for the second time, Moses drives the point that God is unique, in a class all by Himself (sui generis), for there are no other gods that exist. And what was Israel to do with this knowledge? They were to take it to heart and live as God intended. Moses draws a practical lesson, saying, “So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today” (Deut 4:40a). Here is the often-repeated pattern throughout Scripture that knowledge precedes application. We cannot live what we do not know, for learning His Word necessarily precedes living in His will. And what’s the benefit? Moses tells Israel, “that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time” (Deut 4:40b). Not only would God bless His people for their obedience, but would also bless their children. Godliness results in benefits, both to the person who walks with the Lord, and to those connected to her/him.

  • "Moses appeals to his people to obey the will of Yahweh for their own good and for the good of their descendants. If they will keep alive the memory of Yahweh’s gracious actions, if their theology remains pure, and if their response is right, God’s mission for them will be fulfilled. The land has indeed been promised them as an eternal possession, but enjoyment of the promise is conditional. Each generation must commit itself anew to being the people of God in God’s land for God’s glory."[4]

     Israel was blessed by God’s loving choice of them as a special people; which love was manifest in His great acts of deliverance in their past. Such a record of God’s greatness was intended to help motivate them to obedience. “The best way to motivate people to obey God is to expound His character and conduct, as Moses did here. Note too that Moses appealed to the self-interest of the Israelites: ‘. . . that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land . . .’ (v. 40; cf. 5:16; 6:3, 18; 12:25, 28; 19:13; 22:7; Prov. 3:1–2, 16; 10:27).”[5]

     As the Church, there is similarity between God’s deliverance of Israel and us. Like Israel, we were once enslaved in a kingdom, the kingdom of darkness over which Satan rules (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; 1 John 5:19), and we were helpless to liberate ourselves (Rom 5:6). But God reached into Satan’s kingdom and disrupted his domain, calling out a people for Himself from among those who were enslaved, and this disruption occurred at the cross, where having “disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him [Christ]” (Col 2:15). Our freedom came when we responded positively to the message of the cross, believing “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). The result was God “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). Our deliverance is complete, “For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7), and we have been redeemed by the precious “blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:19). And now we are “children of God” (John 1:12), brothers and sisters to the King of kings and Lord of lords, and as such, we are encouraged “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). And we look forward to future rewards for our life of faithfulness, knowing we do our work “for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col 3:23-24).

 

[1] This observation is taken from Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 142.

[2] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 132.

[3] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, 144.

[4] Ibid., 144.

[5] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Dt 4:32.

Deuteronomy 4:25-31

Deuteronomy 4:25-31

January 2, 2021

     In this pericope Moses warns Israel they will experience exile-punishment if they turn away from the Lord and pursue idols (Deut 4:25-28), but also restoration and blessing if they humble themselves afterward and return to the Lord in obedience (Deut 4:29-31). Moses knows it’s possible for God’s people to be seduced by the culture around them and to turn away from the Lord and serve idols for selfish reasons. He anticipates a time when they will be in the land long enough to have children and grandchildren (Deut 4:25a), and realizes the possibility they will “act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD your God so as to provoke Him to anger” (Deut 4:25b). The word evil (רָע ra) has the definite article (הָרַע ha-ra) and refers to a specific kind of evil, the worst kind of evil, namely, idolatry. “That this idiom commonly occurs with the article (“the evil”) suggests a particular kind of evil; violating the Supreme Command (“You shall have no other gods before me,” 5:7) by manufacturing competing images of worship, which “provoke” Yahweh’s ire.”[1] Moses warns his people that if they commit this most egregious sin, God will summon them before His heavenly court and call the whole creation to witness against them (Deut 4:26a), specifying the judgment, saying, “you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed” (Deut 4:26b). As the supreme Judge of all the earth (Gen 18:25), God will execute His punishment, and “will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD drives you” (Deut 4:27). The punishment will consist of giving them what they want, saying, “there you will serve gods, the work of man's hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell” (Deut 4:28).

  • "In our text idolatry involves reverential acts of homage and submission to objects other than God—objects made either by human hands or by God’s own hands. While modern Westerners tend not to create concrete objects to be worshiped, we are constantly crafting new substitutes for God. Indeed an idol may be defined as anything (whether concrete or abstract) that rivals God—anything to which we submit and which we serve in place of God himself. The stuff of idols is not necessarily bad. The sun, moon, and stars are good; they govern the universe. Wood and stones are good and useful for limitless projects and tasks. But when we pervert their function and treat them as ultimate things on which our well-being and destiny depend, they rival God—and that makes them an idol… Idols are not necessarily physical. Many have identified money, sex, and power as pervasive idols in our day. However, the same may be true of our spouses, our children, our hobbies, our books. If we are unwilling to give them up for the sake of the kingdom, they have become idols and God is robbed of the exclusive worship he deserves."[2]

     Sadly, Moses knew God’s people would do this (Deut 31:29), and by their own choice, bring upon themselves God’s judgment. As centuries passed and Israel repeatedly turned away from God and worshipped idols and engaged in all forms of corruption (even child sacrifice), the Lord eventually removed them from the land and sent them into captivity. First, the ten northern tribes of Israel were destroyed in 722 BC by the Assyrians, then the two southern tribes of Judah were taken into captivity in 586 BC by the Babylonians. But God, who righteously judges His arrogant people, will also be merciful to them if/when they humble themselves and return to Him in obedience. Moses said, “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice” (Deut 4:29-30). If Israelites were to find themselves living in captivity in a pagan land and humble themselves and return to the Lord, seeking Yahweh alone, He promises they would be restored to the place of blessing. The reason for God’s promise of restored blessing was twofold. First, because “the LORD your God is a compassionate God” Deut 4:31a). Compassion is a chief characteristic of the Lord, as revealed in Scripture (Ex 34:6; 2 Ch 30:9; Neh 9:17, 31; Psa 78:38; 103:8; 111:4; 116:5; Joel 2:13; Jon 4:2). Second, “He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them” (Deut 4:31). The Lord has integrity and will keep His covenant promises to bless His people if they abide by the terms of the contract-relationship. The phrase, “the covenant with your fathers,” refers to the bilateral covenant made with the exodus generation (Lev 26:44-46), not the unilateral covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen 17:7-8). This understanding is reinforced by the language of the chapter, specifically when Moses mentions Israel entering into covenant with God at Mount Horeb/Sinai (see Deut 4:10-13; cf. Jer 34:13). “When God established His covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, Moses and the Jewish elders ate before God on the mountain (Ex. 24:11). The terms of the covenant were simple: if Israel obeyed God’s laws, He would bless them; it they disobeyed, He would chasten them.”[3]

     A unilateral covenant is an unconditional contract in which one party promises to do something for another without any stipulations. A bilateral covenant is a conditional contract in which one party promises to bless or curse based on obedience or disobedience to specific commands. With the bilateral covenant, blessings and cursings were built into it, so the Israelites would know with certainty what to expect from God depending on how they treated their relationship with Him. This does not mean the Israelites could manipulate God to do their bidding; rather, it simply meant He was predictable and would do what He promised. A healthy relationship relies on predictable behavior.

 

[1] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 132.

[2] Ibid., 139–140.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 33.

Deuteronomy 4:15-24

Deuteronomy 4:15-24

December 13, 2020

     The main point of this pericope is Moses’ warning to Israel to watch themselves carefully and stay committed to the Lord, lest, through idolatry, they forfeit God’s blessing and experience His judgment. Moses opens this section with a warning for Israel to be very careful to maintain their relationship with the Lord, reminding them, “you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire” (Deut 4:15). Israel’s experience at Mount Sinai was to be instructive, for they had not seen God, and were told not to make an image of anything they thought represented Him, for this would be a false representation and would diminish His attribute of transcendence. The Bible is very clear that “God is Spirit” and does not have physical form (John 4:24). To reduce God to an idol would be to think like the pagans around them, who sought to encapsulate their deities in the form of a physical image. The danger for Israel was that they would adopt the pagan mindset and “act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure” (Deut 4:16a), whether that of a person (Deut 4:16b), or “the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, [or] the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth.” (Deut 4:17-18). There was also a danger they would lift up their eyes “to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven” (Deut 4:19). These were activities prevalent in the culture of Egypt, from which they’d come, as well as activities of the culture of Canaan, to which they were going. Moses reminded them the Lord had taken them “out of the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be a people for His own possession, as today” (Deut 4:20). As a means of inculcation, Moses mentions God’s deliverance of Israel out of Egypt at least seventeen times in his messages to Israel (Deut 1:27; 4:20, 37; 5:6; 6:12, 21; 7:8; 8:14; 9:12; 9:26; 13:5, 10; 15:15; 16:1; 20:1; 26:8; 29:25). This was to reinforce their prior liberation from slavery, suffering, and idolatry. Moses’ desire was to entrench God’s past deliverance from Egypt into their consciousness and firmly establish their new identity as His special people, who bear a special responsibility before Him and others to live holy lives consistent with His character. Sadly, the first generation of Israelites kept wanting to return to Egypt, and future generations persisted in forgetting God’s deliverance and pursuing idols to worship. Sharing from his personal experience, Moses mentions for the third time his failure to obey the Lord and the consequences that followed, which included God’s refusal to let him enter the land (Deut 4:21-22; cf. Deut 1:37; 3:26-27).

  • "The inheritance could be obtained by faith plus obedience, but it could also be lost by disobedience. Even Moses was excluded from the land of Canaan (i.e., the inheritance) because of his disobedience (Deuteronomy 4:21-22). Clearly Moses will be in heaven, but he forfeited his earthly inheritance. Failure to enter Canaan did not necessarily equate with failure to have eternal life; if so, Canaan provides a poor type of heaven. Even though Israel had become God’s firstborn son (Exodus 4:22-23), the entire wilderness generation, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, forfeited the inheritance due to the firstborn. God disinherited them, and they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and most of them died there."[1]

     For a second time in this pericope, Moses cautions them, saying, “So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the LORD your God has commanded you” (Deut 4:23). The command for Israel to “watch yourselves” had to do with idolatry in both places (vs. 15 and 23), which Moses reveals is synonymous with forgetting the covenant. “This connection is almost self-evident, for the very essence of the covenant is the truth that there is only one God, the Lord, and the recognition and worship of any other is nothing other than high treason, covenant violation of the grossest kind (cf. Deut 6:4–5).”[2] Idolatry is a sin that degrades God by reducing Him to the form of a creature and brings His judgment upon those who practice it. The reason God judges is because He “is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut 4:24), who does not share His glory with others (Deut 5:9; 32:16, 21; Isa 42:8; 48:11). “God’s jealousy is His zeal for righteousness that springs from His holiness. He would not tolerate Israel’s allegiance to any other god. The connotation of pettiness that is present in the English word ‘jealousy’ is totally absent from the Hebrew idea.”[3] Healthy jealousy seeks to protect what is properly loved, such as when a husband seeks to protect his wife from harm, or a mother to protect her children from what may injure them. God’s people can know His blessing and avoid His judgments if we live holy lives as He prescribes.

  • "We’re called to be a separated people who are not conformed to this world (2 Cor 6:14–7:1; Rom 12:1–2), and yet the trend today is for churches to pattern ministry after what the world is doing. The philosophy is that the church will attract more people if the lost feel more comfortable with the services. The tragedy is that the sanctuary becomes a theater and “ministry” becomes entertainment. But Scripture and church history make it clear that what Campbell Morgan said is true: “The church did the most for the world when the church was the least like the world.” Jesus didn’t compromise with the world and yet He attracted sinners and ministered effectively to them (Luke 15:1–2). Unless we are a separated people, devoted wholly to the Lord, we can never follow His example."[4]

 

[1] Joseph C. Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of the Servant Kings, 4th Edition (Houston, TX: Grace Theology Press, 2018).

[2] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 125.

[3] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Dt 4:15.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 32.

Deuteronomy 4:1-14

Deuteronomy 4:1-14

December 12, 2020

     The main point of this pericope is that Israel was to listen to God’s statutes and judgments, obey them, and teach them to their children and grandchildren so the covenant people could take possession of the land and live prosperous lives. This section marks a literary turning point from historical review to giving instruction for living, drawing from Israel’s historical failings up to this point. Moses now focuses of the statutes and judgments so that they would “live and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you” (Deut 4:1b). Statutes likely refers to written laws, and judgments to case laws. Israel was not to modify these statues and judgments in any way (Deut 4:2). Moses recalled to their memory a recent event in which some of the second-generation Israelites had already been disobedient at Baal-peor and worshipped idols (Deut 4:3; cf. Num 25:1-9), and God judged them for their rebellion (Deut 4:4). In contrast, Israel was to learn and keep God’s statutes and judgements which God transmitted through Moses so the people would possess the land of Canaan and not forfeit it as their parents had done (Deut 4:5). Israel will show their wisdom and understanding when they keep and follow God’s laws, which others will see and acknowledge (Deut 4:6). Speaking rhetorically, Moses asks if any nation has a god who is as near to its people as Yahweh was to Israel, who answers when they call (Deut 4:7). Or if there was a nation with statutes and judgments as wise as those transmitted from Yahweh through Moses (Deut 4:8)? The implied answer is no! Moses then warns them, saying, “Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life” (Deut 4:9a). Israel had an obligation in the relationship which was not to forget what they had seen and learned. The word forget translates the Hebrew verb שָׁכַח shakach, and is used by Moses to refer to the danger that one invites to oneself when God’s commands are ignored (Deut 8:11); a danger that is most likely to occur when His people become prosperous (Deut 8:12-14), and turn to idolatry (Deut 8:19). Not only was Israel to preserve and obey God’s commands, but they were to model and teach them to their children (Deut 4:9b). Though Israel’s priests had a special responsibility to teach God’s Word, the parents were called to teach it to their children (cf. Deut 6:6-7; 20-25; 11:19). Passing on God’s Word was very important, for Israel was always only one generation away from forfeiting God’s blessings if they failed to obey and transmit God’s Word to the next generation. Moses reminds his audience that they had personally witnessed God’s presence and heard His voice at Mount Sinai (Deut 4:10-11), and it was at that place where “He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone” (Deut 4:13). The Ten Commandments refer to the objective laws that reflect God’s moral character, and what He expected from His people if they were to walk with Him and know His blessings. Moses informed them, “The LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it” (Deut 4:14). Success and blessing for Israel meant learning and living God’s Word. Of course, this assumes positive volition on the part of His people and the transmission of His laws from one generation to the next through the institution of the family.

Deuteronomy 3:23-29

Deuteronomy 3:23-29

December 6, 2020

     In this pericope, Moses explains why he was not permitted to enter the land of Canaan (Deut 3:23-27), and how Joshua was selected by God as Israel’s new theocratic administrator (Deut 3:28-29). The military victories of Sihon and Og were objective measures of God’s working in and through His people as they advanced toward Canaan (Deut 2:16—3:22). Moses was undoubtedly excited to see God moving His people toward Canaan. Knowing that God is characteristically gracious and merciful (Ex 34:6; cf. Neh 9:17; Psa 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jer 3:12-13), it is likely Moses thought there was some hope that God would change His mind about letting Moses enter the land. Moses revealed his prayer, saying, “I also pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying, ‘O Lord GOD, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as Yours?’” (Deut 3:23-24). Moses then asked God, “Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon” (Deut 3:25). But God’s answer was not what Moses wanted to hear, as he explains God’s answer, saying, “But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the LORD said to me, ‘Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter’” (Deut 3:26). The reason God was angry with Moses was because he let Israel’s constant complaining upset him, and in his anger, he disobeyed the Lord’s command (see Num 20:1-13).

  • "God would not listen to Moses, that is, He would not grant his request. In fact the Hebrew sentence implies that Moses had kept on asking God for permission, and that God became “furious” (an intensive form of ‘āḇar) with him. This conversation reveals something of the intimacy of Moses’ relationship with God."[1]
  • "The lawgiver’s urgent appeal was to no avail, however, for the Lord was angry with Moses “because of” (lĕmaʿan; cf. 1:37) the people. He does not (and cannot) shirk responsibility for his intemperate smiting of the rock in the desert (Num 20:9–11), but he was insistent that what he did was motivated by their incessant complaining and by his desire to meet their demands for water. In sharp words of rebuke (“enough of this!”), the Lord forbade further discussion (v. 26). The matter was settled."[2]

     Though God could have granted Moses’ request and allowed him to enter the land, He chose not to, telling Moses not to ask again.[3] The Lord is free to be gracious to whomever He pleases, saying, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” (Ex 33:19). But God is also a righteous Judge, dispensing judgment according to omniscience, wisdom, and sovereignty. God then told Moses, “Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan” (Deut 3:27). Though the Lord refused Moses’ request to enter the land of Canaan, the Lord allowed him to taste some of Israel’s military conquest. He also allowed Moses to see the land from the top of Mount Pisgah, with the reassurance that his leadership efforts would not die with him. The Lord’s people would go forward.

     God then instructed Moses, saying, “But charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him, for he shall go across at the head of this people, and he will give them as an inheritance the land which you will see” (Deut 3:28). God had selected Joshua as Moses’ successor. As Israel’s new theocratic administrator, Joshua would need encouragement to do God’s will, and Moses would be the one to do it (cf. Deut 1:38; 31:1-8, 23). Moses concludes, saying, “So we remained in the valley opposite Beth-peor” (Deut 3:29). Though not what he wanted, Moses accepted God’s answer and remained near that place until his death (cf. Deut 4:22; 34:1-6). But Moses was not idle; rather, he preached messages to Israel, which provide the content of the book of Deuteronomy. With the closing of this first part of his address, Moses then exposited the laws he’d given to the first generation of Israelites. Warren Wiersbe comments: 

  • "All that Moses said in the first part of his farewell address prepared the way for his exposition and application of God’s law, for history and responsibility go together. God had done mighty things for the people, both in blessing them and in chastening them, and the people of Israel had a responsibility to love God and obey His Word. Throughout this address, Moses will frequently remind the Jews that they were a privileged people, the people of God, separated unto the Lord from all the nations of the earth. It’s when we forget our high calling that we descend into low living. The church today needs to catch up on the past and be reminded of all that the Lord has done for His people—and all that His people have done and not done in return for His blessings. If a new generation of believers is to march into the future in victory, they need to get back to their roots and learn again the basics of what it means to be the people of God."[4]

 

[1] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 268.

[2] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 111–112.

[3] On another occasion, God instructed Jeremiah not to pray (Jer 7:16; 11:14; 14:11).

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 24.

Deuteronomy 3:1-22

Deuteronomy 3:1-22

December 5, 2020

     In this pericope, Moses recounts the historical defeat of Og (Deut 3:1-3), reveals the territory obtained by their victory (Deut 3:4-11), and explains how the land east of the Jordan was allotted to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh (Deut 3:12-22). As Moses and the Israelites advanced northward, they were met by Og, king of Bashan and his people who came out against them for war (Deut 3:1). This was a display of hostility toward God and His people. But the Lord instructed Moses to look to Him and to reflect on His past faithfulness in which He had delivered them in a similar situation, when He defeated Sihon, king of the Amorites (Deut 3:2). By looking to God and reflecting on His past deliverances, Moses’ faith was strengthened and he could move forward in confidence rather than fear. Confidence is not necessarily the absence of fear, but the overcoming of fear to do God’s will. As Moses and Israel went forward, God delivered Og and his people into their hand and all their cities were taken as spoils of military conquest (Deut 3:3-4, 7-8). There was no fortification nor human resistance that could stop the advance of God’s people (Deut 3:5-6). We then have a description of the territory that was taken (Deut 3:9-10), as well as a comment about Og’s bed, that was apparently kept as an historical attraction to demonstrate his physical size (Deut 3:11). Having taken possession of the land of the Amorites east of the Jordan River, Moses then divided the land north of the Valley of Arnon to the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (Deut 3:12-13, 16-17). Reuben and Gad were two of the sons of Jacob (Gen 29:32; 30:11), and the tribe of Joseph had split into two groups that were named after his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen 48:8-16). Special mention is given to Jair, a son of Manasseh, and Machir, a subtribe of Manasseh, because of their great courage in battle (Deut. 3:14-15; cf. Num 32:39-41). Though all Israel were faithful to the Lord, apparently some fought harder than others and they were blessed in a special way with more land. The tribes of Manasseh, Reuben and Gad requested to live east of the Jordan River, and Moses granted their request, but only on the condition they would help their brothers complete the military conquest into Canaan beyond the Jordan River (Deut 3:18). They would help their fellow Israelites by leaving their wives, children, and livestock behind (Deut 3:19). After victory was obtained, they could return to their own land (Deut 3:20). We know from the book of Joshua that they were faithful to help their brothers (Josh 22:1-6). Moses then encouraged Joshua, his theocratic successor, to contemplate God’s past faithfulness and draw strength from it as they moved forward into Canaan (Deut 3:21). By thinking divine viewpoint, Joshua would “not fear them” (Deut 3:22a), as he would realize “the LORD your God is the one fighting for you” (Deut 3:22b). The defeat of Sihon and Og would have sent a message to the residents of Canaan that would have instilled fear in them, which is what God intended (Deut 11:25; Josh 2:8-11). In addition, these victories over Sihon and Og were designed to prepare Israel for what lay ahead and to give them confidence that God was with them to defeat their enemies. What was required of Moses and the Israelites was to obey God’s commands, trust Him at His Word, and face the enemy with courage.

Holy War Against the Canaanites

Holy War Against the Canaanites

November 21, 2020

Deuteronomy 2:34 mentions, for the first time in this book, the subject of holy war. The words “utterly destroyed” translate the Hebrew חָרָם charam, which in this passage connotes something “devoted to destruction.”[1] Leon Wood states, “Usually ḥāram means a ban for utter destruction, the compulsory dedication of something which impedes or resists God’s work, which is considered to be accursed before God.”[2] Eugene Merrill comments:

  • "Nothing is more integral to the waging of holy war than the placing of conquered lands and their peoples under ḥērem. This noun, derived from the verb ḥāram, “to exterminate,” refers to a condition in which persons and things became the personal possession of the Lord by virtue of his inherent sovereignty and his appropriation of them by conquest. They could either be left alive and intact (Lev 27:21, 28; Josh 6:19) or eradicated (as here; cf. Num 21:2–3; Josh 6:21). In the passage at hand, it seems that the physical structures of the cities themselves were spared and that only the populations were decimated."[3]

     Though the idea of holy war can be difficult for us to digest (which in this context includes putting children to death), several things should be considered. First, the command was from the Lord Himself (Deut 2:34; 7:1-2; 20:17). Because God is omniscient (Psa 139:1-6), He knew the situation completely. Because the Lord is perfectly righteous (Gen 18:25; Psa 7:11), His command was just and fair. And, because God is gracious and patient (Psa 103:8), His command to execute the Canaanites was not reckless. Divine judgment meant God had determined the Canaanite culture was not reformable. Second, the Canaanites were by no means innocent. Rather, they were antitheocratic and hostile to God and His people and comprised the most corrupt culture in the world at that time. For hundreds of years the Canaanites practiced gross sexual immorality, which included all forms of incest (Lev 18:1-20; 20:10-12, 14, 17, 19-21), homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13), and sex with animals (Lev 18:23; 20:15-16). They also engaged in the occult (Lev 20:6), were hostile toward parents (Lev 20:9), and offered their children as sacrifices to Molech (Lev 18:21; 20:1-5; cf. Deut 12:31; 18:10). Third, God had been gracious to the Canaanite people for four hundred years (Gen 15:14-16), giving them ample time to turn from their sin. Though God is very gracious and slow to anger (Psa 145:8-9), this does not last forever and eventually His righteous judgment falls upon those who deserve it (Deut 9:4-5). Fourth, Moses offered Sihon, King of Heshbon, peaceful terms if he would let the Israelites pass through his land, even offering to pay for whatever food and water they consumed, but Sihon rejected Moses’ offer and therefore brought judgment upon himself and his people. Fifth, the Amorites could have moved out and avoided the conflict by settling in another area. Sixth, God could have destroyed the people Himself, like He’d done in the global flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Egypt; however, it was His will the Canaanites be removed by military means and as a test of obedience to His people. Seventh, those who turned to God would have been spared, like Rahab and her family (Josh 2:1-14). Eighth, the killing of the Canaanite children may have spared them from growing up in a corrupt and hostile culture, “For if the child died before reaching the age of accountability it is likely that his or her eternal destiny would have been made secure in heaven.”[4] Ninth, this is the only time in the Bible and history that this command was given and was never repeated to other generations. Tenth, God’s command for holy war is not applicable for Christians, for God is not working to establish a theocratic kingdom on earth as He was through Israel.

     God warned Israel that if they failed to execute His judgment upon the Canaanites, they would become a corrupting cancer that would infect them (Deut 20:17-18; cf. Ex 23:33; Josh 23:12-13). Israel’s actions would have a direct impact on future generations. We know historically that Israel failed to obey the Lord (see the book of Judges), and the corrupt culture spread among God’s people, who themselves began to practice all the evil things God hates (Deut 12:31). Because Israel eventually became corrupt, He then destroyed and expelled them from the land by means of military defeat from their enemies. This happened when the ten northern tribes of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC and when the two southern tribes of Judah fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC.

 

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 354.

[2] Leon J. Wood, “744 חָרַם,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 324.

[3] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, 102.

[4] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 276.

Deuteronomy 2:24-37

Deuteronomy 2:24-37

November 21, 2020

     The main point of this pericope is that God began to deliver Israel’s enemies into their hands to defeat them as they advanced toward the Promised Land. In this section God directed His people to begin to take the land and drive out the residents north of the valley of Arnon, saying, “Look! I have given Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land into your hand; begin to take possession and contend with him in battle” (Deut 2:24). And God would go ahead of His people, informing them, “This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the peoples everywhere under the heavens, who, when they hear the report of you, will tremble and be in anguish because of you” (Deu 2:25). Originally, Moses offered to travel through the land of Kedemoth peacefully, telling Sihon king of Heshbon, the Israelites would stay on the highway and pay for any food or water his people were willing to sell (Deut 2:26-29), but the text informs us that “Sihon king of Heshbon was not willing for us to pass through his land” (Deut 2:30a). Sihon’s rejection of peace meant he brought judgment upon himself. Moses then provides the divine side of the reason, saying, “for the LORD your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, in order to deliver him into your hand, as he is today” (Deut 2:30b). God, in His omniscience, knew Sihon and his people were hostile and hopelessly unrepentant, and He decided to dispense judgment, first by hardening the king’s already hostile heart, and then by military defeat. Before the military fighting began, the Lord told Moses, “See, I have begun to deliver Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to occupy, that you may possess his land” (Deut 2:31). The Amorites were enemies of God and His people and were “a nation of hopelessly unrepentant squatters who had to be removed from the lands promised to Israel’s forefathers (cf. Gen 15:16; Ex 3:8). Thus, the command was to engage Sihon, king of the Amorites, in battle and liberate the land that he illegitimately occupied.”[1] Moses then reveals what follows, saying, “Then Sihon with all his people came out to meet us in battle at Jahaz. The LORD our God delivered him over to us, and we defeated him with his sons and all his people” (Deut 2:32-33). After defeating them, Moses states, “So we captured all his cities at that time and utterly destroyed the men, women and children of every city. We left no survivor” (Deut 2:34). The Israelites took the cities and animals that remained after the conflict (Deut 2:35). From Aroer to Gilead, “there was no city that was too high for us; the LORD our God delivered all over to us” (Deut 2:36). Victory was considered a sign of God’s blessing. But they could not take land that God had not approved, as Moses said, “Only you did not go near to the land of the sons of Ammon, all along the river Jabbok and the cities of the hill country, and wherever the LORD our God had commanded us” (Deut 2:37).

A Brief Consideration of Holy War:

     Deuteronomy 2:34 mentions, for the first time in this book, the subject of holy war. The words “utterly destroyed” translate the Hebrew חָרָם charam, which in this passage connotes something “devoted to destruction.”[2] Leon Wood states, “Usually ḥāram means a ban for utter destruction, the compulsory dedication of something which impedes or resists God’s work, which is considered to be accursed before God.”[3] Eugene Merrill comments:

  • "Nothing is more integral to the waging of holy war than the placing of conquered lands and their peoples under ḥērem. This noun, derived from the verb ḥāram, “to exterminate,” refers to a condition in which persons and things became the personal possession of the Lord by virtue of his inherent sovereignty and his appropriation of them by conquest. They could either be left alive and intact (Lev 27:21, 28; Josh 6:19) or eradicated (as here; cf. Num 21:2–3; Josh 6:21). In the passage at hand, it seems that the physical structures of the cities themselves were spared and that only the populations were decimated."[4]

     Though the idea of holy war can be difficult for us to digest (which in this context includes putting children to death), several things should be considered. First, the command was from the Lord Himself (Deut 2:34; 7:1-2; 20:17). Because God is omniscient (Psa 139:1-6), He knew the situation completely. Because the Lord is perfectly righteous (Gen 18:25; Psa 7:11), His command was just and fair. And, because God is gracious and patient (Psa 103:8), His command to execute the Canaanites was not reckless. Divine judgment meant God had determined the Canaanite culture was not reformable. Second, the Canaanites were by no means innocent. Rather, they were antitheocratic and hostile to God and His people and comprised the most corrupt culture in the world at that time. For hundreds of years the Canaanites practiced gross sexual immorality, which included all forms of incest (Lev 18:1-20; 20:10-12, 14, 17, 19-21), homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13), and sex with animals (Lev 18:23; 20:15-16). They also engaged in the occult (Lev 20:6), were hostile toward parents (Lev 20:9), and offered their children as sacrifices to Molech (Lev 18:21; 20:1-5; cf. Deut 12:31; 18:10). Third, God had been gracious to the Canaanite people for four hundred years (Gen 15:14-16), giving them ample time to turn from their sin. Though God is very gracious and slow to anger (Psa 145:8-9), this does not last forever and eventually His righteous judgment falls upon those who deserve it (Deut 9:4-5). Fourth, Moses offered Sihon, King of Heshbon, peaceful terms if he would let the Israelites pass through his land, even offering to pay for whatever food and water they consumed, but Sihon rejected Moses’ offer and therefore brought judgment upon himself and his people. Fifth, the Amorites could have moved out and avoided the conflict by settling in another area. Sixth, God could have destroyed the people Himself, like He’d done in the global flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Egypt; however, it was His will the Canaanites be removed by military means and as a test of obedience to His people. Seventh, those who turned to God would have been spared, like Rahab and her family (Josh 2:1-14). Eighth, the killing of the Canaanite children may have spared them from growing up in a corrupt and hostile culture, “For if the child died before reaching the age of accountability it is likely that his or her eternal destiny would have been made secure in heaven.”[5] Ninth, this is the only time in the Bible and history that this command was given and was never repeated to other generations. Tenth, God’s command for holy war is not applicable for Christians, for God is not working to establish a theocratic kingdom on earth as He was through Israel.

     God warned Israel that if they failed to execute His judgment upon the Canaanites, they would become a corrupting cancer that would infect them (Deut 20:17-18; cf. Ex 23:33; Josh 23:12-13). Israel’s actions would have a direct impact on future generations. We know historically that Israel failed to obey the Lord (see the book of Judges), and the corrupt culture spread among God’s people, who themselves began to practice all the evil things God hates (Deut 12:31). Because Israel eventually became corrupt, He then destroyed and expelled them from the land by means of military defeat from their enemies. This happened when the ten northern tribes of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC and when the two southern tribes of Judah fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC.

 

[1] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 98–99.

[2] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 354.

[3] Leon J. Wood, “744 חָרַם,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 324.

[4] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, 102.

[5] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 276.

Deuteronomy 2:1-23

Deuteronomy 2:1-23

November 21, 2020

     The main point of this pericope details Israel’s departure from Kadesh-barnea and the journey through the Transjordan which they conquered and partly settled. After the rebellion and defeat of the Israelites (Deut 1:1-46), the nation “circled Mount Seir for many days” (Deu 2:1b). This included the thirty-eight years of wilderness wandering which was God’s judgment upon the exodus generation of Israelites who rebelled against the Lord. God then ordered His people to “turn north” and begin to head toward the land of Canaan (Deut 2:3). This would have required them to pass through the territory of Edom to the east of Kadesh-barnea, and then north through the region of the Moabites and Ammonites. However, God did not permit the Israelites to harass the Edomites, Moabites, nor Ammonites, who were all descendants of Abraham and Lot, and therefore related to Israel physically and by covenant. Edom would be afraid of Israel (Deut 2:4), and God told His people not to consider their land for conquest, saying, “I will not give you any of their land, even as little as a footstep because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession” (Deut 2:5). Israel was to treat them kindly, paying for any food or water they consumed in their territory (Deut 2:6). God had taken care of His people, Israel, saying, “For the LORD your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing” (Deut 2:7). This was a continued sign of God’s logistical grace to meet their needs (cf. Deut 29:5). Three times God had declared “I have given” land to people other than Israel (Deut 2:5, 9, 19), and this demonstrates His sovereign control over the earth and His delegation of property to whoever He wishes (cf. Deut 32:8; 1 Ch 29:11-12; 2 Ch 20:5-7; Psa 24:1; 89:11; Dan 4:35; Acts 17:26). Israel passed through the land of Edom by circling around it “by the way of the wilderness of Moab” (Deut 2:8). Israel passed through Moab (Deut 2:9), a land once dominated by fierce people who were defeated by the Edomites (Deut 2:10-12). Moving further north, God told the Israelites to “arise and cross over the brook Zered yourselves” (Deut 2:13), which moved them into Ammonite territory. Moses then records the death of the first generation of Israelites since the exodus, and this marks a turning point in their history and advancement into the land of Canaan. This occurred after they had received their judgment of wandering for thirty-eight years, “until all the generation of the men of war perished from within the camp, as the LORD had sworn to them” (Deut 2:14). Those who died off were under God’s judgment, for “the hand of the LORD was against them, to destroy them from within the camp until they all perished” (Deut 2:15). After these people died (Deut 2:16), God instructed Moses to lead the people into the region of Ammon (Deut 2:17-18). Just like with the Edomites and Moabites, God instructed His people, saying, “When you come opposite the sons of Ammon, do not harass them nor provoke them, for I will not give you any of the land of the sons of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot as a possession” (Deut 2:19). The Moabites and Ammonites were not necessarily wonderful people; yet, God blessed them because of their relationship with Lot. We then learn about another people who formerly lived in that land and were called Rephaim, but the Ammonites called them Zamzummim (Deut 2:20), who were tall like the Anakim (Deut 2:21a). But great people are no match for the Lord, as we are told, “but the LORD destroyed them before them. And they dispossessed them and settled in their place, just as He did for the sons of Esau, who live in Seir, when He destroyed the Horites from before them; they dispossessed them and settled in their place even to this day” (Deut 2:21b-22). Lastly, we learn about another people called the Avvim, who were displaced by the Caphtorim, who were likely Philistines who migrated from Crete (Deut 2:23a), who “destroyed them and lived in their place” (Deut 2:23b). In all this, we see God’s sovereign hand of control to move people geographically and elevate some and destroy others, for the Lord owns and controls all land, and He determines who shall possess it as well as the means by which it is possessed.[1]

 

[1] Divinely approved acquisition of land may come as a gift, a purchase, or through military victory. When God’s people became corrupt, He expelled them by means of military defeat from their enemies. This happened when the ten northern tribes of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC and when the two southern tribes of Judah fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC.

Deuteronomy 1:19-46

Deuteronomy 1:19-46

November 15, 2020

     The main point of this pericope is that the exodus generation of Israelites failed to obey God’s command to take possession of the land, and because of their unbelief, God withheld the blessing. Originally, God called His people to have faith and take possession of the land (Deut 1:19-21). The Israelites wanted to spy out the land (Ex 3:8; Lev 20:24), which was not wrong in itself; however, God had already done that, even describing the evil residents and the land itself (Lev 18:1-30; 20:1-27). Where God leads, His grace and power will sustain. However, negative volition, irrational fear, and grumbling caused them to distrust the Lord and perceive His love as hatred, even accusing God of desiring their destruction (Deut 1:26-27). The human-viewpoint report from ten of the spies spread among the people and the result was that they saw the land as unconquerable (Deut 1:28). Moses had the same facts as the Israelites, yet he interpreted them from faith, and this gave him strength in his soul. From a position of strength, Moses sought to dislodge their irrational fear by getting them to think historically and theologically, considering God’s past deliverances (Deut 1:29-31). But the Israelites did not trust the Lord, and their sin blinded them to the obvious provisions of God all around them (Deut 1:32-33), and the Lord became angry at their unbelief (Deut 1:34). Collective and self-induced amnesia dominated the people, as they forgot about God’s past acts of deliverance by means of plagues on Egypt, as well as the parting of the Red Sea (Psa 78:11, 42), and they ignored the current evidences of the cloud of smoke and fire, as well the daily provision of manna. They welcomed God’s gifts, but failed to recognize, praise, and serve the Giver. The result was a generation of believers who developed a sinful mindset and were called an “evil generation” (Deut 1:35). The two exceptions were Caleb and Joshua, who maintained their faith in God (Deut 1:36, 38). Moses’ act of unbelief meant he too would not enter the land (Deut 1:37); however, God promised to bring the second generation into the land (Deut 1:39). By their unbelief, the Israelites had forfeited the land, and God commanded them to turn around and head back into the wilderness (Deut 1:40). Though God’s decision was fixed, the people rebelled against Him again, presuming they could take the land (Deut 1:41). God warned them, saying, “Do not go up nor fight, for I am not among you; otherwise you will be defeated before your enemies” (Deut 1:42). But they “would not listen” (Deut 1:43a), and “rebelled against the command of the LORD, and acted presumptuously and went up into the hill country” (Deut 1:43). Their disobedience resulted in military defeat (Deut 1:44). Because they would not listen to the Lord, He would not listen to them (Deut 1:45; cf. Psa 66:18; Pro 28:9; Mic 3:4). God was not sympathetic to their self-induced pain which was caused by unbelief and rebellion against His commands. The result was that they remained in Kadesh for thirty-eight years, until that generation died off (Deut 1:46).

Deuteronomy 1:1-18

Deuteronomy 1:1-18

November 14, 2020

     In Deuteronomy 1:1-18 Moses addressed the second generation of Israelites who were camping east of the Jordan River (Deut 1:1-5 - see map), recounting the events forty years earlier when God entered into a contract relationship with their parents at Mount Horeb/Sinai (Deut 1:6-8), after which Moses appointed military and judicial leaders to help bear the burden of leadership (Deut 1:9-18). After the exodus, God had offered the chosen land to His chosen people, Israel, which was theirs by divine right (Deut 1:1-8), for the Owner of the land promised it to them as part of the Abrahamic contract (Gen 12:1-3; 15:18; 17:7-8; 26:3-4; 28:13-14). Moses also mentions how he could not bear the responsibility of leadership alone (Deut 1:9; cf. Ex 18:13-26). If the exodus generation had walked by faith and obeyed the Lord, they would have entered the land forty years earlier; however, they forfeited their inheritance through disobedience (See Num 14:1-12; 20-24; 14:34). Now, Moses speaks to the second generation and offers them the land of Canaan which their parents had forfeited; thus, what he expounded was a covenant renewal. Moses saw how the Lord had blessed His people by making them numerous (Deut 1:10-11), and twice recognized his human inability to lead them by himself (Deut 1:9, 12). Realizing he needed the help of others, Moses said, “Choose wise and discerning and experienced men from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads” (Deut 1:13). The Israelites agreed with his wise request (Deut 1:14), and he took the heads of their tribes, “wise and experienced men, and appointed them heads over” them to rule (Deut 1:15a). The leadership consisted of military commanders (Deut 1:15b) and judges (Deut 1:16a). He charged Israel’s judges, saying, “Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s”. (Deut 1:16b-17a). The judges were to hear each case on its own merits and not be influenced to partiality by the social standing of those who stood before them, whether small or great. Recognizing “the judgment is God’s” meant each judge was himself being judged by “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25). This shows that judgment among God’s people is both a legal and theological matter. God is the ultimate Judge of all matters, and the judges in Israel were accountable to Him. The legal cases that were too difficult, Moses would personally handle (Deut 1:17b). Moses wanted them to be involved in the outcome of their future, so he “commanded” concerning all they “should do” (Deut 1:18). This recounting of historical events revealed, in part, God’s leading His chosen people to the chosen land He’d promised to their fathers. After the exodus from Egypt and the covenant at Mount Horeb, God worked through Moses to establish leadership among the people who would help guide them into the land.

Introduction to Deuteronomy

Introduction to Deuteronomy

November 9, 2020

Introduction to Deuteronomy

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Title:

     Deuteronomy means “second law” and is derived from the Septuagint (LXX), a Greek translation of the Hebrew OT (ca. 250 BC). The Greek word (δευτερονόμιον) appears in the LXX in Deuteronomy 17:18, where the anticipated future king of Israel would be required to “write for himself a copy of this law[1] on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests” (Deut 17:18b).[2] The book of Deuteronomy is not a second copy of the Law itself, “but an amplification and advancement of the covenant text first articulated to Moses and Israel at Sinai nearly forty years earlier.”[3] The Hebrew title is derived from the first words of the book which are translated from the Hebrew (אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים) “these are the words.”

Author:

     The author is Moses (Deut 1:1, 5; 4:44-45; 31:9, 24; cf. Josh 1:7-8; 2 Ki 14:6; Matt 19:7; Acts 7:37-38; Rom 10:19; 1 Cor 9:9), excluding his death (Deut 34:1-12). “Deuteronomy is quoted in the New Testament nearly one hundred times; and Jesus quoted more from Deuteronomy than from any other Old Testament book.”[4]

Audience:

     The second generation of Israelites who were living just east of the Jordan River (Deut 1:1), whose parents rebelled against the Lord and wandered in the wilderness for forty years until they perished (Num 14:33-34; Deut 1:3; 2:7, 14; Josh 5:6).

Date of Writing:

     Circa 1405 BC (Deut 1:3). This assumes an early date for the exodus in 1445 BC.

Occasion for Writing:

     Moses is about to die. Deuteronomy is his farewell message to the Israelites who are about to enter the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. Deuteronomy is not merely a recapitulation of Moses’ previous writings; rather, “It is a selective digest of matters most important to the average Israelite in his or her relationship with God. Moses spoke as an aged father to his children. These are the parting words of the man who communed with God face to face.”[5]

Structure:

     The book of Deuteronomy is structured after an ancient Hittite suzerain-vassal treaty. “More than forty years of scholarship has reached a near consensus about the essential elements of standard Hittite treaty texts. These consist of (1) preamble, (2) historical prologue, (3) general stipulations, (4) specific stipulations, (5) blessings and curses, and (6) witnesses.”[6]

  • "In line with the general correspondence of the form of a thing to its function, it is safe to say that one cannot understand the theology of Deuteronomy without reference to its covenant form and structure … That is, the very fact that the book is in the shape and style of a covenant text presupposes that the covenant relationship between Yahweh and Israel is a major concern. It follows then that the theology of Deuteronomy must be sensitive to this state of affairs and that, in fact, it must be informed from beginning to end by covenant concerns. It is no exaggeration to maintain that the concept of covenant lies at the very heart of the book and may be said to be the center of its theology. Covenant by its very definition demands at least three elements—the two contracting parties and the document that describes and outlines the purpose, nature, and requirements of the relationship. Thus, the three major rubrics of the theology of Deuteronomy are (1) Yahweh, the Great King and covenant initiator; (2) Israel, the vassal and covenant recipient; and (3) the book itself, the covenant organ, complete with the essentials of standard treaty documents. This means, moreover, that all the revelation of the book must be seen through the prism of covenant and not abstractly removed from the peculiar historical and ideological context in which it originated."[7]

     Deuteronomy was to be read and taught within the family (Deut 6:4-7). A copy of the book was to be in the possession of the Levitical priests (Deut 31:9; cf. 31:24-26), and they were to read the book publicly every seven years (Deut 31:10-11). This instruction was intended to produce respect and obedience among God’s people (Deut 31:12-13). Deuteronomy helps us understand all that occurs throughout Israel’s history which follows, as the blessing and cursing is applied to subsequent Israelites.

Moses’ Message:

     The central message of Deuteronomy is: serve the Lord from your heart (Deut 6:4-9). The book of Deuteronomy is a reiteration of the covenant God instituted at Mount Sinai (Ex 19:1-6). The book of Deuteronomy consists of three messages Moses preached over a period of forty days (Deut 1:5-6; 5:1; 29:1). It was Moses’ counsel to the Israelites who were about to enter a land dominated by a polytheistic pagan people who would tempt them away from their unique God, who alone is the God of the universe. Moses informed them, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deut 6:4). If Israel would listen to the commands given in Moses’ message, it would result in blessing, which is what God preferred. However, if they disobeyed, God would bring cursing (Deut 11:13-17).

     The major theme of the book is love. God’s love for His people is what motivated Him to govern the way He did (Deut 5:9-10; 7:7-9, 12-13; 10:15-19). And in response, God’s people were to love and obey Him (Deut 6:4-5;10:12-13, 18-19; 11:1, 13-14, 22-23; 13:3; 19:8-9; 30:15-16). Love starts with understanding (Deut 6:4-5; 11:18) and flows into action (Deut 10:18-19). Loving obedience to God would result in His blessing upon them, and cursing if they hated and disobeyed (Deut 11:26-28; 30:15-20). Similarly, God’s love for us motivates us to love Him and others (1 John 4:19; cf. John 14:15, 21, 23).

  • "This emphasis on love appears even more striking in comparison with other ancient Near Eastern suzerain-vassal treaties. The ancient Near Eastern kings delineated clearly the rights of the ruler and the responsibilities of the subjects in these documents. However, the motivation was self-interest, the opposite of love. Concern for others was present, but self-interest predominated."[8]

     The Church would do well to learn the lessons of righteous living. “To love God supremely and our neighbors as ourselves, and to seek to glorify God in all that we do, is the essence of the message of Deuteronomy; and it’s a message we need to return to as we face the challenges of the future.”[9]

Outline:

  1. Moses’ introduction to Deuteronomy (Deut 1:1-5)
  2. Moses reviews God’s faithfulness to Israel since the Exodus (Deut 1:6—4:43)
  3. Moses’ exposition of God’s laws to Israel (Deut 4:44—28:68)
  4. Moses’ appeal to faithfulness and commitment (Deut 29:1—30:20)
  5. Moses’ final words, song, and death are recorded (Deut 31:1—34:12)

 

[1] The Hebrew phrase in Deuteronomy 17:18 (מִשְׁנֶה הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת – a copy of this law) likely refers only the book of Deuteronomy itself which the king was to reproduce and carry with him all the days of his life.

[2] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Bible.

[3] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 22.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 8.

[5] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Introduction to Deuteronomy.

[6] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, 29–30.

[7] Ibid., 47–48.

[8] Tom Constable, Introduction to Deuteronomy.

[9] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, 8.

Brief Review of Ancient Israel

Brief Review of Ancient Israel

November 7, 2020

     The history of Israel starts with God who chose the nation to be His representatives upon the earth. Israel was created by God (Isa 43:1, 15), and He loves them with an everlasting love (Jer 31:1-3). God chose them because of who He is, not because of any greatness or goodness in them (Deut 7:6-8). Israel began with a unilateral covenant which God made with Abraham, promising “I will make you a great nation” (Gen 12:2). The Abrahamic covenant was later expanded with the Land Covenant (Deut 29:1-29; 30:1-10), the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:3-4, 34-37), and the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34). Though Abraham had children by different women (Sarah, Hagar and Keturah), the Abrahamic promises were restated only through Isaac (Gen 17:19-21) and Jacob (Gen 28:10-15). Because of a crippling encounter with God, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, which means “he who wrestles with God” (Gen 32:24-30). The sons of Israel (i.e. Jacob) went into captivity in Egypt for four hundred years as God had foretold (Gen 15:13), and remained there until He called them out through His servants Moses and Aaron (Ex 3:1-10). God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage through a series of ten plagues that destroyed Pharaoh and the nation (Exodus chapters 5-14). The exodus generation were believers who followed God’s servant, Moses, out of captivity (Ex 4:31; 14:31; 1 Cor 10:1-4). After the exodus, God entered into a bilateral covenant relationship with Israel at Mount Sinai (Ex 19:1-8), and gave them 613 commands—which comprise the Mosaic Law—and these commands are commonly divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial codes. The exodus generation—though they witnessed God’s miraculous deliverance against the Egyptians—rebelled and complained against the Lord during the forty years they were in the wilderness. Because of their rebellion, God eventually disciplined them by prohibiting them from entering the promised land (Num 14:1-23; cf. Heb 3:15—4:1-2). This was a generation of believers who failed to live by faith, and so God withheld their inheritance of the land. The two exceptions were Joshua and Caleb, who lived by faith (Num 14:30). God then promised the second generation of Israelites would inherit the promised land, but only after their parents died in the wilderness (Num 14:31-33). The book of Numbers differentiates between a generation possessed of negative volition and their children who were positive to God. When the last person of the exodus generation died, God then delivered a message through Moses to their children, reiterating many of the commands given to the first generation. The message Moses gave is known as the book of Deuteronomy, which restates many of the laws of the covenant. Under the Mosaic Law, Israel would know blessing if they obeyed God’s commands (Deut 28:1-15), and cursing if they did not (Deut 28:16-68). After Moses died, God brought the Israelites into the land of Canaan (i.e. the land promised to Abraham) under the leadership of Joshua (Deut 31:23; Josh 1:1-9), and there the land was divided, giving a portion to each of the descendants of Jacob. After Joshua died (Josh 24:29-31), Israel repeatedly fell into idolatry and suffered divine discipline for their rebellion (read Judges). This went on for roughly 300 years as Israel fell into a pattern of idolatry, after which God would send punishment, then the people would cry out to God, Who would relent of His judgment and send a judge to deliver them, then the people would serve God for a time, and then fall back into idolatry. The period of the Judges was marked by people who did not obey the Lord, but “did what was right in their own eyes” (Judg 17:6; 21:25). Samuel was the last of Israel’s judges, and then the people cried for a king because they wanted to be like the other nations (1 Sam 8:4-5). God gave them their request (1 Sam 8:22), and Saul became the first king in Israel (1 Sam 10:1). Though Saul started well, he quickly turned away from the Lord and would not obey God’s commands. Saul reigned for approximately 40 years and his leadership was basically a failure (1 Sam 13:1; cf. Acts 13:21). Later, God raised up David to be king in Israel (1 Sam 16:1-13), and David reigned for 40 years and was an ideal king who followed God and encouraged others to do the same (1 Ki 2:10-11). God decreed David’s throne would be established forever through one of his descendants (2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:3-4), and this is Jesus (Luke 1:31-33). Solomon reigned for 40 years after David (1 Ki 2:12; 11:42-43), and though He was wise and did many good things (ruled well, built the temple, wrote Scripture, etc.), he eventually turned away from God and worshiped idols (1 Ki 11:1-10), and the kingdom was divided afterward (1 Ki 11:11-41). The nation was united under Saul, David, and Solomon.

     Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, ruled over the two southern tribes (Judah) and Jeroboam ruled over the ten northern tribes (Israel). Israel—the northern kingdom—had 19 kings throughout its history and all were bad, as they led God’s people into idolatry (i.e. the “sins of Jeroboam” 1 Ki 16:31; 2 Ki 3:3; 10:31; 13:2). The ten northern tribes came under divine discipline because of their idolatry and were destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC. Judah—the southern kingdom—had 20 kings throughout its history and 8 were good (some more than others), as they obeyed God and led others to do the same (they were committed to the Lord like David, 1 Ki 15:11). However, Judah repeatedly fell into idolatry—as the 10 northern tribes had done—and were eventually destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The dispersion of Israel was promised by God if they turned away from Him and served other gods (Deut 28:63-68). Since the destruction by Babylon, Israel has been under Gentile dominance (Luke 21:24; Rom 11:25). After a temporary regathering under Ezra and Nehemiah, Israel continued under Gentile dominance with the Medes & Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Because of their rejection of Jesus as Messiah, God disciplined Israel again in AD 70, and the Jews were scattered all over the world (Jam 1:1; 1 Pet 1:1). Israel’s current state is one of judgment (Matt 23:37-39), and a “partial hardening” (Rom 11:25). Israel will be restored when Messiah returns to establish His kingdom on earth (Rev 19:11-21; 20:4-6).

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