THE BOOK OF DEUTERONOMY
Fr Fritzgerald Fernandes
0.1. As usual, the Jewish tradition takes the opening words of the book as the title, ‘elleh haddebarim, “These are the words,” but it is shortened simply to debarim (“words”). This highlights an important feature of the book: words, i.e., the words of Moses in three discourses.
The English name again traces its origins back to the Latin Deuteronomium and the Greek deuteronomion. The Greek word (“second law”) occurs in Deuteronomy 17:18, but it is an inexact translation of the Hebrew text which reads “copy of this law.” However, “second law” is not useless, in the sense that it describes a second covenant, as indicated in Deut 29:1: “These are the words of the covenant that the Lord commanded Moses with the Israelites, in addition to the covenant that he made with them at Sinai.” The laws were given to Moses at Sinai, but it is in the plains of Moab (the area east of the Dead Sea) that they learn of the laws as interpreted in chapters 12-26, sometimes called the Deuteronomic code.
Thus, the name “Deuteronomy”means “copy of this law” and the ‘this’ refers to the First law section in Exodus chs. 20-23. The second law section is in Deut 12-26.
0.2. (1) The action in Deut begins where it ends in Numbers: in the Trans-Jordan area, on the plains of Moab (Deut 1:1; Num 36:13)
(2) The book ends with the death of Moses (ch.34).
0.3. The Book of Deut is related to the previous books of the Pentateuch:
(1) 1:8 connects Deut with the book of Genesis
(2) 1:27, 30-31 links Deut with the events of Exodus
(3) Deut is similar to the book of Leviticus:
Both books deal with the vocation to Holiness - of Israel as God’s people; both books contain laws regarding that vocation.
(4) Deut and Numbers. Read Num 36:13. The commandments of the Law given to Israel by Moses on the plains of Moab (Num 36:13) are the words of Moses contained in Deut.
0.4 The people are soon to enter the Promised Land. Deut contains the instructions that Moses gave them to teach them how they are to live as the people of Yahweh in it.
I. MOSES’ FIRST ADDRESS: MOTIVES FOR OBEDIENCE (chs. 1-4)
1.1. Remembrances of the past (chs.1-3):
In chs.1-3, Moses recalls the events of his people’s journey from Mt. Sinai to the plains of Moab.
(1) Ch.1 - Two stages:
From Mt.Sinai to Kadesh (v.19), and at Kadesh (vv.20-46).
(2) Chs.2-3 - Two stages:
From Kadesh to Moab (2:1-3:17), and on the plains of Moab (3:18-29).
1.2. Exhortation for the future (ch.4
(a) Moses’ principal exhortation: Fidelity to Yahweh in Canaan by obeying his commandments. Read how the chapter begins: 4:1
(b) Key words in this passage which summarize Moses’ exhortation. Find the key words in: 4:1, 5, 6, 9, 23, 40. Hear, observe (4:1); observe (4:50); not to forget (4:9, 23); keep (4:40)
(c) The greatest danger: idolatry (4:15-31)
(d) The word “covenant” already appears in this first address and prepares us for the second address. It occurs three times: 4:13, 23, 31
(e) How is God spoken of in 4:7; 4:24; 4:31, and 4:35, 39
4:7 - He is near to us, whenever we call upon Him
4:24 - a consuming fire, a jealous God
4:31 - a merciful God
4:35, 39 - the only God.
1.3. Note the teaching given in 4:1 and 4:40. This teaching runs through the entire book of Deut. The deuteronomic equation: obey = prosper; disobey = perish.
II. MOSES' SECOND ADDRESS (chs. 5-11)
2.1. The book of Exodus narrates the story about the ELECTION of Israel as God’s People. Why did God chose the people of Israel? Read 7:6-11. Israel was chosen not because Israel was more numerous than other peoples but because Yahweh loved them.
2.2. The book of Exodus has taught us that God chose the people of Israel and made a COVENANT with them.
(1) The covenant is mentioned in 5:1-5. Something significant about the covenant is said in these verses. The covenant was made “with us”: this present generation. (cf. 29:14-15).
(2) In 5:6-21 we have a second version of the Decalogue. The first version of the Decalogue is in Ex 20:1-17.
(3) The deuteronomic equation in 5:28-33.
2.3. Israel was called to a life of LOVE. The covenant can rightly be described as a “covenant of love” as in 7:9, 12. There are 11 verses on LOVE in chs 5-7:
(1) 4 verses on God’s love for Israel: 7:7, 8, 12, 13
(2) Israel is to be a holy people which expresses its fidelity to the one God in the Great Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone” 6:4 ‘shema’ means “to hear”. 6 verses on the vocation of Israel to love God: 6:5; 7:9; 10:12; 11:1; 11:13; 11:22
(3) 1 verse on Israel’s vocation to love neighbour: 10:19
Ch. 30 also has two verses on Israel’s vocation to love: vv. 6, 20.
2.4. According to chs. 6-7, in Canaan what was to be Israel’s relationship if it was to be faithful to the covenant with Yahweh?
(1) relationship to Canaanite gods: warning against idolatry and apostasy.
Cf. 4:15-31; 6:10-19, chs. 12-13; 17:2-7 (judging apostates)
(2) relationship to the Canaanite peoples:
* the people living in Canaan to be utterly destroyed:
- cf. 7:1-5; 20:16-18 because of their idolatrous/pagan worship
- the Amalekites: 25:17-19 – vengeance for attacking the Israelites earlier
* the people outside Canaan to be destroyed if they reject terms of peace: 20:10- 15.
2.5. Possession of Canaan was because of Yahweh, and not because of
(a) Israel’s power (8:11-20) or
(b) Israel's righteousness (9:4-6): Israel’s has been a history of infidelity (9:7-24).
2.6. Note in this section:
(1) the different words that refer to the Law: commandments, precepts, decrees, statutes, ordinances.
(2) the different verbs used often as an imperative that speak of how Israel is to respond to the Law: hear, do, remember, do not forget, heed, keep, observe, walk, obey.
2.7 In this second address are found the three verses that Jesus quoted against the devil when he was tempted in the wilderness (cf. Mt 4:1-11): 8:3; 6:16; 6:13.
2.8 As you come to the end of this section (chs. 5-11) we gather together all the verses in chs. 5, 6, 7, 8 & 11 concerning the deuteronomic equation cf. 5:28-33; 6:2-3,18; 7:12-26; 8:1,19-20; 11:8-9,13-32.
III. THE BOOK OF THE LAW (chs. 12-28)
3.1. Chs. 12-26 is called “The Book of the Law,” because it is entirely made up of laws.
(1) No idolatry (chs. 12-13)
(2) Miscellaneous laws (chs. 13-26)
(3) Blessings and Curses (chs. 27-28)
The previous section (4:44-11:32) was a call to faithfulness to the covenant of love. How? By rejecting idolatry. How? By obeying the laws.
3.2. What is to be the response of the Christian, who lives in the New Testament, to the laws mentioned in this section?
(1) Many of the laws mentioned in this section are out-dated and no longer binding on the Christian.
(2) But there are laws in this section which indicate the areas/directions in which Christians must continue to witness even today:
Which are the directions?
* faithfulness to God: no idolatry and apostasy
* love of God and of neighbour
* the role of prophet in the community (18:15-22)
- for the weak (24:17-18)
- false weights (25:13-16)
* social concern:
- lost animals (22:1-5)
- care in building a house (22:8)
- neighbour’s property (23:24-25)
- millstone not a pledged article (24:6)
- repayment of loans (24:10-13)
- treatment of servants (24:14-15)
- leave gleanings for the poor (24:19-22).
* purity: marriage and sexual violation (22:13-30).
3.3. Read 26:16-19. This passage speaks about a double commitment:
(1) Israel’s commitment to Yahweh: “You have declared this day concerning the Lord that he is your God, that you will walk in his ways ... and will obey his voice.”
(2) Yahweh’s commitment to Israel: “The Lord has declared this day concerning you that you are a people for his own possession.”
3.4. Two examples of discrimination against women in this section:
(1) On a wife being charged of not being a virgin:
- If the charge is false: the husband shall be whipped and will have to keep her (22:13-19)
- if the charge is true: the woman will be stoned to death (22:20-21).
But what about a man’s behaviour before marriage? No mention is made.
(2) Divorce: Only a husband could divorce his wife, not vice-versa (24:1-4).
Other examples of discrimination against women in the Pentateuch:
(1) Ordeal for a woman suspected of adultery (Num 5:11-31)
(2) Property inheritance laws: the case of the daughters of Zelophehad:
(a) they could inherit provided there were no sons (Num 27:1- 11)
(b) if they married they had to do so within the tribe to ensure that the property remained within the tribe (Num 36:1-12).
3.5. Blessings and Curses (chs.27-28)
(1) Ch.27 speaks of two mountains:
(a) Mt.Gerizim and Mt.Ebal.
(b) Pronounce blessings on Mt. Gerizim, and curses on Mt. Ebal on Israel itself.
(2) The deuteronomic equation is again taught in ch. 28: Blessings for Obedience & Curses for infidelity/disobedience.
IV. MOSES’ THIRD ADDRESS (chs. 29-30)
4.1. In this section the words of Moses refer to:
(1) the past: 29:2-17
(2) the present: 29:18-30:14
(3) the future: 30:15-20
4.2. Note the key word “covenant” in ch. 29. It appears seven times in the chapter: vv.1, 9, 12, 14, 19, 21, 25.
4.3 Recall the two verses in ch. 30 that speak of the commandment of love: vv.6, 20.
4.4 Ch. 30:
(1) vv.16-18 state the deuteronomic equation (Important)
(2) Moses invited the people to choose between life and death, blessing and curse (30:19).
V. THE LAST WORDS AND DEEDS OF MOSES (chs. 31-34)
5.1. Two actions of Moses are narrated in this final section:
(1) Moses appointed Joshua to succeed him (31:1-8)
(2) Moses blessed the tribes (ch. 33).
5.2. In ch. 31 the future infidelity of the people is predicted. Two things are offered as a “witness” to the people that would serve to remind them of Yahweh’s fidelity.
(1) Moses’ song (31:19), and
(2) the Book of the Law (31:26).
5.3. Ch. 34 was obviously written much after Moses’ death:
(1) Verses in praise of Moses: 34:10-12
(2) These verses exalt the greatness of Moses:
(1) He was the greatest prophet
(2) He knew God face to face
(3) He worked signs and wonders on behalf of Israel.
The Pentateuch reviewed: One work divided into five books. Hence, note the interrelationship:
Genesis - A People in the making
Exodus - Called to Freedom
Leviticus - Called to Holiness
Numbers - Called to Faithfulness
Deuteronomy - Called to Obedience
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