Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Reading in Deuteronomy This Week #1 (Chapters 1-11)

41I8byk6O9L._SX402_BO1,204,203,200_This year’s reading through the Old Testament now moves on to the book of Deuteronomy. I am reading it with a very different type of commentary than I have been, Deuteronomy, The JPS Torah Commentary, by Jeffrey H. Tigay. The JPS Commentary set is a Jewish commentary that provides traditional rabbinic and halakhic, along with critical, commentary. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Basically, Deuteronomy records Moses' final speech to Israel as they prepare to enter the Land. In it he recalls the history that brought them thus far and explains the torah (instruction) God provided to them at Mt. Sinai (Horeb in Deuteronomy) and on their journey. It is written in an ancient Near Eastern covenant form in which a ruler grants land to his servants and they are thus in a dependent relationship to the ruler. The people trust and obey the ruler because he has shown the abiiity to take care of them and protect them. Moses' instruction here is that the wise and prudent thing to do is to continue to trust God because obedience leads to prosperity.

Deuteronomy is thus Moses’ valedictory: he sums up the laws that he gave the people and the lessons of the period in which he led them, and urges them to observe those laws and keep those lessons in mind always. 2–3

Chapters 1-4 recount the history of the wilderness journey. The theme is simple: When you trust and obey God you are blessed, and when you fail to trust his care, grumble and disobey, you will experience curse and be judged. Chapter 1 recounts the failure of the generation that left Egypt to trust God. Because of that none of them, including Moses, would enter the Land, except for Joshua and Caleb. 2-3 recount the successful journey to the Jordan. Unlike the previous unfaithful generation, the new generation obeys God, and so they have victory over their enemies (Og and Sihon) who attack them. This provides the tribal lands for the 2 1/2 Eastern tribes.

The historical content of Moses’ address reflects the importance of history as the basis of biblical religion. Religious belief in the Bible is based mostly on Israel’s experience of God rather than on theological speculation. This experience is an important component of the covenantal relationship between God and Israel, since covenant relations between political entities were likewise based on their past experiences with each other. Moses’ review of the relations between God and Israel in the recent past parallels similar historical surveys at the beginning of treaties between suzerains and vassal states in the ancient Near East. Deuteronomy 1, 7

Since Israel’s primary duty to God is obedience to His laws, teaching them to every Israelite is imperative, and this is Moses’ main aim in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 1.18, 13

Moses reminds the people that their own experience demonstrates the Lord’s capacity to meet all their needs, and that they are ignoring what their experience teaches. This experience became the basis of Israelite faith in God. Wherever the Bible presents a credo explaining Israelite belief or practice, it consists of a summary of what God did for Israel rather than affirmations about His nature. Deuteronomy 1.29-31, 17

Here, God expresses one of the pervasive themes of this chapter: He has given the Edomites their land just as He is about to give the Israelites theirs...Especially noteworthy is the moral obligation inherent in the fact that the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites received their lands from God: the Israelites have no right to any of those lands. Deuteronomy 2.5, 24–25

The human action was successful because of God’s control of the events. By mentioning God’s role first, Moses implies that His action was decisive; Israel merely reaps the benefit. Deuteronomy 2.33, 32

Moses’ prayer follows a standard form for petitions...In prayers influenced by Deuteronomy these statements are often declarations of God’s incomparability, similar to our verse. In later times the rabbis invoked this verse as the precedent for the rule that one should always begin petitions with the praise of God. Deuteronomy 3.24-25, 38

Deuteronomy 4 finishes the 1st address of Moses and introduces the 2nd address which will begin in chapter 5. It gives a historical basis for Israel's obedience to the law. Israel's worship of God is based on what He has done: choosing Israel, the Exodus, the miracles in the wilderness and their recent victories over the Amorites. God has proven himself to be the one and only God and the only one worth worship. The gods of the nations may be real beings, but they are created, inferior beings to the one God (4.35). The speech focuses on the first two commands, that there is only God and he should never be worshiped with idols. Obedience is a matter of life and death. The nation will be healthy, influential and long-lived if they obey these two commands.

Chapter 4 is the theological heart of Deuteronomy, explaining its most fundamental precepts, monotheism and the prohibition of idolatry... Especially noteworthy are the arguments that go beyond reward and punishment and emphasize the logic and justice of the laws. Such arguments show the Torah’s aim of securing not merely mechanical observance of the laws but willing assent because of their inherent value. Deuteronomy 4, 41

Moses appeals for observance of the commandments because they are uniquely just and observing them brings about a closeness with God that is unparalleled among the other nations. By observing them Israel will earn admiration as a wise and discerning people. Deuteronomy 4.5-8, 44

It was love for Israel’s ancestors that led God to choose Israel, take them out of Egypt, and give them the promised land. Deuteronomy is the first book in the Torah to speak of God loving and choosing Israel. In speaking of love it makes the emotional dimension of God’s relationship with Israel explicit. Deuteronomy 4.37-38, 56

Chapters 5-11 present introduce the next section (to chapter 28) of the book by presenting the basics of the law (10 commandments) with the rationale behind it and provides Israel both positive and negative motivation to obey it. Chapter 5 repeats the 10 commandments, reminds Israel of their commitment to obey it and emphasizes that Moses received it directly from God. 6 is the preamble to the next section in which Moses explains the rest of the law which he received on Sinai. The main point is that "Israel’s love and loyalty to YHVH must be undivided and accompanied by constant efforts to remember His instructions and teach them to future generations." (76) Thus, it was important that the Israelites meditate on and teach God's laws so that they would learn to live by them and continue in God's blessing and continue in good relationship with Him.

In the Bible not only the principles behind the laws but the laws themselves were believed to have been authored by God and revealed to Israel through His spokesmen, the prophets. This belief reflects the conviction that God is Israel’s king, hence its legislator. Deuteronomy 5, 60

Moses has a twofold purpose in teaching the laws: ensuring their performance and inculcating reverence for God. Thus the laws were not only an expression of reverence for God but also a means of teaching reverence, like the theophany at Mount Sinai, the festivals, and reading the Teaching. Deuteronomy 6.1-3, 75

Chapter 7 begins a section in which Israel is instructed to remember and reflect on God's laws and what he has done so that they will not succumb to the dangers of the new land which will try to entice into worshiping other gods and forgetting their dependence on YHWH. Chapters 7-8 are, basically, commentary on the first two of the ten commandments. Chapter 8 continues this theme by urging Israel to remember and keep the law to demonstrate and remind them that they are dependent on God. Just as God sustained them with manna in the wilderness he will continue to meet their daily needs in the land.

Israel’s motive should be to respond to God’s faithfulness with its own faithfulness, not simply to avoid punishment and receive a reward. Deuteronomy 7.11, 88

Israel’s hunger in the wilderness was no accident: it was brought about by God to teach the people that nature alone could not be relied upon for food. Then He fed them manna, a previously unknown food, to show them that nourishment depends on Him: man does not live on natural foods alone but on whatever God decrees to be nourishing. Deuteronomy 8.3, 92

The lessons taught in the wilderness will not be apparent in the promised land, where Israel will lack nothing. In prosperity Israel’s dependence on God will be less obvious, and once its own efforts begin to succeed Israel might imagine that all its new wealth is due to those efforts. It must therefore keep in mind what it learned in the wilderness, always remembering that prosperity depends on God. Deuteronomy 8.7-18, 93

Chapters 9-10 remind Israel of their tendency toward rebellion so that they will not become complacent or self-trusting in the land. The golden calf incident, along with many others, show this tendency and remind them that they have no right to the promised land. It is a gift of God's mercy, based on the promises to their forefathers, not on their own virtue. They rebelled with the golden calf at the very moment that God was giving the law to Moses on the mountain. The only reason they were not destroyed was God's mercy, faithfulness to his promise to the patriarchs and Moses' intercession. The section ends with an exhortation to cultivate attitudes of faithfulness so that they might be successful and blessed in the land.

God is saying that by right Israel ought to be destroyed, but that He wants the prophet to make the case for sparing them. Prophets frequently play this intercessory role in the Bible in addition to their role as God’s messengers to man. This is part of what God wants them to do.  Deuteronomy 9.14, 100

Moses appeals for total obedience to God in the future. He does not focus on obeying the rules of the renewed covenant that come at this point in Exodus (Exod. 34:12–26), but on underlying attitudes, as he does throughout this part of Deuteronomy. He summarizes the principles that must guide the people’s behavior if they are to avoid further acts of rebellion...“Your history of rebellion shows that you lack the following qualities, to which you must dedicate yourselves in the future.” Deuteronomy 10.12-22, 107

Chapter 11 closes the preamble to the sermon that reveals God's laws to the 2nd generation of the nation. Moses' point is that Israel must now have an attitude of loyalty and obedience to their King YHWH if they want to be blessed by Him. He gives three basic reasons: 1) they should have learned by their wilderness experience that this brings blessing and disobedience brings the curse. 2) They are still dependent on God for rain in the promised land 3) God promises to remove the Canaanites if they are faithful people. God has shown himself to be a good and great king and God in their experience, so they should follow him. This loyalty must be expressed in an oath (taken after they enter the land) which places Israel under the covenant and recognizes its commands, rewards and punishments as God shows them here.

In our passage, as the Israelites prepare to settle in a land where they will adopt a new, agricultural way of life, Moses forewarns them that rain and fertility are given by God in return for obedience, and that if the Israelites should turn to false gods, He will withhold these gifts, causing the Israelites to perish from the land. Deuteronomy 11.16-17, 114

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