Sunday, February 14, 2016

Reading in Deuteronomy This Week #4 (Chapters 29-36)

41I8byk6O9L._SX402_BO1,204,203,200_This week we finish reading through the book of Deuteronomy accompanied by the commentary, Deuteronomy, The JPS Torah Commentary, by Jeffrey H. Tigay. This section completes the covenant section of the book and provides an epilogue that prepares for the events of the book of Joshua. Earlier discussions are posted here, here and here. 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…

Moses begins the final sermon of the book by reminding Israel that God has already shown them that he is capable of blessing and cursing, and that Israel should learn that it is better to follow God and keep His covenant. Moses' then calls every person in Israel to make a covenant commitment to God. This is a very serious commitment which will have devastating consequences if broken. Moses seems to assume that it will be broken because he quickly moves (30) to the possibility of restoration, after exile, if the people will sincerely repent. If, after experiencing all the devastating consequences of rebellion, the people fully commit to return to covenant, God will return to them and reverse the curses back into blessing. God has given Israel what they need to prosper, but they must choose to obey and be blessed.

Humanity’s role is not to speculate on the future but to concern itself with living according to the “revealed things,” the terms of God’s law. Deuteronomy 29.28, 283

This is not an invitation to accept the covenant—that Israel will accept it is a foregone conclusion; indeed, it had already done so earlier at Horeb. Here Moses urges Israel to obey the covenant, for that is the only way, under its terms, to survive. Deuteronomy 30.15, 287

The epilogue of Deuteronomy begins with chapter 31, as God begins to give instruction for the succession of Joshua and the death of Moses. Moses is commanded to write down the teaching he just gave so that it can serve as a future guide to the people, have a public ceremony for God's choosing of Joshua and prepare for his death. In the midst of this God tells Moses to write a prophetic song about how the nation will be unfaithful to God. The purpose of the song (witness) is that the nation, in the future, will see that God kept all his promises but the nation served other impotent gods who were unable to protect them. They would see that God was right all along and would return to faithful worship. This is what happened, for a very short time, when Josiah found the book in the temple many years later.

The writing of the Teaching was part of the process that eventually led to the creation of sacred Scripture—that is, the Bible—which is the heart of Judaism. The public reading of the Teaching is part of the “democratic” character of biblical religion, which addresses its teachings and demands to all its adherents, with few distinctions between priests and laity, and calls for universal education of the citizenry in law and religion. Deuteronomy 31.9-13, 291

In taking Israel for Himself, God granted it a privilege He gave no other nation. This exclusive personal relationship was valued so highly that after the golden calf incident, after God agreed to spare Israel but threatened to end His personal relationship with them, Moses insisted on its continuation, arguing “For how shall it be known that I have gained your favor, I and your people, unless You [and not an angel] go with us, so that we may be distinguished from every people on the face of the earth.” Deuteronomy 32.9, 303

The poem concludes with a final invocation calling upon the nations to acclaim God’s deliverance of Israel and punishment of the enemy. This invitation implies that God’s salvation of Israel has importance for the world at large. Rashbam explains that this is implicitly an invitation to the nations to revere the Lord as Israel does and a promise that if they do so, He will treat them as He does Israel (when it is meritorious). This explanation brings us back to God’s original purpose in electing Israel: to make it a model nation so that all can see how He treats those who acknowledge Him. Deuteronomy 32.43, 314

Deuteronomy ends with Moses' blessing on the tribes followed by his death and the succession of Joshua. Each tribe is blessed to be prosperous and safe, but the chief blessing is always the presence of God with His people. Moses is eulogized in his death as an incomparable prophet and the one who gave Israel the basis of its revelation from God.

Having blessed the tribes individually, Moses concludes with a coda celebrating the good fortune of Israel as a whole under the protection of God. He declares that Israel enjoys unparalleled welfare because its God is unparalleled. He continues the theme of the exordium, God’s coming to Israel’s aid, and sums up the main themes of the blessings, divine protection and fertile territory. Deuteronomy 33.26-29, 333–334

Deuteronomy concludes with a theme that it has frequently stressed: Israel saw these wonders firsthand (see 4:34; 6:22; and 29:1–2). The Israelites do not have to rely on secondhand reports. They witnessed the events and are certain of the truth they prove: the indisputable authenticity of Moses. Deuteronomy 34.12, 340

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