November 9, 2015.
Daily reading: Deuteronomy 1-3.
Background: The book of Deuteronomy is a unique book in the Hebrew scriptures, really standing independently from the previous books of the law and the subsequent books of history as it comprises aspects of both. The name is derived from a statement made in Deuteronomy 17:18 which talks about a ‘copy of this law’, which is very fitting to what Deuteronomy is in essence- a copy and concise version of the previous books of the law, starting at Mount Horeb and continuing on to the death of Moses. There are different theories as to the purpose and position of the book, one mainstream idea being that it originally served as an introduction to the book of Joshua but eventually was detached (with a little bit of shuffling of texts for ordering purposes) and placed with the four books of the law because of the central character of Moses. The book can be generally broken into three different sections (chapters 1:1–4:43, 4:44–29:1, 29:2–30:20), or sermons of Moses delivered to the Israelites, with some appendices at the end. Sometimes the inner core of the book (chapter 12-26) is referred to as the Deuteronomic code, the section of the book that seems to be the oldest, giving a series of commands or law which define the Israelite’s covenant relationship with the Lord. Deuteronomy places the Torah (the books of the law) as the ultimate authority for all of Israel, emphasizing the uniqueness of God, the law of God, worship, and concern for the oppressed. Perhaps two of the most notable passages in Deuteronomy are the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and the Messianic prophecy given in 18:15-22).
Concepts and Connections.
Retelling the past: The book of Deuteronomy opens on the first day of the eleventh month of the 40th year since the children of Israel were lead out of the land of Egypt, as Moses stands before the congregation and begins to recap their history in the wilderness. This concise version of the 40 years in the wildness would last for three chapters and indicates the importance of remembering the past, even the mistakes so that we learn from it and gain wisdom to go forward. Moses begins with the call for the children of Israel to get up and leave Mount Horeb (also known as Mount Sinai, see Exodus 33 and Numbers 10) to go to the land of promise, Canaan. He remembers the system that was set up for judging the people so that the full burden wouldn’t fall on him (see Exodus 18), setting leaders and judges before the people so that they would help him. Then he tells them about the spies that were sent into the land of Canaan, returning with a good report of the land, but a bad report of the people in the land, so that the people were afraid and would not go in. After they saw the anger of the Lord, and His judgment that those who were 20 and older would not enter the promised land (aside from Joshua and Caleb who had trusted in the Lord), they tried to change their mind and go up and fight even though Moses commanded them not to. They were defeated in battle because the Lord was not with them, for He had already pronounced judgment on them for their disobedience and distrust (see Numbers 13-14). One of the reasons that Moses was likely reminding them of this transgression is because they were now in the position to once again enter the promised land, and that was what they were preparing to do. It was important for them to hear of their past and make a better decision now that the opportunity arose again from the Lord. This is still applicable to us today.
Passing though people’s lands: Continuing on the story of Israel’s history of wandering in the wildness from the last chapter, Moses talks about the people’s journey mostly in this chapter, discussing three different lands that the people of Israel were to pass through. The first was the land of Seir in which the sons of Esau dwelt (see Genesis 36). The children of Israel were to pass through their brother’s land in peace, not contending with them in any way, for the Lord had given the land to the descendants of Esau for a possession. Thus they did. Then they were told to pass through the land of Moab and Ar in a similar manner, not contending with the people, for the Lord had given the land to the descendants of Lot for a possession, the people of Ammon (see Genesis 19:36-37). The point is made here that the Lord even drove out a people who were tall and mighty so that the sons of Lot could dwell there. Note the level of detail and attention to names, history and peoples given in this recount. During all this time, 38 years passes in order for the people of Israel who were above 20 years old could die (for the hand of the Lord was against them) so that the new generation would be able to pass into the promised land. The third land they are told to pass through is on different terms. The Lord tells the children of Israel to pass through the valley of the Arnon, for He had given Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, into their hands. When they came, Moses sent messengers to the king to ask to allow the people of Israel to pass through their land peacefully. But the Lord hardened the heart of the king so as to given them into the hands of the Israelites. Thus Israel contended with Sihon in battle at Jahaz and the Lord fought for Israel and gave them into their hands. They left no survivors, but took the livestock and plunder for spoil (see Numbers 21:21-30). The children of Israel had followed the command of the Lord in these instances and had been blessed for it.
Getting close to the promised land: Moses continues on with the history that he began in the first chapter, here beginning with the defeat of Og (see Numbers 21:31-35). It is interesting that we are given a more detailed rendition of the story here than the one that was written before. The people of Og came out to contend with Israel, but the Lord told Moses not to be afraid of them, for He was going to given them into their hands just as He had done with Sihon. And just as they had done to Sihon, the people defeated the people of Og and took their plunder and their land. It was here that the tribes of Ruben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh asked to take their possession instead of in the land across the Jordan (see Numbers 32). This inheritance was given on the stipulation that the men of war from these tribes would continue on with their brethren across the Jordan to fight with them in the land of promise, so as to encourage their brothers and help them with their inheritance (see Numbers 32:20-21 and Joshua 1:14, 4:12). Finally, Moses recounts here his pleading with the Lord to allow him to enter the promised land with the people. But the Lord told Moses “enough from you,” for He had already told him that he would not enter the land because of his disobedience at Meribah (see Numbers 27:12-23). Rather, he was told to go to the top of Pisgah to see the land, but it would be Joshua who would lead the people into the land.
Tomorrow’s Reading: II Chronicles 21-24.
Be strong and courageous.