Lesson 12: Chapters 24-26
Moses' Second Homily: The Deuteronomic Code (Ethical Stipulations of the Covenant Treaty Continued)

Lord God and Protector of our daily lives,
As You dwelt in the midst of the Israelites, so too does Your Holy Spirit dwell within the midst of the lives of Your New Covenant people.  He is present not just in those moments when we are gathered for worship but He is present and active in every aspect of our daily lives.  Your Holy Spirit counsels us in the art of right living in the image of Christ-calling us to live in holiness and to love God and our brother.  But sometimes the call to live in holiness comes into conflict with what the world tells us is action and activity that is in our best self-interest.  In those moments, Lord, give us the strength to reject the temptation to eat from that forbidden fruit and instead to cling to the Tree of Life that is the Cross of Jesus Christ.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

+ + +

For I hate divorce, says Yahweh, God of Israel, and people concealing their cruelty under a cloak, says Yahweh Sabaoth.  Have respect for your own life then, and do not break faith.
Malachi 2:16

He answered, 'Have you not read that the Creator from the beginning made them male and female and that he said: This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and the two become one flesh?  They are no longer two, therefore, but one flesh.  So then, what God has united, human beings must not divide ... It was because you were so hard-hearted, that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but it was not like this from the beginning.  Now I say this to you: anyone who divorces his     wife-I am not speaking of an illicit marriage-and marries another, is guilty of adultery.'
Matthew 19:4-9

It cannot be denied that the Law of the Sinai Covenant enacted legislation that was absolutely unique for its time:

The miscellaneous laws that began in Deuteronomy 21:10 continue in chapter 24.  In the last lesson, we studied a series of laws that dealt with everyday life in the Promised Land.  The list began with laws addressing marriage to captive women (21:10-14) and ended with a law permitting the hungry to eat from a farmer's field (23:25-26).  The next series of laws begins with failed marriages that end in divorce (24:1-4), the protection for the newly married in times of war (24:5), and ends with the feeding of the hungry in the third year tithe (26:12-15).  Notice that the definition of personal property rights for Israelites are not like the property rights we observe today.  The landowners' obligation to share the bounty of the land with the poor and destitute forbade property owners to refuse to share the bounty of their land with the poor.  Charity took precedence over the concept of private ownership of the land, which in any case ultimately belonged to God.

Chapter 24: Divorce and Daily Life

The next section has twelve laws dealing with divorce and righteous living within the community of Israel.  Verses 22:6, 10, 14, 17, 19-21 are addressed to ethical treatment of the poor.  Laws prescribing the conditions that are acceptable for divorce are not found in the Torah or in any other of the Bible books.  There are sexual and marital prohibitions listed in Leviticus 18:1-22 and 21:7, 14 (for the marriage of priests), and laws concerning marriage to and divorce from captive Gentile women (21:10-14).  The only part of the Law that speaks of a reason for divorce is found in the case law in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 in which a man has found some "impropriety" for which he wants to divorce his wife, which might be assumed to be a violation of one of the laws given in the Holiness Code forbidding certain kinds of sexual unions (Lev 18:1-22).

Deuteronomy 24:1-4
Laws Regulating Divorce and Remarriage
Law 1: 1'Suppose a man has taken a wife and consummated the marriage; but she has not pleased him and he has found some impropriety of which to accuse her; he has therefore made out a writ of divorce for her and handed it to her and then dismissed her from his house; 2she leaves his home and goes away to become the wife of another man.  3 Then suppose this second man who has married her takes a dislike to her and makes out a writ of divorce for her and hands it to her and dismisses her from his house or if this other man who took her as his wife dies, 4her first husband, who has repudiated her, may not take her back as his wife now that she has been made unclean in this way.  For that is detestable in Yahweh's eyes and you must not bring guilt on the country [land] which Yahweh your God is giving you as your heritage.' [..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, page 523-24).

When Jesus spoke of divorce in the New Testament, His teaching was unambiguous.  In the Sermon on the Mount, after speaking of the commandment forbidding adultery in the Decalogue and coupling the breaking of that commandment with the promised of eternal destruction in Gehenna/Hell of the damned (Mt 5:27-30), Jesus quoted from this passage in Deuteronomy, saying 'It has also been said, Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal.  But I say this to you, everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of an illicit marriage, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Mt 5:31-32 quoting Dt 24:1; emphasis added).

The priests and scribes interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1, deciding for what reasons a man could divorce his wife beyond the law prescribed in the Holiness Code forbidding marriages within the prohibited degrees (Lev 18:1-22).  Some scholars list adultery as one of the reasons, but this was unnecessary.  If a man could prove adultery with witnesses, the wife was stoned to death, freeing him from the marriage; or if he only suspected adultery, there was the ordeal by bitter water that could settle the issue for the family and the community (Num 5:13-31).  The problem with the ambiguous nature of the passage in Deuteronomy 24:1 was that evidently any excuse came to be accepted for a "writ of dismissal."  However, when asked about the subject of divorce Jesus gave a very clear teaching on marriage and divorce to some Pharisees who were testing Him in front of a large Jewish crowd.  Please read Matthew 19:1-9 or Mark 10:1-12.

Question: What was Jesus' answer to the Pharisees who asked him if it was against the Law for a man to divorce his wife on any pretext?  See Mt 19:3-9 and Mk 10:2-12.
Answer: First, Jesus rejected polygamy by saying it was God's plan from Creation that one man should be married to one woman (Mt 19:4-6).  Then, when the Pharisees brought up Moses' legislation on divorce (Mk 10:4), Jesus replied that Moses' legislation was based on the hard-hearts of the Israelite men and affirmed for a second time that this was not God's plan from the beginning (Mt 19:8; Mk 10:5).  He further clarified His statement when questioned by His disciples by saying that anyone who divorced and then married someone else was committing adultery (Mt 19:9; Mk 10:11-12).

It is not clear what Jesus' was referring to when He cited the hard-hearts/cruelty of the men of Israel as the reason for Moses permitting divorce.  It is possible that Moses permitted divorce to preclude a much greater sin.  If a man could only be rid of an unwanted wife by her death, then perhaps innocent wives were being falsely charged with adultery and stoned, or older, unwanted wives were dying in "accidents," thereby freeing the man of the financial burden of an unwanted wife and free to remarry.

Question: What was the one exception that Jesus gave for divorce?
Answer: In the case of "unfitness" (probably illicit marriage), one could divorce.

Jesus' gave an uncompromising position on the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage.  His one condition for divorce was porneia-a Greek word indicating "unfitness," interpreted by the Church as conditions under which a marriage should never have taken place.  The Apostles affirmed those conditions at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:19-29).  Examples of illicit marriage are in cases of incest or marriages when too close a family tie is forbidden by Law (see Leviticus chapter 18). Greek Orthodox and Protestant churches consider adultery another condition permitting divorce.  See Mk 10:11-12; Lk 16:18; 1 Cor 7:10-11 CCC 1650, 1664, 2382-86, 2400.(1)

Question: What does the law regulate using case law in Deuteronomy 24:1-4?  Is this divorce law?
Answer: This is not divorce law; it is law that regulates remarriage in the case where an unlucky woman has been divorced by her first husband and then divorced again or widowed by her second husband.  In either case, she is forbidden to remarry the first husband.

The prohibition on remarriage implies that there would be something adulterous about a remarriage.  It may have been a law to prevent the use of divorce and marriage as a legal means for wife-swapping or to prevent giving a legal veneer to organized prostitution.  This law was used as a metaphor by two prophets in Yahweh's promise that His prophet's covenant lawsuit against a faithless Israel who has prostituted herself with false gods will not mean Yahweh has abandoned Israel like a man who sells his slave to creditors or divorces his faithless wife who can never return to him:

Law 2: 5'If a man is newly married, he must not join the army, nor must he be pestered at home; he must be left at home, free of all obligations for one year, to make his new wife happy.'

This law is a repeat of the law for exemptions from military service in 20:7, but this time an obligation is placed on the husband in his exemption from deployment in war.

Question: What is the obligation of a newly married man?
Answer: To make his wife happy.

Love was usually not a factor in the selection of a bride. Most marriages were arranged by the parents, and the betrothal period was intended to give the prospective bride and groom a chance to become acquainted under the supervision of the bride's family.  Still, the couple remained relative strangers (unless they grew up in the same village) until the marriage.  This law gave the husband the opportunity to win his bride's love and to produce an heir before he risked his life fighting for Israel.

Law 3: 6'No one must take a mill or a millstone [a handmill or upper millstone] in pledge; that would be to take life itself in pledge.'

The law in verses 6, 10-13 and 17 imposes limits on how creditors can put pressure on debtors to repay a loan.  A handmill was made of two stones (like basalt) that were hard enough to withstand constant rubbing. It had an oval or rectangular base on which the grain was placed, and it had a smaller upper stone that was rubbed back and forth over the kernels of grain to grind them into flour.  Taking the upper part of a millstone made the device useless.(2)

Question: Why was it forbidden to take a millstone as collateral in exchange for a loan?
Answer: A millstone was necessary to grind the grain to produce flour that could be baked into bread.  Bread was the basic necessity of life for ancient people.  To take one's millstone as collateral for a loan would be an unreasonable hardship on a person or a family and was an act of cruelty that the law forbade-it would be a threat to the life of the person, hence the phrase that would be to take life itself in pledge.

Any item that was vital as a means of survival was forbidden as collateral in a loan.

Law 4: 7 If anyone is caught, having kidnapped one of his brother-Israelites, whether he makes him his slave or sells him, that thief must die.  You must banish this evil from among you.'

This same law is found in the Book of the Covenant in Exodus 21:16 .

Question: Comparing both passages (here and in Ex 21:16), what is assumed is the primary purpose of the abduction?
Answer: It can be assumed that the primary purpose of the abduction is to enslave the victim either to the abductor or to sell the person kidnapped to others.  Both versions of the law deal with the circumstances under which the abduction is a capital crime.

Question: What incident in the history of the children of Israel does this crime bring to mind?  See Gen 37:12-28; 40:5, 15; 45:4.
Answer: The sons of Jacob captured their brother Joseph and sold him into slavery.

You may have noticed that a number of laws forbidding certain actions will recall past crimes in the history of the people of God.

Law 5: 8 'In a case of a virulent skin-disease, take care you faithfully observe and exactly carry out everything that the Levitical priests direct you to do.  You must keep and observe everything that I have commanded them.  9 Remember what Yahweh your God did to Miriam when you were on your way out of Egypt.'

"Leprosy" is the usual translation of the Hebrew word tsara'at. However, it is a word that is used to refer to a variety of conditions that may affect the skin, or clothing, or even the walls of houses.  The instruction for dealing with such conditions, the diagnosis of the problem, and the ritual procedures associated with such conditions is found in Leviticus 13-14.  It is the responsibility of the priests to diagnose the symptoms and to the follow rules of quarantine as well as the rituals associated with the conditions, and if the person or the item or house is cured, to pronounce the lifting of the quarantine. 

It is interesting that Miriam's experience with what must have been leprosy is given as an example (see Num 12:10-15). 

Question: What is the likely reason that the people are told to remember Miriam's experience?
Answer: It may be because this part of the law's focus is on contagious skin diseases that are the responsibility of the priest to identify and to determine what is to be done.  However, Moses' sister may be named because she was one of the leaders of the people and naming her is a way to demonstrate that no matter what one's status within the community no one is to be considered exempt from the law that isolated those persons so afflicted.

Law 6: 10 'If you are making your brother a loan on pledge, you must not go into his house and seize the pledge, whatever it may be.  11 You must stay outside, and the man whom you are making the loan must bring the pledge out to you.  12 And if the man is poor, you must not go to bed with his pledge in your possession, 13 you must return it to him at sunset so that he can sleep in his cloak and bless you; and it will be an upright action on your part in God's view.'

This law is a repeat of the law in Exodus 22:25-26.  A standard of Israelite righteousness is established in this law.  One does not force exact payment of a loan that would be a hardship for the debtor, but instead one allows a poor person to retain his pledge overnight if the item pledged is necessity for daily life, like a handmill or a cloak (also see Job 22:6; Am 2:8).

Law 7: 14 'You must not exploit a poor and needy wage-earner, be he one of your brothers or a foreigner resident in you community.  15 You must pay him his wages each day, nor  allowing the sun to set before you do, since he, being poor, needs them badly, otherwise he may appeal to Yahweh against you, and you would incur guilt.

Exploitation of the poor is expressly forbidden in the Law, including foreigners living in the land; also see Dt 24:17-18; Jer 22:13; Mal 3:5; Jm 5:4.  Any wages due to a worker must be paid before sunset (Lev 19:13).

Law 8: 16 'Parents may not be put to death for their children, nor children for parents, but each must be put to death for his own crime.'

Punishment for a crime was to be the responsibility of the perpetrator.  Members of the person's family could not be held accountable for a family member's criminal act.  This Law establishes the doctrine of individual responsibility.  It is a doctrine that is applied in 2 Kings 14:6 where this passage is quoted, and it is affirmed in Jeremiah 31:29-30, in Ezekiel 14:12-20, and in 18:10-20.

Question: Does this law contradict Deuteronomy 5:9-10?
Answer: Not at all.  The passage in Deuteronomy 5:9 demonstrates that sin can affect generations-children can be affected by the examples of sins demonstrated by their parents as learned behavior that can carry a sin through succeeding generations.  Then too, the consequences of sin on the innocent can cause suffering because the children bear the disgrace in the community in which they live.

The next four laws protect the rights of foreigners, widows and orphans.

Law 9: 17 'You must not infringe the rights of the foreigner or the orphan; you must not take a widow's clothes in pledge.  18 Remember that you were once a slave in Egypt and that Yahweh your God redeemed you from that.  That is why I am giving you this order.'

The Law is to be applied with justice for all member of society.  This law is a repeat, with slight variation, from Exodus 22:20-23. Like Exodus 22:20, the command is that Israel's historical experience of slavery and poverty in Egypt should make them more sensitive to the rights of foreigners living in their land and to the plight of the poor.  It is a command that will be repeated at the end of this section of laws in 24:22.

Law 10: 19 'If, when reaping the harvest in your field, you overlook a sheaf in that field, do not go back for it. 

Commands providing for feeding the poor are found in each of the codified laws (see Ex 23:11; Lev 19:9ff).  

Question: How did the widow Ruth's knowledge of this law help her to provide food for herself and her widowed mother-in-law?  How did this convert to the faith's knowledge of the law become an additional blessing?  See Rt 2:2-4; 4:9-10.
Answer: Ruth's knowledge of the law led her to ask Naomi to let her go into the fields to glean.  It was in gleaning the fields that she met her future husband. 

Law 11: 20 'When you beat your olive tree, you must not go over the branches twice.  The foreigner, the orphan and the widow shall have the rest.'

Olives were harvested by beating the branches with long poles to dislodge the ripe fruit (see Is 17:6).  Owners of olive trees were to only beat the branches once; leaving the remaining immature fruit that had not yet ripened at the time of harvest to be collected later by the poor.

Law 12: 21 'When you harvest your vineyard, you must not pick it over a second time.  The foreigner, the orphan and the widow shall have the rest.'

Owners of vineyards were to only have the harvesters go through the field once, leaving the remaining immature clusters to ripe for the poor.

22 Remember that you were once a slave in Egypt.  That is why I am giving you this order.'

This is the third time the Israelites are commanded to "remember" in association with their Egyptian experience in this sequence of laws.

  1. They are told to remember Miriam's punishment on the way out of Egypt (24:9).
  2. They are told not to infringe the rights of the poor by remembering they were once slaves in Egypt (24:18).
  3. They are commanded to remember their slavery in Egypt in context with leaving some of the produce from the vineyard for the poor (24:22).

Chapter 25: Miscellaneous Laws

Deuteronomy 25:1-4
Limited punishment and the ethical treatment of animals/laborers
1'If people fall out, they must go to court for judgment; the judges must declare the one who is right to be in the right, the one who is wrong to be in the wrong.  2If the one who is in the wrong deserves a flogging, the judge must have him laid on the ground and flogged in his presence, the number of strokes proportionate to his offence.  3He may impose forty strokes but no more; other wise, by the infliction of more, serious injury may be caused and your brother be humiliated before you.'

Flogging was generally used as a punishment for workers and children.  The law limited the number of blows a man could receive in a flogging to prevent serious injury or the possibility of flogging someone to death.  A man was to be appointed by the court to count the number of blows so the person doing the flogging did not loose count.

Question: What was the limit on the number of blows that could be struck?
Answer: Forty.

Actually, to avoid the possibility of excessive blows, Jewish law limited the number the number of blows to thirty-nine (JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 230).

4'You must not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the corn.

The threshing of grain was normally done by an ox treading on the stalks of grain or an ox pulling a threshing sledge.  While threshing, the animal would stop occasionally to eat some of the grain.  It was cruel to prevent a hungry animal from eating while it worked to separate the grain from the stalks; an animal or a human worker was to have a fair share in what was the product of his labors. 

Question: How does St. Paul use this passage as an example in his letter to the Corinthians and to St. Timothy?  See 1 Cor 9:9; 1 Tim 5:17-18 and also Lk 10:7.
Answer: It is St. Paul's argument that faith communities should provide for the welfare of the apostles sent by Christ to minister to them and to plant the seeds of faith in the same way that it is commanded by God that an animal laboring in the harvest should receive its fair share for the labor it performs.  In his letter to St. Timothy, he also refers to Jesus' statement in Luke 10:7 that a worker in the Lord's harvest of souls deserved his wage.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10
The Levirate Law
5 'If brothers live together and one of them dies childless, the dead man's wife must not marry a stranger outside the family.  Her husband's brother must come to her and, exercising his duty as a brother, make her his wife, 6 and the first son she bears must assume the dead brother's name; by this means his name will not be obliterated from Israel.  7 But if the man declines to take his brother's wife, she must go to the elders at the gate and say, "I have no brother-in-law willing to perpetuate his brother's name in Israel; he declines to exercise his duty as brother in my favor."  8 The elders of the town must summon the man and talk to him.  If, on appearing before them, he says, "I refuse to take her," 9 then the woman to whom he owes duty as brother must go up to him in the presence of the elders, take the sandal off his foot, spit in his face, and pronounce the following words, "This is what is done to the man who refuses to restore his brother's house," 10 and his family must henceforth be known in Israel as House of the Unshod.

Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21 forbids marriage with the wife of one's brother.  This law outlines conditions that provide an exception to the rule.

Question: What are the conditions under which an exception is granted?

  1. The brothers were living together with their families.
  2. The dead man's wife has no children.*
  3. The brother-in-law must be willing to take up this responsibility.

The Septuagint and Jewish tradition (halakhah) take the Hebrew word "son" (ben) in this case to mean "offspring," whether male or female.  The legislation in Numbers 27:1-11 permits a sonless man's daughters to inherit his land, thus obviating the need for a levirate marriage if there are daughters.  A man's betrothed (fiancée) was also eligible to request a marriage with a brother-in-law (JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 231).

This law is known as the "Levirate Law," from the Latin levir, which means "brother-in-law" (in Hebrew, yabam)It was evidently a very old practice that the widow who has no children is to be taken as a wife by her brother-in-law with the eldest son of the union being acknowledged as the dead husband's heir.  The practice is encouraged for brothers living together in one household, but the brother-in-law does have the option to refuse.(3)

Question: What story in Genesis is concerned with such a marriage and the widow's determination to assert her rights?  What other Biblical heroine claimed the same right through a kinsman redeemer?
Answer: In the story of Tamar and Judah, Tamar deceived her father-in-law Judah in order to secure her right to bear a son from the tribe of Judah.  Ruth made the same claim on her dead husband's kinsman, Boaz.

Question: What were the two practical reasons for such a practice?

  1. A childless widow was expected to return to her father's house where she became a person with no status within the family.  If she had a child in her husband's family, she may stay and if she had a son, she could expect that he would care for her in her old age.
  2. The son born from the brother-in-law but recognized as the heir of the woman's dead husband perpetuated the family name and added to the stability of the family inheritance rights.  A daughter born to the widow and the dead man's brother could also inherit the share of the dead brother if there were no sons.

Question: How did the Sadducees use this law as an argument against the doctrine of the resurrection in a discussion with Jesus, and what was Jesus' reply?  See Mt 22:23-33.  The Sadducees did not believe in the Resurrection of the dead.
Answer: They suggested a hypothetical case in which a woman had been widowed repeatedly and married seven brothers, asking Jesus to which husband she would be married at the Resurrection.  Jesus replied that there would be a final resurrection but that there was no marriage in heaven.

Question: If a childless widow claimed protection under the stipulations of this law, and if her brother-in-law refused to accept her as a wife, what recourse did the widow have?
Answer: She could appeal to the town elders, and if her brother-in-law still refused, she was to shame him with a gesture of renunciation in removing his sandal, spitting in his face and insulting him. There was nothing she could do under the law to force him to accept her as his wife other than to ridicule him for his failure to secure the continuance of the name of his brother in the community.

Deuteronomy 25:11-16
Unseemly Behavior in Brawls and Honesty in Using Weights and Measures
11 'If, when two men are fighting, the wife of one intervenes to protect her husband from the other's blows by reaching out and seizing the other by his private parts, 12 you must cut off her hand and show no pity. You must not keep two different weights in your bag, one heavy, one light.  You must not keep two different measures in your house, one large, one small.  You must keep one weight, full and accurate, so that you may have long life in the country [land] given you by Yahweh your God.  For anyone who does things of this kind and acts dishonestly is detestable to Yahweh your God. 

It was forbidden to deliberately attempt to damage someone's sexual organs.  This is the only example of punishment by mutilation in the Pentateuch.

Dishonesty in the application of weights and measures in trade was strictly forbidden. 

Question: What blessing and what curse are associated with this law?
Answer: Honesty in the use of weights and measures will bring long life in the Promised Land, but it is implied that acts of dishonesty, which are detestable to God, will shorten one's life and one's prosperity in the land.

Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Remembering Amalekite Treachery.
Remember how Amalek treated you when you were on your way out of Egypt.  He met you on your way and, after you had gone by, he fell on you from the rear and cut off the stragglers; when you were faint and weary, he had no fear of God.  When Yahweh your God has granted you peace from all the enemies surrounding you, in the country [land] given you by Yahweh your God to own as your heritage, you must blot out the memory of Amalek under heaven.  Do not forget.' [..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, page 527).

Question: Who were the Amalekites?  Why are the Israelite's commanded the blot out the memory of these people?  See Gen 36:12; Ex 17:8-16.
Answer: The Amalekites were descendants of Esau who attacked the children of Israel on their march out of Egypt on the way to Mt. Sinai.  The battle with the Amalekites was Israel's first major battle and first victory.  After the battle, God told Moses to write down the events of the battle to commemorate it.  God then made the promise that He would be at war with Amalek generation after generation.  The new generation of Israelites is admonished to remember the treachery of the Amalekites and to fulfill God's promise.

This isn't the first reminder of the treachery of the Amalekites since Israel's victory in Exodus chapter 17. In Balaam's oracle of the future king in Israel, the oracle is followed by the reminder of the destruction of the Amalekites (see Num 24:1-20; also see 1 Chr 4:42-43).  God has no mercy for those who refuse to show mercy to the weak and helpless.

Chapter 26:1-15

This chapter addresses two ceremonies in which the heads of the Israelite families must make declarations of obedience before Yahweh's altar once a year after entering the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
The Declaration of obedience and Profession of faith associated with the offering of the first fruits
1 When you have entered the country which Yahweh your God is giving you as heritage, when you have taken possession of it and are living in it, 2 you must set aside the first-fruits of all the produce of the soil raised by you in your country, given you by Yahweh your God.  You must put these in a basket and go to the place where Yahweh your God chooses to give his name a home.  3 You will go to the priest then in office and say to him, "Today I declare to Yahweh my God that I have reached the country which Yahweh swore to our ancestors that he would give us."  4 The priest will then take the basket from your hand and lay it before the altar of Yahweh your God.  In the presence of Yahweh your God, you will then pronounce these words: 5 "My father was a wandering Aramaean, who went down to Egypt with a small group of men, and stayed there, until he there became a great, powerful and numerous nation.  6 The Egyptians ill-treated us, they oppressed us and inflicted harsh slavery on us.  7 But we called on Yahweh, God of our ancestors.  Yahweh heard our voice and saw our misery, our toil and our oppression; 8 and Yahweh brought us out of Egypt with mighty hand and outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders.  9 He brought us here and has given us this country, a country flowing with milk and honey.  10 Hence, I now bring the first-fruits of the soil that you, Yahweh, have given me."  You will then lay them before Yahweh your God, and prostrate yourself in the presence of Yahweh your God.  11 You must then rejoice in all the good things that Yahweh your God has bestowed on you and your family-you, the Levite and the foreigner living with you.'

After the redemption of the firstborn on the night of the last Egyptian plague, the first-born of man and beast belonged to God (Ex 13:11). After taking possession of the Promised Land, the Israelites were also to offer Yahweh the first fruits of the produce of the land which were consecrated to Him (Ex 22:28; 23:19; 34:26; Lev 2:12, 14; 23:10-17; Dt 18:4).  These are tribute offerings to God the liberator and great King of Israel.  In ancient Near Eastern kingdoms it was a common practice to bring the king tribute offerings in appreciation for the king's protection and in acknowledgement of his sovereignty over the people.

Question: To whom does Yahweh share the first-fruits of the animals and the produce of the soil and well as the redemption tax paid of every first born male child?  See Num 18:8-19; Ez 44:15, 28-30.
Answer: It is the way that God provides for His chief priests and Levites in addition to the Israelite's redemption tax for first born sons.

Question: The declaration of obedience in verse 3 is followed by a profession of faith.  In what form is the profession of faith given in verses 5-9?
Answer: It is a summary of salvation history that is centered on the Egyptian deliverance.

Question: According to verses 5, who was the "wandering Aramean and what is meant by the term?
Answer: The reference is to Jacob/Israel, who was a descendant of Abraham who came from Haran, a city in the Mesopotamian providence of Aram-Naharaim, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Abraham's homeland after leaving Ur of the Chaldeans was Haran in Mesopotamia, known also as the land of Padanaram.  Abraham and his descendants were Arameans and not Israelites.  There were no Israelites until God changed Jacob's name to Israel (see Gen32:29/28 and 35:10).  The members of Jacob/Israel's family are not called "Israelites" until Genesis 46:8 on the journey into Egypt.

Question: Why isn't Jacob/Israel called a Jew?
Answer: Originally that designation meant one who is a member of the tribe of Judah (one of the twelve tribes of Israel).  Later, in the period of the divided monarchy, it meant one who was a citizen of the nation of Judah and in the Roman period, one who was a citizen of Judea.

Note: Every Jew was an Israelite, but not every Israelite was a Jew.  King David was both a Jew/Judahite) and an Israelite. Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and a member of the tribe of Ephraim was both an Ephraimite and an Israelite.  The Apostles from the Galilee were Israelites, but Jesus, born in Bethlehem in Judah/Judea was a Jew.

Question: What is the theological point of the declaration that the head of the family had to make before Yahweh's altar?
Answer: Theologically, the point of this declaration is that Israel's identity is not rooted in the mythological like her neighboring states-Israel's origins are historical.  According the Pentateuch, Israel was called into existence at a precise moment in time and at a specific place-in the Exodus out of Egypt and at Mt. Sinai.

The instruction for the third year tithe for the poor was given in Deuteronomy 14:28-29.  See the tithing schedule in the handout for Lesson 8. 

Deuteronomy 26:12-15
The Oath for the Third Year Tithe
12'In the third year, the tithing year, when you have finished taking the tithe of your whole income and have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the orphan and the widow so that, in your towns, they may eat to their heart's content, 13in the presence of Yahweh your God, you must say: "I have cleared my house of what was consecrated.  Yes, I have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the orphan and the widow, in accordance with all the commandments you have imposed on me, neither going beyond your commandments nor neglecting them.  14When in mourning, I have not eaten any of it; when unclean, I have taken none of it away; I have given none of it for the dead.  I have obeyed the voice of Yahweh my God and I have behaved in every way as you have commanded me.  15Look down from your holy dwelling, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the country which you have given us, as you swore to our ancestors, a country flowing with milk and honey."'

The obligation of the third year tithe was declared in Deuteronomy 14:28-29: At the end of every three years, you must take all the tithes of your harvest for that year and collect them in your community.  Then the Levite-since he has no share or heritage of his own among you-the foreigner, the orphan and the widow living in your community, will come and eat all they want.  And so Yahweh your God will bless you in all the labors that you undertake.

Question: Every third year the tithe was collected and kept in the community to feed what groups of people within the community?
Answer: They were to provide food for the Levites, the widows, the orphans and the resident aliens.

Question: After the collection and the giving of the third year tithe for the poor, what must the covenant member, who is the head of his family, do upon the next visit to Yahweh's Sanctuary?
Answer: He must make a public declaration before Yahweh's altar that he has fulfilled his obligations to the poor and has not abused the tithe by handling the tithe while in a ritually unclean state would defile it.

Using any of the tithe for his meals while in mourning would defile what he ate and any other parts of the tithe he touched when taking it by becoming impure from being in the same room as a dead body.  The declaration was not only an acknowledgement of the giving of the tithe and the meeting of the obligation to feed the poor but was also a confession of obedience to God's command and an expectation of God's promised blessing in return for faithful obedience.

Question: It was the obligation of the father of every family in Israel to be obedient to his family's responsibilities to the poor.  What can he expect in return?
Answer:  Yahweh will bless the people and the land. Because of the mercy they have shown the poor, God in return will extend His mercy to them.

Deuteronomy 26:16-19
Exhortation and Promise
16'Yahweh your God commands you today to observe [do] these laws [hukkim] and customs [mishpatim]; you must keep [samar] and observe [asah = do] them with all your heart and with all your soul.  17Today you have obtained this declaration from Yahweh: that he will be your God, but only if you follow [samar] his ways, keep [samar] his statutes [mishpatim], his commandments [mishvot], his customs [hukkim], and listen to his voice [keep/samar and walk in his ways].  18 And today Yahweh has obtained this declaration from you: that you will be his own people-as he has said-but only if you keep [samar] all his commandments [mishvot]; 19 then for praise and renown [in name] and honor [in glory], he will raise you higher than every other nation he has made, and you will be a people consecrated to Yahweh, as he has promised.'
[..] =
literal Hebrew translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 529; emphasis added).  The NJB usually uses hukkim for "customs or statutes" but verse 16 in the Hebrew text has the Hebrew words in the order presented above.

As we near the end of the second homily, Moses urges the people to remain faithful to Yahweh if they want to receive the blessings He has promised.  Moses exhorts the people to be obedient by using the familiar verbs samar, meaning to "keep, guard, or protect" and asah, meaning "to do or to make in the broadest sense and widest application" (New Strong's Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible, page 111).  He also uses Hebrew words that refer to the law that are the same Hebrew words that introduced the Stipulations section of the covenant treaty in Deuteronomy chapter 4:

  1. hukkim, from the root "engrave," pertains to officially engraved laws or decrees.
  2. mishpatim are rules issued by a judge or a ruler (judge/ruler = shofet).
  3. mitsvot from the root "command (mitsvah)," is literally "commandments."
  4. 'edot, literally "testimonies," refers to the stipulations of a covenant treaty ('edut) imposed by a great king upon his vassal.
  5. torah from the prime root horah, "to teach;" more accurately translated as "teaching" or "instruction."

For example see Deuteronomy 4:44-45-This is the Law [torah =teaching] which Moses presented to the Israelites.  45 These are the stipulations ['edot], the laws [mishpatim] and the customs [hukkim] which Moses gave the Israelites after they had left Egypt ...

The most common terms used by Moses are mishpatim and hukkim.  In Rabbinic exegesis, these terms are understood to refer to two broad categories of commandments (mishvot):

  1. mishpatim are understood to be laws in which the purpose for the law is evident and which mankind would have devised for the good of society even if God had never commanded them (i.e., prohibitions against murder and theft-justice that stems from the natural law inherit in all humans).  Mishpatim are the commands issued by Yahweh as Israel's Great King in governing a just society (Dt 4:45).
  2. hukkim are understood to be commandments that include the purity and dietary laws, for which the reason if not obvious. Hukkim include the Ten Words (Ten Commandments), which must be obeyed as expressions of belief in God's divine sovereignty over His people (Dt 4:45). 

Question: What is the significance of the use of the word "today" in verses 16, 17 and 18?
Answer: These are not just commands and obligations that were imposed upon the fathers of the Exodus generation-the covenant formation at Sinai is to be continued with the present generation, and if they are obedient, the same promised blessings God made to the Exodus generation will be theirs.

Question for group discussion:

Public declarations in the presence of the congregation and before God's altar were made concerning the giving of the first fruits tithe and for the third year tithe for the poor.  When do the New Covenant people of God make public declarations before God's holy altar collectively as a community and individually as a covenant member? 


1. Also see Lk 16:18 and 1 Cor 7:10ff.  In the first century AD there different interpretation of Dt 24:1 existed among the two most prominent schools of Rabbinic scholars, Hillel and Shammai, on the reasons which make divorce legitimate.  Hillel took the more liberal approach that anything that was displeasing to the husband was grounds for divorce, while Shammai maintained that only marriage that violated one of the prohibitions and constituted an invalid marriage or marriage to a Gentile who refused to convert was grounds for divorce.

2. In Mt 24:40-41, Jesus spoke of the coming judgment giving the example of two women grinding at the millstone.  At an archaeological dig at the Galilean town of Bethsaida (the home town of Sts. Peter, Andrew, and Philip), among the discoveries at a fisherman's house was two slabs on top of each other used for grinding grain.  The smaller top stone was so heavy that at first the archaeologists couldn't figure out how it was used.  Then, archaeologist Elizabeth McNamer remembered Jesus prophecy in the Gospel of Matthew about two women grinding grain.  She had two students get on either end of the mill; they were able to push the upper stone back and forth with ease (C. Thiede and M. D'Ancona, Eyewitness to Jesus, page 129).

3. This law is also found in other ancient law codes, for example in Assyrian and Hittite legislation (New Jerusalem Bible, note Dt 25a, page 253).

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2011 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references (* indicated Scripture is quoted or paraphrased in the citation):

Dt 24:1-4

CCC 1616*, 1650, 1664, 2382-86, 2400

Dt 24:14-15

CCC 1867*, 2409*, 2434*

Dt 25:13-16

CCC 2409*