THE PENTATEUCH PART V: DEUTERONOMY
Lesson 14: Chapters 29:1-31:27
Moses' Third Homily: The Succession Arrangements of the Covenant Treaty
The covenant ratified at Mt. Sinai was a renewal resource for every generation; so too have You made the New Covenant in Christ Jesus living and active in every generation. In our New Covenant renewal ceremony, every generation of Your New Covenant people pledges their allegiance to Jesus Christ, our King and Savior, in a profession of faith and a sacred meal. Like the children of the Old Covenant, we eat our sacred communion meal of the Eucharist in Your Divine Presence, affirming both our belief and our obedience. As we study the succession arrangements of the Sinai Covenant, help us to be mindful that the responsibility for passing on our faith in Jesus Christ and our allegiance to His Church rests with each generation of Your people. Let us all be able to answer truthfully on the Day of Judgment that we taught our children to love and fear the Lord and to be obedient to the New Covenant Law of love and service. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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Behold, man, you
have before you "water and fire, life and death, good and evil," heaven and
hell, the legitimate king and a cruel tyrant, the false sweetness of the world
and the true blessedness of paradise. Power is given to you through the grace
of Christ: "Stretch forth your hand to whichever you choose." "Choose life,
that you may live"; leave the broad way on the left which drags you to death
and cling to the narrow path on the right which happily leads you to life. Do
not allow the wideness of that road on the left to keep you or give you
Caesarius, Bishop of Arles (c. 470-543), Sermon 151.5
pedagogy appears especially in the gift of the Law. God gave the Law as a
"pedagogue" to lead his people towards Christ. But the Law's powerlessness to
save man deprived of the divine "likeness," along with the growing awareness of
sin that it imparts, enkindles a desire for the Holy Spirit. The lamentations
of the Psalms bear witness to this.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 708
Chapter 29: Completion of the Covenant Renewal Ceremony on the Plains of Moab
The Sanctions of the Covenant Treaty concluded Moses' second homily with the statement that the Deuteronomic Code and the sanctions of the covenant treaty in chapter 28 are "in addition to the covenant which he had made with them at Horeb" (Dt 28:69/29:1) and not, as some scholars suggest, that this is a new covenant on the Plains of Moab. A separate "covenant at Moab" is never mentioned in Scripture; instead the covenant is the one Yahweh made with Israel when He brought the people out of Egypt-the covenant made at Sinai (Dt 29:24/25) and a covenant made with us at Horeb (Sinai) that is living and active not only from the time of the ancestors but with us, with all of us alive here today (Dt 5:2-3).
In this his third and last homily, Moses will address the Succession Arrangements of the Covenant Treaty with Yahweh. Note the continued repetitions of the phrase "Yahweh your God," the reminder that Yahweh is the God of this present generation and not just the God of the ancestors. Also notice the repetition of the word "today," the reminder that the covenant made with Yahweh at Sinai is also a covenant of obedience and allegiance that continues in the present generation.(1)
The Historical Introduction of the Third Homily
1 Moses called all Israel together and said to them: 'You have seen everything that Yahweh did before your eyes in Egypt, to Pharaoh, to his servants and to his whole country [land]-2 the great ordeals which you yourselves witnessed, those signs and the great wonders. 3 But until today Yahweh has not given you a heart to understand, eyes to see, or ears to hear. 4 I have been leading you for forty years in the desert, yet the clothes which you have been wearing have not worn out, nor have the sandals on your feet. 5 You have had no bread to eat, you have had no wine or fermented liquor to drink, so that you would learn that I, Yahweh, am your God. 6 When you reached this place, Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan came out to do battle against us; we defeated them. 7 We conquered their country [land] and gave it as heritage to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. 8 Keep the words of this covenant, put them into practice, and you will thrive in everything you do.'
[..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 539).
In the introduction to his third homily, Moses reviews some of the lessons he taught in the Historical Prologue, recalling God's mighty works on Israel's behalf in Egypt (vs. 2-3), God's divine protection during the wilderness years (vs. 4-5), and their victories in the Transjordan campaign (vs. 6-7).
Question: What concrete, visible examples of God's
divine protection does Moses point out to the new generation? Why didn't they
need wine to drink? See Ex 16:35-36; 17:6; Num 20:11; 1 Cor 10:4).
Answer: During the past forty years, the clothes and shoes they have worn have not worn out, as clothes and shoes normally do over time and with use. They have also received God's gift of the manna for their bread (Ex 16:35-36) and pure and holy water from the Rock by divine providence to sustain them on their journey to the Promised Land (Ex 17:6; Num 20:11; 1 Cor 10:4). These are visible signs of God's divine protection. He also mentions the victories God gave them over their enemies in the Transjordan campaign-the first great battles against a far superior and well trained army that the new generation warriors encountered.
Question: What do the manna and the water prefigure
for the Christian in what God has provided for him to sustain him on his
wilderness journey through his life on his way to the Promised Land of heaven?
What do the Israelite victories prefigure for the Christian?
Answer: Baptism and the Eucharist. The Israelite victories prefigure God's promised victories to us over the evil and sufferings we may face on our faith journey, if we will remain loyal and obedient to Him.
Question: What is the point of this historical
review? See verse 8.
Answer: All these miracles and military victories are a reminder that if they remain faithful to the covenant and put God's laws into practice in the daily lives, they will continue to prosper and to overcome, with God's assistance, every obstacle they might face in the Promised Land.
In verse 3 (in some translations verse 4) Moses says: But until today Yahweh has not given you a heart to understand, eyes to see, or ears to hear (emphasis added). This verse is a good example why it is necessary to study the original language of the text and to examine the use of the same key words in other passages of Scripture. The Hebrew word 'ad (usually translated "until" or "til") is not used in the same way that we use the word "until." It does not necessarily mean an act or circumstance that doesn't take place up to a point in time and then takes place after that time. The word can be used as an adverb meaning continuance (The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, #5703, page 723-24). The meaning in this passage is that something has not taken place in the past and continues not to take place in the present. An example is that the same word is used in 2 Samuel 6:23: And until ['ad] the day of her death, Michal, daughter of Saul, had no children. This passage does not mean that Saul's daughter had children after her death. 'Ad is used as an adverb of continuance (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, # 2193, page 268).
In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Greek word in both Deuteronomy 29:3 and 2 Samuel 6:23 is the word heos. It is the same Greek word used in Matthew 1:25-a verse that has caused much confusion concerning the perpetual virginity of Mary of Nazareth. Concerning St. Joseph the text reads: ... and [Joseph] did not know her until [heos] she bore her son, the Firstborn. And he called His name Jesus (The Interlinear Bible: Greek-English, vol. 4, page 3). In this passage the word heos does not mean that St. Joseph had sexual relations with Mary after Jesus' birth but instead that he did not "know" her (have intimate relations with her) before the birth of Jesus and that condition continued after Jesus' birth. Therefore, in our present passage in verse 3, in the past and continuing to "today" on the Plains of Moab, the Israelites gave not been given the gift of a heart to understand, eyes to see, or ears to hear.(2) In Scripture Yahweh will continue to describe the Israelites as a people who do not have a heart to understand or eyes to see (Is 6:10; Jer 5:21; Ez 12:2) as does Jesus (Mt 13:10-17).
In the Gospel of St. John, the apostle writes that God did not give the Jews "eyes to see" because it was part of His plan to bring salvation to the world: Though they [the Jews] had been present when he gave so many signs, they did not believe in him; this was to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah ... then John quotes Isaiah 53:1 and next he quotes Isaiah 6:10, Indeed, they were unable to believe because, as Isaiah says again: "He has blinded their eyes, he has hardened their heart, to prevent them from using their eyes to see, using their heart to understand, changing their ways and being healed by me." Isaiah said this because he saw his [Christ's] glory, and his words referring to Jesus (Jn 12:37-41).
It is this gift of eyes that see and a heart that understands that is necessary to have the obedient faith to live in complete submission to the will of God.
Question: What is it that the Israelites do not have
that Yahweh has not yet given them but which He will promise through the
prophets (Ez 36:25-27; Joel 3:1-2), and when will the people of God receive
this gift? See Jn 16:7-15; Acts 1:8; 2:4.
Answer: The Old Covenant people did not have the gift of the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit within their souls. This is a gift that Christ promises in John 3:3-5 and that He will send to His Church after His Ascension on the Jewish feast of Pentecost.
The Israelites have circumcised bodies but they do not have circumcised hearts. The gift of circumcised hearts will come to the people of God in the New Covenant when God will give His people a new heart and a new Spirit (Ez 11:19; 18:31; 36:26). The prophet Isaiah wrote that the Israelites were handicapped in the ability to remain faithful: For Yahweh has infused you with a spirit of lethargy, he has closed your eyes (the prophets), he has veiled your heads (the seers). For to you every vision has become like the words of a sealed book (Is 29:10-11; also see similar passages in Jer 31:22; Ez 36:22-28; 2 Cor 6:16; Heb 8:10; Rev 21:3).
St. Paul quoted from both Deuteronomy 29:3 and Isaiah 29:10 in his letter to the Romans when he wrote: ... Israel failed to find what it was seeking; only those who were chosen found it and the rest had their minds hardened; just as it says in Scripture: God has infused them with a spirit of lethargy; until today they have not eyes to see or ears to hear ... What I am saying is this: Was this stumbling to lead to their final downfall? Out of the question! On the contrary, their failure has brought salvation for the gentiles, in order to stir them to envy. And if their fall has proved a great gain to the world, and this loss has proved a great gain to the gentiles-how much greater a gain will come when all is restored to them! (Rom 11:7-12; emphasis added). Paul was saying that the unbelief of the Jews was only a false step which God permitted with a view to the conversion of the Gentiles and ultimately of the Jews themselves-for their own salvation God will make them "envious" of the Christian Gentiles and their gift of eternal salvation in Christ Jesus. It was for this reason, in God's plan of salvation, that He did not give the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit until the New Covenant in Christ Jesus. See CCC 708, 1286-87.
The Summon to Renew the Covenant
9 'All of you are standing here today in the presence of Yahweh your God: your tribal leaders [your rulers, your tribes], your elders, your scribes [officers], all the men of Israel, 10 with your children and your wives (and the foreigner too who is in your camp, be he your wood-cutter or your water-carrier), 11 and you are about to pass into the covenant of Yahweh your God, sworn with imprecation, which he has made with you today, 12 and by which today he makes you a nation for himself and he himself becomes a God to you as he has promised you, and as he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 13 Not only on your behalf am I today making this covenant and pronouncing this solemn curse, 14 not only on behalf of those standing here with us in the presence of Yahweh our God today, but also on behalf of those not here with us today (emphasis added).
Every generation, individually and collectively, must make their declaration of belief in Yahweh and their commitment to the covenant with Yahweh. Future such declarations community will be made on every Sabbath year at the Assembly of Israel on the Feast of Shelters (Dt 31:9-13).
Bible scholar Peter Craigie counters the claim that Moses is establishing another covenant with the Israelites other than the one imitated by Yahweh at Sinai: The emphasis in this passage is upon the present (today is used five times), not in the sense that a new covenant was being initiated, but rather in the sense that the renewing of the covenant was a revitalizing of the relationship (The Book of Deuteronomy, page 357). This interpretation is supported by Scripture, where a second covenant with Israel on the Plains of Moab is never mentioned. On the contrary, Scripture speaks of the Sinai Covenant as an "everlasting covenant with Israel" in which God gave Israel the land of Canaan as a birthright (Ps 105:10-11); the covenant that Yahweh made with them when He brought them out of Egypt (Dt 29:24/25).
Question: What seven or eight groups of people are
present at the assembly of the covenant renewal ceremony, depending on the
rendering of the translation (for the literal Hebrew see above)? Note: the
last group will be further divided into two categories.
The list appears to be based on the hierarchy within the community. It is interesting that the children are listed ahead of the wives, possibly because sons have status above their mothers. The resident aliens are listed last because of their lower status. They are non-Israelites who have not been circumcised and therefore have not converted or married into the covenant (circumcision is a requirement of marriage with an Israelite woman; see Gen 34:14-17). They do not have tribal affiliation and therefore are among the most impoverished of the people and work as menial laborers (water carriers and woodcutters).(3)
Question: When does every new generation of Catholics
swear their personal allegiance to Jesus Christ and the New Covenant Church
in a ceremony and receive the seal of the Holy Spirit to give them ears to hear
and a heart to understand? See CCC 978, 1286-89, 1297-99, 1302-05
Answer: In the Sacrament of Baptism one receives the gift of new life in water and the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins including original sin. One's baptism is completed in the Sacrament of Confirmation. In the presence of the Sacred Assembly of the universal Church of Jesus Christ and the bishop, who is the successor of the Apostles, one becomes empowered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit to serve as Christ's apostle in spreading the New covenant Gospel of salvation.
Covenant treaties involve oath swearing rituals. In verse 12 Moses tells the people that oaths must be swore by the members of the Assembly to acknowledge Yahweh as their Great King, their one true God and that they will submit themselves in obedience to His covenant. In doing so, they now become the heirs of the oath Yahweh swore to Abraham in the presence of Isaac on Mt. Moriah in Canaan (Gen 22:16-17): He remembers his covenant for ever, the promise he laid down for a thousand generations, which he concluded with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac. He established it as a statute for Jacob, an everlasting covenant with Israel, saying, 'To you I give a land, Canaan, your allotted birthright' (Ps 105:8-10).
Question: What is the significance of Moses' declaration
of his duty in verses 13-14?
Answer: In his role as covenant mediator, he not only renews the covenant at Sinai and God's sworn oath to the Patriarchs, but he extends the covenant to those not yet born, giving the covenant a permanent validity as a renewal resource.
Moses' Warning that Covenant Members (individually and collectively) Must Keep their Oath of Obedience
15 'Yes, you know the people with whom we used to live in Egypt, and those through whose countries we have travelled-the nations through whom we have passed. 16 You have seen their abominations and their idols made of wood and stone, silver and gold, which were there. 17 Let there be no man or woman of you, no clan or tribe, whose heart turns away from Yahweh your God today, to go and serve the gods of these nations. Among you let there be no root which bears poison or wormwood. 18 If, after hearing this imprecation, anyone, blessing himself, should say in his heart, "I shall do well enough if I follow the dictates of my heart; much water drives away thirst,' [that he should bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace even though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart, to snatch away the sated with the thirsty]* 19 Yahweh will not pardon him. The wrath and jealousy of Yahweh will blaze against such a person; every curse written in this book will fall on him, and Yahweh will blot his name out under heaven. 20 Yahweh will single him out of all the tribes of Israel for misfortune, in accordance with all the curses of the covenant written in the book of this Law [torah].
[..] = literal translation; emphasis added (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, pages 540-41).
*The Septuagint interprets this apparent Semitic expression or proverb (to snatch away the sated with the thirsty) as: so that the sinner be not destroyed with him who is without sin.
Verse 17b-18 identifies a member of the community who chooses to reject the covenant obligation to serve Yahweh alone and turns to false gods as a "root that bears poison or wormwood"-by falling away from the faith, his bad example corrupts others in his family, his friends, and his community with false teaching and apostasy.(4) Moses is warning the people of the danger to the community of the individual who disregards his pledge of obedience by persisting in pursuing his own willful and sinful path with the excuse that in being part of the whole community that he will continue to benefit from their blessings. Moses' emphasis is on the nature of Israel as a corporate covenant community (the many as one unit). The whole community will be affected, for good or for evil, by the actions of its constituents (Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, page 358; also see Dt 13:2/1-19/18).
Deuteronomy 29:18-19 If, after hearing this imprecation, anyone, blessing himself, should say in his heart, "I shall do well enough if I follow the dictates of my heart; much water drives away thirst,' [that he should bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace even though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart, to snatch away the sated with the thirsty]*, 19 Yahweh will not pardon him.
Question: What is the problem with the person
who decides "I will follow the dictates of my heart" after having sworn an oath
of obedience to the covenant (verse 18)? What will happen to such a person?
See Dt 13:7/6-12/11.
Answer: That person has violated his oath to Yahweh-he did not take an oath to follow his own inclinations and beliefs but to be obedient to the commands and obligations of the covenant. God will judge that person as an apostate, which is a mortal sin.
Question: Why can't we always trust what our hearts
or minds might seem to be telling us? CCC 1264, 1790-91.
Answer: We can't always trust our hearts to guide us in what is righteous behavior as opposed to what is sinful and selfish behavior; concupiscence can cloud judgment when we let personal desires dictate behavior. Neither can we always trust our consciences, which can be imperfect because of ignorance or may become corrupted by unconfessed sins. Concupiscence in the world will lead us astray every time, and we will become conformed to the world instead of conformed to Jesus Christ.
Conclusion to Moses' Warning
21 'The future generation, that of your children coming after you, and the foreigner arriving from some far-away land, on seeing the plagues and diseases inflicted on this country [land] by Yahweh, will exclaim, 22 "Sulpher! Salt!-The whole country is burning! No one will sow, nothing grow, no vegetation spring ever again! Devastation like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, devastated by Yahweh in his furious wrath!" 23 And all the nations will exclaim, "Why has Yahweh treated this country [land] like this? Why this great blaze of anger?" 24 And people will say, "Because they deserted the covenant of Yahweh, God of their ancestors, the covenant which he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt; 25 because they went and served other gods and worshipped them, gods hitherto unknown to them, gods that were no part of their heritage from him: 26 this is why Yahweh's anger has blazed against this country [land], afflicting it with all the curses written in this book. 27 In anger, in fury, in fierce wrath, Yahweh has torn them from their own country [land] and flung them into another country [land], where they are today." 28 Things hidden belong to Yahweh our God, but things revealed are ours and our children's for ever, so that we can put all the words of this Law [torah] into practice.'
[..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 541; emphasis added).
Note: for references to Admah and Zeboiim see Genesis 10:19; 14:2, 8; and Hosea 11:8. These were two cities located on the Plain of Sodom near the Salt Sea (Dead Sea) that were destroyed at the same time as Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. The kings of these four cities together with the king of Bela (Zoar) formed an alliance and revolted against the Mesopotamian king of Elam (Gen 14:1-12).
Verse 27 is probably a later addition, added after the deportation of the ten northern tribes eastward into Assyrian lands from which there is no record of their return (see 2 Kng 17:5-6).
Question: In Moses' final warning to the community of Israel,
what imagery does he use as an example of the kind of judgment the
Israelites will suffer if they desert Yahweh to worship false gods and reject
Answer: Moses uses the imagery of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah from Genesis chapter 19.
According to Scripture and Tradition, Moses is the inspired author of the Book of Genesis. He has had the last forty years to write down the early history of the earth and the record of God's interaction with man during the Age of the Patriarchs. These are lessons that he would have taught the Israelites. Now he links the destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah and two other cities on the plain near the Dead Sea to what the future could hold for the Israelites if they deserted the covenant which they made with Yahweh when He brought them out of Egypt. Moses ends his warning by telling the people that his stark prediction of covenant judgment is not, a certainty-it is only a possibility.
28 Things hidden belong to Yahweh our God, but things revealed are ours and our children's for ever, so that we can put all the words of this Law [torah] into practice.
Question: The dire covenant judgments are a
possibility, but what is certain?
Answer: The one thing that is certain has been revealed-the words of Moses' teaching.
The Law called the people to obedience-an obedience that was solely their responsibility in order to receive God's continual promised blessings for them and for future generations. But to go beyond the path that was set for them in obedience to the Law and to speculate about the unknown future (hidden things) was not man's prerogative. It was Israel's duty to trust, have faith, to obey the Law and to "walk with God" today, living in His grace without being concerned about the "hidden things" of the future-which are after all entirely in God's hands.
Question: How can Moses' advice about not being
concerned with "things hidden" be applied to those who speculate about the
events of Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment? See Mt 24:37-44;
25:13 and CCC 673, 1040.
Answer: The timing of those events belongs to God, and it is not our responsibility to be obsessed with when it will happen. It will happen, but it is more beneficial for us to live in righteousness as though Christ is returning today than to be preoccupied with speculating on the future.
Chapter 30: The Promise of Restoration and the Conclusion of the Renewal Ceremony
There is a certain
balance constructed in the interior of each of us by our Creator, on which it
is possible to judge the nature of things. "I have set before you life and death,
good and evil," two natures contrary to each other. Balance them against each
other in your own tribunal.
St. Basil the Great (c. 330-374), Homily on Psalm 61:4
The Promise of God's Mercy and Israel's Restoration
1 'And when all these words have come true for you-the blessing and the curse, which I have offered you-2 if you meditate on them in your heart wherever among the nations Yahweh your God has driven you, if you return to Yahweh your God, if with all your heart and with all your soul you obey his voice, you and your children, in everything that I am laying down for you today, 3 then Yahweh your God will bring back your captives, he will have pity on you and gather you back from all the peoples among whom Yahweh your God has scattered you. 4 Should you have been banished to the very sky's end, Yahweh your God will gather you again even from there, will come there to reclaim you 5 and bring you back to the country [land] which belonged to your ancestors, so that you may possess it in your turn, and be made prosperous there and more numerous than your ancestors.
[..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 542; emphasis added).
Least the people should become too discouraged over the predictions of the consequences of covenant failure, Moses gives them hope in the promise of a future restoration should those dire judgments come to pass in future generations. At some point, when covenant failure brings on the curse-judgments and the people are dispersed throughout the Gentile nations, there will be a turning point when the people repent and turn back to God who will graciously forgiven them and receive them back into communion with Him.
Question: What does restoration depend upon?
This passage presupposes that even with the Israelites disbursed to the "ends of the earth" that a faithful remnant will be preserved. There are several possible interpretations of the fulfillment of this promised restoration:
The Promise of God's Gift to the Faithful Remnant of the Restored Israel
6 'Yahweh your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants so that you will love Yahweh your God with all your heart and soul, and so will live. 7 Yahweh your God will make all these curses recoil on your foes and on your enemies who have persecuted you. 8 And once again you will obey the voice of Yahweh your God and you will put all his commandments into practice, which I am laying down for you today. 9 Yahweh your God will make you prosper in all your labors, in the offspring of your body, in the yield of your cattle and in the yield of your soil. For once again Yahweh will delight in your prosperity as he used to take delight in the prosperity of your ancestors, 10 if you obey the voice of Yahweh your God, by keeping his commandments and decrees written in the book of this Law [torah], and if you return to Yahweh your God with all your heart and soul. 11 For this Law [commandment= mitsvah] which I am laying down for you today is neither obscure for you nor beyond your reach. 12 It is not in heaven, so that you need to wonder, "Who will go up to heaven for us and bring it down to us, so that we can hear and practice it?" 13 Nor is it beyond the seas, so that you need to wonder, "Who will cross the seas for us and bring it back to us, so that we can hear and practice it?" 14 No, the word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to put into practice.
[..] = literal translation; emphasis added (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, pages 542-43).
Moses' terrible description of curse-judgments for covenant failure is balanced by the promise of restoration in which God will give His people the spiritual gift they need to remain faithful-a circumcised heart. For Israel, circumcision of the male foreskin was the symbol of the covenant (Gen 17:10), but the symbol was meaningless without inward devotion (Dt 10:16). The giving of a circumcised heart will be an act of God that indicates a new covenant when, by the grace of God, man's spiritual problem would be resolved (Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, page 364). When that time comes, no longer will the covenant people have to rely on the Law written on stone tablets. Yahweh will write His law on their hearts, as the prophet Jeremiah promises with the gift of a new covenant (Jer 31:31-34).
Deuteronomy 30:11 For this Law [commandment= mitsvah] which I am laying down for you today is neither obscure for you nor beyond your reach. Returning to the present, Moses encourages the people by telling them that the Law is not difficult to understand, nor is obedience to the Law beyond their abilities to fulfill.
Question: What two metaphorical examples does Moses
give in verses 12-13 to convince the people that obedience to the Law is not
beyond their reach?
Answer: The Law is practical and realistic:
Question: Read Romans 10:5-13. How does St. Paul use verses 12-14?
Answer: He applies the verses to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He interprets the "depths of the sea" as Sheol (the grave)-it is Christ who came up from the depths to ascend to the heavens and it is the "word of faith, the faith which we preach" that is near to you and in your mouth and heart. Paul continues with a profession of faith, after quoting Deuteronomy 30:14-The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith, the faith which we preach, that if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and if you believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved (Rom 10:8-9).
This part of the address employs the familiar style of repetition for the sake of emphasis that we have seen since the blessings and curses in chapter 28. Various themes are repeated and others are stated in reverse; for example many of the positive aspects of the blessings from Deuteronomy chapter 28 were repeated in the negative in the curse/judgments.
The Contrast of the Two Ways
15 'Look, today I am offering you life and prosperity [good], death and disaster [evil]. 16 If you obey the commandments of Yahweh your God, which I am laying down for you today, if you love Yahweh your God and follow [walk in] his ways, if you keep his commandments, his laws and his customs, you will love and grow numerous, and Yahweh your God will bless you in the country [land] which you are about to enter and make your own. 17 But if your heart turns away, if you refuse to listen, if you let yourself be drawn into worshipping other gods and serving them, 18 I tell you today, you will most certainly perish; you will not live for long in the country which you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 Today, I call heaven and earth to witness against you: I am offering you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live, 20 in the love of Yahweh your God, obeying his voice, holding fast to him; for in this your life consists, and on this depends the length of time that you stay in the country [land] which Yahweh swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he would given them.'
[..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 543-44; emphasis added).
In this passage we have more imagery that takes us back to the beginning of the Pentateuch. "To walk with God" and the "voice of God" are expressions that are found in the Genesis. The Israelites are called to live in communion with God in the way Adam and Eve lived with God before the Fall (Gen 3:8), the same way that blessed Enoch, the righteous man who did not taste the physical suffering of death, walked with God all his life (Gen 5:24), and the way that Noah "walked with God" (Gen 6:9). We also have the recollection of the oath God swore to the Patriarchs.
Deuteronomy 30:15 'Look, today I am offering you life and prosperity [good], death and disaster [evil].
Question: What theological point is Moses making in
verse 15? See CCC 311, 1730-34.
Answer: God has given man a ration mind and the free-will to make choices; it is our decision to choose between good and evil, life and death. Karma or fate does not exist-man's destiny is not predetermined, even though God knows the choices we will make.
Teaching on Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Caesarius Bishop of Arles (c. 470-543) warned the faithful: As he himself said ... "Behold before you are fire and water, death and life. Choose life, that you may live." Everything we mentioned above, that is, good and evil, is contained in these two. For heaven and hell, Christ and the devil, height and depth are proposed to us in them. Through his grace God has put it into the power of each one to choose and to stretch out his hand to whatever he wished (Sermon 149.1)
Deuteronomy 30:16 If you obey the commandments of Yahweh your God, which I am laying down for you today, if you love Yahweh your God and follow [walk in] his ways, if you keep his commandments, his laws and his customs, you will love and grow numerous, and Yahweh your God will bless you in the country [land] which you are about to enter and make your own.
This is one of the reoccurring themes of Deuteronomy; the Decalogue is the path to life (CCC 2057). The problem with man's freedom is that it is limited and fallible. Living according to God's Law gives life and also frees man from slavery to sin and death. From its onset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom (CCC 1739).
The doctrine of the "Two Paths" or "Two Ways" is a reoccurring theme in the Bible (see Ps 1; Pr 4:18-19; 12:28; 15:24; Sir 15:17; 33:14; and Jesus' teaching in Mt 7:13-14). This doctrine is also found in the opening chapter of the Church's first catechism, the Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) and its Latin translation the Doctrina Apostolorum. References are also to be found in Rom 12:16-21; 13:8-12.
19 Today, I call heaven and earth to witness against you: I am offering you life or death, blessing or curse.
This is covenant lawsuit language. In a lawsuit, two witnesses must present the case against the accused. According to Deuteronomy 19:15 a single witness will not suffice to convict anyone of a crime or offence of any kind ...
Question: What two witnesses are called to give
evidence in this covenant lawsuit, according the regulations of the Law?
Answer: Heaven and earth.
It is common in covenant treaties of the ancient Near East to call upon pagan gods to witness the treaty and to bring judgment to the vassal state that fails in its sworn covenant obligations. Moses calls upon "heaven and earth" to witness against the Israelites if they fail to uphold the covenant, as he will again in 31:25.
Life and death, good and evil are to be balanced within the life of each of us (St. Basil, Homily on Psalm 61:4). By His grace and the gift of free-will, God has let us be free to choose between good and evil, heaven and hell. Eternal life is the destiny He has planned for us, but He will respect our choice.
Chapter 31: The Commissioning of Joshua and the Last Acts of Moses
Mighty in war was
Joshua son of Nun, successor to Moses in the prophetic office, who well
deserved his name, and was a great savior of the chosen people, wreaking
vengeance on the enemies who opposed him, and so bringing Israel into its
Sirach 46:1 (note: Joshua, Yahshua in Hebrew, means "Yahweh saves").
Chiastic Pattern of the Conclusion of Deuteronomy
Moses Announces His Death and the Commissioning of Joshua
1 Moses went and spoke to all Israel as follows, 2 'Today, I am one hundred and twenty years old, and can no longer act as leader [lead out and bring in]. Yahweh has told me, "You shall not cross this Jordan." 3 Yahweh your God himself will lead you across, he himself will destroy and dispossess these nations confronting you; Joshua too will lead you across, as Yahweh has said. 4 Yahweh will treat them as he has treated Sihon and Og the Amorite kings and their country [land]-he destroyed them. 5 Yahweh will put them at you mercy, and you will deal with them exactly as prescribed by the commandments which I have laid down for you. 6 Be strong, stand firm, have no fear, do not be afraid of them, for Yahweh your God is going with you; he will not fail you or desert you.' 7 Moses then summoned Joshua and, in the presence of all Israel, said to him, 'Be strong, stand firm; you will be the one to go with this people into the country [land] which Yahweh has sworn to their ancestors that he would give them; you are to be the one who puts them into possession of it. 8 Yahweh himself will lead you; he will be with you; he will not fail you or desert you. Have no fear, do not be alarmed.' [..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 544-45; emphasis added).
Question: How old was Moses when he fled Egypt. How many years did he stay in Midian and how old was he when he confronted the
Egyptian Pharaoh? How old was he when he died? Also see Ex 7:7 and Acts 7:23.
Answer: According to St. Stephen's homily in Acts, Moses was forty when he fled Egypt. That means he spent forty years in Midian, if he was eighty years old when he returned to confront the Pharaoh and to lead the Exodus. At the end of the forty years in the wilderness after leaving Egypt, Moses was 120 years old.
The number forty usually symbolizes testing and consecration in the Bible. Moses' life can be divided into three sets of forty years.
Moses was first told that he would not cross the Jordan River into Canaan in Numbers 20:12. He shared this information with the Israelites and the news that Joshua would lead the tribes in the conquest of Canaan in Dt 1:37-38. He repeated this information in Deuteronomy 3:23-28, but the generation who had only known Mosaic leadership as adults may have found these announcements hard to believe. Later, with the commissioning of Joshua, the people would have realized the truth of what Moses had told them.
Question: How does Moses encourage the people to have
the confidence that God will give them victory over the Canaanites?
Answer: He reminds them of the defeat of the much stronger and more experienced armies of the Amorite kings of the Transjordan, and repeats three times that Yahweh Himself will lead them to victory.
The Ritual Reading of the Law in Future Covenant Renewal Ceremonies
9 Moses committed this Law [torah] into writing and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of Yahweh's covenant, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 And Moses gave them this command, 'At the end of every seven years, at the time fixed for the year of remission, at the feast of Shelters, 11 when all Israel assembles in the presence of Yahweh you God in the place chosen by him, you must proclaim this Law [torah] in the hearing of all Israel. 12 Call the people together, men, women, children, and the foreigner residing with you, so that, hearing it, they may learn to fear Yahweh you God and keep and observe all the words of this Law [torah]. 13 Their children, who as yet do not know it, will hear it and learn to fear Yahweh you God, all the time you live in the country which you are crossing the Jordan to possess.'
The tablets of the Decalogue were kept inside the Ark of the Covenant, but the Book of Instruction (Torah), which was probably the Deuteronomic Code or the whole book of Deuteronomy (see Dt 4:14) was kept beside it (Dt 31:26). Joshua read the Book of Instruction (Torah) in the covenant renewal ceremony near Shechem (Josh 8:32-35). During the reign of King Josiah the Book of Instruction (Torah) was rediscovered by the High Priest Hilkiah (2 Kng 23:8-10). After hearing the book read to him, young King Josiah commanded a covenant renewal ceremony where All the people pledged their allegiance to the covenant (2 Kng 23:1-3). After the ceremony, the king instituted religious reforms in compliance with Israel's vow of covenant obedience to Yahweh.
Question: When did Moses command the people that
covenant renewal ceremonies should take place?
Answer: After they took possession of the Promised Land, a covenant renewal ceremony was to be held every Sabbath year on the Feast of Shelters (Booths/Tabernacles), the final pilgrim feast of the liturgical year.
According to 2 Chronicles 15:8-15, the non-canonical documents of the Book of Jubilees and the Qumran documents, this tradition was later changed, with the renewal ceremony taking place on the pilgrim feast of the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost. This means that the ceremony would later coincide every seventh year with the birth of the New Covenant Church on the Feast of Pentecost.(5)
Yahweh's Instructions to Moses
14 Yahweh said to Moses, 'And now the time is near when you must die. Summon Joshua and take your places at the Tent of Meeting, so that I can give him his orders.' Moses and Joshua went and took their places at the Tent of Meeting, 15 and Yahweh showed himself at the Tent in a pillar of cloud; the pillar of cloud stood at the door of the Tent. 16 Yahweh said to Moses, 'You will soon be sleeping with your ancestors, and this people is about to play the harlot by following the gods of the foreigners of the country [land], among whom they are going to live. They will desert me and break my covenant, which I have made with them. 17 That very day, my anger will blaze against them; I shall desert them and hide my face from them. A host of disasters and misfortunes will overtake them to devour them, and when that day comes they will say, "If such disasters overtake me, surely Yahweh my God cannot be without me? 18 Yes, indeed, I shall hide my face that day, on account of all the evil which they will have done by turning to other gods. [..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 546; emphasis added).
Moses and Joshua were commanded to enter what was probably the Holy Place of the Tabernacle. It is unclear where the Glory Cloud stood-at the entrance to the Holy Place or in front of the entrance to the Holy of Holies. Verse 15 is the only mention of the Glory Cloud in Deuteronomy. It must have been very disheartening for Moses to hear that his dire predictions of curse/judgments for covenant failure would indeed be fulfilled.
Instructions to Write Down the Song of Witness
19 'Now write [write yourselves] down this song for you to use; teach it to the Israelites, put it into their mouths, for it to be a witness on my behalf 20 against the Israelites: against Israel, whom I am bringing into the country [land] which I swore to his ancestors that I would give him, a country flowing with milk and honey: against Israel, who will eat to his heart's content and grow fat, and will then turn to other gods and serve them, despising me and breaking my covenant. 21 When a host of disasters and misfortunes overtakes him, this song, like a witness, will give evidence against him, since his descendants will not have forgotten it. Yes, even today, before I have brought him to the country [land] which I have promised him on oath, I know what plans he has in mind.' 22 So, that day, Moses wrote out this song and taught it to the Israelites. 23 To Joshua son of Nun, Yahweh gave this order, 'Be strong and stand firm, for you are to be the one to bring the Israelites into the country [land] which I have promised them on oath, and I myself shall be with you.'
[..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 547; emphasis added).
Notice that the references to Israelites in this passage are in the singular, bringing home the theological importance of the concept of a corporate covenant. The command to write [write yourselves] down this song for you to use... suggests that God gave the words or the general outline to Moses and Joshua.
The "Song of Witness" is a poem that was to become part of the liturgy of the people of the Old Covenant Church. The "Song of Witness," also called the "Song of Moses" or Shirat Ha'azinu in Hebrew, was sung at every Sabbath morning liturgical service while the "Song of Victory/Song of the Sea," in Hebrew Shirat ha-Yam, also called Az Yashir from the first two words of the song which is generally translated as "They sang" (Ex 15), was sung during the afternoon Sabbath liturgical service (Edersheim, The Temple, page 49; Eisenberg, The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, page 409). Today in modern Synagogue services, the "Song of Victory" (Shirat ha-Yam) continues to be sung at the Sabbath services, but parts of the "Song of Witness/Song of Moses," with its dire warnings against covenant failure, are only read during the yearly schedule of weekday Torah readings (The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, page 776).(6)
Apparently Moses and Joshua were to collaborate in writing down the song; the literal Hebrew is in the plural, referring to both Moses and Joshua (see 32:44), although the remaining verbs in the verse are singular (Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, page 372).
It is possible that Moses was to dictate the song to Joshua as he heard the song from the voice of God. Just as when the people received the Torah of Moses, a written copy was made, but the people receive it orally.
Deuteronomy 31:21 When a host of disasters and misfortunes overtakes him, this song, like a witness, will give evidence against him, since his descendants will not have forgotten it.
Question: How will the song be a "witness" against
the people of Israel?
Answer: When their prosperity in the Promised Land leads the people to take God's blessings for granted by beginning to worship pagan gods, their disloyalty to Yahweh and their covenant failures in obedience will result in covenant judgments. The song that every generation sings as part of their liturgy will prove that the Israelites were warned and that the events were foretold. If they understand the cause of their sufferings through the song, hopefully they will repent and turn back to Yahweh.
Israel's descendants will not have "forgotten it" because they will sing it at every Sabbath morning liturgical service until the Temple is destroyed and never rebuilt. The "Song of Witness" ceased to be part of the weekly liturgy of the Jews after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.
The Book Written by Moses is placed Beside the Ark
24 When Moses had completely finished writing the words of this Law [torah] in a book, 25 he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of Yahweh's covenant: 26 'Take the book of this Law [torah] and put it beside the ark of the covenant of Yahweh your God. Let it lie there as evidence against you. 27 For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If today, while I am still alive and with you, you rebel against Yahweh, how much more will you rebel against him after my death! [..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 547).
Question: When do you recall that Yahweh referred to
the Israelites as "stiff-necked" previously? The adjective refers to oxen that
refused to bend their necks to the master's yoke. See Ex 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9.
Answer: God began to describe the Israelites this way after the sin of the Golden Calf.
Also see the same description for Israel's rebellious disposition in Dt 9:6, 13; 10:16; 2 Chr 30:8 and St. Stephen's accusation against the Jews in Acts 7:51 as both stiff-necked and uncircumcised of heart.
Questions for group discussion:
Question: Moses told the people: 'Look, today
I am offering you life and prosperity [good], death and disaster [evil] (Dt 30:15). Jesus also spoke of two contrasting paths in Matthew 7:13-14: Enter
by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and
spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads
to life, and only a few find it. And in the Gospel of Luke Jesus said: Try
your hardest to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to
enter and will not succeed (Lk 13:24). What was His message and how was it
similar to Moses' warning? How was it different? Also see CCC 1696 and a
similar message in Jn 10:7-10.
Answer: Like Moses' message, Jesus was teaching the doctrine of the "two ways" and of man's choice between good and evil. Jesus identifies Himself as the narrow gate or path that leads to salvation as opposed to the broad path that leads to destruction. The Old Covenant Law was "the way to life," meaning prosperity and blessing, but Jesus offers eternal life as opposed to eternal death-the decision of which path to take rests with each individual. We are called, therefore, to choose the narrow path, the way of life that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7:13-14: We must be ever mindful of the fact that what ever way we choose, we will have that choice for eternity.
Question: Moses warned the covenant people not to follow the dictates of their own hearts in deciding what they think is most beneficial for them. He warned them to remain faithful to the vows of obedience they swore to Yahweh and His covenant. How do some members of the professing New Covenant Christian communities fall into this category, and what kinds of decisions do some Catholics make that are violations of the covenant vows taken at Baptism (adults) and Confirmation?
1. Significant repetitions in the Hebrew text of chapter 29: "today" appears eight times (vs. 4, 10, 12, 13, 15 (twice), 18 and 28) and seven times in chapter 30 (vs. 2, 8, 11, 15, 16, 18, and 19). The reminder that Yahweh is the personal God of the present generation appears seven times in chapter 29: "Yahweh your God" is found four times (vs. 6, 10, 12 and 15), "your God" once (vs. 13), "Yahweh our God" twice (vs. 18 and 29). "Yahweh your God" appears sixteen times in chapter 30 and "Yahweh my God" once (vs. 2 twice, 3 twice, 4, 6 twice, 7, 8, 9, 10 twice, 16 three times, and 20), and seven times in chapter 31 (vs. 3, 6, 11, 12, 13, 17 "Yahweh my God", 25) and "today" is found three times in chapter 31 (vs. 1, 21, and 27). The word "torah," meaning "instruction" or "teaching" is found eight times in chapters 29-31 (29:20/21, 28/29; 30:10; 31:9, 11, 12, 24, 25).
2. The modern meaning of til or until opposed to ancient meaning: the Greek word heos (pronounced heh'-oce) and the corresponding Hebrew word 'ad is used as an adverb, preposition, or conjunction meaning "continuance, even, length as to time" (The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, #5703, page 723-24; Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, # 2193, page 268). In the Bible, the Greek word heos is used to mean that some action did not happen up to a certain point; it does not imply that the action did happen later, which is the modern sense of the word "until." Some examples from Scripture (in these Old Testament examples the word in the Hebrew text is 'ad and in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament the word is heos as it is in the New Testament):
3. When Joshua was tricked into making a treaty with the Gentile Gibeonites, he made them serve the as water-carriers for the community and to provide the wood for Yahweh's altar at the place which he would choose to establish Yahweh's Sanctuary in Canaan (Josh 9:19-27).
5. The influence of the covenant renewal ceremony was part of religious life for the Jews until the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. The last written record of the ceremony is found among the writings of the Dead Sea community of Qumran, destroyed in the Jewish Revolt against Rome in 68 AD, but no further. The concept of covenant renewal did not appear to have been carried into Rabbinic Judaism in the restructuring of the religion after Temple worship was no longer possible. Jewish scholar Jon Levenson writes: There is no rabbinic ceremony in which the Jews are said explicitly to be renewing their partnership in the Sinaitic covenant, as the eight day old boy is said, for example, to be entering the covenant of Abraham (Gen 17:1-4) during his circumcision (Levenson, Sinai & Zion, page 82). The only echo of the commitment to the Sinai Covenant is found in the verses of the Shema, which are part of the covenant treaty document of the Sinai Covenant. However, those verses do not mention the word "covenant."
6. The predominant themes of Synagogue liturgy are blessing, petition and thanksgiving. There is no longer the offering of sacrifice, which was defined as worship in the Old Covenant, nor is there an officiating priesthood.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2011 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references: (* indicated Scripture quoted or paraphrased in the citation)
CCC 368*, 1286-87
CCC 311, 1730-34