THE PENTATEUCH PART V: DEUTERONOMY
Lesson 3: Chapter 4:1-43
Moses' First Homily Concluded:
Exhortations to be Obedient and to Live According to God's Law
Holy and Eternal Lord,
The prophet Moses and the inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews described You as a "consuming fire" (Dt 4:24; Heb 12:29). Your fiery wrath delivers judgment to the unrepentant wicked, but it is with your fiery love that You purify repentant sinners (1 Cor 3:12-15). It is the extravagance of Your love that demands we worship You and You alone, and it is because of Your love for us that You illuminate the lives of Your faithful with the divine truth of Your Law. Through lives that are illuminated by the love of the Most Holy Trinity, help us to bring our brothers and sisters in the human family to eternal salvation through the acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
+ + +
"God is spirit,
and those who worship him should worship in spirit and in truth." Our God is
also "a consuming fire." Therefore God is called by two names: "spirit" and "fire."
To the just he is spirit; to sinners he is fire.
Origen, Homilies on the Gospel of Luke 26.1
So the prophets
called him a burning fire, because in those three points we see more intensely
the majesty of the Godhead. Since to sanctify is of the Godhead, to illuminate
is the property of fire and light, and the Godhead is frequently pointed out or
seen in the appearance of fire: "For our God is a consuming fire," as Moses
Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit 1.14.164
Part I of Moses' first homily (Dt 1:6-3:29) was devoted to a general summary of the historical events in chronological order from Mt. Sinai to the encampment on the Plains of Moab near Beth-Peor. It was critical for the new generation of Israelites to understand the history of their relationship with Yahweh through the events that brought them from the revelation of Yahweh at Sinai to their encampment on the east side of the Jordan River across from Jericho. Up to this point in Moses' first homily, in recounting the historical events that brought the Israelites to their final encampment, the focus of his homily has been Yahweh's faithful preservation of the people, in spite of their unfaithful actions and God's subsequent divine judgment (as in the forty years of desert wandering). It was Moses' message that Israel's victory over her enemies and prosperity in the Promised Land was assured but only if the new generation of Israelites continued to have faith in God and were obedient to the commands that bound them to Yahweh's covenant.
This lesson concerns Part II of Moses' first homily (Dt 4:1-40). Moses begins his teaching (Dt 4:1) with an exhortation for Israel to live in obedience to the commandments of God. He will offer this teaching in the context of wisdom-the wisdom of divine Law that will set Israel apart from other nations of the world. However, in this second half of the first homily, beginning with the last chronological event of Israel's apostasy at Baal-Peor, the events are not presented in chronological order. The lessons the Israelites must learn associated with the events in this section are more important than the order of events. Several events are mentioned in reverse chronological order from the last encampment near Beth-Peor to the Creation event (Dt 4:1-32), and then Moses returns to a short chronology of events to conclude his first homily by referring to Moses' first experience of Yahweh in the incident of the burning bush/tree, the Exodus liberation and the people's vision of Yahweh on Mt. Sinai (Dt 4:33-40).
The reverse order chronology of 4:1-32:
Chronological events mentioned in the conclusion of Moses' homily in Dt 4:33-40:
Central theme of Part I of Moses first homily:
These themes are summarized in 4:9: But take care, as you value your lives! Do not forget the things which you yourselves have seen, or let them slip from your heart as long as you live; teach them, rather, to your children and to your children's children (Dt 4:9).
The Historical Prologue Continued: An Appeal for Obedience and Extolling the Wisdom of the Law
1 'And now, Israel, listen [hear] to the laws [mishpatim] and customs [hukkim] which I am teaching you today, so that, by observing [doing] them, you may survive [live] to enter and take possession of the country which Yahweh, God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 You must add nothing to what I command you, and take nothing from it, but keep [samar] the commandments [mitzvahim] of Yahweh your God just as I lay them down for you. 3 You can see for yourselves what Yahweh has done about the Baal of Peor; Yahweh your God has destroyed all those of you who followed the Baal of Peor; 4 but those of you who stayed faithful [hold fast] to Yahweh your God are all alive today. 5 Look [See]: as Yahweh my God commanded me, I have taught you laws [mishpatim] and customs [hukkim], for you to observe [to do] in the country of which you are going to take possession. 6 Keep [samar] them, put them into practice, and other peoples will admire your wisdom and prudence. Once they know what all these laws [hukkim] are, they will exclaim, "No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation!" 7 And indeed, what great nation has its gods as near as Yahweh our God is to us whenever we call to him? 8 And what great nation has laws [mishpatim] and customs [hukkim] as upright as the entirety of this Law [torah = instruction] which I am laying down for you today?
[..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, page 467-68).
Deuteronomy 4:1 'And now, Israel, listen [hear] to the laws [mishpatim = rules] and customs [hukkim] which I am teaching you today, so that, by observing [doing] them, you may survive [live] to enter and take possession of the country which Yahweh, God of your ancestors, is giving you.
When Moses returned from his two forty-day experiences with God on Mt. Sinai (Ex 24:18; 32:15-16; 34:28-29), he returned with more than the two tablets of the Law engraved by the finger of God. He also returned with the Oral Tradition of the Law taught to him by God that was not written down and with the authority to teach the covenant people of God. It was with this divinely ordained teaching authority that he addressed the people in his last three homilies.
The use of the verb "to teach/ to instruct" in Deuteronomy 4:1 and 5 illustrates Moses' mission to be the "teacher of the Law." Moses is considered Israel's the first teacher of the Law. This is the role for which he is best remembered in Jewish tradition. In the Second Temple period (during the time Jesus lived), the teaching authority of the hierarchy of the Old Covenant Church was referred to as "the chair of Moses," just as the teaching authority of the New Covenant Church is called "the chair of Peter" (see Mt 23:2).
Moses' appeal Shema Israel, "Hear Israel" (or in this case Israel Shema) in 4:1 is characteristic of the beginning of a didactic address in Deuteronomy (see 4:1; 5:1; 6:4; 9:1; 20:3 and 27:9). In this verse, the Hebrew verb "to teach" appears for the first time in the Pentateuch (Weinfeld, The Book of Deuteronomy, page 200).
Question: According the
verse 1, what is the benefit
of obedience to God's Law? What is the link between verse 1 and verse 40 at
the end of Moses' first homily?
Answer: Obedience to God's commandments grants life. It is the central theme of this part of Moses' homily that begins and ends with the statement that life for Israel depends on obedience to God's commandments (verses 1 and 40).
Moses refers to Yahweh's commandments by several terms, usually using two terms at a time as in 3:1, 5, 8, 14, 40 and 45. In addition to hukkim and mishpatim in verse 1, he uses mitzvah, "commandment" (verse 2), and 'edot, usually translated as "decrees" (verse 45).
Each Hebrew word has a distinct meaning:
(JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 43).
In English translations, the Hebrew word torah is often translated as "law;" however, from the prime root horah, "to teach," it is more accurately translated "teaching" or "instruction" (see Dt 1:5; 4:8, 44; 17:18, 19; 27:3, 8, 26; 28:58; 29:28; 31:9, 11, 12, 24; 32:46.
In Rabbinic exegesis, mishpatim and hukkim are understood to refer to two broad categories of commandments:
(The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 43).
The commandments and prohibitions are not to be merely learned-one must live out the commands by doing them-the Israelites must do what Moses' teaches so they may survive [live] to enter and take possession of the country which Yahweh, God of your ancestors, is giving you (4:1). The command to "do" is repeated seven times in 4:1, 5, 6, 13, 14; 5:1; 6:1).
Question: This same promise that obedience the Law
means "life" is repeated in verse 40. Why is this significant?
Answer: The second part of Moses' first homily begins and ends with the statement that, for the Israelites, life itself depends on living in obedience God's commandments (verses 1 and 40).
Question: Is the promise that to live in obedience to God's law brings "life" any different for New Covenant believers?
Answer: The only difference is that our promise is that living in obedience to the law of the New Covenant brings eternal salvation and not merely temporal life.
Deuteronomy 4:2 You must add nothing to what I command you, and take nothing from it, but keep [samar] the commandments [mitsvot] of Yahweh your God just as I lay them down for you. The Hebrew word samar/shamar] is the same word God used in His command to Adam to guard/keep the garden Sanctuary in Genesis 2:15, for the cherubim to guard the entrance to Eden and the Tree of Life with their flashing swords in Genesis 4:24, and the same word used repeatedly in Leviticus and Numbers in the instructions to the Levites to guard the Sanctuary (i.e., Lev 8:35; Num 1:53; 3:32; etc.)
The warning to guard the words of the Law and not to add or take from Yahweh's commands and prohibitions is the language of covenant treaties. The command is found in five Scripture passages:
In Deuteronomy 13:1 there is a similar warning but it only applies to the specific prohibition against pagan worship and does not apply to the entire body of God's commandments.
It is interesting to note the connection between the warming statements in the five passages noted above and similar statements recorded in covenant treaty documents of the ancient Near East. Deuteronomy is, after all, the renewed covenant treaty document with the new generation of Israel (see Weinfeld, The Book of Deuteronomy, page 200).(1)
Deuteronomy 4:3-4 You can see for yourselves [or you saw for yourselves] what Yahweh has done about the Baal of Peor; Yahweh your God has destroyed all those of you who followed the Baal of Peor; 4 but those of you who stayed faithful [hold fast] to Yahweh your God are all alive today (emphasis added).
Those who "hold fast" to Yahweh are in contrast to those who "followed" Baal in verse 3. The contrast emphasizes the theme that in obedience to Yahweh there is life. The incident that occurred at the shrine to the Canaanite god Baal near Beth-Peor (recorded in detail in Numbers chapter 25:1-18) was as great a fall from grace for the new generation as the incident of the Golden Calf was for their fathers. Remembering the shame of Israel's sin, the prophet Hosea wrote: ... but when they reached Baal-Peor they devoted themselves to Shame and became as loathsome as the thing they loved. Moses' audience remembers the event because they witnessed the sin and God's judgment against the Israelites' apostasy perhaps only a month prior to Moses' address, and he is speaking within site of the same pagan shrine (Dt 3:29; Josh 2:1a).(2)
Question: What was Israel's sin at Baal-Peor and
what was God's judgment? See Exodus 20:3-5; Num 25:1-18; 31:1-12.
Answer: The Israelite men were seduced into participating in the fertility rites associated with worshiping the Canaanite god Baal. They broke the commandment of the Decalogue that prohibited idol worship and bowing down to other gods that rival Yahweh. God's judgment was a plague that killed twenty-four thousand of the men who had sinned before the priest Phinehas deflected God's wrath by delivering judgment on a leader of the rebellion. God also exercised His judgment in a holy war against the Midianites who had orchestrated Israel's fall from grace.
Deuteronomy 4:5 Look [See]: as Yahweh my God commanded me, I have taught you laws [mishpatim] and customs [hukkim], for you to observe [to do] in the country of which you are going to take possession.
This passage begins with the Hebrew word for "See" in parallel to "listen/hear" in verse 1 and concludes with the command to "do" what they have been taught when they take possession of the Promised Land.
Question: How do these three verbs in 4:1 and 5
describe Israel's covenant obligations to Yahweh commands and prohibitions?
Answer: It was the obligation of the people:
Deuteronomy 4:6-8 Keep [samar] them, put them into practice, and other peoples will admire your wisdom and prudence. Once they know what all these laws [hukkim] are, they will exclaim, "No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation!" 7 And indeed, what great nation has its gods as near as Yahweh our God is to us whenever we call to him? 8 And what great nation has laws [mishpatim] and customs [hukkim] as upright as the entirety of this Law [torah] which I am laying down for you today?
Question: In addition to "life" what else does God
promise will be a blessing if the Israelites keep/guard His laws into put them
into practice in the Promised Land?
Question: What will happen if future generations of Israelites
have the wisdom to continue to live according to God's laws?
Answer: The Israelites will win the admiration of the surrounding nations for their wisdom and prudence
Question: God's presence with Israel distinguished His people from all other nations of the earth (verse 7), but what else
distinguished Israel from all the other nations? See verse 8.
Answer: The Law God personally communicated to Israel and God's divine revelation of wisdom in the Law also singled them out from the other nations.
The uniqueness of Israel as a nation is tied to:
The Warning to be Obedient to God based upon Israel's Past Experiences at Horeb/ Mt. Sinai
9 'But take care, as you value your lives! Do not forget the things which you yourselves have seen, or let them slip from your heart as long as you live; teach them [make known to them], rather, to your children and to your children's children. 10 The day you stood at Horeb in the presence of Yahweh your God, Yahweh said to me, "Summon the people to me; I want them to hear me speaking, so that they will learn to fear me all the days they live on earth, and teach this to their children." 11 So you came and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain flamed to the very sky, a sky darkened by cloud, murky and thunderous. 12 Yahweh then spoke to you from the heart of the fire; you heard the sound of words but saw no shape; there was only a voice. 13 He revealed his covenant to you and commanded you to observe it, the Ten Words which he inscribed on two tablets of stone. 14 Yahweh then ordered me to teach you the laws [mishpatim] and customs [hukkim] that you were to observe in the country into which you are about to cross, to take possession of it. 15 Hence, be very careful what you do. Since you saw no shape that day at Horeb when Yahweh spoke to you from the heart of the fire, 16 see that you do not corrupt yourselves by making an image in the shape of anything whatever: be it statue of man or of woman, 17 or of any animal on the earth, or of any bird that flies in the heavens, 18 or of any reptile that crawls on the ground, or of any fish in the waters under the earth. 19 When you raise your eyes to heaven, when you see the sun, the moon, the stars-the entire array of heaven-do not be tempted to worship them and serve them. Yahweh your God has allotted these to all the other peoples under heaven, 20 but Yahweh has chosen you, bringing you out of the iron-foundry, Egypt, to be his own people, his own people as you still are today.' [..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, page 468-69).
Deuteronomy 4:9-10a Do not forget the things which you yourselves have seen, or let them slip from your heart as long as you live; teach them, rather, [make them known]to your children and to your children's children. 10 The day you stood at Horeb in the presence of Yahweh your God (emphasis added)... In this section Moses repeats the command to teach future generations about the events of the Exodus and the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. It was a command first given to the people before they made their exodus from Egypt (Ex 13:14-16). Moses' instructions to relive the events of the Exodus are given as though all generations are one person-it is a collective experience for all generations of the covenant people.
Question: How was every generation to relive the
experience of the Exodus?
Answer: Every person in every generation was to relive the Exodus experience, the covenant formation and the giving of the Law at Sinai in their observance of the feast days of the liturgical calendar and in the daily reading of the Torah, as though it happened to them.
In the holy feast days and in the reading of the Torah those events are made present for every generation. Weinfeld writes: ... just as the Israelites were cleansed before the revelation at Sinai (Ex 19:10, 15), so are they to be clean when they read the words of Torah (The Book of Deuteronomy, page 203).
Question: Is every generation of the New Covenant
people of God expected to relive the event of Jesus' covenant formation with
the New Covenant faithful in the Last Supper and the events of His death,
burial and resurrection? How does the Church make those events present to
every generation of New Covenant believers?
Answer: In the observance of the holy days of the Church's Liturgical calendar and in the sacrifice of the Mass.
Deuteronomy 4:10 The day you stood at Horeb in the presence of Yahweh your God, Yahweh said to me, "Summon the people to me; I want them to hear me speaking, so that they will learn to fear me all the days they live on earth, and teach this to their children."
"Standing" in the presence of God is the privilege of the righteous covenant member, just as those who are in a state of grace are summoned to come forward and to stand before the altar when they come forward to receive the Eucharist.
Question: In the Theophany at Sinai, God intended to
frighten the people with the mighty display of lightening, thunder and fire.
For what reason did Moses tell the people God intended to frighten them, and
what is the basic foundation of wisdom that puts the Law into practice in their
lives? See Ex 20:20; Ps 111:10.
Answer: Fear of God-"fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps 111:10); a healthy fear of offending God was intended to protect the people from sinning.
Deuteronomy 4:13 He revealed his covenant to you and commanded you to observe it, the Ten Words which he inscribed on two tablets of stone. In Greek the "Ten Words" are translated "Decalogue" (Ex 34:11; Dt 4:13; 10:4; Hos 4:2; Jer 7:9; Ez 18:5-9). God spoke these "ten words" directly to the Israelites from Mt. Sinai, and He wrote them on two stone tablets that became the covenant treaty documents (Ex 31:18; Dt 5:22).
Question: What was the Decalogue/Ten Commandments to
the Old Covenant people according to Deuteronomy 4:13 and 30:16?
Answer: The Decalogue bound Israel to the covenant with Yahweh and was to them the path of life.
Question: The Old Covenant people of God were to live
in obedience to the Decalogue, but when was the full meaning of the commands
and prohibitions in the Decalogue revealed? See CCC 1962-64.
Answer: It was not until the New Covenant in Jesus Christ that the true nature of the Ten Commandments was fully revealed.
In verses 15-20 Moses warned the people against the sin of idolatry. The prohibition against idolatry is the first command of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:2-6) and it is the first prohibition listed in the Covenant Code (Ex 20:23a).(3)
Question: What reason did Moses give for not making
an image of Yahweh? Also see CCC 2129.
Answer: The people saw no form of Yahweh in the Theophany at Sinai; therefore anything they made up was a false image.
Pagan people adopted images of nature to worship-in ignorance they worship the creation instead of the Creator, a practice forbidden the Israelites.
Question: What it is in Creation that is the true "image"
Answer: Man was created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, man is to "image" God in righteousness and by living in harmony with both man and the natural world.
Deuteronomy 4:19-20 When you raise your eyes to heaven, when you see the sun, the moon, the stars-the entire array of heaven-do not be tempted to worship them and serve them. Yahweh your God has allotted these to all the other peoples under heaven, 20 but Yahweh has chosen you, bringing you out of the iron-foundry, Egypt, to be his own people, his own people as you still are today.'
The "iron-foundry of Egypt is a metaphor for the severity of Israel's bondage in Egypt. In the Bronze Age, before the technology for extracting iron from rock was developed, the ancients gathered iron from meteors and by melting the metal in extremely hot furnaces (c. 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit) they were able to pour the molten metal into molds (JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 51). The prophet Isaiah used a similar metaphor for the Babylonian exile (Is 48:10).
... Yahweh your God has allotted these to all the other peoples under heaven
Question: When did God divide the nations? See Gen 9:26; 10:25; 11:1-9; note the Hebrew word shem means "name."
Answer: In Genesis chapter 11 when the people of Shinar revolted against God's man Shem (righteous son of Noah) and wanted to make a "shem" (name) for themselves (Gen 11:4), God scattered the people across the earth and confused their languages.
In the division of nations, God allowed the other nations to go their own way, worshiping whatever they chose, but He preserved a faithful remnant for Himself from the family of Shem's descendants through Shem's third son Arpachshad (Gen 10:22; 11:10-26). This was the line in whom the "promised seed" of Genesis 3:15 was preserved through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to bring forth the nation of Israel and from Israel the promised Redeemer-Messiah.
Question: What was Moses' message to the new
generation in this part of his homily?
Answer: They must guard themselves against the sin of idol worship. If the people could fall so easily into idolatry at Mt. Sinai, after witnessing the glory of God's divine Presence, and if they could commit the same sin on at the shrine of Baal-Peor after God had brought them by His might works to their destination on the Plains of Moab, how much easier might future generations be tempted into idolatry when they occupied the Promised Land.
Moses' Warning to be Obedient to the Covenant with Yahweh and Another Warning not to Worship Idols
21 'Yahweh is angry with me because of you; he has sworn that I shall not cross the Jordan or enter the fine [good] country [land] which Yahweh your God is giving you as your heritage. 22 Yes, I am to die in this country; I shall not cross the Jordan; you will go over and take possession of that rich [good] land. 23 Be careful not to forget the covenant which Yahweh your God has made with you, by sculpting or making a statue of anything, since Yahweh your God has forbidden this; 24 for Yahweh your God is a consuming fire, a jealous [kanna'] God.' [..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, page 469-70).
For a third time Moses repeated: "Yahweh was angry with me because of you" (see Dt 1:37; 3:26). He is referring to the incident of the water from the rock at Kadesh in Numbers 20:6-12 and God's judgment that Moses and Aaron could not enter the Promised Land because they did not believe they could assert God's holiness in calling on the rock to give water. Instead, Moses defied God's command by striking the rock: 'For you both rebelled in the desert of Zin when the community disputed with me and when I ordered you to assert my holiness before their eyes by means of the water.' (These were the Waters of Meribah of Kadesh, in the desert of Zin) (Num 27:14).
Question: What information did Moses reveal to the
community that did he did not make clear to them previously when he mentioned
the rock at Kadesh?
Answer: He will die before they cross the Jordan River.
Moses' announcement must have been devastating to the new generation who had only known Moses as the leader of their people. He concluded this passage by imploring the people to be obedient to the covenant and not to worship idols, and he warned the people '... for Yahweh your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God' (Dt 4:24).
The Hebrew word translated as "jealous" is the word is kanna'. The word kanna' combines the meanings of "jealous" and "zealous," two words that have a common origin in English (The New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, vol. I, "jealous," page 462, Grolier, 1969). Etymologically the word kanna is similar to the Hebrew words for "fervent" and "incensed," which are derived from words that refer to "fire" and "heat." The Hebrew root kn', which apparently means "to become dark red," is often associated with fire and primarily refers to passions like love, anger, indignation and jealousy, especially when those passions are aroused when one's prerogatives have been taken by or given over to another. Hence, the connection Moses made between God's impassioned love for Israel that will tolerate no rivals and the metaphor of God as a consuming fire (The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 65).
God's passionate love for Israel is expressed in His fiery, impassioned jealously. Israel must give her love, in the form of worship, only to Him just as a wife must give the intimacy of her love only to her husband. This statement recalls the words from the Decalogue: You shall have no other gods to rival [over/before] me. [..]. For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God ... (Ex 20:3-5; Dt 5:9). He will not tolerate a rival for His Bride's affections (Is 42:8; 48:11); to worship other gods is viewed as the same infidelity as adultery (i.e., see Ex 34:15-16; Ez 16).
Question: For what other reason might Moses use the
image of a consuming fire for Yahweh? What in Israel's experience with Yahweh
makes this imagery appropriate and where is this imagery repeated in the New
Testament? See Ex 13:21-22; 19:18; Dt 5:5, 22-23; and Heb 12:28-29.
Answer: Part of this verse will be quoted in Hebrews 12:28-29 in a warning to give God right worship: Let us therefore be grateful and use our gratitude to worship God in the way that pleases him, in reverence and fear. For our God is a consuming fire. The image of Yahweh as fire probably refers to Israel's vision of Yahweh in the pillar of fire and alludes to God's fiery appearance at Mt. Sinai that terrified the people. It is probably not an allusion to Moses' vision of the burning bush/tree since God's fire did not consume the bush/tree, the sign of that particular miracle.
Moses' Warning of the Judgment of a Covenant Lawsuit for Covenant Failure
25 'When you have fathered children and grandchildren and have grown old in the country, when you have grown corrupt and made some image, doing what Yahweh regards as wrong and so provoking his anger-26 today I call heaven and earth to witness against you-you will quickly vanish from the country which you are crossing the Jordan to possess. Your days will not be prolonged there, for you will be utterly destroyed. 27 Yahweh will scatter you among the peoples, and only a small number of you will remain among the nations where Yahweh will have driven you. 28 There you will serve gods made by human hand, of word and of stone, that cannot see or hear, eat or smell.'
In this third warning, Moses turns his attention to when the Israelites are settled in the Promised Land and when future generations of Israelites begin to fail to "remember"- when they drift away from their covenant obligations, and when they are tempted to worship the pagan gods of their Gentile neighbors.
Question: What does Moses say will be the first sign
of Israel's apostasy?
Answer: He warned them that the first corrupt action they will take will be to make and worship false images-violating the hallmark prohibition of the commandments.
Deuteronomy 4:26a ... today I call heaven and earth to witness against you-
This is covenant treaty language, or more appropriately in this context, the language of a covenant lawsuit. A covenant lawsuit was drawn up against a vassal nation who failed in the prescribed covenant obligations to the Great King.(4) Most secular covenant treaties called on heaven and earth and their pagan gods to witness the document and to hold an offending party accountable. There is no God but Yahweh; therefore, Moses calls upon "heaven and earth" (part of God's creation that will not pass away until the Last Judgment) to stand as witnesses to human actions in future generations when the covenant treaty with Yahweh is violated. Pope St. Basil the Great wrote: Not only Paul but generally all those to whom is committed any ministry of the word never cease to testify but call heaven and earth to witness, on the grounds that now every deed is done within them, and they will be present with the judged in the examination of all life (On the Spirit 13.30)
Question: What will be Yahweh's judgment against Israel for worshiping pagan gods?
Were the people given this same warning previously; what
about later? Did future generations of Israelites suffer this judgment?
See Dt 28:15-68;
Lev 18:24-30; 26:14-19;
2 Kng 15:29; 17:6; 25:8-12, 25-26;
2 Chr 36:14-21;
Answer: All the blessings God promised them for covenant obedience will be reversed tp become judgments (sickness, war, famine, etc.). They will be dispossessed of the land and will be scattered among the pagan nations. This same warning was given at Mt. Sinai where they were told if they adopt the same sins as the pagan nations that were being driven out of Canaan; Israel was going to suffer the same fate. These same warnings and judgments will be repeated by Moses in his final homily, by Joshua after the conquest of Canaan, and by the prophets. Historically these judgments were fulfilled:
Moses' Promise of Restoration for those who Repent and Return to Yahweh
29 'If, however, from there you start searching once more for Yahweh your God, and if you search for him honestly and sincerely, you will find him. 30 You will suffer; everything I have said will befall you, but in the final days you will return to Yahweh your God and listen to his voice. 31 For Yahweh your God is a merciful God and will not desert or destroy you or forget the covenant which he made on oath with your ancestors.'
Question: What hope does Moses offer if future
generations of the covenant people should suffer this judgment?
Answer: Moses promises restoration if they will repent their sins and return to Yahweh, because God is faithful to His covenant with His people.
Moses outline of Israel's blessings for fulfilling her covenant obligations, the judgment she can expect for covenant failures and the restoration promised for repentance will become a reoccurring four part pattern in the books of the prophets:
See the "How to Study the Old Testament Prophets" in the Bible study menu.
The Conclusion of
Moses' First Homily and
the end of the Historical Prologue of the Covenant Treaty
Moses' Appeal for the People to be Obedient to the Commandments Based on the Fact that Yahweh is the Only God and Yahweh has Chosen to Love Israel
32 'Put this question, then, to the ages that are past, that have gone before you, from when God created the human race on earth: Was there ever a word so majestic, from one end of heaven to the other? Was anything like it ever heard? 33 Did ever a people hear the voice of the living God speaking from the heart of the fire, as you have heard it, and remain alive? 34 Has it ever been known before that any god took action himself to bring one nation out of another one, by ordeals, signs, wonders, war with mighty hand and outstretched arm, by fearsome terrors-all of which things Yahweh your God has done for you before your eyes in Egypt? 35 This he showed you, so that you might know that Yahweh is the true God and there is no other. 36 To instruct you, he made you hear his voice from heaven and on earth he let you see his great fire, and from the heart of the fire you heard his words. 37 Because he loved your ancestors and, after them, chose their descendants, he has brought you out of Egypt, displaying his presence and mighty power, 38 dispossessing for you nations who were larger and stronger than you, to make way for you and to give you their country as your heritage, as it still is today. 39 Hence, grasp this today and meditate on it carefully: Yahweh is the true God, in heaven above as on earth beneath, he and no other. 40 Keep his laws and commandments [commandments = mitsvot and statutes/decrees =' hukkim] as I give them to you today, so that you and your children after you may prosper and live long in the country that Yahweh your God is giving you for ever.' [..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, page 470-71).
Concluding his first homily, Moses argues that past history demonstrates the truth of monotheism by asking four rhetorical questions (verses 32-34). It is the belief in only one God and the Law He personally spoke to His people that made the religion of the Israelites unique in the entire ancient world.
Question: What is the basis of Moses' argument?
Answer: Yahweh's mighty works in the Exodus and at Mt. Sinai are proof of His divinity; these are acts no pagan god can claim. Pagan gods are only man-made objects of wood and stone (Dt 4:28). Israel has seen the mighty works of God, and they are therefore able to claim that He is the One, True God who created the heavens, the earth, mankind, and all living creatures-the knowledge of an event that goes back as far as human memory (verse 32).
In the 9th century BC the prophet Isaiah will use a similar argument when Yahweh challenges the pagan gods of Gentile nations to do anything-good or bad-to prove they exist, and the prophet Jeremiah will deny that there are other gods when he challenges their existence:
Question: What reason did Moses give for God's choice
of Israel as His people? See verse 37; Ex 19:5 and CCC 218.
Answer: It was because of God's love for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He chose to love Israel, separating her out from all the nations of the earth to be His possession.
This is the first time in the Pentateuch that it has been said that God's choice of Israel was based on love (also see Dt 7:6-8, 13; 10:15; 14:2; 23:6). The mention of love adds an emotional dimension to God's choice.
Question: It is because of this dimension of
emotional love that God's bond with Israel in the Bible is expressed in what two
often repeated metaphors? See Dt 8:5; 14:1; 32:5, 19, 20;
Jer 3:19; 31:8, 19; and
Prov 3:12; Hos 1-3;
Jer 2:2, 23-25, 32; 3:1-13, 20;
Is 50:1; 54:4-7; 62:4-5;
Lam 1:1-2, 19.
In verse 40 Moses concludes with the same message with which he began the second part of this homily: for the Israelites, life itself depends on living in obedience to the commandments (verses 1 and 40). It is a statement that will be repeated seven times in Deuteronomy: 4:1, 40; 5:1; 6:4; 9:1; 20:3, 27:9.
Moses Establishes the Cities of Refuge
41 Moses then set aside three towns in the east, beyond the Jordan,42 to which any killer might flee who had accidently, without any previous feud, killed his fellow; by taking refuge in one of these towns he could save his life. 43 These were, for the Reubenites, Bezer in the desert on the tableland; for the Gadites, Ramoth in Gilead; for the Manassehites, Golan in Bashan.
Cities of refuge were first mentioned in the Book of the Covenant in Exodus 21:12-14. In Numbers 35:16-35 the conditions that qualified someone to receive refuge for manslaughter are given in great detail as well as defining what conditions determined homicide as opposed to manslaughter. In this passage, the three cities of refuge in the Transjordan are named. In Joshua 20:1-9, the conditions determining homicide and manslaughter will be repeated and six cities of refuge will be named: three on the east side of the Jordan River in the Transjordan and three cities on the west side of the Jordan River in Canaan.
Questions for group discussion: To answer questions 1-4, please refer to the lesson and to Catechism citations 1961-1968.
Question 1: What made the nation of Israel unique among the ancient nations of the earth?
Question 3: Do our brothers, the Old Covenant people of God, still have a unique status in salvation history?
Question 4: The covenant at Sinai and the promises to the Patriarchs has been fulfilled in the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, but is there still a role for Israel to play in the Final Age of man?
In Deuteronomy 4:1, Moses told the people: 'And now, Israel, listen [hear] to the laws [mishpatim] and customs [hukkim] which I am teaching you today, so that, by observing [doing] them, you may survive [live] to enter and take possession of the country which Yahweh, God of your ancestors, is giving you. Moses' appeal to the new generation is to literally "hear" (verse 1), "see" (verse 5) and "do" (verse 1).
Question 5: Do we have the same obligations living under the commands, prohibitions, and obligations of the New Covenant?
Question 6: How do we acknowledge and fulfill our commitment to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ by "seeing," "hearing," and "doing"?
Question 7: What did Jesus mean when He gave the command to "do this in remembrance of me" in Luke 22:19-20 (recalling that in the language of the Bible, "remembering" events means re-living the experience). How does that command impact your life?
1. Such statements as those in Dt 42 , Jer 26:2 and Rev 22:18-19 are also found in ancient covenant treaties of the Near East, in ancient Greek treaties, and a similar statement is found at the end of the treaty between the Jews and the Romans in 1 Maccabees 8:30.
2. Worship of the god Baal was common in the Transjordan and in Canaan. He was the chief deity of the region and many sites with shrines honoring Baal combined the name of the site and the god, for example: Baal-Gad, Baal-Zephon, Baal Meon, and Baal Tamar. The shrine Baal-Zephon was in Egyptian territory near to where the Israelites encamped by the Yam Suph (Sea of Reeds) before the miracle of the parting of the Yam Suph waters (Ex 14:9).
3. While God forbid the making of images for the purpose of worship, He did, however, permit images to adorn His Sanctuary: the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 24:18-19), the cherubim embroidered on the Veil of the Holy of Holies (Ex 26:31), and the huge statues of the cherubim in the Holy of Holies of the Temple (1 Kng 6:23-27). These objects (and the bronze serpent in Num 21:4-9) pointed symbolically toward salvation by the Incarnate Word (see Wis 16:5-14; Jn 3:14-15; Ex 25:10-22; 1 Kng 6:23-28; 7:23-26). Later, when the people began to worship the relic of the bronze serpent, it was destroyed (2 Kng 18:4). The Catholic practice of venerating images is not a violation of the first commandment. The Catholic Church teaches "the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype" and "whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it" (Council of Trent; Vatican II). See CCC 2129-32.
4. See a similar use of covenant lawsuit language in Moses' warnings in Dt 30:19; 31:28; 32:1; in Isaiah's covenant lawsuit against Israel and Judah in Is 1:2 (heaven and earth); 34:1 (earth), and Micah's covenant lawsuit against Israel and Judah where "earth" is called as a witness (Mic 1:2); also see Ps 1:4.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references: (* indicates Scripture verse is quoted or paraphrased in the citation)
CCC 1962-64, 2056-68