Lesson 9: Chapters 16-17
Moses' Second Homily: The Deuteronomic Code (Ethical Stipulations of the Covenant Treaty Continued)

Gracious Lord,
Mother Church has established appointed times and seasons in her liturgical calendar.  Like the Old Covenant Church, these are times when we celebrate our origins.  We remember such momentous events as Jesus' Incarnation and birth, Jesus' ministry, His Last Supper with His disciples, His journey to the Cross, His glorious Resurrection and the birth of our New Covenant Church.  Lord, as we study the importance of the Old Covenant feast days that celebrated the origins of the nation of Israel and the Old Covenant Church at Sinai, help us to appreciate our Christian origins and the necessity of teaching the meaning of our Christian feasts and solemnities to our children so they too can experience the mystery of God's plan for man's salvation.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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Chapter 16:1-17
Passover and the Sacred Pilgrim Feasts

Speak to the Israelites and say: "The solemn festivals of Yahweh to which you will summon them are my sacred assemblies.  These are my solemn festivals ..."
Leviticus 23:2

Three times a year you will hold a festival in my honor.  You will observe the feast of Unleavened Bread.  For seven days you will eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt.  No one will appear before me empty-handed.  You will also observe the feast of Harvest, of the first-fruits of your labors in sowing the fields, and the feast of Ingathering; at the end of the year, once you have brought the fruits of your labors in from the fields.  Three times a year all your menfolk will appear before Lord Yahweh.
Exodus 23:14-17

You will observe the feast of Unleavened Bread.  For seven days you will eat unleavened bread, as I have commanded you, at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in the month of Abib you came out of Egypt ... You will observe the feast of Weeks, of the first-fruits of the wheat harvest, and the feast of Ingathering at the close of the year.  Three times a year all your menfolk will appear before Lord Yahweh, God of Israel, for I shall dispossess the nations before you and extend your frontiers, and no one will set his heart on your territory when you go away to appear before Yahweh your God three times a year.
Exodus 34:18, 22-24

Thereafter, Solomon made burnt offerings to Yahweh on the altar of Yahweh, which he had built in front of the portico, in accordance with the regular prescriptions for burnt sacrifice as commanded by Moses, on the Sabbaths, New Moons and the three annual feasts; the feast of Unleavened Bread, the feast of Weeks and the feast of Shelters.
2 Chr 8:12-13

Deuteronomy 16:1-8
The Passover Sacrifice and the Pilgrim Feast of Unleavened Bread
1 'Observe [samar] the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover for Yahweh your God, because it was in the month of Abib that Yahweh your God brought you out of Egypt by night.  2 You must sacrifice a Passover from your flock or herd for Yahweh your God in the place where Yahweh chooses to give his name a home.  3 You must not eat leavened bread with this; for seven days you must eat it with unleavened bread-the bread of affliction-since you left Egypt in great haste; this is so that, as long as you live, you will remember the day you came out of Egypt.  4 For seven days no leaven must be found in any house throughout your territory [land] nor must any of the meat that you sacrifice in the evening of the first day be kept overnight until the next day.  5 You must sacrifice the Passover not in any of the towns [gates] given you by Yahweh your God, 6 but in the place where Yahweh your God chooses to give his name a home; there you must sacrifice the Passover, in the evening at sunset, [end of the day], at the hour when you came out of Egypt.  7 You will cook it and eat it in the place chosen by Yahweh your God, and in the morning you must return and to your tents.  8 For six days you will eat unleavened bread; on the seventh day there will be an assembly for Yahweh your God; and you must do no work.' 
= literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, pages 504-05).

This is the third time a list of Yahweh's sacred feasts has appeared in the Pentateuch and the third time the pilgrim feasts have been named (see Ex 23:14-17; 34:18-23).  The first list is the most complete and appears in Leviticus 23 where seven sacred annual feasts are listed.  The second list, which enumerates the various sacrifices of the weekly, monthan and annual feast days (with the exception of Firstfruits which was given in Lev 23), occurs in Numbers 28-29.  The list in Deuteronomy 16:1-17 is the least complete, only mentioning the Passover sacrifice and the three pilgrim feasts.  The Passover sacrifice is probably included in the list because it is the beginning of the liturgical calendar and the sacrifice occurs the day before the pilgrim feast of Unleavened Bread, which began at sundown.(1)

Deuteronomy 16:1 Observe [samar] the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover for Yahweh your God, because it was in the month of Abib that Yahweh your God brought you out of Egypt by night.

The Israelites didn't begin their march out of Egypt until after the Passover meal on the first night of Unleavened Bread and after Yahweh struck down all the first-born in Egypt at midnight (Ex 12:29).  It was "still dark" when Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and told them to leave Egypt (Ex 12:31-32).  God's slaying of the Egyptian firstborn males and cattle that night at midnight is seen as the essence of the beginning of the Exodus redemption.  In Hebrew time, midnight is part of the day that began at sunset, unlike Roman time that counts the hours of the new day beginning at midnight.(2)

Deuteronomy 16:2 You must sacrifice a Passover from your flock or herd for Yahweh your God in the place where Yahweh chooses to give his name a home.  According to Exodus 12:3-5 and 21, the original Passover sacrifice was an unblemished male lamb or goat-kid from the flock.  Exodus 12:24-25 states that this same designation of a male lamb or kid is to be observed in the future.  The mention of an animal from the herd must refer to the additional festival communion offering of a male or female animal from the flock or herd that could be included if the Passover sacrifice was not enough to feed the group gathered together to eat the Passover sacrifice on the first night of Unleavened Bread (Lev 3:1, 6, 12; 7:16-17/6-7; Mishnah: Hagigah, 1:6; Mishnah: Pesahim, 6:4).  This interpretation is supported by the passage in 2 Chronicles 35:1-13 where animals from the herd are spoken of separately from the Passover sacrifice and are used for "sacred offerings", i.e. communion sacrifices and whole burnt offerings.  Unlike the original Passover sacrifice that took place in front of the homes of the Israelites in Egypt and the Passover commemoration celebrated before leaving Mt. Sinai (Num 9:1-14) that took place at the desert Sanctuary, when the Israelites inhabit the Promised Land they will have to journey to the place where the Sanctuary is located to keep the Passover sacrifice and the seven days of the pilgrim feast of Unleavened Bread.

Deuteronomy 16:6 ...but in the place where Yahweh your God chooses to give his name a home; there you must sacrifice the Passover, in the evening at sunset, [end of the day], at the hour when you came out of Egypt.  7 You will cook it and eat it in the place chosen by Yahweh your God, and in the morning you must return and to your tents.

Since the Hebrew text is written without any periods, commas, or other grammatical helps, translator decide where the sentence breaks should come.  To be in agreement with other passages in Scripture, verses 6-7 should probably read: "there you must sacrifice the Passover at the end of the day (meaning in the period of time meaning from noon until before sunset); at the hour when you came out of Egypt you will cook it and eat it in the place chosen by Yahweh your God ..."  This arrangement of the words is in agreement with other passages in Exodus and in the instructions for the Passover sacrifice recorded in the Jewish Mishnah.   The "coming out of Egypt" began symbolically with the Passover redemption.  The Passover sacrifice was to be roasted (Ex 12:9); however, the communion Hagigah that was eaten with the Passover victim to feed a larger crowd could be boiled.

... in the evening at sunset, [end of the day], at the hour when you came out of Egypt ... in verse 6, doesn't refer to the sacrifice of the Passover lambs and kids, which originally began at noon on the 14th (Ex 12:6 literally reads "between the twilights" = between sunrise and sunset) but instead refers to the ritual of the smearing of the blood on the doorways and the eating of the sacred meal of the Passover victims that began at sundown, which was the end of one day, the beginning of the next and the beginning of the Exodus redemption.

Question: Why was the feast that began the night the covenant people ate the sacrificial meal of the Passover victim called the Feast of Unleavened Bread?  Also see Ex 12:17-20; 13:3-10.
Answer: God commanded the people to eat only unleavened bread that night and for the entire holy week, hence the name "Unleavened Bread."

Question: Was the Passover sacrifice a required pilgrim feast?
Answer: No, it was not.  At sundown after the sacrifice, which became the 15th day of the first month, was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread when the Passover sacrifice was eaten in a sacred meal; that night and the entire week was a pilgrim feast for the covenant people.

One didn't have to be present at the actual Passover sacrifice, but one had to be present at the sacred meal.  The Jewish Talmud records that a relative or even a slave could present the Passover victim at the liturgical ceremony of the Passover sacrifice for the other people of the household (Mishnah: Pesahim, 8:1-8:3).

Deuteronomy 16:9-17
The Two Other Pilgrim Feasts
9 'You must count seven weeks, counting these seven weeks from the time you begin to put your sickle into the standing corn [grain].  10 You will then celebrate the feast of Weeks for Yahweh your God with the gift of a voluntary offering proportionate to the degree in which Yahweh your God has blessed you. 11 You must rejoice in the presence of Yahweh your God, in the place where Yahweh your God chooses to give his name a home, you, your son and your daughter, your serving men and women, the Levite living in your community, the foreigner, the orphan and the widow living among you.  12 Remember that you were once a slave in Egypt, and carefully observe these laws.  13 You must celebrate the feast of Shelters for seven days, at the time when you gather in the produce of your threshing-floor and winepress.  14 You must rejoice at your feast, you, your son and your daughter, your serving men and women, the Levite, the foreigner, the orphan and the widow living in your community.  15 For seven days, you must celebrate the feast of Yahweh your God in the place chosen by Yahweh; for Yahweh your God will bless you in all your produce and in all your undertakings, so that you will have good reason to rejoice.  16 Three times a year all your menfolk must appear before Yahweh your God in the place chosen by him: at the feast of Unleavened Bread, at the feast of Weeks, at the feast of Shelters.  No one must appear empty-handed before Yahweh, 17 but each must give what he can, in proportion to the blessing which Yahweh your God has bestowed on you.
[...] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, pages 505-06).

In the free-will contributions to the Sanctuary (money as well as goods), and in free-will whole burnt offerings and communion offerings, the members of the community were expected to give according to the degree of their material blessings (see verses 10 and 17).

This second pilgrim feast was a one day celebration like the earlier festival of Firstfruits that offered the first of the barley harvest in thanksgiving to the Lord.

Question: The Feast of Weeks was associated with bring the first fruits what other harvest?  See Ex 34:22.
Answer: The first fruits of the wheat harvest.

Three feasts were associated with the annual harvests:

  1. Firstfruits = harvest of the barley
  2. Weeks/Pentecost = harvest of the wheat
  3. Shelters/Tabernacles = harvest of the fruit (figs, olive, grapes)

Deuteronomy 16:9 You must count seven weeks, counting these seven weeks from the time you begin to put your sickle into the standing corn [grain].  The Israelites could not begin to harvest the barley until the festival day of Firstfruits, on the first day of the week (the day after the Sabbath) of the holy week of Unleavened Bread when the High Priest presented the first of the barley harvest to Yahweh (Lev 23:10-11).  The day of next feast, the Feast of Weeks, which was the second pilgrim feast, was determined from the day of the offering of the first fruits of the barley harvest in the festival of Firstfruits.

Seven weeks were counted and on the fiftieth day the people were to celebrate the next first fruits of the harvest on the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost (Lev 23:15-16). 

Question: The second pilgrim feast was the festival of Weeks.  From when were the Israelites to begin their count of seven weeks until the celebration of the pilgrim feast of Weeks?  See Lev 23:9-16?
Answer: The day after the Sabbath of the seven-day festival of Unleavened Bread, is the Feast of Firstfruits (on the Sunday within the holy week of Unleavened Bread) when the people brought the first of the harvest to Yahweh.  They were to count seven full weeks, and on the fiftieth day they were to present the produce of the next harvest to Yahweh at His Sanctuary on the Feast of Weeks.

Question: What was the Greek name that the Feast of Weeks was known as in the first century AD?  What does the Greek name mean?  Hint: it was the Jewish feast that the Old Covenant people of God were celebrating on the fiftieth day after Jesus' Resurrection.  See Acts 2:1
Answer: It was called the Feast of Pentecost; "pentecoste" in Greek means "fiftieth day."

Jesus taught the New Covenant Church for forty days from His Resurrection on the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Sunday), until His Ascension (Acts 1:3).  He instructed His disciples to remain in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5).  On the fiftieth day after the Resurrection, as the ancients counted, on the day that according to the liturgical calendar was the fiftieth day from the Feast of Firstfurits, on the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit came to baptize the New Covenant people of God.

The first harvest was the barley and the second harvest was wheat.  Counting seven full weeks from the offering of the first of the barley harvest on the Sunday offering of Firstfruits, as the ancients counted, was fifty days.  The ancients always counted the first number in a sequence as day #1.  This is why Jesus said He would arise from the dead on the "third day;" from Friday to Sunday is three days as the ancients counted.

The seven week/fifty day count from the Sunday of Firstfruits to the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Sabbath of Unleavened Bread *
day 1 Firstfruits day 2 day 3 day 4 day 5 day 6 day 7
day 8 day 9 day 10 day 11 day 12 day 13 day 14
day 15 day 16 day 17 day 18 day 19 day 20 day 21
Day 22 Day 23 Day 24 Day 25 Day 26 Day 27 Day 28
Day 29 Day 30 Day 31 Day 32 Day 33 Day 34 Day 35
Day 36 Day 37 Day 38 Day 39 Day 40 Day 41 Day 42
Day 43 Day 44 Day 45 Day 46 Day 47 Day 48 Day 49
Day 50 Weeks/ Pentecost            

*St. John identifies the Sabbath day after Jesus' crucifixion as a "special Sabbath" (Jn 19:21).

Question: Consult a liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church.  How are the days counted between the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Feast of Pentecost?  On what day of the week do these two Christian feasts fall? 
Answer: It is a fifty day count with both the Resurrection and Pentecost falling on a Sunday. The Church counts the length of time between the feasts of Easter Sunday and Pentecost just as the ancients counted.

Deuteronomy 16:13 You must celebrate the feast of Shelters for seven days, at the time when you gather in the produce of your threshing-floor and winepress. 

The instructions for keeping the third pilgrim feast, the Feast of Shelters, are found in Leviticus 23:33-43 and Numbers 29:12-29.  The Feast of Shelters (in some translations called "Booths") was also called the Feast of Tabernacles since it celebrated the gathering of all the tribes of Israel encamped around the Presence of God in the holy Sanctuary/Tabernacle.  It also became a feast that anticipated the Messianic Age when the prophets prophesied that the people of God would live again in the presence of their God.  The ceremonies of water and fire that were observed during the week long festival recalled the water miracles in the wilderness journey (Ex 17:1-7 and Num 20:1-13) and God's pillar of fire that guided the Israelites throughout their forty year journey (Ex 13:21-22). 

Question: For how many days were the people to keep the third pilgrim feast?  See Dt 16:15; Lev 23:34-36, 39-44.
Answer: The festival lasted seven days and was concluded in a Sacred Assembly of Israel on the eighth day.

Question: Why was the festival called the Feast of Shelters/Booths?  See Lev 23:42.
Answer: The name "shelters/booths" commemorates the temporary and transient shelters that the Israelites lived in during the wilderness years.  The camp of Israel was commemorated during this festival by the command for the Israelites who had come to the site of the Sanctuary (and the residents living there) to build temporary shelters/booths to live in during the holy week of the feast (Lev 23:42)

The Gospel of John records the three years of Jesus' ministry in the context of the annual feasts.  In the Gospel of John chapters 7-8 Jesus attends the pilgrim feast of Shelters (also called the Feast of Tabernacles) and announces Himself as the Messiah.  Associated with the rituals of water and fire, Jesus announces to the crowds of pilgrims on the seventh day of the festival that He is the "living water" (Jn 7:37-39) and the next day, on the day of the Sacred Assembly, that He is the "light of the world" (Jn 8:12).  Jesus' announcements in the midst of the Temple liturgy are declarations that clearly identify Him as the promised Messiah in fulfillment of the messianic prophecies of the prophets:

Question: Look at the appointed times of the seven annual feasts listed in Leviticus chapter 23 (the pilgrim feast of Shelters/Tabernacles was also known as the feast of ingathering).  What do you notice that is different about the observance of Firstfruits and Weeks?
Answer: With the exception of these two feasts, all the other feasts have specific dates of the year in which they are to be celebrated:

  1. Passover: 14th day of the first month
  2. Unleavened Bread: 14th -21st of the first month
  3. Firstfruits: no date
  4. Weeks: no date
  5. Trumpets (Acclamations): 1st day of the seventh month
  6. Day of Atonement: 10th day of the seventh month
  7. Shelters/Tabernacles: 15th – 21st of seventh month with a Sacred Assembly on the 22nd

Question: Why is it that all the other festivals have specific dates, with the day of the week of the celebration changing every year and the festivals of Firstfruits and Weeks/Pentecost do not have a specific date?
Answer: Because, according to God's plan for man's salvation, those two feasts were to always fall annually on the first day of the week, on a Sunday, where they were to be fulfilled in the Resurrection of God the Son on a Sunday and the birth of the New Covenant Church, on a Sunday, in 30 AD.

Today the Jews have altered the celebration of the day of Firstfruits on a Sunday within the seven days of Unleavened Bread.  They now observe the feast on the day after the first day of Unleavened Bread on the 16th and the Feast of Weeks fifty days later.  No longer do these two feasts fall annually on a Sunday as they were originally celebrated.  Only the Samaritans and the Karaites, who claim they are the descendants of the priestly Sadducees, observe these two feast days on a Sunday.  Flavius Josephus (c. 37-100 AD), a first century AD Jewish historian who served as a priest in the Jerusalem Temple before its destruction, recorded that feast days were altered: And truly he did not speak falsely in saying so; for the festival, which we call Pentecost, did then fall out to be the next day to the Sabbath ... (Antiquities of the Jews, 13.8.4 [252]).  If the day of Pentecost was altered, then of course the day of Firstfruits was altered, since the celebration of Pentecost was counted from the day of Firstfruits, which also must have always fallen on a Sunday (the first day of the week).

Deuteronomy 16:16 Three times a year all your menfolk must appear before Yahweh your God in the place chosen by him ...

Only men were required to appear; most likely this was because such a requirement would be a great hardship on nursing mothers and young children.  However, women and children frequently made the journey to take part in the festivals, as indicated by verses 11 and 14.(3)

Question: What were the three pilgrim feasts when every man of the covenant must present himself, three times a year, before Yahweh's altar and Sanctuary?  See Dt 16:16-17.
Answer: The festivals of Unleavened Bread, Weeks/Pentecost, and Shelters/Tabernacles.

Civil and Religious Authorities

You will not spread false rumors.  You will not lend support to the wicked by giving untrue evidence.  You will not be led into wrong-doing by the majority nor, when giving evidence in a lawsuit, side with the majority to pervert the curse of justice; nor will you show partiality to the poor in a lawsuit.
Book of the Covenant (Ex 23:1-3)

Deuteronomy 16:18-18:22 appears to be the first historical blueprint for a constitutional government, placing limitations on the absolute authority of political and religious leaders.  This section deals with the responsibilities of four main types of human authorities:

  1. Judges (Dt 16:18-17:22)
  2. Kings (Dt 17:14-20)
  3. Priests (Dt 18:1-8)
  4. Prophets (Dt 18:9-22)

Limitations are established for each office, which lays the foundation for public supervision and grounds for protesting abuses of authority.  The limitations listed in the Deuteronomic Code not only prevent those office holders from exercising absolute authority over the nation but empowers the citizens to admonish and to resist those who abuse their power.  It will be the primary duty of Yahweh's prophets to take a stand against such abuses in support of the people as well as exercising the authority from God to admonish the people when they became complacent concerning their moral and religious sins and the same sins in government and religious leaders.

Deuteronomy 16:18-17:1
The Appointment of Judges and Other Officials
18 'You must appoint judges and scribes in each of the towns that Yahweh your God is giving you for all your tribes; these are to mete out proper justice to the people.  19 You must not pervert the law; you must be impartial; you will take no bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and ruins the cause of the upright.  20 Strict justice must be your ideal, so that you may live long in possession of the country given you by Yahweh your God.  21 You must not plant a sacred pole of any wood whatsoever beside the altar which you erect for Yahweh your God; nor 22 will you set up a standing-stone, a thing Yahweh your God would abhor.  17:1 To Yahweh your God you must sacrifice nothing from herd of flock that has any blemish or defect whatsoever, for Yahweh your God holds this detestable.

These commands are in addition to the other commands for judges to act with impartiality and to not subvert justice:

Local courts of law were to be established in each community (verses 18-20), appointing men who are impartial (Dt 16:19), wise and experienced (Dt 1:19).  Difficult cases were to be sent to the high court of Levitical priests over which the High Priest presided (Dt 17:8-13).  Judges were to show no partiality-they were not to sympathize with the poor, nor were they to be impressed by the wealthy.

Next follows three prohibitions concerning worship at God's altar that judges and officials must be vigilant in preventing.

Question: What are the three forbidden practices? Also see Ex 23:24; 34:12-13; Num 33:52; Lev 22:20-25.

  1. Do not set up a pagan sacred pole or any kind of wood beside Yahweh's altar.
  2. Do not set up any pagan standing-stones.
  3. Do not offer Yahweh blemished or physically defective for sacrifice.

"Sacred poles," 'asherah in Hebrew, were standing wooden objects at pagan sites of worship.  Stone pillars, mastabah in Hebrew, were usually commemorative pillars but also served as markers for pagan deities (see Dt 7:5).  It can be assumed that God is not forbidding all stone pillars but only those dedicated to pagan gods since the Patriarch Jacob set up a stone pillar commemorating his vision of Yahweh at Bethel (Gen 28:18), and Moses set up twelve stone pillars, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, at Mt. Sinai (Ex 24:4). 

Yahweh will command Joshua to tell the twelve tribes to choose twelve men to take twelve stones from the Jordan River as memorials of the crossing of the Jordan River into Canaan and to set them up in the first Israelite camp on the west side of the river (Josh 4:1-9).  Joshua will also set up a large stone pillar near the site of Yahweh's Sanctuary at Shechem as a witness of a covenant renewal ceremony with the tribes of Israel after the conquest (Josh 24:1, 25-28).  The prophet Hosea seems to imply that stone pillars that commemorate events of God's impact on Israel's history are acceptable (Hos 3:4).

The prohibition against offering Yahweh blemished or physically defective sacrifices from their herds and flocks is a repeat of Leviticus 22:20-25.  God's acceptable sacrifices, which sanctifiers the offerer and the community, must be ritually pure.  Leviticus 22:25 sums up the offering of such defective sacrifices: Their deformity is a blemish, and they would not make you acceptable.  God's last holy prophet before the birth of John the Baptist was the prophet known as Malachi, "my messenger."  Malachi, communicating the word of Yahweh to His people, condemned what had become the practice of giving God less than what was ritually perfect, a sign of a people who suffered from spiritual malaise (Mal 1:6-10).

Chapter 17:2-20: Levitical Courts and the Rules for a King

They have set up kings, but without my consent, and appointed princes, but without my knowledge.  With their silver and gold, they have made themselves idols, but only to be destroyed.
Hosea 8:4

Deuteronomy 17:2-7
The Prosecution of Apostates
2 'If there is anyone, man or woman, among you in any of the towns given you by Yahweh your God, who does what is wrong in the eyes of Yahweh your God by violating his covenant, 3 who goes and serves other gods and worships them, or the sun or the moon or any of heaven's array-a thing I have forbidden-4 and this person is denounced by you: if after careful enquiry it is found true and confirmed that this hateful thing has been done in Israel, 5 you must take the man or woman guilty of this evil deed outside your city gates, and there you must stone that man or woman to death.  5 A death sentence may be passed only on the word of two witnesses or three; and no one must be put to death on the word of one witness alone.  7 The witnesses' hands must strike the first blow in putting the condemned to death, the rest of the people following.  You must banish this evil from among you.'

Deuteronomy 17:2'If there is anyone, man or woman, among you in any of the towns given you by Yahweh your God, who does what is wrong in the eyes of Yahweh your God by violating his covenant ... the Law of the covenant viewed men and women as equally responsible to the covenant.  The view in family and marriage laws was different, however (Dt 22:13-21).  Worship of false gods was not only apostasy, it was also a treasonable act in violation of the covenant command to worship and serve only Yahweh, Israel's God-King, and no other god or king (i.e., Ex 20:3, 23; 23:24, 25, 33; 34:14; Dt 5:9; 6:4, 13; 7:16; 8:18-20; 10:12, 20; 11:13, 16; 13:4, 5/6; 28:47-48; 30:17-18).

Deuteronomy 17:5 A death sentence may be passed only on the word of two witnesses or three; and no one must be put to death on the word of one witness alone.  The prohibition of a death sentence being imposed on the testimony of a single witness is also fount in Numbers 35:30 and Deuteronomy 19:15-16.  The Bible presents some of the oldest established procedures of judicial proof of guilt based on the testimony of more than one witness.

Question: How were witnesses to take personal responsibility for testimony in death penalty cases?
Answer: The witnesses were to cast the first stones in the execution.  If they conspired together to lie and condemned an innocent person, then they were guilty of murder and would be held accountable by God before His judgment throne.

The blood of the apostate was not permitted to pollute the ground of the town of the faithful covenant people, nor was any dead body to be buried within the town limits.

Question: Where were the condemned executed, what restrictions were placed on their burial, and where were all bodies buried? See Dt 21:23; Josh 8:29; 10:26-27; Mt 27:57-60; Mk 15:42-47; Lk 23:50-55; Jn 19:38-42.
Answer: People were executed outside the walls of a town and all graves were to be outside the limits of the town.  The executed had to be buried before sundown.

All death penalty verdicts were carried out outside the limits of the town or outside the city walls, including Jesus' crucifixion in the spring of 30 AD.(4)

Deuteronomy 17:8-13
Levitical Judges
8 'If a case comes before you which is too difficult for you, a case of murder, conflicting claims, damage to property-any kind of dispute-in your towns, you must make your way to the place chosen by Yahweh our God, 9 and approach the Levitical priests and the judge then in office.  They will hold an enquiry and let you know their sentence.  10 You must abide by the verdict which they give you in this place chosen by Yahweh, and you will take care to carry out all their instructions.  11 You will abide by the decision which they give you and by the sentence which they pronounce, not deviating to right or to left from the verdict which they have given you.  12 If anyone presumes to disobey either the priest who is there in the service of Yahweh your God, or the judge, that person must die.  You must banish this evil from Israel.  13 And when the people hear of this they will all be afraid and not act presumptuously any more.'

Difficult cases were to be referred to the High Court where the High Priest resides with the Sanctuary.  The High Court's decision is final and defiance of its ruling is a death penalty offense.(5) A case of murder could be referred to the High Court if the local court could not decide if it was a case of manslaughter or homicide.  In some cases, passions might be too enflamed and the community too divided for the local judges to feel they could safely render a decision. In such cases, the High Court took on the responsibility of rendering the final verdict, over which there was no appeal. 

Deuteronomy 17:14-20
Rules for a Limited Monarchy
14 'If, having reached the country [land] given by Yahweh your God and having taken possession of it and, while living there, you think, "I should like to appoint a king to rule me-like all the surrounding nations," 15 the king whom you appoint to rule you must be chosen by Yahweh your God; the appointment of a king must be made from your own brothers; on no account must you appoint as king some foreigner who is not a brother of yours.  16 He must not, however, acquire more and more horses, or send the people back to Egypt with a view to increasing his cavalry, since Yahweh has told you, "You must never go back that way again."  17 Nor must he keep on acquiring more and more wives, for that could lead his heart astray.  Nor must he acquire vast quantities of silver and gold.  18 Once seated on his royal throne, and for his own use, he must write a copy of this Law [torah] on a scroll, at the dictation of the Levitical priests.  19 It must never leave him, and he must read it every day of his life and learn to fear Yahweh his God by keeping all the words of this Law [torah] and observing these rules [hukkim], 20 so that he will not think himself superior to his brothers, and not deviate from these commandments either to right or to left.  So doing, long will he occupy his throne, he and his sons, in Israel.' 
= literal translation (The Interlineal Bible: Hebrew-English, page 508).

The choice of Israel to have a king is optional; it is the only office mentioned that is optional.  Yahweh is Israel's king, but God knows that in the future the Israelites will demand to have a human king to represent their nation like their neighbors (see 1 Sam 8:1-9).

Question: What were the laws concerning the selection of a king of Israel and how he was to rule the nation?

  1. Israel's king had to be chose by God from among the Israelites; a foreigner was not eligible.(6)
  2. He must not acquire many horses.
  3. He must not send officials back to Egypt to increase his cavalry.
  4. He must not acquire many (foreign) wives, which will lead him away from Yahweh.*
  5. He must not acquire vast amounts of wealth.
  6. At the dictation of the Levites, he must write down a copy of the Law.
  7. He must read his copy of the Law daily.
  8. He must not think himself superior as an excuse to abuse his people.

In the text, the word usually translated "law" is the Hebrew word "torah," meaning "instruction" and probably refers to the Deuteronomic Code and not to the whole of the Law contained in Exodus through Deuteronomy (see Dt 31:9, 24-26). Joshua was also commanded to ... have the book of this Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may carefully keep everything that is written in it (Josh 1:8). *Marriages with foreign princesses were part of covenant treaties between nations, and the Israelites were forbidden to make treaties with any king human because their loyalty must be entirely with Yahweh (Ex 23:32; 34:12, 15).  The prohibitions against horses and chariots to build up an army are because the Israelites were supposed to trust God to protect them from their enemies, as He promised He would if they were obedient to His Law (Ex 23:27; Lev 26:7-8; Num 10:9; etc.)

Scripture records that God personally selected, through His holy prophets, Israel's kings Saul, David, and David's son Solomon as well kings Jeroboam and Jehu who ruled over the Northern Kingdom of Israel.(7)  All other legitimate kings of Israel were to be Solomon's descendants according to the covenant God made with David in 2 Samuel 7:12-16.  A foreigner was not eligible to be a legitimate king of the covenant people.

Rules for a King Rules Broken by Solomon
He must be an Israelite chosen by God.  
He must not have many horses or send people back to Egypt to increase his cavalry (Dt 17:16). Solomon had 4,000 stalls of horses for his chariots and twelve thousand cavalrymen (1 Kng 5:1-2).  He imported a chariot from Egypt for 600 silver shekels and built up a force of chariots and cavalry with imported horses (1 Kng 10:26-29).
He must not acquire many wives, for that could lead his heart astray (Dt 17:17a). Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.  Many of his wives were pagans, including an Egyptian princess.  He allowed them to set up pagan shrines and offered sacrifice to their gods (1 Kng 9:24; 11:1-13; 2 Chr 8:11).
He must not acquire vast quantities of silver and gold (Dt 17:16b). Solomon acquired vast quantities of wealth, including 666 talents of gold (1 Kng 10:14-25).
He must write a copy of the Deuteronomic Code, dictated by the priests, and must read it every day of his life.  
A king must not think he is superior and so abuse his people. Solomon so heavily taxed his people that they revolted when his son came to power (1 Kng 12:4-5; 12-19).
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2011 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Note the use of the numbers 600 and 666; 6 is a number in Scripture that often symbolizes man's rebellion against God: Goliath was 6 cubits tall and King Nebuchadnezzar's golden statue was sixty cubits high and six cubits wide (Dan 3:1-7).  The only other place in Scripture where the number 666 is found is in the book of Revelation; it is the number of the name of the beast (Rev 13:17-18).  Solomon began his reign as a man of God, but power corrupted him and he fell away from God as his first love.

Question: What is absolutely unique about this section of the Deuteronomic Code?
Answer: It is Yahweh's requirement that the King of Israel to be subject to Law and not above it, as in the case of all other kings in this period of history.

Question: What are the implications concerning God's prophecy that the Israelites would one day ask for a human king?
Answer: God is Israel's great king.  The Israelites were to put their trust in Him and not in any human being.  Their request for a human king would arise from faltering faith and trust in Yahweh. 

Question: When the request came, how did the prophet Samuel interpret the Israelite's request for a human king and what was God's response?  See 1 Sam 8:6-9.
Answer: When their request did come, the prophet Samuel rightly interpreted their request as a rejection of God's divine leadership.  God affirmed Samuel's interpretation, but told Samuel to grant their request after telling the people the burden a human king would place on them.

Question for group discussion:

The Feast of Unleavened Bread celebrated the night in Egypt when death "passed over" and the children of Israel were redeemed through the blood of the sacrificial victim and the sacred meal.  The Feast of Pentecost celebrated the fiery Theophany of God on Mt. Sinai and the birth of Israel as a covenant nation.  The Feast of Shelters/Tabernacles celebrated Israel living in the Presence of God who dwelled in their midst in the holy Tabernacle. Each of the pilgrim feasts prefigures a past and future event in salvation history.

Question: What does each of the pilgrim feasts prefigure in the Age of the Messiah?  See Mk 14:12, 17, 22-25; Acts 2:1-11; Rev 19:5-9; 21:1-4.
Answer: The Feast of Unleavened Bread prefigures our deliverance through Jesus' Passion and sacrificial death which began in the sacred meal of the Last Supper.  The Feast of Pentecost prefigures our preservation through Christ's Resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit in the birth of the New Covenant Church.  The Feast of Tabernacles prefigures our promised future dwelling place in the Presence of God and the banquet of the saints in the heavenly Tabernacle.


1. In the New Testament, Hebrew month of Abib is called Nisan.  The name of this month was adopted by the Israelites from the Babylonian calendar when they were in exile there.

2. Roman time: The Babylonians count the period between two sunrises, the Athenians that between two sunsets, the Umbrians from midday to midday the common people everywhere from dawn to dark, the Roman priests and the authorities who fixed the official day, and also the Egyptians and Hipparchus, the period from midnight to midnight (Pliny the elder (23-79 AD), Natural History, 2.79.188).  The Jews counted the day from sunset to sunset with the daylight hours evenly divided into twelve seasonal hours, as Jesus told the crowd in Jn 11:9: Are there not twelve hours in a day?

3. Also see Dt 12:7, 12, 18; 14:26; 31:10-12; 1 Sam 1:2-7. According to these passages, whole families were encouraged to attend the festival but women and children were not required.  St. Luke records that the Holy Family (the Virgin Mary, St. Jospeh and Jesus) and their kinsmen regularly made the journey to Jerusalem for the Passover and pilgrim feast of Unleavened Bread (Lk 2:41-42).  Jesus' mother Mary, Salome the mother of the Apostles James and John and other women disciples made the journey to Jerusalem for Jesus' last pilgrim feast in 30 AD (Mt 27:55-56; Mk 16:1; Lk 24:9-11; Jn 19:25).

4. Jesus was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, but close enough to the city walls for the people to read the plaque that was hung on His Cross (Jn 19:20).  Jesus was condemned for blasphemy, a death penalty offense by stoning but also execution in being hung on a tree (Dt 21:22-23).  Crucifixion was unknown to the people of God in this period, and when it was introduced by the Persians and later adopted by the Greeks and Romans, the people of God condemned the practice as too cruel.  The reason the chief priests took Jesus to Pilate was because they did not have the power to condemn Him to death, and they wanted to have Jesus executed as a criminal, as an enemy of the Roman Empire and as one accursed under the law of Dt 21:22-23 to diminish His esteem in the eyes of the common people.  In His crucifixion, Jesus took the covenant curse of Dt 21:22-23 upon Himself: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by being cursed for our sake since scripture says: Anyone hanged is accursed, so that they blessing of Abraham might come to the gentiles in Christ Jesus, and so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (Gal 3:13).

5. The High Court became the prototype for the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (JPS Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 163; also see 2 Chr 19:8-11).

6. King Herod the Great was not accepted as a legitimate king of Israel by faithful Jews because he was not an Israelite.  Herod was the son of Antipater, an Idumaean (Greek for Edom) descendant of Esau (Gen 36:9) and not of Jacob/Israel (Antiquities of the Jews, 14.1.3; 14.7.3).  Josephus records that when Herod's grandson, Agrippa I, reading aloud from the Deuteronomic Code at a public ceremony, read this part of the Law of King before the people, he burst into tears.  It was probably a contrived moment to gain the people's sympathy, and it worked because the crowd shouted "you are our brother!"

7. See 1 Sam 9:16-17; 10:20-24; 16:1-13; 1 Kng 11:29-39; 2 Kng 9:1-13; Hos 8:4.

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